Drama Thriller

“Daaaaddy, can we look at the toys at Target?” Tyler asked, kicking his feet in his carseat.

“Sorry, bud, baby sister needs diapers so we need to be quick. We’ll look next time, ok?” I told him as we pulled into the parking lot. My wife had just gotten home from the hospital and our chunky little girl had already outgrown her stash of newborn diapers, so I had to make a run to get some size one’s.

“Ok, I guess,” Tyler said with a pout as I pulled him out and shut the door.

  It was a hot day, which already makes asphalt have a strange sort of smell to it. I held Tyler’s hand as we walked toward the door when I stopped him as I heard the familiar rattle of a diesel engine roaring to life. A big white dually truck pulled out right in front of us, then left quickly leaving us in a wake of his exhaust. Diesel exhaust has a different smell than regular car exhaust. It’s all big machinery, trucks, tanks, dust…

  I crossed between two tanks on a massive convoy, blasted with their exhaust, as I headed to the guard shack at the gate of our outpost in Northern Iraq. We manned the gate to make sure we kept accurate count of who came in and who went out. Day after day it was huge convoys of trucks and tanks, thirty personnel, yes, sir, have a safe trip. We kept a pretty accurate log of it most of the time. When casualties came through, we never stopped them. Just let the tanks roll through with bodies strapped to the top, blood running down the sides, the soldiers’ feet bare. Later we would almost always see recovery bringing in a huge chunk of twisted metal that used to be a tank.

 One of the Iraqi soldiers I was training tossed me a bottle of water. It was brutally hot that day, so I thanked him, “Shukran”. He nodded. I found out that if you learned enough to talk to these guys, they were good soldiers. Actually, they were hilarious, always joking around and pranking each other. One even locked another in the port-a-potty with a piece of rebar for about an hour, we laughed so hard that day. I guess goofing off is a part of every culture.

 The big convoy was about halfway down the two mile stretch of road to the city when the guys from the tower radioed me, “Hey, we got a female, alone, walking down the road toward the gate about a mile out.” What? This was one of the most dangerous sections of road in Iraq, and as if that wasn’t suspicious enough, women never went anywhere unaccompanied. The culture just didn’t support it. “Shit, alright, we’ll go check it out.”

 I took the interpreter and three soldiers outside the wire and we knelt behind the barriers just beyond the gate. He was right, a woman in a full burqa was walking toward us. I yelled at her to stop in Arabic when she was about fifty feet out. She kept walking. I yelled again, more firmly this time, and she stopped about twenty-five feet from us. I had the interpreter ask her what she wants. She started yelling and reached her hands down to her waist and was moving her clothes around to get to something. We all pointed our weapons at her and flipped them off safe.

“What is she saying? Tell her to put her fucking hands in the air!” I screamed at the interpreter.

“She keeps saying ‘You killed my husband’, that’s it,” he shrugged.

He yelled at her, I knew Arabic for “Put your hands up” so I yelled it, too. She kept screaming the same thing over and over. It looked like she was trying to reach a belt or something. I radioed the sergeant in charge, “We got a problem here, she’s messing with her belt and screaming we killed her husband!”

“Can you see a vest? Bomb? Detonator? Anything?” he replied quickly.

“No! She’s covered in a fucking burqa, we can’t see shit but it could be in there!”

    There was no way of telling, the burqa was multilayered, but not putting your hands up when you have four weapons pointed at you is pretty bold. She was close enough to kill all of us up here and maybe even the guys at the guard shack. She could damage the gate enough to allow entry for someone behind her. I was imagining all kinds of terrible scenarios if she detonated here.

I told the interpreter, “Tell her to put her hands up or she WILL be shot!”

   He screamed at her, it looked like he was pleading with her, but she kept screaming. I radioed the sergeant again, out of options. “Well?”

“Do it.”

  I fired. Just one shot, but it was enough. She laid in the road with a puddle of blood spreading around the black burqa. “Stand fast, I’m calling EOD and the medics, don’t go out there,” the sergeant said. I tried, I really did. But I had to know. I walked out to her, sprawled on the ground. Her face was covered; I couldn’t even see the face of the woman I killed.

   I was hoping for a bomb. A gun. Something. As I rummaged through all the fabric, I did find her belt, and a piece of paper tucked into it. I pulled it out and my hands started shaking when I saw what it was. It was a US Army form for local civilians who sustain property or life loss to take to a processing center where we would compensate them for their loss. We did kill her husband, she just came here instead of the processing center in the city. And she lost her life for it.

  They put me in motor pool for a few days while they conducted the investigation. I changed tires, oil, fixed snapped axles, always surrounded by diesel exhaust. It was shit duty, I had to park all the vehicles in a straight line every evening. After the fourth day, my platoon sergeant found me under a Humvee, trying to find a transmission fluid leak.

“Get up, soldier, you’re back on gate guard,” he said.

“What did the investigation say?” I honestly expected to go to prison for life for that.

“You followed the rules of engagement, you didn’t do anything wrong so no judicial action is needed. You get to go hang out with your Iraqi buddies again,” he said with a laugh.

    I just swallowed, hard. I felt like I had just gotten away with something completely wrong. I fell to my knees and put my head in my hands and squeezed—

“—my hand too hard, Daddy!” Tyler yelled.

 I took a knee next to him and checked the parking lot for threats. My heart was racing, I had no idea how long we had been standing there. “Sorry, buddy, let’s go inside.” But I was on high alert. I waited for a mortar, a suicide bomber, anything because I could just feel it was coming. My hands shook as I lifted Tyler up and put his legs through the holes in the cart. I buckled him in. I sighed, pasting a smile on my face so I didn’t scare Tyler and I tried to remind myself that I was in the United States in Target and it was a safe place. I was a father, now, not a soldier. But that feeling that I had gotten away with murder still hadn’t left me. And I knew it never would. I just knew at some point something terrible would happen and I would have to pay the price. The Army absolved me of any official wrongdoing, but who can absolve me of this?

September 26, 2020 00:20

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Rayhan Hidayat
22:53 Sep 30, 2020

Surprisingly this is the first war flashback story I’ve read for this prompt. Imagery was vivid and spot on. PTSD is no laughing matter and I thought you portrayed it well enough. The way you transitioned to the memory and then back again was clever and visceral. Keep it up! 😙


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B. W.
20:46 Sep 30, 2020

I think that you honestly did a really good job with this story and that it's a really good one. I'm not sure if you want advice your not but, i think you should continue to make more stories. Though only when you aren't busy or anything like that. 10/10 :)


Leslie Phare
21:52 Sep 30, 2020

Thanks! I'm pretty new here but I just started writing full time, chasing the dream :)


B. W.
21:55 Sep 30, 2020

No problem ^^ if it's alright could you maybe check out "the goddess child" and "The camp" and leave some feedback?


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Lydi B
13:45 Sep 28, 2020

Excellent imagery here! I wasn't expecting to be pulled overseas from this gentle father of two. What a horrific experience for him to relive. PTSD runs rampant in those who have had to make that decision to kill or possibly be killed. You nailed that dynamic between law and personal conscience in a big way. I felt for the widow but also for the soldiers who deal with death around them from every seemingly innocent source.


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