The night sky was crystal clear for the first time in what felt like a month. It was the rainy season, which was underselling the experience a bit referring to it as simply, “rainy”. It certainly felt appropriate to refer to it as a season though since, apart from tonight, it felt like it would last months. As nice as it was to have a view of the stars for once, the cover provided by the storms was more important to the mission.

Denver tilted his head back down slowly and began to scan the tree line with his eyes. The jungle, though it provided them plenty of places to lay low, also benefited the opposition in the same manner, and being that Denver and his squad were foreign to the area, put them at a disadvantage. Denver could never get to sleep ever since he’d been deployed, so these night watch shifts didn’t bother him much. That is to say they didn’t bother him much more than anything else out here – which was a lot.

Denver had never been sure about this war from the beginning. His father and brother had both served as well as several of his cousins. The men in his family were military men. They even seemed to be built for combat, having been blessed with superior genetics, height, and size. With the exception of his cousin Brad who chose to join the lacrosse team because he always needed to be different, they had all played, and excelled at, football or rugby, including Denver himself. Even though he had all the gifts, Denver had never enjoyed playing the game; he did it because it was expected of him. He was much happier hiking the Rockies in his home state of Colorado. His real name wasn’t even Denver, but out here in the jungle it was. That’s what the squad had called him because that’s where he was from and they were very creative.

Slowly, as to not make any sudden movements, he brought his water up to his mouth and took a swig. Without the rain, the air became terribly humid even at night. Denver wasn’t sure if he’d ever fully adapt to this climate coming from such a dry one. His skin was in a constant state of anger and confusion. He’d developed plenty of rashes and skin irritations during his tour so far. “Can’t shoot a rash,” he thought to himself. If the enemy didn’t get him, the environment just might. At least he hadn’t been bitten by anything yet. He had heard from other squads to watch out for certain spiders and snakes and the like while out in the bush. Denver, along with his anxiety, thought it best to watch out for absolutely everything.

The army had seemed like a no-brainer when he had signed up. The physical, educational, and financial benefits outweighed any risks that he had ever considered at the time and he had been excited to start along the same the path as the rest of his family had before him. He figured after basic training he would end up being posted somewhere in the US. There hadn’t been any talk of a war when he had joined and he never imagined that he would ever be deployed overseas, certainly not to Southeast Asia. But alas, here he was, sitting hip deep in the mud, back against a tree he didn’t know the name of, wondering how he’d ended up here.  He’d always wanted to travel but this wasn’t exactly what he’d had in mind.

Denver adjusted his sitting position slightly. He’d been sitting on some sort of protrusion for long enough. He’d been trained to withstand all sorts of annoyances from weather like wind and rain, to insects buzzing around, and the constant itching of the rashes he’d accumulated over the course of his time in the jungle. But he could no longer bear the stick or rock or whatever it was that was stabbing him in the back. He shifted ever so slightly until he was free from this little piece of misery and relaxed back against his tree.

Denver began scanning the tree line once more. He hadn’t seen a single enemy soldier since he’d arrived in the jungle but he was promised that they were out there and that they were trying to kill him. That was a promise he had been given long before he’d set off from his home country.

“They are the enemy, son. They are jealous of our way of life. They want to murder your brothers and sisters and strip you and I of our freedom. We’re not going to let them do that, isn’t that right?”

“Yes sir!”

Denver was absolutely not going to let them take his freedom, there was no way he was going to allow them to murder his family, and so far he and his brothers had been pretty successful in this endeavour. Denver had given up a lot of freedoms in order to protect the freedoms of the people back home. He’d lost the freedom of safety. He’d passed up the freedom to sleep whenever he wanted, or at all. But all of this was worth it if he could defend the freedom that his friends, family, and all future generations could enjoy from the monsters who wanted to steal it away from them.

The monsters that lurked in the jungle.

The monsters that Denver had yet to meet.

He thought about them a lot; the invisible enemy that kept him up at night, depriving Denver of his sleep, a waking nightmare. Whenever he pictured them in his mind they were always faceless, blurry shadows. He feared that if he could ever focus on their faces, if he could ever recognize them, he may not be able to go through with killing them. He’d never really thought of them as people, though they couldn’t just be people because if they were just people they could never be as evil as he was told. They could never want to do what he was told they wanted to do, only monsters could, and so that’s what they remained.

Denver paused as he heard movement close by. He settled when he realized that his relief was slowly rising and moving towards his position. The soldier – Leach they called him – approached Denver and patted him on the shoulder. Denver moved into the spot Leach had been resting in. It was generous calling Leach his relief as Denver did not feel very relieved. He looked up at the stars once more and took a deep breathe. He knew he wouldn’t be getting any sleep but he could at least appreciate the view.

July 24, 2020 19:35

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RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

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