Paul F. McCann


Growing up in our village on Ben Mountain was a wonderful experience. As a child life was an adventure. Children learned how to shoot guns and look after weapons.

As a young adult all children were required to do some time in the army. It was compulsory to serve and then to continue on as a full member if they desired. As the pay was good and there was not much other work available, most of us in our village stayed on in the army. No one bothered to explain about the war then. No one really explained the rules we had to observe. We were ordered to do our job without question. I had about twenty good friends from the village with me.

My closest friends were Laggy, Rabba, Jonah, and Zai. It was good to stick together as some of the lads from the village couldn’t settle down, and deserted. Quite a few of them returned to the mountain. It was quite funny when they were almost immediately brought back in tanks by their fathers who feared that it might bring scandal on the family. Usually when the lads who had deserted had returned they were selected for special jobs. These missions as they were called filled us with intrigue. We were told they had been trained to be spies and they were working undercover. For many years I believed this and was proud of my friends from Ben Mountain. I gained strength and integrity just knowing that some of my best friends were doing special work for our country.

Another page of history was about to be written and a tragic thing occurred. Our country was taken over by the armed forces of a very powerful nation. At first we believed they were the invaders and we were told to kill them all. Slowly but surely, we started to see through the propaganda and the lies that we were told; slowly but surely the real truth came out.

The invading force found secret camps with torture cells. Then mass graves were uncovered. It was hard to imagine why or leaders had lied to us and even harder to accept the fact that they were killing our own people; the very ones who fought for them.

Now I had my new orders from a new leader. My job now was to identify as many of the dead victims and missing persons who went through the torture camps as I was able. I knew I would undoubtedly discover some of my friends there. We set off for into the desert with our lists of names and photographs. So it was now up to me to somehow try and bring an end to questions for many and deliver the remains of some to their loved ones.

As days passed, the eyes of the world watched in horror as victim after victim was found. Some of these poor men were still alive locked up in small cells inside the complex known as The Hell Hole.

Thousands of people were tortured either because they had deserted the army of just because they wouldn’t follow orders by those who once ruled our country. Information was being gathered and new sources of intelligence came to our attention that provided the whereabouts of certain officers who were going to stand before the courts charged with genocide.

Justice was slow in coming and each day more and more arrests were being made. It was now up to the new government to show their authority with the legal process at hand. Something special was happening in our country. We were lucky to see for the first time a democratic process working. The majority of the people were satisfied and the new Government picked up a lot of support from the people who felt positive about the future. Each day the eyes of the world were on us.

The days turned into months and still we continued to rebuild new lives from the shattered foundations around us. Once where there were ghost towns, now stood a market place with its shops. There were new schools and even a new police force. Many of us who were the new army joined the police force and now we could protect our people against the last of the insurgents who remained loyal to the old regime.

Now and then they would ram trucks into checkpoints and barracks but the trucks loaded with explosive never took away our belief or hope in a better future. We had encountered many attacks in the beginning of our new way of life. We learned a lot about our enemies out there. The information was always coming in.

Slowly we were discovering all about who our enemies were. The more we knew the more we could do to prevent them from further killing. They learned to respect us and we surprised them in their own ranks.

Most of their members were mercenaries. They had made war first on us and now it was up to us to rend it at a time of our choosing. They had bumped into a wall in a very hard place. I suppose another Hell Hole where there was no way out or back.

My only friend who was still with me from my village was Laggy. We had become inseparable. Out of the blue one day he said to me, “Topper, beyond the hill is a forest. On the other side of the forest is a road to my future and yours too if you want to come. You can stay here if you want for the rest of your life but I’m going to get myself a new life.”

I replied, “No Laggy. The time is not right yet. We will go together, but when the time is right. Ok?”

“Tell me then Topper, when will the time be right?” Laggy asked.

“I’m not sure.” I said.

“Topper if you don’t make the break now you’ll never get out of here.”

I looked at him and then to the forest and I looked even further into the horizon and said, “Ok Laggy. I guess you’re right. The time to make the break is right now.”

I dropped my weapon and took off my uniform and Laggy did the same.

“Come on lets go.” l said.

So under the blanket of twilight we walked semi naked past the bridge and along the roadside. We found an old farmhouse and in the barn were some civilian clothes. Thinking the farm was an abandoned property we took the clothes and left. Suddenly from out of nowhere a wild pig came running at us. For the first time in many years we never had a gun to shoot it and were at the mercy of a wild pig. Fortunately for us a farmer on a tractor drew his weapon and fired three rounds killing the wild animal.

We explained to the farmer what we were doing and he decided to join us as well. There we were now three people with one option. We chose a new life. We had to catch it where ever it was. We had to find that place and as we approached the forest our minds were filled with wonder. We thought about what may lay beyond it.

As strange as it was, the enemy was now far behind us. As moonlight captured the shadows we left the ghosts of our past behind in the forest. We made the journey and found a new country. After a while we all got jobs. We worked hard and saved everything we earned.

Yes indeed we had created a future out of nothing more than a slim chance. Like brothers we stayed together until one by one we found wives and now all around us we have lots of little children.