My Round 1 Submission for the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest
Update April 3, 2019: My story was selected #1 in my heat. Now I’m on to Round 2!
The assignment was:
1. Genre: Action/Adventure
2. Subject: A Harvest
3. Character: A Truck Driver
Emmet Ryan woke with a start. He lay still for a moment on the hard floor of the barn and felt the hair on the back of his neck rise as he thought today I will probably die.
Most of the men around him, groaning and coughing as they stretched stiff muscles in this drafty barn in County Meath, outside of Dublin, were older than his nineteen years, but they were as one. The 5th Battalion of the Dublin Brigade, known as The Fingal Volunteers. A crop of locally grown men engaged in the fight of their lives. The Rising had started four days ago on Easter Monday, 1916. The fight for a free Ireland. So far, he hadn’t been in any real danger, but today would be different. He said a silent prayer. Please God, give me the courage to face whatever lies ahead.
Emmet sat up and shook out the balled jacket he had used as a pillow. He tugged it on, straightening the Volunteers brass pin on his lapel before going outside for his morning ablutions. He stood at the barrel and splashed ice-cold water around his face and hair. He had no comb and pushed his fingers through his dark curls to tame them before joining the line-up formed at the cooking fire.
Cook grinned when he handed Emmet a plate of sausages and a couple of thick cuts of brown bread. “Get stuck into that and come back in a minute for yer tea. Water needs to boil again.”
His stomach growled, and Emmet found a place near another fire to sit and stretch out his legs. He folded a sausage into the bread and took a big bite.
His best pal Liam joined him. “This is better food than I’d get at home.”
Emmet thought of his own mother and the porridge she made each morning before he set off for work but didn’t want to admit he’d prefer that. “Yeah. It’s good.”
“I’ve been talking to Lieutenant Mulcahy. He’s got the assignments.”
Emmet shrugged. “I know my assignment. I’m driving the lorry.”
Liam nodded. “That’s a cushy job. I wonder if it keeps you safer or makes you a target.”
Emmet narrowed his eyes. “It’s a troop carrier not an armoured car. I don’t know how I could be any safer than you.”
Liam held up his hand. “Fair enough. I’m going to learn to drive when this is all over. I thought your job as a delivery man was boring, but it’s turned into a good thing now.”
Emmet nodded. “You should learn. It’s the way of the future. So, what’s your assignment then?”
“I’m with Mulcahy’s column.” Liam pointed to the open door of the barn where the Lieutenant picked up a lantern and carried it inside. “Speak of the devil. There’s him and Ashe. Looks like the briefing is ready to start.”
Emmet took Liam’s plate along with his own and dropped them in the tub of greasy water near the cooking pot. He gave one quick glance to the not-quite boiling water and sighed as he gave up the idea of a mug of tea. He followed the others hustling to the barn in the grey morning.
Emmet pressed in against the men already gathered and felt others push in behind him. Everyone wanted to hear Commander Ashe speak. The smell of sweat and damp woolen jackets mingled with the odour of hay and stable.
Thomas Ashe stood before a map nailed to the barn wall. He was in his late thirties or so, tall and lean with a square chin and chiselled face. His beak-like nose was accentuated by a wide waxed mustache. His collar was loose around his long, thin neck.
Ashe took his fedora off and wiped his brow with his sleeve. “Today’s mission is to continue the important work begun yesterday. Today, they’ll be more prepared for us though. Some of you will be assigned to destroy the railway line, while the rest will come with me to see what we can reap from the barracks in Ashbourne. Yesterday’s harvest of weapons from the Donabate Barracks almost doubled our arsenal with only one wounded, and since he was a constable from the Royal Irish Constabulary, he doesn’t count.”
Ashe waited for the laughter to die down before he continued. “Alright men. Pick up your weapon from Quarter Master Lawless and form up in your column. If you don’t know yet where you’re assigned, come and see Lieutenant Mulcahy.” Ashe’s second in command waved his clip-board in the air.
