Things were blowing up all around them.
The old Shig road, known among the tactical drivers of the Delta base motor pool as the Oh Shit Road, was a well-traveled and oft booby-trapped route across the desert and into the mountains. It was strategically significant because it led right into the mouth of the beast – the network of mountain caves that the enemy called home.
Private First Class Eugene Gully was assigned to the motor pool of the 10th Mountain Division based at Delta. He was the best driver on base and maybe, at least in his own estimation, the best driver in the whole Army, having passed every tactical driving course he ever took with a perfect score.
That morning, the Captain had found Eugene under his Jeep. It was Monday – maintenance day – and Eugene had just removed the drain plug from the oil pan.
“Gully!” the Captain barked.
Eugene spit his cigarette out onto the concrete floor of the maintenance bay and rolled out from under the Jeep. He wasted no time scrambling to his feet and standing at attention.
“Got a mission for you, Gully,” the captain said. “It’s a tough one, but American lives are at stake.”
“Just point,” Gully said.
The captain smiled. “You’re going to take General Prewitt up the old Shig road to a secret base. He knows the way. He’s got an important delivery to make.”
“Sir yes sir,” Gully replied. “The Jeep will be ready in ten minutes.”
“Make it eight,” the captain replied as he turned on his heels and marched back to the motor pool offices.
Eugene scrambled back under the Jeep and willed the oil pan to drain faster.
When he rolled out again, General Prewitt looked down on him with a wide grin. “All set son?”
“Almost sir,” Eugene said.
Within five minutes they were on the road. True to form, the old Shig road was freshly booby trapped. It took every bit of Eugene’s considerable skill to avoid the IEDs and enemy fire that sprung up around them. He dodged left, swung right, varied his speed – he needed every trick in the book.
As munitions rained down on them, General Prewitt sat in the passenger seat with a big stupid grin on his face. “This is living!” the General shouted around his cigar, as the Jeep skidded sideways around a roadside bomb.
As they approached the mountains, the explosions and enemy fire abated somewhat. The General directed Eugene down a goat path that hadn’t been there the week before. At least Eugene never remembered there being a goat path there.
The scenery was almost idyllic along the rutted dirt path, with fields and pastures on either side. Before long, a fortress rose up before them. “That’s it,” the general muttered. “That’s where we’re headed.”
“Good,” Eugene replied. “Let’s save some lives.”
The general cackled at that, but Eugene wasn’t sure why.
As the heavy wooden doors swung closed behind them, threw the Jeep into neutral and set the parking brake. “We made it, sir,” he said.
“Of course we made it,” Prewitt replied. “What’s a few IEDs among friends? Now let’s see what we’ve got here.”
The general turned in his seat and rummaged around. As he did so, it slowly dawned on Eugene that this was no secret American base. He squinted beyond the empty courtyard to the places under the eaves where the shadows fell, and he saw only locals. Mean looking ones, with machine guns strapped across their chests.
Bang! Eugene reached for his sidearm before he realized the sound was a door banging open. A little girl in a pink dress and crocs ran across the courtyard to meet them. She was screaming. Eugene leapt out of the Jeep, ready to protect the child.
“Stand down,” Prewitt barked. “No reason to get your panties in a bunch.” The old man swung his legs out the side of the Jeep. “You must be Maisy!” he said, in the practiced sing-song of grandfathers everywhere.
The girl nodded and giggled. The general handed her a brightly colored box with an egg on the front. “There you go, pretty one.”
The girl squealed and hugged the box, then turned and ran back to the building. Eugene saw a woman and two older girls standing in the shade just outside the open door.
The general scooted back into the jeep. “Well, that’s that. Let’s get out of here.”
Eugene’s eyes went wide. “What do you mean ‘that’s that?’ What do you mean ‘Let’s get out of here?'”
“I mean what I said. Mission accomplished and all that.”
“What was that thing?”
“A present for his excellency’s daughter.”
“A present…” Eugene stammered. “For his excellency’s daughter?”
“Yeah, it was one of those Hatchimals or whatever they’re called. The one with the purple pony inside. Man she really wanted that stupid thing.”
Eugene was shouting now. “Are you really telling me we came all this way to deliver a toy to the enemy?”
The general’s eyebrows knitted together. “Not the enemy, son. An ally. An important one. The kind that will help us end this war.”
“But we could have died!”
“But we didn’t.”
Eugene had nothing else to say. He jammed his foot on the accelerator and spun the Jeep around. The men at the gate barely got it open before they roared through.
Prewitt took out a new cigar and struggled to light it as the Jeep bounced along the pitted road.
“What’s eating you, kid?”
Eugene was thinking of his wife. He was thinking about the look on her face when he told her he’d received orders. That he’d be shipping out. He was proud of himself in that moment. He’d thought of his military service as a sacred duty. He thought he’d be making a difference.
But Jessica knew. She knew even then, with one hand on her swollen belly.
“Kid,” the general said.
“General, why am I here?”
“Why are you here? Why is any of us here?”
“I have a wife and kid at home. I have a kid I’ve never met. And I just risked my life delivering a toy to someone else’s child on the other side of the world.”
“America needed you.”
“American needed me for what? For this?”
“You answered the call, kid.”
“I didn’t mean to answer that call.”
About Prompt-A-Day: The rules are simple. Every day, I generate a prompt using Story Shack’s awesome writing prompt generator. Then I set a timer for one hour. At the end of the hour, I post what I’ve got. Sometimes it’s decent. Sometimes it sucks. Sometimes I fail at the prompt. Sometimes I do okay. I do not edit, unless I find a typo, because I can’t help fixing those. Feel free to join in and post a link to your writing in the comments.