Survival by John A. Ward

I am at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida with a group of second lieutenants and ensigns and a petty officer who is deadly with a slingshot. We are flushing flying squirrels out of the treetops and he is knocking them out of the air with marbles. We pull out the projectiles and pop the squirrels in a sack. The critters are our dinner. We are here for three days.

At the campsite, another pre-flight student and I are assigned to the butchering detail. We sit on the bank of the creek. I pull on my leather gloves. We have been warned not to cut into a pelt without gloves because there is tularemia in these woods. Also, squirrels carry sylvatic plague, also known as bubonic plague, and we don't fancy getting any disease that will cause us to have boobs on our necks. I have gotten out my knife and my colleague is still sitting there, wrinkling up his nose, a city boy. This is familiar territory for me. I majored in biology.

"You don't like this, do you?" I say.

"No," he says, "do you?"

"I'll show you how."

I slit open the belly, dump the guts out, and point out the organs for him, a dissection lesson. I tell him to be careful not to cut the gall bladder because it will make the meat taste bitter. He nods and watches, but he is not going to do this. It's all right. I am comfortable with slaughter and I'm much faster alone. I skin all six and fill up the number ten can from the creek.

"We'll make soup," I say, "put in some of the pokeweed and prickly pear roots and eat it for three days."

Truth is, there isn't much meat on a flying squirrel and there are more trainees in our group than there are squirrels, so we just eat the vegetables and drink the broth to let our stomachs shrink so the squirrels will seem like a feast when we finally eat them.

After dinner, I go back to the creek to toss the can in to keep it cool. I hope that some crawdads will crawl in overnight to explore. We'll boil them up too. I tuck the can between two smooth bed stones to keep it from floating away. When I look up, "Hello!"

A beautiful black Labrador retriever is looking at me. I smile at him. If dogs could smile, black labs would. They radiate smile. I cross the creek talking to him like I'm his best buddy. He looks friendly and healthy, probably a pedigree. I pet his head and feel his shoulders and his haunch, "Good dog." I take off my belt and slip it around his neck to lead him back to the camp. He doesn't resist. He seems glad to have found a friend. Heck, they said we could eat anything we caught. I'm going to hold out and trade him for meat and potatoes.

Copyright 2009

Author's Bio: John A. Ward was born on Staten Island, attended Wagner College in the early 60's, sold his first poem to Leatherneck magazine, and became a scientist. He is now in San Antonio running, writing and living with his dance partner. Links to his work can be found at