Find more of my work at


Receive notifications when this site is updated:

Subscribe by e‑mail.

Subscribe by RSS.

List of categories

50/50 Exercise #34: Lead Line: “Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking…”

Tonight his comrades are patrolling up near the logging camp. They haven’t taken Klein along because it’s a dangerous assignment, and he’s still worth too much to them as a hostage, even though they—and he—have long since stopped thinking of him primarily as a hostage.

He stays in the camp and cooks a bland meal of corn cakes and red beans to keep himself busy, and so his captors will have something warm to eat when they return from their reconnaissance mission in the cold, damp hills. He warms the canned beans a little over a propane stove and cooks the corn barely long enough to get rid of the raw taste. They can’t spare the gas for more than one hot meal a day.

The captain has assigned Miguel to guard him tonight. Miguel is the youngest of the fighters, smooth-skinned and timid and, Klein suspects, somewhat mentally challenged as a result of either inbreeding or malnutrition, both of which are common among the mountain tribes. At regular intervals, the teen swaggers into the tent with his rifle gripped tightly in both hands, but when the white man makes eye contact, he sees a mixture of admiration and confusion. When Klein offers him a plate, Miguel leans his gun against a crate, sits cross-legged on the bare dirt, and shovels the food into his mouth with his filthy fingers. Between mouthfuls, the boy grins up at Klein and nods with appreciation.

They hear a muffled shout from the direction of the uphill trail. Miguel jumps to his feet, snatches up his rifle in one hand, and holds the plate of food in the other. As Klein takes the plate from the boy, he notices that the hand that holds it is trembling. He tucks the dirty dish out of sight among the cartons of supplies. Miguel composes himself and pushes aside the flap of the tent.

Note: The assignment was to use as a starting point the line, “Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking…,” which is the first line of the poem “This Hour and What Is Dead” by Li-Young Lee. I didn’t know what to do with that line, but it inspired my own first line and this beginning of a story about a kidnap victim who is coming to sympathize with his captors.

See also Exercise #35 and Exercise #48.

© 2008 Edward F. Gumnick

2 comments to 50/50 Exercise #34: Lead Line: “Tonight my brother, in heavy boots, is walking…”

  • this one brought tears to my eyes

  • Gayle Goddard

    We walked into the middle of this story, right on cue. I find it very interesting that you keep returning to resistance as a theme. Is this the second or third resistance story? I like the description of the young boy who is clearly in over his head and afraid. That is a great way to show that he no longer sees himself as captive, by showing someone more vulnerable than the “hostage” and the hostage caring for him. Another short story here, or maybe a book on a new topic?

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>


Subscribe without commenting