Light came first, followed by darkness. He never heard the blast. Waking slowly, wishing he could drink something, Pvt. Richard Malloy opened his eyes. He looked around, not moving, not able to feel anything below his waist. The memory came back in a jittery rush, the jeep bumping toward Hamadi Fayadh, then the whiteness.
“Take it easy here,” Buddy said before the hit.
“We just came through,” said Richard.
A group of children on the side of the road waved to him, then as they passed, the greeting changed to shoes turned soles up, the ultimate insult. Buddy laughed, a mirthful rumbling.
“Take it easy here. We just want to get home, you know?”
Richard pulled himself into the present. Shouldn’t there be pain? He tried moving his legs, hoping to push himself into a standing position, but nothing.
“You’re dying,” a voice said. He couldn’t move his head far enough around to see the speaker. “We’re dying.
“IED?” Improvised Explosive Device. Maybe the children had set it up, but he doubted it.
“Yes. Blew you to hell. I was standing too close.” The man swore to himself in Iraqi.
“Someone will be by soon,” said Richard.
“Someone already drove by; they turned their heads. I think they were private contractors. They never see anything they don’t get paid to see. And even then.”
“When we don’t show up at the checkpoint, they’ll send someone.”
Richard knew he sounded frightened. He closed his eyes, not wanting to doze, but not being able to remain conscious. He might have dreamed. Children whispered to him, some tugging at his hands, others washing him with sweet water. He moaned, remembering something that happened to him as a child.
His father had parked the old Ford by the side of the road, hood up, emergency lights blinking. The heat seemed to ripple in front of them. The sun, directly above, cast little shadow. His father wiped at his forehead with a sleeve, then turned toward the town, some thirty miles away.. They had called emergency service over an hour ago. Except for the road, there was no sign of civilization. No car had come this way since they broke down. Seeing his father’s face, Richard was stunned to see a bit of worry there.
“Are we gonna be okay?” he asked.
His father took some time before answering. “We’ll be fine. We came the wrong way. We shouldn’t have come out here. Something must have happened. I’ll call again in a few minutes and see what’s wrong.”
“What if they don’t come?”
That’s when they heard the vehicle approach. It came along at a fast clip, a pick up truck with faded green skin. It had a crane attached to the back and lettering painted on the side in white. As it approached, the driver slowed, leaning forward over the steering wheel to better see them. Richard remembered the man’s squint, a stupid expression which could be either puzzlement or disapproval. His father waved to the driver, then pushed Richard out of the way when the truck veered. Metal ramming bone and muscle into metal made an unimpressive sound.
“A preacher used to scare us when we were children,” his father once said. “He’d look down and say: ‘I’ve seen things in darkness that no one should see by light of day.’”
His father laughed at his son’s confusion.
“Yeah, that’s how I felt when I first heard it. I took it to mean that no matter how horrible things are, there’s always worse. That there’s no peace. Ever. Pretty cheerful. I guess that’s why we fell away from the church.
After seeing his father’s eyes when he died, Richard searched the sun until blindness burned away the image.
“You should pray,” said the Iraqi.
“I’m not a believer.”
The Iraqi laughed. “Infidel even to your own.”
Richard couldn’t disagree. He wriggled around until he found his sidearm. He figured he didn’t have much time to shoot the Iraqi before blacking out. It didn’t make sense, but reason was an idiotic prerequisite for action.
“What are you doing?” asked the Iraqi. The man sounded amused. “Stop. It’s over. What’s the point?”
Richard struggled to drag himself around. No one. He turned the other way. No one. The other man was obviously moving with him, staying out of sight and out of range. Richard lay back down, crying in frustration.
The game over, the Iraqi laughed. “What a waste,” he said. “When you’re dead, you’ll look back and remember this moment. Then, you’ll turn and see things in darkness…”
“That no one should see by light of day,” said Richard, completing the sentence.
“Yes,” said the Iraqi, sounding surprised. “It makes me weep that you won’t be buried at home.. Do you know what will happen if the children come and find you? They’ll tie you with ropes and drag your body through the streets, singing. They’ll dismember you and set you on fire for a warning. But then what does that matter to you? Infidels never care about the darkness.”
Richard again began moving, trying to find the man behind the voice. Pain now engulfed him, agony like he had never known. Something strong, with horrible teeth, tore at him, devouring large chunks at a time. Screaming, he fired the sidearm, aiming indiscriminately until the clip emptied.
When his last bullet was spent, he lay back and stared at the sun, waiting for the blindness.
The following words were removed
Blast for explosion
Searched for looked into
Weep for cry
Skin for paint
Sweet for cool
Expression for look
Ramming for crushing