by Christopher Watts (age 15, Swords, Co Dublin)
You have the right to protection and freedom from war. Children under 15 cannot be forced to go into the army or take part in war.
The safe house was quiet, and, truth be told, it wasn’t really living up to its namesake. Vasile looked at his blue fingers and the clouds of mist that escaped his mouth as he breathed. Winter hadn’t been kind to him. He wasn’t sure anymore if the tiny flat was any better than the frontline. At least dying out there might be quick and painless, he thought.
At 15, Vasile was one of the older child soldiers littering the floor of the flat. He looked around the room at the others. A boy no older than eight lay huddled in the corner, shaking and crying. His face was badly burned and his hand was just a stump. Another boy of roughly the same age lay against a wall, one leg extended in front of him – Vasile guessed the other one was lying in a few different pieces in a field somewhere.
A couple more lay around the flat, breathing quietly. Nobody spoke. Vasile saw another boy glance at the barred door and he followed his gaze – not that any of them had the strength to escape anyway. This was where they were sent to die. They were of no use anymore and no one wanted to waste a bullet that could be used on the Russians to put them out of their misery.
Vasile’s death had come slower than most. He’d seen plenty of injuries during his stay, including gas attack victims left with a face barely recognisable as human. The Geneva Convention didn’t come here. Vasile doubted anyone outside of Romania and Russia even knew about the war. They certainly weren’t doing anything to help if they did.
A bomb went off in the distance and the sound sent a chill down Vasile’s spine. He felt it all come rushing back and he was transported back to the battlefield. There was a constant hail of gunfire and explosions as mines and grenades went off. People fell around him with blood pumping from wounds. His dream-self watched on as the gas came and people fumbled for their masks. Most people didn’t get theirs on in time and they began hacking and spluttering. The effects of the gas were sped up in Vasile’s dream and he watched as the victims’ faces became horribly disfigured. They dropped to the floor, choking and pleaded with Vasile to help them but he was rooted to the spot. Suddenly, he heard fresh screams. He looked around for the source but he couldn’t find one. They sounded different to the others, closer. He woke with a start and realised that he was the one screaming. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence in the flat and none of the other boys were even interested enough to look in his direction. The war had left them devoid of emotion.
Vasile’s father had been taken off to fight at the very start of the war. They would probably never know for sure but he had almost certainly died on the frontline. His mother and sister were still at home when he had been taken away over a year ago. The truck had arrived at the school one day and taken all the boys away to war. He hadn’t been able to say goodbye and he had no idea how or where they were now. Since being taken away, he’d used the same uniform every day and he couldn’t remember the last time he’d been able to have a shower. Thankfully, his suffering was almost at an end.
He felt himself slipping into another traumatic dream. This time he was charging forwards, rifle in hand. Thousands of soldiers charged with him but they were being butchered by the enemy. The scene shifted to another memory. Vasile and a few others had made it behind enemy lines and were gunning them down. He glued his finger back on the rifle and cut the Russians down. His eyes were blank as he marched onwards remorselessly. Suddenly, he was back in the flat, shivering and hyperventilating.
He had been brought back to reality by the door being opened. A soldier walked in with a child a couple of years younger than Vasile in his arms. He put the boy down against the wall opposite him and then left without acknowledging the others in the room. The boy had been shot in the leg and blood was still oozing through his trousers. Judging by his pale complexion, he had lost a lot of blood. Vasile had seen this sort of thing before and he knew nobody had bothered to bandage the wound or treat it in any way. The boy wasn’t going to last long.
The soldier locked the door and left them alone again. Vasile’s pain seemed to ease slightly but his vision pulsed dim. It returned to normal but not for long. His vision dimmed again. This time it didn’t come back.
You have the right to protection and freedom from war. Children under 15 cannot be forced to go into the army or take part in war