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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 

Him in the Dust - Part 1 - 7. The Worst Day

July 29th 2006

I was feeling low. Sitting in the mess hall on my own, I contemplated the previous day. All four of us had been back in the bunk. Tank and Jack were looking so close now. They seemed to get on so well and felt they were gently orbiting away from me. I was okay with this. As long as everyone has someone was my mantra in this terrible war zone. They also seemed to be happy to let Lukas and I be alone, much to my annoyance. But last night was different. All four of us just laid in our bunks and didn’t talk.

Lukas was deliberately not interacting with anyone and had left the tent at six in the morning to go God’s knows where. I pretended that I’d been asleep. He didn’t return until Lunchtime. I half expected Jack and Tank to ask me where he was, but they didn’t. I think they knew Lukas was not talking to me and didn’t want to get involved. But I wanted them to ask me. I wanted them to ask to help me determine whether Lukas is a complete dick or I was going mad.

So this morning, I’d got up early and found myself here in the mess hall. Jack and I briefly spoke heading for the showers about how much blood they had taken out of him, but that was about it. He reckoned they left him with about a pint, and I wanted to joke about that comment but wasn’t in the mood. So I just squeezed his neck and thanked him for giving our comrades a fighting chance of living, should they have needed his blood.

~~~~~~~~~~

My cinnamon whirl was now dry and cold, and the coffee I was drinking was now becoming an effort to finish, not to mention tepid. No one came over to join me. Sure, I was sitting here quite early in the morning, but as I twisted my head around, even people I knew just nodded at me and smiled. Whereas I wanted them to come and sit with me, to escape from this self-absorbed pity I was feeling.

Lukas was wrecking my fucking head - I felt confused. I was in a war-zone in the middle of the desert. Gone were the thoughts of the enemy I had killed. The blood I had spilt. No, all I could think about was Lukas. It was driving me nuts!

“Patrol tomorrow?” came a voice, followed by a stroke on the back of my neck.

Lukas!

“Oh, so you’re talking to me now?”

“Yeah, why wouldn't I be?”

“Excuse me?” I yelled, slightly angry. “You stormed off yesterday without a word and then said nothing to me all last night while we were in our bunks.”

“Did you attempt to talk to me?”

“That’s not the point, and you didn’t answer my question.”

“Which was?” he asked, pulling out a chair and sitting opposite me.

“Again, with the fucking games, Lukas. I can’t handle this.”

“So I was right, I should move tents.”

“No...for fuck sake. I just want to know what your problem is?”

“My problem is I’m in love with you, and you are not in love with me.”

I let my head fall into my arms on the table. Lukas stroked my hair. I pushed his hand away.

“You wanna play squash?”

“No, my hip hurts, and I have never played it.”

“You need to go to physio.”

“And if they send me home?”

“Then they send you home; that would be good, right?”

“And you?”

“What about me?” Lukas asked, tearing a piece of my cinnamon whirl and placing it in his mouth.

“I want to stay with you.”

“Why?”

I looked around. “Because… because I fucking care about you, okay, and we stick together. I don’t want you out there with anyone else. We get each other, and we’re a good unit. The four of us are.”

“Awww, that’s kinda sweet.”

“Yeah, yeah, it’s sweet. But I mean it. I’m not going home without you. I want you in one piece.”

“Go to physio Seb, get checked out.”

“You can sort me out, right?”

“Is that a request?

“Don’t be funny. I mean my hip.”

“I could, but I care about you too, and I am a general medic, not a physiotherapist. I think you need to get it checked out. I care about YOU, Seb. More than you know.”

“And the kiss?”

“What kiss?” he asked, also stealing my now cold coffee.

“You stormed out after I said I would let you kiss me,” I whispered, again looking around.

“I didn’t storm out; I walked out. Seb, I’m not going to be an experiment for you. I’m not some fucking first aid test dummy to see if you ‘like it’ as you said.”

“It wasn't supposed to come out like that. I just meant I feel close to you, and I feel safe. I just don’t know if I can give you what you want.”

“Let's go outside and talk in private.”

Lukas grabbed my arm and pulled me up. We walked out of the mess hall, and I followed him, scratching my head. He led me around to some fuel talks and pulled up two plastic chairs leaning against the tanks.

