THE    BURNING


THE BURNING is a short story
about war, recovery, and learning just
how far one can fall.

Ezra Hayes is a print journalist, sent into Iraq for an exposé. There he gets much closer to the action than he ever intended, and upon returning home his true battle begins.
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I say it to myself again and again.

“I am not a soldier. I am not a soldier. I am not a soldier.”

The sounds and syllables roll off my tongue until I don’t know what I’m saying. I don’t know who I am.

But I keep saying it.

And as the drugs wear off, I say it louder. I don’t know who faces are. I don’t know what sounds mean.

I say the words, even though they’re meaningless. Even though I don’t believe them anymore.

I no longer understand social interactions, or why people are afraid of me.

All I know is that I wish I had let the pale light take me.

***


They told me I would see a white light. They told me I would experience an overwhelming sense of calm. Like you don't have to fight anymore, like it’s ok to just relax, and fall into the deepest sleep you could ever imagine.

I keep wondering when that calm is going to start, or when that white light will squeeze through the pale, cement ceiling above me. As I lay on the floor, I keep waiting for the gunshots, and smoke, and frenzied screams to melt into quiet.

I look at Jim to my left, my producer- dead for 20 minutes, eyes still wide open. Donalds, the platoon idiot, is firing at nothing, hoping for some lucky shot to hit a sniper 200 yards out. His expended shells rain down on me like burning acid droplets.

Another big pop from the same rifle that smacked into my vest, and I see the wall above me erupt in a tan mist. Donalds hits the deck, the butt of his weapon landing on my wounded torso- I hate that idiot.

Here I am, giving my life, and he doesn't even have the courtesy to move around my body. He doesn’t have the good sense to aim before he fires at the asshole who killed me. In fact, he probably isn’t even going to pull me out, I’m sure he’ll leave me for the Iraqis to mutilate and defile. I’ll be some Youtube clip that gets 30 seconds on Al Jazeera- at least I’ll finally be part of a worthwhile story.

But … … … I’m not dying.

I’m severely wounded, I’m spitting up blood and making deals with God. But I’m not going to die. Not here, not on this dirty floor for the sake of a 5,000 word exposé. An RPG blast comes from somewhere and shakes the walls. Twin AK-47s tear up the exterior of the building. Scattered Arab shouts and cries fill the dusty air. I can’t move to see what’s going on- I’m only able to look up at that pale, cement ceiling as I force in shallow breaths. I hear the CO shouting out commands. It’s not words that come out of her mouth, it’s gobs, hollow noises that bounce around in my head.

But I’m not going to die.

The pop of the rifle again.

I’m not going to die.

The sound of a chinook helicopter in the distance.

I’m not going to die.

An M-240, splitting the air with suppressing fire.

I’m not going to die.

Then there it is… the white light. Just like it was described, appearing out of the air itself without origin or logic.

I’m not going to die.

For some reason the light makes me think of Jen. Helping me edit my first big story. Our first kiss in the copy room during an all-nighter. I think of her touch, her smile, the feel of her warmth against me, and the last thing she said before I got on the plane, "I'll always love you, Ezra..."

I’m not going to die.

Another RPG shakes the ground. A shock wave punches through my body as smoke and specks of debris filter in through the blown out windows.

I’m not going to die.

The calming sensation washes over me. Despite the chaos and the screams, I feel peace somehow. No more urge to run, or hide, or survive. And I’m not afraid anymore.

I’m not going to die.

Scattered gun fire freckles the back wall, but with the sleep tugging at my eyelids, I no longer care.

I’m not going to die.

The calm, and the sleep, and the white light all come gently, and everything fades away. The screams. The pain. The bloody floor. Thoughts of Jen. Until there’s nothing. Absolutely nothing.

But I’m not going to die.



I’m not going to die.



I’m not going to die.



I’m not going to die.



I’m not going to die.



I’m not going to die.



I'M! NOT! GOI-



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