It was everywhere. Kicked up by boots, in the air, in his clothes, in his mouth.
Sand and dead grass, all around him. Sand and grass and the burning sun beating down.
People were yelling at him. He could hear them shouting but couldn’t hear any words.
He turned to see Valerie. Colonel Valerie Corbin of the 25th, shouting at him. He tried to shout back, tried to warn her. She couldn’t hear him. He reached out, trying to pull her down.
Bullets ripped through his CO, and she fell apart, vanishing into the sand.
He heard another shout, and turned to see little Jimmy Wilkens, the 25th’s youngest soldier.
He shut his eyes just as the bullets hit Jimmy.
He collapsed to the burning sand, throwing his hands over his ears and squeezing his eyes shut as, one after another, his regiment screamed, and was torn apart.
He could hear it all in the background, as if the carnage was unfolding on the far side of a heavy door.
He knew what was next, and he begged and pleaded with his own mind.
“Not her. Please not her. Not this time, please,” he whispered to the sand swirling around him.
He didn’t want to open his eyes, but he couldn’t help himself.
There she was, lying beside him in the sand.
Her scalp was shaved, he shoulders wide, her dress was a kaleidoscope of shape and color against her ebony skin. Her hands were limp, his mother’s ring still on her finger.
She was laid out on the sand. Left for the vultures.
He wanted to apologize to her. He wanted to curse her. He wanted to kiss her.
It wasn’t real. He knew it.
He’d never seen her body.
She’d been dead for a week by the time he caught up to Sinclair.
He couldn’t help but look though.
Real or not, she was his wife.
She opened her eyes.
Clouded, dead eyes stared at him.
He wanted to scream, but the sand rushed into his open mouth.
The sand, it was choking him.
Garrett bolted awake, slamming his forehead right into the underside of the upper bunk.
The thunk of his head on metal woke the man one bunk over, and the bloke from the top bunk poked his head over the side.
“You alright, Gar?”
Garrett smiled a big toothy grin as his massaged his forehead, “Roight as rain, mate, jus’ sa’ up too qwuick es oill.”
“You’re sure?” Lanka, the marine in the next bunk looked skeptical, “You’re sweating a bit.”
Garrett realized then that he was in fact soaked in sweat.
“You know, you moight be roight,” Garrett chuckled, “Moight be coming do’n with something. Think I’ll pop over ta the infirmary and talk to Doc Silva.”
“Gotta take care of yourself, O’Reilly,” Lanka mumbled, rolling over.
Garrett untwisted himself from his sheet and walked through the crew bunks to the head. He splashed a bit of cold water on his face, trying to rub the tired out of his eyes. He caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror and he stopped.
He stared at his own face for a bit.
He looked like death
He was pale, he had sweat right through his shirt, his eyes were bloodshot.
He shook himself, and started breathing deeply.
He didn’t think he’d had a night this bad in years. He hadn’t had this dream, or hadn’t remembered it upon waking, in a time long enough that he had thought maybe he was past it now.
He’d talked it through with the doctors, they’d given him little tips and tools to shake himself out of it. Remember it was a dream, remember that it didn’t happen that way, remember that none of it was his fault.
They didn’t usually help. He always knew it was a dream, even when it was happening, but it never seemed to help.
He’d never seen her body after the march across the Kalahari. She’d be dead more than a week before he’d caught up to Sinclair’s column.
Lord General Walter Scott Sinclair.
Garrett was going to kill that man one day, if there was any justice in the world.
He shook himself.
He needed to get to the infirmary.
When he arrived the doctor was writing up some report at her desk. She took one look at him and nodded. “Rough night, bombardier?”
“Jus need sumthin’ ta help me sleep Oi think, Doc,” said Garrett.
The doctor nodded, set pen and paper aside and opened a drawer of her desk, pulling out two glasses and a large brown bottle.
Garrett frowned. “Don’ moind if Oi…”
“This isn’t for you,” Silva took one of the glasses and reached behind her to a small faucet, filling it up with water. She set the glass down in front of Garrett, “Drink.”
Garrett sighed, but reached out and took the glass anyway, while Doctor Silva poured herself a glass of milky white liquid from the bottle.
“Salud,” Silva said, raising her glass.
Garrett raised his glass with her and sipped his water. Silva gulped from her frothy glass, setting it back on the table and pouring again from the bottle.
“When was the last time you drank water?” she asked.
“Dun generally touch da stuff,” Garrett chuckled.
Silva nodded, “Last time you bathed?”
“Aaah…ta otha day?” Garrett admitted. Water rations were by no means restrictive on a ship like this, but you fell into habits of using as little as you could after so many years in the service. Hadn’t been a hard adjustment for Garrett, after previous assignments in the Kalahari before joining the Airborne Division. He caught himself clenching his fists.
“Last time you ate?”
“W’as dis about, doc?” Garrett said, exasperated.
“Just a checklist,” Silva said as she finished gulping her third glass, “Do you play cards?”
“Sho, doc, but…”
“I’d like you to come by at least twice a week to play,” Silva opened a new drawer, placing a pack of playing cards on the table.
“Doc, wat da shite?” Garrett said, crossing his arms.
“You’ve been having nightmares.”
“How’d ya know dat?” Garrett asked.
“Excessive sweat, bloodshot eyes, and that red mark on your forehead. I imagine that will be a nice sized bruise come morning,” Silva started shuffling, “It’s not hard to guess what’s happening.”
“So wat ya asking ‘bout playin’ cards fur?” Garrett asked, “Ya gettin’ bored up ‘ere?”
“A bit, but no, that’s not why,” She dealt him a hand of cards, “If you have a nightmare again, I want you to drink a glass of water, eat something, bath, and if that doesn’t help come up here to the infirmary and play a hand.”
Garrett raised an eyebrow.
“Trust me,” Silva said, “I’ll bet you five pounds you’ll start to feel at least a bit better. Speaking of which, it’s your bet.”