Open the Box !

Open the box!

by Dennis Thomas


Tick, tock. Tick, tock…

Hickory, dickory, dock.
The mouse ran up the clock…


“Charlie Bravo!  Come in, Charlie Bravo.  Over.”

Control’s voice crackled in his earpiece.

“Roger, Control, Charlie Bravo here.  Anything I can do for you?  Over.”

“Roger that, Charlie Bravo, but don’t get too lippy out there.  What have you got for us, Josh?  Over.”

Sergeant Josh White blinked.  Even with a tinted, polarised visor fitted to his all-over helmet the sun’s rays still managed to force their way in and the midday heat was already beating a path to the inside of his protective suit.  Mad Dogs and Englishmen didn’t count for much out here.  In fact, Afghanistan offered little for any kind of dog or Englishman at any time of day.  But there was good reason as to why he was here.

Josh frowned.  His eyesight cleared.  He adjusted his posture; he needed to.  Blast suits weigh about eighty pounds.  To effectively stop a blast wave, thick layers of Kevlar, foam and plastic were needed to prevent serious bodily harm.  Since his entire body needed protection, the resulting bomb suit was heavy, hot to the point of risking heat-stress, and – joy of joys, thought Josh – impaired movement.  Experience had taught him to take his time; move slowly – less is more.  Do things at a measured pace.

The nursery rhyme he shared back home with his little boy, Ben, helped.  Slowed things down.  Kept things ordered in his mind.  They needed to be; ordered, that is.


Hickory, dickory, dock.
The mouse ran up the clock…


Just those two lines though.  Until…the moment.

“Come in, Charlie Bravo.  Repeat.  What have you got for us?  Over.”

Josh stopped walking and slowly dropped to his knees; the Kevlar padding creaked as he steadied himself in the dust.

“Roger, Control.  Just as we thought.  You’ll need to keep all those people back and well out of the way – best clear the market square right now.  The drinks cool-box at the front of the boy’s bike is hot-wired, for sure.  And the boy himself is wired too, Control, with barbed wire…tethered to his bike.  What kind of people are these?  Over.”

“Wilco, Charlie Bravo, copy that.  Orders given for complete square clearance.  Is the boy OK?  Over”

“Crying…scared.  Probably of me, in this outfit!  He’s not part of this, they don’t usually tether someone to a delivery; this is a message.  I can’t afford to cut him free, his wires might be part of the circuit; can’t tell at the moment.  Just get those people back!  Over and out.”

A bead of sweat tickled its way around Josh’s left eye; even his bandana was being tested today.  He looked at the boy.  He gave him the universal ‘thumbs-up’.  The boy did the same in reply.

He’s OK, thought Josh.


Tick, tock.  Tick, tock…

Hickory, dickory, dock.
The mouse ran up the clock…


He looked around the cool-box, its latched lid sat slightly ajar.  Innocent enough.  Except for the crude cut-away at its rear; just enough space for a hand to reach in to trigger the device, but not enough space for hands fitted with thick Kevlar gloves.

Then, the demons arrived in his head.  They usually did about now.

“Open the box!” they cried.  “Open the box!!”

Josh normally resisted their advice.  Today, he thought, he did not have a choice; today the demons win.  Carefully, gently, deliberately…he lifted the lid a little.  The military grade head-lamp shone brightly into the gap.  It was enough for him to see what he had to do, what he had to try.  Josh had seen this kind of device before; he’d begun to grasp this particular bomb-maker’s ways.  But, as everyone knew, nothing was a certainty in this job.  He set to work.


Tick, tock.  Tick, tock…


To Josh, seconds felt like minutes; minutes felt like hours…


Hickory, dickory, dock.
The mouse ran up the clock


…until he reached that moment; the moment of truth.  Josh reached into the box with his long-nose cutters and snipped at the final wire.


The clock struck one;
The mouse ran down,
Hickory, dickory, dock!


“Come in, Control.  Over.”

“Roger, Charlie Bravo.  What news?  Over.”

“All good, Control.  Device deactivated; send over a clean-up crew, we’ll need to back-engineer this one.  I’ll cut the boy free and get him back to you.  Enough for one day, I’d say.  Over.”

“Roger, Charlie Bravo, but sorry, old son.  We’ve just been told we’ve got another one… Over.”


…Hickory, dickory, dock…



(c) Dennis Thomas 2020