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Authors: W. J. Lundy

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BOOK: Tales of the Forgotten
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“Water,”
the man pleaded.

Robert
yelled the request back at the men and the young soldier tossed him a small
bottle of water. Robert opened the container and helped the man sip.

“Why
did you run at our gate?” Robert asked. “Why didn’t you stop?”

“We
didn’t run
at
your gate, we ran
to
your gate. We ran from
them
,”
answered the dying man.

“Ran?
Ran from whom?” Robert asked.

The
man gave Robert an exhausted, sad look. He raised his hand, pointing over and
behind the men standing at the back of the truck. “From death,” he said.

Robert
strained to look into the distance. It was difficult to see from the darkness
of the covered truck and out into the hot bright sunlight. Far off in the
distance, through the waves of heat on the pavement, he could make out a large
group of people headed in their direction. Robert looked back down at the man
and saw that he had passed.

“Well
shit, here it comes,” grumbled the lieutenant, looking in the same direction.
“Right on time; that would be the villagers from town coming to protest the
dead civilians from last night. I’m sure this truck full of bodies isn’t going
to help things.”

“L.T.,
the man in the truck said they were running away from that group; maybe it’s
more of what just happened inside. I don’t think they’re protestors,” said
Robert.

“Well,
nice story, but he can’t help us now. Let’s get back to the barrier and get
ready to meet our guests,” the lieutenant argued.

Robert
and Bolder turned, closed the tailgate, buttoned down the canvas cover on the
truck, and then headed back to the camp’s gate and barriers.

“I
have a bad feeling about this, Bolder,” Robert mumbled.

“I
know, just stay sharp bro. I got your back,” Bolder said.

They
moved behind the barrier and took up a position just inside the open gate.
Robert saw the mob moving closer. Yeah, they were definitely pissed off, they
were even running! Robert had seen protests at Bremmel before, but usually they
were pretty well orchestrated. This one appeared to be spontaneous, with no
leader, and they were coming fast.

An
Afghan soldier moved to the barrier and started yelling through a bullhorn,
commanding the mob to stop approaching the base and to keep their distance.
Several more Afghan soldiers dragged a heavy roll of coiled wire across the
road, blocking the entrance to the barriers. But they kept coming. They passed
a sign far out on the road that warned that violators would be shot if they
approached the base. The mob continued to run.

The
lieutenant ordered warning shots, and the machine gunner fired quickly over the
crowd, but they didn’t slow, didn’t even flinch. “Gas!” the lieutenant shouted.
The soldiers on the barrier fired tear gas canisters into the charging mob, but
they never even paused. The CS grenades bounced off some of the protestors,
knocking them to the ground, but they got back up and continued running.
“Shotguns up!” the lieutenant yelled, panic growing in his voice. The Afghan
soldiers raised shotguns and readied themselves for the mob.

The
first wave hit the wire with a screeching roar, but that was quickly outdone by
the sounds of the screaming crowd. Protestors were tangled and pushed deeper
and deeper into the wire by those behind them. Eventually they collapsed and
were pressed to the ground, their bodies covering the jagged strands of barbed
wire. Screaming protestors from the back began to climb up and over the fallen,
and resumed their charge at the base.

“Open
fire!” the lieutenant screamed frantically as he stepped backwards. The first
volley of shotgun rounds dropped a few of the charging protestors, but most of
them made it to the barricades. The Afghan soldiers were firing as quickly as
they could, but with little effect. They racked and fired into the crowd,
quickly reloading as they expended every round. The rioters continued screaming
and breaching the barriers, the shotguns seemingly worthless against them.

Robert
quickly noticed why. They were firing crowd dispersal rounds and rubber bullets
that bounced off the crowd or only temporarily slowed them. The lieutenant was
expecting protestors, not a feral crowd of rioters. The mob started to push
over the barriers. As the barricades tumbled, the mass of people flooded
towards the gates. “Weapons free! Fire!” the now fully panicked lieutenant screamed.

Robert
saw several of the Afghan soldiers drop their guns and turn to run; others just
stood paralyzed by fear as the protestors breeched the barriers and swarmed
over them. The M2 machine gun on the tower opened up into the crowd, knocking
them down, but his angle was wrong. They were too close to the gates now, too
close for him to stop them all. The rounds carved a path through the mob, but
others continued to pour in and quickly filled the void as the gunner reloaded.

Robert
and Bolder raised their rifles and fired almost point blank into the crazed
mob. Robert thought his rifle wasn’t working as he fired round after round into
the charging protestors with no effect. A frenzied man broke free of the swarm
and ran directly at Robert. Ignoring direct hits to the chest, he grabbed
Robert in a bear hug. Robert tried desperately to push off but it was
impossible with the weight of the crowd guiding the man into him. Robert
tripped and fell backwards with the man on top of him. He struggled against the
weight of the man and the stampeding of feet pounding into him. He felt the man
in his face, could feel his breath against his scalp. All he could hear was the
pounding footsteps of the crowd and the frenzied screaming of the mob.

