Clouds, p.9
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       Clouds, p.9

           Nate Allen
 
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  Chapter 9

  Another set of fast steps brought Grant, Bobby, and the Patrol Sergeant up to the blazing flames.

  "What happened here?" asked Ricks to a man standing by with watery eyes.

  "Mie dat-datr ent wife in there!"

  "What?"

  "Mie datre ent wife!"

  "It's his daughter and wife! Let's go, Smith and Jackson!"

  "Yes, Sir!" they followed him into the remains of the building. The air was black with smoke, and the flames spurted out violently. The cries intensified.

  "Where are you?!" screamed Grant. It was a dark, unstable mound of remains. He was answered by desperate cries. Grant found himself crawling in darkness. Bobby and Patrol Sergeant Ricks had disappeared from sight, but he could hear them. They seemed close. They had to have been. The building had been small.

  Halfway through his crawl, Grant pulled out his flashlight, clicked it on, and found himself in a familiar situation. The air was raining dust, and confetti of debris. His lungs were filling with smoke. He felt the sensation of suffocation, as every breath gave him a little bit less air. He found his body shaking. But, Grant couldn't give up. He pulled himself forward. The scream was fading. Whoever he was pursuing was dying. Grant crawled faster, feeling his stomach tighten and make a jumble out of his intestines.

  All he could do was keep crawling. Shards of glass cut his forearms, and a flame's glow was rubbing skin off the small of his back. But, he kept crawling. Finally, he came into a dark room, and shone his light on a small girl covered in burns. Her eyes were barely open, and her hair was burned from her head. But she was breathing. Grant attempted to grab her, only to find that she was held by a rope around the waist.

  "Wa-what the hell?" he whispered. "Why are you tied up?"

  She didn't answer. She barely moaned as he cut the rope with a knife he pulled from his belt. Grant slung her over his shoulder, shining the light in front of him again. At first it was just a shedding blackness, but soon his eyes focused and he found a woman burnt skinless. She was just an ash statue. Even with the flame roaring around him, he heard a sound of snapping. It was the woman. She fell into two pieces, and then became many as she hit the floor. A cloud of gray spread toward him.

  "Bobby?" Grant called.

  "Grant? Where are you?!" he replied.

  "Go back! I have the girl. The m-mom didn't make it." Grant began to cough as he walked through the black air. It seemed endless, until finally he broke free and found himself in the sun. Bobby and the Patrol Sergeant appeared next to him within only a moment. Maybe they had always been that close.

  "You did well, Smith. I'm proud-" BANG! A shot was fired and a Patrol Sergeant was lost. He fell to the sand, dead on impact. Grant looked up, seeing the man they had tried to help, smile, drop his weapon, and run away. For a second, he looked back down at the Patrol Sergeant, seeing his eyes glistening over a dead stare.

  "Stay here, Bobby," Although, blood ran down Grant's arms, a first degree burn stamped the small of his back, and his lungs were filled with smoke, Grant pursued this man with murderous intent. He coughed the faster he ran, and his eyes stung from the lingering sensation of smoke. But, untamed hate for this man fueled him.

  "Allah!" the man screamed proudly, as he ran away. Grant became faster with every passing moment. He ran down the street, passing wondering eyes, and judgmental folk. It didn't matter what happened for his actions. Grant was going to kill this man. He chased him for another minute, and then lunged into him, knocking him down. The man began to chant while smirking.

  While coughing, nearly uncontrollably, Grant flipped him around so he could see his bulging eyes sitting within a mask of wrinkles covered with a crinkly beard covered with dust.

  "Allah Saves!" the man screamed. "Allah Saves!"

  "Shut up!" screamed Grant, punching the man in the face once, and then grabbing his robe collar with both hands. "You shut up!" his coughing subsided.

  The man smiled. "Allah Saves!"

  "Shut up!" he smacked him again.

  "He'll save me! He'll kill you!"

  "No! I'll kill you!" Grant picked up the M-16 rifle, and smashed the man in the face with the butt of the gun twice. "Why do you have to be a monster?!" he screamed as he continued to hit him in the face. "Why can't you just die?!" Grant kept hitting him with the butt of his gun. Skull was breaking, and blood was spilling.

  "Ok-okay." the man whispered behind a throat filled with blood, and bits of broken teeth. "Sto-stop."

  "No!" Grant continued until hearing skull become emptiness. He stopped hitting, and looked down at the man. His head was now nothing but a bowl wrapped in skin, drenched in blood. Grant looked around while wiping drops of red from his face, and spitting. The people looked at him as if he was a monster-maybe he was.