The fifteen men of Mulcahy’s column clambered in the back, while Ashe pulled himself up into the cab of the truck beside Emmet. They waited until the other column, each man on a bicycle, most with their Howth rifles strapped to the bar, went out the farm gate and on their way.
There was no conversation over the roar of the engine as Emmet drove. He knew the area like the back of his freckled hand and drove with confidence, cranking the gear shift to tackle the hilly countryside. They were within a couple hundred yards of the barracks now and Emmet glanced over to Ashe, who nodded.
Emmet pulled in at an access gate built into the stone wall edging a farm field. It was a good spot, hidden from view of the barracks by a hill. He killed the engine and the ticking of the cooling metal seemed loud in the sudden quiet. The men needed no orders to silently pile out of the lorry and gather on the side of the hill. Emmet knew his job was to stay near the truck, but he needed to see what was happening as well.
When the men had dispersed, bellied up to the top of the hill and watched while Sections Two and Three took up positions on either side of the road just north of the cross roads. Section One made their way up to the barracks. Emmet heard Ashe shout to the police inside the barracks to ‘surrender in the name of the Irish Republic’. Instinctively Emmet ducked as someone inside the barracks broke an upstairs window and began shooting.
The men of Section One took cover behind the stone wall surrounding the barracks. For nearly 30 minutes, there was a fierce fire-fight from Section One. Sections Two and Three were too far to be of any real help but were told to hold their positions. As Emmet watched, one of the rebels threw a home-made smoke bomb at the barracks. From within, the gun fire slowed. Emmet raised his head again. A flag made from a white towel tied to a cane was waved from the window. Surrender! They were surrendering, with no casualties on the rebel side.
Emmet leaned up on his elbows to watch and wait for the police to emerge. A bullet whizzed past from the cross-roads shocking him and he crumpled down, his face in the grass of the hill.
He crawled along the top of the hill for a better view of the cross-roads and saw a police column with more than 20 cars approaching along the side road. The white flag had been a trick and a stalling tactic as they waited for reinforcements. Emmet was frozen, watching the slow crawl forward of the police vehicles entering the ambush. Emmet’s eyes widened as it began in earnest. Sections Two and Three fired from their dug-in positions on either side of the road, spraying the convoy. The police scrambled out of their cars now, some taking cover underneath while others dashed for safety behind the stone walls.
Emmet kept his head low, watching as Section One slowly made their way back towards the cross-roads. Liam was with Section One. A man was down. Liam? No. Blood blossomed on the man’s chest but the others of Section One kept moving. Emmet’s ears rang with the noise of so much gun fire. A cloud of cordite smoke drifted towards him, choking him. His eyes watered, and he slid down behind the safety of the hill to pull his handkerchief out but froze in the act. Police. Three RIC constables had abandoned their vehicle and crept around intending to surprise Section Two from behind.
Every fibre screamed for him to lay low. They hadn’t seen him. No one will know I saw them.
Emmet crouched. He pulled out his Mauser 96 pistol. The long barrel gave it the range he needed.
He lifted it, arms outstretched, left hand cradling the right. Aimed it at the head of the lead constable.
His arm trembled. Sweat burned into his eyes. The constables were all young. Like Emmet himself. They were Irish men even though they worked for the enemy.
The three kept moving. In a minute he’d miss his chance.
He stood and shouted. “Stop. In the name of the Irish Republic, you are under arrest.”
The first two men stopped and dropped their rifles, but the third lifted his.
Emmet darted down the hill, jogging a few steps left. Then shifting to his right. He zig-zagged down, getting closer to the trio. Still the rifle’s eye followed him. He saw a red flash and the retort of the weapon roared against the backdrop of other gunfire.
Emmet felt a white-hot knife of pain flare through his left shoulder. He saw the two who had dropped their rifles bend over. If he didn’t act now, he was a dead man. Adrenalin coursed through him and the pain numbed, his left arm now useless. He gritted his teeth and his training kicked in. He took a stance, steadied his right arm. Sucked in a deep breath and thought in-two-three. Out two. He held his breath and time slowed down hold and squeeze. He fired, aiming for the knee and finished exhaling. The weapon jerked upwards from the recoil and Emmet saw the constable’s thigh explode in a mass of bloody pulp and white bone. The man went down screaming and the other two abandoned their weapons and threw up their hands in surrender.
