Title: WAR KIDS
Audience: Young Adult
When fourteen-year-old Jada wakes up in a hospital, the last thing she thinks is that her life has completely changed forever. But when the very real civil war forces her to flee from every open space, she must use the firearm skills her father taught her to reunite with him and protect herself.
Armed with a single gun and a key to an unknown locker, Jada crosses Syria on a journey with a group of children called the Fearless Freedom Fighters. With the leader, Zak, they mount a plan to rescue their fathers while they try to cope with the merciless murders of their families. As Jada and Zak lead the group together, love blossoms, but with soldiers hot on their tail, they need to stay vigilant in the face of war.
WAR KIDS – deals with the very real crisis of the ongoing Syrian Civil War through the eyes of young children as they try to stay strong despite the overwhelming presence of death. The novel provides a number of perspectives from young characters as they deal with the deaths of their families, the destruction of their villages and their ongoing need to survive.
“Wake up. Run.”
Jada wake up! I scream to myself.
Taking a breath in to prepare myself for what I was about to see, millions of tiny molecules fly up my nostrils, tickling the inside as they move. I can taste the particles. What is this familiar taste? It reminds me of when I was playing, with chalk outside on the street and licking my finger by mistake. It took all the moisture from my mouth and left an unpleasant taste in return. Where am I?
A cold shiver runs over my body. Why do I feel like I’m covered in dust? Why was chalk dust in the air? What’s happened? My father never trained me for this, are they going to kidnap me the same as they did with my father?
My terrified eyes are unwilling to see what awaits me. With a blink of my eyes, like the flash of a lightning bolt a scene of unthinkable horror in front of me.
Chaos unfolds in front of my eyes; there is a blurred image of a boy younger than me stands trembling at the end of my bed, with a bewilderment look on his face covered in dust with tears streaking down his face. I can see his dazzling white teeth as he screams…
Why can I not hear him? Oh, my god what has happened to the poor child he looks petrified. Where is his Mother? Where is mine? The only sounds I can hear are my pounding heart. Do not know if this is a horrible nightmare or not?
Frantically looking around for Mother, she not here, why am I here alone? Mother I need your help, I’m lying on a hospital bed, how could she leave me here?
With a sheet of grey dust over my body, it is just settling on my face. It feels like when my mother and I would play dress up, she would add blush to my cheeks. I wish I could go back to happier times, to before the war, the time when I could be just a child those times have gone.
Questions begin to fly through my waking brain, why I am in the hospital? Who brought me here? Where is my Mother? Is she alive? God I’m frightened to death, but at least I’m alive.
Scanning the hospital, the grey walls like a snowy day in the city, yet they crumble in front of my eyes. A blaring light fights against the protective cover of the few blind slats on the window that survived the attack. Where is the light coming from it’s the middle of the night? Is my mind playing tricks on me?
I long for the smell of harsh cleaning solvents that fill your nostrils when you go to the doctors instead of the death I can smell around me.
Shifting uneasily on the bed, the plastic material squeaking against my sticky, sweaty skin, no I have to stay quiet and not draw attention to me.
I look to the bed next to me. The ceiling light has fallen down onto the bed, and sparks are flying out of the ceiling. I see the same dusty grey layer over the bed as mine, but this dust is turning blood red. I glance to the top of the bed where an elderly man is slumped. As the light sparks, I can see him more clearly. Large overgrown eyebrows on his small wrinkled face, blood, was seeping through his clothes. He is dying in front of me.
He is staring at me; I stare back; we’re both frozen in shock. Not daring to speak, his dark eyes hold my gaze. His thin, straight lips start to slowly part. Fear floods across my body. Please don’t make a sound, I beg with my eyes and shake my head.
The old man’s eyebrows rise up, and he silently opens his mouth and mimes “RUN”. Panic fills my body the hairs on the back my neck begins to prickle to the rhythm of my terrified heart. Someone help me, anyone I cannot do this. My body becomes rigid frozen in fear.
I have to move! get out of here before they get me, my body coming back to me I’m ready to take my fear on brushing the debris and dust from my face and body, and slowly shift myself to the edge of the bed, my legs are numb with a tingling feeling in my toes. My body is weak, but I have to stay strong.
As I look down on the floor beside me, where my feet are about to hit the ground, I see a body. The dust-covered body lies motionlessly; it is the caring lady doctor, the one who was looking after me – Faith. I can see glimpses of her golden strands of hair through the dust.
She isn’t moving. Is she alive? Not Faith! I remember hear soft caring voice as I faded in and out of consciousness, and the blurred image of her face peering over me, telling me everything would be okay and that she would protect me like a beautiful angel and now her lifeless body lays on the hospital floor. Tears pour down my face.
The silence shatters screams fill the air. I rush to cover my ears, the screams are unbearable. My mind is being drowned with gut reaction screams of pain filling the room; there are just too many of them I want to run, away from their pain I can’t help them, but I can’t leave them to suffer. This is not a dream; this is really life nightmare.
