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August 30, 2024

Episode 3: Goose Downed

Stepping off the plane, I stared in confusion at the unfamiliar mountain range on the far side of the airport just beyond the city.

“Where are we?” I asked my partner, a German Shepherd Malinois mix who was currently flopped over on my ruck. We’d made it four steps off the plane when she declared herself done for the day.

Two hours of sleep on the C-130 aircraft be damned.

“Specialist Sharp! Sgt. Pupperson!”

We turned to see a man running toward us. The sun glinted off his shaved head, his uniform a variation of my own, and I wondered why he was outside without his cover on… and if he had remembered to put sunscreen on his head if he was going to leave off the one piece of the uniform that would actually benefit him.

“Yes?” I asked, then spotted the bars on his lapels. “Sir?”

“Thank god you’re here.”

He stopped beside me, not the slightest bit out of breath, but perspiration confirmed his effort. The name tape above his right breast pocket said Smith, his bars most likely lieutenant. He had discolored staining on his tan boots and small holes along the arms of his uniform. If he wasn’t in the sterile area of an air base, I’d question his legitimacy, but as it was…

“No one has ever said that before. Least of all someone with rank… Are you sure you mean us?”

I went to exchange a look with Winnie, but the dog was completely indifferent to the world. Her belly facing upward, she let her tongue hang from the corner of her mouth. Between her and the questionable cheese stain on my pants, we definitely did not scream competency.

“Yes, I’m sure. You have sharpshooter credentials, don’t you?”

He spoke while leading us away from the aircraft. I nudged my dog off the pack and hiked it up my shoulder. Deprived of her pillow, Winnie offered a reproachful grunt, rising to her full height and shaking off about a pound of fur onto the apron of the hanger.

“Yes… sir,” I added, remembering again that he had officer status and they hated when you forget the acknowledgement. “But… lots of people do… I assume even in the…” I glanced around for an indication of his organizational affiliation.

“Air Guard, and yes. We have the power but not the license. Only the Army has the necessary permits to utilize lethal ammunition on wildlife.”

“Wildlife?” I stopped walking, not willing to continue. “Sir, I’m not a hunter. I will not kill something for sport.”

Before he could turn toward me, an ominous honing filled the air. It bounced off every tin-sided structure and amplified in the open hanger doors, the once deserted hanger ramp coming to life with soldiers running for cover.

“What the…” I started, but the first gust of wings blew back my hair. A dozen geese began dive-bombing the military members. Honking and snapping their beaks at fingers, hair and clothing. “Holy crap!”

I threw myself to the ground, low crawling toward an aircraft parked on the ramp. Above me, the honking geese pulled at the ripstop fabric of my ruck and attempted to disengage the elastic holding my hair in a bun.

“Winnie!” I shouted, the dog streaking past me and into the open hanger door. “What the hell is wrong with these geese?”

“Nothing! This is normal for them!” The Lieutenant shouted and I swiped a sleeve across my forehead, the green fabric coming away smeared white with goose droppings. At the sight, I heard the tell tale snuffle from my left.

“Don’t you put that in your mouth!” I shouted, risking my life to run after my partner and make sure she didn’t eat her weight in goose poop.

But it was EVERYWHERE!

“Damn it Winnie!” I shouted as she raced back through the hanger and toward the ramp. I grabbed hold of the handle on her vest just as the second battalion of geese arrived, their air strike focused on a chain link cage holding several guardsmen, each pale faced and battle wary.

The scene was like the storming of the beaches of Normandy, beaks and feathers replacing gunfire and explosions, as soldiers fought for cover and volleyed for attack positions.

“Just shoot them!” I shouted, dragging Winnie by her collar under the wing of an A10. There were metal brackets that housed missiles above my head. The turbines lived on top of the greyish blue wings in a contrast to the traditional commercial aircraft.

“We can’t!” Lt. Smith shouted back and I stared at his waistband.

“Don’t you have a gun?” I asked, the squawking carrying away my words, but there was only one visible bulge at his waistband and I’d taken enough biology to know it wasn’t naturally occurring.

“Yes, but we aren’t aloud to shoot wildlife!”

“Why the hell not?”

“We don’t have a permit! Only the Army can! It’s why we need you!” He slid under an open topped utility vehicle that may have been borrowed from the set of MASH.

“Great! Then give me a gun!” I shouted, extending a hand. A goose dive bombed it, biting a finger and drawing blood that splattered all over the concrete hanger. “Son of witch’s tit!”

