The blistering sun rises from the endless horizon. LJ Freeman sits on a concrete T-wall and watches the fiery planet come out of the darkness. It’s 0600, and the thermometer reads a hot 98 degrees. “I must be in hell. How does anything live in this godforsaken place?” Razor in hand, I scrape it down my beard. There is no need for shaving cream or water, sweat drenches my face.
“What’s going on, Freeman?” I look up at my section sergeant and smile. We aren’t only friends, but family. I shake my head and go back to shaving. He sits next to me and we quietly enjoy the morning silence. Of the eight people assigned to this small outpost in the middle of nowhere, we are the only two awake.
“You ready for another day, big Sarge?” Dennis Warmaker nods his head. We need few words to express our disdain at being in a hostile land for fifteen months.
“Yeah, might as well be. What else are we going to do?”
“I suppose we could gripe about the food, but at least the locals haven’t tried to wipe us off the face of the planet.”
“Yet, Freeman. They haven’t tried yet.” We both chuckle, we know it’s only a matter of time before we get hit. I wash my face and lean back against the barrier. “I sure miss being home.”
“What are you going to do when you rotate back to the real world, Freeman?”
“I don’t know. I’m headed to Colorado after I leave here. If I leave here.”
“Yeah. Well, don’t look now but it appears we will have company today.” I look out upon the sea of nothingness and notice a swell of people walking toward our small camp. Weapons raised high, they continue to march toward us. Their voices carry over the open terrain and I stand to my feet.
“I will get the guys. Don’t start without us.” Dennis smirks. “You better hurry, Freeman.”
I rush back to our tent and slap the feet of my soldiers. They grumble and roll over. Infuriated I shout, “The Redcoats are coming! Get up! We have company.” Instantly, they grab their gear and follow me out to the T-wall. SSG Warmaker gives us our marching orders.
“Listen up. This could be nothing, or it could be a world class knock down, drag out. You take your orders from me and Freeman. If this pops off, do not let us get flanked. If we get flanked, we will all die. Y’all got it?”
“Got it,” came the overwhelming response. Dennis and I looked at each other. We walk out and look at the gathering of locals. Adrenaline surges through my body as I put my hand on my weapon.
“Ride or die, Freeman. This isn’t our first rodeo. You know where my letter is located, right?”
“Roger, Sarge. You know where I keep my letter, right? Do me a favor if things go south, won’t you?” Dennis nods his head.
“Sure. What’s the favor?”
“If I lose a limb here today, don’t let me go home like that. Put a bullet in me. Make sure you use one of their weapons to do it. I would hate for you to go to jail for keeping your word.”
“I gotcha.” As the crowd formed, out steps the ringleader of this ever growing circus. He is a young man, no older than 25. Dennis and I watch as he prances in front of the crowd shouting, “Death to America!” His robe is black, he has a gas mask tied to his waist and a bullhorn in his hands.
“Looks like we have a professional instigator,” said Dennis. His eyes never leave the young man. “You have that riot control grenade on you, Freeman?”
“Roger, boss. Should I pop him?”
“Yeah, go for it. I’m tired of hearing him jabber.”
I smile and lift my weapon, without a word I press the trigger. The snap of bone is deafening as the rubber grenade hits the ringleader dead in the chest. He hits the ground with an oof. Shocked, the crowd backs up murmuring. I lower my weapon and walk to where the instigator lies.
“You okay, man?” He groans, tiny shards of bone protrudes from his robe. I tap him on his shoulder. “Hey man, I asked if you’re okay. What happened?” Again, he groans. He tries to push my hand away so I back up.
“I will treat you for shock. We’ve only been here for two days. Why do you have to come out here screwing with us? Do you honestly think we wanted to come over here and mess up your country?”
He doesn’t respond. I check his breathing. His chest rises and falls, so I continue to treat him. The medic has finally arrived, and he pushes me aside.
“What happened here, Freeman?”
“Man, somebody shot this poor fellow.” The medic stares at me, the look he gives me could kill someone. “No crap, Freeman.”
“No crap. All the guy did was snatch up a massive mob of people and shout, Death to America!” The medic shakes his head, and together we load the instigator upon a stretcher.
“You shot him, didn’t you?”
“Well, yeah. I was fearful for my life, man. That mob could have easily overtaken us.” The medic walks close to where I stand and whispers, “what mob?” I look around but the mob has dispersed.
“Dude, I’m not lying. There was a huge mob of people here.”
“Right. Help me get him in the vehicle. We’ve got to go.” I nod and grab one side of the stretcher. Together, we place him in the truck and I watch as they head back toward town. Dennis walks up and stands beside me.
“Well, that was a close one. I think we got lucky.”
“Yeah, it seems like we did. You know they will be back tonight.”
“Yeah. Let’s get some rest and make up a plan, just in case.” Together, Dennis and I walk to the tent. “Dear God. We have already had trouble, and it’s only 0700. What else will go wrong?”
Sometimes, you should just be thankful and keep your thoughts to yourself.