The Forgotten Round

By Brad Fisher

Some memories are like a warm blanket, and every now and then, you think back and wrap up in its warmth. Then, there are the others. The dark memories. The memories that stalk you like daemons in the night. You'll lay there in bed, falling into a peaceful sleep, when the shadowy hand reaches up and snatches you into the hell you want to forget.

Hell was what it felt like that afternoon. It was just after 1300 on July 26, 2005. It was so hot I felt like a piece of bread in a toaster, turning black and smoldering from neglect from those that put me there. We just rolled back onto base after a twelve-hour patrol playing bullet magnet. Every time I blinked, it felt like sandpaper scrapping another layer off my eyes. All I wanted to do was take a shower and wash the stink, sand, and salt off my body; then crash in my bunk. We were so close. All we had to do was to clear our weapons and park our trucks, the same way we did a hundred times already in the six months we were there.

I pushed open the back door of the Humvee and dragged my tired bones over to the clearing barrel. The barrel was nothing more than a 55-gallon drum with six inch round hole cut in the top, filled halfway with sand, and painted red. The idea is, if you messed up and accidently shot of a round, the bullet would sink in the sand. Yesterday, Lt Burke caught several of us clearing our M-4s near the barrel, not in it. Yesterday was a lecture, and today he was going to bore us with a demonstration.

“Everyone, gather around,” Lt Burke said, as he walked up to one of the three clearing barrels. His single gold bar stitched into his collar looked like a stick of butter that refused to melt in the unrelenting heat. We gathered in a semi-circle around the Lt., just wanting to get it over with and go inside.

“Since you seemed to have forgotten how to properly utilize the clearing barrel, I'm going to demonstrate it for you.” Lt. Burke pulled out his pistol from his leg holster and placed the barrel of the gun in the opening of the drum. “You put the barrel of the weapon inside the drum, not near it or next to it, and clear the weapon.” Lt. Burke looked at us as he talked, and pulled back the slide, ejecting a round, and then dropping the magazine.

At the time, I remember being so tired. So hot. I wasn't really paying attention, but I noticed something wrong. It just took my fatigued brain too long to figure out what the problem was. I remember Lt. Burke declaring, “My weapon is now clear and safe.”

For some reason beyond my grasp, Lt. Burke felt the need to prove that his weapon was indeed clear. Instead of leaving the pistol in the clearing barrel, he withdrew the gun and leveled it at Cooper, a 19-year-old private, who stood on my left. It was in that instant. That split second, I realize what was wrong, but I was too late. It happened too fast.

At night, when the daemons pull me back into that Hell, I can still hear the echo of that shot. I can still feel the sticky splatter, taste the coppery drops that landed on my lips, and smell the cordite as it rolled out of that pistol. I never saw Lt. Burke again, but I heard rumors. I heard that he was charged with murder, but pled down and convicted of manslaughter. I even heard that he ate a pistol himself.

At night, when I lay down to sleep, I remember, and wish I could forget.

This story is based on second-hand eyewitness accounts. While the event is believed to be true, the majority of this story is fiction.

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