Robert
violently struggled with the man, trying to push him off or roll him to the
side. The man pressed in tight to Robert’s head and grabbed at his ear with his
teeth. Robert screamed with pain and rage. He freed a hand and was able to draw
his pistol, quickly pushing the barrel into the man’s abdomen and firing four
quick shots. Robert could feel the sticky warmth of the man’s blood on his
hands. The man bucked slightly, pausing only briefly before he continued to
bite, gnawing deeper into Robert’s forehead and face. Robert contorted his
body, finally freeing the length of his arm. He painfully raised the pistol to
the man’s head and squeezed the trigger.

 

2.

 

 

 

Hairatan Customs Compound

Zero day plus thirty-two.

 

 

Brad
sat on the roof of the warehouse looking out at the dark city. The fires had
quit burning days ago; the blackness had blanketed the city. There was still an
occasional scream, and sometimes a gunshot, but for the most part the city had
grown silent over the past few weeks. The compound-turned-refugee-camp was growing
in size. They had almost two hundred residents now. Most of them had come in
the early days of the outbreak: hungry, scared and looking for a home.

Junayd’s
people would find them on their daily patrols, and if they were friendly, he
brought them back to the compound. Brad didn’t know how many had been turned
away, if any. It was a conversation he didn’t want to have. They left the
questions of who to take in and who to turn away with the locals. Brad
considered Junayd the mayor of this refuge; if anything, he thought of himself
as the sheriff. The informal relationship had worked, and the camp was
prospering, as well as any camp in a wasteland.

When
Brad looked over the edge of the roof and into the compound, he could see his
people moving about. ‘
His people’, when did he start thinking of them as
that?
Brad looked out at the gates and walls and saw soldiers patrolling
the fences, standing watch alongside Junayd’s men. The Afghan fighters didn’t
have the same training and discipline as his soldiers. Even so, they had proven
themselves to be trusted warriors over the past month. Many times the Afghans
had impressed him; they were very dedicated and loyal to the families they
protected.

Brad
descended the ladder back into the warehouse, walking through the living area
and out into the cool night air. He found a quiet spot, and sat in front of the
building that overlooked the gates and his men on watch. He was struggling with
the offer that the SEALs had presented to him in recent days. They had asked him
to leave this place, to attempt to make it back to Bremmel and beyond, back to
society. It was becoming apparent that nobody was going to rescue them.
Were
they really forgotten?

Junayd’s
scouts had made several runs into some of the neighboring villages, but never
returned with good news. They had once braved the bridge and attempted to visit
the north. They found large packs of roaming primals. After several dangerous
encounters, they wisely determined the risk was too great. The bridge was now
completely barricaded; nothing would be able to pass it without a bulldozer.

Sometimes
they would see the packs standing on the far side of the river. They probed and
hunted for a way to cross. So far, the swiftly moving water had stopped them.
Still, Brad worried what would happen when winter came. Would the primals
freeze like the river? Or would they walk across the frozen waters?

Initially
they had hoped the disease would run its course and the primals would succumb
to it. That day never came. Even thirty days later, the numbers were just as
great as before, and in fact were growing. It was true that they saw less of
them during the daylight. Primals didn’t like the heat.

On
a cool, overcast day the killers were out in force. But when the sun was
bright, you would only encounter them indoors, or occasionally in a shadow. At
night they were the most dangerous. Primals would come out of their hiding
places and hunt freely, roaming the streets and polluting the night air with
their moans.

The
damn moaning! It reminded Brad of the howling wolves and coyotes from his home
in northern Michigan. The thought of home made him smile; it was a place far
different from this.
I wonder if I’ll ever see the green forest again?
he thought to himself. Quickly he put the idea away; it was dangerous to get
distracted on the job. He shook his head, smiling again.
Am I even on the
job anymore?

The
last one they’d killed was emaciated; its eyes were glazed over and the skin
had pulled tight over its bones. Junayd’s lead scout, Hasan, had found it
tangled in the wire way out past the main fences on one of his patrols. The
thing was obviously malnourished and beaten, but it still fought with the
strength of five men. Hasan said even after he had removed its head, the
primal’s eyes had looked at him with hatred and rage until they went dark.

Hasan
had proven to be a good hunter. Every day he took groups out to scout and
salvage items from the city. Brad didn’t know much about the man; he had been
mostly silent and usually kept to himself. Even the other Afghans tended to
keep their distance. Brad wondered what his story was. Junayd trusted him, and
even Brad’s own soldiers would volunteer to patrol with Hasan on occasion.

