Below are two chapters from the book Brown Dog Dreams of Re-entry

 

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e-mail the author at craigamccarthy@aol.com

 

 

 

 

 

brown dog dreams of re-entry

 

by

Craig A. McCarthy


 


 


Chapter IV.

 

Autumn, 1999

 

Tallahassee, Florida

 

        Time does a lot of things.  It can cover things, like a blanket, and somewhere in his dreams Bobby sometimes tried to put into words what time felt like when it covered him.  Dreams don’t really give words though, mostly shapes.  He knew he could sense time even as young as he was, but it was hard to explain.  In his dreams he got his best idea of what time was shaped like for just a split second, when he threw his blanket off while he was almost asleep, and then he remembered things.  Mostly, though, he was happy for the covering of time over him.  He didn’t have to like the present, but he understood what now and before was.  He could not wrap his arms, or mind, around the idea of future.  As far as what he liked, well, as much as he hated the past and feared the future, he hated now even more.  He didn’t like rain, and it was always raining somewhere.

 

        At seven years old, he knew who he was, he figured.  Blue frog, in his imagination, was still with him, like a brother.  Blue frog, being imaginary, was not able to bring back Snuggy the gray bear, who had been real and remained lost.  Blue frog, being imaginary, couldn’t, however, be lost or thrown away by others.  He didn’t talk about blue frog to other people, though, because foster parents seemed to have a hard time understanding imaginary friends.  Foster parents had clothes, and usually food, and sometimes toys, but they didn’t have imaginations nearly so much as they had expectations.  Bobby knew a lot of foster parents.

 

        He also had the picture story he was writing.  He had never stopped thinking about Snuggy, the Iseult to his Tristan, the Bonnie Butler to his Rhett, the one he loved best and couldn’t have.  To a seven-year-old that was tragedy enough by itself.  He had stumbled upon a book at a school fair by a man called Lippman about alligators making plans and disguising themselves to escape from the sewers of New York City, where they’d ended up after being flushed down toilets when they got too big.  The alligators wanted to get home to Florida. Between how Bobby felt about himself and how he felt about Snuggy, who was no doubt buried deep in a landfill somewhere, he was inspired to take the wonderful picture book’s example about the alligators great escape and write a story of his own.  He had been working on it slowly, for a long time, starting with his pictures of Snuggy the soldier bear with a bandolier and rifle and knife rising out of the mounds of garbage and finding his way back home in Florida, just like the alligators in the real book.  He had just started with spelling out the words, and along with the pictures he’d drawn.  Here is what he had so far:

 

 

The Snuginator

 

By Bobby

 

          The sun came up over the big mounds of dirt that held all the things that got thrown away by people who didn’t care about them anymore.  There was lots of junk, but there was also lots of special things like baseball mitts and old stuffed animals in there.  One animal was special too, he was a bear and his name was Snuggy.

          As the only gray bear who was a soldier and knew how to fight, he was in charge of the other stuffed animals and never stopped thinking about the boy he loved very much and so trained the other stuffed animals to fight for when they could get out.  All he needed was a plan, and some weapons, and maybe some rope too, but he was working on that.

 

        “Bobby!,” his foster mother called, “come here, please.”

 

        Bobby put down his pencil and paper and walked out of the garage that had been turned into three bedrooms for him and other foster kids and found his foster mother, a portly woman who wore short dresses or denim shorts and had long black wiry hair with white streaks in it.  “Yes, Mom,” he said.

 

        “Did you take your pill this morning,” she asked.  Bobby hadn’t, and he knew that she knew.  “No, ma’am,” he said.

 

        “I thought I told you to before school.  What were you doing in there?,” she asked.

 

        “I was writing a story and drawing pictures for it.”

 

        “See,” she said, shaking a brown plastic bottle of pills, “that’s what I mean.  You’re supposed to be doing your chores, but instead you’re sidetracked writing a story.  You just can’t pay attention, can you?”

 

        “No ma’am.”

 

        “I ask you to concentrate for just a little while, and you can’t.  That’s why you have to take these.”  She shook the little bottle again.

 

        “Yes ma’am.”  She handed him a pill and a glass of water.  He swallowed; she was watching closely.  Bobby had been told a hundred times by his teachers and his foster mothers; he had an attention deficit.  And he was hyperactive.  Those words meant as much to him as the yelling of strangers, but he had memorized the words.  And he had a disorder.  He didn’t like the pills, but didn’t often get away with not taking them in this house, because they cared about his not being able to concentrate. 

