A small troop came running down the tunnel now. Not all could fit into the room. Some stood outside the open door, some inside. The few inside hurried about, setting up the video camera on one side of the room while a man with a large, broad sword went about sharpening his blade. Another rolled up the rug and took it out of the room exposing reddish-brown bloodstains that had been smeared from past haphazard cleanups. David was told to kneel on the bare floor facing the camera as it began recording.
“This is Devil Baker of the United States…” his accuser began.
David could only listen as a list of false charges were recited against him. He knew from his earlier interaction that it was no use to refute the charges. He slightly shook his head “no” for each false accusation. The word “spy” came up frequently. They made him sound like a highly prized secret agent. What did they think he was looking for?
His mind flashed a vivid picture of the travel advisory he read only a day or so ago: “Travel to Iraq at this time is considered extremely dangerous and is not advised.” If he had a computer in front of him right now, he would give that article a ‘thumbs up’ for being spot on. He wondered how much his taxi driver got for turning in each American citizen. Probably not enough to replace his phone.
“…for these serious violations of our laws, the penalty is death by beheading. Let this video be a reminder to all who do not take us seriously.”
The speech concluded with the leader stepping back and the executioner stepping into position. There wasn’t a whole lot of room to swing the sword with so many people standing around so they were told to back out. The executioner planted his left foot a full stride ahead of his right, squared his shoulders to his target, rested the sword on its target on the back of David’s neck just above the big bony vertebra, then drew back. With the full force of a home-run hitter going for broke, the sword hissed as it cut through the air then travelled effortlessly through soft tissue, then muscle, tendon and bone before it came out on the other side. The strike was so clean that, for a moment, it appeared as though the blade had missed. Then, just as the onlookers were beginning to doubt the efficiency of the connection, a head rolled down onto the floor behind David’s body.
In a proper beheading, it is expected that the head will roll forward in front of the body with a bit of backspin from the force of the blade. This beheading did not go as expected as the head ended up rolling behind the body of the accused. It may have also been the first time in history that the head was not that of the accused.
The executioner stared up at the troop of jihadists as if to say in Arabic “something is wrong,” then his expression went blank. David stood up, shook the body off that had slumped over him and backed away. Shouts, commotion and panic ensued. An alarm blared down the tunnel. Guns were drawn and shots were fired. David had to crawl over a pile of bodies as he exited the room where his execution had taken place. Soldiers came streaming down the tunnels and fired at David or stabbed him or swung at him with whatever heavy object they could get their hands on. They all met the fate they intended for him. Soldiers outside the tunnels readied themselves.
David ran out of the tunnels as fast as he could get past the slumped lifeless bodies and those of the severely injured. His exit took the rest of the camp by surprise. As fast as they could fire at him soldiers collapsed all around him in a messy spray of blood and bullets. He ran right by the motor pool not thinking about how he was going to get down the mountain and back to civilization. He ran out from under the tarps that hid the vehicles and into the wide-open gauntlet of snipers and sentries hiding in the nooks and crannies of the mountain fortress. Behind him, an engine turned over and a vehicle peeled out after him. More shots, closer, were fired at him as the vehicle passed him on his left with a truckload of dead soldiers in it and one driver who had taken out a handgun, carefully aimed at David.
The vehicle began to slow down, coming to a stop against a boulder that lined the road. David helped the lifeless driver out while shots were still being fired, although at a slower and slower pace. He climbed in and drove out through the saddle in the mountains where he came in just as an RPG intended for the truck exploded off in the distance behind a barricade of ammunition. The explosion set off a chain reaction throughout the entire ammo dump that shook the mountain, causing a rockslide that closed the narrow mountain pass concealing the fortress.
“Miss Gupti?” David’s voice almost trembled as Chandra picked up the line. It was really good to hear a familiar and friendly voice—especially hers. The past few days he had been a bit shell-shocked, wandering around the strange Iraqi landscape just a few hours outside of Baghdad. He wasn’t sure what to tell his employer. They probably wondered where he was and why he didn’t show up to the meeting. Some local villagers had taken him in. They were concerned for his safety and when they saw he was driving a vehicle of one of their oppressors they knew that something had changed. After a few days of no soldiers coming through and shaking them down for food and supplies the villagers began to realize they had been liberated.