Emmet stood still, sucking in his breath through his nose and out through his mouth, fighting the vomit that rose in his throat. He swallowed. Swallowed again.
He trotted forward, closing the gap between them and kicked the three rifles out of reach. “Pick up your comrade.”
The two constables lifted the injured man, making a chair with their crossed arms. He was weak with pain and loss of blood, but he clung to their shoulders, moaning with every step.
Emmet gestured towards the parked lorry. “Move.”
The RIC had been pinned down. Their leader tried to rally his men by standing up on a bank, only to be shot down. After that, surrender snaked through the column of RIC constables until all were captured. Many captives had been brought to the lorry to join with the three that Emmet had.
Liam pushed a captive of his own forward and saw Emmet. “Jaysus. Are you alright?”
Emmet attempted a smile. “Grand.”
“Are these three yours?”
Emmet heard the surprise and admiration in his friend’s voice. “Not a bad haul.”
With the men from the barracks, there were too many captives for the Volunteers to manage. They were ordered to gather in the middle of the crossroads where Ashe gave a speech which ended with “On behalf of the Irish Republic, you are now pardoned, but if you ever lift your hand against members of the Republic again, you will be shot.”
The doctor of the Volunteers organized transportation for all casualties to hospital, assigning men from the Constabulary to serve as drivers of their own vehicles to take the wounded.
Ashe looked at Emmet’s drying blood. “Do you need to go to hospital or are you alright to have Doc look at you back at camp?”
Emmet nodded. “I’m alright. I’m not sure I can drive though.” His left arm was limp and throbbing.
Another Volunteer drove them back to camp where doctors tended to the wounds. Emmet’s shoulder was grazed but no serious damage.
At supper Liam grunted. “It hardly seems worth it. Not much of a harvest, just to let everyone go again.”
Emmet nodded towards the barn. “We collected a ton of arms. It was worth it.”
Liam grinned. “And we showed them the Fingal Volunteers aren’t to be messed with.”
“Got that right.”
Liam nodded. “I heard tomorrow we may be sent to reinforce Dublin.”
They all went to sleep early. Emmet flexed his left hand as he drifted to sleep, getting ready to drive his lorry in to Dublin, to the heart of the fight for Ireland.
The next morning, it was fully daylight before the briefing was called. Ashe stood waiting for silence.
Liam grumbled to Emmet. “We should be on our way by now.”
Ashe’s forehead was a deep furrow. “Men. The orders are in. Lieutenant Mulcahy has verified the orders, so there’s no denying them.”
The man standing beside Emmet shifted uneasily from foot to foot.
Ashe continued. “I have here an order, signed by our Commander-in-Chief, Padraig Pearse, instructing us to surrender.”
A moan of pain and disbelief went through the group.
Ashe held up his hand. “I will read the order in full.”
Emmet felt the man beside him wipe tears from his eyes. Emmet felt a sob building in his own throat and swallowed hard, listening as Ashe read.
In order to prevent further slaughter of the civil population and in the hope of saving the lives of our followers, the members of the Provisional Government present at headquarters have decided on an unconditional surrender, and commandants or officers commanding districts will order their commands to lay down arms.
Ashe now looked up, took a deep breath and gulped, his Adam’s apple jumping visibly. “The order is signed P.H. Pearse, Dublin, this twenty-ninth day of April 1916.”
The weapons were stacked, like so many shocks of wheat sheaves.
The men formed up in their sections, and then Ashe nodded to the section leaders.
The orders rang out. “Men, atten-tion.”
Emmet stood with his comrades. Row upon row.
The man on his right spoke quietly from the side of his mouth. “Show no fear, son. Today is theirs. Tomorrow will be ours. One day Ireland will be free.”
Emmet straightened. Chin up. Shoulders back. Today I didn’t die. This was not our season, but it will come, and I’ll be ready.