Author, Judy Howard’s mailing address is Sun City, California, but you will rarely find her there. Instead, you might find the top ranking Amazon author strapped in at the race track ready to check out the Mario Andretti Racing Experience or cruising down Route 66.
Of one thing, you can be sure she is living up to a quote by Henry Thoreau, Howard questions, “How vain is it to sit down and write, when you have not stood up to live?”
In anticipation of the releaseof my new book,MASADA’S
MARINE,The Journey Of A Marine And His Service Dog, I am offering a sneak preview.This book has been long in the making and I predict it will be available soon. I am
eager for it to touch your lives and become a part of your library. Please enjoy the excerpt until then.
MASADA’S MARINE – BY JUDY HOWARD
She lay on the hardwood floor next to Private First Class Alexander
March, USMC, as he slept in the dark. An astringent odor mixed in the autumn
air drifted down to her nose. She lay still, but opened her eyes. The bedside
clock cast shadows across the gold oak floor. She squinted at its green glow
and listened to the Marine’s breathing- the only sound – air escaping in jagged puffs from his lungs. A
window in the room allowed light from a flickering streetlamp to beat against
the wadded bed sheets. She jerked her head up, ears pointed, just before the
Private’s flailing arms and legs rustled the covers and his cries pierced her
ears. The stinging smells of panic signaled her to action. Twenty months of
intensive training kicked in.
Her name was Masada. She was an American Service Dog. She was a
She stood ready and would never quit. She
would never leave her comrade’s side.
PFC Alexander March tossed and twisted unaware of the dog’s wagging
tail as she jumped onto the bed and pushed her head under his thrashing arms.
She laid her head on his chest and pressed her body against his. The
distraction woke him, breaking the nightmare’s pull. He reached around and
cradled her head. The dog’s excited shiver went unnoticed. Needing him to be
okay, she licked the Marine’s hand and face until the warrior’s attention
focused on the dog. Masada nuzzled deep into the crook of the soldier’s neck. His
muscles loosened as he pulled her closer.
The PFC held the dog close. Whatever demons that had stolen into the
room and caused his stress, slinked away like villainous ghosts. They always
returned though, like blood headed vultures perched in the ceiling’s corners.
They waited for the Marine to sleep. These black birds of memory were brazen,
relentless, never holding back from the advantage that unconsciousness offered.
This first night with the Marine they
attacked again and again no matter how often the dog challenged them.
The warrior sat up and swung his legs to the floor. Masada shifted her
body and placed her head on his thigh. His breathing slowed as he ran a hand
over his shaved head and scanned the room. Outside the world slept in peace,
safe from the terrors the PFC revealed to the dog.
These events between the canine
and the veteran unfolded like a soundless dance in the moonlight. Masada
executed her practiced routine throughout the night, going without sleep. She
was an American Service Dog. She was a professional, trained to be ready and
never quit. She would never leave her comrade’s side.
Sensing another wave of panic, Masada jumped down from the bed, faced
the Marine and sat at attention. Hands that hummed with nervous energy cupped
her head. The canine’s deep brown eyes locked, unblinking, onto the veteran’s
moist blue eyes.
“I’m supposed to tell you everything. But it’s as if you already know.”
Her nose pushed against his arm and she licked his hand. Her tail beat
a steady rhythm on the wooden floor.
He was on patrol with Eddie. It wasn’t like the walks with Masada down
tree-lined streets in the states, dodging skate boarders and joggers. Alex’s
hands stroked the dog and she leaned into his touch while he rocked with tight,
“Everywhere was fuckin’ sand and rubble” It was Eddie’s first day in
Iraq and Alex wondered if Eddie still smelled like fresh cut hay and apple pie.
They swapped stories. Eddie about the States and Alex about the shit-hole of
wind and sand where they were to spend the next twelve months…or less.
Eddie bragged about his wife, Tanya, his high school sweetheart and
their son, Ethan. Before Eddie deployed they stayed with his folks to save
money. They were going to get a place of their own when he finished his tour,
maybe try for a girl next. The story was also Alex’s and Sarah’s. They, too,
had dreams. Alex allowed only a moment to hope he and Eddie both made it home
then mentally shoved the wish so far down into a part of him for safe keeping
that he’d have to dig to get it back.
“My job was to brief Eddie, keep him safe.” The Marine’s fingers trembled
and dug deep into the dog’s fur, his voice rose and fell.
Their orders were to clear the area. Move out the women and children, farmers
and business men.” Watch everyone,” he warned Eddie. A farmer who pretended a friendly wave on the
corner today could be the same man in a group of insurgents tomorrow who tried
to kill you. Alex quoted the KIA statistics and Eddie’s rosy, homegrown color
drained from his face.
Masada leaned against Alex’s leg and laid a paw across knees that
jerked up and down. The warrior’s boots, the ones he never removed at night,
thumped, thumped, thumped against the floor.
“Eddie argued, he didn’t want to shoot women and children.
But I stressed, you’re a Marine,
a killing machine. You’re here to kill. If you’re not sure and you think
they’re a threat to you or your team, you take ‘em out. “
Thump, thump, thump. Was that the dog’s tail? No. His boot beat out the
rhythm on the floor.
