26 comments

Historical Fiction American

The car window is open just a crack. Through it, I can smell the fumes and hear the rumble of the city. I would like to stick my nose out of that crack, but Shannon will say No. I was doing that until she told me to Sit on the seat and Stay. What would be best is if she opened the window all the way: then I could stick my whole head out and still Sit.Β 


Something is wrong today. Shannon is driving very quickly, so that everything outside the window whizzes past before I can see it clearly. She is afraid, and her fear makes me anxious. A phone call made her upset, and then she packed our working gear into the car. When we got in too, I thought a ride would make her happy again. It did not. She still looks like me at the vet.Β 


Now a different smell comes through the open window crack: smoke.Β 


Shannon puts the window up and stops the car near a milling throng of people. When she tells me to jump out, noise immediately crowds my ears. People are talking, shouting, and crying while sirens wail.


She straps my vest onto my back, then puts my booties on my feet, but I lie down and chew on one, trying to pull it off. I can’t grip anything with my toenails when I wear them. She sighs and takes them off again.Β 


β€œHeel, Roman,” Shannon says, making my leash taut. We pass people wearing helmets and heavy clothing spraying writhing water hoses at plumes of flame. When we pass a box-shaped car with lights inside and out, I smell blood. I whimper.Β 


She strokes my head. β€œPeople need us. We’ll be okay.”


Shannon stops me near some other dogs and talks with their handlers, her curly black hair thrusting out from beneath her helmet. Several of the dogs look despondent, their heads hanging low, staring at the ground.Β 


I snort, trying to clear my nose of the terrible, acrid smell the wind has suddenly filled it with. Looking beyond the tired dogs and people, I see an enormous rubble field. Under the looming skeleton of a collapsed building, more people and dogs pick their way across the broken concrete and twisted metal, veiled by smoke seeping up from below and ash floating down from above. Even the bright blue sky is tinged with gray.Β 


This is what is wrong. This is why we are needed.Β 


Finally, Shannon kneels, unbuckles my vest, and takes off my collar. If I wore anything while working, it might get snagged on debris, and I could get stuck.Β 


She walks with me onto the pile and gives me the signal to Search.


The footing is treacherous, and I concentrate almost as hard on my balance as on my Searching. Heat radiates up from the shifting ground. Hot, sharp thingsβ€”metal, glass, concreteβ€”stab the pads of my paws. Ash and smoke make my eyes water, and I sneeze and snort to clear my nose and mouth. Shannon wears something over her entire face to help her breathe, but if I wore anything like it, I would be unable to smell. Smell is how I find people.Β 


I halt, nose to the rubble.Β 


A person is here. But they are dead.Β 


I am supposed to find people who are alive.Β 


I whine, and Shannon tells me to keep Searching.


When I stagger from the pile hours later, my nose is clogged, my short black coat is gray with ash, and I am exhausted. I have not found one person who is buried alive. I am not doing my job. I have failed.Β 


As soon as we reach solid ground, I sit down to rest, panting, head hanging low. Shannon waits for me. The smells of death and grief are overwhelming.


A group of men pause as they pass us, smelling of smoke. They are dressed like the ones I saw spraying the hoses earlier.Β 


Abruptly, one of them kneels, pulls off his thick gloves, and begins stroking me.Β 


β€œOh man, a rottie! I love Rottweilers. You’ve been working hard, haven’t you? You thirsty?” 


He pulls a plastic water bottle out of his pocket and passes it to one of his companions, saying, β€œHere, Joe, pour this into my hands and I’ll give this guy a drink.”


Joe unscrews the cap. β€œRinse them off first so he doesn’t have to drink dirt; I’ve got another bottle if we need it.”


I gratefully lap the lukewarm water from the man’s hands. Shannon has water for me to drink, but I have not wanted it. The consideration of these strangers arouses me.Β 


When I have emptied the cup of his hands several times, he shakes them off and fingers the tag on my collar. β€œRoman. You’re a good boy, Roman.” He rubs my head again, and his damp hand comes away caked with ashes. β€œDoes anyone have any more water? Roman’s really dirty.”


Several men hold out more of the crinkling bottles.


β€œI’ve got one, Mike!”

β€œMe too.”

β€œHere’s mine.”


