The day of the invasion. And all the green men, who were so slow and big, and stupid and strong. They left their church, their work, and their mothers and daughters and they all showed up. It was how it always went down and it was no different this time. If they weren't all so terrified, they would have thought about something sweeter to tell their daughters, or mothers and fathers. But the machine of war was running low on murder and so young men were saluting hail to death.
A swarm of choppers in formation over the cold air of the night sky. Forced obedience. The men were brave or starting to break. Green and black color on their young skin. Warm eyes, cold hands.
’’15 min!’’, the speaker in his ear hummed. All he thought about, was his wife. About her face when he brought her hot coffee to bed on a lazy Sunday morning. About the children playing soccer on the street outside and their yelling of joy filling their apartment. He thought about the mortgage and his second job and rising gas bills every month.
”10 min!” 10 minutes, he thought, while his thumb was slowly rubbing the barrel of his AR 15.
30 Rounds in a mag. 2 more mags make 90. His Beretta in his ride holster. 2 mags. 120 Bullets for a four-day mission. 30 rounds a day. That should be about 3 dead soldiers. And a lot of covering fire.
The lieutenant got up: “Don’t get hung up at the drop. Spread out, take cover. We regroup and push up to Charlie Company and the 31st. Covering fire and smoke bombs on the fields. Move fast, eyes open. Artillery will cover us until we get to the outskirts. Then we stick together and sweep the floor. Charlie will take the high ground. Good luck and see you down there.” He sat back down. Then it got really quiet.
“5 Minutes.” He remembered her last words: “Come back.” And his: “I will.” Then it all went. His grip got firmer around the gun. Her image faded. Everything faded. Nobody talked. The rotors, the sound of the engine, and the cold air outside. The chopper door opened. There was only the sound of the choppers and his rifle. His stare got strong, his eyes went cold. Then the sky started burning.
The anti-air filled the sky with fire. 2 choppers went up in a blaze and dropped down to the ground. That’s 40 men dead, before firing a shot.
“Give us green light!”, “We have to drop!” The sounds of burning steel, smoking black at 150 mph screeched and screamed.
All eyes focused on the small red light, waiting for it to turn green. Those that thought they were men, turned into boys. Those that thought they would live, realized they were about to die. All standing in a line, ready to jump into a dark hole. Into mankind’s idea of brotherly love. The light turned green and the lieutenant screamed: “GO! GO! GO!”, and everybody went! went! went!
The black sky bled orange fire. Choppers came down, men got hit. Body parts rained from the sky. He fell. Then the parachute opened. His heart was in his ear. His breath was just a formality. No man stood brave. They were pigs in the slaughterhouse trying to survive, the smell of their brother’s blood in their noses.
The parachute opened. Flashes of light all over the LZ. Small shadows running and shooting. More parachutes around him. Dead bodies hanging under. Another chopper caught fire and went down to hell.
One more time his life in his ear: “Come back home.” Her sweet lips on his cheek, her smell of home in his nose. Rainy Saturdays on the sofa, Sunday church with his kids.
Flashes of light! His legs burned up and flew off. Pain! Horror! Fear like none before. Then death’s cold lips were on his cheek. “Come back home.”
We were walking in 2 lines because the middle of the road was littered for half a mile with burned steel and dead body parts. We couldn’t tell if they were ours or theirs. But it almost didn’t seem to matter anymore. Lieutenant Queens was leading our platoon up the road. After the disastrous invasion, they send us in to regain the perimeter and support possible survivors of the 31st. All we’ve found so far were lower arms on the road. Men laying there, facing the floor. Their clothes burned into their skin, leaving a dark, yellowish color on their now naked parts. Much worse was, that they didn’t just lay there, they were frozen up in all kinds of terrific positions, horror burned into their cold faces. The cold kept them from smelling, but not dogs from starting to feed.
We just kept walking. It was quiet. There was just nothing to talk about. We all were tough men who kept it together. Because those that didn’t already got blasted. Just keeping it together is a good strategy anyways. It keeps you from thinking about it. Those that start thinking about it don’t get to go home. They don’t get to see their families again, they don’t get to touch a woman again. They lay on the street face down, their pants burned onto their ass.
That wouldn’t be me. That wouldn’t be us. We would keep it together. So we could break when we got home.
“Quite the view, huh?”, Private Kane whispered to me. “Quite the view.”, I said. He was black. I met him in base camp. He knew how to joke, so we all liked him. He was one of those people, that always seemed to feel the mood of the room, and what to say, to make everybody feel better. He walked beside me. His hands were around his rifle, but his face cool and composed. He didn’t look at the dead painting the street. He had his eyes on his comrades. On us. “You think anybody made it out?”, I asked him. I didn’t know why I thought he should know. But he was the only one I cared to hear. He turned his head to the left, staring at a bombed house, then to the right, staring at another bombed house, then he nodded while chewing his gum. “They must have. Some for sure.”
