There is a man on the rooftops above who wants to kill me, Anders thought, his eyes scanning the evening sky. He had taken temporary refuge between two rusty dumpsters full of rotting filth, but he suspected they would provide good enough protection from a sniper’s bullet. The space was so small that the only way to get in was to turn his body sideways, his shoulders smearing the light brown goop that coated the walls on either side in sickly intricate patterns. Anders didn’t notice, instead focusing on the small strip of skyline he could see from his vantage point.
Seeing nothing, he fell back on his training. Anders dwelled on what he knew, tallying the different facts in his head for the hundredth time.
I’ve got to get four blocks to the east to have a chance- but even that’s based on old intelligence.
I don’t think the bad guys know I’m here. No one’s spotted me, and any gunshots have been sporadic and far off to the west.
The good guys know I’m missing and perhaps presume me dead, due to the fact that everyone else died in the crash and there’s been no rescue attempts.
I will not be captured alive. These sick fucks will torture me for sport, even if they don’t think I have any information. Better to go down fighting.
A sudden crash lurched him from his mental inventory and he slightly lowered himself about six inches further into the muck, his muscles straining in the awkward position.
His muscles began to catch fire and he placed his left fingertips on the ground in an effort to better distribute his weight.
Hey, look at this! The voice had come shockingly close to Anders’ left, but he dared not move for fear of being heard.
What is it? This new voice was definitely older- at least, Anders thought, more experienced.
A stray cat is poking around that garbage. Perhaps we can find something to eat.
Anders quickly realized what the cat had discovered, and what the young man would quickly find.
After the flash of white had hit the helicopter, he had been thrown clear and fallen fifteen feet into the mud below. The bird had crashed twenty feet away on its side. Acting on instinct alone, he half-crawled his way to the wreckage and peered inside. The other three soldiers were clearly dead. The pilots had received the worst of it- blackened human shaped lumps filled their seats.
Then he saw Stockton, his face covered in minor burns. Had his legs not been crushed and bent at such an unnatural angle, he could have passed for being asleep. A quick check of his pulse confirmed Anders’ suspicions. Dammit. Stockton hadn’t deserved this. Anders and the two pilots were experienced soldiers- Stockton had been in basic training six months before, and this had been his first real mission.
Easy in, easy out, they had said. Bullshit.
Increased gunfire and chanting could be heard in the distance. He glanced back at the two pilots’ remains, then at Stockton, and made his decision. He dragged Stockton’s corpse out of the helicopter and threw it over his shoulder, quickly heading toward the alleyway where he now hid. Seeing the loose bags of garbage, Anders quickly fashioned a temporary grave, removing Stockton’s sidearm and ammunition before covering him up. Although he was not terribly religious, he remembered seeing Stockton clutching a small Bible a few weeks ago. He mumbled a quick prayer before retreating to the safety of the two dumpsters.
The sound of rustling plastic snapped Anders back to the present.
Look, Dad! It’s a dead soldier. The young man had seen several of his friends and family fall in death, but never an American.
Cover it back up, his father immediately ordered, glancing nervously around. This is not our business.
But Dad, maybe we could find…
Do it now! Despite his own words, he picked the boy up off the pile and began covering up the soldier himself.
Anders hadn’t heard much of their conversation, as his attention had been diverted by movement on the roof.
Stop or I shoot! The heavily accented voice shattered the relative silence of the alleyway, reverberating forcefully in the confined space.
The father and son instantly turned and began to ran, following the same instincts that had kept the stray cats alive in this festering hell. Better to risk getting shot than face a certain death later. Anders would have done the same.
A gunshot rang out and the younger boy fell, letting loose a deafening scream.
Anders, without thinking, returned fire.
He fired twice, crumpling the silhouette on the roof. Anders hoped that the intermittent gunfire around them had effectively camouflaged the weapon- at any rate, the dumpsters no longer served as sanctuary. He climbed out into the alleyway and crouched down to one knee.
The father was cradling his child, his instincts muted into oblivion as all thought settled on his son’s face. The son’s face was buried in his father’s chest, his muffled screams rising and falling with his ragged breaths. His left leg was in pretty bad shape, but Anders knew with a glance that the kid would live if he received prompt medical attention. He glanced around the hell they were in, and for the first time noticed he was covered in filth. Good luck with that.
Anders cautiously approached the father. We gotta move, guy. That man up top has friends, and I’m sure they won’t be happy when they find him there. The man snapped out of his reverie and began to stand up but realized he would have to leave the child. He began rattling in a foreign tongue and dragging his child down the alleyway.
The child, eyes wide, turned to his father and began speaking in their ancient language. His father glanced down the alleyway at the trash and broken glass and slowly nodded his head. The boy turned to the soldier.
My father no good at English. He too old to learn. I know you American and not hurt us. My father is old and too weak to pick me up. If you will carry me to house, my father and I will hide you until you get to safety. This I promise. His voice gasped and ratcheted as he spoke, occasionally stopping in a fit of pain.
A mortar shell exploded around the corner in the street and Anders said okay and walked over, locked eyes with the old man, and slowly picked the boy up. Two years ago I was mulling over college choices and now I’m burying friends in garbage bags and negotiating with eight year old boys. Talk about your wrong turns.
They moved slowly, the old man leading the way and Anders following closely behind, eyeing the rooftops for another sniper. After ten minutes or so, the old man pointed excitedly at a small doorway to the left. He rapped on the old wood twice. It creaked open an inch and a brief amount of feverish words were exchanged before the door shut quickly and then reopened. A young woman woman ushered Anders and the boy inside. She spoke quickly to his father, who retreated further down the alleyway and into the darkness.
I still can’t believe human beings live like this, Anders thought as the woman latched and bolted the door behind them. The room was roughly twelve foot square, dimly lit, and smelled of incense and melted wax. The young woman pointed to a lone mattress in the corner and Anders lay the boy on it.
Will he live she stated matter of factly in perfect English.
Anders checked the wound. The boy was easing in and out of consciousness from the shock. A small hole in his upper leg oozed blood. There was no exit wound. Blood loss is not as bad as it looks, so it seems to have missed the major arteries. Either the bullet was small caliber or it hit the bone. I can stop the bleeding, but he’s at risk of infection. He needs to get to a hospital to have the bullet extracted and get on antibiotics.
There is no hospital she said.
What did they want from him he thought, I’m not a medic. And there’s no way in hell I’m going to cut this kid open- at least not right now. Better he live a few days than I nick an artery and watch him bleed out on their bed.
You speak English well, he said, choosing to ignore the implied question.
The woman had poured a glass of water and was trying to get the boy to drink. Finding him unresponsive, she dabbed water on his lips. I studied in America to become an interpreter before coming back home to help my grandparents. This is my nephew, Ameer. I have lost my husband and three children to this war- I will not lose another. She spoke with certainty, as if daring death to take the child.
Ander’s mind wandered back to the alleyway and Stockton’s corpse. If Ameer had not been there, the sniper might not have revealed his location. At best, he would still be stuck between the dumpsters. At worse…
When and if I get back to my side of the lines, I’ll see if I can get Ameer some help. That’s all I can do.
That’s not… The woman’s voice was drowned out by a sudden relentless pounding on the door. Multiple voices began to shout as a massive thud hit the door, almost lifting it off the hinges.