Annie and the Fu Dogs

Annie and the Fu Dogs

Wednesday, 8 April 2054

I wanted to be a doctor so I could heal people, not a soldier who killed them. I wanted to use a stethoscope so I could listen to their heartbeat, not a grenade to silence them. I wanted to ride in an ambulance so I could rush to their aid, not in a tank to roll to their doom.

What am I doing here?

Sometimes in life you have to embrace what you need and let go of what you want.

I stared up at the cavernous hangar with its skeleton of rusty steel beams and swaying lights, filled with ancient aircraft I couldn’t name more precisely than “jet” or “helicopter” and weapons I was too scared to touch. Soldiers in uniform marched past wearing patches and symbols whose meaning I had no hope of deciphering. They all looked more confident than I would ever feel.

A crew of four erupted from a small white building attached to the hangar. They sprinted past me towards a weathered green MEDEVAC helicopter, a faded red cross emblazoned on the side.

“Trouble, Captain?” the first soldier shouted.

“Black Hawk shot down near the border,” said the captain. “Don’t know if anyone made it.” He called back to a soldier behind him, “Got your M4, Wagner?”

“Right here, sir!” Wagner lifted his rifle so the captain could see.

“Good. Sounds like we’re gonna need it.” His grim voice got swallowed up by the whir of the helicopter, and I heard no more.

The crew’s conversation stirred up images of the violence that frequently flared outside the protective boundaries of the Island—violence that, up until now, had been more of a spooky campfire story than a reality. I turned my back on the scene before me and surveyed the landscape. My surroundings were far more peaceful than my circumstances.

Today was one of those gorgeous spring days in Galveston: cumulus clouds billowing in a big Texas sky, swells gently rolling in to the shore, a steady Gulf breeze that kept the warm air from becoming uncomfortable.  Seagulls chattered happily to each other, blissfully unaware that their presence on the Island made people wary.

The proximity of the birds wasn’t making me wary. I had a vague fear of the pandemic that nearly annihilated the human race, but disasters that happened before I was born weren’t nearly as scary as indefinite dangers I’d face in my future.

I rhythmically shifted my weight back and forth on the steaming tarmac and held on to my battered suitcase with both hands, letting the frayed edges scrape against my legs like a pendulum … ticking down the last few minutes of my freedom. My death grip had nothing to do with what the bag contained—I didn’t own anything valuable—it was more of a way to occupy my hands. And while the handle absorbed the perspiration from my scarred palms, it did nothing to ease the turbulent pounding of my heart.

In the distance, I could see a small sailboat slowly making its way around the southern tip of Bolivar Peninsula.  Wistful memories of a similar day in April, many years ago, came flooding back to me. My father was teaching me to sail on his 24-foot sloop. We spent several hours jibing and tacking, my father’s strong hand guiding mine on the tiller, making the sails fill with wind. We talked and laughed, taunted the seagulls and trolled for fish. Dr. Jonathan Banks was a very busy man, but that afternoon I had him all to myself—no phone calls, no emergencies, no interruptions—just the two of us, telling jokes and sharing stories.

He told me the story of how he met my mother one stormy night while they were both working at the hospital. Stories about some of the patients he saved and more about those he couldn’t. He told me how he adopted a stray dog and nursed her back to health, and how he rescued me from the riptide in the Gulf when I was three.

My father, the hero. My hero.

Sailing was the perfect opportunity to hear all my favorite stories—and the perfect means to forget any problems I might be having back on land. I wished my dad were here, wished I were on a sailboat right now, wished I were anywhere else but standing here at Fort Travis on my first day of basic combat training.

But wishes were like fairytales. Foolish. Fictional. A colossal waste of time.

The deafening roar of a fighter jet heading out over the ocean made me drop my suitcase and cover my ears. The sound reverberated through my chest, amplifying the jitteriness already tormenting my core. I followed the jets path and tried to imagine what it would feel like to fly in the cockpit of a jet … to fly faster than the speed of sound … to fly far away from here. I slowly lowered my gaze back to the horizon and turned around to look at the other recruits. I saw no women, just men who seemed so much more capable than me.  Their hands were still in the air, pointing at the jet with a mixture of awe and testosterone.

How was I going to make it through twelve weeks of basic training? Even in the year 2054, when the population was a small fraction of what it used to be and the military desperately needed soldiers, not everyone made it through basic training. Being accepted as a recruit was not a guarantee you would graduate. Every year up to ten percent failed. Some couldn’t meet the standards, some were hurt during training, and every once in a while, someone died.

The price tag of failure wasn’t something I could afford.

The acid in my stomach rolled like the waves of the ocean in a tropical storm. I tried to calm my nerves and stop my stomach from expelling its contents. I am not a quitter … I don’t give up. I don’t give up. I don’t give up. My father had instilled this attitude in my older brother and me when we were growing up.  The attribute has served me well over the years. I was counting on it to get me through this next chapter in my life.

I sat down on my moth-eaten suitcase and rested my chin on my hands, my elbows on my knees, my anxiety on my faith. Closing my eyes, I let the warm breeze blow the stray hair from my face and tried to imagine I was on a sailboat. “You can do this,” I whispered out loud and willed the storm in my stomach to lessen.

