Two boys with toy rifles crawl through a drainage ditch at the far end of the high school practice field. The fog smudges distant buildings into blots of ink. Both boys stop and gaze out of the ditch.
“They’re coming,” says the taller of the two, a ten-year-old with too much black hair in a curly heap on top of his head. He rolls over, digs into the cargo pocket of his pants, and draws out a roll of black electrical tape.
“All right, Jack. Who is it this time?” The other boy, thin enough to slip between the posts on the guardrail at the zoo, wipes his nose on a shirt sleeve.
Jack peels a section of tape from the roll and starts covering the orange cap at the end of his play gun. “The Germans, Gabe. The Germans.”
Gabe frowns. “I’m tired of playing world war.”
Jack pokes out his tongue. “Who is it then?”
“Maybe we’re protecting the homestead from border ruffians?” Gabe aims his rifle into the fog. A new shape appears as a black scribble against the white backdrop.
“With these rifles? These are M1s, Gabe. They didn’t have M1s in the old west.” Jack tacks one last piece of tape on his gun. “There.”
“What’re you doing?”
A smile splits across Jack’s face. “Covering up that stupid safety tip. Now this looks like a real gun.”
The black shape comes closer and melts into a man. Both boys watch him and fall silent. Jack raises his gun, takes careful aim, and squeezes the trigger as “Crack!” pops from his mouth.
The man tumbles to the ground.
Jack utters a low, almost whispered, laugh.
“Got him.” Jack rises to a crouch and starts toward the prone body. “C’mon!”
Gabe swallows hard and follows, crouching like his friend.
The man lays in an awkward, spread-eagled pose. One arm splays above his head while the other is folded across his chest. His hand clutches at his long, grey coat. Blood smears his fingers.
The man’s eyes dart between both boys. He opens his mouth. “Meine Frau und Kinder. Sorgfalt für sie, bitte…”
“German. I told you so,” Jack taunts. He raises his gun and “Pow!” fires at the man’s head.
In the distance, the sound of straining diesel engines and the clank of tank treads echo through the fog. Jack and Gabe exchange a look.
“We better find cover,” Jack says. He runs for the ditch.
Gabe is frozen. He looks down at the dead man, staring at the empty eyes.
“C’mon, dummy!” Jack calls.
“You’re an asshole, Jack…” Gabe lowers his head and sprints after his friend, muttering under his breath.