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From Inside the Flap
I awoke on a slab.
No. Too soft for a slab. Softer than a corpse would need. Not a slab but a stretcher.
A fog swirled in my brain. I picked through its wisps, searching for a thought to cling to. Then my combat training kicked in. First rule-assess the situation. I steadied myself and tested my senses, starting with touch. I flexed each finger until it grazed the pad of the thumb. So far, so good. Next I listened. Not much to hear. More of a hum than silence. But I could feel a vibration nearby, a throbbing like the heart of a dying beast. My sight might tell me more, but I was afraid to open my eyes. Instead, I sucked air in through my nose.
The smell of jet fuel. Then a wind so strong it rippled my cheeks into folds.
I was outside on a runway. Alive.
Minutes later, motion as my stretcher was wheeled up a ramp and locked into place. A gentle hand rested on my arm. A sting on the soft skin at the crook of my elbow, a needle inserted. Then, still in silence, a bump from below, wheels separating from tarmac.
I knew what that meant. Farewell Iraq. Hello Ramstein.
While the critical care air transport climbed, my mind churned, still trying to plan the raid. Not that morning’s patrol into Al-Nasiriyah, but the World of Warcraft raid scheduled that evening with my guild. Gaming was how I always coped, at least until that morning when it nearly got me killed.
I started gaming after Dad died and kept playing when Joey would go on a binge or while Mom prayed through the garret window to the ocean. I even played after Richie ran off. But I shouldn’t have been gaming that morning. I should’ve been focused on my job as First Lieutenant Frederick Williams, leading my squad into bandit country. Instead I was channeling Sunstrider, head of the Lightbringer guild, trying to figure out how to get past the trolls at Blunderbore’s Gate.
I still didn’t know the cost of my inattention.
When the IED went off, I felt a shock wave but heard no sound. Maybe my eardrums had imploded. But the impact rattled the roots of my teeth. Then the pain in my legs hit, like shards of glass fraying the nerves. My first thought: not the legs. Better to die.
I’d been training to dunk on that old basket at base camp and had just managed to curl one knuckle around the rim. Not bad at five foot ten. Now, like everything else I’d ever hoped for-blown away.
Then I remembered. The archangel collapsing on me, spilling blood on my chest.
The fog in my brain turned into a movie screen, replaying images from that morning. The roof of the Humvee blown off, the sky above turning from blue to white to red. The medics cutting open my shirt.
"Help the archangel first," I yelled, though I couldn’t hear my own words. "It’s not my blood."
I watched their lips move and tried to read them. Concussion, they seemed to be saying. The blast had battered my brain. It must be my blood since I was soaked in it.
And while I tried to block out the pain, the oddest of thoughts struck me-I’ll never make it to level eighty.
Just what I had coming. Nine months and seven days in Iraq, my squad patrolling a hot zone, and I’d been daydreaming about a raid in a fantasy game. When the IED went off, I should’ve died.
I grabbed the edge of the stretcher and tried to roll onto my side. Big mistake. My mouth opened, but I couldn’t hear my scream. The CCAT nurse rushed over and fiddled with some tubes. Everything started to spin like the plane was in a dive. I blacked out.
It happened sometime after that. Dreams of a fantasy world like in the game. Of course, I was frightened at first. But then I figured, what the hell. Couldn’t be worse than this place.
Blood Moon Publishing is an imprint of Double Dragon Publishing