There were almost one hundred of us here today and, sadly, even though many of us were from Galveston—BOI, born on the Island—there weren’t a lot of people I knew. Even more unfortunate —I was the only female here so far. The sandpaper dryness of my throat made me desperate for a drink of water, but with nothing except the ocean in sight, I had to settle for swallowing uneasily.

Uneasily watching and waiting and worrying. Until I did see another woman. And instead of soothing my fear, the sight of her stirred up a swarm of killer bees in my stomach.

I wanted to crawl into my suitcase and hide. How was it possible to dread enlisting any more than I already did? But here I sat, cringing, with my heart and my spirits in a miserable death spiral. Being the only woman in basic training would have been far better than being here with Britney Lewis.

I heard her before I saw her—her raucous laughter shot across the tarmac and stung like saltwater on a cut. She stood in the center of a ring of young men, holding court in her trademark pair of red six-inch Prada stilettos—she was one of only a few Galveston residents who owned a pair. Her diamond earrings glittered in the blinding sunlight. Why was I not surprised she ignored the memo about leaving jewelry and makeup at home?

What was she doing here? She had never liked me when we were growing up, and I was doubtful she’d changed her mind much since high school. I had hoped she was lost—or maybe just saying goodbye to a boyfriend or two. Or if she were really supposed to be here, that at least she’d be assigned to a different platoon.

I looked around desperately and attempted another painfully dry swallow that stuck halfway down my throat. With no other women in sight, Britney was probably assigned to me. The realization sucked away the fragile hope that basic training might not be a nightmare.

The first words out of Britney’s mouth weren’t encouraging, and her thick Texas drawl was loud enough to rival a drill sergeant. “Annie Banks! You are NOT going to be my battle buddy.”

I was mildly impressed she even knew about battle buddies. Did she realize battle buddies did everything together and were responsible for each other? That if one battle buddy did something wrong, both buddies were wrong? Judging from the tone of her voice, I figured she did.

She gave her hair a flirty little flip and looked back and forth at the guys on either side of her. “I mean, what in the world could I have done to deserve you?

I was thinking the same thing about myself. I fought the urge to leap up and strangle her.

Abandoning my suitcase on the ground behind me, I forced myself to stand up slowly and with dignity so I could face her at, well, almost chin level. My flip-flops, worn paper-thin, were no match for her heels. I bit my lip and self-consciously brushed the hair out of my eyes. Britney’s harsh outburst wasn’t helping me to relax. “It’s nice to see you too, Britney.” I kept my voice calm and controlled—a futile attempt to avoid a scene.

Britney refused to follow my example and continued in the same excruciating volume. “You’d better not screw things up, lamebrain. I hope you’re taking this seriously.” She put one hand on her hip and narrowed her eyes. I caught myself wondering what prevented the clumps of mascara from cementing her eyelashes together.  “Wait,” she crooned, making that one small syllable so long it felt like two. “You’re not here to find a husband, are you?” My stunned silence encouraged her to continue. “Well?  Is that what you’re here for?”

I wasn’t perfect, but I didn’t “screw things up.”  I certainly wasn’t here to find a date, much less a husband. And considering the way Britney was dressed today with her short shorts and her snug tank top, it took great restraint not to ask her why she was here. I held my tongue, my temper, and my hope that this conversation wouldn’t escalate into anything dramatic.


Britney’s yelling had already attracted the attention of not only the other recruits, but one of the drill sergeants as well.

Drill Sergeant Nelson was everything I had feared a drill sergeant would be: an intimidating, no-nonsense, no-sense-of-humor bear of a man in fatigues and a stiff brown campaign hat.  He quickly strode over to where Britney and I stood. “I DON’T KNOW WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE, BUT IN MY PLATOON, I’M THE ONE WHO DOES THE YELLING. I DON’T CARE IF THIS IS YOUR FIRST DAY HERE! DROP AND GIVE ME TWENTY!”

The shock of being blasted out in front of my fellow recruits washed over me like the Gulf of Mexico in January, freezing my thoughts and my ability to move.  I had watched enough old war movies with my brother, Will, to know he meant push-ups, but I couldn’t make my body obey.

Nelson’s eyes bulged. My shock thawed. I dropped to the steaming-hot tarmac and did them as best I could. Britney, on the other hand, stared at him blankly for a few seconds longer, just enough time to make him yell some more.


She looked down at me and had an oh-no moment. By this time, several other recruits had gathered around to gawk. We hadn’t been here for more than an hour, and already we’d been “smoked” or “dropped.” Fabulous first impression.

“This is all your fault,” Britney wheezed sometime after her seventh or eighth push-up, her face flushed a rosy hue from the exertion. Was it fair that she could still look so good while my face surely resembled a blighted tomato? My only consolation was that she probably looked ridiculous doing push-ups in Prada.

I ignored her and struggled to complete my twenty push-ups. When I finished, my arms, my legs, and my ego, were shaking. My palms felt like they had second-degree burns. Drill Sergeant Nelson gave us one last lingering glare and walked away.

Please tell me I’m not assigned to this monster.