Save Me from My EnemiesI am stuck between a bunker wall and other bodies. The humidity is so that I sweat without movement. I haven’t swallowed in minutes, or the sand in my teeth has soaked up my spit. The air smells of sulfur and burning flesh. I want to look beyond the concrete. I want to witness the side effects of an hour’s worth of enemy indirect fire. But, I don’t move. I don’t look. I can’t move. Wedged, I am the barrier between grown men and concrete. Ten men? More? Maybe, I don’t know. I can’t see. All of their heads are small silhouetted mountains in the shadows. Their white eyes are uniform. I recognize no one. The man to my left is shirtless. I feel his sweat and sand covered skin shift with tense muscles. I rhythmically bounce my head trying to find a song. Boom! Another rocket.
Debris dives onto the exterior of the bunker. Screams ricochet through the concrete. Night’s darkness is interrupted by a flash of yellow. I squint at the mere sight. Beyond the wall, cackles of gunfire can be heard. Pop. Pop. Pop. Pop. Voices explode through pockets of silence. A man calls for ammo. Smoke rolls through the bunker. Soldiers cough. There is a smell like boiled eggs and a taste like dirty socks. Boom! Another rocket.
“Save me from my enemies, my God; protect me from those who attack me!” The words are bouncing off the shirtless soldier’s quivering lips. His sand-covered right arm, against my body, is scratching me, as it shifts between words. No worries, the marks will match the concrete chaffing on my right arm. If he is crying, his tears are mixed with streams of sweat. I find a strange solace watching beads of water drip from his nose into the dark. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Boom! Another rocket.
Every soldier in the bunker flinches collectively, sending a twitch through their body and a dip in their chin. A small camel spider calmly walks across the bunker ceiling. The shirtless soldier is rocking back and forth. The uniform pants covering his legs are caked with sand and sweat. I hope its sweat. Good God, his eyes! The tears are no more. His pupils are resting in sunken pockets of delirium. I quietly wonder what he is seeing.
“Save me from those evil people; rescue me from those murderers!” His American southern accent mixed with fear makes the prayer sound like the delusional muttering of a drug-addled reverend. The nails on his right hand are bleeding. A piece of fingernail rests on his lower lip. I lodge my left arm between my legs and sit up straight. Space is limited, but we are no longer touching. The shirtless soldier closes his eyes. His hands fall into the sand. The camel spider has disappeared. Breaths leave his body at a stuttered whimper. Boom! Another rocket.
“Look!” The shrill cry exits the soldier’s mouth into the ceiling. I flinch. His muscles are pressing against his skin. “They are waiting to kill me; cruel people are gathering against me.” I wedge my arm further into my lap. The wall can’t get close enough. His hands release his legs to punch his chin. I stare past white eyes in the night to the tunnels exit. No one seems to be paying him any attention. Each soldier is prisoner of their own memories and confusion. Eyes open, their visions are a thousand miles away. They see their children. Or wife. Or girlfriend. Or parents. Or home. Or all. There is momentary comfort in their thought, a fleeting hug of home, and then it disappears. And where joyous reuniting once stood vivid images of far away faces remain, like a sputtering movie reel against the backdrop of one’s fear and regret.
What does the shirtless soldier see? Death? The apocalypse? If it is God he seeks, shouldn’t death be salvation? Lord, kill this man. Bring him home. Cease the torture, stop his heart and open your pearly gates. The drawing of a naked woman on the ceiling stares silently back at me. The shirtless soldier has pressed both palms together and interlocked his fingers. Boom! Another rocket.
“It is not because of any sin wrong I have done…” A gust of sand rushes through the tunnel. Curse words are yelled by the men sitting near the exits. The soldier covers his mouth with his praying hands. I feel a warm sensation on my bare feet. He has peed himself. “nor because of any fault of mine, O Lord, that they hurry to their places.” A stale odor of iron emanates through clouds of sulfur. Hunched, the shirtless soldier looks like a question mark. Tears return to his eyes. Someone coughs and he flinches.
“Rise, Lord God Almighty, and come to my aid!”
My left hand leaves my lap and elevates rigidly in the shadows. I feel skin, an unfamiliar familiarity. It is the shoulder of the shirtless one. He twitches, but I don’t move my hand. His chin slowly rises from his chest. Two eyes, black and white, through the smog stare in my direction. I peer desperately toward him. If he was going to lash out at someone, this was the moment. I nod, half reassuringly, half searching for his gaze. A row of white teeth appear below his two eyes. Then, I feel skin and more skin.
The shirtless soldier has curled up next to me. My arm is draped over his shoulder, my left hand clenching his left hand. His body shivered in the night’s heat, bouncing with each stuttering breath. “We’re going to be alright.” The words left my mouth at a whisper. I didn’t know I was going to say it until I did. “Promise?” The shirtless soldier said into my chest. “Yes.”
I didn’t want to tell him, but I didn’t think God was going to rise. Ever.
Copyright © 2014 Alex Neely
Alex Neely has been published in The Bicycle Review, Danse Macabre du Jour and El Portal. Currently, Neely is a journalist for the United States Army. Over the past two years, he has covered events and written stories in the U.S., Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait and Kyrgyzstan. Neely was recognized for his journalistic efforts in the Middle East with seven Keith L. Ware Journalism Awards for outstanding achievement in news publications, digital communications, new media, writing and photography.