This story is based on the following image and writing prompt:
They wanted to rough it. There would be no phones, no computers, no contact with the outside world.
Trevor could see the glaring flaw in that plan now. Zack started having acute abdominal pain last night. This morning he was feverish and almost unresponsive. Whatever it was, they needed to get him to a hospital and quickly.
They crafted a makeshift stretcher to carry Zack several miles back to the trail head. When they got there, the car was gone…
The old Jeep must have exploded into a billion, microscopic, god-forsaken pieces. Trevor cursed, wishing for the eightieth time he’d brought his sat phone. “Well, bud, looks like I’m hiking for help.”
“I always knew it would end like this,” Zack whispered.
“Say what?” Trevor leaned close, ignoring his shaking hands–must be adrenaline.
“I’ve dreamt this a thousand times, bringing us here. I must die.”
The stress made Trevor feel pissed. “No, you must NOT die. We survived Iraq, we’ll survive this.”
“I’ve been here, seen this. I just didn’t believe it’d really happen. She’s gotta live…”
“Calm yourself, man. Just a little SNAFU. Do you remember how far to the nearest settlement?” Trevor hefted the stretcher, sweat congealing under his gear.
“She loves you,” Zack coughed. “I’ll sacrifice, to save her.”
“Shut up–you’re going home.”
Trevor’s terror subsided when Zack finally quieted. He fixated on pacing himself. Trevor doubted rescuers came by often, but he’d get Zack to safety.
But then Zack had to speak. “Be good to her. Like you’ve been good to me– Thanks, dude.”
“No goodbyes!” Trevor roared, plowing onward. But the stretcher jerked while Zack’s scream embedded shrapnel into Trevor’s bones.
Suddenly, Trevor noticed the keening began in his own throat, not Zack’s. And he was saturated by frost. Pine needles bored into him from below, concern plastering the familiar faces hovering above. Zack crouched besides his friend, his hand heating Trevor’s shoulder. “Dude, it’s all cool. We fight the same demon.”
Thank you, veterans, for your courage to look death in the eye and tell it to go fight someone its own size.
Originally written for the Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Challenge.
Also, attribution goes to the article, From “Irritable Heart” to “Shellshock”: How Post-Traumatic Stress Became a Disease, which influenced this post.