Chapter 11: A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

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A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9 / Chapter 10

CHAPTER ELEVEN

T

he sun rose, stirring the troops from their cocoons. Bomber, the bomb sniffing dog for their unit, began to bark at the wall across the courtyard. Everyone quickly moved into defensive mode. Mikey, his handler, collected a group to investigate the source of his concern. With a helpful boost, a Marine went over the wall. The men on the roof aimed their guns to provide cover.

The ground shook as dust billowed over the wall. An IED blew from somewhere on the other side.

“Holy crap.” Tahk’s body squashed Doogie to the ground. “Get off me!” She struggled to dislodge herself from him.

“Geesh, Doog. Stop moving.”

“Are we under fire?” She spit dirt out of her mouth.

“No. IED. But not sure who set it off. Give me a minute.” He pushed off her and sat back on his knees.

Raven walked out of the house, strapping his gun to the front of his jacket.

“What’s up, Chief?” Tahk yelled.

“IED. Bomber sniffed it out. They detonated it. All clear,” he yelled back.

“Okay. Up you go.” Tahk grabbed Doogie’s shoulders, lifting her to her feet. Her eyes leveled to the patch sewn in the middle of his chest. A patch honoring the people in his community who’d suffered in Hurricane Katrina.

“I don’t like it when you do that,” Doogie complained. Tahk enjoyed tossing her around whenever he could. He definitely didn’t lack in the muscle department. Once, when they were bored, the unit had a wrestling tournament. Not unusual for the Marines. They seemed to be amped up on adrenaline at all times. Tahk challenged Doogie, and she wasn’t one to step down. She held her own for about a second. Then he broke her like a toothpick. Said he needed to let her know her place. As if there was ever a question.

Doogie and Tahk ducked as the pop of the Taliban’s
AK-47’s filled the air, and bullets ricocheted off the walls around them. Apparently, the blast woke the snipers, too.

Doogie began getting her gear together. In addition to her medical gear, she had ammo and a gun. Tahk always offered to help, but Doogie refused. If she was a man, he never would have offered.

Raven requested air support over the radio. “We’re taking fire-two-five. Request a drop.”

Raven swore under his breath when he was denied.

The men gathered around, waiting to hear the next move.

“The brass denied air support. We can’t confirm there aren’t civilians in the building, and the integrity of the mission would be compromised. We’ll have to set up a perimeter to keep this area secure. We don’t want to lose what we have so far. Then I’ll take a group to push forward further into town. Charlie and Second Bravo are on the other side doing the same. Don’t shoot unless you know who you’re shooting at. You know the game. They’ll use the civilians as shields. Media is with us, so we need to be sure.”

“What route are we taking?” Tahk asked.

“We’re going to move along the tree line. Into the west end of town,” Raven answered. He ducked when a RPG hit the side of the building they were standing by. Their ears rung from the impact, and dust filled the air.

“I’ll take my team around the edge and secure the area so your team can get through,” one of the unit leaders said.

It took most of the morning to get the teams set and the perimeter secure enough to know once they moved into town, the line wouldn’t collapse, and they wouldn’t get ambushed from the back.

When Raven felt comfortable leaving them, he went to the ANA leader. Unfortunately, they had to take them. “This is your deal. We’ll fight beside you, but you guys got to go in the buildings and clear ‘em out. Get your guys together. Match up and head to the trees.”

After some scrambling, everyone paired up, and they began their forward movement to the next checkpoint.

Tahk and Doogie skirted the trees and followed up the rear, thankful they were exempt from finding an ANA buddy. It was only a mile walk, but they got pinned down halfway there. With a pop, pop, two of the ANA went down ahead. Doogie could see the spray of blood shooting in the air from her position. She moved their way, even though she knew it was too late. It gave the wrong impression if she called it before she even got there. The team slid down the side of the irrigation ditch and sat poised along its edge, trying to figure out where the shooting came from. The unit they left behind was supposed to have their flank covered, but it seemed the bullets were coming from everywhere. A loud ping rang out, and one of the men fell backward.

“Flynn’s hit, Flynn’s hit!” The men around him yelled.

Doogie slid all the way to the water’s edge, trying to move below the shooters line of sight while keeping her feet out of the water. She hated when her boots got wet. She didn’t look behind to see if Tahk followed. It was a straight shot along the tree line, so even if he held his position, he would be able to see her.

“Flynn? Flynn can you hear me?” Doogie approached his limp body. She tripped and slid on the loose gravel, one foot hit the water. “Crap.” Her hand scraped along the gravel, trying to stop her descent.

Flynn was laid out on his back, facing up, like he’d simply fallen backward. She slid to a stop beside him and carefully unhooked his helmet, tossing it aside.

