H. Jean-Baptiste

Ten Seconds Till Lights Out

We were fucked as soon as we drove off the objective. There were incoming radio calls during the entire raid claiming that groups of militia men were planting several homemade explosives all around the first leg of our outbound road path, and here we were simply riding off to our own graveyard. Slightly shook up from the thought of meeting the final big boom, I immediately took my helmet off, and looked up out the window of our truck in a hot fever. This was supposed to be my last night out in country. My flight back to the States was supposed to be only a Blackhawk ride and a couple days sitting pretty under the sun away back in Baghdad. But now that all seemed so far damn far away. I found myself trying to get up and move, chanting off in my head all those terrible French prayers I learned as a child in hopes that my mother would sense them back home. I had hoped that maybe somehow I would be exonerated for all the terrible things I’d done since being a kid. My team leader saw my beat state all over my face, got up in his seat, grabbed my shoulders, threw me back in my seat and to the new team guy who was driving he cried out the most unforgettable thing I ever heard in my whole life: “Drive FASTER ya goddamn monkey! We’ve only got a slim chance and if I’m going to die in this filthy piece of shit called a country then I’m going out like a real Midwest cowboy!” Part of me was a bit consoled by his brazen spirit, but the other part was just hoping that I actually remembered to revise my damn will months ago. Oh my mother would kill me if she knew I forgot to leave her the car and holy mother loving Mary, my grandma. But then the blood exploding throughout my constricting veins and the long drawn out words of remorse for every single unfortunate person I ever knew began to completely overwhelm me in my seat. And with the tightest grip on my rifle I had yet during the whole deployment I sat quietly in the back of that god-forsaken humvee. Heavily sweating, breathing, and waiting. That night there wasn’t enough Kodiak dip and aged whiskey in the world to relax my nerves. Out from up in the turret our gunner began to let out an unnerving chuckle and informed us that the bird soaring above had spotted out what looked like the first chain of booby traps. We were mere seconds away and I could feel the constant fighting of the tires trying to stay calm while on that sooty, jarring road. “Get me out of here, get me out of here,” I kept saying in my head. Of course I wasn’t going anywhere; not without that bunch of heedless fools and our Iraqi counterparts dragging behind us. We were set to see through whatever was intended to happen that morning, together, like we had always done.

Suddenly a loud boom went off and it was as if all radio communication between every vehicle in the convoy just died on the spot.

Time began to rock back and forth very slowly.
The ground was shaking and the truck jostled worse than ever.

I didn’t know how to explain it, but my ears stopped functioning. And for some reason I couldn’t help but laugh wildly as I snapped my helmet back on. I wiped off the pool of sweat pouring all down my face and wicked away a gentle tear that had strolled by for a visit and looked around that filthy truck as the dust of bold days covered in streams of hollering bounced and shook all over. And with a sweet smile I gazed at the men I had called family for months.

“I guess today’s a good day to die. Hell, might as well be the best.”

H. Jean-Baptiste

H. Jean-Baptiste is the son of Haitian immigrants, growing up in Miami, New York, Hawaii, and Augusta, GA. He enlisted in the Army when he was 18 years old, later joining the 5th Special Forces Group (A) as an Arabic Cryptologic Linguist. He did a tour in Iraq. He currently resides in Atlanta, GA, where he has written “ODEY – L.A.,” a short story, and “The Ogre,” a novelette.