April 4

International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action

 

The protective boots reminded you of the giant rain galoshes your mother used to make you wear in grade school.  No doubt, your over-protective mother would have approved of the rest of your outfit: a hard-shell body vest, with an attached shield that covered your groin; a stiff metal helmet with a clear, shatter-proof visor.

Mom would not have approved of today’s volunteer mission, however.  She always tried to keep you out of harm’s way.

But some risks were worth taking.  Once you’d cleared the way, other people could walk safely.  A young mother could push her baby carriage across a dirt road, without worry that any irregularity in the path might signal an unseen threat beneath.  An elderly gentleman could cross the field and the ground wouldn’t explode beneath him, his frail, unprotected flesh torn to pieces.  Children could run and play in the grass, and a stray baseball wouldn’t trigger a mutilating eruption.

You brandished the modified minesweeper device.  Instead of acting as metal detectors, the new models sent a spray of mist from the sensor dish.  The mist contained human pheromones and blood plasma, as a lure.

Today’s mines are not made of metal.  They have teeth, and long sharp fingernails at the ends of clawing fingers.  Nobody knows what enemy put them there, or what’s brought them so close to the surface.

The team of volunteers spreads across the abandoned park, claiming their quadrants. In your section you spray the mist-lure, watch as a pink tint moistens the ground.  Maybe the chemical lure doesn’t work, and it’s the vibration of footsteps that draw them out.  You stamp heavy boots as you walk, spray another coating of mist.

Nothing.

Then Jacobs — you think it’s Jacobs, but it’s hard to tell with his visor down — Jacobs triggers an attack, an explosion shooting upward, gravel and dirt and teeth and clawed fingers flying like shrapnel, bouncing off his chestplate, reaching for the visor, and Jacobs (or whoever) screaming, aiming the bayonet attachment of his device, tearing into the mine, finding the creature’s throat, slitting its stomach vertically, kicking at it with his heavy boots.

Disabling it, basically.

You find out later, it was actually Garrett.  And that his arm got scratched, since his sleeve hadn’t been tucked properly inside his protective glove.  Garrett had to be disabled, too.

Sometimes a casualty couldn’t be avoided.  At least it was only one, this time.

That night, after you’ve returned your protective gear, you walk along hard solid sidewalks to get home.  Beneath you, the ground seems to throb with a heartbeat.  At night, there’s a loose spring in your mattress, and it feels like a knuckle.  You’re afraid to move in your sleep, afraid a lump in your pillow will uncurl and tear through the fabric, through your defenseless neck.