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Save the Sanctuary #1 by Samuel P. Fortsch
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Save the Sanctuary #1

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Save the Sanctuary #1 by Samuel P. Fortsch
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Sep 01, 2020 | ISBN 9780593222331

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Product Details

Author Essay


Location: Classified
Date: 15AUG18
Time: 1800 hours

Welcome aboard, recruit!

Things move fast in the Army, so let me debrief you. That’s Army-­talk for “getting you up to speed on the details of the mission . . . and quickly.

We’re about to jump out of a C-­130 Hercules—­that’s a big plane! A four-­engine turboprop military transport aircraft to be exact. We’re cruising at an altitude of one thousand feet and zooming through the sky at 115 knots—­that’s more than 130 miles an hour—­above the rain forest.

The thick trees and dense fog will make this jump even more dangerous, so we have to stay extra focused. We’re linking up with US troops on the ground at RP1. That means Rally Point 1—­our first checkpoint. The troops are en route to a small farming village deep inside the forest.We’ve received intel reports that the enemy has forced the villagers out of their homes and taken the land for themselves. The enemy then placed hidden explosive traps around the village to keep us out.

And that’s why we’re here: to find and safely disarm the explosive traps and return the land to the villagers. It’s rightfully their land and it’s our job to make sure it stays that way.

Now, I bet you’re wondering: Who is this crazy dog and why is he about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane???

I’m Sergeant Ricochet. Rico for short. I’m a Belgian Malinois, and I’m a soldier in the United States Army. I was born for this life. Really . . . I was! Back at Lackland Air Force base in Texas two years ago. That makes me fourteen in human years. And that’s where I met her: Kris, my handler, the woman I’m strapped to. She chose me out of twenty other pups at the base. She said it was because I had so much energy, like a pinball “ricocheting” around the room . . . and the name just stuck!

For the last two years, Kris taught me everything there is to know about sniffing bombs, bad guys, and bacon! She’s trained me since the day I was born. Okay, I didn’t actually get trained to sniff meats, but I absolutely love, love, love bacon. And Kris knows it, too. She always gives me hers because she’s a vegetarian.Kris also taught me the Soldier’s Creed. It’s the code that she and I live by. It’s what all soldiers in the United States Army live by. It keeps us focused and determined so we can do our job and complete the mission—­no matter the situation.

Between the roar of the C-­130’s big engine and the whipping of the wind outside, it’s hard to even think, let alone stay calm. But that’s part of the Soldier’s Creed: I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills. It’s our job to stay calm in the face of danger. And it’s our duty to place the mission first.Kris gives me a squeeze and a peck on the head, and I know it’s time to jump. She checks and tightens my straps on the parachute. I slobber her with my tongue to let her know how much I love jumping out of airplanes.

“When we jump, count to four, then pull the ripcord on the parachute,” Kris says while sliding the door open. The cold, wet air rushes into the plane.

Hooah!” I howl. That’s Army-­talk for “let’s go!”And just like that, we’re hurtling down toward earth at almost 120 miles per hour!

“One . . .”“two . . .”“three . . .”“four!”

* * *

Time: 1815 hours

We hit the ground. Hard.

Kris secures our gear and detaches me. It’s time to get to work!

We landed in a muddy pig farm on the outskirts of the village, fifty meters from RP1. My first priority is to scan the area. That’s a soldier’s natural instinct when we’re in an unknown location.It is late evening and the sun is about to set over the trees, but it’s just enough light to get a clear scan of my surroundings. I can see a faint light in the distance coming from some of the villagers’ homes, which are thatch hutches made from trees.

I finish my initial scan. Not much to see here: no bad guys, no bombs, and aside from the pigs, there’s definitely no bacon!We link up with the other soldiers.

Kris looks at her map and calls out to me, “Rico, go left. We’re half a klick from the bad guy’s hideout.”Klick is Army-­talk for “kilometer.”This way. Hooah!

* * *

Time: 1845 hours

I’ve got the village in my sight. Let’s move out.

I watch as Kris uses hand and arm signals to silently communicate with the rest of the soldiers. They follow her signal and we all start to stealthily crawl through the grass toward the village.

I have so many different smells coming into my nose: the dirt, the trees, the air, the sweat dripping off the soldiers. I can still smell the pigs and they’re half a klick away! I smell everything, but what I’m sniffing for is chemical powder, TNT, or dynamite. These smells alert me (and Kris) to where the enemy has hidden the explosive traps. Our intel reports show that they have set up ten bombs around the village.I stop and close my eyes to focus all of my attention to my nose. I breathe in and out quickly, lowering my nose to the ground.

