Enjoy this sneak peek into The Aftermath of Operation Intense Freedom: A Warden Series Novella. Please bear with me as it is unedited, taken directly from my rough draft.
It was night and almost pitch black. A red light strobed into his vision every few seconds. He stood near the front of his Humvee, and watched the shadowy form of an Iraqi running away in the distance. The Iraqi’s companions were standing a few feet in front of Diaz and Marcs with their hands up. Warden was tracking the foot mobile on the run and leading him a little bit.
His heart was pounding… He needed to shoot, but that blinding red light… What the fuck was that light? Every time he went to squeeze the trigger, a red flash of light blurred his vision. He started to sweat, the Iraqi was getting too far away… What if he was running towards a weapons cache? What if he had the grid coordinates to give a mortar team? If he could only take the shot…
Warden blinked a few times. It took a second to shake the feeling of being in Iraq off and to remember that he was in the passenger cabin of a C-5. A red light was flashing on and off by where the crew chief sat. Oh shit, he thought to himself. That can’t be good. Last time he saw that light, the tire caught on fire as they landed in Spain.
He looked at the crew chief talking to another Airman and noticed that they didn’t look all too bothered. He raised his arm up to see the time, but put it back down. His watch was still set to Kuwait time, and he didn’t know what time zone they were in anyways. He decided to go see what the red light was about.
He stood up and scooted to Diaz’s aisle seat. He didn’t want to bother him, but he needed to get to the Airmen. The good thing was that Diaz sat semi sideways. Warden gingerly stepped past his legs without waking him up. Once clear of Diaz, he headed up the aisle towards the light. The Airmen paused their conversation as he approached.
“Hi. I, um… I wanted to know what that light was about?” Warden asked.
The one he assumed was the Crew Chief smiled.
“It’s no biggie. The auto pilot died,” the Crew Chief said.
Warden felt goosebumps rise on his arms.
“What? The pilot died?” Warden asked.
The other Airman laughed.
“No, the Auto Pilot feature. The cruise control. A pilot has to have full control for the rest of the flight,” the Crew Chief said.
Warden didn’t know what to think. How bad was that for a pilot?
“Damn, that’s crazy. Where are we by the way? Do you know what time it is? Or what day it is?” Warden asked.
The other Airman looked at his watch.
“We’re over the Atlantic. Pretty close to the Eastern Seaboard. It’s a lil past 0800, Eastern Standard Time. Sunday, July 13,” the Airman said.
Warden felt the goosebumps rise on his arms again. He went to speak but he stopped himself.
“You alright?” the Airman asked.
Warden nodded yes and turned to walk away. The thought of coming home was almost too much. He had been gone for so long and had been through so much that he actually missed Jacksonville, North Carolina. That was something he never thought possible.
He walked back to his row and scooted past Diaz again. As he sat, he looked over at his sleeping friend and decided he should try to nap again. He tried to close his eyes, but it felt impossible to sleep. Not when he knew they were near the East Coast.
Being so close to America made him anxious. He didn’t know that he could miss his country like this. Eventually he closed his eyes while thinking of the many things he wanted to do once they got back to Lejeune. Within minutes, he was fast asleep.
The sound of the wheels dropping out of their compartments for landing woke him. Warden shot straight up, and looked forward. The Crew Chief was buckled in. He looked at Diaz and saw Diaz looking forward. Diaz turned to look at him and nodded. Then he looked forward again. Warden could tell he was just as anxious to be in the States as he was. It was a rare occasion to see a silent Diaz. Then the Crew Chief spoke loud enough for everyone to hear
“We’re on approach for landing. We may be here for a little bit, so bring everything with you when you disembark,” the Crew Chief said.
Then the plane dipped and dropped altitude. Warden could feel the descent. They’d be landing any minute now. He was almost manic. He just wanted the plane to land. He was even more apprehensive than when they crossed the Iraq border into Kuwait.
The plane touched down and the engines blared to slow the plane. The landing was bumpy, but they slowed down enough to taxi to the terminal. Warden continued to stare at the door. He wanted it to be over already.
After a few nervous minutes, the plane came to a halt. The Crew Chief stood and the lights in the cabin turned on. Warden quietly stood up, and grabbed his day pack from the middle seat. Diaz grabbed his, and they slung their empty rifles over their shoulders. Warden looked back, and saw that Marcs and Madson had done the same.
Diaz stepped out into the aisle, and let Warden get out in front of him. The Soldiers in the rows before him were still grabbing their gear, so Warden made his way up the aisle to the exit. He got to the door with an Airman standing next to it, and heard a noise from the other side of the hatch. The Airman opened the door, and the bright sun light flooded in. He brought his hand up to shield his eyes, while he closed them. Then he blinked, and looked down. After a few seconds, his vision adjusted, and he looked up and out of the door…