“Sit,” he demanded, gesturing with his hand. I did as he asked.

“I’m sitting, now what.”

“You wanna kiss me, do it now.”

“Erm...what? I mean, no, I can't; you’ve put me on the spot.”

“Does the fact I like you gross you out?”

“It did...I mean when you first said it.”

“And now?”

I sighed and leant back in my chair, shrugging. “God, I can't believe i'm saying this. I guess I’ve gotten used to it. I mean, I never thought I would get used to killing the Taliban. That first one gave me nightmares but now….”

“So no then?”

I looked at him after he asked that, leaned forward and gently placed my lips on his. I felt his tongue gently enter my mouth and a hand come round the back of my head. My heart was racing, and I wanted to pull away. It was the natural thing to do. I was a straight lad, but somehow this felt okay...it felt nice. I let him explore my mouth. He tasted of him if that’s even an understandable thing to think. There was a hint of coffee, and his fingers were gently massaging the back of my head. His eyes were closed. Everything was gentle. I reluctantly placed my tongue inside his mouth. It was warm, Inviting. He was a good looking guy! Jesus, why did that even come into my head. Did I like this? I think I did. But there was a battle raging in my mind, and I pulled away before putting my head in my hands.

“You okay?” Lukas asked, almost whispering. “That kiss was beautiful.”

“My head is fucked!”

“Thanks, so it was that bad?”

“No, it was better than I was expecting. I just don’t think you appreciate my feelings in all this.”

“Seb, you chose what you want to do; I’m not forcing this.”

“You’re so full of shit. You have been after me since we met, and you say you aren't forcing this? What bullshit.”

“Hey, calm down. It’s your heart that is messed up. You just have to sort that out and decide what you want.”

“I had decided what I wanted, and I was quite happy being comfortable knowing that I liked girls.”

“You’ve never been with one; how would you know? Seb, you’ve never had a girlfriend.”

“So! Don’t mean I’m fucking gay. You come into my life and start messing with nature, and my head all gets fucked up.”

“Nature? Are you for real? Perhaps I just woke up something inside you.”

“No, you tried to alter a path my emotions were comfortably on. Just because I have never had a girlfriend doesn't mean I wouldn't have ended up with one. I'm just not in a rush to have sex or be with a girl. Right now, my priority is the Army, and that comes before everything!”

“God, you sound like Hitler. Well, it looks to me Sebbie that you have now been further with a guy than with a girl.”

“Exactly, and that’s what is fucking my head up.”

“Why? What’s the issue? It comes back to boxes, Seb. You remember, in the shower, I said about you putting everything into boxes. Like I said to you about me just being, Why can’t you just be. Why do you have to slot into what society tells you? Why do you have to be on a set path, as you explain?”

“I dunno, I just think being out here, the job we do, the time it takes up. So I was just happy looking after my dick and having no other responsibilities.”

“So, what’s changed?”

“Well, now I have you to think about!”

“Wow, you make us sound like a couple already. Even I haven't said anything like that, Seb.”

“I just mean, I care about you, okay?”

“Yeah, you said. And I care about you too.”

“Yeah, but I wish I didn’t!”

“Then don’t.”

“But I have to now. Whatever you have done to me has me invested.”

“What does that mean?”

I lifted my head and looked him in the eyes. “It means I’m okay with us being whatever we have here...here in this place. I’m okay with it, but I'm still wondering what’s happening.”

Happening?

“To me…as in like before I met you, I was fine.”

“Wow, that is so cute. You are amazing.”

“So what now?”

“Well, I dunno about you, but I’m heading to the showers; I need to wash this dusty desert sand and grit out of my hair.”

Before I could say anything, he got up and walked away. I followed him with my eyes, seeing him lift his T-shirt and rub his stomach. He looked back at me, and there it was! That stupid smile. That teasing smile. He knew what he was doing. It was another game. He wanted me to follow him. Sorry but that was a step too far!

In the morning sun, I watched a Harrier come into land, which was unusual for this time of day. It was a momentary distraction from what was now on my mind - that bloody kiss: the kiss and nothing else. I could have been out on patrol being fired upon, and I had a feeling that ‘the kiss’ would still be front and centre. I felt my hip spasm as I got up. It would have to wait. I was not going to physio, end of!

