The sun beat down mercilessly on the barren mountain on the outskirts of Musa Qala, Helmand Province. It rose two hours ago and changed in colour from pale white through warm amber to searing hot yellow chasing the evening back into the foothills and beyond the town known locally as the Fortress of Mosses. The smooth black hills of night transformed in to burnt rugged giants and the gold crescent moon on top of the mosque in the distance winked at them knowingly as the sunbeams struck it ; as if it knew they were there holed up in their hide dug into the side of the hill. Lieutenant Paul Reichert and his spotter Captain Michael Forsyth form 3rd Marine division had dug in during the night, dropped off by helicopter one mile away, they had yomped with their kit to a spot approximately a thousand metres from where the road snaked like a river between their mountain and its twin opposite.
They both lay prone and still, concentrating on their responsibilities. It was hot. The powerful orange sun stared at them, blistering rays penetrated through their desert coloured ghillie suits. Although very warm, the air was calm and contented. Paul continued to glare down his scope, with his focused, cold blooded eyes, eyes that were used to seeing death. Mike was well used to the long silences during operations when working with Paul. He fired the remaining crusts of his sandwich into his mouth, he didn’t actually like cheese and tomato but he knew it was Paul’s favourite when he prepared them the day before. A bead of sweat trickled down the Lieutenant’s brow and made its way into the corner of his left eye; he closed it rapidly, but still didn’t take his ‘aiming eye’ off his scope. A wry smirk came across Mike’s mouth and he let out a gentle laugh. “Think that’s funny do ya?” questioned Paul.
“No, I’m just surprised that an experienced man like you hasn’t got a sweat band on, especially on a day like this.” Paul chuckled for a couple of seconds and then continued to do his job properly.
“Let’s not lose focus now, Forsyth.” whispered Paul. Mike just smiled and rolled his eyes, picking up his spotting binoculars. As he spied down the magnifying device Mike’s grin fell and he was suddenly transformed from Mike ‘the joker’ to Sniper veteran Captain Michael Wallace Forsyth.
The AC-44 combat jeep had just arrived in zone one and the disposal team exited the vehicle, one after the other, briskly and sharp. They began to march their way into zone two in their usual tactical formation. They moved with pace, tiny explosions of dust and sand kicked up from under their feet. They looked like clones, all in the same uniform, all had the same equipment and they marched in complete synchronisation. Mike grabbed his handheld receiver attached to his chest “Bomb squad alpha 3 have just entered into zone two sir.”
Commander Harris replied almost instantly “Okay, roger that captain”. Mike continued to scan the surrounding areas and mountains for suspicious movement, continuously moving the binoculars slowly from left to right. “Movement spotted, North-west Mountain, 800 meters away approximately” said Mike with a hint of surprise in his voice, he had scanned the area numerous times before the squad arrived spotting nothing. Paul adjusted himself to magnify the three Taliban troops hidden in a ditch on the side of the mountain. Mike reported back to the commander and continued to search for more enemies. It was too late. The Taliban had opened fire on the bomb squad. From hidden ditches and small road-side huts on the mountains they appeared in large numbers. “We need an assault team out here now, there has been an ambush.” Paul’s mind was active, yet his body was calm, a difficult state to maintain but second nature to a pin-point marksman like himself.
The squad had recovered well, they took cover in an abandoned building beside the road and did all they could to defend themselves. The brutal sun was now even more intense and a strong breeze came from the east, but didn’t ease the heat of the burning rays as it felt like a hot blow-drier in their faces. Reichert and Forsyth kept their minds cool, analysing the attackers for information to give to the commander. “Okay we’ve got a real problem now”, said Mike. Two enemies were setting up a high-power LMG that would fire rounds that are capable of penetrating through the weak walls of the building. Mike knew instantly that Paul had to take him out. “Be prepared to take down the LMG couple on the central north mountain”. In one complete swift move Paul’s L118A bolt action sniper rifle was loaded and on the target. The gunner’s fate was now to be decided by Paul; he held his breath, cleared his mind and pulled the trigger. A second later the man exploded into a deep red spray.“Hit”. He was now just another dead body in the Afghan desert. His partner suddenly retreated and vanished into the horizon. Mike was beginning to get worried for his fellow soldiers on the front line. “The assault team still haven’t arrived yet, where the hell are they?”
Paul reassured him. “They’ll be here Forsyth, just keep the cool and concentrate”. Paul’s eyes were fixed to his scope, and then he noticed something unusual. His breathing quickened in unison with the dizziness as the gorge rose to the back of his throat, the cardiac beat banging in his ear drums drowned out Paul’s shouts.
Down his scope he could see a young boy sprinting up the north mountain in open cross fire. Paul followed the vulnerable figure with his cross hairs up the mountain, until the boy helplessly collapsed on the dead LMG gunner. The boy’s agony was tangible, arms raised to the sky, head tossed back with tears streaming down his face as he beseeched Allah. For the first time, Paul took his eye off the lens and rubbed it. When he returned to the circular frame of the sight he could see the young soldier desperately trying to wake his father from his eternal sleep.
Thinking of his own son and wife now, waterfalls blurred his vision. The droplets fell off Paul’s chin and onto his hand as he struggled to make sense of everything. Mike tried to shove Paul’s shoulder to try and get his attention but to no avail. The stifling air was suffocating now. Paul’s distress dissolved his hard exterior exposing the human he had trained so hard to bury deep within himself. Mike now tried to pull the rifle from Paul so he could save the twelve soldiers from death as the Taliban were now preparing to fire an RPG into the building.
Catatonic, Paul was frozen stiff and would not let go of the gun. Mike shouted in Paul’s ear “Listen to me, you have to snap out of this and take down the RPG attacker on the east mountain, those soldiers are going to DIE!” Paul’s nipping blurred eyes looked down the scope and in slow motion he pulled the trigger. The shot was poor, and he missed. Mike could only look on and hear the distinct hiss of the RPG being fired, the rocket travelled in a swirling action and made its way through the only window in the building and exploded. The desert fell silent for a moment and was only broken by the chilling laughs and shrieks of delight of the freedom fighting rebels on the hills and mountains.
The boy heartbroken only moments before rejoiced and smiled at the sky. “Allah Akbar” was the cry echoing across the hillside.
© Copyright 2016 Connar McG. All rights reserved.
Short Story / War and Military
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