by Barry Basden
The blast lifts David into a scraggly tree where, disoriented, his ears ringing, he finds himself entangled in the branches, his head slightly lower than his feet. His chest hurts with a burning pain that touches a place deep inside he never knew existed.
To his right, across a little creek, the captain crouches in the rocks with his radio operator, waving his arms and shouting something David can't hear. Then the captain slams backwards, his helmet askew, tilted sideways and to the rear, held on only by the chin strap snagged under his nose.
Another explosion to David's left rocks the tree and throws debris and a sharp, pungent, burning smell into the air. AK-47s fire from the high ground; their bullets make little splashes in the water and keen off rocks on both sides of the streambed.
David tries to move his legs but can't, the same legs that carried him to fifteen touchdowns and over a thousand yards rushing the previous fall. He thinks of Kendra and her lovely legs, strong beneath her cheerleader's skirt as she romped on the sidelines, exhorting a cheering stadium that was not nearly as crowded in the spring when ROTC graduates got their commissions. Was that only three months ago? What is she doing right now, right at this moment?
David feels his throat filling--a wet, brassy taste--and raises his head, coughing only a little because the pain in his chest cuts it off. The shredded front of his desert-camo uniform is stained as dark red as a Rothko panel. David looks up through the branches at a clear blue sky and realizes that Art Appreciation, that throwaway elective, was after all his favorite class.
To his left, the rock-strewn field spreads into a vast, dusty barrenness. A few trees stand out against gray mountains that fade in distant atmospheric perspective, a landscape that could have been on the moon or hacked into the earth by some huge, heavy-bladed ax.
Though it is not yet midday, David watches the sky darken as his mind empties. The valley becomes still, and the time for any death song passes.
Barry Basden writes mostly short pieces these days. Some have been published in various online venues. Some have not. He is coauthor of Crack! and Thump: With a Combat Infantry Officer in World War II and also edits the Camroc Press Review at www.camrocpressreview.com