by Donald W. McArthur
“Do they have sunsets like this?”
Sgt. Jim Taylor had orders for a second tour in Iraq. He thought the sunsets there the only memorable part of a drab and barren land.
He would leave the next day.
“Saddle up, people!” bellowed Lieutenant Tomason. Taylor had been staring at the reddened sky. “Come on, Sergeant.”
Taylor climbed behind the wheel of the Humvee, Lt. Tomason to his right, Corporal Rodriguez standing in the gun port behind them. They pulled out in the gathering dusk.
Twenty minutes later came the pock-pock-pock of small arms fire. A shaken voice radioed from the tail Humvee, “We're taking fire back here!”
The Lieutenant yelled, “Step it up, Sergeant, get us out of here!” Taylor careened around a corner, his headlights limning the figures of a dozen Iraqi children, dazed and frozen at the sudden onrushing vehicle. Taylor made to pull to the right and Tomason, sensing the danger, yelled, “Fuck those Hajis, floor it, straight!”
Taylor instead had turned down an empty rutted street. The first IED exploded on the left, the Humvee filling with the bright red mist that had been Rodriguez. Then a blast from the right, so close and loud it was felt, not heard. The Humvee corkscrewed into the air in slow motion, smashing down on its left side. Taylor didn't feel the fire that consumed his fingers, his face, but he thought he saw red, in the sky maybe, it's all he can see, red sky.