Taylor heard the gunfire, the yelling. Immediately he exited the vehicle. He heard the boom and whoosh again. Another RPG slammed into the HMMWV, knocking Taylor to the ground. He’d jumped out to perform security duty, to suppress, to scream the orders at stunned and bloody Privates. From the opposite side of the HMMWV he heard the clatter of angry Kalshnikovs and the responding American rifles. There was a small mound in front of him, so Taylor sprinted for its peak, his armor and weapon barely slowing him for all the adrenaline gushing through his veins, an animality moving his limbs. No pain from the effort. Nothing but the other side of a hill from which to survey the enemy advance and kill that enemy.
He dove over the the top of the hill. Dust caked his lips and tongue. He blew some of it out and found that he was smiling a bit, encouraged that the gunfire had become dull, lacking the crack and bang that signified immediate danger. Even comfort now. The fear gone.
But then the fear returned when Taylor managed to focus on the the area from which the gunfire emanated. A swarm of Taliban flowed from around a hill on the opposite side of the road, approximately 75 meters aways. At least 20 to 30 of them. More explosions and gunfire. Taylor popped off a few rounds from his M4 and was answered by a fusillade of 7.62. That’s when he squirmed back, like a snake in the sand, keeping his head below the peak of the hill. Once he reached the bottom, he began running in the opposite direction of the gunfire.
He wasn’t a coward. He knew he wasn’t. He’d just gotten disoriented by the fog of war. It could have happened to anyone. Taylor just needed to clear his head, to get his bearings and get back in the fight. How long had he been away from the convoy? Time was almost meaningless from the instant the ambush began to now. It could have happened a year ago, This could all be a dream. Taylor could wake up at any moment in his wooden barracks, lathered in sweat.
A pillar of black smoke rose some two kilometers to the west. That was his nav point. Just head back. Everyone would understand.
His feet felt so heavy, his mind churning up the explanations that he’d offer. But maybe no one really knew what’s happened. Maybe everyone did the same thing Taylor did. Probably. There were plenty of soldiers without half the bravery of Taylor. The smoke grew closer. No more gunfire, no more yelling even as he approached to within 100 meters. Just over the same burn from which he’d run and the convoy would be in clear view.
The 4 HMMVWs looked like rotting metal corpses, each lit on fire to manage the spread of disease. All was silent but for the burping flames. A 4 vehicle convoy. Just like the fucking US military. Bring too much stuff to the warzone and than use too little.
Two soldiers lay prone near the first vehicle. They were splayed unceremoniously, their helmets crooked and half-covering their faces. Their ACU nametags said they were Cook and Chase.