Marc and Dog, page 1
Marc and Dog
A Life After War Backstory
© 2016 Angela White. All rights reserved
Angela White, Life After War © 1991.
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. Copyright laws apply. Made in the United States.
Table of Contents
Friends and Foes
A Simple Drink
The Bell Tolls
September 1st, 2003
“Entire squad got a two-week pass for Labor Day!” Kenn blared. “Can you believe that shit?”
“I still can’t believe they’re changing the composite score next month,” Chris complained, slinging his kit into the locker. “I’m never gonna make Corporal.”
“Command was pleased with us,” Thunder pointed out.
“Yep.” Chris slapped his nearby buddy on the arm as the other Marines in the wide room offered agreement. “Nice work.”
Marc nodded, but didn’t join in the merriment as he stuffed his military mess kit into a duffle bag. He’d had a great moment and helped to clear an area that command wanted. It was his job.
“Where you going, Brady?”
Marc pointed at the fading image of the Shoshone National Forest taped inside his locker. “My usual.”
The tired men around him laughed, but few of them understood why Marc felt the need to go to the American boonies for his peace and quiet. Most of the team preferred to stay local when here.
Around them, Camp Pendleton was nearly deserted as everyone celebrated the holiday. There were no visitors and not much in the way of staff. Most of those moving about right now were like Marc and his team, just here for a few minutes to sign paperwork and gather gear.
After almost six years, Marc didn’t anticipate coming home as much anymore. He had no one to come home to. This time however, he needed the break. Their last days in Herat had been rough. When the Intel had run out and command had still insisted on pushing forward, the hands-on work had gotten ugly very fast. Marc had received a nasty shock after the final battle, when he’d gone around counting bodies for his squad leader. It had horrified him to tell Reggie that they’d killed three civilians. Reggie hadn’t felt the same, insisting those casualties couldn’t be avoided when the enemy used them as shields. Marc agreed, but he didn’t, at the same time. There should never be an acceptable amount of loss. All life was to be protected.
“There’s another one!”
“Just an old man. Let him go.”
“I want to take him in for questioning.”
“He was a shield. He doesn’t know anything except terror. Let him go.”
“He has a gun!”
“Put it down!”
“Do not fire!”
“Take him out!”
Marc shook off the flash, trying not to wince at the mental echo of the shots as two of their squad fired on the villager. They’d found out later that the gun was out of ammo, but raising the weapon had started a chain of events that Marc had been helpless to stop. Two equally ranked team leaders had given two very different orders. That wasn’t supposed to happen, but it had.
“Come on, Brady. Let it go,” Chris encouraged. “Chad would have.”
Marc knew that to be true, but it didn’t ease his anger or guilt. “Well, I’m not him. Am I?”
No one answered.
Marc slammed the locker shut. “Your mistake is thinking that I’ve been trying to be him. Chad was my best friend, but he was okay with his team making big mistakes. I’m not. Be clear on that, if nothing else.”
Marc slung his kit over a shoulder, missing the rifle that had to be replaced. Herat hadn’t been the least bit friendly. “Until we meet again, boys.”
Jokes and crude comments followed him, but the noise dropped into an uncomfortable silence after Marc was gone.
“Will he be okay?” Hips asked.
The team exchanged looks of concern instead of responding. If their rookie knew Marc wasn’t happy with them, then everyone did. Marc was a good fire team leader, but he was so aloof that they weren’t able to trust him. They’d tried many times to get him to hang out and go crazy so they could dig into who he really was, but unless they were in trouble or training, Marc kept to himself. In combat, he was a badass, as they all were. What their team needed now was to finish bonding, as other groups around them had. They felt the lack of fellowship keenly.
Marc wouldn’t have been surprised by that discovery. He didn’t fully trust them either, despite the years that some of them had served together. His past was too riddled with betrayal to allow him to give personal insights very often. Each time Marc did, he was either betrayed or ended up mourning that person’s loss. His love life had been like that and so were the friendships. His best friend and their former team leader, Chad, had been killed three years ago. Marc had refused to refill that position as if it was a meaningless canteen, but he was also scared. Letting people in was dangerous.
As he stepped outside, Marc saw a jeep rolling in his direction. Recognizing the driver, he waited.
“Need a ride, Corporal?”
“Thank you, sir.” Marc tossed his kit into the back of the jeep. He climbed into the passenger seat, snapping a quick salute toward the window, where he could feel his team watching.
“Should be a nice break,” Reggie commented.
“Yes, sir.” Marc was glad their platoon sergeant was the type to recommend rewarding men after a success. His team needed the break. The entire squad did, really. They’d been helping the local authorities to clear towns of insurgents in Afghanistan. It hadn’t been pleasant. The locals were often as untrustworthy as those they were fighting, leading to more US body bags.
“Command sent your paperwork down last week. Your composite scores were solid.”