 

        Bobby went and finished his chores.  It didn’t take too long, then he started to work on his story again, but the words didn’t seem to come to him now.  He’d try again tomorrow, after he’d skipped another pill.

 

        In the middle of the night a thunderstorm came up and woke Bobby from his sleep.  The rain was heavy and made a lot of noise on the roof and on the garage door that was one of the walls in his room.  He was drifting off to sleep again when he heard something he had not heard in a very long time.  The sound went “ga-reep, ga-reep, ga-reep, mixed with an occasional GRUMP.”  It was frogs, somewhere outside.  They got louder and louder, making even more noise than the wind and rain.  Bobby rolled over and took his pillow from under his head and held it to his chest, smiling a little.  “Blue frog,” he whispered to himself.

 

        He had fallen asleep again when the door to the other part of the house opened and light fell on him.  “Kids!  I need some help.  Bobby, come with me.”

 

        It was his foster dad, Joseph, who seemed nice and sometimes played with him, but Bobby didn’t see him very much.  “Come on, Bobby, Daddy needs some help.”

 

        Bobby rolled out of his little bed and rubbed his eyes and weaved his way around the other little beds and walked toward the light of the open door.  “Is it time for school?,” he asked. 

 

        “It’s two-thirty in the morning, that’s what time it is, and I’ve been lying awake listening to this racket for an hour now!” was is foster father’s reply.

 

        The man led Bobby through the house to the sliding glass door in the back, then out into the large back yard.  The rain was still falling and didn’t seem like it would ever stop.  The man wore a clear plastic raincoat over his bathrobe.  Bobby wore a Powerpuff Girls shirt that belonged to one of the other foster kids, and the man slipped a garbage bag with holes punched in it over Bobby’s head.

 

        “O.K.” the man said, “here’s what I need you to do.  I’ve been out here trying to get rid of this racket since they started, but the frogs keep getting out of the sack before I can get them.”

 

        “What?” Bobby asked.

 

        “Haven’t they been keeping you awake?  Every time it rains they take over the whole yard.  You’re a big boy; I need you to hold the end of the bag closed so they don’t get away.  I’ll do the rest.”

 

        “What are you going to do?”  Bobby was starting to get a shadow of a doubt about the shape of reality.  Was he still dreaming?  It was raining hard in the particular way that North Florida rain in the fall can seem to will itself to strike the ground as hard and as fast as possible; the wind was up and lightning exposed the boy.  The thunder that followed penetrated him like an x-ray.  He liked storms, but had not been told to stand outside in one before.  He also hadn’t been told to hold sacks of little animals before.

 

The back yard could be seen when the lightning opened windows into a world that does not seem quite right; seeing the lit-up night was something like suddenly seeing the backsides of picture frames that usually faced the wall; you knew it was there, but never expected to seem them.  Small things, crickets maybe, jumped everywhere, and there were lots of frogs.  Bobby could see little ones all over the yard in the light of the porch’s floodlight.  He already knew that he didn’t have to worry about the little ones, though.  It was the bigger ones that were making all the noise.  In the flashes, he could see that some of them looked a little blue.

 

        The foster father shouted into the wind.  There was almost an inch of water standing in the yard.  “Stand there…I had six in the bag, wait.  O.K., the stupid things didn’t even hop off.  I already got four back in the bag!”  To Bobby, the man seemed to maneuver around like a crab, moving much faster than the frogs did, “get ready!” 

 

        “What are you going to do?” Bobby shouted.  There was no answer, just more crab-man moving about the yard.  “Are we going to take the frogs to the pond?”  There was still no answer, as his foster father was very busy.  Bobby’s little plastic garbage bag had by now quit keeping out the water and only served to make him feel like he was trying to move around inside a cast net.

 

        The man finally knelt and reached for a shovel that was lying near.  “O.K.!  All I need is for you to hold the end of the bag closed so they don’t get away!”

 

        Bobby froze.  He was becoming afraid that he understood what was happening.  “They’re just talking.” He said.

 

        “Come one, hold this down.”

 

        “They’re just talking”, Bobby mumbled.  “Talking to me.”

 

“Now, Bobby; it’s raining.”

 

“They’re just talking to each other.  Sir.”

 

“Good Lord, Bobby, they’re keeping everyone awake.  None of us will ever sleep again.  Now just come and hold –“  he stopped talking as he swung the shovel to his side with a splash.  “Damnit!!”

 

Wide-eyed, Bobby hit on what he was sure was a perfect argument.  “They’re just talking to each other loud, just like we are!  It’s because of the wind, they have to yell!  Please!  Daddy?”

