Soldier Phoenix by RodG
A pale moon hovered above a soldier kneeling on the rocky carapace of a high mountain pass. He peered at the quiet Afghan village below.|
Earlier that day he was the sole survivor of an attack on a convoy carrying medical supplies to this very village.
IEDS were remotely detonated when all the trucks were well within the narrow pass and could not retreat. From the high cliffs machine guns opened fire; bullets ripped through flesh.
He'd hidden in a bomb's crater beneath the wreckage of a truck while the enemy, their faces wrapped in scarves, pillaged the convoy and stole his dead comrades' weapons and jewelry. When they finally left, he crept into a nest of rocks.
Nightfall came quickly. He was alone, yet numb to pain and fear. He felt only a seething hatred for all Afghans, but especially those in the village below.
He fingered one of the three grenades pinned to his flack jacket, the only weapons he now possessed.
You're no better than the Taliban, he thought. Aiding them, lying to us. If I can get closer, I'll lob these. May you all rot in hell!
He slithered down the slope, hiding behind boulders or in their shadows. Slowly he made his way to a mud-bricked wall at the outskirts of the village.
Something stirred. A villager? No. A tree limb that hung over and above him. Its leaves shook.
But there is no wind, he thought.
Then the gravel he knelt on began to shift and roll. Instinctively, he flattened both hands against the wobbling wall.
A low growl.
My empty stomach?
Louder . . . longer . . . like rumbling thunder.
Something threw him down, bashing his head against the ground. Rock splinters pierced his cheek, just missed an eye.
The ground surged as if it were a roiling sea.
A jagged fissure appeared in the shaking wall . . . widened . . . split it asunder.
Colliding bricks collapsed in a heap, quickly burying the soldier.
* * *
Much later he awoke, gagging on dust. Flies swarmed around his bloody head, the only part of his body exposed.
Rocks and bricks didn't shift. The ground was still.
He opened his crusted eye-lids . . . blinked until he could see.
Not much. Piles of rubble . . . the fallen tree . . . hazy stars in an ashen sky.
Still dark? He wasn't sure.
Had he been discovered? He shut his eyes. Played dead.
A bird's cry?
He listened hard.
No, a child's! I gotta--
He grunted . . . willed his muscles to move . . . push upwards.
A brick moved. Two.
Give me strength, Lord . . . please.
He strained . . . felt stabbing pain near his ribs . . . ignored it . . . pushed up until the heavy pressure on his chest yielded.
He wriggled. Dirt and debris fell away. Again . . . and again . . . until he could use both hands to excavate himself.
In the shadowy darkness he looked like a grey ghost, but fortunately no one saw him. Pain stabbed at his rib cage. His breathing was labored.
Hunkered, he peered through a gap of wall still standing. The closest building had toppled a stone's throw away. He could see silhouettes of many others, mostly demolished.
He stroked one of his grenades and grimly smiled. That quake did far more damage than I could have.
Another cry. He froze. A soldier's reactions. Every sense alert.
"He--lp!" One of the few words in Farsi he'd learned.
Again . . . softer.
Yes! That's what I heard.
His eyes and ears probed the gloom . . . stopped . . . locked in on a steady mewling coming from the closest building.
Don't think about it. You got what you came for. Scram!
He couldn't. Something bit deeply at his core . . . the last shreds of his humanity.
A--a child. Oh, God, help me save it.
He eased himself through the gap in the wall and crawled over rubble toward what now looked like a small house.
The exterior was shrouded in cloud-shadow, but he saw that most of the walls and all of the roof had collapsed.
How could anyone--?
A cry. Definitely from a child.
He crabbed forward until he knelt before the only standing wall. An empty hole gaped where a window had been. Cautiously making his way around shattered glass, he peeked inside.
A woman's body sprawled on the floor, half-covered by the fallen ceiling. She'd tried to take cover beneath a broken table.
The soldier hurtled through the window and tumbled across the floor. His hands searched until he found a small leg.
Gently he raked off debris and dirt until he discovered two dark eyes staring at him in the dim light of breaking day.
"Come," he whispered, pointing at himself.
But this strange-looking dervish scared her and she pulled away, smashing into a brazier with smoldering embers. Hot coals flared and spilled onto her mother's dress.
Tongues of fire flicked out at the girl and the table.
He whipped her into his arms as flames sprang toward them. Through the window he carried her fireman's style and stumbled to the wall. Billowing smoke masked their escape through the gap and across the rocky plateau.
In the pass long afterwards, he could not inhale enough fresh air to banish the stench of burning flesh that had followed in their wake.
* * *
Three days later a well-armed squad of Army Rangers found the soldier and the young girl huddled in shade near the burned wreckage of the convoy.
The soldier smiled at the child as the Rangers approached.
"They're the good guys," he said.
She stared at them and clenched his fingers.
"Anyone else survive this?" a Ranger asked.
The soldier shook his head.
"You've got burns all over," the Ranger said. "We've a medic with us. He'll--"
"Treat her first," the soldier said.
"Who is she?"
The smiling soldier moved just enough to allow the bright sun to illuminate his scarred face.
"The best thing that ever happened to me."
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