Jenny hated getting mud on her clothes. Sand, a little dust and even grass clippings were tolerated but Jenny had a particular hatred of mud. The man me below is covered in mud, a thick dark brown mud. The mud is worked into his uniform. It is splattered on his face along with his own blood and saliva. Jenny would not have approved. The man below me is not Jenny. He is a soldier. His face is pale and ashen. He is a Warrior on the verge of dying. He looks up at me and attempts a smile, “Hey doc, how’s it going?” he asks.

The Warrior is hurt bad, real bad. Most of his right arm is gone. I find myself hoping he’s a lefty. It doesn’t matter though as chances are he won’t make it. One foot is turned ninety degrees the wrong direction and the knee on the other leg is pulverized. God knows what else might be wrong. Spine. Neck. Guts. The Warrior is a dead man.

He closes his eyes. The smile remains. I give him a dose of morphine. His eyes open the smile slightly broadens. “Did we get any of them?” he asks me. I didn’t know. How the fuck should I know? I am not a Warrior. I am barely a qualified medic. I am not even in the military. Don’t say it out loud.

“Yeah, a fuck-ton of them,” I say instead.

The man on the ground coughs. He coughs up blood and spit. The blood bubbles at the corners of his mouth. Punctured lung or lungs. Add that to the list of wounds. The Warrior spits again. His breathing is labored. He turns his head away as I work on his arm. He will bleed out soon if I don’t get it under control. I dowse the wound with saline to get a better idea of what I am dealing with. The Warrior doesn’t move. Is he dead? No. He turns his face back towards me.

“Doc, they are so hard to see. They look like you and me. I think I took out a few kids by mistake, I am not sure. My mom is going to be so mad at me. What the hell am I supposed to do when everyone looks like one of them? Huh? What can any of us do? They just keep bringing the fight and our leaders keep telling us to Find, Fix and Finish them. What the hell does that mean anyway? They are not like you and me. They don’t seem to care. They just keep coming after us. They smell real…” the Warrior stops. He wheezes. His body is still.

He died in mid-sentence, his face perfectly still. He looks straight up at the cool grey sky. The rain floats down like snowflakes on a windless day. I hadn’t noticed the tears on his cheeks. Or is it rain? “Doc,” he says. Shit!I pissed myself a little. “Yeah?” I try to whisper.

He’s alive?

“You got family?” he asks.

“Not anymore” I say, sinking into the mud beside my warrior. Jenny would not have approved at all.

“What happened?” he asks, looking me straight in the eye as if I am the wounded one.

“Bomb,” I say.

“Sorry man,” he says.

“You?”

“Four brothers and three sisters,” he says, his chest rising.

Persona Non Grata Preview: OGA ops in Afghanistan

Read Next: Persona Non Grata Preview: OGA ops in Afghanistan

His punctured lungs! I open the Warrior’s shirt after removing his gear. He has a half dozen pinky sized entry wounds. It is anybody’s guess as to which one is the culprit. I shove my hand under him. No exit wounds. No pool of blood. I dig around in the most obvious wounds in his chest with my finger. The Warrior groans a little. I didn’t give him much morphine. He is in shock, tough as nails or super sensitive to the drug, either way he is still alive and I am not sure how.

The Warrior had fallen near a red brick wall or what was left of it. The wall is jagged and uneven at the top. At its highest it is thirteen or fourteen inches tall. It’s not much cover and I figure we will be spotted soon. The sounds of the battle had been muted by my focus on the Warrior. The sounds come back like the volume of a stereo being turned up slowly. The sounds are in the distance now. Gunfire. Explosions. Mayhem. I do what I can for the soldier’s chest wound. He seems calm, too calm. He should not be able to talk so clearly. He should not be so responsive.

“Mom and Pop too,” the Warrior says.

“What? Oh yeah, good for you,” I say distracted moving to the Warrior’s legs.

