by William Lapham
I remembered what started the war. I volunteered in the fervor that followed.
The shooting part was over. The only sound came from crackling fires and radio static.
I was alive, but I felt like and older version of me: a thinner version with more holes. I sat on the amputated wheel of a Humvee and took a pull on my hydration tube. I lit a cigarette, and laid my rifle across my lap.
A large crow flapped and landed about a hundred meters away. Another joined it, then several more. They pecked at a mound of rags. I heard a scream from that direction and figured the rags weren’t dead yet. I brought my rifle up and squeezed off three rounds. Black feathers burst into the air and floated back down. The murder launched in a fury of caws.
I drew cigarette smoke deep inside, blew it out, watched it rise and dissipate. I flicked the butt in any direction. It didn’t matter where it landed, it all looked the same: twisted metal frames; burning hulks; tree trunks snapped in half; dead men’s limbs splayed at ridiculous angles; pieces of things strewn in haphazard hysteria.
Elbow on my knee, chin in my dirty palm, I closed my eyes. My blood flowed slower. Sleep draped over the still images in my head: a clash of angry armies, frightened men, living targets. The tension induced by rapid aiming and shooting eased. The sensory insult of fire, smoke and violent reverb all damped away. The electric sense of running out of time, the fear of facing a luckier motherfucker than me, faded like the approach of twilight.
I kept my Kevlar on and dozed off—
A blast startled me awake. I flopped on the ground and shouldered my weapon. It was all one movement, probably indistinguishable, if someone were observing, as separate from the sound. I scanned for something to shoot. A plume of flame rose in the air to my left, blackened, and drifted away in the wind. A gas tank had cooked-off.
I stood and lowered my weapon but kept it ready. I seemed to be alone. I stepped carefully, ran across open spaces, took cover behind shit the functionality of which had been reduced to only that.
A pair of jets flew over so low I felt their exhaust. Great, more heat, I thought. They hit the afterburners and shot straight up in a skull pounding roar.
It seemed to take forever but I got to the edge of the mayhem’s consequences, took a knee and waited for something else to happen.
A chopper flew over me from behind, flared and landed in a billowing cloud of dust. A guy in the door waved me over. I ran and jumped in. We lifted off at once. My knees buckled, and on my way down, an empty seat on the way up hit me in the ass. The shock of the collision evacuated my lungs. I coughed.
“You hit?” the crewman yelled.
I shook my head negative, gloved fist over my gagging mouth.
“Jets alerted on you, told us you were here,” he said, looking out the open door. “What a fuckin’ mess.”
I nodded in agreement. Closed my eyes. Felt the wind slap my face.