The alarm clock buzzed on the small, wooden table next to Sage’s mattress. The time read 5:30 am. Sage’s eyes slowly opened, and she brushed her hazel curls behind her ear. A round, moist nose nudged her ear, and a furry tail wacked against her legs. Sage sat up slowly. Today was the day. Scout would either pass the test, or need continued training.
After taming her wild, brown hair and pulling on a pair of cargo pants along with a white cotton shirt, Sage stepped out of her cottage and onto the dry Missouri soil. A tumbleweed rustled slowly through her line of vision, and a hawk circled above, casting a menacing, dark shadow on the ground below. This had been her home ever since her father had been accepted into the United States Military. Her white, stucco cottage was settled outside the spiked barb wire fences of the military base. It had been three years since her eighteenth birthday, and Sage’s main source of income had been training bomb detection dogs.
Scout was the newest recruit to the pack. The sunlight glinted of his long, amber fur, giving the illusion of glimmering gold. The two year old German Shepard had been rescued from the pound as a small, abandoned pup. He had stolen her heart from the moment his depressed, wet eyes had looked up at her from the cold, hard bars of the iron kennel. Now, he had a chance to shine, and hopefully improve Sage’s already dependable reputation.
The dry earth cracked under Sage’s feet as she walked Scout through the gate of the compound and past security. Scout bounced along beside her playfully nipping at her fingers. Sage reached down and patted his head heartily as they shuffled into the long line extending over the barren soil.
The task was simple. Scout needed to locate the bomb and alert his partner to its presence. They would then disarm the bomb and the mission would be complete. Sage stepped up to the man running the operation and handed him Scout’s weathered, crimson leash.
“Thank you Ms. Amberdan,” the general barked as he handed the dog off to his assistant. “Please exit the training area before the test begins.”
What if Scout failed? The bombs, many believed, were not actually activated, but Sage wasn’t quite confident they were disarmed. The broiling summer sun beat down on her brown curls as she stepped over the short, four foot fence out of the training area. She held her breath as Scout pranced out into the open desert.
Sage jumped as a nearby bush rustled in the hot, dry wind. Scout trotted around for about three minutes before sitting down abruptly and intently cocking his furry head. He had found the deadly, explosive bomb, and he had officially passed the test.
Various people approached her, grinning and patting her roughly on the back in appreciation. Sage smiled brightly as she received applause, yet another dog trained to make the lives of soldiers safer.
Suddenly, a loud explosion rang through the elated crowd. The bomb had been triggered by Scout’s weight. Ears ringing, Sage scanned the barren landscape for any sign of the dog. Scout’s feeble body lay resting in a pool of blood by the site of the explosion. Sage screeched, her dry lips cracking and bleeding in protest to the sudden stretch. Abandoning all common sense, Sage bolted across the scorching, brittle dirt towards Scout’s form on the horizon.
His wounds were gruesome. The two legs on the right side of his body had been blown to stubs by the explosion, and blood flowed from his ears down his unconscious face. The ground was soaked with his blood, and his breathing was uneven and ragged.
“Help! Help! Somebody please! We need to save him!” Sage screamed, tears clouding her vision. She was vaguely aware of the crimson liquid snaking out of her ears, as well as the crowd of people charging mercilessly towards her. She was so tired, and the world was turning fuzzy. She felt someone’s hands shaking her. Her bronze eyes slowly shut as she faded away into unconsciousness.
* * *
Sage awoke to the sound of heels clicking on hard, tile floor. Her eyes fluttered open, and her nose crinkled in distaste as the smell of the sterile clinic hit her. She found herself seated in a rough, aqua chair with lacquered armrests. A blonde receptionist fumbled with the keys on her keyboard, never averting her eyes from the computer screen.
“Ma’am,” Sage mumbled to the woman, “Where am I?”
“Oh, Ms. Amberdan, you’re awake! I will have the veterinarian come speak with you immediately.” The receptionist’s face disappeared under a curtain of bright, blond hair as she punched the specialists’ number into her phone furiously.
Sage sighed and sank back into her chair slowly. The blood flowing from her ears had dried, forming a crust down her neck and onto her white blouse. How long had she been unconscious? Was Scout okay? He had been her entire life for two years, and she could not imagine a day without him.
“Ma’am,” she inquired in a raspy voice, “May I go see Scout? He’s my dog, and I assume that’s the reason I’m here.”
“Of course,” the woman replied while digging through a file cabinet. “He’s in room seven. The doctor will meet you there.” With that, Sage stood up against the wishes of her aching muscles and walked down the spotless white hallway.
Inside room seven, Scout lay still on the thin, white bed. The machine above him showed that his heartbeat was irregular, beating anywhere between fifty and two hundred beats per minute. The door creaked open behind her and she jerked her head towards the noise.
“Ms. Amberdan,” the veterinarian acknowledged as he stepped into the room.
“What’s Scout’s diagnosis. Can his wounds be treated?” Sage questioned eagerly.
“We are doing all we can. Scout has undergone several surgeries in order to stop the bleeding. They have been paid for by the military base as an apology, seemingly, for the accident. Meanwhile, all we can do is pray his heart keeps beating, or we will need to perform a surgery that is too expensive for the military itself to pay for.”
Sage nodded in understanding and sighed with her head in her hands. The specialist had left, and the room was silent except for the quiet beeping of the many devices. Tears began streaming down her face. This was all her fault. She could’ve refused to let him take the test. In fact, she didn’t have to teach him at all! Sage sighed and slipped into a light, restless sleep.
* * *
A loud, blaring sound interrupted her sleep, and she opened her eyes drowsily. Veterinarians and nurses swarmed the bed, armed with scalpels and a shocking device. Scout’s heart had stopped.
Sage burst out of the crowded room into the tidy, foul-smelling hallway and sunk against the wall. Hiccuping sobs burst out of her as rivers of salty tears streamed down her thin, tan face. Scout was dead, and she couldn’t afford the surgery to save him. She was hyperventilating, and the world was spinning. Her best friend was dead. She fainted, sprawled across the cool tile floor.
* * *
Sage regained consciousness and found that no one had moved her from the area of floor. Room seven looked strangely empty considering Scout’s heart had just stopped. She peeled herself off the floor, her chestnut curls in disarray, and stumbled shakily towards Scout’s room.
Inside, to her surprise, she found Scout awake, leaning gingerly into the veterinarian’s welcoming hand.
“Ah, Ms. Amberdan,” he whispered with a smile, “You will be happy to know we performed a heart surgery on Scout. He is recovering quite nicely as a matter of fact.”
“I thought the surgery was too expensive,” Sage replied incredulously.
“It turns out some people are willing to lend a hand,” the veterinarian beamed, his eyes never leaving the patient. “His means of transportation have also been accounted for. Dr. Graham is designing a custom wheelchair to assist Scout with activity.”
Sage stepped towards Scout with her hand outstretched and brushed the top of his head lightly.
“Thank you, sir, for all you have done,” Sage whispered under her breath as her eyes began to cloud, “Thank you.”
* * *
Many months passed and Scout was well on the road to recovery. The winter snow had melted, and the trees scarcely spread throughout the dry wasteland held small, blooming flowers of every color.
Scout elatedly pranced alongside Sage as she towed him across the crowded street. His wheelchair slowed him down slightly, but never put a damper on his joyful lifestyle. After the incident, he had gone into recovery and physical therapy for several weeks. Of course, his military career was over, but no one was too distraught. Sage sighed as she looked down at her companion.
“It’s just you and me Scout,” she laughed, “You and me in the happiest days of our life.”