From Across the River (Flash Fiction)

The clouds sighed, and the rain fell with a heaviness into the river. The reeds bent their form under the weight of the water that made the surface boil with its drops. The river swelled and the clouds moved on with a weariness. When the rain slowed to a light tapping, the ambush from across the river began.

Heavy machine-gun fire echoed through the valley and the soldiers dropped for cover. Mortar screamed through the air and left their holes in the soggy ground. The marines dug in, shouted orders, and returned fire. Their enemy, well concealed within the tree line at the edge of the clearing, forced the assault.

A young man from Kentucky died that day. He was a kind man who was barely twenty years of age. He was one of the first to return fire when the fighting started. He quickly found a depression in the valley near the river that concealed his position and gave him solid cover. He sighted and shot. Without knowing, he saved the lives of two soldiers by killing a boy younger than himself who was beginning to throw a grenade.

A mortar fell from the heavy sky and created a permanent hole in his world. He was flung through the air like a doll, his M-16 no longer in his hand, his arm no longer attached to his body, and fell beside the river. The explosion deafened his ears and muted the chaos around him. He rolled and strained and looked through blurred eyes at the shallow water flowing around him. His virgin blood was streaming into brown water. The green reeds scratched at his neck and a small fish darted passed his combat boots.

He looked up and saw a glimpse of sun pierce through a hole in the sky. The light mixed with the water, and for a moment he thought he saw his younger brother standing before him on the other side of the river. He smiled at the boy with wispy blonde hair and deep tan. He felt the pinch of two rounds hitting his chest, but he never felt the pain.

The young man exhaled and exhaled and was unable to breathe in. He hunched forward and laid himself down gently beside the river. He blinked and his vision cleared, and he saw the heavy sky reaching down to the jungle below with wet fingers. The mountains to the east were dark with storm, but he could already feel the sun shining on his skin again. The storm had passed over at last. He found his final rest beside the river.

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