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08 January 2015 @ 11:45 am
LJ Idol Season Nine: "In Enemy Territory"  
In Enemy Territory
idol season nine | week 32, #1 | 1064 words
Captcha the flag


It's Spring in 1968 when my number comes up. I knew my luck would run out someday, but the damn war's been going on for years now. Thought maybe there was a chance it'd finally end, or at least our part in it, but that hasn't happened yet. The draft's still legal and I'm still screwed.

After eight week of basic training—drills and conditioning and "Sir, yes sir" until you breathe it—we ship out to Vietnam. We're the grunts of the operation, the regular Army Infantry. Our brothers are already knee-deep in the Mekong Delta keeping the Viet Cong at bay. Our unit joins them.

The country is beautiful but treacherous. Thick jungles hide snares and enemy combatants, and the open areas leave you exposed. The native people could be working for either side of this war, or just trying to survive it, but the thing is, you don't know. You can't trust them too much, but if they're allies, you need them. They know the secret tunnels where the enemy hides, and they recognize Viet Cong sympathizers better than outsiders like us ever will.

There is no down-time in this war while you're on the front. A couple of minutes—even seconds—of inattention and you might get yourself or the men in your unit killed. The army tried to prepare us, but it was clear from day one that we didn't know shit about being soldiers. The reality of it, the danger in every step you take and three-sixty on the perimeter, just doesn't sink in until you're living it.

We move steadily, even at night, advancing our position while trying not to alert the enemy or set off trip-wires and land mines. It's hot and humid, and you ignore it along with the dirt and bugs and the days when it rains until your kit, rifle, and boots are soaked. You never stop scanning the ground, the trees, and the hills, for traps and hints of enemy activity. You listen so hard, your ears hum from the sound of your blood running through them. At night, when you're on watch, your eyes ache with trying to detect the movement of darkness against dark.

You won't really sleep, because you know an attack can come at any time from any direction—including underground—and you just can't let your guard down.

After a month in-country, we've lost two of our men to a landmine and a sniper. We've killed probably thirty enemy soldiers, and there've been a few civilian casualties we couldn't prevent. The kids are the hardest.

Our squadron is on the move, toward a village ten klicks from here. We're in farming country, where there isn't much concealment. Sergeant Helvik is on point, with eight of us behind and Smithson at the rear. We're all on edge today, every sound the sign of enemy movement, every glint of sunlight a weapon poised to fire.

Around the edge of a hut, Helvik stops, and motions us down and then over. We belly-crawl, slow and quiet until we can see what he's spotted: a Viet Cong unit in the fields up ahead, surrounding the region's only bridge.

We can go through them, or simply wait. An hour passes, but they're still in position. They may be stationed here, to keep patrol units and reinforcements from moving south. Helvik clears a spot in the earth to sketch out our attack. We'll engage the enemy in daylight, while we can still see.

There are nine enemy soldiers ahead, and probably a few more hidden nearby. Part of our boot camp training involved capture-the-flag exercises. Those were not just about sneaking up on the enemy or defending a valuable commodity or position. The lessons in using cover-fire to protect exposed soldiers were just as important.

We were about to enter a situation where that training applied.

The squad splits, half of us moving around to the other side of the hut and soldiers crawling out in an arc on both ends. This broadens our shooting position for the first salvo. On the Sergeant's signal, we fire at the Viet Cong, dropping all but one of them before an answering barrage comes from a tree to the east and from somewhere in the farmland to the west. Wily sons-of-bitches always have something up their sleeves.

Brightboy finishes off the final guy in the field, and Smithson, Pinky, and Hank fire grenades at the sniper's positions. Helvik, Jerome, Jimmy D, and I begin the run, rifles ready and sweeping in arcs as we go.

A crack rips through the air, and Jimmy D crumples next to me.


Jimmy D's gut-shot, and he's really hurting. I pull his arm up over my shoulder, and keep going, half-carrying him. Bullets are flying everywhere, hitting the dirt, clipping off pieces of grass. Helvik throws a grenade toward the field fire, and it finds its mark. There's a yell, and a shower of smoke and dirt.

We're just at the bridge when I get hit with a bullet, right in the chest. I drop Jimmy D and fall down myself, and then all hell breaks loose.

Jerome heaves me up over his shoulder and carries me across the bridge, and I hear gunfire and explosions coming from all directions. He moves us into a patch of tall grass and sets me down, and then he's gone again. Soon after, Helvik brings Jimmy D over, and things seem to be getting quieter.

Footsteps and voices gather in.

"Took those assholes out," Hank says.

Helvik radios out for Medevac. Jimmy D is in real pain, with Pinky leaning over him and trying to slow his bleeding. Brightboy's pushing down on my chest so hard I can barely breathe. "Hang in there, Rod," he says.

I hope Jimmy makes it—he's got a wife and kid back home. Nobody would much miss me, but Jimmy's got family. These are good men. We've held together pretty well over here. Apart from Jimmy and me, they're all still safe.

The world's going dark around the edges. There's a beating sound, helicopter blades or blood pulsing through my ears. You'd think being shot would hurt more, but I just feel numb.

