The shaking of my hands and the grimy sweat that covers them causes my gun to slip in my hands. My body is racked with a heavy exhaustion and my muscles ache as I dart from shelter to shelter.
I flatten myself against the next crude rock covering and catch my breath. Bombs explode around me, leaving a gaseous smell that burns my throat and leaves my eyes watering. A sharp bump in the rock digs through my uniform and into my skin.
A familiar voice screams my name out, jolting me back to reality.
I whip my head around to see my best friend waving frantically from a trench.
I acknowledge him, check to make sure it is clear, then dive into the trench.
“What’s wrong?” I whisper, lying flat on my stomach
Victor laughs. “Nothing’s wrong, old man,” He says. “You were just out there looking rough so I thought I’d cheer you up.”
Relief instantly floods my body but is quickly replaced by a feeling I experience often around Victor. Irritation. “We’re in battle, Victor,” I say, wiping the sweat from my eyes.“Of course I’m looking rough.”
My friend laughs again and I grit my teeth.
“Vic, you better wipe that smile off your face before I slap it off.”
Of course, he only smiles more. It’s his fatal flaw. The guy can never be serious.
“Charlie-” Victor starts, but before he can finish his sentence I’m weightless, flying through the dark and smoky skies.
I land on the ground hard, all the air leaving my lungs with a big swoosh.
Pain. That’s the only thing I understand right now. Incredible, unbearable pain. My vision is blurry, and my head throbs while my brain tries to sort out what happened. A bright spectrum of light blasts the vision of my right eye, then is gone, leaving me stricken with confusion. A ringing noise explodes in both ears, so loud I can’t even hear my breaths. My whole left side is numb, and something warm and sticky is running from my right eye,my limbs aching and screaming in agony. The taste of dirt and blood fill my mouth, leaving me gagging. Slowly regaining, my breaths come in ragged coughs as I fumble for my pistol. Hugging it to my chest, I force myself into a sitting position.
“V-victor?” I stammer. I wipe the liquid running from my eye only to receive a handful of blood. I gulp, but rub it on my pant leg.
A scream, one filled with such agony and terror that my stomach turns cold and shivers run up down my spine.
I search through the bodies, looking for my friend’s white blonde hair. I finally find him many feet away from me, but he’s not in good shape. His left arm is gone, and half of his face is covered in blood, his blonde hair soaked red. He’s screaming still, his eyes wide as he looks at his missing arm and trying to grab at it, as if making sure he wasn’t hallucinating.
He sees me. “Ch-charlie. My arm. My arm, oh God. I can’t breathe Charlie.” He sobs, heart breaking sobs that strike my heart every time.
I lay down next to him, knowing I need to get his mind off the pain.
“Do you remember…” I swallow. “Do you remember home?”
He doesn’t answer right away, his ragged breaths the only reply as I continue. “Man, I miss it,” I sigh. “The blue skies, the warm summer nights. And the sunsets. Holy ****, the sunsets.”
My friend makes a sound that I think is a laugh. “I-I remember you spilling y-your coffee on Clover.” He stammers, his voice weak and breathy.
I can’t help but smile, my lip cracking. Only Victor could laugh at a time like this.
All he says is one word, a name. But it kills me as he huffs out, “Heather.”
The name itself is like a punch to the gut, and I can’t help as tears well up in my eyes. “She’s making wedding arrangements, probably. Picking out her dress, waiting for you to get your dumb *** home. You’re real lucky to be marrying a girl like that.”
“Probably wondering why she said ‘yes,’ right?” He says, squeezing out another laugh. But he doesn’t finish his moment of happiness. Coughs rack his body and I turn to look at my friend, my stomach twisting when I see bright blood at the corner of his mouth and splattered on his uniform.
“Tell her I love her,” he says when he can talk again. Tears are streaming down his face, something that Victor never does.
“No, no.” I say. “You’re not going to die. Just-just breathe, okay? Breathe.” I lay my head back down. The sky turns a bright green, the pain now almost unbearable.
“I love you Charlie.” He sobs.
My breath catches in my throat and I force out what I’m certain will be my last words. “Love you too, Vicky,” and I close my eyes.
A shadow blocks out the sun, causing me to open my eyes. Maybe it’s an angel to take us up.
“Charlie? Is that you?” a deep, concerned voice says.
