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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Chapter 5 - Running From the Dragon

Run away!   Run AWAY!!!

5 – Running (as if you could really get away from a pissed-off dragon)

            The creature swooped onward, receding quickly as it picked up altitude.  Within minutes – or was it seconds? – the thing was so far away that it appeared no bigger than a bird.  It could have simply been a distant aircraft beginning a slow turn.  Its shape was lost to distance and the fresh plumes of thick smoke.  Now that it was practically gone, it occurred to Jonathan that he could bring up his gun and start firing.  He could watch the tracer rounds arcing into the sky, and he could walk in the bullets to the creature’s distant hide.  Except that it was turning.  And with a sinking feeling that went to the pit of his stomach, he realized that the thing was coming back for another pass.
            We have to get out of here.  It was clear – it was his first clear thought of the day.  Higgins was on the ground with tears of blood pooling around his eyes – Jonathan reached under the sergeant’s head to grab hold of the carry-loop at the back of his body armor.
            “Open that basement!” he shouted back as he dragged Higgins across the floor.  He didn’t know who had heard, but it seemed that everyone understood.  The woman in black pointed down to the trapdoor, and a pair of teenagers were yanking up on the pull-rope as the fat man sat up to rub his head.
            “Ya Allah,” Hakim was saying, his voice barely audible over the rustle of men and women and children.  Oh my God, he was saying.
            Jonathan shoved the interpreter so hard that he nearly knocked the old man to the floor.  “Down the steps!” he shouted.  “Go down the fucking steps!”
            But there were no steps – it was a ladder.  And there was a rush of Iraqis trying to push in over the narrow opening.  The fat man was pushing up to his feet as Captain Hirsh was calling for everyone to “Calm down!  Calm down!”  For a second, Jonathan thought he’d be stuck forever outside that cellar.  And then the barrel of the two-four-nine clipped him hard on the knee, and he winced.  And that wince pissed him off.  There he was with Higgins bleeding, the convoy gone, and stupid tears over a bumped knee.  And here everyone was squabbling over a three-foot-by-three-foot gap in the floor tiles.
            After he fired a burst into the floor, everyone quieted.  “Anta, Anta, Anta!” he spat, pointing to the woman, the fat man, and their crawling children in turn.  You, you, you!  “Awlen!”  Go first!
            They didn’t need to be told twice.  The woman in black reached out, grabbed a boy by the shirt, and practically through him down the ladder.  Then she turned and, with Hakim’s help, muscled the fat man over the opening.  And it was all going just too damn slow – right up until the man disappeared down the hole.  Not a second later came the sickening pop of breaking bone, followed soon after with a burst of gruff epithets.
            Jonathan then shoved Hakim forward, pushing him down the hatch.  He glanced back just long enough to see that the dragon – that was a dragon, wasn’t it? – balanced just over the edge of its wing, getting ready to finish its turn and swoop back.
            Jonathan grabbed an Iraqi boy.  “Take his legs!” he shouted, pointing at Higgins’s legs.  The boy didn’t seem to understand, and Higgins didn’t seem to want the help.  He was already trying to scramble up, and he caught the boy in the chin with a flailing boot.  But by the then the sergeant was practically incoherent.  “Get them safe!” he was saying, talking much, much louder than he needed to.  But Jonathan wasn’t listening.  He grabbed the sergeant’s right leg and pulled it around to Hakim’s waiting grip.  Meanwhile, the woman in black took hold of the other shoulder – she and Jonathan bore most of the weight as Higgins struggled to break free.  With the carbine and the shotgun hanging off him by their straps, one hand clutched to his chest and the other one clawing out at everything around him, it was a wonder that he, too, didn’t fall through the hatch to break a leg.
            The other Iraqis, meanwhile, were shoving their way back through the obstacle course of clothing racks and shoe stands in the mad rush to the back of the building.  Jonathan looked back to the front of the shop, and there was the dragon.  The turn completed, it was gliding in for another pass, picking up speed and size with each second.  It had gone from sparrow to cruise missile.
            There was the man on the floor with the severed leg – he was stiff.  Then there was Captain Hirsh – he was already popping up tables onto their sides to be used as shields against the flame.  Could they save the man with the ruined leg?  Could they save the sobbing woman holding his head to her breast?  Jonathan slung the machine gun over his back and grabbed the woman by the arm.  He spat out the first Arabic word that came to mind.  Entering class, piling into their seats for Usted Mahmoud and that dreary lesson after lunch: “Ikra!  Ikra!”  Come in, come in!  And did she understand?  He couldn’t tell.  He grabbed up one of the injured man’s limp hands and tried to drag him, too, but he was too heavy – Jonathan couldn’t pull him and the protesting wife.
            But then he heard the trap door slam shut.  With the vest collar and his helmet slipping forward over his brow, he could barely make out the girl in black as she bolted the cellar door shut.
            Jonathan stopped.  He almost lost his grip on the guy with the broken leg – then the woman was swatting at him to let go of her arm.  But he had to get them into the cellar.  He had images of flame jetting into them, burning the skin and the fat from their bones.  They had to get in the cellar.  He tried to yell out to the girl, but no words came.  He was practically out of breath.  And how could she close the cellar door like that?  What the hell was she thinking?
            It was then she darted up away from the trapdoor and made her way toward the dragon.

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