By Andrew Clark
Dewey cracked open a bottle of water and drank deeply. “Oh, damn,” he muttered, half coughing, half spitting water down his chest and all over his dusty boots. “This water is piss-warm.”
“What’d you expect, those bottles have been sittin’ out here all day,” Harris said, as he leaned his rifle against the concrete wall of the tower and began adjusting his binoculars.
Their shift had started at twenty hundred hours, and although the sun was already low in the sky, the mercury thermometer hanging outside the tower registered 106 degrees. Behind them, a pair of Apache helicopters broke the horizon, stealthily sailing overhead and out of sight.
“What do you think we’ll be doing tomorrow,” Dewey asked, setting the water bottle aside and taking a rag from his cargo pocket.
“Hard to say,” Harris said, slowly sweeping from left to right, and finally letting the binoculars rest against his chest, sweat already soaking the thick nylon strap that lay around his neck.
Dewey took the rag and began wiping dust off of the M2 Browning machine gun, the “Ma’Duece” which was mounted on a turret at the east corner of the tower. “Maybe we’ll have time to run over to that Hajji shop. I wanna get some more of them cheap smokes.”
“You got any of those crossword puzzles with you,” Harris asked, rummaging through his rucksack and pulling out a granola bar.
“No, I’ve gotta write my mom and ask her to send some more. I’ve got a little plastic chess set though. And some cards. Maybe we can….”
Dewey’s words were drowned out by the rapid report of an assault rifle.
Harris brought the binoculars to his face and swept the perimeter. “It’s just the Hajji taking pot shots again,” He said. “They can’t hit anything from that far out.
“I don’t know why they waste the ammo.” Dewey closed the feed tray on the Ma Deuce, pulled back the charging handle, and let the bolt slam forward. “I guess they’re just bored.”
Dewey lit up a smoke and then leaned against the wide concrete guard rail of the tower to deal cards. The wind was low, but Harris snatched his hand up quickly to keep the cards from scattering.
“Did you hear what happened in second platoon last night,” Dewey asked, shuffling his hand and putting two cards back in the stack.
“About them getting caught with booze?”
“Yeah, I guess one of the guys had his girlfriend send him some vodka in a Listerine bottle. She put green food coloring in it so it would look like mouthwash,” Dewey said, as he dealt another hand. “They probably would have gotten away with it too if it weren’t for that kid with the crossed eyes getting so shit-faced that they had to medevac him.”
“Amateurs,” Harris said. They both snickered.
The sun had slipped even further, and was nothing but a single red sliver that cracked the horizon, the darkness looming behind, as if God were putting a lid on the World.
Harris’s feet were particularly sore and bothersome that evening and he shifted his weight back and forth trying to relieve some of the discomfort. “All of those foot patrols we did last week really turned my feet into hamburger,” he said.
“You’re lucky you didn’t have to carry the sixty,” Dewey said, “that thing’ll kill your shoulders.” He shrugged as if to make sure that they were still intact.
“You got any bug repellent in your pack,” Harris asked, wiping sweat from his brow with his handkerchief.
“Sure, let me see what I got….”
There was a loud boom followed by a bright red flare that screamed and whistled overhead, finally burning out a few hundred feet left of the tower. The ground shook as it landed.
“ Whooee,” Harris said, whistling through his teeth as if trying to mimic the sound of the mortar. “That was a pretty close one. Hajji must be feelin’ frisky tonight. First AD outta be getting pretty busy up there near the north gate in a few minutes.”
“Yeah, they always get all the action,” Dewey said, tossing a can of bug spray to Harris.
“That’s alright by me. In this heat I don’t wanna move unless I have to. Besides that, I don’t wanna be anywhere near that gate if one of them suicide bombers show up.
“At least you’d burn up quick, not like standin’ out here and smoldering all day.”
“Yeah, but I’ve never cared for the char-broiled look.” Harris said, while he hosed himself down with the repellent.
“Build a man a fire and you warm him for a day. Catch a man on fire and you warm him for the rest of his life.”
They both laughed at the old joke.
“You know something I can’t figure out?” Dewey asked.
“You know how sometimes a guy will get burned up so bad that the doctors have to pull dental records to identify the body?”
“Well if they don’t know who it is, how the hell do they know who his dentist is?”
“You’re fucked up,” Harris said, chuckling.
Another mortar shell came shrieking over the outside fence and landed a good distance from the tower, throwing up dust and debris.
“Man that’s hard on the ears,” Dewey said. “We’re both gonna end up needin’ hearing aids by the time we’re forty.”