Marc let it sink in, not feeling much beyond a bit of relief. Many grunts waited a lot longer for their shot at officer courses than he had, like when he and Kenn had been indoctrinated as snipers and attached to the 2nd Recon Battalion at Camp Lejeune. Kenn had kept pace with him so far, but Marc hadn’t been happy as a Corporal. He still wasn’t.
“When will my team find out?” Marc wondered aloud, thinking he would get a lot of flak over the choice. He’d known that when he approached Reggie about it last year. He’d always planned to climb the ranks.
“When you tell them or disappear for the course,” Reggie answered, driving to the local storage facility without asking. Everyone knew Marc had a vehicle stored there. Many of the grunts did. A single man always had more cash to spend, and wheels and guns were always where those free bucks would go. Marc already had a nice Colt that he carried on his downtime. Reggie didn’t understand why the grunt had bought an old army jeep instead of something nicer, but he hadn’t asked. He assumed Marc was more frugal than others in their squad were.
Reggie pulled up to the gate. “Here ya go.”
“Thanks, sir.” Allowing a bit of emotion to show to someone deserving of it, Marc slapped Reggie on the shoulder before climbing out. “Have a nice break.” The large black man was fierce in the pit, and even more so in training. Marc was proud to serve under him.
Marc turned around reluctantly. He knew what was coming. “Sir?”
“Captain said when you come back, he wants you in his office. That’s the deadline for picking where you go. A lot of men want that chair.”
Reggie shrugged, not expecting more. “He also said if a man can’t bond with his fellow fighters,
Marc felt that hit deep in his guts. It demanded a response. “Tell him I said sir, yes, sir!”
Reggie cracked a grin. “You’re a badass, Brady.”
“No.” Marc shrugged this time. “I just can’t be pushed that way. He knows it. Not sure why he sent you to tell me that, is all.”
Reggie studied Marc, as their CO had instructed him to do. What was it about this Corporal that gave everyone the impressed willies? He was clearly dangerous, something a Marine had to be, but there was something else and it was off.
Marc felt the scrutiny, but he didn’t have anything else to say on the subject. It was his choice and he would make it. End of story.
“See ya, sir,” Marc stated, saluting.
Reggie sighed, taking the hint. “Watch your six, Brady. That attitude doesn’t exactly encourage friendly intentions.”
Marc sniggered as his friend drove off. Reggie and the others were okay, mostly, but Marc had a wall up that few people would ever be able to penetrate. Life was easier that way.
Marc left the storage unit a few minutes later, mind racing over the last battles, his words to the team, actions and reactions. It had become a habit to evaluate each fight afterwards, as most men here did. Finding the mistakes and correcting them was the only way to become better. Marc still wanted that just as much as he had when he’d first joined.
The Marine grimaced. Joined wasn’t the right word. More like tricked, betrayed, beaten, he thought.
Marc flipped on the radio and popped in a tape as he hit the highway under a cloudy September afternoon. He didn’t need to stop for anything as long as he had a gun and his kit, which he did. He would make this swoop by driving straight through. He might even beat his own personal record.
Trying to leave the weight of the world behind, Marc increased his speed. “Let’s roll.”
Shoshone National Forest, three days later...
Marc hefted himself through the rough forest terrain, panting from exertion. Sweat dripped down his cheeks and back in steady droplets that he had no time to wipe away as the wildfire roared closer. Surrounded on three sides, he stayed low to avoid the bullets and the thick smoke. Marc had woken to flames surrounding his campsite. He’d grabbed his kit and taken off towards the vehicle that he’d left parked at the bottom of this steep ravine, but it was still five minutes away. He tried to move faster.
Marc jumped a log that had flames spreading along its mossy trunk, sliding into the dense foliage on the other side. The ground he hadn’t been able to see dropped off abruptly.
Marc tucked and rolled, grunting in pain as his body was slammed into rocks and branches on the way down the hill.
Landing at the bottom hurt, but Marc couldn’t wait for his body to recover. There was no time.
“There he is!”
Coughing, Marc ran, aware of bullets flying in the smoky morning dimness. He zigzagged toward a thicker patch of foliage, and dropped under the hollow side of another fallen log covered in bushes and weeds. Using a thick trunk for cover, Marc held in more coughs as heavy footsteps approached his location.
“I can’t see anything!”
Through eyes tearing from the thickening smoke, Marc caught the glimpse of a shadow and fired.
The sound echoed faintly through the constant roaring of the fire.
Sweating from the heat, Marc continued to wait, pushing his luck. The flames were feet away.
“Jack?” Cough. Cough. “Where are you?”
Marc’s Colt barked several more times before he was forced to reload and holster. He darted into the still thickening smoke, choosing a zigzag path through the forest that wound down toward the main road. All around him, panicked wildlife was doing the same.
“There he is! There he is!”
“I’ve got him!”