In a moment, they are all trickling water over my back and head, while Mike rubs me all over. Soon I am sitting in a small puddle, but I am happy.Β 


I stand and shake, showering water in every direction. Shannon and the men laugh, and I wag my tail and laugh with them.


β€œYou’ve got a great dog,” Mike says, grinning at Shannon. β€œMy name’s Mike, by the way.” He extends a pale, damp hand.


β€œShannon,” she says, taking it. β€œHe really is amazing.” Her eyes shine out of her dark face, and her white teeth seem to glow. β€œRoman was really sad until you guys came by. You really cheered him up. Me, too, actually.”


I will never forget this day. These men are just as tired as me, Shannon, and everyone else here, but their smiles give me hope.


If they can continue, so can everyone.


~~~

baptism of fire (translation of Greek baptisma pyros)

1. the first time that new troops are under fire or in combat

2. any experience that tests one's courage, strength, etc. for the first time


Thank you to all of the many people who served others in any way on September 11, 2001, from the civilians who crashed Flight 93 before it could cause more destruction than had already happened, to the service personnel who lost their lives saving others.Β 


A special thank you to the many search and rescue handlers and their dogs, who traveled from around the world to offer their help, and to the vets who cared for those animals at Ground Zero.Β Β Β 


We will never forget 9/11

September 17, 2022 03:46

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26 comments

Graham Kinross
15:04 Sep 22, 2022

This is a really touching take on a terrible tragedy. You created something hopeful from it. Well done.

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Hi, Graham. I wasn’t sure what kind of reaction this story would get, and I wondered if people would see this as disrespectful. I’m happy that it was enjoyable. I wanted to focus on the more positive things that happened afterward, rather than the terrible events, while still commemorating what happened. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

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Graham Kinross
04:57 Sep 25, 2022

Part of the β€œnever forget” deal is making sure the story lives on.

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15:08 Sep 21, 2022

I love this story. I love the clues you give immediately to let me know who the narrator was. The capitalization of "Sit" and "Stay" was a great touch. This perspective is both intriguing, but emotional. GREAT job, my friend!

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Hi Hannah! I really like writing animal POVs, and with what I’d read about search dogs on 9/11, I thought this story would be a good way to talk about a painful event, and point towards hope. I especially wanted to do it because of the contest week falling on that anniversary. Thank you for reading and commenting. ❀️

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Dhwani Jain
14:03 Sep 19, 2022

YOur bio...

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Dhwani Jain
03:43 Sep 25, 2022

The number of books that you are currently reading....

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Tommy Goround
17:56 Sep 18, 2022

So your fans told me to come here several times. But on heavy tranquilizer cough medicine...the first three paragraphs seemed like a kid on a leash. Glad I came back. The flow is great. The point of view is pretty awesome. Extra points for the way a bunch of men made an actual puddle to clean the dog. For a moment the dog was something they could care for. The dog was not really emotionally invested because he was perhaps confused by the weird situation... So your main character became a symbol for something that was found. *** Clapping

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Hello, Tommy. Thank you very much for reading and commenting. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I’m happy to hear the flow was good, as I wondered if it was too fast. Thanks for telling me it worked. I like writing animal POVs, and I thought it would be fitting for this story, as well as a chance to talk about what happened after, instead of what everyone remembers most vividly. Taking care of others can be very therapeutic. During my research, I read that several dog handlers at Ground Zero saw firefighters simply come up to their dogs ...

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L.M. Lydon
17:26 Sep 18, 2022

What an excellent take on the prompt! Your choice of POV adds a lot of weight, through the eyes of a narrator who is very much in the here and now and doesn't understand global implications, but is very much focused on the personal/individual ("I have not found one person who is buried alive. I am not doing my job. I have failed."). I appreciate the heartwarming ending, of small kindness in the metaphorical valley of death.

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Hi L. M., thank you for reading! I’m so happy you enjoyed it. I also want to thank you for taking the time to comment. It really encourages me and gives me confidence, especially that you say the prompt fits, and you like the POV character. I love writing animal POVs, as I think they can be powerful in ways people don’t expect. The part with the firefighters interacting with the dog was my favorite to write. I based it on a true story from 9/11, when some firefighters stopped to give a German Shepherd search dog a drink, and washed him of...

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22:11 Sep 17, 2022