Twilight had set in. Harris looked up and the moon grinned back at him, making him think of the first time he took a girl to the bluff that over looked his home town. That night was a world away, a lifetime ago; removed from his soul and replaced with a dreadful longing.
“I’m gonna break out the night vision goggles,” Harris said.
Dewey sighed, wiping sweat from his face, “man, those cheap razors I’ve been using are givin’ me razor burn.
“You should get one of the new Mach III’s.”
“Yeah, when’s that gonna end,” Dewey joked, “I think I’ll just hold out for the Mach VIII, turbohydromatic super glide with radar sensors and full-swivel head. I’ll use it once and never have to shave again.”
“Quiet a sec.” Harris adjusted the range on his goggles and studied the landscape.”
“What is it?”
“Holy shit… I can’t believe they made it through the outside gate.” Harris grabbed his rifle from against the wall and shouldered it, taking aim.
An RPG round deflected off the east side of the tower; chunks of concrete rained down on the Ma Deuce, shattering the night vision scope. The AK’s opened up; bright orange sparks seemed to illuminate the mass of the tower as the bullets ricocheted in all directions.
“Fuck me!” Dewey jumped behind the turret, pointed the muzzle of the big gun at the flashes in the distance, and hammered down on the trigger with both thumbs.
“There are more to your right!”
“I can’t see shit!” Dewey yelled, just before letting go on the flashes coming from the right. “I don’t see the RPG gunner!”
“He must be further out!”
Harris forgot about the heat; he forgot about the pain in his feet and knees; about the nagging weight of his flak vest as it dug into his shoulders; about the mosquitoes nibbling at his ears and neck. He searched the darkness, desperately, methodically.
And as he searched, his mind raced. He found himself thinking about a car accident he’d witnessed as a boy: A high-speed roll-over; the woman driving had been crushed inside of the car. One mangled, bloody arm had been hanging out of the shattered window; the other arm, completely detached, had been lying in the road like the branch of tree after a storm. “What happened,” he’d asked his mother, horrified by the scene. It was the first time he’d seen someone die. “She lost control,” his mother had answered. Her voice had sounded hollow and far away.
Another RPG round sailed toward them, missing the tower by just a few feet and finally landing about 100 yards behind it. Harris thought he could see where the rounds were coming from, and he zoomed in with his goggles. About 500 yards ahead, there was a burned out, abandoned shack, barely visible above the ground. As Harris focused in on it, he could see that most of the shack was beneath the ground, forming a distinguishable hump on the otherwise flat terrain. How these men knew about the little hideout was anyone’s guess.
“There!” Harris yelled, pointing toward the mound.”Do you see it?”
“No!” At that distance, in the dark, it was virtually invisible to the naked eye.
“Start firing in that direction and I’ll walk you in.”
Dewey swung the turret around and took aim. The loud gun rattled every nerve in Harris’s body, deafened every thought. Still, he continued to concentrate on the target, doing his best to block out the other commotion.“Two clicks down, three clicks left!” he yelled.
There was a tiny window in the hut, and Harris could faintly see the dark outline of a human head; he knew that the faceless man was preparing to fire another round.
“Three clicks down, one click left,” Harris screamed.
They were close, but the target was small, and Harris knew that they had to hit the top of the building; hitting the dirt mound that surrounded it would only stop the massive rounds dead in their tracks.
A slight movement in the window, and Harris was almost sure he could see the tip of the RPG move into position.
“One click up, one click left,” Harris said.
Dewey pulled the trigger and nothing happened. “JAMB!”
Harris jumped from his position, not really feeling his own limbs as he raced to assist Dewey. He could feel the panic rising and trying to take over. He kept control, though he felt as though he were trapped in one of his nightmares where he is trying to run from something but can’t move.
As Dewey pulled the bolt back, Harris fumbled with the feed tray with fingers that felt twice their normal size. He cleared the jamb and reset the feed, noticing that there were only a few rounds left in the box. They had another box, but it was down below the tower. The perfect place for it, Harris thought.
“Clear,” Harris yelled, and then brought the binoculars back up to make sure the target hadn’t moved.
He waited for an eternity, and then waited some more, knowing that they would be too late.
The Ma Deuce rang out into the night, breaking the momentary silence, singing a hymn of wrath and destruction.
The first round struck just below the window sill, penetrating beyond the wall, and the rest followed a straight, upward trajectory to the roof. The man dropped from view and Harris knew he would not rise again.
“Damn good hit,” Harris said. He looked at the empty feed tray.
Dewey slumped over the turret, panting, blood trickling down his arm.
“Damn good hit,” Harris said again. And then he grabbed his first aid kit and went to work on Dewey.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student