Raefar scanned as far as was possible, for the heat vibrating from the desert floor acted as a glimmering barrier, reducing the landscape beyond it to a blurred contortion of colours.

He stood firmly in the Humvee’s gunner’s cupola, with one hand loosely holding the grip on his machine gun, and with the other clutching the vehicle itself, as the chain of vehicles careened down the road.

The burning sun consumed the sky and burnt Raefar's neck. Caressing his sore skin he thought back to the old flicks from Vietnam, all the soldiers sat around with bandanas on their heads and pieces of tarp covering their shoulders, but he'd tried it once and got seriously chewed out.

Kowalski shouted over the heavy drone of the engine. Raefar dropped down into the vehicle.

"Have you finished daydreaming? Wake the hell up!"

Raefar stood back up into his cupola. He had found himself losing track of reality recently and surely enough a town had snuck up on him. He heard his sergeant, Kurgassen, tersely conversing on the radio. The Sarge was a career soldier and was not much younger than Raefar when he joined up; he was a fair man and an excellent soldier, although a decade of fighting round the world had soured his disposition. The sergeant addressed the men in the vehicle.

"There’s a hold up in this next town we’re headin' through. Cover ya sectors, watch each other’s backs, and prepare for a bump."

Raefar felt a sudden chill. A "bump", as The Sarge called it, was enemy contact. Raefar felt another hit against his leg; the Sarge was looking back up at him, his eyes locked on his yet seeing right through him.

"Stay Frosty."

Raefar nodded, he knew what the sergeant had seen when he looked into him; he wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice.

The convoy rolled to a halt, and like water breaking against rock, all the team-leaders and the rear-gunners flooded out of their vehicles and started scanning their sectors. Raefar swung his giant fifty cal. round to the right, and he froze.

A boy stood right down the sights from where Raefar held his weapon, smiling naively at the armoured might of the western world, holding a football and wearing the jersey of a team he had never seen. The boy waved. Raefar didn’t wave back, he couldn't. He felt too much guilt, and instead swung his gun round away from the boy.

He thought back to the last time he had a child in his sights. Officers told him that he had done what he did keeping the rest of the men safe, but it hadn’t comforted him.

The radio suddenly chimed, and Kurgassen ran back to the vehicle. Raefar heard the brief and tense chatter between the sarge and their officer.

"But that’s highly against..."

The situation was dire, bunched up like they were, but a die-hard soldier like Kurgassen questioning an order meant they would soon be entering an entirely different hell. The Sarge hailed the rest of the vehicles under his command on the radio.

"There’s a second road through the town. First platoon's going to stay here and clear this blockage for the bigger stuff behind us, and we're covering their flank and regrouping after they're clear. Let's move out!"

"Raefar, if you’re not going to un-fuck yourself then I need to know now. I need to know now so I can put Kowalski on the turret if you’re going to get us killed."

"It’s OK Sarge." He racked his weapon and loaded a round into the chamber. "I'm squared away."

Kurgassen smiled up at him, a great big Mid-Western grin.

"We're on point, you can do this. Stay Frosty." He got in the vehicle.

Rolling slowly, Taz, the driver, rode the Humvee to the front of the column. Looking around at the broken windows, damaged housing and rubble in the street though, Raefar decided that the war had already reached the town way before they arrived in person. The stench of death was everywhere. Flies danced around in random patterns, bouncing off the Humvee and Raefar's face. Men and women alike were sorting through destroyed housing, looking for any life or possession that once resided within the walls. Raefar’s vehicle was leading the convoy, which crawled so slow that a dead mule could have outrun them. The air was thick and humid and Raefar could feel the tension being cut with the Humvee’s colossal tires. He swept the gun from left to right, making sure no one had any opportunity to pop up on them.

Swinging the fifty cal. to face forward, Raefar saw movement coming from behind a shelled wall; he kept his gun trained firmly at the spot. What if it’s another kid? he thought to himself. A second incident like that and the platoon’s view of him would change drastically; from unfortunate and easy to spook, to a liability and a danger to the rest of the men. He remembered the boy with the football, how he ran out to greet them. What’s this one got to hide? Raefar hesitated as the Humvee got closer and closer to the suspicious figure in the shadow.

At fifty meters the figure stood up, Raefar let out a mighty bellow.

“CONTACT FRONT!” he punctuated his words with the thundering dum-dum-dum of his weapon.

Taz knocked the vehicle into high gear, and their pace quickened: the man behind the wall was now nothing more than mist, yet with one came others. The flies that had danced in such random flurries now flew straight and true, they continued to bounce off the Humvee’s armour, cackling and whistling. The flies brought by death had gone, and in their place were the ones which brought death; these flies were made of lead.

The convoy continued to zigzag down the road that was lit up with small-arms fire and the occasional explosive. Raefar loosed round after round at the figures that popped up from the tops of buildings and down alleys, until his vehicle took the last turn and the edge of the village could be seen. One last man stepped out, and before dropping back down, fired. A small black object flew not five metres above him, and collided with a building further down the road; with a mighty explosion it revealed its true nature. Raefar continued to fire at the target, which quickly fell from sight.

“That’s it! We’re through,” Kurgassen announced. “Taz, stop in one hundred metres, we’ll wait for the others to take the lead again.”

The vehicle trundled to a stop, and Kurgassen looked round and gave Raefar another trademark grin. Raefar’s knuckles had whitened from gripping the trigger so long, and soon he began to feel his legs again. Raefar couldn’t help the giddiness that was brewing inside him, and soon the entire Humvee was buzzing with laughter, jokes, and how bad-ass Raefar was. He felt sad though, that after what he’d just done and experienced, he felt more alive that he had in his entire life.

Later that day the convoy passed another hamlet. Women sorted laundry, whilst men sat in the shade after working the fields, watching their children run to the road. Raefar saw them side by side, smiling and waving at his comrades in the long line of vehicles. He let go of his weapon, turned towards them, and waved back.

Joe Curry

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