And then, just like that, I’ve got a scent. My ears perk up and I look to Kris. She knows I’m on to something. She begins following me—­quietly and closely—­as we march through thick, wet mud. I’m filthy, but it doesn’t stop me: We’ve got a mission to do. We move quickly through the terrain, passing thickets and shrubs, following the scent.

Then I stop.

I motion with my head and point with my nose to an innocent-looking pile of leaves and twigs. But I know it’s anything but innocent. I watch as Kris approaches the pile and slowly begins to remove the leaves . . . revealing a trip-wire bomb.

Kris carefully cuts the wire and we keep moving. She pats me on the head to let me know I did a good job. We would have been toast.We continue making our sweep around the village, uncovering bomb after bomb. Kris silently motions out to the soldiers to “set up a perimeter.” This means to arrange themselves in a big circle to keep us safe while we finish our sweep looking for bombs. In all, we uncover nine. Sometimes intel reports aren’t 100 percent accurate.We begin surrounding the enemy forces. They take one look at us and know they are outnumbered. We watch as they quickly retreat into the dark.Finally, when we make it to the edge of the village, the villagers come out of hiding in the forest and greet us with smiles and hugs.
They invite us to stay for dinner.

* * *

Time: 1930 hours

I watch as they build a fire and begin roasting one of the wild hogs. We sit around the fire and the villagers sing songs for us. What a great day to be in the Army. The villagers get to keep their land and we get to load our bellies up with some hot chow! That’s Army-­talk for “food.”

While the villagers are singing and my fellow soldiers are relaxing, I catch another scent.

It’s so potent, so overwhelming. It’s absolutely intoxicating.

I begin following the trail. It smells like . . . BACON!

But I can’t slow down when there’s . . . By the time I realize it’s not bacon, it’s too late.


Location: Washington, DC, United States
Date: 25JUN20
Time: 0900 hours

It’s been almost two years since the bomb went off. The explosion was so loud that for two weeks all I could hear was a ringing in my ears.The last thing I remember was being pulled out of the rubble. Then it was four long weeks recovering in the hospital. The blast took away my front left leg and my sense of purpose. And worst of all, it took Kris away from me.I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this place, this world, a world without Kris, a world without the Army. I’m not upset with the Army. I had served my time, and served it honorably, but I just couldn’t put the uniform back on. I felt ashamed about the mission. They tried to help me, but I wouldn’t listen. They had no choice but to discharge me.And that’s the truth: The Army’s got no need for a three-­legged pooch. They patted me on the head, sent me packing, and the next thing you know, I found myself living on the streets of Washington, DC, our nation’s capital.

Still, every morning when I wake up from a dream, I open my eyes and can’t believe I ended up here, all because I lost my military bearing and let my guard down . . . chasing what I thought was a piece of bacon. I don’t even care for bacon anymore.

They call it the “Sanctuary,” whatever that’s supposed to mean. All I know is it’s an animal shelter for rejects like me, without a mission. I used to be special. I used to have a job. But now? I’m just like everyone else here.

There’s an English bulldog around here named Brick, who is just about the laziest dog you will ever meet. Story goes he overslept one morning and missed his flight back to England, where he’s from. He’s so lazy he decided to just stay here. He speaks with this funny Cockney accent. That’s a British accent. He’s always saying “Oi!” which sounds like boy without the b.

I’m not the only Army dog here, either. There’s a rottweiler named Truman who served overseas with the Missouri National Guard. He lost his vision in a training accident four or five years back and doesn’t talk much.

And then there’s Penny: I’m not sure what’s wrong with her, but she’s way too happy and cheerful for a place like this. She’s a black lab who was born here, so she doesn’t know anything better than this place. Penny runs the Sanctuary with Ms. Becca, the lady who owns it.

Penny loves the Sanctuary—­maybe a little too much. She thinks that everyone here is just “perfect.” But I always say, “If we’re so perfect, then why are we here?” She usually just laughs and says, “Rico, stop being so silly.”

But I know she knows I’m not being silly. She knows I’m serious. And she knows why I’m always sad.

And no, it’s not because I lost my leg. I’m sad because that day was the last day I ever saw Kris. That was the last day I ever felt happiness in my heart. And that was the last day I felt a sense of purpose. I still don’t know what happened to Kris. I just hope she’s okay. I think about her every day in this no-­good, stinking place.There’s not much else to do here, except for sit around. Penny says if you look close enough you can see the White House. Beats me, though, I’ve never tried. What’s the point?