Brad
rose to his feet and made his way into the guardhouse they had converted into
their barracks. It wasn’t the most ideal housing. It was drafty and dusty, and
the cinder block walls and concrete floors were less than inviting. His men had
done their best to make it cozy with items from the rail yard and things the
soldiers had scavenged out on the daily patrols. His bunk was in a corner
tucked back in the rear of the guardhouse. His area would be considered sparse
at best. Brad had always been a professional soldier and had never taken the
time to collect many things, but now there was even less. Next to his bunk he
kept his personal possessions; nothing more than a large pack, his armor, and a
rifle. He didn’t own much now in this new life.

Brad
sat on his bunk and looked around the room. Some of the soldiers were still up,
but it wasn’t like before in the barracks in Bremmel. There wasn’t any
horseplay, no playing of cards; the men had to keep quiet for fear of luring in
the primals. No one was reading books; the guardhouse was too dimly lit at
night for that. Laptops and game systems were a thing of the past. They now
survived in a quiet solitude. Brad lay back on his rack watching the ceiling,
wondering how things might be different at home, his real home. Maybe it
was
time to leave.

 

3.

 

 

 

Brad
woke to the stench of the cooking Afghan slop and his stomach turned. If there
was one thing they had plenty of, it was the cans of mystery meat. They had
found nearly ten full train cars of the stuff. Nobody enjoyed it, but at least
they wouldn’t starve. He just couldn’t get used to the taste and the greasy
coating it left in one’s mouth after eating it. Lately it was breakfast, lunch,
and dinner. The soldiers had handed over most of the real food to the families,
but occasionally they would have their meals augmented with rice and beans
collected in the daily scavenge runs.

Brad
sat up in his bed and grabbed his shower kit. Standing and stretching, he moved
out to the communal showers they had built behind his new barracks.
Miraculously they still had running water. Henry, his young driver with
aspirations of being an engineer, said the water came from a well. The pumps
were powered by solar cells that were installed on the roof. Brad really didn’t
care how all of it worked, as long as it did. He put the young soldier in
charge of facilities, and he had done wonders in turning the place around.
Henry’s main pride and joy had been the solar water heater: water heated by the
sun. It had made him a bit of a hero around camp.

Brad
found Sean, the SEAL team chief, on his way to the showers. Sean was heavily
bearded now, as most of them were.

“You
have an answer for me on that offer yet?” Sean asked Brad with a smile.

“I
do. I think you’re right and I want in, but let me break it to Turner and the
men first. I don’t know how they will react,” Brad answered.

“Fair
enough Brad, but be quick about it, we plan to leave at first light tomorrow.
We have a lot of preparations to make,” replied Sean.

Sean
left him alone and Brad continued on to the showers. They weren’t much, just
some piping shrouded with some heavy canvas. But it was enough, and he quickly
found himself enjoying his solitude in the hot water. Even though they had all
been warned to be brief in the showers, he took a couple of extra minutes
today. He reluctantly exited the hot water, knowing it might be his last hot
shower for a while. Brad gathered his things and returned to the barracks to
ready himself for another long day.

After
dressing in a clean uniform, Brad walked over to the soldiers’ fire pit behind
the guardhouse. He found a place on the large crate converted into a table and
took a seat. One of the Afghans who worked the soldiers’ kitchen nodded to him
and brought him a steaming bowl of the slop, which Brad accepted with a forced
smile. Turner, the unit’s platoon sergeant, took notice of Brad and placed his
own bowl in a wash basin, then walked over and took a seat next to him. Turner
took a small tobacco box out of his jacket pocket, and laid it across his lap.

“So
I was talking to Brooks this morning; he told me you were considering leaving
with them,” Turner said while fumbling with a scrap of paper and trying to roll
a cigarette.

“Still
messing with those cigarettes I see. You know you’ll be out soon, and
withdrawal is going to kick your ass,” answered Brad.

“Nahh,
I won’t run out, the Afghan boys have been bringing me tons of this stuff, and
one of them found a rail car topped off with it. I’ll run out of paper before
tobacco, and then I’ll just switch to a pipe.”

“Well,
sounds like you have it all figured out then,” chuckled Brad.

“So
seriously, you really leaving us or what?” asked Turner, licking the cigarette
then sparking a match to light it.

“Word
sure travel fast here, I guess some things never change.”

“So
is that a yes then? The way you’re jumping around the subject I’m assuming that
it is.” Turner took a long drag on his cigarette. “Hey man, seriously, don’t
worry about me, I got your back whatever you decide. I’m more concerned about
the men, and they rely on you.”

“I
think it’s for the best, Turner. We can’t just sit here forever. I want to go
see what’s left down south, maybe we can contact the States from there, you
know. And technically I am still on the job. I’m sure if they knew we were
here, the Army wouldn’t approve of us just getting cozy. It’s time for me to
move on.” Brad rose to his feet. “I really do appreciate your support, Turner,
I really do,” he said as he walked past the basin and tossed in his bowl.