 

The man growled, “You like to hit things, Mister, don’t you?  But you don’t know anything about –“  He struck off with the shovel into the dark again.  “- being a part of a family.  Always pretending like you want to be adopted.” 

 

The man was right that Bobby had, in fact, hit things.  He figured that was why he had to take the pills.  The wind gusted, and the man and boy leaned for a moment.  “Fine! Go back inside,  live your whole life being a nuisance just like these frogs.  Sign your own field trip forms from now on!  Drive yourself to the therapist!  Make your own appointments to adoption fairs!”

 

After a moment cut short by a sudden bolt and quick thunder, Bobby asked, “can I really go inside?”

 

“No!  Now get over here and hold this sack closed.”  Bobby obeyed.  He knelt in the mud and held the edge of the canvas bag that was moving.  He looked up only once.  Made vivid by a flash of lightning, he saw the man’s forearm and the raised shovel high above him.  It was like seeing a photograph taken with a powerful flashbulb, and at Bobby’s vantage point close to the ground,  his foster-father with the shovel over his head look as big and high as a billboard.  Time stopped for just a second, then the shovel came down, again and again, on the bag and the frogs, sometimes only making a thud on contact with wet canvas and soggy ground, but other times making a thick sounding pop.  How long this went on Bobby didn’t know.  Several times they stopped whacking the frogs in the bag long enough for the man to grab another one that came near and throw it inside.  At those times Bobby couldn’t help but look at the bag, and didn’t see any blood like he expected, just shapes of grayish-green and purple, some still and some moving in funny ways, and once, Oh God, a bit of blue.

 

There was no way they could find and destroy all of the frogs making noise in the back yard, but they kept at it until they were both soaked to the bone and even the foster father was tired of it.  Something broke inside of Bobby then.  In all these years he had held to something intangible, had tried to keep being good to get love.  In all this time he had kept hoping for some combination of a friend and savior and some comfort, and he had tried to be nice to everyone while he waited.  Whatever the thing was that kept him a functioning member of the family of man burst out there in the rain and wind with the popping of the frogs.  He could no longer ever pretend that he understood anything at all.  His useful frames of reference, the precepts upon which one defines everything else, the notions he had tenaciously though barely clung to, finally and forever reduced to nothing.

 

“Hell, there’s no point.”  The man had just said.  “There’s too many of them for us to even make a difference.”  He handed Bobby the sack.  “Go put in this the trash can out front and get back to bed now.  It’s late, so no reading any books.”

 


Chapter V.

 

November, 2001

 

Five Miles from Sopchoppy, Florida

 

        This part of Florida is a wet place, though it often knows heat and dryness.  It is a dark green place, though the pines are mixed with plenty of sand and scrub, tan and brown.  It is a place where people start and end their lives, and other people come at the middle or ends of theirs.  All stay for the same things, though.  The feel of the air, and the solitude, would be breathtakingly foreign to the travelers breezing by on State Road 319 on their way to St. George Island or Tallahassee.  Between rivers, the coast and the capital of a state, it is a place one goes to be in another place.  Natives, explorers and refugees from something or other have found their way here for time untold.

 

On one piece of land there was a group of buildings and mobile homes, and an extended family that in most respects did not stand out from the friendly but very private landscape.  When it came to the entertainment enterprise thriving on this piece of land, however, these people were a secretive but tolerated anomaly. 

 

Inside and along the walls of the biggest, wooden structure that had once been a barn sat two rows of pens constructed in haphazard fashion.  Some were older than others, and thus constructed differently.  There were eight in all, and mostly consisted of chicken wire wrapped around metal fence posts, though some had wooden supports and rows of nailed barbed wire instead.  Two were vacant for the moment, but six of them contained dogs ranging in apparent age from three months to four years.

 

Also in the barn were two sets of bleachers, four rows apiece and facing each other.  The pens were underneath one set.  Between the bleachers was a sandy area ringed with a wire fence, four feet tall with a gate at one end.  Inside the structure was another set of bleachers, set up to accommodate spectacles in inclement weather.

 

Back in the pens, a brown dog lay against the wire, and reminded himself not to think so much.  For all the things that were in his head from all his time and travels, he still pretty much lived in the right now, a canine trait he’d yet to overcome completely.  He was thinking, despite his efforts to rest, about how he’d arrived at this place and things he’d seen since then.