~~~~~~~~~~~~

August 1st 2006

American marines and British civilian advisers were waging two wars in the hilly northern half of Helmand province. The news was coming through fast, and we were sent out in a Viking. We’d finally got some dogs out front, but we all knew that this tin box would not protect us if we went over an IED. IEDs were always on our minds. All suited up, helmets on, Lukas sat beside me, his hand on my knee. I didn’t remove it and instead gently smiled at him. It was nothing sexual, but I was glad we were together. Tank and Jack were whispering amongst themselves. They looked calm, which helped me. Every time we went out, we knew one, two, or even all of us might not come back. The Taliban were crafty fuckers with no regard for any life.

I was learning all the time and now considered myself an experienced infantry soldier. I think we all did. Little by little, more confidence was being embedded each time we went out. It was pulling us closer together as a group. We loved each other. We cared about each other, and I would die for any of them...now, especially for Lukas.
We were morphing into something. Lukas had invested so much into me, and it was infectious. I was starting to have strange feelings for him. I did love him. Maybe not in the way he wanted, but there was now something there that wasn't before. At first, I tried to fight it, but now I was giving into it. I had never had a girlfriend, nor a boyfriend. I knew I was straight. I knew I was. I had to be. It was in my genes. I couldn't force what was not meant to be. But somehow, there was...something!

~~~~~~~~~~~

August 4th 2006

The heat was blistering and uncomfortable, pushing just over a hundred, so my watch said. The dust got into everything, and I felt a burning in my chest. Was this place killing me? We’d been travelling east for around 40 minutes. Guns primed on the various compounds we passed.

In Musa Qala, the first wave of 40 commando unit, and us, the Yorkshire Regiment, almost ran out of ammunition yesterday after two weeks of challenging combat. Where the fuck were the supplies. Nothing was being dropped in, and no one was saying anything. All we heard was that Brown.,.. Gordon that is, was pouring Billions in. Seven Billion, I heard. So where was that money? What was it buying? We didn’t dare criticise the government. We had to stay quiet. I had hoped we could borrow some ammo from the yanks, but they used different weapons. It was fucking scary to think we might run out of bullets. It was also starting to sink in that this war was fucking shite. We knew things were being kept from us. My guess was either a delay to the new armoured vehicles or supply issues. We were getting fed, and there seemed to be enough fuel for the trucks and planes, but although never said in public, we all agreed we were under-equipped for what we were being asked to do.

With no easy way to resupply them – it was too risky to drive convoys or fly dual-rotor Chinooks, the only helicopters we had.
Rumour had it we would soon be moving in to get the Taliban out of the city. We knew this would mean guerrilla warfare and building to building searches. I didn’t think we had the firepower. Tank was more confident. Lukas gave gentle talks to settle us. I needed that.

I was scared.

We drove close to two compounds which intelligence was confident were filled with Taliban. There was no deal to be made in Sangin, so our commanders sent more forces. However, we saw them flicking up dust a mile away and thought it safer to wait for them to arrive. Still, even with them close by, they did not have enough boots on the ground to establish a decisive advantage.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The insurgents set up bomb-making factories in a valley that hugged the source of the Helmand River, and they struck an informal mutual defence pact with drug barons who ran a network of opium-processing labs in hillside hamlets. Our commanders made matters worse by spreading our regiment across several small outposts along the valley, condemning them to a Sisyphean mission. They would clear insurgents from small parts of the district, but then they had to move on. But, again we knew, more troops were needed. 40 Commando were doing most of the heavy work while we took up the slack.

