Second chapter from my debut novel Madness.
***THIS CHAPTER ALSO HAS A TRIGGER WARNING***
“Happy birthday man,” Tripp’s best friend, Jimmy, said as he handed him a cupcake. Tripp smiled. He thought no one remembered. He barely remembered himself. That’s what happened after two consecutive tours in Iraq.
“Thanks man. Thought no one remembered.” Tripp replied as he took the cupcake.
“Of course I remembered. What kinda best friend would I be if I forgot your birthday?” Jimmy asked.
“Truth is I almost forgot.” Tripp laughed.
“It’s this desert heat, I’m telling you. Shit, we gotta get out of here soon. My brain is starting to melt.” Jimmy pouted.
“It would if you had one!”
Jimmy and Tripp were best friends since Kindergarten and almost did everything together. Even as adults they went to the same college and took most of the same classes. Naturally, when Tripp wanted to join the Marine Corps, Jimmy followed suit. Although Tripp deployed before Jimmy, they were lucky enough to be assigned the same unit for this deployment. Tripp was delighted to have his best friend with him this time. There was no one better to watch your back than someone who knew it as well as you did.
The two friends sat in relative silence watching their fellow soldiers play football. Whoever said war was hell was right on the money. If you weren’t suffering from extended periods of boredom, you were suffering from extended periods of danger and chaos. Currently, the men and women of the 6099 were suffering from the former. The action had died down and everyone was doing to best to fight boredom in the desert heat.
“Will you be mad at me if I tell you something?” Jimmy asked suddenly. Tripp shrugged so Jimmy continued. “After this deployment, I want out.”
Tripp was silent for a moment. “Why?”
Jimmy shrugged. “I…I just seen too many things. Too many things. I don’t know how you stomach a second deployment. And back to back too. I would take my service rifle and splatter my brains out on the sand.”
Tripp nodded in agreement. “It ain’t for everybody. Hell, sometimes it ain’t for me either. I’ll tell you what though, this deployment is a cakewalk compared to the first one.”
“Alright ladies! Listen up!” Their commander shouted. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked at him.
“We just got word that Al Qaeda’s third largest supporter is hiding out in a village 6 miles north of here. Tonight, we are going to grab him. The powers that be do not want this man dead. They want him alive so don’t go making fatal shots people! We’ll be heading out at 21:00. Rest up ladies because it’s gonna be a long night! Hooah!” The commander shouted.
“Hooah!” The marines shouted back before resuming their normal activities.
Tripp slowly got up. Jimmy looked up at him. “Where you going man?” he asked.
“Bed. Night raids are a bitch. I gotta get some sleep if I’m going to make sure you don’t hurt yourself.” Tripp replied as he pushed Jimmy’s head.
“Well, guess I better get some sleep too. You’ll need me to watch your back more than I’ll need you.” He joked.
Despite the cool and crisp desert air, Tripp and Jimmy were pouring sweat. They were part of the unlucky group forced to arrive on foot and search for the target. The other troops would leave later in hummers to provide backup and transportation for the soldiers and prisoners back to camp.
After about two hours, Tripp, Jimmy and the other soldiers who left on foot made it to the village. The place was almost completely dark. Tripp held back.
“What’s wrong?” Jimmy whispered.
“This don’t feel right.” Tripp replied frantically looking around.
“What do you mean?” Jimmy asked.
“It’s too quiet and too dark. Something ain’t right.” Tripp replied.
Jimmy shook his head. “Man you worry too-”
Before Jimmy could finish his sentence, a fellow soldier fell down. Blood gushed from his head. He was shot.
“Shit! AMBUSH! AMBUSH!” Tripp yelled as he grabbed Jimmy’s arm and ran like hell for cover. Bullets and grenades flew everywhere. Forget not shooting to kill. Tripp was going to do whatever it took to survive. He shot man after man as he looked for transportation out of there. Thankfully, two camels were tied to a post next to a house. They were nasty animals, but they were adequate transportation to get him and at least five other people out of there.
In all the confusion, he lost Jimmy. Tripp cursed under his breath and went back to find him. After what felt like hours, he found him hiding behind a house. He was holding a piece of cloth against his kneecap. Tripp moved Jimmy’s hand. Someone shot him. He was bleeding profusely.
“Not as bad as it looks.” Jimmy reassured him. “Doesn’t even hurt.” Tripp knew he was lying. He had to get him out of there. Fast.
“C’mon. We’re leaving.” Tripp grunted as he helped Jimmy to his feet.
He began to make his way back over to the camels with Jimmy leaning against him. He was scared as hell. Bullets screamed, grenades popped and screams filled the air. None of that mattered. He had to save Jimmy.
Tripp was so caught up in saving Jimmy and getting to the camels that he didn’t hear Jimmy trying to warn him about a man throwing explosives from a house. All he felt was Jimmy trying to steer him in a safer direction. The next thing he knew, he and Jimmy were flung against a wall.
It took him a moment to come to, but when Tripp opened his eyes, everything was blurred. After a few minutes, his vision began to adjust, but he still couldn’t see as clearly as he could in the moments before the blast. His ears were ringing so loud it was maddening. Tripp saw Jimmy laying lifelessly on the ground. He crawled over to him and saw pieces of shrapnel lodged in the back of his body. He felt Jimmy’s neck for a pulse. He was still alive.
That was all the motivation Tripp needed. He picked Jimmy up and moved as quickly as he could towards the camels. Tripp secured Jimmy onto one and untied it. He then got on and rode out into the desert. As he made his way back to camp, he saw their backup approaching the village and flagged one down before collapsing onto the cool desert sand.