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cover webI’m thrilled to be a part of Active Duty, edited by Neil Plakcy.

Available now, Active Duty includes my story “New Dog, Old Tricks.”  Here’s a sample to wet your whistle:

One mile into the run, the pack felt like a lead weight on Gideon’s back. After two miles, he felt like he’d strapped one of those ridiculous little Smart cars onto his shoulders. His entire upper body ached with the strain of carrying the heavy backpack, and he was sucking wind like he hadn’t done since he first decided to go out for track in high school.

The day was scorchingly hot, the sun high overhead in a cloudless sky, and he was pouring sweat inside the combat camo shirt he’d picked up at the Army surplus store along with the backpack. Not the smartest time to take a run, but Gideon kept telling himself it wasn’t as hot on the track as it would be in Afghanistan. It had been his stupid idea in the first place to enlist in the Army at age twenty-six, and he damn well wasn’t going to MEPS with a bunch of kids right out of high school without getting his body into better shape.

A few high school kids were running on the track with him. Or rather, passing him by, all long, sleek muscles beneath light-weight running shorts and tank tops designed to let skin breathe. At least none of them made fun of him as they zoomed past. One kid, a tall black boy who had the grace of a natural athlete, even ran next to Gideon for a few strides before he said “Semper Fi” and resumed his faster pace.

Gideon appreciated the sentiment, even if his chosen branch of the service was the Army, not the Marines.

He decided to stick it out for five miles, then take a break. Technically, he was within weight range for his height. He had no medical issues that would get him disqualified, temporarily or otherwise. He didn’t need to be out here for any other reason than his own pride, but that was enough to keep his feet pounding the track.

He was into mile four when another runner came up beside him. Gideon was running in the outside lane, taking his time. Most of the other runners on the track were using the inside lanes, but this guy paced alongside Gideon in the lane right next to his.

Gideon snuck a glance at the guy. Crew cut, muscular build, but not body-builder muscular, he was just little taller than Gideon and maybe about five years older. He was wearing a plain white tee-shirt and running shorts, and well-worn running shoes. He’d worked up a sweat, and the dog tags he wore around his neck were plainly visible through the damp, sheer fabric of his shirt.

“What company are you with, soldier?” the guy asked Gideon.

He wasn’t looking at Gideon, just staring at the track ahead.

“Haven’t been assigned yet, sir,” Gideon said, trying hard not to sound out of breath.

The guy glanced at Gideon, one eyebrow raised. “Huh,” he said, then he went back to looking at the track.

Gideon expected the guy to go back to his own run and leave Gideon behind, but the guy kept pacing him.

“When do you report?” he asked after they’d rounded the far end of the track.

His voice sounded annoyingly normal. Gideon was staring hard at the finish line a half lap away. That was his goal. Once he crossed the finish line this time, that would mark five miles, and he could quit running and shuck the damn pack off his back.

~~~

Active Duty is available in both electronic and paperback at Amazon as well as other retail outlets.   Enjoy!

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