 

Brown dog was an accomplished traveler.  With his bright eyes and enthusiasm and habit of cocking his head when spoken to by a person, he rarely had trouble finding a way to get from place to place.  Men about to embark on long voyages on their ships seemed to particularly welcome him along.  He always set his course in the same direction: toward a person who could teach him and do for him the things he knew he couldn’t do for himself.  He lived in a twilight zone, between worlds, at once a capable dog so learned and wise that he could find his own food and shelter, and at the same time one who knew almost every nuance of being domesticated.  He craved the things that being attached to a person brings, like not having to kill for food with his own teeth and having someone to really talk to.  As accomplished as he was at getting around, however, he had somehow let himself get stuck in this place. 

 

What this place was he was not yet entirely sure.  He didn’t like being in the little cage he’d been thrust into , but he tried to make the best of it.  He worked at remembering his puppyhood with the old desire to curl up in a small, shielded space.  The pen wasn’t right, though.  He could smell things that he didn’t like.  The scent of the blood of small animals was everywhere.  If it had just been the rabbit smells, he wouldn’t have worried so much (he’d done his share, in all the years, of hunting rabbits when he had no choice.  Every dog knows that that chasing rabbits for fun and trying to kill one to stay alive are two very different things.  He could not map out all the smells in his mind, and that concerned him. 

 

Just one day earlier, he had thought that he could find what he had been looking for in this place.  What made him turn in and look around was one of the people who lived there, a girl called Caitlyn, who was outside playing when the brown dog passed by.  He was in the woods and heard her voice.  Caitlyn, he learned later, was the niece of the man in charge, who was named Stick.  Brown dog knew what a stick was.  Why would a man be called Stick?  Then again people had been giving brown dog all sorts of odd names his whole life, and that never mattered much.

 

When he’d first ambled up a trail that led to this place, the brown dog had waited in the brush and listened to the people who went about their business on the property.  The girl Caitlyn had a jump rope and a little friend, and brown dog listened to her making up songs to jump to; they were songs about things brown dog at first thought he understood.  One of them went:

 

Get set, ready now, jump right in

You can live like an animal and live in sin

You can get in the car and drive to town

You can bring back the bait and set it down

Watch as the doggies go for their throats

Watch as the daddies reach in their coats

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven……………….

 

        For reasons brown dog never really understood and later regretted, he concluded that the girl Caitlyn looked like she might know how to throw time.  Determining whether or not a person had that skill is not an exact science.  Brown dog knew that most people who could throw time were children, and he knew that something about those children looked a little distant, a little detached.  Beyond that he had to go with instinct.  It had been a long time since he’d become attached to a person who knew how to throw time.  Ultimately, brown dog knew that he was very, very hungry, so after laying still and listening for a long time, he approached the little girl.

 

        “Hi, doggie,” she’d said with a smile, not stopping at first until she was done jumping.  After a few minutes she put down her rope and approached the brown dog, who was standing still five feet in front of her.  She put out her hand and after he’d sniffed it she knelt and put her arm around the brown dog’s neck.  Brown dog, even at this point in his life, had to remember to suppress the instinct to treat something touching his neck as a serious threat.  “You’re not a very big doggie, are you?”

 

        Brown dog was about to send a thought to her when the little girl said loudly, “Uncle Stick!  There’s a new dog in the yard!”

 

        And that was how the brown dog ended up in one of the pens next to other dogs.  Those other dogs didn’t appear to understand the things that brown dog understood.  Not every dog had the experience that dogs like he and Bluey had.

 

        Brown dog was slow to realize, having never seen such a thing, that all around him were fighting dogs.  Except for the youngest two dogs, all of them in the pens had fought for audiences of people.  Slowly brown dog began to realize that these dogs were not people dogs, not house dogs, and not friendly.  As a matter of fact, the thought that hung in the air among the dogs and between the pens was that this place meant forgetting everything about being a domesticated species and remembering everything about the most violent and basest instincts residing in the oldest and most interior places in their dog minds.  They were living on a farm for fighting dogs; here folks would come from far away to see them rip each other’s throats, and time and life would now be measured in blood flow.  The day after approaching the girl and Stick placed him in this pen, brown dog started to put the clues together.  That evening would confirm the conclusions he was reaching.

 

        In the late afternoon, brown dog could smell meat cooking from outside the barn.   There was a mix of smells, pork and beef he thought.  He had not been given anything to eat since he had arrived in the compound, and being locked up he couldn’t go look for food.  Before twilight there were sounds of cars and trucks, and people talking and laughing and making other noises. 