“My dad is a real ass kicker. Used to make us boys wrestle each other while he hit us with a two by four. “Helps with focus,” he would say. I guess it did. We went to some real rough places to wrestle like Detroit… and Flint. I got hit in the head with a bottle as I did a takedown. Won the match and got thirteen stitches as proof. You ever been to Detroit?” the Warrior asked beaming.

“Not before they took it over,” I say.

“You been there since it fell apart?” the Warrior sucks hard to get the words out.

“Yeah, all medics, snipers; EOD and Comm-Os have to do a tour there.” I say working on the Warrior’s knee. Clean. Sterilize. Bandage. Something like that.

“Did you get a look at them up there?” the Warrior asks still beaming.

“No, not really,” I say with false finality.

This is a subject I don’t want to talk about. I am not supposed to be here. I wasn’t supposed to have gone to Detroit or Pittsburgh or Buffalo during the winter. I had no interest in being anywhere near the bastards. I just wanted to be a doctor; to be a pediatrician. I don’t want to be sitting in the mud next to some adrenaline junkie dying from his wounds. Hearing stories about his fucked up, abusive dad. I just want this to all be over. I want Jenny. I want them all back.

“Hey Doc, you look like I feel,” the Warrior says.

“I … did get a look once,” I say, wiping my face dry. The rain had stopped.

“So, tell me about it,” the Warrior looks like he’s ten, eyes wide and ready to hear another chapter of Jules Verne’s, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

“It wasn’t much of a look really, but it was a look. I was holed up in a building on the second floor. Not sure where exactly. It was a big street, that’s what I remember and I could see downtown in the distance. He came out of nowhere. He started digging into the asphalt near the curb in front of a convenience store. I’ve never seen anyone dig through asphalt so easily. He planted a bomb then packed it all back in and sealed up the asphalt. It looked good as new when he was done. I couldn’t really make him out that well. I think he hid and waited for the next convoy to come by and when it did, the bomb went off. He came out on the street and killed everyone… everyone who wasn’t dead from the bomb blast.”

“Woo, woo. Hold on man. Why didn’t you radio it in?” the Warrior croaks at me.

“Cause we don’t carry radios, just beacons,” I say.

“Ah fuck man, that’s right. I am sorry. Go on man,” the Warrior says looking a little deflated.

“That’s pretty much it. He collected what he needed the way they always do and moved on,” I say.

“What’d he look like, yah know, can you describe him? I hear they look different on their own turf. Not so much like us,” the Warrior prods.

“Yeah they do, kind of. I can’t really… I guess he was tall and skinny. He had big forearms. I mean big enough for me to see from a block away. But, it was cold and it could have been jacket sleeves pulled up, I don’t know,” I say, getting tired of talking.

“It’s weird he didn’t know you were there,” The Warrior says.

“Yeah.”

The Warrior looks away again. I do too. He’s in pain and tired of listening. It has gotten real quiet; quiet all around us. It has been that way for some time. I look back at the warrior and he’s still turned away. Is he going to die this time? I check his arm bandage. The chest patch seems to be working. Knee’s bandaged.

The other holes in his abdomen are shallow and of no real concern. Blood has settled in around his foot, not much I can do about that. Still, I have to check it. Do a complete survey. His blown arm is covered in mud again but it looks like the tourniquet is doing its job. I wash the mud off and move to his foot. No distal pulse. I straighten the foot. Still no pulse. Stabilize.

Rolling on my back I do a personal inventory. Just a few scraps and scratches nothing which needs stitches, but I need to keep them clean. I lean my head against the Warrior. He doesn’t make a sound.

I see the sun is low as the clouds part. The edges of the grey clouds are pink and orange. The oaks, maple and spruce trees are damp and their branches hang low. The sun shines through for just a few seconds while brilliant crimson and orange leaves flash like a campfire. I shiver.

Lying on my back I can see the small wall the Warrior fell by is part of house. Maybe the living room or dining room of what was left of a red brick suburban home. I move my palm back and forth in the mud. I can feel a hardwood floor under an inch of mud. This had been a nice house. I think of Jenny. She would have liked this house, this neighborhood.