Brad
made his way to the main gate. He spoke to the remainder of his men, informing
them of his plan and that he would be leaving with the SEALs in the morning.
Many volunteered to go with him; he explained they would be needed to provide
security to the camp. Brad promised to return for them as soon as he could, and
somehow he would make contact with the camp again. There were no arguments, and
the soldiers shook his hand and promised to help him prepare his gear for the
coming journey.

He
went back into the guardhouse and took a seat on his bunk. Looking around his
living space, he took stock of things he would need on the trip. He didn’t have
much that the Army didn’t issue. Brad opened the mouth of his large rucksack
and stuffed in his clothing and the remainder of his gear. He placed the most
needed equipment on top or in the outside pockets. Tightly rolling his bedroll,
he attached it to the top of his pack. He stared at his protective gas mask for
a second before smiling and tossing it aside; it landed with a thud on the
bulletproof plates that he had removed from his body armor long ago.

 He
checked and double-checked the ordnance on his vest. He still had twelve
magazines for his M4 and three for his M9, plus a couple of frag grenades just
in case. He looked over the snaps to make sure everything was securely
fastened. He picked up the Sigma pistol, carefully removing the magazine and
making sure it was topped off. For some reason he had started considering the
pistol his good luck charm, even though he’d never fired it. Maybe the fact
that he had never needed it made it lucky. Brad wiped the pistol off and tucked
it into the smaller day pack that he had attached to the outside of his larger
rucksack, then put on the overloaded vest and hoisted the heavy pack onto his
back. Taking a last look around the room, he sighed, then headed out the door.

Brad
found Brooks and Sean working on a late model Land Rover Defender in their
makeshift motor pool situated between the warehouses.

“She
was a gift from Junayd,” said Brooks over his shoulder as he watched Brad make
his way to them.

“You
don’t want to take the MRAP?” asked Brad.

“We
thought about it, but decided it wouldn’t be right. That MRAP makes a hell of a
life boat if your men ever need to bug out of here in a hurry. I don’t think
I’d ever feel good about taking that piece of security away from them,”
explained Sean. “There won’t be a lot of room, but we should do OK. Can you get
your gear over here so we can start packing?”

Brad
dropped the heavy rucksack and attached it to the vehicle’s roof rack. He saw
that the SEALs had done the same with their own bags. Unlike the SEALs, who
carried an abundance of weapons, Brad still considered himself a light infantry
man. He carried a standard issue 9mm pistol and his M4 carbine augmented with
the suppressor he’d been given. On his vest, he carried a full combat load of
ammunition and two M67 fragmentation grenades.

The
SEALs, on the other hand, humped a much larger kit. Multiple fragmentation
grenades and anti-personnel mines (claymores) were strapped to the outside of
their packs. Both of them had suppressed long rifles attached to the tops of
their rucksacks. Shorter MP5 submachine guns were always slung across their
chest for quick access. They wore H&K MK23 pistols on their hips, and even
smaller .22 caliber MKII pistols were carried in their packs. Brad thought it
was overkill to carry so many weapons when you only had two hands, but he
appreciated the firepower when it was needed.

They
spent the rest of the afternoon taking inventory of food and ammo, and deciding
what to bring. Water took priority for space, and then food. The team wouldn’t
have much more ammo than their personal allotment. There were large stores of
it in the warehouse, but the team had unanimously decided that it would be
better to leave it with the camp. There would be plenty of it at Bremmel, and
they could always scrounge for more on the road. They finished off the packing
with a row of four 5-gallon fuel cans strapped to a rack on the rear bumper of
the vehicle.

“Ha!
We look like damn hillbillies ready to move off to Beverly,” said Brooks with a
deep laugh.

The
last night in camp was spent sitting on the roof of the warehouse with Junayd
and his elders. Sean had his map laid out in front of them, and Junayd was
marking it with the best sources of fresh water, and helping them to plan the
safest route back towards Bremmel. Méndez came to visit Brad and gave him a
bundle of letters his men had written to their families back home. Brad knew
that Méndez had a large family and that the last month had been hard on him. He
knew it was a pipe dream, but Brad promised that if there was a way, he would
see that their letters got delivered. Méndez gave him a last thank you for
everything he had done to help get them off the road; he shook his hand and
left Brad alone.

Brad
broke away from the group discussing the trip; he wandered off to a far corner
of the roof and laid out his bedroll and blanket. He thought about what they
were attempting to do, and tried to put the thoughts of the ambushed convoy and
the visions of Bremmel out of his head. As hard as he tried to block it, the
face of PFC Ryan and the night he’d died in the desert always played back in
his head like a cheap movie.
I’m definitely going to need some counseling
when I get home
, he thought to himself.

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