We are thrilled to bring you a new book installment this summer. Read more from 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 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 / Chapter 16 / Chapter 17 / Chapter 18
With morning’s first light, they began to move again. Raven decided with their low ammo and their cover blown, it would be best to wait until day to move forward.
Doogie had her doubts about the hagi’s intel, but his directions seemed to be correct.
Raven’s voice filled her head when he spoke through the headsets. “The Mosque’s at the end of the street. Looks deserted. Tahk keep Sawyer back until we clear the area.”
“Aw. I’m gonna miss the action.” Tahk’s laugh echoed through her earpiece.
Doogie slid along the wall lining the street, gun ready and waiting. She watched her platoon make its way forward, losing sight of the team when they rounded a corner. Shots echoed off the walls when the men hit resistance.
The echoing of bullets got louder as the unit returned fire. Then there was silence.
“C’mon.” Tahk waved Doogie forward.
She moved in, gun up and ready. Tahk slid up to a doorway cut out of the mud wall. He stopped, his back flush with the surface of the wall. With a quick turn, in and out, he checked the room.
Doogie followed, her gaze darted back and forth. The Taliban were notorious for bad shooting, but during the last day, they had shown improvement. Doogie wasn’t letting her guard down.
Finally, they reached a door on the side of the mosque. She kept her eyes on Tahk’s back while he side-stepped through.
There was a click.
Tahk turned to Doogie. Fear filled his eyes before an explosion rattled the room around them. The blow threw Doogie back into the alley. Her back slammed against the adjacent wall. Dazed, she covered her head. Sand and dirt rained down. Another mortar blew in the wall beside her. Her ears rang. She tried to focus, but stars floated in front of her eyes. When the dust settled she was alone.
Tahk was gone.
Doogie braced against the rubble and stood. Her knees shook from the impact. Another blast went off, sending a new round of yells from the men.
She turned, trying to locate the voice, but couldn’t focus. Then the air filled with a deafening whistle, and her legs were taken out from under her. She hit the ground hard. A heavy body tackled her—shielding her from the next explosion.
“Stay down.” Raven buried his face in Doogie’s neck as another round went off. When the dust settled, he rolled off her. “Follow me. Stay low.”
Doogie army-crawled behind him. When he stopped, she firmly pressed her back against the rough stucco wall, raising her rifle. Her senses returned, and the darkened fatigues began to register.
Her chest contracted when the reality of what happened sunk in.
She couldn’t breathe. Bile rose in her throat. Doogie gasped to catch her breath, trying to stop the hysterical sobs that threatened to break free.
She ran a hand over her face. Her palm came away red—Tahk’s blood—and pieces of him.
He’d blown up in front of her.
Doogie turned to the side and threw up.
Raven looked at her.
She wiped the vomit from her mouth. “Tahk,” the word came out as a gasp.
Raven closed his eyes. His head dropped to his chest.
She threw up again. She needed to hold it together. She couldn’t lose it here.
Raven slid his back up the wall until he was standing and looked out a crack. “There’s nothing out there. This isn’t an ambush it’s a massacre.” Raven slid down beside her and began yelling. “Stand down! Stop moving! Everyone stand down!”
The explosions stopped.
Only the continuous moans and curses of downed men stirred the air.
“Don’t move. No one’s here. Don’t move. Every time we move, we set stuff off. We got to go slow and pay attention. Focus!”
Doogie pulled the sleeve of her fatigues over her eyes in a weak attempt to clear the dust and blood, trying to focus like Raven told them. A terrible feeling of responsibility and guilt overcame her as she watched the men sprawled out before her.
All she could do was sit huddled against the wall and wait for the go ahead to start tending the men.
Raven touched her shoulder. “Sawyer, I need you to pull yourself together.”
“I’m okay,” she said. She repeated the words trying to convince herself she actually was okay. The men were in pieces. Four had been blown across the narrow road and lay in various stages of injury. She could only image how many more she couldn’t see.
And Tahk was gone.
She shouldn’t have had to do this alone. Tahk was supposed to help her.
He was supposed to be here.
This was the largest group of casualties she’d dealt with at one time without any help. She alone would be making the decisions as to who she could help and who would have to wait. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. She stood waiting for a strength she didn’t feel anymore. There was no way God could expect her to offer comfort and support now. No matter what she knew in her heart, her head was telling her the God she believed so strongly in had allowed the one man she counted on to be taken away in the blink of an eye. She felt her world crumbling as she moved out on her own toward the injured men.
Raven followed Doogie through the carnage. There wasn’t enough left to even attempt to save some, so she moved on, numb. Doogie was trained to save those she could and leave the ones who would take too much time and not survive anyway. Their lives shouldn’t be for another to decide, but inevitably, they were. The men pulled a chunk of cement from a body. The soldier’s legs were gone. Another sat against a wall, a ragged stump where his arm once was. Doogie pulled her pack around and did the only thing she could. With a handful of morphine shots, she stabbed the men nearest to her, trying to ease their pain, while wrapping tourniquets around lost limbs.
“Wrap something around what’s left. Wrap it tight so the bleeding slows down,” Doogie said to Raven. She called out to the men. “Is there anyone else?”
“Over here!” someone yelled from inside what remained of the mosque.
“Wait. Make sure the perimeter is clear. “Raven grabbed her.
“I got it.” She repositioned her pack and lifted her gun to her shoulder. She moved precariously across the ground, looking for triggers waiting to go off. Doogie moved into the doorway. Johnson, a newbie to their squad, sat half propped up against a wall just inside the mosque. The floor was scattered with debris. She stood frozen at the threshold of the building. Flashes of Tahk flew through her mind; the look on his face just before he was obliterated.
“Come on.” Raven pushed by her and jerked his head to the right. “Felix, call for an extraction. We got to get everyone out of here.” Seemingly unfazed, he continued to bark orders.
Doogie went to work. She did what she was sent here to do and finished assessing the injuries. Then treated those she could until help arrived, locking away any feelings that threatened to surface.
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