ACT 1: Last Mission
“You graduated?” A man towers over me in the backyard of a crowded house party. “I thought you’d be a fuck up forever, but I guess you’ve just peaked early. It’s just downhill from here huh?”
Sitting alone in a lawn chair, I sigh under my breath. “Please Jimmy, not now.” I couldn’t figure out a good enough excuse to bail and now I have bigger problems. “This is why I don’t go to parties. In every seat there’s a pack of insecure Jocks feeling up some lonely girl’s dress, snorting mystery powder, or fucking with people who are just trying to relax.”
“Then why’d you come? You know this is Jessica’s party right?”
“Yeah, she invited me,” He snickers at my reply. I look up at him. “Move on, Jimmy. She doesn’t love you anymore.” Jimmy resents that she left him and although I tease him for it, I know his pain. He can’t comfort her when she’s sad, cuddle her when she’s cold, he can’t love her at all. He sleeps alone and comforts himself regardless of his hatred toward himself. Jimmy now has to learn how to love someone he hates.
Anxious to escape, I look down and start playing with my watch. Jimmy’s face turns bright red. He notices my hands fidgeting and his eyes narrow. “I like that watch,” My anxiety spikes. “Where’d you get it?” Fear arouses Jimmy like a cat playing with a mouse. I fucked up.
A few minutes passed.
“Fuck!” I lock the bathroom door and stare in the bathroom mirror with my left eye, the other is too swollen. “Fuck this.” Blood is pouring from my face as dark as Merlot and as thick as syrup. I can barely recognize it’s me. I peek down at my wrist and notice my watch is missing. Thick red tears pour from both eyes as I clench my teeth and grip the sink.
“Hey, Hunter, are you in there?” I hear a soothing voice and my muscles loosen like melting butter. “It’s Jessica.” She attempts to open the door, but it’s locked. “I saw you run by me, are you hurt?” I close my eyes, breathe deeply and look back into the mirror. My grip loosens. “Hello? Hunter, can you hear me? Hunter?” Her voice became deeply unattractive, what happened? She now resembles the tone of an older veteran’s scarred throat. “Hey Hunter-“
“Hey Hunter, You’ve been sitting on your ass all day! Wake the fuck up Sailor!” It’s Chief Potter, a grim-looking Navy Seal. I recognize his raspy voice now, which has only gotten worse since he renewed his nicotine addiction during this recent deployment. I look at Chief with a sigh of relief. Jimmy? The ass beating? The watch? Was it all a dream? The lack of sleep must be getting to me. Chief gave me a firm but compassionate pat on the back. In reality, Chief is quite young, especially for his rank, but his leathery skin and white hairs spawn a man in his early 50s. For the past few days, our team has been standing watch for a newly infiltrated Iraqi camp. Our mission is to secure the local town from the Al Qaeda army and set up a new base.
“Roger Chief, have you heard from Walter yet?” I reply trying to grasp the little intel about this mission that I know about. As a freshly graduated petty officer 3rd class, I know my place; follow orders, and sponge up any new information.
“Walter is located in a market about half a mile east and is requesting assistance on clearing the final few buildings.”
The anxious energy of beginning a new task is flowing through me as I begin strapping in my gear, tightening my uniform, and loosening the wedgie in my ass crack. Among my kit, is an M4 and a few handheld radios in my Rucksack. “So now we head east and clean up this market?” I peek over at Lance snoring obnoxiously in the corner of the room and chuckle. “Can’t be much harder than sleeping next to the elephant rape coming out of Lance at night. A nuke could wipe out all of Iraq and Lance would still sleep through it.”
“Walter reported that north, west, and south are secure, but don’t get too excited Hunter, we need to clear a lot of land, and when you turn over rocks you find bugs,” Chief spoke with a calm intensity like a painful history backed his words. He stretched his tense limbs in the small sandy building we called ‘home’ for the past few nights. This claustrophobic clay cabin was a horrible home, but it instead served as a terrific space for bonding. “Wake up Lance, you lazy bastard!” Lance comes to, stretching his massive body from his neck to his toes. “This area appears to be secure, but we’re going to do one final sweep for safety and then we’re repositioning towards Walter. He needs us East.”
“Ahh, Classic measure twice cut once.” Lance Peters, the crew Medic, has never been much of a talker but is nevertheless an indispensable ally. Built like a juiced-up pitbull in heat, he’s by far the most intimidating in our squad of three. Rumor is that a small Army retreated just by seeing him wear sleeve rolls. His ‘true form’, however, is an anime geek and he only started his Navy career because his parents kicked him out of his house due to his video game addiction. Because of his strong athletic ability, he chose the Seal Teams, and since he always picked the ‘healer’ character, becoming a medic was a perfect fit.
Wild roosters greeted Chief, Lance, and me, with an obnoxious morning “caw” reminding us of the little life still left in this Iraqi village. Stray dogs could sense our kind, western hearts. They stepped into the vacant streets to welcome us as we continue our trek east towards the market. I guess animals don’t experience trauma or don’t care about the dead, because even with the potent smell of dried blood and the gory sight of rotting bodies, these animals press onward. To them it’s just another day, I envy that resilience.
Two hours have passed by the time we reach the market. “Aye Chief, Walter’s in a clay shop,” I call back, scanning the tan desert searching for anything strange or off-color.
“That doesn’t narrow it down much.” Lance has been deployed long enough to know that Iraqis pretty much have two choices: a wood building with clay or a clay building with wood, and maybe a touch of rebar.
“I’m assuming you’ll know it’s Walter and his team by the sound of gunshots. Have y’all heard anything?”
“Chief, I heard some noise North, but that could just be Lance’s asshole fighting all the MREs he ate”
“At this point, Hunter, I’m in a war against clean pants. And with all the sand out here, my ass is going to look like two chocolate sugar cookies.”
Chief looked at us unamused. “I hear the gunshots as well, and they’re getting closer. Stay focused.”