Light beams hit my face, drawing my attentions away from the screams. Swiftly, I turn my head and see the door open. As my eyes adjust to the blazing truck lights, I begin see the shadows in the doorway. I can’t stay I have no choice.
Shadows have become apparent, standing silently by the door. Soldiers are standing in the doorway, a sea of blue helmets with sage and brown camouflage, with black jackets to projecting their heartless bodies, faces covered by gas masks. Why do they have masks on, what are they going to do to us? There is a deep sound from them breathing into the masks. Their belts bulge with water bottles. I’m so thirsty just one tiny drop of water and the taste of chalk would be out of my mouth.
Big black boots stand among the debris, sturdy, confident. Each holds a large gun hand over the long barrel, the other over the trigger, ready for the attack. My heart skips a beat at the sight of them; there are too many of them even if I had my gun, I wouldn’t be able to kill them all, but I would be able to kill enough to hold them of so I can make a clear run for it. My father was teaching me how to use a gun before they he was kidnapped that were over a year ago, when I was thirteen. All I wanted to do was stay in bed and cry, but Mother dragged me out forcing me to continue, I would lash out at her why could she not just leave me to grieve for my father. I’m a perfect shoot now.
“Run child, run!” the elderly man screams to me, the color has completely drained from his face. Leaping off the bed, with my hands balled into fists, forgetting the Faith is lying on the hospital floor. “Ouch” She lets out a scream of pain as I land on her. Clumsily falling to the floor beside her but she is alive. She is alive. As I lie next to her, I stare into each her tear filled eyes, the sound of footsteps get closer.
“Faith I’m so sorry, what’s happening?” I frantic ask Faith, Oh no they are going to take me; I’m helpless without my gun. I don’t have much time.
“Run!” she screams. “RUN!”
Springing up from the ground the bewildered child is in front of me, without thinking I take his arm; I’m not leaving him with them! The young boys screaming stops; I think from the shock of me grabbing him. The soldiers are coming; they are bloody coming!
“Come on we have to run,” I scream at him, God I’m screaming at this terrified children, he looks like he’s been dragged through mud, he’s filthy.
Nooo…… the solider has the boy’s arm and his pulling him away from me. “Ouch” the boy yells out in pain, oh no we are hurting him, he’s being used as a human rope.
“Get off him!” It feels like a golf ball is in my mouth; I stutter as I squeal, the boys eyes look like they are going to pop out in pain! “Leave him alone you are hurting him!” I scream.
The solider is too strong no please, please let go; I cannot hold on to him. The solider continues to pull at the boy. With one fast swoop, the boy is out of my hand, and the solider picks him up in his arms.
The boy begins to scream, thrashing is arms and legs in a violent rage he looks possessed.
“Leave him alone you are hurting him!”
“Kid we are here to help, I mean you no harm.” The solider informs me as he marches out of the hospital taking the boy. Here to help?! Does he think I’m crazy? The room begins to spin, my mind cannot handle this, oh God, they are moving forward, they soldiers are coming from me now!
Turning away from the soldiers and start to run, not looking back at the boy I left behind, Jada you have no choice, but to leave him, they are too strong for you there is nothing you could do. Remember what Mother told you, you cannot protect everyone; karma will punish the evil demons. I tell myself; I’m right, but it doesn’t make me feel any better, the poor people what will the soldiers do to them, Oh God Faith is alive, what will they do to her? I heard they have been kidnapping westerns and requesting money from their government.
I have to keep moving it’s the only going to get out of here alive. Bodies are laid out on the floor; tiny bodies wrapped in blankets covered with grey dust. What the hell is going on! These are children; there are so many bodies, what did they do to deserve this? Why would anyone kill them? Trying not to disturb the bodies as I move; linger on every step. I don’t want to cause the bodies any more pain; they have already been through enough.
Hayley Lawson is the author of War Kids. She has written a young adult contemporary novel set in Syria; a story about the Syrian Civil war though the eyes of children.
She was born in Lancaster, England. Growing up in a single parent household with five other siblings; was hard, and also character building.
Diagnosed with dyslexic at an early age, she always believed if you work hard you can do anything you want. If she didn’t know how to do something she would research until she did.
As a young child she found a passion for drawing, and continued this into adulthood, graduating from the University of Central Lancashire, England with a BA(Hons) in fashion design.
At aged twenty seven, Hayley and her husband packed up their belongings for a lifelong dream to move to California. Her America dream was complete with the birth of her daughter. Her passing for traveling, continued after the birth of her daughter traveling around America with the family, and the best travelled dog.
A new job positioned opened up New York, and the family decide to relocate to Long Island, NY, which is where she currently resides.
On August 21 she was moved by the images of the Syrian conflict, and embarked on a unlikely journey of writing her first novel.
She is currently working on the War Kids sequel, an adult’s comedy and a children’s book with her daughter.