The following special preview of Falen: Semper Fi by James MacKrell appears here with the permission of the author.
Corporal Richard Gonzales, USMC, stared intently at two magpies darting in and around the crabapple tree in his parents' front yard in southwestern Montana. The scene played over in his mind as if he were trying to lose himself in the freedom of these flitting birds. Solemn, almost morose, the Iraqi War veteran rocked his wheelchair back and forth. Lying on the porch in front of him his trusted Australian Shepherd Falen. Falen was much more involved with a butterfly cavorting in the flowers right in front of her nose. The Aussie knew something bothered her new master, but try as she might she couldn't figure out the cause. It had been six months since the joyous welcome-home party Sergio and Isabel threw for their returning son.
Javier Coronado and most of the ranchers in the Absoraka-Beartooth Mountain region came to welcome the hometown hero back to his family's ranch. During this celebration was the first time Rick and Falen met, and it was love at first sight. Falen sensed a need and she approved of the job as his companion and protector. Ever since they had been inseparable.
Falen talked to herself, a habit she had started since she had moved over to Rick's house and left her family, only a hilltop away, at Javier's. She had tried to talk to the Aussies that worked for Rick's father, Sergio, but they were much too serious for a flighty miss like Falen.
"I guess Master and I are the only things worth talking to," she mused.
Falen smiled to herself and rolled a little closer to the aeronautical bug flitting up and down over the crowns of the roses.
Rick positioned his wheelchair so the afternoon rays of the Montana sun didn't obscure his vision of the front yard and surrounding fields he loved so. He reached to scratch an itch on the leg that wasn't there. His right leg had been left on a road in Iraq just about 40 klicks, or kilometers out of Fallujah. As a member of the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marine Division, Cpl. Gonzales a battle-hardened veteran, engaged insurgents for over six brutal months in some of the heaviest fighting the Corps had seen. His squad on a routine patrol was jolted when the right rear tire of the Humvee rolled over one of the many IED's planted along every road and path. The shock of the explosion bucked the mechanized vehicle like a wild horse, throwing Gonzales out the back and right into the middle of the blast area. The detonation was strong enough to create a fire that engulfed not only his vehicle but also those in front and behind his armored truck.
Rick's right leg was mangled, but still attached. He tried to stand but fell back almost into the fire. He could hear the screams of his troopers as they tried to fight their way out of the burning, twisted wreckage. At great peril and pain to himself, Gonzales didn't stop until all of his men were pulled to safety. When the corpsmen arrived too much damage had been sustained in the rescue and they couldn't save his leg. The way he reasoned, he gave a limb where many of his fellow marines had given their lives.
The afternoon shadows inched further into the front yard. Falen growing restless kept running out to the grass and bringing her Frisbee for Rick to throw. He tired of this game long before she did and when he tried to rest a little she would sit by the side of the wheelchair, Frisbee in her mouth and whine.
"Alright little girl, I'll toss it one more time, but then we've got to stop, OK?" She just looked into his face knowing she had won and that he would be throwing the disk until he decided to wheel himself back into the house.
Sergio and Isabel, Rick's parents, had gone into Billings for the day and didn't plan to be home until nearly midnight. If Rick and Falen were going to eat, they would have to fend for themselves. One of the hired hands fed the working dogs and the stock, so at least Rick only had to look out for the two of them.
As he was arranging the wheelchair for a retreat into the living room, Falen raised up staring down the drive at a car pulling into the property. No automobile either she or Rick recognized. Falen assumed strange might be a threat. Her hackles were bristling, on guard for any attack to protect her Master.
"Dear Spirit of the Day and Night, please protect us from any danger and make me brave."
The Spirit of the Day and Night permeated much of Falen's thinking. She knew how much her mother, Jenny's faith served to save her brother, Bandit, and her from the freezing snowstorm that trapped them in a cave for nearly a month. The mere suggestion of danger and her little heart jumped into a position of prayer. She heard many times how the Spirit guided Bandit in the fight of his life with the criminals who wanted to burn down Javier Coronado's ranch. Only Bandit and the Great Pyrenees' managed to save all Javier owned. Falen sought to be as brave as her brother in the face of trouble.
She rose up leaning into her front legs facing whatever this strange car might bring. Rick put his hand over his eyes in a salute move to block the glare by the afternoon sun, but try as he might he couldn't make out the form of the driver through the tinted windows. Small beads of sweat popped out on Rick's forehead. He didn't expect trouble, but being in a wheelchair constantly reminded him of his vulnerability. Rick hadn't met anything in his life that scared him. He had been afraid, especially in Iraq, but being too frightened to act or defend himself never crossed his mind.
His strong hands tightened on the arms of the chair just as the black car rocked to a stop. The windows still rolled up and the driver's door was opposite the view from the porch. Falen's barking had lowered into a constant growl halfway between a whine and a menacing warning sound. Rick could feel his heart beating. What would he do if this were a threat?
After a successful career in radio, music publishing and many facets of the entertainment industry including appearances on popular television shows and in feature films, James MacKrell was inspired by a dream to try his hand as an author. James' first book, Down from the Mountain, is being hailed as one of the best new dog stories of our time. It is a gripping tale about an intrepid Australian Shepherd. Set in the mountains of Montana, it is a story of bravery and loyalty and it celebrates the connection between animals and their people.
Down From The Mountain
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