I squint. Am I underwater? Everything sounds…watery? I guess there’s an ocean nearby, and I somehow landed in it. That’s probably why I’m soaking wet, and why my hearing’s bad.
“Hey! Guys! Two down here, get Doc!” the shadow yells.
“Timothy,” I say with a sigh, realizing it’s not an angel and in fact a friend of mine. “Come swimming with us, the water’s great.”
But Timothy doesn’t come swimming. In fact, he looks extremely worried, and keeps yelling to get “doc”.
I black out.
I’m in a helicopter, lying on the ground. I hear a familiar voice, Timothy’s I think, yelling at the medics to “get over here and do your **** job, they’re dying”. I look to my side and see Victor, with a medic crouched over him. He’s not moving. Why isn’t he moving?
A pain explodes in my side, and darkness covers me like a blanket.
Now I’m in a hospital. A young doctor is yelling at the nurses. Something about “too much blood.” Where’s Victor? I wonder. My head spins and the nauseating feeling of throwing up overcomes me and I fall into darkness again.
My eyes flutter open, but all I see is white. I open my eyes wider, lifting my head to see the rest of the room. White walls, a white door. I’m even wearing a white hospital gown. To my right is a one sided window, in which I can see my reflection. I squint to get a better look. Is that really me? I reach up to touch the burnt part of my face that the window is reflecting.
“What happened?” I ask myself. I don’t remember anything. As I’m staring at myself in the reflection with confusion, the white door opens and a small, Vietnamese man enters, who I’m guessing is my doctor.
The doctor walks up to me, wringing his hands. “Hello soldier,” he says. “And how are you today?”
I open and close my mouth, my eyes flitting from him to the door.
He sighs. “Of course, you don’t remember. You were hit on the front, Mr. Hunter,” the doctor says as he pulls a chair up to my bed.
I look at the doctor, frowning. He has smile wrinkles around his eyes, but there is no smile on his face now.
“Do you remember anything?” He prods.
I shake my head. “No, Sir.”
The doctor rubs his temple with his index finger, then folds his small hands in his lap. “Right, of course,” he looks at his papers, then back at me. “How are you feeling today? Nausea, head aches?”
“I – my head hurts,” I say. “And my body.” I look down at my hands and arms. “What-what happened?” I ask, my voice quivering.
“You were near a bomb when it went off and you were blown pretty far. You hit the ground pretty hard.” Checking his papers again, he continues. “You have a concussion, which could very possibly be the reason you don’t remember anything. Five ribs were broken from the fall. You have various degrees of burns from the bomb. Most of the ones on your legs are 3rd degree, those shouldn’t be bothering pain wise, considering the nerve endings were damaged. Other burns on your face and such shouldn’t need grafting, but 2nd degree burns have been known to be the most painful. You also suffered a punctured lung, burst eardrum, and your eye is slightly damaged.”
I sit in shock, trying to take this all in.
“You’re very lucky to be alive, Mr. Hunter.”
“Yeah,” I say slowly, looking at the IVs stuck in my wrists.
“But,” the doctors starts. “Your concussion is almost gone, your ribs are nearly better, and if you do as I tell you and take medications, the less severe burns shall heal with little scarring.”
I take a deep breath, wincing at the pain that comes along with it. “Okay,” I say.
But the doctor is already up and heading towards the door. “Dr.. Wade will be in shortly. Good day Mr. Hunter.”
As assured, a young doctor comes in minutes after the older one leaves. He looks familiar, but I can’t pin-point from where.
“Hello Mr. Hunter,” He says, taking a seat next to me.
“Who are you?” I ask, subconsciously rubbing my burnt leg.
“Your doctor,” is the absent minded reply. “Dr. Ho can’t run the whole place, can he?”
I shake my head. “Reckon not.”
“Now,” he says, putting down his clipboard and pulling a syringe from his coat pocket. “I’ll be giving you pain medication so you can get some sleep, hm? If things go according to plan, you’ll be up and heading home in two weeks.”
My stomach knots up and a lump appears in my throat, making it difficult to swallow. “Home?”
Dr. Wade chuckles as if I had cracked a joke. “Of course, Mr. Hunter. You don’t expect to be heading back to the battlefield so soon, do you?”
“When will I be back?”
He smiles. “All in good time, soldier.” He grabs my arm gingerly, flips it over, and injects the serum into my arm.