No one but the dog saw the mask of icy control sweep across Alex’s face
as he remembered Eddie’s cold, unfeeling response to his order. The killer look.
It burned in the eyes of every Marine in combat. The guise of bravery - steeled
emotions wrapped tightly, strangling the fear. Every well-trained Marine
focused only on the mission and blocked everything else.
Masada’s ears pricked forward and listened to the Private’s voice rise
and fall, as he absently scratched her head. He sat on the bed’s edge hypnotized
by the dim, flickering light. He bent down, encircled his dog in a desperate
hug and buried his face into her neck. Tears soaked her fur. Finally, he pulled
away, straightened, and took a deep breath.
Alex and Eddie patrolled streets. Broken windows gaped like dead eyes on
the concrete buildings. Fluttering, tattered sheets which did nothing to repel
the desert sun waved from the dark interiors. The bombed walls looked as if
large bites had been chewed off by some sci-fi dinosaur. Alex pointed to a soda
can lying in the gutter. “You have to be careful of soda cans. They can be
Alex stood. He paced the small
room, around the bed, to the window, about-face, and back again. The rumpled
bed clothes absorbed his words and left a whisper only the dog heard. His fists
hit everything he passed - the bedpost, the window frame, the dresser. The
sound of bone slamming against hardwood accompanied his marching boots,
creating a rhythm like the drums of a war dance.
“I told the kid, we’ll cross here, proceed on the other side, you know,
to avoid the can.” Eddie didn’t question and stepped out in front of him. When
they reached the other side of the street Alex waved to a ten year old boy who
came running up. He warned Eddie not to panic but be ready. Eddie mentioned it
was just a boy.
The kid’s thinness and unruly black hair struck Alex’s attention for
the first time. His name, Yusuf. Alex had begun to look forward to the boy’s
visits. He came around every day pedaling Americans movies or bringing fresh
baked bread to his team. Eddie had asked the boy about his parents. They had
been killed in a car bombing. His father, who had been an interpreter for the
Army, had suffered the Taliban’s retaliation. Yusuf’s mother just happened to
be along for the ride. Alex admired the kid’s moxie because he still catered to
the US soldiers. He wondered if his boy would have the courage to go on in
world of chaos like this place. But, it was the only life Yusuf knew.
The PFC squared off and aimed at the boy. Sorry Yusuf, no closer. He
heard Eddie inhale sharply as he shouted the order to the small boy. The youth
stopped and waited unconcerned by the weapon aimed at his chest. He had done
the drill before. The Marine swore to himself, if he had anything to do with it, his or Eddie’s boy
would never have to live like this.
Alex halted his pacing and sat down. The service dog moved in again,
licked his hand, nudged his arm. His arms encircled her and pulled her close.
His knees jerked up and down once again, regaining their nervous rhythm.
“I ordered Yusuf to open his shirt.” The boy had no bomb strapped to
his chest. Only then did the Marine dig into his pocket for the candy. Their
hands touched and the warrior marveled at Yusuf’s small, soft fingers when he
grabbed the sweets. Would he live to do the same for his own boy?
Nothing happened that day, which made the soldiers even more
hyper-vigilant. A week passed. The Marines watched theIraqi shuffled through the rubble that was
now their daily lives as they patrolled and shared stories from home. They
dined with Yusuf’s family and visited his school, handing out more candy. Always
alert. At night they barricaded behind the thick walls of the Forward Operating
Base. The FOB had no windows. Inside their cement cells they slept in small
chunks of time, interrupted by sirens that signaled everyone to take refuge in the
“It was a Sunday,” he said to the dog. “When Yusuf ran up and again
stood before us.”
Eddie smiled and greeted the
boy, then reached in his jacket pocket. Alex regretted not stopping Eddie when
he omitted the search routine and began to approach the boy.”
The dog smelled the panic emitting from Alex’s body and nudged his arm,
again reminding him she was there. He relaxed a little, came back to the
darkened room and rubbed her back.
“The boy just exploded. Eddie went down.” Thrown back from the blast,
Alex staggered. “Do you smell that, Masada? I do. I still smell the burning
flesh and see the pink mist.”
The Private rushed to his teammate. He shoved a charred body part,
maybe one of Yusuf’s small fingers, off Eddie’s back and carefully rolled him
over. Blood leaked from under Eddie’s helmet and he groaned. The fallen Marine struggled to stand.
“When Ireached down to help him
up my hand shook so badly I couldn’t look Eddie in the eye. We both stood on
shaky legs. My hand still trembled. I wiped the sweat from my brow with my
sleeve. I’m a Marine. I’m disciplined, physically and mentally tough.
When I looked down at my jacket it was smeared with the boy’s blood.
I also want to show my appreciationto you, my reader. You have
supported meover the last several
years. You have written wonderful reviews, and in the process, raised me up to become a top ranking author on
It is you who encouraged me and made me aware that my writing makes a
For you, my follower, my fan, my friend, I am making my first two books, COAST TO COAST WITH A CAT AND A
GHOSTand GOING HOME WITH A CAT AND A