It will be dark soon. I can move on after dark, but only if my Warrior dies. I wonder if the beacon is working. Damn electronics! What I wouldn’t give for a radio. What I wouldn’t give for a helicopter medivac. Hell what my warrior wouldn’t give for a hospital with clean sheets and pretty nurses. Fat chance of that anymore… of any of that. I don’t want to move. I want to sleep.

“You think they are going to come for me, for us?” the Warrior whispers.

I pissed again. Damn it. He’s gotta stop doing that.

“Yeah, sure, they usually do. Depending on how the fight goes, it takes a long time for headquarter’s elements to wrap back around and pick everyone up,” I say trying to sound convincing. The canned answer.

“Ok. I am tired, Doc,” the Warrior whispers.

His whisper is laced with sadness. This Warrior is just a boy. He has been forced into this fight. He didn’t pick the fight. Someone else did that for him. He will be scarred for life. He will never be the man he was supposed to be, the man his Mama wanted him to be.

“Tired is ok, but no sleeping. I am going to check your vitals soon. You need a little water too,” I say getting back to business.

I turn over. The lower half of my body is covered in mud. I can feel a pool of wet mud in the arch of my back. It is cold and slowly trickles down my backside. I put my fingers to the warrior’s neck. His head is still turned away. His pulse is weak, but steady. I reach for my bag and pull out a steel water bottle. I attach a plastic tube to the top.

“I know you’re thirsty but you can only have a couple sips, ok?” I say.

“Sure.”

He turns his face back towards me. He sips at the tube for a few seconds then lets it go. His eyes are a grey blue and crisp, his face is broad and his jaw square. He looks to be about twenty. His hair is close-cropped like that of the Warrior Clan. His hair appears to be blonde under the mud. Probably thick when allowed to grow out. I am guessing he’s a farmer’s son. Corn fed.

“How did they get here, do you think?” he asks.

“Who?”

“The Enemy.”

“We let them in, that’s how,” I say suddenly agitated. “We had an open state and we took everybody. We had a system for allowing entry, but it was in our nature to be too trusting. The enemy has no timeline. They say they will fight this fight for a thousand years. They say they will do whatever they have to, you know to rid this land of the evil that is us. This was an attack like we had never fought before. They brought it to us…”

“Yeah, but how come we didn’t see it coming?” the Warrior interrupts.

“Oh we saw it coming. There were people who saw it coming. Nobody listened. Once they were here, they were protected under our laws. The laws that were meant to protect us from each other protected them too,” I snap.

“Then why didn’t we get them out once they were here, once we knew who they were?”

“That’s what I am getting at. Our laws had no provision for that. Plus who were they? They are hard to find, to ID. You yourself know how difficult that is. They don’t walk around with t-shirts on that say ‘Enemy’ on them,” I say.

“Yeah but our leaders…the President said the military did not act fast enough that the intelligence guys should have warned us…”

“Look it’s not any one person’s fault. Not the president. Not the military. Not Intell. Not Congress… well actually it is partly their fault. The way I see it, it is a cultural problem. As a country, we believed too much of our own BS. We believed that no one would ever attack us here. Definitely not. We were too strong, the strongest. Everybody had guns. Even the strongest have weaknesses though. The Enemy exploited our biggest weakness, our ego. They crept up on us. The Enemy is smart. They came in slowly, played our game and lived here under our rules.” My heart was racing. “I can’t talk about this right now. I’m sorry,” I stutter.

“It’s ok, Doc. I am the one that should be sorry. I just wanted to know if you knew more about what was going on. I don’t mean to bother you,” the Warrior says softly.

“Yeah, I know. You deserve to know. It’s just that, I lost my family to these creeps and I haven’t… I am not going to get over it.” I pause for a moment. The Warrior’s eyes are on me. I am not looking at him, but I can feel his gaze. I take a deep breath. I want to say it is complicated and end it, but I can’t.

