Monday, February 17, 2014


In anticipation of  the release  of 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.



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 professional.

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, sharp movements.

“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 IEDs.”

 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 the  Iraqi 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 safe zone.

“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 I  reached 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. Yusuf’s blood.


I also want to show my  appreciation  to you, my reader. You  have supported me  over the last several years. You have written wonderful reviews, and in the process,  raised  me up to become a top ranking author on Amazon.
It is you  who encouraged me and  made me aware that my writing makes a difference.
 For you, my follower,  my  fan, my friend, I  am making my first  two  books, COAST TO COAST WITH A CAT AND A GHOST  and GOING HOME WITH A CAT AND A GHOST.  


CLICK HERE: Judy Howard's Author Page on Amazon

Thank you. I am forever indebted to you,
my reader.

1 comment:

  1. Hello there, Judy. Your new book sounds wonderful. I can’t wait to read it. Maybe it needs to be transformed into a screenwriting. Are you attending the next SBWC? I don’t think I will be there this year. If you are, give me a call and I will come by and take you to lunch. I would love to catch up.The Errand and Stinkbugs and Grasshoppers Green is still not out in audio form. The communication with Xlibris has not gone well. I am busy working on My Mother’s Broken Memoir. Carolyn