A very creative POV! There's a very good build up in this story. We're initially tipped off this is a dog's eye view, by the odd capitalized command like No, Sit, etc. Then it's clear this isn't a normal day for Shannon and the narrator, and they aren't just person-and-dog. There's an air to business to this. So we wonder, is it a service dog? A police dog? When we get to the site of the disaster it becomes clear it's some kind of rescue dog, and then it kind of clicked, this is 9/11. So in that case, a very appropriate take on the prompt,...

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Tommy Goround
17:57 Sep 18, 2022

Cool. You saw the same thing.

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Hello MichaΕ‚, thank you so much for reading! It gave me a huge boost of confidence when you told me my animal POV was unique and interesting. I greatly appreciate the time and thought you take to give me these long summary comments. I wanted to clue readers in that it was a dog’s POV without being explicit, and I’m so glad it worked. I thought a lot about how a dog might feel about the whole thing, and tried to convey the confusion and sadness. Rescue dog handlers who worked at Ground Zero said that one of the dogs found two bodies, and...

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21:21 Sep 17, 2022

The opening paragraph and the way you brought us into a dog's eye view was brilliant. Giving readers a new perspective is what fiction is all about, and this story does that well. I think you could have finished with some melodrama, but maybe you were aiming to be real to the historical events which is admirable. Great writing, one of the best I've read from you.

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Tommy Goround
17:58 Sep 18, 2022

Thanks for telling me to come back to this

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Hi Scott! Thank you for reading, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. It really delighted me that you thought it was brilliant. I am my own worst critic, and it really encourages me when my critique partners say positive things about my writing. When I self-edited my last story, I applied the β€˜kill your darlings’ technique for the first time, and I did it again with this one. I feel that my writing is a lot less cluttered now. I wanted to convey that it was a dog’s POV without stating it explicitly, and I’m glad it worked. My goal with this one...

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07:37 Sep 19, 2022

Nice, I think that's the improvement I see. Taking out some extra sentences and paragraphs makes the pacing quicker. I do that too, sometimes I delete 2-3 entire paragraphs of 'telling' the character's background or flashbacks,etc. Thanks for letting us know about service dogs, Educating the reader is always a good thing. also v fortunate your mom wasn't on the wrong plane that day. It must have been frightening for her in the air not knowing if her plane might be attacked. I knew a guy who was on the 70th floor of the WTC and walked dow...

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R W Mack
11:03 Sep 18, 2022

I'm the judge who approved this so I'm going to point something out: The actual story itself didn't meet our usual wordcount. The fluff at the end was a critical disappointment to me. Yes, it got you over the 1k word count minimum, but it felt lazy. The "thank you's" and "appreciation for service" should've been self-evident in the story, not some tag-on at the end. It felt forced for wordcount, but I let it go because, as someone who lived that dark timeline and saw it on repeat for months, this was the only 9/11 themed story I read this t...

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R W, I was absolutely floored when I read your incredible comment. Thank you so much. I will guiltily admit that I knew the story was under 1,000 words: 998, to be exact. I finished it on Friday night, a few minutes before the deadline. I was sitting at around 970 words, so I added the meaning of the title and the thank you. After it was successfully entered, I kept editing, adding a word or two wherever I thought it could do with some more description, trying to reach 1k in the story material. In my last story, What Price Judas Pays for...

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Hello, RW. I have a question which I’m hoping you, as a judge, can answer. My story β€œLet Slip the Bats of War”, which I entered in Contest #213, has been reviewed, but not approved for the contest. I have experienced this with one other of my stories, β€œThe Blood of the Wood Cries Out”, which I entered in contest #191. The similarities I can see between these two stories are 1. Both stories involve war 2. Both stories contain a sizable quotation of writing not my own, which I acknowledge as not my own. In β€œThe Blood of the Wood Cries O...

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R W Mack
13:15 Sep 09, 2023

That's gotta be something from whoever approved the individual stories. Probably two different judges. As far as guidelines goes, anything that a judge clicks to start reading is added to their queue and could sit there til they approve or someone else has to because that judge forgot about it or something. I don't know the specifics in that scenario. The judging process is rather nebulae with no significant oversight. Someone can reject a submission for anything they ultimately feel like, such as content they personally dislike, while ano...

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Thank you so much for your answer; I greatly appreciate it. I’m emailing Reedsy about this, and this time I hope I get a clearer answer from them. Again, thanks for taking the time to answer my question as best you could.

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Julius Juryit
12:18 Sep 22, 2022

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