“David?” Chandra was completely surprised. “Where are you? Are you all right?”
“I’m just outside of Kirkuk, I think that’s how you say it. It’s North of Baghdad.”
“What’s happened? You don’t sound well.”
“It’s a long story. I’m safe now. But I was kidnapped.”
“Oh my God,” she managed to get out although she almost was completely speechless. “David, what happened?”
David told her some of what happened but not the majority of it. He didn’t want to sound like he was bragging and he didn’t want to sound like a mass murderer either. A lot of lives were lost and that bothered David even though they meant to harm him. He didn’t understand why people wanted to hurt others and he didn’t understand why he had a gift that caused it to backfire. He never would understand it. He didn’t expect anyone else to understand it either. He told Chandra about the taxi driver selling him to the soldiers in the mountains but he told her that they let him go. He didn’t tell her that he had been driving one of their vehicles around the villages in Kirkuk and that the people were giving him a hero’s welcome. Instead, he told her that the people of Iraq were very generous and warm, taking him in and feeding him until he could get back to Baghdad. That was true.
“David, here’s what we’ll do…” Chandra always had a plan. She could think on her feet and come up with a plan for almost any situation. “Can you get to Baghdad or do you need us to send someone for you?”
“I’ll get to Baghdad,” David quickly responded, picturing another taxi driver selling him to another group of soldiers. “Can you arrange a flight for me back to Dubai? I hear that travel to Iraq is dangerous and not advised,” David recaptured his wit.
“Done,” Chandra agreed.
David made his way back to Baghdad where there was an airline ticket waiting for him as promised. He got through the checkpoints in the airport without incident even though he had no baggage and looked a mess. He felt the stares and the glares and the concerned looks from fellow passengers as he made his way to his seat. As he eased in next to the window, a strange tangle of emotions welled up inside of him. He watched the land beneath him roll by and fall away from the plane and he began to sob. He looked for the Zagros Mountain Range in the distance before his jet banked away from them. He hadn’t noticed them on his arrival to Baghdad. He remembered how he thought the land was flat and dirty and how he felt let down after his Dubai experience. Now he was feeling torn up about leaving. In those mountains so many people were trying to kill him. But in the valley below where so many people treated him with such kindness, he felt part of something for the first time—language barrier and all.
When David finally made it back to his hotel room, the realization of his ordeal overcame him. The horrific scenes and sounds replayed in his head. He had never seen so much bloodshed up close. In a way, he felt relieved that he had not been completely desensitized by television and video games.
The hotel phone rang.
“This is David,” he answered, his voice trying not to shake.
“David. Harlan Gans.” Gans sounded ‘business as usual’, like nothing happened.
“Hello, Mr. Gans.” David exhaled deeper than normal, trying to calm down.
“David, we’re bringing you home. When can you be packed?”
This is what David feared in the back of his mind.
“Sir? If you give me a couple of days…” David almost pleaded as he saw his hopes fading. He stopped talking, not wanting to sound desperate.
“I’m so sorry for what happened to you, David.” Gans changed his tone and sounded fatherly almost. “You must be traumatized. You really think you want to stay here after all you’ve been through? I wouldn’t blame you if you just wanted to get home.”
“It was definitely not something I anticipated,” David admitted as he felt himself calming down. The sound of Gans’ voice was soothing.
“Of course not,” Gans agreed. “Who could? Listen, David, you know yourself best. If you need a couple of days or a week or whatever, you got it. OK? I just want you on my team.”
David was flabbergasted.
“That would be great, sir.”
“Fantastic!” Gans exclaimed. “I’ll be in touch.”
Gans hung up the phone just as David expected. David hit the bed and slept for 20 hours straight.
action & adventure