Whalen continues to look worried. I'll wake Lieutenant Ellison, then, he says.
Nope. Let him sleep as well. He had the last watch.
Lieutenant Frobenius, he says: I don't know about this. C'mon, First Sarn't. We can handle this.
Whalen leaves, and I make my way back to the ANA position. As I pass Folsom and Mitchell, I peer out at the swirling murk. I can't see the concertina wire at all, and when I turn my head and run my eyes down the Hescos, I can hardly make out the guard tower. There's something wrong. I can sense it.
I hear a whimper behind me and turn around. Shorty, the platoon's adopted year-old pup, nuzzles my leg, his tail between his legs.
Shorty's a misnomer: he's already massive, a cross between a mastiff and some kind of Afghan hound. I can't imagine how big he's going to be full-grown. I bend down and pat him. His bushy coat is matted with sand and dust. He whimpers again, then growls, showing his fangs. He's pointing at the wire perimeter, tail held ramrod straight behind him hound-dog fashion. I feel the hairs on the back of my neck prick up. He growls again and begins to bark nonstop. There's something going on out there all right.
Whalen rejoins me. He's panting. I can't believe how quickly he's made it back. Grohl and Spitz are on their way, and Sergeant Tanner's at the ECP, he says rapidly. I glimpse the whites of his eyes flash behind his bandana. I can tell he's worried. We begin running toward the ANA position. The dog paces alongside, then darts out ahead of us into the maw of the storm. We hear him barking wildly.
The ANA turn and watch us approach. They don't move until we're standing right before them. See anything? Whalen says jerkily, pantomiming the question as he gestures toward the perimeter. Fazal Ahmed removes his face cloth. He looks disgusted. His two companions do the same and stand by with surly expressions. None of them answers Whalen.
A wave of irritation invades me, and I seize Fazal Ahmed's arm and draw him to me so roughly that the others begin to protest. Fazal Ahmed resists, his eyes filling with rage and pain. He continues to remain stubbornly silent, and suddenly he jerks and falls against my shoulder. I hear one of the others shout as I attempt to prop him back up - then let go of him abruptly. His helmet slaps off his head with a neat hole drilled through the back. Bits and pieces of brain slop down the collar of his tunic. The other two ANA swivel in tandem and gawk in the direction of the wire. Initially all I see in the brown darkness is a single muzzle flash. Then a fan of red tracers begins arcing through the haze. Grohl and Spitz come running up just as a turbaned silhouette darts through an inexplicable gap in the wire.
Whalen hollers: TAKE COVER! WE'RE BEING BREACHED!
He dives behind the sandbag walls that surround the ANA's position. Something shrieks over our heads and detonates against a B-hut: it's an 88 mm round. The two remaining ANA are still standing in plain view as if frozen. Then the enemy opens up from about fifty meters away. I hear AK-47 rounds and rocket-propelled grenades. The ANA finally hit the ground and begin crawling toward their machine gun, but Grohl and Spitz beat them to it. We begin returning fire while enemy bullets rake up the Hescos all around us. There are others taking up position beside me. Most of them are in gym shorts and flip-flops: they must have come pelting out from their cots. Someone detonates the Claymores, and they engulf the man in the turban. As he disappears in an explosion of dust and smoke, Pfc. Jackson begins firing meaty M-203 rounds: good man; it's the perfect antidote for an attack under these conditions. From the guard tower, Espinosa goes cyclic with an Mk-19 belt-fed automatic launcher grenade - firing without stopping. Almost immediately I hear the retaliatory crump of a rocket-propelled grenade, and the guard tower buckles and disappears in a black pall. That RPG came from a different direction from the ones up front pinning us down. We've been taking fire from the north and the west and now someone else begins firing RPG rounds from the east. I replay Whalen's nightmare scenario in my head: we're surrounded. And we can't retaliate effectively. We're all firing blind.
Excerpted from The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. Copyright © 2012 by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya. Excerpted by permission of Hogarth Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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