Between Here and the Horizon

by Callie Hart




“Get back, Fletcher! Get back! The tank’s gonna blow!”

I was running. Behind me, seven miles of desert stretched out toward Kabul city, glowing in places where burned out military trucks were being devoured by fire. Twisted metal rained down from the sky, on fire and sharper than a razor’s edge, impacting in the dirt. Thud. Thud, thud. Thud. Shrapnel whistled through the air, striking the ground a few feet away from me as I weaved my way through the wreckage. Smoke was biting at my lungs, acrid and burning, making it hard to breath.

“Fletcher! What the fuck, man!”

Behind me, Specialist Crowe was losing his mind. Alternating between shouting into his radio and shouting at me, he couldn’t seem to decide which course of action to take. I’d ordered him to follow, but I could understand why he hadn’t. The situation was more than unsafe; charging headlong into the fire and destruction was a suicide mission, and I knew it. I also knew that my men were trapped inside the upturned vehicle still a hundred feet ahead of me, however, and I knew the truck was going to blow any second. They were going to burn to death if I didn’t help them. I wasn’t going to abandon them to that fate.

“Captain! God, man, stop!”

My heart was surging, my veins overflowing with adrenalin. My boots hit the dirt, left, right, left, right, left, right, my fists pumping back and forth as I sprinted toward the truck that was laying on its roof up ahead. Through the fractured windshield, I could see Hellaman and Wicks still strapped into the front seats of the vehicle, upside down and unmoving. They were either unconscious or dead. Hopefully they were just out for the count, but there was a lot of blood splattered on the inside of the glass. A lot of blood.

Black smoke curled upward from the underside of the truck, and I could already hear the hissing sound of fuel burning and sizzling somewhere. Groaning. I could hear groaning, too.

I reached the truck just as something inside the engine caught fire, and Hellaman came to. His eyes were wide with pain and fear as I dropped down onto my belly next to the driver’s side window, which was smashed out, small cubes of safety glass scattered into the dirt.

“Captain? Captain Fletcher. Shit, I can’t breathe. I can’t…breathe.” His face was deathly pale, and his hands shook violently as he tried to claw at the seatbelt that was digging into his chest.

“It’s okay. It’s okay, Private. We’re gonna get you out of there, okay? Just hold on a moment.” My bowie knife was in my hand. I took it and made quick work of slashing through the webbing holding Hellaman in place. There was nothing I could do to cushion his fall. Slamming into the roof of the truck, Hellaman groaned weakly, and then passed out again, either from pain or from the shock, I didn’t know. I stowed my blade and grabbed him by the shoulders, then wrestled him free through the window. His face was cut; his arms were striped with blood and running rivers of crimson out onto the ground. No time to be gentle, though. No time to be safe. I hooked my hands under his arms and I quickly jogged backwards, dragging him away from the wreckage. Twenty feet was enough.

I ran back to the truck. Flames were visibly licking at the underside of the vehicle now, snaking upward toward the night sky. Wick was still out cold. I ran around to the back of the truck and tried to force the loading doors open, but they were jammed closed, bent and warped, refusing to budge.





There was someone alive inside. Running out of time. Almost no time left. I positioned myself by the truck’s rear right window, thanking god the thing was already splintered. The bulletproof windows on military trucks were no joke. You could take a semi automatic to them and it would take longer than I had to smash them. The impact of rolling three times had obviously been enough to compromise the glass, though.

“Shield your faces,” I hollered. “Glass, glass, glass!” Bracing, I spun around and smashed the sole of my boot against the window as hard as I possibly could. The glass groaned, fracturing some more, but it didn’t shatter. I kicked again, and again, and again. Finally, the window exploded in a shower of bright shards, giving in under the force of my boot.

“Captain, there’s fuel in here,” someone inside yelled. “Get back!”

I ducked down and lay flat on my stomach again, crawling in through the now empty window frame. Inside the truck, gasoline hung heavy in the air, burning my nostrils and my eyes. Next to me, Roberts was dead, his head twisted at an odd angle, eyes staring, unseeing into the abyss.

On the other side of the truck Private Coleridge, Sam, a nineteen-year-old kid from Houston, was lying on his back on the roof, holding his rifle in both hands, his body convulsing wildly. His eyes swivelled to look at me, but his head remained locked in position, his teeth grinding together.

“What…what happened, Capt’n?” he asked. “We were drivin’ along, and then…everything was…spinning.”

“IED,” I told him. “Desert’s full of them. Come on, let’s get you out of here.”

“I can’t…move. I can’t feel…anything.”

He wasn’t paralyzed. If he were, he wouldn’t be shaking the way he was right now. He was just in shock. A sharp slap to the face would probably go a long way to getting him moving, but there simply wasn’t time for that kind of motivation. Grabbing him by the webbing stitched onto the strap of his pack, which was still on his back, I hauled him to me and then backed out through the window as quickly as I could. The fire was raging now. I dragged Sam back to where I’d left Hellaman and was about to run back to the truck when a loud metallic crack split the air apart, and then a ball of fire rocked the truck, a wall of heat and pressure slamming into my body, sending me reeling back into the dirt.

“Oscar!” Sam yelled. “Oscar’s still alive in there!”

“Fuck.” I was up on my feet and running. The heat was intense—so intense that I had to shield my face as I grew closer to the wreck. The fire had consumed the underside of the truck, the tires blazing, the gas roaring as the fuel line was engulfed. And I could hear screaming. The kind of blood curdling, awful screaming of a man being burned alive.

My radio headset crackled with static, and then Colonel Whitlock’s voice barked out through the speaker. “Fletcher, do not go back inside that vehicle. Do you hear me? Do not go back inside that vehicle.”