When Shadows Danced Under a Fading Red Star

(Page 2 of 2)

A lone figure in the dark, illuminated by a vehicle's headlights

Photos: Mikko Carranza

Second photo of the lone figure, as lights fadeg

I spin in a circle, looking for cover. I'm smack between the building and my Humvee, and I'm too groggy to decide which direction to run. My ears start ringing, and I realize that the mortar rounds must have been closer than I thought. I'm amazed that I’m not dead yet.

Explosions and more white flashes are coming faster. I don't know if I'm frozen in my boots, or if my brain is processing faster than my body can move.

Marines in full armor rush about. Another series of blasts and flashes, then I come to my senses.

We're not under attack. A Marine mortar team is firing into the city, and I'm underneath the fire arc. They must have set up a fire pit behind the Humvee while I slept.

A mortar flare pops in the distant sky. It's like a red star that floats above the city, lighting up the buildings around us. All turns quiet and movement slows to a crawl.

A soft red glow basks the building next to me. My double shadow dances along the dirt road, stretching farther as the red star sinks behind this ancient city.

As I look at my shadow, I take stock of myself. No thunder maker, no armor, and no helmet. All of it still in the Humvee that I stumbled out of moments before. Instead, I stand frozen in place, wearing nothing but my unlaced boots, baggy sweater, and tighty whities turned pink by the fading flare.

The red star burns out, the city falls back into pitch black and all is silent. There is nothing, as if in a dream.

The author deployed to Iraq from September to December 2005, and June 2007 to May 2008. He is now a communications major at California State University – Sacramento.

(Published November 26, 2009, on New America Media)