One way I will be making the transition out of the Army is to begin writing stories set in the places I served. In this story, Camp Adder, Iraq, gets attacked, which never happened during the time I was there.
I died happy. The bullet tore through my neck, sliced my aorta, and severed my spine. I grabbed my neck and tried to scream, but the scream in my head was just gurgling in my throat. The men around me just saw me slump to the ground. No sound from me. Just the single shot that ripped the air and the hollow thunk as the round tore through my throat and spiraled through my chest.
I stopped breathing right away with all the blood in my throat. I was dead as soon as my body hit the ground and brain dead as I bled out on the Iraqi tarmac. The AK-47 round broke the titanium plate that held my neck together. The neurosurgeon that had put in the plate said if I got hit by a Humvee that plate would hold the last three vertebra in my neck together. He didn’t say anything about an AK round.
My last tour ended when the Blackhawk crashed and I broke my neck. I left that tour on a MEDEVAC to Germany. This time I would go home in a body bag. No agony this time. If I have to die, I am glad it was fast.
My soul was on its way to Purgatory. Would I be there in a second, a minute, hours, who knows? Time was smearing. I am not supposed to believe in Purgatory; I am a Presbyterian. But belief makes no difference here. We think we know who God is when he is far away, like a star light years away is just a shining circle in the sky. Here you know there is someone in charge. Someone powerful and real. Someone close, but mysterious too. The corpse bleeding out at the Camp Adder west gate is starting to seem like someone I used to know.
I can’t say any more now. The OPSEC rules are tight in eternity. But I can see the place I died. The gunner on our MRAP armored truck is swinging the turret looking for something, someone to light up. The rest of the squad is down at the gate or behind the berm looking for the Hadji motherfucker who killed me.
I can’t tell anybody, but the little bastard is 200 meters out buried in the dune. He knew this would be a suicide mission. His Momma in Nasariyah is getting $2000 for this. Now he is out there with his gun under belly, stone still having seventy-second thoughts about getting his virgins.
The Apaches are up. If the little fuck can stay still he might last till morning. Sergeant Blewell is on the radio. Major Tedesco is in the lead Apache. Blewell is cold furious about me being dead. Not like I am a teacher’s pet or anything but she trained us and she was waiting for us at the gate. Now this little fuck dropped one of her boys and there ain’t no way she will sit still for that.
The gunner on the MRAP sees something on the dune 200 meters southwest of the gate. Tracers slam into the sand. The Apaches swoop down from their scan toward the impact zone.
Nothing. Minutes pass.
Then fifty meters right of the MRAP gunners aiming point, Hadji loses his nerve and bolts. Tedesco and the .50 cal gunner both see the kid jump. Three steps later he is vaporized by 100 machine gun rounds, as many 30mm cannon shells from the lead Apache and the rounds from a half-dozen M4s.
Sergeant Blewell emptied the magazine from her M4. As soon as the Apaches pulled up Blewell started running toward the body—or the smear. “There better not be a piece left of him bigger than an ant’s asshole,” she said as the nearest fire team looked at each other then ran after her.
The three men grabbed her by the arms and the vest. “You know you can’t go out there Sergeant Blewell,” the team leader said. “They’ll bust your ass to E-fuckin’-nothin’.” She struggled, but she knew they were right. And she was NOT going to get dragged back. She turned and walked back to the gate in the last light of the dirty sunset.
I was gone. I was being pulled up so high or far or something that I could not tell what was happening.
Then I was on my face in the dirt. I picked up my head and saw a brown face in front of me. He was lying on his belly too. By the look on his face he had no more idea where he was than I did. I could swear I knew this guy, but he looked like an Arab GQ model. How would I know a dude from an airbrushed magazine cover?
Then I knew who he was. He was the vaporized little fuck that killed me.
And I knew at that moment that we whatever we were going through we were going to be partners.
Going to heaven is supposed some kind of family reunion with rainbows and unicorns and shit.
Fuck. It means I have to love the little shitbag who shot me. I knew this eternity shit would have a catch.
He smiled weakly and reached toward me with a dark, open hand.
We grabbed each other’s hands. They were real hands. We had bodies.
A mountain loomed in front of us. I knew we had to go. I think he did too.