Lt. Easter walked on patrol in a half daze. Things had changed in the daylight. There were bodies in the streets.
It wasnt as if a crowd had been shot and killed, or laid down in a mass grave. It was more like a single man had laid down and died, or, more likely, been shot to pieces. In so many cases the haajis had been torn apart by the gunfire. He wondered, had he ordered this? More likely, whenever a target was available, they had focused fire on it, until the thing simply burst to pieces.
There seemed to be a great moral quandary among the Marines. To look, or not. To stare, or not, and make a comment. A few men were taking pictures. He thought about that notion. If you had a picture to prove you were in Iraq, and had been in combat. But wasnt your mind taking a picture, right now? There was a line being drawn in the sand. On the one side were the Marines who took pictures of the corpses. These were the people who believed life was generally the way it was in the States, safe and secure at home, with death being something that one did in hospitals. To them the deployment was still an adventure, and the picture would be a momento of the adventure, like the last screenshot of the final kill in a Call of Duty deathmatch. On the other side were the Marines that chose not to take pictures, and look away. To them Fallujah was the greater reality. Man was meat and bone, nothing more, and when the flesh was dismantled, man was gone. The illusion of safety in first world countries was a lie. In time, although they could not know it then, on patrol, almost every member of Chosin company would come to find the realization of the second group, in barfights, mental wards, or jail cells. But for the moment Lt. Easter had no pictures of any of this. He thought if he could have one, it would be of him hiding under a table, while Lt. Slayton charged off into mortar fire with his flask and no rifle. He had lost many of his illusions since then.
The beginning of the battle of Fallujah, the opening night, had not been a grand battle with his men sweeping house to house, as he had thought. They had cleared exactly one house. The M1 abrams tank had done most of the clearing for them, reducing the lone haaji to pulp. Then they had sat there and exchanged fire all night. They had suffered two wounded. Sgt. White had to be evacuated for a wound to the leg, and Lance Corporal Lopez had suffered a stray bullet to his shoulder, that had ripped out a chunk of meat. Lopez had refused to leave the platoon, and merely accepted a bandage. Easter wondered about the purple heart citation. Would he write it up, himself, or would Major Fight want to do it?
There had been some chatter on the radio earlier about the Company. Third Platoon had come across an IED in an alley and a PFC had lost both his legs. Weapons Platoon had a machine gunner on a humvee turret shot clear through the skull, just under the helmet. Thinking about it put a chill in his heart. What were the odds. Just above the rim of the helmet, and you probably could get away with a concussion. Just below, and you were dead. Who decided those things? God or fate, whose responsibility was it, to say which person got to live? The haajis in the street, dead, they believed in a God that wrote everything down at the start, and knew in advance who would and wouldnt make it. Who would become a picture for a momento somewhere on the internet, for one Marine to pass on to another.
The town looked vague in front of him. Buildings seemed to possess the no-color of sand, even when they were white or tan. As if the desert could rise up and claim everything around, altogether. Odle was on the radio. "There's a new objective, sir." He said. "Two clicks east."
"It sounds like it."
The two clicks were spent patrolling the city. rifle Muzzles raised down different streets, half- expecting contact at any minute. At one point, a stray shot rang out, and contact was called. But it was never determined where it came from, or what direction. It was entirely possible the round was spent hundreds of yards away, by a Marine or Soldier in another part of the city, and had simply continued to travel. It was also possible a sniper was watching the patrol the entire time, and had let loose a stray, while aiming in at the Lt.'s head. There was no way of knowing. All they could do was continue the patrol, until the objective was reached.
There was a ring of humvee's, on the far street. Most of the Marines were hunkered down taking cover behind them. "Hurry up!" Came across the radio, and Kurre gave the signal to double-time. The Marines were running now, hurridly sprinting down the street. A shot came down from the end, where the obective was. The gunner behind the fifty cal turret let out a blaat in response. If this were a movie it would be all shaky-cam view, with mud and dirt flying up to hit the lense. As it is not, each Marine feels his heart pound, with the weight, the sheer weight of fifty pounds of gear, dragging your shoulders and compressing your vertebrea, destroying the cartilage in your knees. For everything a price is paid. Somehow Conner is smiling, underneath his Oakley's and thinking how cool, how cool, how cool is this.
The fire dies down. One of the haajis is screaming something inside the building. The fifty gunner on the humvee calls back, "Fuck your mother!"
"We got a CO?" One of the guys Easter recognizes from earlier, on the rooftop. "An LT."
"Here." Easter says, careful not to raise his head too high. "I'm here."
"We need that building cleared out." He said. "Its high-priority."
"How many are inside?" Easter asks. Noticing Kurre isnt here. Where is Kurre?
"At least four tangoes." The guy says. "One with an MG."
Lazirko is here. "What about a tank?" He asks. "Or some kind of support."
The psyops guy shakes his head. "Its HVT." He says. "There's intel in there we need. We cant level the joint first." Another burst of fire comes out, splitting everyones concentration.
"Is there another entrance?" Lazirko asked. "Or a way up on the roof?"