Marc ducked, rolling.
Bullets plunged through the smoke and flames in a wide spray that kept the Marine on the ground, where he continued to crawl. Marc didn’t know who was hunting him yet, but that hadn’t mattered in the past and it didn’t now. Over the years that he’d had been in the Corps, Marc had made a lot of enemies and not that many friends. The most recent was a quiet, painful trip across the border that had resulted in the deaths of two big drug lords. Marc had done that one alone. He’d gotten friendly with the local whores that the two men used, and then waited until they came for a visit.
Taking advantage of a pause in the gunfire, Marc darted into the thicker underbrush ahead of him that was not on fire. He swallowed a groan of relief at the temperature difference. It had to be at least 20° cooler in the shade of all these plants. The memory of tall, cool corn during hot summers tried to come, but Marc shoved it away. He had work to do before he could get lost with his ghosts.
Marc continued to crawl down the hill, but as he hit a steep ledge, the ground shifted and he flailed through the air again. Marc landed with a hard thump on the foliage-padded forest floor below, groaning.
Above, relentless hunters refused to break off the pursuit.
Marc flinched to the left too late and a bullet trimmed his arm, causing pain and blood splatter that would be tracked before the fire could burn it up. Holding the bleeding wound, he was forced to abandon his idea of escaping into the underbrush like an animal.
Marc heard clumsy, heavy bodies crashing into the weeds and slid behind another thick trunk, Colt in hand again. He needed to reduce the odds a bit more. Marc fired.
“He got Danny! He got Danny!”
Someone answered in Spanish and more heavy steps crashed in Marc’s direction.
The Marine took off again, occasionally spinning around to fire off a shot. Hitting one of them would be good, but it was more for defense than offense. This type of firefight wasn’t new to Marc. He’d been trained for both long distance and short-range exchanges under rough conditions, and he usually excelled at both. That was because he kept his body in shape, unlike some of the men.
Marc heard rushing water and quickly changed direction as he smothered another cough. The fire was still coming in from three sides and would eventually merge. If he stayed on land, he would be surrounded with no escape–exactly what his hunters were hoping for with this type of ambush. It was time to blaze a new path.
Marc found the water by following the animals. The twisted, narrow creek was dotted with small lives taking cover from the fire. A large fox and his mate; a tiny squirrel carrying a pup; a herd of deer farther upstream, noses high in the air in uneasy awareness. There were also raccoons and possums, even a bear and two cubs near the opposite bank. It would have been amazing if not for the situation.
Marc plunged into the middle of the cold chaos and sank down, hoping the trackers might be inexperienced enough to overlook him among the furry bodies. He stayed ready to defend himself from the beasts if he needed to, but he didn’t. Animals shied from him, but they didn’t attack or run back into the flames. Between him and the fire, they knew which one was the bigger threat.
“In the water!”
“Get in there!”
Marc couldn’t make out the words from under the distorted blur of the creek, but he knew what it meant. He pushed off the rocky bed and let the stream carry him off. Maybe it would bring him out closer to the vehicle he had waiting, but it would definitely protect him from the fire and conserve his energy. After driving straight through to get here, he’d already been beat, and the fire coming had only allowed him a few hours of sleep. He would probably be running on reserve before this was over, but it wasn’t the first time he’d had to push this body to its limit to survive. It wasn’t a burden to be carried, though. In fact, it was an advantage. With every run, he got stronger.
Behind him, men plunged into the small creek, firing wildly, but the rushi
Marc winced as the rocks on the bottom of the stream scraped his side, thighs and stomach, but he didn’t try to slow down. He needed every few seconds that he could get.
When the creek deepened, Marc used his legs to help push forward, lungs starting to burn. The grunt didn’t let the risk of traveling without control through the murky water send panic through his mind. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel the adrenaline surging through his body. He just knew how to control it.
The roar of the fire suddenly grew louder through the water and Marc realized the stream had brought him back into the path of the blaze. He rose long enough to take a quick lungful of air, then plunged back down into the cold liquid, bumping into fallen debris and animals. The water was moving faster now, washing some of the scared animals from their huddled safety by the banks.
As he scraped over another patch of sharp rocks, Marc felt a furry body slam into his legs. Unexpected, it shot him up out of the water, where he gasped for air and spun around to see what large animal was in the water at his hip.
The wolf, paddling and covered in scars that Marc admired, immediately snapped at him. Sharp teeth almost tore through the material of Marc’s jeans, coming close enough to skin that he could feel the tips of teeth.
Reacting instinctively, Marc used the Colt that was still in his hand to hammer the wolf in the skull.
Not waiting for the whining animal to recover and retaliate, Marc took stock of the situation while easing away.
The wolf struggled towards the bank, slipping and sliding. The hit had clearly stunned it.
Marc had dealt with wolves–actually wild dogs–and lost two members of his squad. He had no love for them.
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