Lance Corporal Christensen holds Pvt. Tzo's head together in his lap. There is blood everywhere. Nearby, a yellow street mongrel laps up the remains of a dead man. The dog, with that half-smile that dogs seem capable of, works his pink tongue like a squirming snake to clear his muzzle of gore. What he can't reach, the bits of flesh and blood that have splattered past his ears, the flies descend upon greedily.
I put on my cheap sunglasses, the ones I picked up from an Iraqi boy in exchange for a pack of cigarettes. I watch the dog. Third world street dogs all look the same to me. I was on leave in Bangkok once. The dogs looked like this one. I was backpacking in Brazil once, the roaming packs of vagabond canines could've been clones of the one here. Maybe small, yellowish-brownish dogs with fox-like ears are the ultimate evolution of dogs. Maybe they've always been around. I don't know.
I talked to Pvt. Tzo from my position above him in the gun turret last night. We were crossing Al Anbar in 5-ton trucks and HMVs. The sun had disappeared behind the dunes and the entire rolling landscape was crimson. It could've been the sea, and us, in battleships. Tzo talked about Laguna. He said that at the end of a long summer day he would sit on a cliff and look over the reservation and the desert looked the same as this one. I guess dogs and deserts are the same everywhere. Tzo said that sunsets were magical, when the sun bestowed a final benison on the earth and her people before darkness.
Burning cars and homes give off an evil black smoke. Grit and sand blow over mutilated corpses of children, women, and men. Twisted bodies lay still, riddled with bullets. Our bullets. I look up. The sun is up there, beyond the slow march of the clouds. I can make out the silhouette of its form. It is a pulsing eye. It is watching me. It speaks. It caresses me and in a clear, clam voice, tells me not to worry. I hear "There is no death here. Life is eternal. Your spirit will continue on." I watch a long, long time before looking down again.
Lance Corporal Christensen is weeping and won't stop. He gasps for breath between sobs. With my sunglasses on I go to help him up. I hold him for some time, until he stops crying. Then we carefully position Pvt. Tzo so his brains won't fall out. I radio for a medical team to come get the body, sit down and drink warm water from my canteen.
Joseph N. Cameron is a graduate of the MFA program in Creative Writing at UNLV. He lives out of his backpack while rooming in guesthouses in various Southeast Asian countries, all while trying to do that whole "be here now" thing. Whether he lives like this out of choice, or because it's all his MFA degree qualifies him for, we will never know. You can find his work (under various noms de plume) at flashquake, Shakespeare's Monkey Review, Thieves Jargon,3:AM Magazine, and other small press journals and ezines.