“I was told that the Warriors that were meant to… that were supposed to be the best at dealing with this kind of enemy, were not allowed to fight the Black Battle until it was too late. The Black Warriors supposedly had all the skills needed to fight while the Enemy’s numbers were low and they hadn’t infected the population. But we were scared. The Enemy had become citizens. We can’t go to war with our own citizens. We can’t…”

The Warrior grunts. The Warrior coughs. I look at his face and his body starts rumbling and wriggling side to side. Ah shit a seizure! I move up behind him. I put his head in my lap and cradle it. I use my leg to protect him from hitting the wall. It will have to pass soon or he will die. The tremors move through his body like small earthquakes. His eyes roll. His neck and back arch.

Shit. Shit. Shit. I hadn’t been watching him. I could have seen this coming. Please stay quiet, please stay quiet. I flow with the Warrior as his buffer from hurting himself. It takes a couple minutes before the surge starts to subside. It wasn’t a bad one, but it was a seizure and that can’t be good. His breathing comes down. His muscles begin to relax. His pulse is racing but slowing. His eyes are shut tight. He goes limp in my arms. I take my first breath. The Warrior sleeps.

I look around. Behind us is a semi dry spot. Some of the second floor remains affixed to the wall we are up against. The floor juts out several inches like a hotel balcony. If I can drag him to the spot we can get out of the wet. I am worried about his neck. I decide to move him anyway. I cup my hands in his arm pits and start to move. Each scoot back gains only inches. The rain starts to fall again by the time I get him to cover. We are still sitting in mud but at least we’re not being assaulted by the rain.

It’s nearly dark and the temperature’s dropping. It will be a dark night. No moon. No stars. The Warrior sleeps. I monitor his vitals. If he dies I can leave. I didn’t want him to sleep because that’s how people die but there is nothing I can do. I heard of some Warriors taking days to die. I didn’t believe it. I don’t keep count of the Warriors and citizens I watch over but, all of them died within a couple hours of being wounded this badly. I hope the fucking beacon is working. This guy deserves to live. They all deserve to live. “Jenny!”

“I am hungry, Doc.”

I peel my chin off my chest. Shit! I pissed myself again. Damn it!

“You got anything I can eat Doc? I am really hungry,” the Warrior whispers.

“We can try some calorie putty. Just small bits at a time. Let me check your vitals again before we eat. How you feeling overall?” I ask.

“Ok, I guess lots of little pains all over my body. My arm really aches. I have a headache, not too bad though. Just really hungry,” the Warrior says with effort.

The Warrior doesn’t seem to remember the seizure. The rain has stopped again. Good time for further survey.

“Can you feel your toes?” I ask.

“Uh… no.”

His neck is good. His spine is not; temporary or permanent paralysis from the waist down. I can’t see his face to see if he looks worried. I take his pulse. Weak but steady. I will have to wait until morning to check bandages. I can’t afford to use a flashlight, too dangerous. Even a red lens would be like one of those search lights at the theater on Oscar’s night. I pull some plastic bags from my pack.

“Calorie putty?” I ask.

“What flavor?” the Warrior chuckles.

“Ah, we got ass over tea kettle or just plain ass,” laughing quietly.

“Tea kettle sounds good.”

I open the bag and put it on his chest. He feeds himself. He has asked me a lot of questions, I have asked him only one. Maybe it’s my turn to prod. It never seems to matter with the White Warriors though. They are almost always young, kind of clueless and basically conscripted to be bullet sponges. What’s the point of getting to know them? Getting to know him? He would either die soon or move on. This Warrior seems different though.

“So how did it feel when they came to get you?” I ask.

“They didn’t come to get me, Doc. I went to them. I wanted the Enemy dead.” Pride resonates in his hushed tone.

“What? You got to be kidding me. You did what? I can’t imagine the looks on the militia officer’s faces,” I say stunned. No one volunteers to be a White Warrior.

It takes the Warrior a moment to answer as he works some putty in his mouth. Eventually he says “Oh yeah, it was a sight. You’da thought I was the coming of the Lord or something. They treated me like a king right up until I got shipped off to training. Training was a breeze though. It’s kinda like I was born for it. Took right to it no problem, ended up a squad leader out of training. That’s not normal. Been at this for nearly three years.”