I’ve been at the Sanctuary for a little over a year now. The only reason I know this is because Penny wanted to throw me a one-­year anniversary party, but I told her I didn’t want one.I was just fine on my own, sleeping outside and eating scraps wherever I could find them. You’d be surprised at how much food people throw away and how good it still tastes. Most of it’s better than the MREs we ate in the Army. MRE stands for “meal ready to eat.”
Or as Kris used to say, “Meal, rarely edible.” She always knew how to make me smile. I miss her laugh.

The streets of DC can be fun and I got to know them like the back of my paw. I actually liked living outside. We did it all the time in the Army. Then one day, I was minding my own business, trying to get some shut-­eye in the alley behind this place when Penny and Ms. Becca came up to me.

“You’re not sleeping outside, not one more night, you’re coming with us to the Sanctuary,” Penny said.

I told them to scram, leave me alone, but Penny wouldn’t listen.

“Come on inside. We’ll fix you up and get you a nice meal and a bed,” Penny said.


I really can’t stand that word. It suggests I’m broken. Well, maybe my spirit was broken. Maybe it still is. But just ’cause something’s broken don’t mean it needs fixing, now does it?

I knew the two of them wouldn’t leave me alone. So I figured: What have I got to lose?

So, that was that. And here we are. This is my life now. I’m surrounded by a bunch of dogs, cats, snakes, and birds that have only one thing in common: No one wants them.There’s even a skunk here. His name is Jean Claude, but everyone calls him Stripes, on account of that big white stripe across his back. Real original.Brick is Penny’s assistant. Penny, of course, thinks he’s just “perfect.” He’s a perfect lazybones—­that’s what he is. For the last month, all Penny talks about is the Fourth of July parade coming up.

Every year she has everyone gather by the fence to watch the parade go by. She even makes a seating chart to make sure the little ones can see. Penny says she loves the different displays of patriotism. Or as she calls it, “paw-­triotism.” Again, real original.

I didn’t watch last year, and I definitely won’t watch this year.

* * *
Time: 0905hours

Oh, great. Here they come now.

“Hiya, Rico! How’s your fantastic morning going?” Penny asks me, bubbly as her usual self. Behind her is a trail of young puppies who just arrived from the puppy mill. Penny protects them like they’re her own children. 

“I didn’t know it was fantastic,” I say.

Penny looks at me like I’m crazy. Brick is half asleep, holding a clipboard with a list on it.

“Oh, stop it! This is the best place in the world. What more could you want?”

I don’t seriously entertain her question, so I let her continue.

“So, no biggie, but Brick and I are working on the seating chart for the Fourth of July parade and were wondering if you might want—­

”“Negative,” I say. That’s Army-­talk for “no.

”“But—­” Penny pleads with me.“I just want to be left alone,” I tell her.

Penny starts to give me the “tilt”—­it’s her signature move. She turns her head so much it looks like it’s about to fall off. She “tilts” when she doesn’t like your answer or suspects something is out of the ordinary.

“Oh, come on! The more the merrier.”

“You can barely even see the parade through the alley,” I tell her.

“Some of us actually prefer the narrow view. And besides, where’s your paw-­triotism? You’re a soldier, Rico!”

I shake my head side to side and look down at my missing leg. “Not anymore.”

I watch as Brick puts a big “X” next to my name.

“Well, everyone wants you to watch with us,” Penny says.

“Nobody cares if I watch,” I say.

Oi! Penny, are we finished here?” asks Brick, his Cockney accent extra thick this morning.

Penny just sighs.

“I’m starving and I need a nap. And then I’ll need a post-­nap snack. I’m useless if I’m tired and hungry,” Brick says.

“Fine. Just go,” Penny says.

This is the first time I’ve seen Penny even slightly less cheery than her usual self.I watch as Brick moseys away and finds a shady spot to sleep in. I figure this is the end of our chat, but instead, Penny leans in close to me and whispers, “Listen, Rico. I know the view of the parade stinks, but it’s the best we’ve got. Everyone watches . . . and I mean everyone.”

“Well, not me,” I say.

Penny shakes her head, defeated, and starts walking away. Then she stops and turns back around to me.

“Oh, and by the way, I care. I care if you watch. If you’re living here at the Sanctuary under my roof, you’re family. You always talk about your old unit, right? Well, you’re a part of this one now. And this unit sticks together. This unit doesn’t leave anyone behind. I’m not quitting on you.”

I stood there, shaky on my three legs, and all I could think about was Kris. She loved fireworks on the Fourth. And then I thought about the Soldier’s Creed she taught me: I will never quit.

Maybe Penny had a point: Am I quitting on myself?

Then again, I wasn’t a soldier anymore.

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