The suffocating heat of the afternoon is losing its grip as early evening sashays in a few cool, cottony clouds to block the slicing rays of sun. The landscape is relatively quiet; the day has been without incident so far. The other lookouts and I settle into a false sense of security, letting our attentions wander to other places we would rather be.
A methodical pinging sound slowly begins. I am coaxed out of my complacency by a sense of impending doom. I know that sound, like flesh on metal. I need to warn my troops. My eyes feverishly scan the terrain, but I don’t see them. They have already heard the signal and have taken it upon themselves to act. And not just my troops. They all have. In the blink of an eye, they are all thrusting themselves into the middle of it. I’m too late.
And then the screaming begins. I see hands and feet whiz by me at a breakneck speed. Some appear to be actually enjoying the primal emotions being brought to the surface. They become emboldened, even ruthless, in this dangerous dance of sorts. But others weren’t meant for this, and they cave from the fear. For brief seconds I glimpse the desperation that flays their eyes wide open, and I hear the terrified pleadings for their mothers.
I blurt to one of the other lookouts, “We have to stop it!” But we are helpless. The wheel is in motion and has gained too much momentum, and the ones who have been hardened by years of this torture are maniacally eager to keep it going. Our pleas for them to stop fall on deaf ears. All that is left to do is futilely stare at what we should have prevented had we been doing our jobs, had we been properly looking after our troops, and pray for minimal casualties.
It’s every man for himself as the centrifugal force starts picking them off, one by one. They fall to the ground, pieces of bark and shredded tire impressed into bare knees and tangled into hair. Their comrades don’t even try to help as running feet trample them, caught up in the rush. Oh, the horror! They’re only children, for God’s sake! Every mother stands on edge, not wanting it to be her son or daughter. Just let my child make it off alive.
I hate that %#@*&% merry-go-round.