I choke on my putty. No one lasts three years as a White Warrior. If it wasn’t for the extraordinary circumstances, the Warrior still being alive an all, I would have thought him a liar. I shouldn’t ask him any more questions. I did not need to know. I did not want to know. He is a White Warrior. He is one of the faceless soldiers dying to reclaim our country. To know him is to feel for him. To feel for him is to become careless. That is not the Watchers way but I can’t help myself.

“What did your family do when you decided to walk in?” I ask.

“We all went together, all of us,” the Warrior says.

“Uh, what do you mean? Your family went to see you off to training?”

“Nah, my whole family walked in. All my brothers and sisters, my mom and my dad. All of us walked in. It’s what I wanted for my seventeenth birthday,” the Warrior says.

“What the fuck? Are you serious?” This is getting nuts! “Do you know where the rest of your family is now?” I ask, trying to stay quiet.

“Nope, no idea. I am sure they’re kickin’ ass somewhere. My brother, Donny, was the best of us. He was bigger, faster and smarter than all the kids put together. If anyone’s whacked some Enemy ass, it’s gotta be him. He told me on our walk in that he was going to go Black if they’d let him. If not Black, then Grey. Either way, he wanted to bring it to them up close and personal,” the Warrior says.

I am stunned. I am speechless. I had never met anybody like this one. Everyone else I’ve watched over was doing their job. Doing what they had to. What they had to, to survive and not get in trouble with the Government. Like me. Everyone else was like me. Not this White Warrior though. He is different and apparently so is his entire family. The Warrior is whispering to me. I don’t hear him. He wiggles to get my attention.

“Doc, they’re here. Doc, they are close.”

“Who?” I whisper back.

“The Enemy,” he says.

It starts raining again, drizzling really. The rain whisks away the mist. It would flow back in shortly after the rain stopped. I can only hear the rain. I listen hard. I hear it. I hear the crack of a branch in the distance. The drizzle plays hell with the sound. I can’t figure what direction the sound came from.

I can feel the Warrior moving slowly. He closes the putty bag slowly and quietly. I do the same. I hear him say “mud”. I want to ask what this means. I can feel him move to put mud all over himself. I do the same.

“Slowly,” I hear him say. “Cover everything.” I do.

“Close your eyes and don’t move,” he says. I close my eyes. I wonder about the Warrior’s weapon. I wonder about the Warrior’s radio. Ah shit his radio! I want to find it. I want to call someone. Call for help. I freeze.

I hear sounds like clinking metal, a weapon smacking a Tac-Vest. Probably not. The Enemy doesn’t wear the same gear as we do. It sounds like it’s on the other side of the wall. I keep my eyes shut. Its close, whatever it is. I feel myself shake with fear. The Warrior is dead calm. Motionless. The Warrior’s probably going to save my life. Wishful thinking.

I hear a scream, more of a cry.  “Jenny!” I yelp. I put my hands to my mouth. The Enemy is less than twenty feet away. The screaming and whimpering doesn’t stop. It’s a woman or a child. I can’t tell. Had that person been there the entire time? More screams, louder. Shit. Shit. Shit. My jaws clinched. Eyes clamped shut. I hear the sound of a nail gun and the screams stop. The Warrior never moves. Not a muscle. He is dead. I will be soon.

I chance a look around. I open one eye. The rain has stopped. The clouds have parted enough to get a glimpse of the full moon. The moon lights up the rubble. Drops of water hit the ground. Drops of water tap on leaves like a hammer on an anvil. Or is that the pounding of my temples? I close my eye. The Warrior is still. I am still.

The cold is cutting through my clothes down to my bones. The coldest time of the night is quickly approaching. Dawn is near. Would the Enemy wait until daylight to kill me? I think of powdered donuts. I think of warm cups of coffee, amaretto flavor.

Through my eyelids I sense a bright light. I crack one eyelid half way open. The sun is out. Already? White wispy clouds streak the sky. I open the other eye but I don’t move. I wait. Nothing. I move one hand slowly down to the warrior’s neck. A pulse! He is warm!

