Challenge Me

an excerpt



Chapter One

Christ, Jackson needed to get his head out of his ass. Yeah, Briar would give it to him that the zone had been cleared and they weren't in a "combat zone" since the end had been declared but still... Briar knew that he was still considered the new guy even after eight months, but dancing while on patrol? Just didn't seem the wisest move.

"Jackson? You going to moon walk next?" Danson called out from the front of the line.

They were on a foot patrol in some province that Briar couldn't pronounce. The quiet was a bit disconcerting. A rural village should be more active at 1000 hours, shouldn't it? A market somewhere? Kids out playing? Maybe they should be paying more attention to the lack of villagers?

"Watch this!" Jackson exclaimed as he did a turn followed by... did he do a grand jete? The rest of the guys kept walking but dropped their M-16s to their slings so they could applaud. Briar hadn't been on hundreds of patrols but this was way off to him.

"Shouldn't we be paying attention? Walking in formation?" Briar finally asked.

A voice from the front of the patrol answered him. "Shut it, Mason. It's been quiet for weeks. Blowing off some steam isn't a bad thing." Briar recognized the platoon sergeant, Staff Sergeant Bacon's, voice so he was going to shut it. It all was off to him but he didn't know why. It was almost like when he used to go hunting with his granddaddy, nothing was moving. He kept checking over his shoulder; he would swear there was someone behind him.

Briar called out to Evers, who was about five feet in front of him. "Does something seem strange to you?"

"Nah, just keep walking. We'll get back to the barracks and play that new Xbox game."

"What new gam--" Briar stopped short. He heard something and just reacted, jumping toward Evers. As Briar hit Evers and knocked him to the ground, he heard the explosion.

"What the fuck!" Sergeant Bacon screamed.

Briar heard other guys yelling and tried to push off of Evers but something was on top of him. He looked down at Evers and he was out cold.

"Medic! Evers is out!" Briar kept trying to shift off of Evers but couldn't even get his arms under him. "Someone! Help!"

"Mason! Shit, Sergeant!" Someone was yelling right next to him but Briar couldn't figure out who it was.



"Briar? You with us?" Briar felt a hand on his shoulder, gripping him hard. "Come on. Open your eyes."

Okay, why was Carter here? He wasn't in Briar's unit. Carter was almost out of the Army. He was going to do good working with veterans. He shouldn't be here with Briar. Oh no, did Carter get hurt? They were on patrol when, something went...off? Where the hell was he? He knew he wasn't on top of Evers anymore. Where was Evers?

"Come on. Open them!" a voice commanded and Briar's eyes popped open automatically in response to the tone. Briar just kept blinking, trying to bring his eyes into focus. Finally, after what seemed like a year, he could see. He was lying on a bed in a hospital. Looking to his left he saw Carter and Siah standing there; both looking like shit. What the hell happened to them? Christ, if that guy that attacked Carter was back, Briar was going to do some damage if the others hadn't gotten to him already.

Briar looked to his right and there was a guy standing there in scrubs with a frown on his face. He had a stethoscope around his neck and was studying Briar like he was a specimen on a slide. That couldn't be a good thing.

He tried to talk but there was something in his throat. Briar started to choke and reach for his neck but couldn't move his arms. He started to thrash. He couldn't move, couldn't talk. Carter grabbed his left arm.

"Calm down, Briar. You're okay," Carter said.

"Whoa there. Don't try and move or talk. You've got a breathing tube down your throat. We couldn't take it out until you woke up. Let me get some nurses in here and remove the tube. Then we'll talk." Scrub guy let go and moved away.

"Thank God, you're awake," Carter said. "You've had us all worried. Try not to freak out, okay?"

Freak out? What the hell happened to him? A breathing tube? Briar couldn't seem to move anything; not his hands or legs; he could turn his head though. He tried to sit up a bit and Siah stopped him. Strong little fuck. When had Siah moved to his right side? Briar closed his eyes, trying to figure out what hurt and what didn't. Where the hell was he?

"Oh no you don't, open your eyes," Siah demanded. Since when did Siah give two shits about him? Briar hadn't gotten a warm and fuzzy welcome from Siah when he showed up. "I've had to force Carter into eating and the nurses were about to kick him out of here for a shower. No going back to la-la land for you." Siah sounded pissed.

Nurses were kicking Carter out? How had Carter and Siah gotten here? They were in DC, Briar was in the Middle East. Last time he checked there were a few thousand miles between those two locations.

More people in scrubs came in and pushed Briar's visitors away from the bed. The female in darker blue scrubs started talking, "Okay, private. I'm Lieutenant Willow. Yes, I know, welcome to the forest. We're going to do all the work. You just lie there, okay? When I tell you, blow out a breath. Once we're done, you need to not talk for several hours. Your throat has been through some trauma over the past week or so. Nod if you understand?"

Week or so? Briar looked into her kind eyes and nodded. He didn't really know her but she had an air of peace around her. A guy in light blue scrubs shifted on Briar's other side and reached toward Briar's mouth. He realized he had something stuck to his face just as the guy removed tape from either side of Briar's mouth as she kept eye contact with him.

"Here we go. Count of three... one... two..." She didn't say three but gently but forcefully started pulling on the tube in his mouth. "Blow, now!" Briar blew out a breath as hard as he could which wasn't much but then he was semi-coughing. That burned. Willow handed the tube to the guy and reached for something out of Briar's sight then he felt a pulling on his wrists then he was able to move his hands. Briar started to cough and couldn't stop.

"Breathe. Just breathe," she encouraged. It took him a few minutes but the coughing finally subsided.

"Okay, you're doing fine and if you continue, we'll give you some ice chips in an hour or so. Doctor Standard will be back in after he's finished the remainder of his rounds. You relax and no talking." She left with the male nurse following in her wake.

"She's amazing. Now if I wasn't in love with Carter here..." Siah trailed off, shaking his head.

"And if you weren't gay?" Carter teased.

"Yeah, that might be an issue. Back to the elephant in the room, you scared the fuck out of us, Briar."

What the hell did he say to that? He didn't even know what the fuck happened. Briar searched his memory but all he could remember was watching Jackson jump in the air before hearing a loud noise and being on top of Evers. A beeping noise next to the bed started to get louder and go off faster.

Willow came flying back into the room. "What's going on?" she asked as she approached the bed, reaching toward a machine next to Briar.

"We didn't do anything," Carter said. "Just told him that he scared us."

She patted Briar's shoulder. "You're trying to figure out what happened?"

That was scary. How could she be so accurate? Briar couldn't even talk to tell anyone.

"You're not the first to be in my ward in this situation. Don't stress over what went on. It'll all come back to you when you're ready. Rest!" she commanded, leaving again.