“No blood, that’s a good sign. Hang on, Flynn. I’ll figure out what’s going on here.” He was out cold. She continued a senseless babble while she ran her hands all over his body. Hearing is the last sense to go when the body shuts down. It’s very important to continue to talk even if they can’t hear. When she found no sign of an entrance wound, Doogie grabbed the helmet she’d just thrown away and turned it over in her hand. She had to find what caused him to collapse. She flipped it right side up. A section of the inner casing fell to the ground. She ran a finger across the front. Not more than three centimeters above the edge of his helmet was a bullet. It sat wedged in the casing, having broken the metal piece inside. She ran her fingers over Flynn’s forehead. A large lump was forming. She checked his eyes. His pupils were unequal, and he remained unresponsive. She began going through stages of response to see if he had any. She touched his forehead again, pressing harder to see if he would moan in pain.

Nothing.

She twisted his ear, and then used her knuckles to dig into his sternum. Doogie watched for any indication that he felt her presence. Nothing.

His breathing was smooth, and his pulse was steady. All she could do was settle in beside him and wait. She couldn’t move him in his current position. She tried to wedge her legs around him to make a barrier. She didn’t want to risk him sliding into the ditch.

Doogie sat jammed into the dirt for what seemed like hours. The men continued to shoot across the field, trying to hit the sniper. But so far, no luck. Flynn had yet to move, his breathing became shallow, and his pulse quickened as he went into shock. They’d sat on the edge of the canal for hours. The sun began to go down, filling the air with a chill. Doogie had done everything she could so she did the only thing
left . . . she prayed. “Lord I don’t know what to do. I need guidance here.” She closed her eyes and tried to open her mind to any suggestions coming her way. Nothing.

“Hey, Doogs. What’s up?” Tahk slid down next to her.

“Flynn went down. Took it in the head.”

“Is he dead?”

“No.” She held up the helmet. “Unconscious, pupils uneven. He hasn’t moved since we got pinned down. We’re gonna need a medevac. He has brain trauma. He’s not coming out of it.”

“I can call it in. I’ll let them know they’re coming in hot.” Tahk sat up and looked around for Raven, or anyone with a radio. “I shall return.” He bear crawled down the ditch.

The sun’s final rays dipped below the horizon. The temperature dropped. Doogie grabbed Flynn by the front of his jacket, pulling him closer. The sniper could no longer see to get a clear shot, so they started sending RPG’s their way. Each explosion rocked the ditch. The dirt loosened, and Doogie and Flynn slid closer to the water. She grabbed at his belt, trying to pull him up when another explosion lit up the sky, illuminating everything around them for a brief minute. More explosions followed . . . three . . . four . . . the light was so bright she had to squint. She covered Flynn as dirt and sand rained down on them. Her legs cramped the longer she braced against the edge of the ditch. Each explosion brought them closer to the water. Without any warning, a seizure overcame Flynn, sending convulsions through his body.

“Crap.” She grabbed his belt again in an attempt to keep him out of the ditch. “C’mon hang on.”

The seizure tightened his muscles; his jaw clenched tight. He was in trouble, but it didn’t stop the barrage of mortars coming their way. When the seizure subsided, Flynn’s body relaxed, but his breathing was shallow, and his pulse lowered. His body screamed for oxygen. Doogie hadn’t found external bleeding. His brain was swelling. This wasn’t looking good.

“Tahk, I need a chopper!” she screamed. She’d been crouched in this position for so long, she was numb. The wetness of the ditch soaked through her shoes and pants while she attempted to keep Flynn from going head first into the irrigation canal.

Tahk slid up behind her. Doogie welcomed the warmth his body brought against her back.

“Hey, babe. Whatcha’ doing tonight?” His words were tight.

“He’s bad, Tahk. Do we have a chopper coming? He’s seizing. His brain’s swelling from the hit. At this point, if we don’t get him out of here, I can’t see there being much left of him.”

“I called it in. They’re coming in dark. Keeping lights off to avoid the RPG’s.”

Another convulsion rocked Flynn’s body.

“Can’t you do anything?” Tahk asked. Explosives went off, lighting up his face.

“Not out here.” She shifted her weight. Her legs cramped again, and she began to slide into the ditch, unable to hold him anymore. Tahk grabbed Flynn’s belt, attempting to drag them back up the incline. But Flynn’s shuttering body pulled them down. Tahk used his bulk to shield their bodies when another RPG hit.

“Man. Could anything more go wrong here?” Doogie yelled then looked to the sky. ”A little help would be appreciated.”

“Raven’s guiding them in. I hear the blades.” Tahk’s ever present calm filled her ear.

Without warning, the Taliban stopped their attack, giving them a reprieve. The world got eerily quiet, only the distant thud of the chopper broke the silence.

“Well that seemed to work.” Tahk laughed dryly. “Did you ask for some angelical intervention?”

