He wakes from the dream with a convulsive shudder. Peering about the dim cargo hold looking for signs of the enemy. Hands scrabbling to find a weapon, any weapon. The deep growl of the engines shifts just then and various mechanical thumps and groans echo through the space. He sits up straighter, scrubbing his hand over his face in weary relief. It is the damnedest thing. This dream. This nightmare.
After a week of it, one quiet afternoon, he had finally wandered into the division shrinks' office. Twisting his cap in his hands, throat dry. She had smiled calmly at him and, astonishingly, listened to his story without interruption or disbelief. Set his mind at ease with some quiet unintelligible jargon that nevertheless set his mind at ease. Her calm demeanor more effective than her words. He had withstood the ribbing from his squad-mates enough to go back a couple of times (they all been in that office at one time or another after all) while still convalescing from the very real wound (and subsequent surgery) in his shoulder. The one that had been caused by shrapnel from a IED. An IED that had been buried in the roadside rubble in a flat sandy plain. Not a tree in sight, let alone a jungle. Nor a half naked savage with his mysterious poison-tipped spear. He remembers the shrink gently placing her hand on his back during his final visit with her. The gentle understanding of it. The relief that he felt at her reassurance. The dream, he had finally understood, was just something that his mind had made up to deal with the savage intensity of those few bloody moments after the IED had exploded. Knocking the troop carrier he was in onto it's side. The struggle to get out and establish a perimeter. The relief once the firefight was finally over. The necessary horror of collecting the bits and pieces of the dead. Just a dream. A coping mechanism.
His buddies had congratulated him once he was firmly on the road to recovery and received the news that he was being sent home for a short furlong. He smiled ruefully at the jokes and banter from that day. It had been pretty crowded in the medical tent with him shoved up into one corner and the surviving members of the squad passing around a bottle of the local fermented goat's milk. He remembered how they had all turned their noses up at it when first deployed into the sector. Sneering locals drinking the sickly sweet brew while gulping down their beer & whiskey rations. Then supplies started getting scarce and the rations got smaller and smaller just when they needed them most. And so the foul smelling drink had started showing up in more and more of their canteens. No one had commented upon it at first. In fact, most of them wouldn't even acknowledge the fact. Until finally a threshold had been crossed and it became everyone's favorite drink. To the point that when some beer or whiskey did make it through, the casks lay unopened, sometimes for weeks.
He sat up a little straighter in his jump seat...