 

        Brown dog decided to try to make sense of things.  He walked first to one end of his pen.  On the other side of the wires he could see one of the youngest dogs there.  Brown dog tried to talk to the pup, but the young one wasn’t the type he could talk to.  Instead, he spent a few minutes exchanging barks and watching the little one alternate between licking the wires and chasing the smells from the chains and blood stains that littered the area.

 

        On the other side, brown dog saw a large bull terrier lying in the corner of his pen.  That dog was asleep.  Brown dog barked softly.  When that had no effect, he began to growl in a low voice.  The other dog started to move a little, then brown dog would groooooooooooowl loooooooooooow for a long moment then, BARK!, real sharp.  After a couple of times, the terrier stirred.

 

        Brown dog couldn’t talk to all dogs, in the way that people understand talking, but he had over time met several who could hear his thoughts and send their own back, like old Bluey back in Australia.  It is important to understand how it is that dogs like brown dog and Bluey communicated, with each other and with special people.  It is not telepathy, or anything supernatural or psychic.  The way they talk to each other is no different, really, than how passionate lovers who have known each other only a short time can communicate intentions, desires, and needs with only a glance or two, with a remarkable rate of accuracy.  It is the same as how a couple that has been together for years can hatch an elaborate plot at a dinner party and carry it out without ever having said a word to each other.  It is the same as how a platoon sergeant and his soldiers can convey fear, assurance, and trust with only a few syllables or gestures.  It is the same as how a supplicant desperately searching for God can find an answer to a question in a shadow or a goose bump.  Sending thoughts, and understanding them, is a function of a hundred thousand strands of need and experience that intersect in the right places.  It is not explainable, but it is understandable.

 

        As the bull terrier stirred, brown dog studied him.  This dog had seen some hard times.  Instantly brown dog knew what he’d suspected:  this place was not a home, and these people were not providers. 

 

        The terrier stood and growled, then walked a half-circle to the wire where brown dog stood watching him.  Now close, brown dog could see that the terrier’s ears were torn and that the other dog was dirty, matted, and had one eye torn and glazed over with a yellow film.  Brown dog tried to talk with the bigger dog, even as the terrier licked his teeth and curled his upper lip.  What’s going on here, was the thought brown dog kept thinking.  The other dog didn’t understand, making signs of aggression.  Brown dog kept on, though.  What’s going on here?  What do the dogs do?

 

        Just when brown dog was about to turn and go back to checking on the puppy beyond the other end of the pen, the terrier snorted.  Brown dog looked back at the terrier.  Pain?, the big bull seemed to ask.

 

        Brown dog cocked his head.  I’ve known some.

 

        Mine.  And yours.

 

        Talking with this dog was difficult for brown dog.  He was not sure he was hearing what he was hearing.  The world isn’t all like this, he tried to say.

 

        The terrier started to slowly back away and began to lay down again.  Then people started to enter the barn, loudly, laughing.  The terrier arched and barked, running up to the wire and trying to get through to rip brown dog’s throat.  Brown dog backed up, and waited for the terrier to grow tired of trying to break through.

 

        After a little while the barn was full of thirty or so people.  The one called Stick was talking to another man, who was short and dressed in shorts and a t-shirt.  A third man approached and joined them, this one wearing a tie.  They walked under the bleacher and stood right between brown dog’s pen and the terrier’s pen.

 

        “Give me a hint, Stick,” the short one said.

 

        “Why the hell would I do that when you already owe me four hundred dollars?”

 

        “So I can pay you back, idiot.  Who looks good tonight?”

 

        Stick thought for a moment.  He pointed to the terrier’s pen.  “Bet on this one,” he said.

 

        “I don’t know,” the short one said, “I’ve been thinking he’s pretty used up.”

 

        “You wanted a hint.  That’s my hint,” Stick replied.

 

        “Excuse me,” the one in the tie said, “why do you think this one is the winner tonight.  I heard there was a real monster ready to shake things up.”

 

        “Stick, this is Billy S.; he handled my divorce,” the short one said.

 

        Stick thought for a moment, extended his hand.  “Billy S.”  “I haven’t told everyone, but I’ve been saving something special for tonight.  The monster’s going up against this one.”

 

        The short one sucked in his breath, while Billy in the tie looked quizzical.  “Is there a sure thing or not?,” he asked, then glanced sharply at the short man.

 

        Stick smiled a wide slow grin.  Eyes gleaming, he said, “Are you getting some tonight?  These dogs are like the women around here, never a sure thing,” he said, “but tonight’s going to be a special one.  You make your pick.”

 

        The short one, agitated, said, “you aint giving me shit!”

