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  • Dead Right There
  • Aaron Gwyn (bio)

The Sons of Cain were gone. The Sons of Cain didn’t exist anymore. I watched the detachment go up in an IED south of Ramadi, our five-ton Humvees leaping in the air, the taste of metal on the back of my tongue. Stallings and Pearson. Ratchet-man and Lipsky. Captain Pollock who had a lisp and a stutter, but could still put the holy terror in the hajjis whenever we dropped a house. Griggs and the Cannibal. Warrant Officer Jenkins. D-Rock with the Big Cock, best team sergeant in Third Group. The bad guys detonated on our convoy and blew us to the clouds, eight out of thirteen of us DRT. It’s not the kind of thing you’re supposed to say about your own guys, but Camden kept saying it over and over. I pulled him to the side of the road by the drag handles on his vest. I turned back toward our smoking Humvee when he caught hold of my arm. His face was black with soot and I saw he was missing his top row of teeth. There was a bright fringe of blood on his lips and his pupils pointed in different directions.

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“DRT,” he told me. “DRT.”

I tried to pull away, but he held on. Then his grip started to slacken, and a rattling noise came from deep in his throat, more metallic than man. He exhaled a long breath in my face, and then he went very still.

A gray steam rose from his uniform. He smelled like grilling meat. I began to murmur kaddish, then went staggering back to our vehicle to look for our communications sergeant, Stacks. I guess that’s what I was doing. Everything had gone sort of scrambled. My ears rang for three weeks and my entire body had the [End Page 116] jangled sensation you get when you knock your elbow against a wall. There were fine grains of sand blasted under the glass of my watch. It was a Luminox Blackout, waterproof to 200 meters, and the grains of sand sparkled like diamonds. I looked up and saw Littlejack still sitting behind the wheel of our Humvee. I opened my mouth to speak to him when rounds started cooking off in the ammo box of the machine gun mounted on the vehicle’s right door. I dropped down and went prone in the dirt. Ditto was back in the rear Humvee, standing up in the gun turret behind the .50, standing on one leg because the other was a crushed sack of bone. He thought we were taking fire, so he began strafing the desert berms. We weren’t taking fire. Some fuck-knuckle had just daisy-chained three 155mm artillery rounds, waited until we were in the kill box, and then sent us to heaven. He might have been half a mile away, watching it all through binoculars. The .50 jammed, and things went suddenly quiet, and I turned to see Posner stumbling in circles, pouring a bottle of Aquafina in his face, saying, “I can’t see anything, Bix. Bix, I can’t see.” Shrapnel had severed the optic nerve of one eye and split the cornea of the other. He’d never see anything again.

I located Stacks, who looked fine on the outside, but we’d later discover the blast had ruptured his liver and spleen, and he died on the operating table at Camp Liberty. Ditto died a month later at Ramstein Air Base from infection, Josh the next year in a hotel room in Fayetteville. His injuries had sidelined his career in SF, and he put his .45 in his mouth and pulled the trigger.

My only injuries were hearing loss and a strain in my lower back from dragging Camden, all 230 pounds of him, plus gear. We’d been one of the most effective counterinsurgency teams in the Sandbox. ODA-3315, the Sons of Cain. Right Arm of the Apocalypse. The Airborne of Armageddon. And with the exception of me and Littlejack, we...


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pp. 116-125
Launched on MUSE
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