He wore a brown burlap camo outfit and carried an Army issue M110 sniper’s rifle, fifteen pounds, semi automatic, with a twenty round magazine. He sighted three of the enemy combatants packing AK47’s 200 yards away in a doorway of a mortar-gutted mosque. He zeroed in and squeezed the trigger three fast times. Heads splattered against the crusty stonewall like smashed tomatoes, and Downing quickly moved on, using the cusp of the roof line as a shield until he leaped through two empty yards of space, barely making it, to another rooftop. A dozen insurgents sprang from the mosque and opened fire on the empty rooftop Downing had just abandoned.
Downing planned on killing them all, that’s why he disobeyed orders to rejoin, before dawn, the Scout team waiting for him in their Humvees a safer distance away.
Downing took a swig of warm, acrid-tasting water from his canteen and peeked over the lip of the rooftop. He spotted a trio of insurgents scurrying like rats through the rubble, caught one with the rifle’s red aiming dot, and drilled him in the chest. He shot another insurgent diving through an open doorway, and then darted to another rooftop. Seconds later an RPG, a rocket propelled grenade, blasted to rubble the rooftop he had left.
Downing doubted he’d get out of this alive. At that moment he didn’t care. All he wanted to do was kill. He crept down some rickety wooden steps and through the dust and rubble of what might pass as an alley and up a broken ladder to another rooftop. The heat had the impact of a massive pounding sledgehammer beating on him, crushing him to near collapse.
Forty-eight hours earlier Downing had had his best time during his stay in Iraq. Her name was Sherri Lynn, a fresh-faced, twenty year old blond, an Army PFC. That morning they lifted weights together and then fucked until late afternoon. In a busy market they passed out candy bars to young kids, Downing on one end, Sherri Lynn on the other. From the crowd a skinny teen boy strolled by, waved and grinned, and when he got close pulled the pin on a suicide bomb. Downing moaned, “Holy fuck,” cradled the gory mess of the dead Sherri Lynn in his arms and sobbed.
He killed another insurgent and clambered down the ladder. The ogreish sun hovered above him, low and red and sizzling like a welder’s torch. In the distance he saw the desert punctured with gopher holes and shimmering under wavy grotesque blue heat haze.
The enemy had him almost pinned down but a large chunk of concrete debris shielded him. He managed to get across the street and duck into and hurry out of a shell of a building an instant before an RPG blasted it.
Downing stopped long enough to shoot the insurgent lugging the RPG. He ducked into the remains of another building and slumped against a collapsing wall. This would go on until he killed them or until they cornered and killed him. His side burned. He touched the spot of pain, the bullet hole, and felt a warm sticky wetness.
He did this to save American lives and to avenge Sherri Lynn. For an instant her smiling face hovered in the gloom. He winced at the thought that she was gone forever. Where the fuck were the politicians who sent her far from home to die, he wondered? If the cause was so glorious why weren’t they and their sons and daughters wearing camo and packing M110’s?
He leaned his shoulders against the coarse wall and let the comforting shadows embrace him. Nearby, in a corner, he spotted the decomposed remains of a human body. Flies snapped at the shards of meat clinging to bones. The rank air stunk of the rotting flesh. He moved his eyes, watery from dust, away. An eerie moment of silence settled over him.
He rammed another 20 round magazine box into the M110. He wanted to be home, in the States, drinking beer, playing slow- pitch softball with his pals.
He heard sudden movement in the doorway and jerked his eyes in that direction. Standing there, sunlight at her back, he saw a thin young girl, Sheri Lynn’s age, with a rifle, her pretty black hair half covered with a dirty gray scarf. She looked unsure and frightened. Her body shook. She should be going to college or falling in love, not standing in a murky doorway clutching a gun in the bleakest part of the world.
He stood upright. For some crazy reason Downing asked, “Have you ever killed before?”
She shook her head.
From behind he heard boots scraping dust and stone. He heard a “pop – pop – pop.” He jerked as if in spasm and slumped forward but steadied himself. His back burned as if a swarm of bees had stung it. He didn’t know if it was the right thing to do or not killing this girl but he pulled the trigger of his M110 and the face of the pretty Iraqi standing in front of him became a pulpy pink mask. Men with guns jammed the doorway. He kept pulling the trigger until the clip emptied. Before he died he wondered if anyone would care about or understand what had happened here.
David Moss is a writer and an actor. He writes about maladjusted characters making ambiguous decisions. He lets the reader judge.