We also found out today the Afghan army commander in Sangin told media outlets that British troops were searching compounds, walking on the roofs of homes, and maltreating the local population – including pointing weapons at people and going into areas where women were working. Well, First, that was a fucking lie. So who side was he on? The fuck!

“Where are you getting all this information from?” I asked Jack. “It’s not true, surely? I know we haven’t been up on those compounds.”

“It was from a guy I know in 40 Commando. He heard it from another source. It might be bullshit, but things are heating up here. I think we’re spread too thinly.”

Another three Viking trucks pulled up next to ours. One of them had been in an ambush and was shot up but still running. Although looking at what shit was coming out the tailpipe said to me it was about ready to give up.

We had now moved about half a mile away from the compounds to set up the route. This was about to turn into the most significant push forward with 26 soldiers about to storm the buildings.

“It’s gonna be okay, you know,” Lukas said, pushing my gun into my chest. “How's the hip doing?”

“Honestly, it’s hurting like crazy.”

“When we get back, I'll take another look at it, but you gotta go to physio.”

“If we come back.”

“Seb! WHEN we come back.”

“Right, lads, out of the vehicle. Snipers in position. Infantry, start moving forward.” The Commander said. He was American; I’d never seen him before. Why was he here? Where was Bennet?

We started to move towards the compound while the snipers stayed back and looked for targets that might take us out. I stayed close to Lukas. Strangely I felt at peace and not worried at all.

“Slowly now, Tank,” Lukas called. “Jack, Luke, Rimmer, Seb, stay to the left. We need to give clear sight to the Snipers.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I heard a bullet fly past me, and then it started - Gunfire everywhere! Where was it coming from?

“TANK, SEB, SPINNER, RIMMER,” get over here! Jack screamed as we all started moving in the opposite direction. I ran over to the right side of the largest compound and had my gun ready, gripping it hard. I saw one of the Taliban run towards Tank. He had a vest on. I fired and watched his head implode 6 feet away from Tank, with brain matter going everywhere.

Thankfully the belt did not go off.

“Tank, this way,” I shouted. Lukas went around the other side, and I heard multiple firing. I worried, but I was pinned down by four Taliban who were now out of the compound and running towards a bus shelter. We were in sight and had to move quickly.

Snipers Fired about five times. I saw two go down near the bus shelter, but two made it through and hid behind the concrete erection.

“Lukas,” I shouted, wanting him to call back, but he didn’t. Tank and another six of us continued to hug the building wall to try and make it around the back. Three Taliban soldiers met us. We all fired and made short work of them. I got splattered with blood in my face and chest, wiping it away immediately.

“Tank, where are Lukas and Jack?”

“Dunno, quick, we need to get inside. Guys, here, look a gap!”

“Lukas!” I shouted again. “Jack!”

“Here,” Jack shouted back. “Guys, we have a man down.”

I feared the worst, and in a moment of stupidity, I ran across the compound alone towards the other exit, which was to the right of the building. I saw Jack just appear in my peripheral vision. Two Taliban ran towards me. I ducked but felt a searing pain in my chest, and I went down.

“Man down, we have another man down,” Someone shouted.

More gunfire ensued. It felt like it was coming from everywhere. I tried to drag myself towards a dilapidated machine for cover. I’d been hit, but my mind was so confused as to how bad because of all the gunfire. Jack dived and landed next to me.

“Ahhh, no shit, man, your bleeding! Medic, I need a medic over here!” Jack screamed.

“It’s fine; I’ll stay here. Do you know where Lukas is?”

Jack looked at me seriously but said nothing. I grabbed his uniform, begging him to tell me with my eyes. “He’s down. He’s been shot in the back and ain’t moving. I just saw him in the dust!”

“Fucking FUUUUCK, I screamed. Half in pain, half in terror that Lukas was down.

Then I caught sight of him as one of our guys dragged him in from outside and lay him flat on his back. But he was now behind some kind of workbench, and I couldn’t see him. Finally,