  After two minutes of hanging his head over his kill, Grant stood. He grabbed his rifle, and walked away, leaving the man to rot in the streets. He left feeling like he had just experienced an awakening. Grant left smiling. He walked back over to his dead Patrol Sergeant, looked at Bobby with a blood smeared face, and then grabbed the Patrol Sergeants' legs. Bobby grabbed the arms.

  Grant had expected a mob. He had expected death threats. But apparently people in Baghdad didn't like men who used their little girls as bait to kill Americans either. After all, these had been the people who tore down Saddam Hussein's statue, and had he been there, they would have gutted him like a fish. For one moment, Grant had been an executioner.

  Bobby and Grant walked slowly, reflecting on the events that had just taken place. They looked down at a man made of inspiration, only to see his potential gone. Patrol Sergeant Ricks hadn't only been a leader to them, he had been a mentor, and somewhat of a father figure. But, now, he was gone. Grant could only think about how this was going to be his Patrol Sergeant's final tour. It made the tears filling his throat drop into his stomach like a stone.

  Slowly, they walked those two miles. Traffic stopped and the people stared, sending subtle condolences with soft eyes and head nods. Not everyone was bad it seemed. They did care. After all, these were people just like Grant and Bobby. But, as Grant walked, all he saw was disease calling itself human. They weren't human. They were anything but.

  Grant found the tears brimming. He imagined a family that never got to experience the man Patrol Sergeant Ricks had been before the heads on hooks. It made him think of Chelsea and Kali Marie. Don't let it change you, but it already had.

  Grant didn't know how to feel. At first the kill had made him feel invigorated, filled with something he had been missing. But, soon that feeling became shame. He had killed someone. And the feelings now filling him were regret.

  Though, the man deserved to die. Did that still make it right? The answer to the question didn't seem relevant. Grant was righting a wrong. The fact that it made him feel good for the moment could have implied a monster. But, when push comes to shove every man will kill if pushed far enough. Grant knew it was justifiable. He knew that Patrol Sergeant Ricks would have seen it that way too.

  The walk back to the others seemed everlasting, but eventually they dragged their feet into a group of soldiers alert and ready.

  "What happened, Jackson?" asked Hetel.

  "It was a trap, Sir. The man set off an explosive with his family inside. When we came out, he shot Patrol Sergeant Ricks in the head." said Bobby softly. "He died on impact."

  "What happened to the man?"

  "We killed him."

  "Where is he?"

  "Sir, sometimes it's just better to not know everything. Trust me." said Bobby with implications in his voice.

  "You have a good point, Jackson. Enough blood has been spilled. You did what you had to do." he said. "Were there any survivors from the fire?"

  "When Grant brought her out, the little girl was breathing. But, she died not long after. A lady took her from my arms. As for the mom, we weren't able to get her out of the building. She was already dead."

  "I'm sorry. Ricks
was a good man. I had trained with him when starting out. He used to be livelier. I never saw the things he did. I've seen my share, but nothing like him. He had always been the one to go above and beyond." Hetel smiled with eyes that were sad stone.

  "Yeah." whispered Grant.

  "Clean yourself off, Smith." Hetel gave him a cloth. Grant wiped his face. "Go get bandaged up. Those cuts look dirty."

  "Sir," Grant walked away from Hetel and over to a man sitting in a jeep. "I have some cuts I need cleaned." he said quietly.

  "Alright, we'll get you fixed up." the man pulled out a first aid kit, doused a rag in alcohol, and began to clean Grant's cut. "Does that sting?"

  "No," replied Grant blankly.

  Before he knew it, his forearms were wrapped in gauze. There was only one thing Grant needed at the moment: to talk. He walked over to shady spot, sat against a tree, and pulled out his notepad:

  I am Grant Smith,

  Day 92: August 16th, 2013

  I know that I said I was done writing, but I'm not. Don't judge me! I need this. It's the only thing keeping me sane. And as of now, I don't consider myself sane as it is.

  I killed a man today. I didn't just pull the trigger and end his life. I beat him in the face until there was nothing left to beat. I left his stupid body in the middle of the street, blood filling the bowl that his head now is. I expected people to run after me, throwing stones. But they clapped without clapping. They thanked me for taking out the garbage.

  He killed him. Patrol Sergeant Ricks is dead. That bastard tied up his wife and girl in the back room of that house, and set off an explosive. He knew we would come to help. I thought I was doing good. The man seemed heartbroken, and truly worried about his wife and girl. But, it was just a trap. I pulled her out practically skinless. I risked my life, coming out with Bobby and Patrol Sergeant Ricks by me. He told me he was proud of me, and then died. I looked into his eyes, seeing real care, before a bullet took it all away.

