Monday, June 13, 2011

Dog Story

One of the goals I've set for myself with this story is to keep the dogs recognizable as dogs as we know them. I want to apply meaning to behaviors we see and hear every day, but imbue them with fictional (?) reasons. The dialogue is hardest, because --well--as far as we know--dogs don't "talk" so I've had to anthropomorphise  extensively and still stay within the confines of canine behavior. Because, without the dialogue, sharing information would be difficult and retelling of vital history impossible . So I am hoping that I am balancing this well enough for readers to suspend belief while reading it.

For what it's worth, Clancy does things that I have not taught him to do. He came knowing how to sit up and beg, and to ignore human plates when filled with food, and little else (even his housebreaking must have been sketchy at best). But he's acquired tricks and basic expectations of obedience without direct instruction (sitting at doors and waiting for permission to go through, down on recall, etc).  I'm not sure if he "reads" us   or if the other dogs clued him in. Perhaps some of both. 

The Way of Things
(twelve years before)

It was four more months before the Shepherd understood what he’d seen the day he chased away the shadow in the Woman’s bedroom.  The Brown Dog remained uncommunicative, growling when he came near and refusing all attempts at friendship.   

But one night, as he lay in the floor by the Woman’s bed, he heard the click of toe nails on the wood floors, could hear the other dog pushing doors open with her nose, and the dull thump of her body on the sofa cushions, as she looked out the front windows. When she entered the bedroom, he rose to greet her.

She walked to and fro, leaning into shadows, craning her neck to see out the window over the bed.

Do you sense an intruder? He didn’t expect her to reply. Her nightly checks were unusual, but she’d done it before.    

                She didn’t even look at him. Not a physical one.

                You mean, like a shadow?

                Yes. Like a shadow, but not. One of the Many.

 What is the Many?

She seemed to see him for the first time. Did your mother not tell you of the Many? Do you know you are the Whole?

His mother had grown cold one morning while he was very small. He remembered little about her other than her intervening when he and his littermates played too roughly. Most of his littermates had grown cold as well, which was—somehow—the reason the Woman brought him home.

His silence on this matter answered the question. You’ve done well for a pup with no lessons in mission and protection.

And she proceeded to do a mother’s job, which was to explain the Whole and Way of Things, the rules they lived by.  She helped him understand that there were intruders, both seen and unseen, and that a dog’s job was to see to it that they did not enter into home or human. The creed of the whole, she said, was to be attentive--always The seen intruders were easy. Humans helped with those. But the unseen, the Many, were an unending battle and required constant vigilance, especially while the humans slept. 

What do they want? He was bewildered.

Human sadness is like a shadow for them, something for them to hide in. They destroy from the inside. Some Humans are easier than others; their sadness is never far away. Your woman is one of these.  You must make her happiness your job and be attentive—always.

 If they are not physical, how do I fight them?

You have another set of teeth. You found them when you drove the Creeper away.

The Shepherd flicked his tongue over his own new adult incisors. Other teeth?

The next time you’ll use them. Then you will know what I mean.

He had hundreds more questions, but the Brown Dog was done. I’m tired and this is not my house. You will have to learn to protect it by yourself.

What do you mean this is not your house? You live here too.

The Brown Dog looked into the distance. She went away one day in the car and left me at home. They sent me to live here until she returns.

While he was not old enough to fully fathom the explanation, he finally understood that while her body was there, her heart was somewhere else.

Go to prayer time. Listen to the voices of those around you. The stories will guide you.

One of the few memories he had of his mother was of hearing her say her own prayers along with all the other dogs in the pens around them. He was too young at the time to understand what they were saying, but he did know that his mother seemed to derive some pleasure from it.

He and the Brown Dog rarely spoke after that.  But she did not growl if he came and lay next to her late at night, sometimes.  And, after the other dogs came, he made sure they did not take her bones or her dinner.  

Over the next year, he asked to go outside at dusk, and he listened to the voices of the other dogs as they told old legends of dogs before them, of great battles fought in darkness, of losses and triumphs. All with the Many and the war mongering Coyotes who fed off the remains of their victims and lauded their triumphs in their own dusk and dawn songs. And though it would be years before he truly understood the Whole and his part in it, he did learn that the Many served something that hated Humans. The dogs called this something Death, its entire existence consumed with their continued unhappiness and—often as possible—their end. But Humans were born to serve a Greater Being and dogs were born to serve Humans. It was the Way of Things.  

The Hound was an unbeliever upon arrival. Whatever his mother had told him about serving had been lost to a haze of hunger and fear.He'd seen his litter mates shot and his mother beaten and chained.  The Humans he’d known had been untrustworthy, quick to kick, and chase. His first lessons in life had been that the only way to hold on to anything was to sink your teeth in and growl.  

 Half wild thing, the Small Dog was low to the ground, long of body, a hunter, a speeding train on four feet, the terror of the hills. When he arrived, he was already battle scarred from tangling with the coyotes who served the Many and he knew the ways of the Forest better than he did those of the Home. He deemed the Humans a good source of meals and comfortable beds, but little else. 

Over the next two years, the Man and Woman coaxed faith from the two dogs, giving the Hound a reason to recall the lessons of his mother and the Small Dog a reason to stay home.  

Then one Friday the Woman disappeared for two days and two nights and when she reappeared she was accompanied by change. Borne into the house in a carrier in the Woman’s hand, it was placed on the sofa, and presented for inspection. Tails wagging, heads low in deference, the dogs approached.  They'd met babies before, but this one was something else; they could smell the difference as well as they could scent the rain riding shotgun on the wind. He was of those they already loved, but separate and new.  

On the Woman’s command, they each took up stations on the floor, laying near him, their muzzles close enough to inhale his scent, tails tapping out their pleasure.  They were no longer just dogs protecting a pair of Humans; they were being promoted to teachers, companions, guardians, and playmates.

Boy or Girl? They asked one another. 

                Small Dog, who’d lived with Children before, edged forward and whiffed its foot. Boy.

                A Boy. I’ve heard about Boys. They throw sticks. The Hound’s tail pounded faster and he crawled forward to nuzzle the Boy’s blankets, inhaling his new-old scent. The Woman spotted his excitement and cautioned him to be pay attention to where he was. 

               The Hound, lowered himself again .  I will be attentive--always. 

               The three dogs arranged themselves around the carrier, forming walls around their Boy, the other two  echoing the Hound.  

              As will I. 

             As will I. 

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