I saw two American Medic’s come running over to where he was. I wanted to see him, but I couldn’t get up.

“Lukas!” I shouted. “Lukas, answer me!”

He didn’t answer.

Two US Marines ran over to me to check I was okay. Then as they were about to move away, I saw one of them wrestle a Taliban to the floor. He had a knife on him. The other aimed his gun but was out of ammo and was trying to reload in a panic.

An intense hand to hand fight was now going on right in front of my eyes. The Marine tried to bang the guy’s hand on the floor to release the weapon, while the Taliban scum screamed something in Arabic. I held my gun up in agony, trying to get a clear shot. They were rolling all over the floor. Then, I just held my breath and pulled the trigger. I got him straight in the temple, mushing his scull in. The Marine threw him off and sat there panting before winking at me and getting up again.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The gunfire started to get less intense until finally, there was silence.

“All targets eliminated, Sir,” Ryan Keller shouted. “We have three men down - one in a bad way. Requesting air support to lift out, Sir.”

Jack stayed with me and tried to keep me calm. Finally, a medic rushed over. First, he pulled out a Trauma patch cloth from his chest kit and tied it tight around my torso. I cried out in pain.

“You! Apply pressure and hold it there,” the medic ordered Jack. Jack just nodded and done as he was told. I was now in so much pain.

“Can we get out of here?” I asked. Jack seemed scared and on edge, but then his expression changed as his training kicked in again. I saw it. He said nothing and pushed harder on my wound area.

“Hey, we need morphine here!” Jack shouted.

The medic returned and bit off a cap to a needle, jabbing it in my shoulder blade. Within seconds I could feel the pain subsiding and was able to think a little clearer.

“Air support is ten minutes away. We have three down with GSW,” I heard our commander say as he came over to inspect me. This didn’t go well; we were like fucking amateurs.

“I’m okay, Sir, but I can't get up.”

“Stay where you are, soldier.” he looked at my chest area, shook his head and then looked at me. “For you, the war is over. At least for a while! We may need to send you home Private!. Well done today.”

He went to leave me, but I had to know. “Sir, Lukas Hans, do we know if he’s okay?”

“Private, it’s not looking good; he’s having CPR now. But, unfortunately, he is badly injured.”

The commander walked away, and I saw Tank. His eyes were wet. We caught a glimpse of each other, and I saw him shake his head. Then, looking defeated, he walked out of the compound. Jack came over and hugged me.

“I know you two were close. But right now, we need to get you out of here.”

A few minutes later, I could hear the faint sound of rotor blades. We had cleared the building. But at what fucking cost? I am bleeding quite badly. The next thing I saw was an American Marine with a red cross on his arm come over to where I was sitting and injected something more into my neck. “What the fu….”

I must have passed out!

Copyright © 2021 James Matthews; All Rights Reserved.
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental. Note: While authors are asked to place warnings on their stories for some moderated content, everyone has different thresholds, and it is your responsibility as a reader to avoid stories or stop reading if something bothers you. 
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Oh no. Just as Lukas and Set seem to be reaching, well, something, the shit hits the fan. Brilliant description of the confusion of battle. I could almost taste the dust. It's left me feeling edgy and worried for both Seb and Lukas. 

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Just as Seb and Lukas reached a compromise. The battle felt so real, the confusion, the injuries. I'm worried for Seb at the moment.

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I think while we all knew this was a possibility, no one is ready or prepared for the awful eventuality. One can only hope that with the advances in medical technology, in the battlefield environment, that both Seb and Lukas have a fighting chance!

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