  He had a wife and kids. He was almost done. He was a man the world needed more of. But, apparently this world is too dark to hold good people anymore. I don't even think I'm a good person anymore. He deserved every bash to that hideous face. If I were to do it again, I'd shoot him in the throat, and then jab out his eyes with my fingers. I don't regret what I did; in fact I wish I could have made him scream like he did his wife and daughter.

  I am not a good man. When I look at these people, I want them to die. So many innocent people are dying so they can live their lives in poverty. Why can't we just wipe them out? All it would take is one big bomb. Their skin would come off like clothing. We still could do that. We still could kill them all.

  Maybe the darkness is talking, or maybe it's me. Sometimes I can't tell...

  August soon became a Friday in December, the 20th to be exact. The war had proven useless time and time again. Many more men had died, drenching Grant in the blood of their memory. Nightmares had wrapped themselves around his thoughts, and began to squeeze out paranoia. Grant was no longer able to walk up and down the streets without turning his head every few feet. He was sure a sniper sat in an upper window, holding his head in his sights.

  Every death had made him more wary, more fearful of the world around him. They were heartless beings. The man he had killed four months before had only been a small taste of a monster's capability. Grant knew nothing of demons, not yet.

  Even the war had grown monotony. It was usually just walking the streets, keeping his gun close, and his eyes alert. But, in that monotonous routine sat the nightmares of war. It was a study of man at its barest, it's darkest. They were people just like you, just like Grant. Yet, somewhere along the way, the humanity had been lost. Maybe it had never been there to begin with.

  They wore skin to warm cold bones, and clothes to warm cold skin, and somewhere in between sat a costume of humanity. They smiled their dirty toothed smiles, and claimed innocence with their mouths. When it comes down to it, all men are the same. They all have monsters that peek out of their hiding spots at one time or another. These men (women included) were finally fitting into their skin. They were embracing their darkness, inviting hate to become chains, all so it could bind them into a chosen slavery.

  As Grant walked the streets of Baghdad that December 20th evening, he wondered if any of the people he saw were truly good. Did everyone wear decency for a costume, or were there actually good humans?

  Grant walked with Bobby, knowing that the answer would never present itself. They would stay walking disease to him. Grant couldn't see them as people. He hadn't been able to since he bashed the man's face flat. Every day he walked his usual walk, thinking about his still developing Kali Marie, and his ever expanding reddish blonde haired fianc?e. The thought of kissing Chelsea again, and raising his daughter was the only thing keeping him going.

  Bobby was no longer enough. It was like it had been in the town of Miles, except it was different. Every death they had witnessed had caused both Grant and Bobby to seclude themselves from reality. They dug a deep hole, and sat alone at the bottom of it.

  The walkie talkies hanging from their belt slurred electric static, until becoming a voice. "Smith, Jackson?" the voice asked.

  "Yes, Sir." they replied into separate walkie talkies.

  "Get back to base!"

  "Is there any reason, Sir?"

  "I'll explain there. Just go!" Bobby and Grant stopped patrolling the streets, leaving the Iraqi police to fend for themselves. After running through busy streets, crossing intersections, and taking a few lefts, they came back to the base. Grant and Bobby opened up the door, latched it shut, and entered the house with blood stained walls.

  "You wanted to see us, Sir?" said Grant.

  "Things have taken a turn." said Company Commander Bishop. "The President of the United States has been found dead."

  "What?" asked Grant.

  "It happened earlier today."

  "What does that mean for us?"

  "I don't know yet." replied a confused Commander. "We await orders. Alright?"

  "Yes, Sir." they replied in sync. Grant found himself wandering into the dimly lit living room, and joining a group of soldiers watching the TV:

  "The President of the United States has been shot and killed." said a red haired newswoman. "A maid and a body guard found him in his bed with a fatal gunshot wound to the right side of his head. Sources tell me that he was laid out with flower pedals strewn about his bed. There has been major speculation over the last few hours. Some believe he took his own life. Others don't know what to believe. His promises-his plans-were beginning to come to fruition. A light was at the end of the tunnel. What will happen now that our hope is dead? Only time will tell, and channel ten news will keep you updated." the woman blinked her eyes blank, and then put down the microphone. The white house sat in the background, crowded with a wave of people.

  The volume on the TV lowered, and soldiers began to debate. Grant walked away, not caring either way. What did it matter how he died? He was dead. The one hope that the future had rested on was now lying dead in a bed with a hole in his head. Grant's future had never been more uncertain. What would the world become now that America's hope had been found dead?