 

        “I don’t owe you sh-“

 

        “Gentlemen,” Billy S. said, “I am new at this.  Explain to me how you tell which dog will fight to win.”

 

        Stick thought for a moment.  “Well, Mister S., it’s like this.  Some I get as puppies, and with patience they’re easy enough.  You just bait ‘em  Then-.”

 

        “What does that mean,” Billy S. in the tie interrupted.

 

        “Baiting the dogs means that you get them used to killing.  To hurting.  You put wounded animals, or de-clawed cats, or something on a chain in their pen.  They get used to making blood flow pretty quickly; they get addicted to it.  The other dogs watch and wait for their turn too.  It’s easy enough to get bait from ads that say ‘free to a good home’.  It’s as simple as that.  Once they’re used to killing, you put them in the ring with each other and keep ‘em pointed at each other by sticking them with sharp prods so they stay focused on the other dog.  After that you don’t really know which one will win unless you watch these dogs a lot.  I watch these dogs every day, and that’s why nobody hardly ever bets on the house, so I have to charge you people to come in here.”

 

        “That explains why they stay in the ring,” Billy S. said, “but why do they keep at it until one, you know, wins.”

 

        Stick loved the opportunity to play the swamp philosopher.  “I’ll tell you,” he said, “You have to remember a few things.  First, dogs are animals.  They live by rules that you and I can’t understand or do anything to change.  No matter what a lawyer,” he looked Billy in the eye, “a politician or a judge might say, hell, even what the animal lovers and environmentalists say, dogs – animals – will do what their own rules work out for them.”

 

        “Yeah,” the short one cut in, “it’s what they’re made for.”

 

        “Would they hurt a human?,” Billy S. asked suddenly.

 

        Stick smiled.  He could really hit his stride with this one.  “Everybody knows dogs.  You watch a dog that is somebody’s pet and you realize a couple of things.  In my opinion dogs would never hurt the one who feeds it.  It’s like they got special rules that they can’t break, no matter what.”

 

        Billy S. thought.  “It’s like a canine Hyppocratic Oath.” 

 

        “What’s that mean?,” the short one asked.

 

        Billy continued, “Really, I could see Asimov using dogs as a model for the rules of robotics.  First, protect humans, or something like that; second, serve humans, and so on.”

 

        Stick smiled, happy with himself for following the conversation.  “There’s a third rule, too, isn’t there?”

 

        “You’re right,” Billy replied, “there is.  They get to protect themselves and each other, so long as it doesn’t mess with the first two rules.”

 

        The three nodded, then the short one asked, “so which one’s gonna win?  I’ll put down everything I’ve got, pay you back, and maybe keep enough for some oysters at St. Marks.  Come on.”

 

        Stick hesitated, then said, “the monster’s your best bet.  He’s fresh.”

 

        “I’m all over it,” said the short one.

 

        Billy S. loosened his tie and said, “Unlike my friend here, I’m not in debt to you, and I’d like something interesting.  Any long shots?”

 

        Stick pointed at the brown dog lying at their feet in his pen.  “This one’s brand new.  If you want a dark horse, that’d be it.”

 

        “So what odds will you give me?”

 

        “No,” Stick said, “this one’s not ready.  He’s not even hungry enough.”

 

        Billy liked this.  “I’ll bet on him.”

 

        “No, no.  Everyone wants the bull against the monster.  That’s what we’ve got tonight.”

 

        “O.K.,” Billy said, “how about this?  The new dog, the unknown quantity, goes against the winner of the main event at….20….no, 15-to-1 odds.  I’ll put up five hundred.”

 

        Stick thought, then slapped Billy on the shoulder.  “Five to one and I’ll do it.  The winner will be pretty banged up, but this one’s just a stray.”

 

        “Seven.”

 

        Stick thought a moment.  “Deal.”

 

        The three men shook hands and left to refresh their beers.  Brown dog opened his eyes for the first time in several minutes and watched them leave, then looked over at the terrier, who was staring out of the wires at the gathering crowd.  His long life had taught him that he could get through a lot, but this was starting to worry him.

 

        First fight.  The people had all come inside the barn, and the sun had finished going down.  The food from the outdoor barbeque was all gone, and the beer drinking inside had begun in earnest.  Brown dog stayed in his pen, since he didn’t have any other choice, and the terrier stayed in his as well, because it wasn’t his turn yet.  Up first was some dogs that brown dog hadn’t met or talked to.  He couldn’t see anything but flashes of movements, but from what he could hear and smell and feel, it was a quick match and largely disappointed the people in the audience.

