Soto dropped his helmet to the ground and let go a soft sigh. Sunburned skin freckled with dirt and sweat with dark circles where two soft blue eyes set peered out over the dark valley before him. His position atop his observation post granted him a view of the miles long dark Afghanistan valley floor where only hours before, his squad had been under fire for hours in a complex enemy ambush. Screams of anger and rage had reverberated off the valley walls while machine gun fire ripped through the sounds of the flowing waters of the river that flowed through their patrol area within the valley floor. Soto was fast on the radio calling back to base to get artillery on the Taliban fighters nestled high atop the mountains on both sides of his squad that rained down enemy fire upon them. When it had it was over and the birds had air lifted the casualties out, Soto had lost two men; an experience he’d never wanted to face.
His eyes looked down upon the silver shadowed villages below them where the moon kissed the green grassy plateaus that ebbed in a descending manner towards the river in the center of the valley. Below them, the villagers were in their huts cooking and carrying on as if nothing had happened. This was their day to day. This was their life. Soto looked off to his right in the mud hut that sat atop their OP where the remainder of his men had bed down for the night. He’d taken first shift of watch. Truth be told, he couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t do anything in front of them being he’d had to remain strong for them. A good leader couldn’t allow himself to be weak when his men needed him strong, but now, now he was alone.
He broke. Falling to his knees, his face went into his dirt stained hands as tears flowed between the creases of his fingers as he did his best to keep his voice from letting out the screams of anger filled pain he’d wanted so badly to release into the ether; a way of mourning his fallen brothers. His shoulders shook in the silver night as drops of his emotions hit the sandy ground. He was a man hurting inside for what he couldn’t prevent happening. Their blood. God, all of that blood. So much blood. Soto saw the look in in their eyes as they lay there beside him, both already knowing their fate without the medic having to tell them. The RPG had put shrapnel through their legs and shredded their arteries. They bled out before his eyes as he stood on watching the medic do his best. Tourniquets fastened tightly round their upper legs as below them was stained a crimson red. “Stay……with me…” the younger of the two had called out to Soto, eyes half lidded as his life drained from his body. “P..please…..stay with…” and then his eyes closed.
Soto shook in his hands as scene after scene showed in the theater of his mind’s eye. He’d needed to let himself experience this and get it out. Holding it in wouldn’t do him any good, yet he couldn’t do it in front of the men. “Soto” he’d heard whispered out to him, his head jerking up as he was quick to use his sleeves to wipe away the quickly vanishing memories. “What?” He blinked and stood, peering back towards the mud hut, thinking it was one of his men. His eyes darted around but saw nothing but the sandy mountain top they were atop cast in the moons silver glow. Turning back around towards the valley, he saw it. Something soft yet vivid to him. His mouth hung partly open as both eyes squinted to see what it was.
When she’d showed herself, his face must have shown such confusion that the woman standing before him in white robes smiled down at him. She smiled down at him for she floated mere inches above him. “I….” He went to speak, but found no words to let slip from this…this…dream he was seeing? “Stay with me.” She spoke softly out to him. He slowly shook his head in disbelief. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t be her. She’d been killed in a car crash three years ago, his fiancé, yet there she stood before him shrouded in a soft white aura. Soto felt his heart breaking at the sight of her vision that seemed to be so real to him. “Kim.” He whispered out to her through the short space between them. Her lips curved ever so slightly upward as if him recognizing her brought a sense of happiness to her.
Her arm outstretch and hand reached out as if to touch him. He unsung his rifle and let it drop to the ground as he walked towards her, tears now continuing their downward journey over his his cheeks to flow down his throat. “I’ve missed you so much” he choked out as he leaned into her hand that tenderly touched his cheek. Her gaze downward at him pierced his heart. “Please…” he whispered out. “Please don’t leave me.” His eyes closed as he leaned into her hand and drew in her scent; that perfume she’d worn that filled his mind with memories of their closeness was too much. He’d let loose everything he was feeling into her hand and began to sob. “I can’t do this anymore.” He other hand came round to the back of his head and lightly pushed her soft fingers up through his hair that was matted with sweat and sand. “Don’t leave me” she whispered out again.
There, atop a mountain in a war torn land, two lovers of past and present stood transcending time; the soldier and the angel. With his eyes closed, he didn’t speak, he only basked in her presence. He’d felt something in his heart stir. Something wasn’t right. Pulling his face back from her chest where it had rested, he peered up at her. She was slowly beginning to vanish. “No Kim, please. Please, I can’t do this. I need you here.” She’d begun to release him and back away slowly; her soft brown eyes gazing intently at him as she’d smiled and gave him an ever so slight nod as if she’d known what was to happen next. Soto tried to step forward to close the space between them and take her back into his arms but he couldn’t move; he was frozen in place.
“No. Kim, please!” He begged out to her, pleading as a child would its mother fearing being left to the world. “Stay with me.” She whispered out again to him. Her figure began to float slightly upwards as her appearance slowly began to fade and blend with he silver moon beams that pierced the clouds above and basked his mountain top in their blessed heaven sent color. Soto felt the tears returning as his body shook from a surge of hundreds of emotions; none of which he could understand or even name. “Please…” He whispered out into the nothingness that now surrounded him. She was gone. “Stay with me.” He heard her voice say one last time as it surrounded him and filled his mind. “Stay with..” and suddenly the entire world went white and he was gone from the mountain top and his Kim.
The sergeant’s head ducked down as dirt flew over it following an explosion that rocked the small makeshift fighting position the sun beat down upon mercilessly. “Put some fire on that fucking RPG position!” Other soldiers complied and within moments the air was filled with the repeating sounds of friendly machine gun fire. “God damn it, stay with me!” Screamed someone from behind the sergeant. He turned back to see his medic kneeling over a man laying on his back, blood pooling around the back of his head. “C’mon, stay with me!” The sergeant sighed and in a hunched over fashion, moved to the medics side and placed a hand on his shoulder. “He’d gone, doc. Move on. Others need your help.”
The medic angrily threw the bloodied bandage and let out a string of words, but he complied and moved on to the next casualty. The sergeant didn’t recognize the man. They’d been on two different convoys that had been hit and they’d been forced to work together to fight through this ambush. Reaching down, he looked into the man’s soft blue eyes. His hand went to the man’s neck and grabbed the silver chain his dog tags were attached to. Ripping them off, he looked down to read the name; a thumb wiping away the mixture of blood and dirt that caked it. “Soto, Josh.” The name meant nothing to him. He pocketed the tags as enemy rounds impacted on their position, forcing him to return to reality and run back to his fighting position.
Author’s note: I’d remembered this story from being atop that mountain after a bad day. I was my shift for watch and I remember peering up at the moon above and thinking how beautiful this valley was, yet how incredibly deadly. It was the combination of life and death. I remember the image of that mysterious woman (I’d known her from afar and had always imagined her during difficult times) and she’d came to me to comfort me. I Never told her.