Do you remember the little boy who stuck his finger in the dam to stop the leak? Today I was that little boy--only I didn't have enough fingers to plug all the leaks.
I'm beat. and am going to bed. I don't feel well--I think I have Gary to thank for this as he is home from work sick tonight. Humans need color strips on their heads that dictate whether or not they are carrying something contagious so that the rest of us can give them a wide berth. Especially those of us who are inclined to kiss those we're fondest of.
They smelled the Visitor long before they saw him, heard him scuffling across the floor behind a closed bathroom door. And they heard the words, “stray” from the mouth of the Woman and the Man. The Man had seen him in the ditch on the highway, where he’d seen strays before, but had felt an unusually powerful urge to stop and pick this one up.
Is this the help you called for? They asked the Old One.
He hoped not. He had envisioned a Warrior that could take his place, not ancient, but old enough to be battle scarred and wise. The scuffling indicated a small dog and the smell that wafted from behind the door indicated he was dirty and unkempt. A stray would be hungry, weak, and distracted by his own physical needs. None of which promised the strength which they’d prayed for.
And, indeed, when they saw him, they were disappointed. He looked like a wad of black and white hair and filth that had taken on life. He was long of body, not much taller than the Small Dog, and curtain of hair hid his eyes so no one could tell what or who he was looking at.
He did not respond to questions, did not seem interested in meeting them at all, preoccupied with eating and sleeping and staring anxiously after all the Humans through the bars of a kennel the Woman placed in the center of the house.
Can we send him away? asked the Hound, wrinkling his nose. I like the fragrance of dead things as much as the next, but he smells like the bowels of a diseased cow.
The Old One had asked himself the same question, but held off on his reply. The visitor would have to answer them sooner or later and the Old One knew the routines of the humans and new dogs well enough to know that the first stages would very likely make the visitor unhappy. And he was right; first came a bath, and a haircut, and then she finally closed him in his kennel for the night.
He’d taken the haircut and bath with little complaint, but being kenneled and left alone was more than he could take. And he let everyone know about it.
It was several hours after dark and Humans were all asleep, when the Old One left his post at the Woman’s side. He found the Visitor whining, and clawing at the kennel door. Inside was a blanket, a dish of water he’d turned over, and a bone that was meant to keep him busy until dawn. He looked better now—under all that hair he was not as thin as they were afraid he would be, and his eyes, now that they could see them, were bright and intense.
Out. Out. Out. He panted and paced and clawed.
The Old One lay down in front of the kennel and watched him claw at the hinges. He was silent, waiting politely for the stranger to pause. When he didn’t, the shepherd chuffed to let him know he was there.
It did little good.
The Old One crept closer, placed his nose at the bars, noting that the visitor smelled better now, and delivered a long, low growl. Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.
The Visitor froze.
Settle. If you’re who I’m afraid you are, then you must be better than this.
The smaller dog focused on him. Who are you?
They call me the Old One these days. And you?
I have no name.
No name? He repeated that unbelievingly. No natural name? What do other dogs call you?
I’ve known no other dogs. I’ve been chained since our child grew cold two years ago. The Woman was angry and sad and put me outside. One day she stopped coming out to feed me, some other humans came. One of them let me off the chain. I ran away.
The Old One was frustrated. None of this- the child growing cold, the probability that the Woman at his home had grown cold as well, was the Visitor’s fault. But this was what the Whole had sent to them? This maladjusted little dog needed training he didn’t have time to give him. So you did not answer our prayers?
The Visitor peered at him with his strange intense eyes. I did hear them and I did join in, but I did not know it was you and I did not know I was the answer.
The Old One exhaled, stood up slowly and painfully, and repositioned himself so that his aching legs were under him. What do you know about the Many?
Only that I could not keep them from my house because I was chained in the backyard and they are why my Human who was not old stopped coming out to feed me. The Visitor trembled.
The Old one observed him more closely. The Visitor was not trembling because he was afraid. He was angry. What are your strengths?
I can walk in dreams, if they will let me in.
He sat back, ears erect, eyes returning the intense stare of the other dog. The Whole knew what it was doing after all.