Phantoms in The Brain

Bullets struck the wall Benson was pushed up against. He pulled his body in tighter and gritted his teeth. A moment of silence followed and then Benson had spun around the corner, crouched on one knee, rifle braced against his shoulder as he returned fire.

Three houses down the street he could just make out a foot poking around the edge of a building. Dirt kicked up where his shots buried themselves in the ground, but the boot had gone. He ducked back again and glanced across the dusty road to where his sergeant was firing at the same place. Sparing only a brief look, his commanding officer signalled to Benson. The Private broke cover, keeping close to the front of the brown stone building as he ran.

The doorway of the house came up on him quickly and the darkness of the interior triggered a change in the filtering on his shades. He barely noticed the drop in temperature as he scanned the room with his weapon. Behind him the thuds of Gibson and Katz’s boots were just audible over the continuing fire that rattled down the street.

There was silence for a few seconds then shells began cascading to the floor as Gibson offered cover to those across the way. Benson counted how many buildings they had left to go. Two and they’d have dealt with this group. Another three to the crossroads, then one more block and they’d be at the central building the insurgents were using as a base.

Silence again and then Gibson was out the doorway, Benson and Katz followed.

Half a meter from the next corner Katz tripped. Benson barely avoided stepping on him. Pieces of brick stung his face. It was all he needed to tell him why his comrade was down. Gibson started to return fire from the cover he had reached. Benson flicked his weapon out of the way, stepped over his friend’s body and grabbed under his arms. Katz, gear and all, was heavy. The seconds it took to get him out of the street felt like an eternity.

The wound was obvious as he turned Katz over; blood had soaked through one shoulder and arm of his jacket. His friend was still conscious, but in pain. One hand on the wound, the other instinctively pressed the ear piece hard in place.

“Med required. Katz down.” He didn’t need to shout, the throat mike would pick his voice up.

“Location confirmed. Shield team in five.” A shrill voice cut through the surrounding cacophony.

Gibson stopped firing and turned to look at them. Benson signalled to him to go ahead. As the next burst of covering fire streamed out from across the road the soldier was gone.

The sounds of fighting moved further down the street and Benson let his body settle on the ground. He looked down at Katz.

“How you doing?”

His friend smiled back through gritted teeth and changed the subject. “What about your legs?”

Benson pulled up one sand coloured trouser. He tapped the exposed metal.

“Doing just fine. Shiny as the day they fitted them. If you’re lucky they’ll give you a new arm.”

Their laughter was lost in another round of gun fire.

***

The beep of the heart monitor brought Dr Philips’ attention back to the patient: his son’s report card had been playing on his mind.

He looked across the bed at his fellow surgeon. “What do you think?”

Dr Reynolds finished making notes on the screen in his hand. “Assimilated fine. We can fit him in tomorrow, ahead of schedule.”

“Good.” Phillips straightened his white coat. “Let’s go see the other one. He didn’t look so good when I called by this morning.”

The two doctors closed the door behind them leaving Private Benson, obscured as he was by the large metal cowl over his head, alone in the room. Under the white covers of the bed the stumps of his legs twitched.

—————

31 July 2009:
As the latest offensive in Afghanistan comes to an end many soldiers have lost limbs during the fighting. Some wish only to return to duty, if they can.

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