Winnie’s nose worked, saw the blood and went into growl mode. Teeth bared, she advanced on the fowl sporting a crimson beak. Her hackles stood and she lunged toward the goose.

It lunched back and snapped a millimeter from her nose.

With an outrageous howl, she turned tail and ran.

“Winnie, stop!”  I shouted, letting the blood drip down my arm. My pockets were out of band aids, I couldn’t put a goose finger in my mouth and… “Don’t you dare!”

The dog jumped on B4 lift, a bright yellow scissor lift beside the cockpit of the A10. Her nose found the heavy sent of human on the green button and jabbed her paw against it. The scissor lift rose and when she was nearly level with the cockpit, she jumped in and huddled against the joy stick, watching with her lolling tongue as the geese learned their necks fit through the holes in the chain link, snapping at the men inside who had stupidly pulled out bread.

“We don’t have live rounds,” Lt. Smith said and I jumped out of my skin when his voice was right beside me. “Where are your guns?”

“What guns? I don’t travel with guns,” I said, reaching into his pants and pulling out the black semi-auto. “What’s in here? Rubber or bean bag?”

“You can’t put bean bag rounds in a hand gun,” he snapped, shoving me to the side as a goose streaked between us. “Didn’t they teach you anything in Basic?”

“Yeah,” I said, shoving up from the ground and taking aim. “They taught me to put real bullets in my gun.”

Another swooped above and shoved the brass down.

“Duck!”

“It’s a goose!” He shouted and I rolled my eyes and raised the gun again.

“How long have you been working on that one?”

I lined up on a goose who nearly had their head through the cage and fired into the meatiest part of its body, hoping that he was far enough away the bullet would disable and not shred his goose flesh.

Maybe I was combat trained, but I didn’t want to kill anything.

A plume of feathers followed the faintest pop and the screaming goose went down, paralyzed and bloodless.

Unfortunately, the sound was enough to get the attention of the other geese and two dozen goose heads snapped to me as a unit.

“Crap… crap crap crap we should run,” I warned, grabbing Lt. Smith by the sleeve and sprinting toward the open hanger door. Another dozen geese were waiting, advancing toward us from both side like the worst re-enactment of the Sharks vs. the Jets.

“Nope, we need…” My partner popped her head out of the cockpit and saw the gather combatants. Her nose worked over the panel while I searched for the dangling cord of the scissor lift.

“What are you looking for?”

“The thing! The little box thing that operates the device from the bottom for in case the person inside passes out… like at loading docks…”

There were no cords and Lt. Smith dragged me farther into the hanger, a scrambling of dog claws on the instrument panel above us joining the ominous hollow click of the empty missile release brackets.

“Your dog…”

“Is button mashing a fighter jet. It’s not like the keys are inside and she can drive off in your plane, sir,” I shouted.

A low buzz filled the air with a high-pitched whir and I had a bad feeling.

“Do planes have keys?”

The lieutenant shook his head and the turbines kicked in. Warm air gushed backward into the hanger, sending papers and tables toppling over. The geese barrel-rolled through the air, wings flapping pointlessly against the powerful turbine while I latched onto a support beam and held on for my life.

One by one, the birds slammed into the far wall, pinned there by the force of the air.

Completely neutralized… like my hearing.

“How the hell do we get her….” Smith shouted, but it was rendered unnecessary as Winnie somehow found the off switch and killed the engine. Ears ringing, I studied the stunned geese laying on the ground.

“Do we flexi cuff them?” I asked, but I wasn’t certain. Every sound was dulled under the subtle ringing left behind by the engines.

“What?” Smith answered and I shook my head, spotting a group of men running into the room with loops on the end of poles. After a bit of trial and error, the white-clad workers slipped their loops around several goose necks before cinching the loop into place.

The gaggles were then marched out at the end of the pole, me and the few guardsmen not hiding in a cage following behind. A large white bread truck stood running outside with script decorating the side in French.

“Bon Appetite!” The driver shouted, tilting a chef’s cap after the last goose had been hauled into the truck. Staring in horror, I watched the truck drive through the guard gate and off base.

A warm tongue slid along my hand, and splayed my fingers along her coat.

“Now what?” I asked, looking behind us at the hanger coated in goose poop beside a trail of my blood.

“Now, you help me clean up and I’ll buy you a drink?”

I blinked at the man beside me and then stared at my hand.

“Yeah, why not… What else do I have to do?”

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