by Jessica Scott
Release date: May 16, 2016
Whatever it takes, just come home to me. Promise me, Sam.
In eight months, Staff Sergeant Sam Brown will become a father. But first, he has to survive his fourth tour in Iraq. On his last night home, he tries to pretend that everything is fine, that the war is fine, that his life is fine.
But as he returns to the war zone, things are anything but fine and the promise he made to his fiancé takes on a desperate edge. As things spiral down, Sam starts to wonder about that promise.
How high is the price he will pay when the long night comes to an end?
He didn’t touch Hale’s letter. The white envelope stood out against the dusty surface, pristine in the dirt except for one corner that had a smudged fingerprint.
Sam sat on the edge of his bed, one leg bouncing as he tried to figure out why this mission was bothering him as much as it was. Something wasn’t sitting right. Not at all. He was usually better at figuring these problems out but whenever he was stuck in the past, he’d bounce his thoughts off First Sarn’t Gnash.
And Gnash was gone because he hadn’t kissed the right ring.
So Sam sat and ran the mission through his head. Turned it around and looked at it from another angle. It was something about the location of the TAC. Why did it have to be so close to that building identified as having women and children in it? Why so close to that mosque?
Maybe he should get another look at the terrain. Maybe the commo guys knew something he didn’t, but it didn’t seem to make sense that they needed to be in that specific building in that specific neighborhood. There were always other options. Why not in this case?
His stomach rumbled, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was closing in on dinner. If he missed dinner, he’d have nothing but an MRE until the mission was completed. It would be just his luck that it would end up being the MRE ham slice or the omelet. That would be nasty. If he were hungry enough, it would taste like a porterhouse. But on three previous deployments, he’d never gotten that hungry.
There was always a first time.
He glanced at that fucking envelope and wished that Hale had given it to someone else. He snatched it out of the dust and shoved it in the drawer and hoped he’d never have to take it out again.
He paused before shutting the door. A deep disquiet slithered across the base of his spine. He should call Faith. He suddenly wanted very much to hear her voice.
He glanced at his watch. He had time to swing through the call center on his way to chow. If he didn’t get through to her, he’d have to wait until after the mission to try and call her again.
He closed the drawer and slapped his patrol cap on his head. He stuffed a Nutri-Grain bar in his pocket in case the chow hall was packed. He hated hanging out in the lines and the crowds. He hated listening to the Fobbits bitch and complain when the chow hall was out of their favorite food even more. They had no idea how good they had it. Fobbits never had to go out in sector, never had to risk their ass to get basic chow. They never left the damn base.
He headed back through the Jersey barrier maze that led past the company ops and back toward the call center. A massive armored vehicle rumbled past on the other side of the barrier. The new supposedly bombproof vehicles were still a rare sight. They were giant compared to the more familiar track vehicles, but according to the powers that be, they were more resilient when it came to withstanding blasts.
Sam hoped they’d get more. Soon. The last thing he wanted to do was die in the coffin of a Bradley, especially if another vehicle could withstand some of the massive blasts they’d been subjected to lately. The bomb makers were getting more skilled. Which meant that even if Sam thought this mission was the worst idea ever, he was going to figure it out. Clearing out the bomb makers might mean one more of his boys or someone else’s troopers would get to go home in one piece.
He rounded a corner as the armored vehicle rumbled off. He glanced into one of the bunkers, then did a double take. The dog was there, lying in the shade. Her head was propped against the cement and her sides were heaving as she panted hard.
He wanted to keep walking. He wanted to ignore her obvious hunger. But he couldn’t look away from the abject misery in her eyes. Her paws were too big for the rest of her body. She probably weighed thirty pounds when she should weigh fifty. Pity, far too familiar, rose inside him. Goddamned pity was going to get someone else killed. He couldn’t stop the sympathy from overwhelming his good sense. He felt bad for the damn dog. If she was mousing, she was working damn hard for any meals she might manage to catch.
He pulled the Nutri-Grain bar out of his pocket. No one was around to see him break his own rule about feeding the stupid dog. He felt the weight of his own hypocrisy deep in his bones as he tore the thin foil wrapper open and shook the bar into his hand. It crumbled into his palm.
The dog lifted her head, watching him warily. She looked like she’d been kicked one too many times. He wasn’t about to get close enough to hand her the bar, that was for damn sure. He’d never hear the end of it if he got bit after bitching at Lewis and Hale about the friggin’ mutt.
She tensed as he crept a little closer. He wanted to toss it into the bunker to keep anyone from seeing it if she refused the meal. He was sure one of the mice would drag it off if she didn’t eat it.
He hoped she didn’t have any puppies. Starving puppies might send him over the edge of shit he couldn’t deal with in this godforsaken war. It was a futile wish. She wouldn’t have the empty sacs on her belly if she hadn’t recently whelped. He inched closer until he was just at the edge of the bunker.
She rolled over and crouched on all fours, her head down. Her hackles rose slowly, one by one, until her back was rigid and stiff. Fear closed off Sam’s throat. He’d never get his weapon raised in time to shoot her. Forcing himself to move, he tossed her the bar and held up his hands. He backed away as she crept forward until the bar was between her front paws. Her lips curled. Her growl rumbled deep in her throat.
He never took his eyes from her as he rounded the corner. He moved out at double time as soon as he was out of sight. He refused to look behind him, even as the back of his neck tingled with the primitive fear of being chased. His spine tingled as he ran, waiting for the sound of claws clicking on the gravel to announce his demise.
He kept running despite the shiver that ran down his back and clenched his balls. He knew, knew, that if he turned around he’d see her loping behind him, a predator toying with her prey, her jaws opening to snap on his neck.
He rounded a barrier and finally dared to look back. A shadow disappeared behind the cement, but he saw nothing else. No wild dog was chasing him. Nothing but shadows from the setting sun and dust dancing on the rays.
He was safe.
So why did he feel like he was still being watched?
4.25 out of 5 stars
In “The Long Night: A Novel of Suspense”, a military fiction story with paranormal elements by Jessica Scott, Staff Sergeant Sam Brown returns to Iraq for his fourth tour of duty, leaving behind his pregnant fiancée, Faith, who has extracted his promise that he WILL return. Will the price he pays with body and soul be enough to allow him to fulfill that vow?
This tale is a somewhat unsettling but captivating look at the dark and painful effects wrought by war on the minds and bodies of soldiers caught up in the moral and ethical dilemmas they face while trying stay alive in a violent conflict. This author provides a sobering verisimilitude to her stories that are undoubtedly mined from experiences she and those around her have faced.
The contrast between the joy of knowing that he is going to be a father and the hell that Staff Sergeant Sam Brown has already experienced plus the new challenges and life-threatening situations he returns to is vividly portrayed. His fiancée, Faith, tries to live up to her name but has her own superstitious stipulations to bring him back home safely to his family. Sam must struggle with evil personified and the overwhelming stress of following orders, being true to his self and to his men, and surviving to deal with the decisions he has made in the field. The eerie events that mark his fourth tour underscore the question that is posed: “You tell me if it’s possible to go to war and stay a good man.”
Those who are fans of Jessica Scott know that she provides gritty realism in her stories, but readers of this particular tale should be warned that this is not a feel-good romance but rather a darker and more eldritch tale of the horrors of war that can change a person so much that “Home…wasn’t, anymore” and reminds us of why “Everyone wanted to cheer the soldier on. No one wanted to actually be the soldier.” The story is well written, but definitely a sobering look at the horrific cost being paid both by those who fight our battles in distant lands and those who wait for them at home.
A copy of this title was provided to me for review