A 1,300 word short story.
Private First Class Greg “Sully” O’Sullivan was before a screen in the cool communications room, cordoned off with a woman on the screen half a world away. They weren’t strangers but the closest two people could be. Wetness pooled in his eyes. They weren’t talking as if thousands of miles were between them.
“Kate, I can’t think of anything else. I want to be back with you.”
“Sully get your head on straight. Stay safe out there, baby.”
“What’s the matter Kate? You look different.”
“Took you that long to notice, huh?”
“It’s nothing. I’m pregnant that’s all.” Kate was cool. She didn’t care half the time, and people couldn’t tell when she did.
He knew enough to guess. How they’d been getting baby clothes in the mail. The way Kate was around kids. He knew, but her words wouldn’t be enough. Nothing would be until they were together again.
PFC Sully walked to the humvees they were taking out for a drive across the scorching desert of a newly liberated Iraq. The city portion would be downright deadly. Sully was shaking with nerves, and that was status quo. It was enough that nothing had happened, yet. No one knew, but Sully didn’t show it either. He belonged there, and no one could say otherwise.
The Staff Sergeant commanding the Unit, “Rough Neck” Cochran patted Sully on the back. “Mounting up on the 50 cal. today, Sully?”
Sully didn’t have to think. In a mere matter of months, he would have a little person in his arms. And it felt alone as hell up there. A massive barrel in your hands and a tiny piece of armor around you — a target and unprotected at the same time. And the desolate streets had threats in every direction. Sully wasn’t the arrogant risk taker he once was as a young Marine.
“Not me today, Rough Neck. Give Keller the hot seat.”
“Your loss bud. Your loss.”
Sully was in the back across from the sweaty Private Vandorne. She was the only woman in the Unit. Sully was chatting it up with Rough Neck, shooting shit against a stiff breeze. The Privates weren’t buying their bullshit. The other members of their Unit followed behind in two humvees. That’s when it happened.
A IED on the street exploded. Debris flew everywhere. It was a tank shell that blew a hole in the ground. The entire block was on fire. There was no way through. The line of humvees backed up on Rough Neck’s orders. Another explosion cut off the way back. They were stuck.
Bullets flew through the air and in through the windows. The glass nicked and shattered under the barrage. They were in the crossfire from either side.
Rough Neck ordered everyone out.
Vandorne was hit.
Sully pulled her out through the door. Cover fire went up. Sully scanned the buildings. An empty courtyard was behind them. He dragged the injured Vandorne across the pale sand, leaving droplets of red in their wake.
Vandorne was gasping for breath. Sully pulled off her helmet. He had to do a double take. Sure, his wife had brown hair. And sure they both had pale, translucent skin. They looked a little alike. Sully’s heart stirred at the similarities between the two women.
The resemblance added panic to his actions. She was shot in the shoulder. There was a pool of blood growing on the ground. Sully pulled the coagulation powder and sprinkled it down. He pressed a compression wrap on the hole in Vandorne. She cried out in agony despite fast intakes of breath. Sully saw the life drain from her eyes. The hint of light became dull and disappeared.
Sully’s throat went hard.
Rough Neck was on the radio. “Positions go.”
Their Unit was all over the block. Sully chimed in.
“Sully, you’re the closest bud.”
“Get up those stairs and show the motherfuckers the force of nature that is a United States Marine. Nail those fuckers into the ground. We’re getting hammered on the south face of this godforsaken block. Everyone over there converge on Sully.”
Everyone was quite for a moment.
“Get up those stairs, Marine.”
Sully had a moment of seeing his flag draped coffin. His wife crying. Their child wailing. Then it was gone.
Anger took its place. Nothing would keep him from seeing his family again. A few things needed to happen. And they would happen. Anything standing in the way would burn up faced down with Sully’s sheer determination. Fancy words held no consolation for Sully. Action was the only thing that mattered.
Sully stepped away from Vandorne’s body, saying a prayer. He set his helmet straight and cocked his gun. He walked with the weight of his mission to see his wife again. His mind was clear. Action, consequence. Vindication was coming on the back of Sully. He would show everyone that his name meant something. That there was justice in the world.
He kicked down the door. Walking the building, he threw open each door and swept the rooms clean with his gun sight. He went up another flight of stairs and combed the dusty rooms. No one was there. He went up the stairs.
One room was up there. Sounds wafted through the thin door. Hushed voices and gunfire. That was the place. Sully felt the aggression building in his body like an electric charge ready to break free — the clouds before lightening struck. His muscles were strung out, ready to snap into action. His grip tightened.
Sully burst through the door. Four people were inside. The person facing him opened fire. Sully dropped his weight to the floor. As Sully opened fire, the other people turned to face him. Shots echoed around the room. The wall behind him was blasted white. A few bullets went past him, and a few went through his legs. Until the bullets stopped flying, the pain was minuscule.
Rough Neck was trying to get through. “All wrapped up. How are things on your end Sully?”
The sound of boots filled Sully’s head. The cavalry was there. The medic got to him. Medicine was injected through his veins. They took him down the stairs in a litter. The fire had gone out. They loaded up Sully in the back seat. A bottle of fluids hung above his head. Sully didn’t remember much from the blood loss. He was in and out for days.
Sully woke up in a military hospital somewhere in Germany. The room was empty and stark white. The sun came in through slits in the blinds and fell across the floor.
Nothing happened for what seemed like hours. Then his wife came in, filling the room with her cool smelling perfume. Sully was the happiest person in the world for a minute there.
“Where have they been hiding you away?”
“That’s what you’re going to say?”
“Get over here.”
“I was so scared, Sully.”
“It was nothing Kate.”
“There you go again.”
“This will be the last time I ever leave you.”
“Bet on it, Mister. We need you.”
The experience could’ve taken Sully away from his wife forever. In the end, it brought them together again in a tiny hospital room somewhere in Germany.