 

        The people moved on quickly to the main event.  Brown dog stood up at attention while the big bull terrier was led from his pen.  Soon some people were yelling and clapping, recognizing the dog from earlier fights.  Brown dog couldn’t see what was happening and was left to listen.  Then brown dog could sense another dog, and in a moment the one they called the monster was led to the ring, and the people got very loud.

 

        “Ladies and gentlemen!,” Stick shouted, to which someone yelled, “those aint no ladies, Stick!,” and the crowd laughed, followed by a feminine voice adding, “and I don’t see no gentlemen!,” and they all laughed again.  “Do we have to do this every time?,” Stick asked the audience to more laughter.  “The main event tonight is between a champion,” he said, gesturing toward the terrier, then, working up the crowd, “and a force of nature, a gulf storm of proportions we aint seen in some time…”  For all his faults, Stick was good at what he did.  People got to their feet.  “Tonight we bring a true challenger, a giant……a monster…”  He paused for several seconds, then gestured and the other dog was brought into the ring still leashed.  “Place your final bets!”

 

        What brown dog could not see was that the challenging dog was an Anatolian shepherd, a strong dog of a Turkish breed that regularly took out wolves, a protector of flocks like brown dog had been, and as but built for combat as any dog was.  How he had arrived here was anyone’s guess.

 

        “Last call for bets!,” Stick proclaimed as someone else prodded the shepherd with a sharp object and made him growl, and a moment later the fight was on.  The “monster” walked decisively toward the center and barked.  That was a mistake.  The terrier had been through this too many times to hesitate, and leapt, latching onto the larger dog’s throat.  The Anatolian was accustomed to driving off predators with nothing but his movements and voice, and was stunned by the sudden aggression from another dog.

 

        The brown dog, able to see nothing but the legs of people between his pen and the ring, listened hard and tried to figure out what was happening.  The puppy next to his pen started to whimper.  Cover your ears, brown dog thought to the little one.

 

        A horrible event played out.  Brown dog knew that the dogs in the ring did not have any instinctive need to hurt the other, but had no choice about what was happening.  Every being has a right to self-defense, but in these circumstances self-preservation belongs to the soul-dead.

 

        After the first advances, the dogs backed off for a second.  There was a heartbeat pause as each dog took a look at the other, then the fight erupted like a fireworks overdose.  The terrier, who knew what was going on, moved first.  The other, larger, dog took a split second, then figured it out.  This was about blood, and there was no escape.  Brown dog heard the yelps and growls, felt in his bones the impact of canine teeth deep in canine flesh, could hear the twisting and tearing, and knew there was hurt, lots of hurt.  The match quickly became all that Stick had advertised.

 

        The brown dog was waiting under the bleachers.  With the little he could see, and all he could hear and smell, he struggled with hard thoughts.  Loyalty was what the brown dog understood best; he gave it first and freely to almost any human, but this – this was dark, an evil blanket.  And he was caged.  He had only approached this place because of a child’s voice, and until this moment he’d held hope that he would find a special person, or a least a good person. 

 

        The brown dog, becoming afraid, recited an old mantra.  People know more.  He knew that people knew more than he did.  It was undeniable. 

 

         It took almost thirty minutes before the tired terrier, now blinded and torn, stood over the body of the Anatolian shepherd who was sprawled in dust and blood and not moving.  The bull terrier, chest heaving, moved to a corner and lay down, knowing there was no reward for what he had done beyond staying alive a little longer.

 

        Outside of the brown dog’s hearing, men were whispering.  Stick had expected the terrier to lose to the big dog, but now saw an opportunity to make something of this.  He remembered the bet that the man in the tie had made, and started to encourage the people to “bring this to another level.” They would pit the wounded but powerful champion against an untested but fresh new dog, the brown stray.  The audience became enthusiastic, and bets were made.  The Anatolian, beaten and still, was dragged out of the ring and set to the side while others came to get the brown dog.

 

        The man who came to get the brown dog held a leash.  The brown dog, angry, didn’t let him put it on him.  Instead, he ran past the man and under the bleachers to the edge of the ring.  He looked first at the panting terrier, then to the still Anatolian.

 

        I don’t want to be the champion, he thought.  As battered as the terrier was, though, the brown dog saw right away that he had a lot more fight left in him.  I’m not ready to die, brown dog thought.

 

        Startled at first that the stray had appeared at the edge of the ring, Stick closed the gate and began to work the crowd.  “Who’s up for another?!  Come on, is there another fight in you?”  He pointed at people in the crowd, singling out people he knew had money, “Can you take it?!  Can you?!” 