  No one knew. The Commanders found themselves tongue tied; the soldiers found themselves sitting in a stagnant mindset; and America's hopeful few watched their hope die time and time again on the news broadcast. On that Friday evening of December the 20th the future darkened.

  Bobby looked at Grant, Grant looked at Bobby. Without saying anything, they conveyed the same hopelessness. Somehow, everyone affected in that moment knew that the world was beginning to fall

  Everyone in that small house with the stone floor and blood stained walls looked at the other eventually. They asked only with blinks: what did it matter? The futility of the fight had been sitting in front of a brightening horizon. They had tried to tell themselves it was all worth it. They had tried to justify a war amounting to only more death. But, it n
o longer mattered. The war and its goals had died along with the President. They had tried to achieve peace and liberation through lending a helping hand while holding a loaded gun.

  It dawned on them that the last twelve years had been wasted lives. The brightness that new voices promised was now bleak. Only the most optimistic of people were able to see silver lining in the dark clouds, and even they found themselves feeling helpless (and for that matter hopeless).

  "What do we do, Sir?" asked Grant softly, staring at the bloodstained wall.

  "I don't know." Company Commander Bishop whispered.

  "Guess!"

  "How can I know?!" screamed the Company Commander. "We wait for word."

  "From who, the President?"

  "Shut up, Smith. You are out of line!"

  "I'll ask again. What do we do?!"

  "Stop asking. I don't know." a once bold, and tough Company Commander was now reduced to a confused boy, scared for his own life. Even the strict black man Hetel could not find words. When it came to the future, no one was a man. They were just little boys waiting to be told what to do next.

  For the next several hours, no one spoke. The TV was on, but the volume was low. They didn't need a constant reminder of their impending doom. This day of December the 20th of 2013 saw people at its purest. It humbled a prideful country, all until the shock of the events wore off. Then they found themselves back in the same state of selfishness, and pride. The good in man will always be temporary.

  The shock of such a devastating event wore off within two days. It was Sunday, a day for God to come first. And He did on that day. Not since 9/11 had churches been packed full of hopeless souls searching for answers. But, they did on that Sunday in December.

  The word that the Commanders had been waiting for finally came in. They were told to do what they had been doing. So, Grant and Bobby went back out onto the streets, patrolling a usual busy city. In Baghdad, not much changed when it came to the news of the President's death. The people were continuing on with daily life, as were Americans. Even the soldiers soon found themselves back in a regular routine.

  Grant and Bobby once again walked the streets with their guns pointed down at the ground, looking at the people, protecting them. Somehow, the President's death had just been a burp in their usual routine, a detour from monotony. And now that the news had sunken in, it was time to proceed like nothing happened.

  Life in the city that day continued. They prayed to Allah, children ran about, groups gathered into a clutter, and became growing conversation. All while Grant and Bobby stood next to each other, keeping a wary eye on the city surrounding them. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Children weren't carrying abnormally large backpacks, or firearms. It seemed like a celebration of something. Soon though, smoke rose from inside the group.

  Grant and Bobby squeezed their way through laughing folk, finding a burning mannequin with the President's face stapled to the head.

  "They're monsters." Bobby said

  "They're animals, Bobby." replied Grant, feeling anger filling him again. Grant and Bobby found themselves surrounded by a group of celebratory Iraqis. By impulse, Grant pulled out his walkie talkie, found the right station, and got a hold of his Company Commander.

  "Company Commander Bishop, this is Smith with Jackson! You need to come down here!"

  "Say again, Smith." said the Commander.

  "We need backup down here now!"

  "Where are you?"

  "By the river-just follow the smoke!"

  "We'll be there ASAP."

  "Alright, Sir!" Grant shot a burst of bullets into the sky, trying to shut up a growing celebration of the death of America's leader. "Settle down!"

  "Get out of here!" some people screamed, flaring their eyes, tensing their jaws, and swaying senselessly. "You aren't welcome." they laughed.

  "That's fine." he replied softly, trying not to say something that would get him and Bobby killed. "Just stop what you are doing."

  "No!" the group only seemed to be gathering. It seemed a mob was forming. Soon, Iraqi Police broke through the group, and stood next to Grant. They yelled things in their language, and threatened by smacking hit sticks against their hands. The people replied with hostility.

  Without warning, multiple shots were fired into the air by their arriving backup. One Commander and two Patrol Sergeants screamed, and their translator translated. The group began to dwindle, until becoming a fading crowd. Even though it hadn't escalated past threats, Grant could tell that it was becoming more dangerous daily. They hated Americans, proudly stating so by burning the figure of America's hope.

 
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