The first bullet made a very specific sound as it traveled past my head, like a fire cracker. I flinched and spun around toward the rooftops in the distance. In the middle of a long, open road between two rows of houses there was nothing to get behind, no ditch by the side, no crumbling husk of a burned out building, just me, the road, and a handful of forlorn sunflowers baking in the mid-morning sun. Crack! Another round went screaming by. Ahead, two of my squad mates were already posted up on the corner of the building looking through their scopes for the shooter. Someone was yelling. I started to run.

Everything they say is true; the world around me slowed to a crawl. My kit, still stiff and unshaped by sweat and heat, bounced on my shoulders and rubbed against my raw skin. Hot sweat dripped down from my helmet and burned my eyes. My vision blurred as I tried to wipe my face with a dusty glove. I passed each sunflower like a mile marker, their round open faces drooping toward the ground as if they’d grown tired of watching the violence.

As I reached the relative safety of the building’s edge I looked back. Breathing heavily, eyes still stinging, I stood there helpless, watching. One by one they ran: child, brother, father. Soldiers and sunflowers and a scared boy in new boots.