"Its just the front."
Easter mind snapped clear, all at once, to what was being said. Just the front. Just the front door, where the ragheads would be waiting. Just the front entrance, where AK's were already being aimed. A name came back, from the pre-deployment training. The fatal funnel of fire. That was it, really and truly it. He imagined a cone where bullets were being poured in, fresh from Wal-Mart factory packages, and emerged from the other side at the speed of sound, with the funnel end aimed at his forehead, turning what was in it into something resembling pulped watermelon.
The mission of the Marine Corps rifle company is to locate, close with, and destroy the enemy with firing manuever, or to repel the enemies assault by firing close combat. In the end, what simply happened happened, regardless of what was best, or optimal, or what would have worked or saved lives. The Marines did what they had to do.
The designated Marksmen and the heavy gun on the humvee repositioned slightly, just enough to give them a direct view of the buildings front. They elements started suppressive fire. The purpose of suppresive fire is too lay down continuous fire on the enemy, in order to prevent his own fire, or to make him to take cover. The purpose of putting your finger on the trigger of any firearm, at any time, is to kill. The Marines were trying very hard to do that. To kill. The fifty cal gunner was unleashing poom poom poom and the Designated Marksmen were letting go a snap-crack, snap-crack, aiming at doors, through windows, at any object that showed itself throughout or looked like it would show itself. At the same moment of time, the Marines in first platoon were running. Double-time, it was called it the Corps, a heavy, stomping run. A run while you held on to your M16 rifle or M249 SAW with both hands, and listened to the bullets crack. As you ran toward them. Toward the edge of the building. As he ran, Easter grew flustered. He fumbled in his pack for the sign. The red smoke grenade. Gone. It wasnt in his pack, it was strapped to a pouch on his chest. He let go of his M4 carbine, panicked again, thinking the object would clatter to the ground. Instead the sling caught it like a yo-yo, and slapped it against his body armor. He threw the silver canister underhand, it bounced once, in the street, and spewed forth red smoke like colorful flatulance. The fire ceased from across the way, and for reasons Easter did not fully understand, not would ever figure out, he was the first one in the stack, through the door. After that it becomes a matter of which events would become seared in his mind, for eternity, and which ones would be forgotten.
Seared: The room was empty. A spiral staircase barks and flashes light, and bites him in the side.
Unrealized: The insurgents had retreated to the second floor. They had captured a SAW from a fallen soldier, earlier in the conflict. when Easter showed up in the doorway, at that fatal fire, the insurgent had held down the trigger. It should have killed his enemy, the foe, the Marine, but the haaji had only been trained once, in Pakistan, and then poorly. He had never bothered to look down the sights of his weapon before, or establish a proper trigger pull. Instead he simply squeezed, aiming in a general, pointed direction, and the bullets tore through the meat of Easter's bicep, into the stock of his M4 carbine, and amputating two fingers from his left hand. But as too his enemies continued life, the haaji was unaware as well, because Easter simply slipped to the side, spurting blood. The next man came through the door, and as he fired, the gentle hand of his colluague, a man called Omar, rolled a grenade down the staircase.
This, too, was seared in Easters brain, before he lost consciousness. Before he woke up in a hospital in Germany, thinking, where's my rifle, where's my rifle, and found out that his right arm was gone, up to the shoulder. The hand grenades lazy bounce. The staircase was disturbingly ornate, done in black metal with gilded leaves. And every third or fourth step, the grenade clattered, rolling down like a baseball. Every precious second wasted. Easter thought, in that time, this is my last thought, these are my mens last thoughts. We are going to die together. And then the way Lopez dives on the grenade, covering it up with the meat of his stomach, and both hands. A muffled explosion, that spews out a rorshach blend of red from underneath the stomach-down Marine.
The final bit belongs to the haajis in the second floor, and the quick trained mind of Sgt. Lazirko. A wooden flooring may conceal your body, but it will not stop a bullet. And Lazirko simply fires upwards, when he enters the room correctly, after seeing first his Lt. fall, and then Lopez, and sees the SAW, and fires through the ceiling. The next man is Fonseca, who does the same. They do not aim, but in a direction of ceiling drywall, and upstairs, all that it seems is that the floor is deciding to explode and bite them from underneath, the first man is shot in the gut, he starts to scream. Omar gets up to run, and falls down. His foot is bleeding, not from crucifixion, but where a bullet has pierced it. The Fallujah floors are shoddy, and when he falls there is a distinct thud, that cannot be anything but what it truly is, a man falling down. And this one belongs to Conner, the next man in the stack, who hears the thud, and aims his own weapon with as little care as the haaji before him, holding the trigger down. And the effect is horrible, upstairs, the man called Omar, a real human being with thoughts and dreams, and a family, and a wife that would have loved him. Becomes hamburger. Burnt hamburger, because Conner does whats known as going cyclic with the SAW, holding down the trigger until all two hundred rounds are exhausted from the drum and the barrel glows red hot, causing each round to come through hotter and hotter until Omar's body becomes a parody of the fate that awaits his soul later, burning, in hell.