Palo Alto Weekly 18th Annual Short Story
by Natalie Feldman
strode purposefully down the bustling streets of Jerusalem. She
went unnoticed by the various passersby around her, wrapped up
in their own worries and destinations. She was just another olive-skinned
teenager wandering aimlessly through the capital city, prettier
than most, perhaps, but not worth much notice. Sakhta smiled inwardly.
Not for long.
Past the library, the jewelry store, the synagogue - she
almost spat at the sidewalk in front, but thought the better of
it at the last moment. It would not do to be stopped by some over-zealous
infidel outside their place of worship. She paused, hearing the
muezzin's wailing command for all good Muslims to come and pray.
For the first time in nearly 18 years, she ignored the compulsion
and continued on her way, sending a silent apology heavenward.
She had a holy mission to complete, and she could not stop even
for the Prophet's law. As she walked, her thoughts traveled back
to that morning. She had met Ibrahim at the arranged spot, just
outside the city walls. He'd handed her the belt and
confirmed her mission for the last time.
"Fulfill your duty to Allah," he'd warned her, "and you will occupy
a paradise beyond men's dreams. Forsake Him," he'd smiled without humor, "and
we will make sure that it does not happen again."
His message had been quite clear. If she lost her nerve at the last moment, she
would be killed without honor or ceremony. There was no hiding from the Hamas.
A group of young Israeli soldiers strolled down the street, laughing
and chatting. Sakhta scowled, and slid back into the mid-afternoon
shadows at the side of
the street. She bared her teeth at them as they passed, wishing with all
that she could detonate now and rid the world of a few more demons. But these
so-called "soldiers" were killed all the time in battle, and annihilating
them wouldn't have as much impact as where her bomb was destined for - a
school bus full of children. For a split second, her resolve wavered, but
her heart and continued walking once the soldiers passed. These beasts had
murdered innocent children, and only a similar monstrosity would drive the
truth of their
evil into their thick skulls.
Suddenly, the memories came flooding back. The camp was on fire. People everywhere,
running, screaming, against the backdrop of gunfire and tanks exploding. Her
sister Naimah's face, covered in blood. ... Sakhta shook her head violently to
clear her thoughts, blinking away tears of rage. She'd only been fourteen, but
the memories were still clear. Once the destruction was over, she'd knelt sobbing
over her seven-year-old sister's body, swearing to Allah that she would have
vengeance upon Naimah's killers. It was then that Ibrahim had found her, and
told her of a way. Now, after four years of training, she was finally ready.
She reached the bus stop and slid behind a tree to wait. If all went as planned,
the bus would be here within the next two minutes. But as she waited, doubts
began filtering in. Her mother's voice, telling her that mercy was the strongest
force in the world. The sight of the soldiers she'd passed earlier, laughing
and joking like real people. Naimah, who would have been eleven, asking her trusted
older sister why people killed each other. A voice on the radio, threatening
in Hebrew that the attacks would not go unpunished. There would be blood for
The bus pulled up to the curb, startling Sakhta out of her reverie. As the doors
swung open, she stepped out of the shadows. Just as she was about to initiate
the explosion that would repay the Israelis for her sister's death, she stopped.
Out of the bus had stepped a little girl, no more than nine years old, who looked
just like Naimah. The same thick black hair, the same brown eyes dancing with
excitement. ... Sakhta stared, unable to move, as the girl looked at her curiously,
then smiled tentatively and turned to continue chatting with her friends. The
parents who were already there to pick up their children whispered to each other,
watching Sakhta nervously. When one began walking over to her, she shed her paralysis
Not until she was almost four blocks away did Sakhta stop. Gasping for air, she
collapsed in an alley behind an abandoned store. Once she caught her breath,
the panic set in. What was she thinking? She'd just run away from everything
she'd worked towards for the past four years! She'd lost her chance Naimah's
death. Sakhta bit her lip, trying to hold back sobs. Why had she fled? The girl
getting off the bus hadn't been Naimah, she knew that. But something about the
resemblance, perhaps the innocent happiness in the little girl's eyes, had stopped
A warm breeze blew through the alley. Circling Sakhta, it seemed
to caress her face before disappearing. Suddenly, Sakhta heard
in her head,
retrieved from the depths of memory. "I love you, Sakhta. Promise
me you'll never do anything bad. I don't want you to be bad."
She'd laughed at her then-five-year-old sister's worries, but complied. Now,
she realized why she'd turned and fled at the bus stop. Part of her had known
that Naimah would never have wanted her sister to kill. Murdering innocent children
wouldn't bring Naimah back; it would only stain her memory with blood.
She stood abruptly. There would be no blood on her hands. Israel/Palestine was too violent, caught in a bloody cycle, with both sides thinking they were right and innocent children getting caught in the crossfire. She had to leave; had to go somewhere that the Hamas wouldn't find her. Pulling off the belt, with the explosives in it still not detonated, she disabled the bomb and threw the entire thing into a corner. It was harmless now. Striding out into the sunlight, she set off down the street, out of the city and ultimately, out of Israel altogether. It was time to begin a new life.
Short story writers wanted!
The 31st Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult (15-17) and Teen (12-14) categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by April 13, 2017. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category.