He sat slumped in his old oak chair staring dreamily at nothing. A coffee mug sat at the table in-front of him. The table was made of scots pine, a smooth firm top he rested his hands upon around the mug. The whole room was homey with a rug on the cold steel floor the room smelling of cocoa. He grabbed and took a sip slowly, not a squirm of thought in his mind while staring at the wall drinking. This was just a break. His head-set rattled. It rattled again.
CO sir? We need you in the CiC, quick.
He scooted out the chair and stood up. Walking on holding the coffee mug to the bridge, seeing the whole command staff moving and ordering about, like busy worker-bees.
August Walker walked up to him. Sir, we've made contact. Along the Beach's perimeter. All three companies are facing heavy fire.
Bill Carson checked his watch. It was oh-one fifty three.
Let me see, he said. They walked over to her terminal- Bravo squad. It displayed the head-cam of the squad leader. He tapped on his earpiece and listened in to communications.
The screen showed the grainy sand surface flickering in light from the flare above the sky. Light shining on the back-side of the man in the fox hole with the squad leader, his face covered in blackness. Dots of flashes in the jungle and soft yellow illuminating the wetness of its bushes and leaves when the squad leader faced forward. Far in the jungle it was so pitch black it might not even be there. Facing an empty chasm where nothing escaped. Dots of lights all across that deep jungle. They looked like eyes.
He stood there mug in his hand watching the flashing lights on the screen and the men screaming. His face leaned closer.
The first shot was fired at L Company. One little pop in the air- and just like that, boom, it was everywhere now. We were stuck in our hole, me and my pal sitting there trying to fire. Surrounded by bullets above and around us. We couldn't move or else we'd get hit.
Wha'd you do next?
We did what we could. Took bursts on the enemy every once in a while when the firing let up. It wasn't long before the mortars started firing, and the backdrop of the jungle was getting lit up too. We never got to see them. They were too well hidden.
The man sitting next to him on the lawn chair drunk from his bottle. Keep going.
He looked down at the ground, sand on the concrete and ahead of them the whole beach and the waves rolling up and down the shore. Washing people into and out of it. He took a sip of his beer, sweet burning taste in his throat and tried to remember what was next.
Keep going, man. You got me invested in it.
His face and mind was blank. I don't remember anything else, he said. That's it. The firing went on to sunrise and they stopped then. Then after an hour or so we went out there as a patrol, and the whole jungle was straight fucked up. Mangled you know. Boulders and branches thick as your thigh just everywhere. Trees collapsed on one another and the vines tangled between them. We found an arm, and came back.
Sure was. Cheers. They clinked their bottles together and drank.
The jungle was glowing red. Sun rising just behind them. Healy was in his fox-hole, Garth with him, both been up the whole night.
I think they stopped Heal, they're done in. No more fire.
About fucking time. Healy put his gun down, stretched his legs out. You good?
I feel great.
Me too, he looked at the jungle again. I wonder where they went.
Probably to that village nearby, what's it called? Pinghai?
Think so. Healy rested the smart-gun to his side. He'd been shooting it all night on his back, sometimes standing up in the middle of the gunfire just to spray into the bush. Not knowing what he's firing at. Seeing the leaves fling into the air or the wood splinter off trunks when hit by bullets. It didn't look any different than the rest of the scenery- the whole jungle was mutilated. Some trees had fallen but stayed up tilted at a forty-five degree angle propped up by the thick vines wrapped around them. It was really a mess.
Healy shut the door and turned the key in the lock. He sighed and turned around, stretched out his legs. The beer had no effect on him. He opened the mini-fridge and drank another beer. Sitting on the side of the hotel bed he turned around and looked at the X's marked on his calendar. April 2. He's been on leave four days now- in six days he's going back to Randal and getting dropped off to where the front-line was. Poyong is a nice city, he thought. Lots of hookers, booze, and casinos. It's a capitalist paradise. No wonder the Nonponese hate this fucking place so much. He laid supine on his bed propping his head on the pillow which was up against the headboard and turned the T.V. on. A bunch of shows in Japanese he didn't know a lick of. He took out a journal from under the bed and a book on the Japanese language from his night-stand and studied the language.
Out in the jungle they were walking along a little path cleared by a bull-dozer. The dirt around them was grounded up and half-burying the large bodies of twisted tree trunks and boulders. To each side of them was another squad in their own clearing scouting out the jungle. If he looked to his left, North on a compass, Bravo squad would be somewhere clearing out the jungle. He measured how far they walked. A hundred meters.
Hold. The SL raised her hand, stopped, so did everyone else. Crouching on the ground in cover of the trees the SL reached down and pulled out an arm. Dark brown dirt and dried blood painted on it. She was looking at the scrambled red hairs on the arm. Noticed the faint outline of veins. She winced, rolled the arm and looked at the palm of the hand. It was limp and easy. She didn't dare look at the stump. This was only the forearm. Skinny wrist. She found it in the hole of a torn log.
Think I've seen enough, she said. Turn around boys. There's nothing fucking here.
Years later in a dream or a nightmare this would all come back to him. Slowly he put his book on the night-stand and the journal under his bed and shut off the T.V. and crawled in bed. He snugged in and felt the beer creeping into him. He was out soon.
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