“Stay low, Private.” Jayden Clarke rolled the injured man into a rocky outcropping along the side of the Jalalabad-Kabul road and patted his shoulder. “I’m going back up.”
“No, Clarke!” The man rasped. “You’ll be a target.”
Jayden ignored his plea and turned away, crawling toward the burning Humvee in which he and four others had been riding only moments before. One wheel caught only a minor shock of an IED blast, but the vehicle had overturned, throwing them out. Enemy fire pelted the air above causing debris to churn like a sand storm. His courage waned the closer he got. An image of his hero dad flashed before his eyes. Had Dad braved a hailstorm of bullets like this when he was pinned down by enemy fire? Did he feel death coming at him? Did he persist in spite of it all? Jayden swallowed.
I will make you proud.
He dismissed the images and focused on his target. Were any more men stranded beneath the vehicle’s overturned frame? Dust choked the air, making him wheeze. He slithered on his belly toward the wreckage, squinting through the cloud of smoke.
Steadying himself on one knee, he scanned the area for other survivors. Seeing no one he turned to go back the way he came. Before he could clear the pavement, another deafening blast rocked the ground. The Humvee rolled to its back in the force of this new explosion, catching Jayden’s right leg beneath its front tire. He screamed, the weight of the vehicle against his thigh pinning him to the ground. Pain raced up his calf, knee throbbing.
He tried to see through the haze, his safety glasses askew on his nose, but countless fragments flew from the cloud of smoke and blinded him. Shapes danced like images in a fun house mirror, grotesque figures that laughed from the reflection. In a last effort to make sense of what he saw he squinted, collapsing as everything around him dissolved to shades of gray.
“Man down!” The voice of his commanding officer, Parker Macgregor, sounded close to his ear. “Medic now!”
“I can’t see!” Jayden breathed slow, erratic pants as he struggled for air in the surrounding chaos.
“Hang on, Clarke.” Parker gripped his shoulder. “Help is coming.”
More bullet rounds whizzed overhead, with his unit engaged in a counter attack.
“Stay calm, Clarke.” Parker’s steady words spread peace against Jayden’s panic. “We’ll get you out of here.”
“Sir. I haven’t done my duty.” Jayden pleaded. “I can’t go home yet. I have to. . .”
“Soldier, stay calm.” Parker’s voice brooked no argument. “That’s an order.”
“But my dad. . .”
Hands gripped him under his shoulders as men lifted the wheel off his leg and pulled him onto a stretcher. He fought for consciousness. “Dad! I’m sorry.”