 

        “What we have here…is a stray, just come to us.  Now, he never fought before, but he’s restless, he’s hungry, and he’s looking right down his snout at a wounded opponent.  Who wants some of this?!”  The crowd cheered as members of Stick’s family moved to collect bets.  “Seven-to-one on the stray for bets over…” he hesitated “fifty dollars.”  Some with less money than the bet required booed.  “O.K.,” Stick went on, “two-to-one for all other bets.”

 

        The money came in, and the men with the prods got ready to stick the terrier to insure the house that night.  The brown dog forgot his anger at the man with the leash and took a moment to inspect the space inside the fencing.  Remembering something he’d seen long ago, he wondered for just a moment how many had bet on him.

 

        The brown dog became disoriented when the people started to stomp on the bleachers and clap; he didn’t know what he was supposed to do next.  He looked to the terrier and tried to speak with him, but then it began.

 

        Already eyeing the stray, the terrier raised up, then felt a sharp pain from a prod.  He flew at the stray with a burst of energy that the desperate reserve for such moments.  The brown dog saw it coming only soon enough to slip a little to the right, so that the terrier’s teeth clamped on his ear instead of his throat.  The brown dog yelped and shook violently while running hard enough to send both dogs into the rails.   Breaking free, he circled to the center and lunged.  Both dogs bit hard at the throat of the other, and they locked.  Both dogs began to jump with their hind legs trying to gain leverage.

 

        The brown dog had been in fights before, but in the past he had always had some reason for combat.  Now he didn’t know why he was doing this, except that there was nowhere else to go.  I can stop it! he thought hard, trying to get the terrier to understand.  I can take time away.  He already knew that couldn’t happen.  There wasn’t enough room to run, and the terrier couldn’t throw time.  The terrier could hurt him badly though, or kill him. 

 

        The terrier was panting hard; despite his strength and experience, he was exhausted and fighting for his life.  The brown dog, scared, tried a last time to send a thought, help me. 

 

        The terrier slowed for a moment and loosened his grip.  He let out a long, sad, whine.  The only thought the terrier had was that his life had ended a long time ago.  A man leaned over the rails and stuck the terrier hard with a sharp prod, piercing him.  The terrier let go of the brown dog’s neck and seized his front leg, far up.  This was not going to end well for either dog. 

 

        As the crowd leaned forward and yelled, brown dog could not breathe, move, or think well.  He hurt.  He did not think he could kill the larger dog.  If he were stronger and bigger, he would have had little choice but to finish the fight the men had created.  He was willing to disobey the people under the circumstances.  He let go of the terrier.  He stopped moving.

 

        The terrier at first kept working on the brown dog’s leg as half the crowd cheered louder, then the brown dog, thinking as clearly and as loudly as he could, told the terrier to STOP. 

 

        The dogs untangled and took a step back to the rising boos and yells.  I’ve decided something, the brown dog thought, glancing over his shoulder.  This time, he thought that the terrier understood. 

 

        Just like that, the brown dog changed everything.  Free from the terrier’s teeth, he began to circle the ring, barking at the people nearby and receiving a jab or three from the prods.  Wondering what to do next, he saw the terrier limp to the edge of the ring near the gate.   The terrier snarled at the crowd, then fixed his gaze upon Stick and barked with the ferocity of a forgotten soldier in an unknown battle.  The terrier then pointed his snout up and lowered his hind quarters, forming a kind of a ramp.  Go, the terrier seemed to think to the brown dog, his lips curling. 

 

        The brown dog leapt forward, ran up the back of the terrier like a rocket, and jumped the gate, landing in mid-air outside the ring with his fangs plunged into Stick’s exposed and fleshy neck.    He did not let go.

 

        He did not let go as Stick flailed and fell.  He did not let go as others came and prodded him, then banged at his sides with iron rods that cracked his bones.  He bit and twisted and tore until he knew that the man called Stick would not be using his throat for anything ever again. 

 

        As the man gurgled his last, brown dog let go and looked back to the terrier.  The other dog was down now, lying still.  It was over for him. 

 

        The crowd was still and silent, for just a moment.  Brown dog ran.  He bolted past drunken men and teenage girls, now screaming, and out of the barn into the night.  He galloped, screaming in his way, into the swamp.  He ran and kept running.  He had killed a person.

 

        The brown dog had never thought such a thing would happen to him.  He had never really thought that such a thing was possible.