The blackness that comes for me hums with my team's voices, and it smells like gunpowder and copper and the richness of dirt…


If you liked this story, you can vote for it along with many other fine entries here.

cindytsuki_no_bara on January 9th, 2015 04:36 am (UTC)
well that was a downer ending! altho i should've seen it coming. there's some very good tension, tho, and i really like the narrator's voice.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 9th, 2015 05:53 am (UTC)
The narrator is only losing consciousness here-- he might survive that injury. He certainly has a better chance than the other guy. :(

I'm glad you liked it overall, and that the narrator's voice worked for you!
(no subject) - tsuki_no_bara on January 9th, 2015 03:44 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - hosticle_fifer on January 13th, 2015 01:14 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on January 13th, 2015 07:21 pm (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - hosticle_fifer on January 13th, 2015 09:01 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Donnellejexia on January 9th, 2015 07:15 am (UTC)

Made me think of Chickenhawk.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 9th, 2015 07:21 am (UTC)
I'm not familiar with Chickenhawk. Is it a movie? A book?

(no subject) - jexia on January 9th, 2015 07:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - jexia on January 9th, 2015 07:22 am (UTC) (Expand)
(no subject) - halfshellvenus on January 11th, 2015 07:53 pm (UTC) (Expand)
bleodsweanbleodswean on January 9th, 2015 05:09 pm (UTC)
Great ending! I like how present your narrator is in this.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 9th, 2015 06:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I wanted to really make readers feel as if they were inside this themselves. It is much harder than most of us will ever imagine.
rayasorayaso on January 10th, 2015 09:08 pm (UTC)
This is different from you other entries, which is good, and must have been difficult to write. It is so well written!!! It is also courageous to submit a moody entry so late in the game. I loved "the world's going numb around the edges" -- a great phrase. It ties in so well with the prompt.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 11th, 2015 08:03 am (UTC)
I've really enjoyed branching out into different voices and genres over the course of Idol, and this was a type I hadn't done for any of the other seasons. I'm glad you liked it!
alycewilsonalycewilson on January 11th, 2015 12:24 am (UTC)
The use of details in here show that you did your homework. Even though it's depressing, I like hearing his final thoughts and the idea that the death wasn't painful.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 11th, 2015 08:07 am (UTC)
This one involved quite a bit of research, as you correctly guessed. From the "where" and the appropriate year (originally, I was shooting for '72, but that was much too late) down to the likely number of men in a roaming group like this and the effects of various gunshot wounds, there was a lot of fact-checking.

I had intended the ending to be more ambiguous that it apparently is, because I wanted readers to be unsure whether the narrator had died or simply lost consciousness. This "moment" is over, but not necessarily his life.

I'm glad you're still reading entries and keeping up on all this!
(no subject) - alycewilson on January 11th, 2015 12:59 pm (UTC) (Expand)
Laura, aka "Ro Arwen": Agent 99 - Anneroina_arwen on January 11th, 2015 05:57 am (UTC)
Very realistic and well written!
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 11th, 2015 08:08 am (UTC)
Thank you! With a genre like this, I wanted it to be really convincing.
i_17bingoi_17bingo on January 11th, 2015 06:52 am (UTC)
The native people could be working for either side of this war, or just trying to survive it, but the thing is, you don't know.

Pretty much all the vets I've talked to about the war say this very thing. It was like the jungle itself was out to get them and their allies.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 11th, 2015 08:14 am (UTC)
This one was "my" war-- the one that began before I was born and which overshadowed growing up so that I thought my brother and the boys I went to school with were sure to be drafted to die in it.

But one of the other key differences over previous wars was the terrain and the fact that you had locals on both sides of the war. All of those tunnels, caves, and spider holes in the jungle meant that the enemy could literally be anywhere and could be almost anybody. Guerilla warfare was also heavily used, and the result of all those things was a hypervigilance that was absolutely necessary to survive and really, really hard to shake after your tour was finished. The effect on veterans was just brutal, and current soldiers dealing with improvised IEDs everywhere are in much the same situation.
swirlsofblueswirlsofblue on January 11th, 2015 06:16 pm (UTC)
This paints a picture so vivid and gritty and stark and real, brilliant. And love that last line.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 11th, 2015 07:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much. That is exactly how I'd hoped it would strike readers. :)
crisp_sobrietycrisp_sobriety on January 12th, 2015 05:03 am (UTC)
Ouch, what a way to end! That last line is truly lovely.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 12th, 2015 08:04 pm (UTC)
Thank you! Whether or not it is truly the end for the narrator, he is not afraid and is without regret.
lriG rorriMlrig_rorrim on January 12th, 2015 03:42 pm (UTC)
You are so good at detail, especially in period pieces like this, but in this one it's really the emotions that make it - the tension, the frustration, the desperation. It's really, really well done.
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 12th, 2015 08:09 pm (UTC)
I'm glad the emotions came through, as well as the grit and tension. This is such a tough position for anyone to be in, so often going from difficult to overwhelming and back again in cycles. It's no wonder so many soldiers who survive find it so hard to escape the after-effects.
grunge on January 13th, 2015 12:19 am (UTC)
i enjoyed this so much the other day i just re-read it again before getting to commenting <3 so well written and such a great atmosphere *love*
The Coalition For Disturbing Metaphorshalfshellvenus on January 13th, 2015 04:45 am (UTC)
Thank you very much! This was a very different sort of piece for me, but I felt it was really worth writing for the prompt.