This week it's EYE.
Eye Of The Storm
The scream was like nothing I'd heard before, and it came from the dimness of the western treeline in the tropical dawn. The red dirt road that stretched away from the bridge we were guarding was a soft pink in the early light. It might almost have been beautiful.
I had been lying on the aft deck, watching the stars fade. The Dude had radio watch, and was sitting on the edge of the commander's cupola, smoking the first cigarette of the day. "Well, that doesn't sound good," he said.
Sonny and Biff were down with the grunts who were occupying the fighting holes, and they looked up. The grunts did, too, their new-guy faces pale in the wan light.
The scream came again, and The Dude said quietly, "Oh, for Pete's sake."
"What?" I got to my feet and stood next to the turret.
He pointed across the Rome-plowed ground, a 200-yard kill zone opened up to the treeline. Alone figure was trying to run across the furrows the plows had left. A military age male, he was dressed in a blue smock, and black shorts. He was barefoot and bareheaded, and he obviously wasn't too clued in on weapons or tactics because he was running toward our position clutching a claymore with one hand, and a clacker in the other. The wire that led from the clacker to the detonator looped around Charlie's legs, occasionally tripping him. And he was screaming.
The Dude looked down at the grunts who were beginning to cluster around the tank, and sighed. "Borrow your rifle?" he asked a Marine who looked like he was still in junior high.
The rifle was handed up to me, and I passed it to The Dude.
"I almost hate to do this," The Dude said, putting the rifle into aim.
"Mercy killing. Too stupid to live."
"Yeah. Well, goodnight, Charlie." He pulled the trigger, the M-16 cracked, and Charlie flopped forward into the dirt. The claymore arced into the air, and his hand must have closed on the clacker in a couple of dying spasms, because it went off and lofted its thousand ball bearings harmlessly into the air.
The Dude shook his head, and gave me the rifle to hand back too the grunt. The kid took it eagerly, and I wondered if he'd carve a notch in its plastic stock.
"Hey, TC, could you get on the radio for a bit?" The Dude held out the CVC helmet he'd been wearing.
"Sure. Take your time." I assumed he needed to relieve himself, but I was wrong.
The Dude pulled an e-tool from the gipsy rack on the back of the turret, and asked the watching grunts if anyone had a Bible.
"I'm gonna bury the guy."
There was a ripple of laughter, which was doused by The Dude's expression. He was serious. "Look, first, leave him there, and he's gonna stink by noon. Second, if it was you, wouldn't you feel just a bit better if Charlie took the trouble?"
They wouldn't bury us, I thought. They'd mutilate the remains, hoping that we were still on the bright side of beyond. But I didn't say it.
The kids were nodding, and standing a little apart, so were Sonny and Biff. One of the grunts stepped forward. He was big, with the build of the high-school football player he'd probably been a few months before. "Uh, sir?" He even raised his hand deferentially.
The Dude looked at him. "I'm not an officer."
"My dad's a preacher. I could...uh, give you a hand. And I've got a Bible." He fished a small combat edition out of his blouse. "Here."
"OK. Get your e-tool, too."
Watching them walk off across the Rome-plowed waste, I motioned Sonny and Biff onto the tank. "Biff, get on the sight, and scan the treeline. Sonny, get the cannister out and load HEAT." If the whole thing was a ruse to get us puzzled, it was working...and if the dead guy's pals were waiting in the treeline for us to do the stupidly American thing we were doing, I wanted to be ready. We'd have to shoot past our guys, and cannister would shred everyone downrange with cheerful impartiality. HEAT wouldn't do much to Charlie unless it hit him, but having an almost four-inch-wide projectile whistle past your ear, that would sure get his attention.
I reached down off the side of the tank. "Gimme the rifle again." It was passed to me without a word, and after I put the helmet on, I started scanning the treeline. Next to me the turret rotated back and forth, as Biff used the gun optics to do the same thing. Sonny and Biff were on the i/c, and I could hear them breathing.
Out in the field, The Dude and the grunt had reached Charlie, and they got to work, spadefuls of dirt flying.
The other grunts were clustered around the tank, fidgeting like college freshmen at their first formal.
And then one of them set out across the plow lines. Two more followed, and finally the whole platoon was moving in a shaky line toward the gravediggers. The only ones left were the new guy platoon sergeant, and the kid whose rifle I held.
He looked up at me. "Could you be sure to give me back the rifle?"
I nodded, and he set out as well. The sergeant shook his head, and then followed as well.
"Talk about a burial party," I said.
"Huh?" Sonny was on the left side of the turret, ready to reload if we were contacted, and couldn't see out.
"All the FNGs...they took off to watch...well, wait." I lowered the rifle, and shaded my eyes with my hand, to narrow the focus and see better.
"Well, now I've seen everything."
"Everything what, TC?" Biff was still rotating the turret, his eyes on the trees. Good boy. He hadn't been distracted like me.
"They just put him on the hole they dug...covered him up...and they're holding a service. That preacher's kid is reading from the -"
"TC, I got Charlies in the treeline." Biff's voice was urgent.
I followed where the main gun was pointing, and there they were, half a dozen MAMs in dark tops and shorts. They were all carrying weapons, but they weren't putting them in aim. They were juust standing there.
"Light them up?" Biff was ready to do his job.
The service was over, and the grunts were straggling back toward the road. They hadn't seen Charlie in the trees, and they were slack. Easy, fresh FNG meat.
But Charlie was just standing there.
The new guy platoon gathered once again around the tank, talking like a crowd that had just gotten out of midnight mass at a Christmas in the World. Hushed, not wanting to break some kind of spell. I gave the kid back his rifle; he took it like I was giving him Communion.
The Dude climbed up the glacis armor. "Didn't expect that," he said.
"Neither did they." I pointed across to the treeline, but Charlie was gone.