“Good morning, Doc,” the Warrior whispers.

I didn’t pee this time, but I need to. “Good morning to you,” I say.

“They’re gone,” the Warrior says.

“Holy crap! I was sure I was a dead man!” I blurt out.

“Freakin’ intense, huh?” the Warrior asks.

“No shit, but I have to ask what’s with the mud?”

“Honestly, I am not sure. I have been passed over on the battlefield several times by the Enemy. Just like we were last night. The only thing I can figure is they can’t see, sense you or smell you when you’re covered in mud or dirt. The last time I was in a field with two hundred dead White Warriors. The Enemy came in to do their collection. I was hurt, couldn’t move but not dead. I couldn’t do much but just lay there and wait to die. So there I was covered head to toe in mud. The Enemy pushes me aside to get to the guy I was lying on. I can’t explain it but now it’s ritual,” the Warrior says.

“That’s crazy,” is all I can manage.

We survived an encounter with the Enemy! We are alive. The Warrior doesn’t seem surprised but I feel strange. I should be tired, exhausted. My body feels light. I feel alert. Hope! I feel hope; for the first time in a long time I have hope. The Warrior never lost hope, he never doubted it. I can see that now. I can feel it now. The feeling is mine. The Enemy will not take it away again.

“Who’s Jenny, Doc?” the Warrior asks.

I smile. I haven’t smiled in a long time. Jenny you used to make me smile all the time. “Jenny was…is my daughter,” I say as thoughts of Jenny rush in.

“That’s cool. How old is she?

It’s ok to speak of her. It’s ok to speak about her in the past tense and present. “She was nine when the Enemy bombed her school.”

“Ah man, I am really sorry,” the Warrior says with grief in his voice

“Yeah, me too. She was… is the love of my life. My sunshine. She made… makes every day worth living. Cliché I know, but it’s true. That’s what kids do to you, they make life worth every ounce of joy, laughter, anger and frustration… all of it.”

“You gotta picture?” the Warrior asks.

“No, they were destroyed in the initial attacks,” I say. “I have a clear picture in my mind though…” I close my eyes. “She has strawberry blonde hair, that’s what everyone called it. It is the finest silken soft, light red hair you have ever seen. Her eyes are the most piercing deep green, like a field of wheat grass on a humid summer day. Her fingers, oh her fingers, are so long and elegant. At a tea party her pinky finger stands off the tea cup. I stare at it as if it’s a work of art. Actually it is. She loved blue and green and yellow. No pink for her. She wears a dress the same color as her eyes. She…”

“Watcher 64, activate your beacon,” someone squawks in my head.

“They’re here,” I say to the Warrior as I push the only button on the tiny black beacon.

A moment passes. Some one in a uniform approaches out of the mist.

“Watcher 64, what’s your status?” a woman says to me as she bends to shine a pen light in my Warrior’s face.

“Watcher 64, your ward has extinguished you can move on,” she says.

“Extinguished? But…he was alive just a…”

“That’s war buddy, it happens that fast. Move on Watcher, you’re needed elsewhere. We’ve got this,” the woman says.

I can move on? But… I can’t move. I have to move, but I can’t move. The Warrior has got to come with me. I am lifted to my feet. I look down and the Warrior smiles up at me. His blue eyes pierce into me. Jenny and the Warrior smile up at me.

Hope rushes out of me as the blood rushes into my legs. I wobble. I brace myself against the crumbling wall. I start walking. I keep walking. I look back as the Warrior’s limp and lifeless body is loaded into a truck. Tears stream from eyes. I haven’t cried since the day Jenny was born. I keep walking. The rain starts to fall hard. The mud washes away.

“Jenny…  I love you!”

BP Grogan is a retired Navy SEAL, veteran of OIF and OEF and a burgeoning author. Mr. Grogan uses his keen insight and varied experiences in the military to explore the world speculative writing. 

If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting our Veteran Editorial by becoming a SOFREP subscriber. Click here to get 3 months of full ad-free access for only $1 $29.97.