Collateral Heat (flash fiction)

Vegas, Yemen, and the dark abyss separating the two deserts


-a DAVID BRATH flash fiction story-

 Copyright © DAVID BRATH

This flash fiction story is a work of fiction. Any resemblence to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is entirely coincidental. Names characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.


Instagram: davidbrathscreaminginthewind


– a DAVID BRATH flash fiction story –

Air Force Staff Sargent, Lance Aubrey, hated Vegas. Too damn hot and too many damn people. He joined the Air Force because he liked flying his dad’s Cessna 172 over wide-open spaces, as nothing is bigger than a blue empty sky stretching as far as the eye can see over eastern Montana prairies.

Dumbass ignorant thinking, thought Lance often. I should have known better.

It wasn’t the hours that restricted his access to blue sky. He had plenty of mission hours every week. It was Lance’s damn assignment to navigate reconnaissance squadron flying missions over Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq that glued his white ass to the Nevada desert every day. He flew missions, he just never left the goddamn ground.

“It was Lance’s damn assignment to navigate reconnaissance squadron flying missions over Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq that glued his white ass to the Nevada desert every day. He flew missions, he just never left the goddamn ground.”

As a remotely piloted aircraft sensor operator, Lance bombed the shit out of more people than he could have ever imagined when he was a kid back on the ranch. But now, when pressed by folks back home, he told them his missions with the Air Force were top secret. That impressed them and more importantly shut ‘em up. He didn’t bother to tell them he guided missiles dropped by MQ-9 Reapers—or damn drones as the public knew them.

Lance swished Diet Pepsi around his mouth—a nervous habit he formed the last two years, every time he was given the authorization to “light” a Hellfire missile at an insurgent. Tonight’s mission was a signature-strike, which essentially meant the hard intel, wasn’t so hard. Rather this ‘insurgent’ simply smelled like a terrorist, walked like a terrorist, and acted like a terrorist enough so that the conclusion from the top brass was that the guy must be a damned terrorist.

The insurgent, #479-E9, was parked outside a small compound in southeastern Yemen. The squadron first noticed him three months ago and had been tracking his ass ever since. Within three months he had visited the houses of five known terrorists, always parking his black Toyota pick-up, with a red topper on it, outside the building for an average of seven-minute stops.

Lance waited for the suspect to exit the building. The control rooms AC felt good on his hot face. If all went according to plan, Lance would smoke the terrorist forty seconds after he drove away from the compound.

As the suspect exited the building, the Diet Pepsi began sloshing in Lance’s mouth.

The insurgent put the bag in the back of the pick-up before hoping in and driving away.

“Stay on target,” stated Lance’s pilot calmly, sitting four feet away, staring at his own flight monitor. The pilot was keeping the drone airborne.

Lance watched the Toyota meander down the dusty road.

“Fire away,” said the pilot, deadpan.

Lance’s fingers were electric as he watched the monitor’s digital clock display. He was seven seconds out.

With precision he kept the cross hairs on the moving truck.


Lance swallowed his Diet Pepsi, guiding the Hellfire missile with a laser to the speeding Toyota.


Ahmed waited patiently in the truck for his Uncle Naseem, who went into the house with a canvas sack, selling bread left from the open market. Ahmed spun a football in his hands to waste time as he sat in the truck’s passenger seat. His Uncle left the truck running as Ahmed had the air conditioning aimed at his small face.

At twelve, his world was good and simple. He wanted to play football for Yemen when he got older.

In an hour Ahmed would play a pick-up game with his friends outside of Sana’a and he hoped Tawakkol would be there watching with her big pretty brown eyes. Yesterday, she had shouted his name after he scored. “Ahmed! Ahmed!”

He wanted to hear her shout his name again and this time he would turn and wave and smile. That is what his Uncle had instructed.

“You have a beautiful smile, Ahmed. Share it with her, and maybe she will smile back,” said Naseem.

“You have a beautiful smile, Ahmed. Share it with her, and maybe she will smile back,” said Naseem.

Ahmed felt warm thinking about her. Maybe he would get lucky and score two or three goals. He would try his hardest. He wanted to score for Tawakkol smiles.

His Uncle jumped into the truck, clapping his hands. “Fresh bread and a football, match, Ahmed. We live like Kings,” he laughed.

Ahmed nodded, laughing. “Yes, Uncle, like Kings.”

Naseem reached over to ruffle Ahmed thick black hair.

The heat from the Hellfire missile sliced downward through the air.

The missile hit.

Simultaneously the air sucked out of Ahmed’s small lungs.

The explosion was massive.

The football incinerated.

Ahmed’s small body exploded into many pieces, scattering along the dusty road.

The heat from the blast rippled through the air.

A desert thistle, at the perimeter of the burst radius, swayed against the blast of hot air.

An Old World swallow tail butterfly, now stronger than Ahmed would ever be, alit the thistle, took flight from the hot wind pressing against its butter cream wings, tacking drunk-like, through the air, hundreds of meters away from the warm blood seeping into the hot sand from the hand and foot and leg and head and ear and burning thigh ripped from a boy in love with his small life because the beast from the past will never tame the spark, the fire, the heat that forged its being.

I place 26 letters from the English alphabet melded occasionally with Arabic numbers in sequences I enjoy while utilizing blank spaces and 14 punctuation marks between said letters or numbers to create expression. For example: Ingrid enjoys cotton candy, mathematics, feather-light kisses, removing wood splinters from soft feet, and whiskey with an e. One day she will die and be gone forever. The dream she loves is often smooth as black glass. Too many people are scared to live. Not Ingrid. Some days she wields a heavy maul, shattering the black glass touching her dream. Most of the atoms comprising Ingrid exploded from unstable high mass stars, billions of years ago. That makes her smile. Ingrid is the strongest, most beautiful, most alluring person in the universe - at least that's what David, thinks.

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