It gave me comfort even though I didn’t think he was right.
“It’s a damn suicide mission.”, Corporate Whispers said, walking behind us. He was white and from the valley, and everybody knew the whites from the valley only liked other whites from the valley. His mullet was full and always greasy from sweat. But he was one tough man. Lost his mother in a fire when he was seven. “Fell asleep with a dart in her mouth, that bitch.”, he used to tell us. A man calling his dead mother a bitch isn’t one I’d usually trust, but the cigarette burns on his hand told a story, that made me think it was all a lot more complicated than it seemed.
In an out foster homes, with his father being gone soon after, I saw that he knew how to fit in. He was loud and brash and didn’t seem to care.
Especially not for Private Kane. Maybe because he was black, maybe because Whisper’s thought Kane could always see right through him. And he didn’t like that. But after three months of base camp and another nine in special units, I learned those two had more in common than everybody thought. They both read people like headlines in the news. They both knew how to play their roles to survive with damn near any group of people.
My thoughts started trembling when I realized it was quiet. Not the good quiet. Somebody tried to be quiet! While my finger slid down to the trigger, I realized it was too late. The cloud of blood and brains hit my face before I actually heard the shots. The machine gun fire pierced through skin, cracked bones, and send brave men dead to the floor. I heard screams and yelling and then the merciless sawing sounds in the air. Without thinking my legs took control and I dove to the floor, pressing myself as close to the ground as I could. “Get down!” “Take cover!” I saw my platoon crawl behind ruins, broken vehicles, or dead bodies. Pfeeetuh! Whistling sounds directly in front of me. The bullets raced beside my head. I turned. Private Kane lay dead on the street. There was a big hole in his face, smoke coming from his eye socket. I realized that what used to be there was in my hair and face. More bullets. I couldn’t move, I couldn’t think. There was no air in my lungs, but my heart was racing like bullets around me. “Take cover!” “Take cover!” Frozen to the ground. “James!” “JAMES!”, everything started to slip, like I was falling into a dream. “JAMES! NOW!”, I realized it was Corporate Whispers screaming at me. I realized I was about to die. Then I snapped out of it. I rolled twice to my left and bullets marked the ground where I was just laying. Kane’s dead eye, filled with blood stared at me in shock. Instinctively I grabbed his body and pulled it in front of me, digging my head as deep down behind his corps as I could. The bullets hit Kane’s back. Blood squirted on me. I screamed. And screamed and couldn’t hear my screams.
Then the machine gun shot on the other side of the road. My grip was stone-hard around Kane’s body armor. My head twitched to my right. Whispers was crouching behind a house corner. The only thing still standing off the ruin. He saw me and yelled, but I didn’t hear him. He screamed at me again, while loading through his AR 15. I read his lips and understood. COVERING FIRE.
I had dropped my rifle before and didn’t even notice. My hands fished for my Beretta. My hands shaking uncontrollably, I realized I wouldn’t be able to fire a shot, even if they’d be standing right in front of me. I was in the middle of the street, and I needed to get to the sides. Hide behind any of them ruins. Kane’s body wouldn’t be cover anymore. There were more holes than flesh. Then I heard Lieutenant Queens yelling: “Smoke grenades and covering fire! Smoke grenades and covering fire! Get to the ruins!” I turned. Saw what was left of my Platoon. I realized I had smoke grenades, then the pen was pulled and I was holding on. The fire stopped. I turned to Whispers: “NOW!”, he yelled. I tossed the smoke on the road and heard it pop. Whispers span around the corner, yelling: “Covering Fire!” And started rapid firing at the ruins in front. Others followed and we were in the fight.
Now or never I thought. I pushed Kane away and jumped up. I felt like there was no blood in my head, and my legs were numb. The smoke started growing. The machine gun started sawing again. Three of us took the bullets and dropped dead. I sprinted, my head down, repeating in my head: “Not me. Not me,” and dove behind the corner beside Whispers. My mouth opened and I pulled for air. My hands gripped tight around my Beretta. Whispers nodded at me. “They are behind the ruins. We have to get through and clear the houses.”
“Kane’s dead.”, I said. My voice was broken. “You have to keep it together now, you hear?”I must have just stared because Whispers grabbed my shoulders and got in my face screaming: “Keep it together! I need you!”
I nodded and turned looking at the street. Two minutes ago, Kane was joking, now he was just a sick mixture of flesh and blood.
Then I had the thought that saved my life.
If I’d had to die. I’d kill as many as I could.
And so I would.