Doogie raised an eyebrow. “So how are we going to get Flynn to the helo?” She touched Flynn’s cheek; it felt clammy and cold. They were losing him fast, and there was absolutely nothing she could do. A terrible feeling of responsibility flooded over her. His breath continued to be shallow and labored. She knew with each second, life was escaping from him. If she correctly diagnosed him . . . his mind was already gone.

“You did what you could.” Tahk placed a hand on Doogie’s shoulder, sensing her defeat.

“I didn’t do anything.” She couldn’t take her eyes off Flynn. She grasped his hand. “I’m right here. You’re not alone,” she said quietly. “I’m so sorry.”

Tahk shifted his body closer in an attempt to comfort her.

“Medic one. ETA three minutes. Pick up zone behind you.” Raven’s voice echoed through Tahk’s newly acquired radio.

Tahk swore under his breath. “Why is there always water? We got to get him up the other side. Does he need to remain stable?”

She shook her head. “I don’t want to cause more damage getting him out of here. But . . .” She didn’t finish.

Tahk looked grim. “Is this going to be a DOA?”

“I won’t call it. He’s still breathing. I won’t.”

“Let’s get moving then.” Tahk let himself slide into the water of the canal. He swore when he hit the cold water. As much as Doogie hated the water, Tahk despised being cold. She followed after, guiding Flynn down with her. Tahk grabbed one side while she supported the other.

“Hold his head above the water. I’ll get out and pull him up.” Tahk moved forward to climb up the steep incline of the opposite side of the ditch. The sound of the helicopter was getting closer, and the explosions hadn’t started again. Doogie sent up a prayer for small favors. She hoped the Taliban weren’t waiting for the opportunity to shoot down the chopper. Tahk disappeared into the darkness of the canal. She felt a tug, and then Flynn slid through her arms and up the side of the embankment. Doogie crawled out after. The chill of the night air bit into her as soon as she left the water. She didn’t even want to think about what diseases were floating in there.

The chopper came in low. They wouldn’t touch down completely, remaining agile and ready to maneuver if necessary. Doogie couldn’t see through the dust and dirt swirling around, but she knew two medics would jump from the bay, stretcher in hand, and make their way to the downed man. The only problem was . . . if she couldn’t see them, they couldn’t see her.

“We need a light.” Tahk rummaged through his pockets.

“We’re a target on this side. Shine it so it can’t be seen from behind,” Doogie said, as if Tahk wasn’t light years ahead of her in strategic maneuvers.

“Hey, thanks.” His words dripped with sarcasm.

With a quick click, Tahk turned a pen light, attached to his dog tag, on and off. In minutes, the footsteps of two men were upon them. They hoisted Flynn onto a stretcher by his shoulders.

“What’s up, Doogie?” The medic acknowledged her.

“Took a shot to the head. Hit his frontal lobe. No entry wound. Seizures, shallow breathing, no reflexes, uneven pupils,” she rattled off.

“Got it.” Within minutes, they were bent over, hauling Flynn away.

Tahk turned over onto his back, letting out a sigh. The helicopter took off, the thudding getting softer the farther away it got.

“Doog. Sometimes your stellar personality and hot body just don’t make this job worth it.”

Tahk’s inappropriate humor was a coping mechanism. When Doogie felt helpless to help a fallen comrade, Tahk felt completely defeated. He lacked any medical training. He was an innocent bystander in whatever mess she dealt with.

“I didn’t give him a verse,” she said sadly.

“He wasn’t dead.”

“They don’t always have to be dead.”

Tahk patted her arm. “You were bound to run out sooner or later.”

Doogie tried to see him through the darkness. “I didn’t run out. I just didn’t have one. They’re given to me . . . I wasn’t given one for him.”

“I didn’t know that. I thought you had a list or something.”

Doogie shook her head.

“Make up one of your own then.”

Doogie stared at Tahk until he flung his hands in the air. “We don’t have all night.”

She lowered her head and spoke into her chest. “I’m sorry I couldn’t help you.”

“You can’t carry the responsibility of every man on your shoulders. You didn’t shoot the gun.” Tahk lightly grabbed her arm.

Doogie’s eyes bore into him. “Can’t I?”

“You’re only human, and even though you have a
strong . . . like iron strong faith, you can’t expect to save them all.”

Doogie scowled. “But I do.” She let herself slide back into the freezing water. “We better get back over.”

“Maybe it’s a sign he’s going to make it. He didn’t need your prayer so God didn’t give you one.” Tahk sloshed behind her.

“I prayed for guidance, and I didn’t get any. Maybe I’ve asked too much.” Doogie tried to pull herself up the bank, but the water held her in place. Tahk placed a hand on her butt and pushed her out of the water. “Maybe I used up my allotment, and He moved on to someone else.”

“I don’t think God will ever think you’re asking too much if you’re trying to save your men. And I doubt He works on an allotment system.”

“I sure hope not.”


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