Copyright (c) 2020 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
WITH HUMAN EYES
By R. Peterson
I grabbed Ralph’s hunting gun and headed off toward the sound of the tracking hounds. Don’t ask me why; I was scared for Starlight and had to do something. I heard all them other dogs barking close together along with drunk men yelling and I figured they must have found her. I fired Ralph’s four-ten in the air and yelled as loud as I could. “Come on girl! Let’s get ourselves out of here!” And I tried to lead them away. That’s when all hell broke loose. I could hear men and dogs coming through the trees toward me. I can outrun almost anything when I’m scared … and I was terrified.
Tracking dogs in Arkansas is mostly used for hunting raccoons and all I lacked was a little bit longer nose and a striped tail. I crashed through huckleberry and thorn-brush that would tear the arms off a man with any meat on them. Being so thin, made me harder to snag-up. I was about two miles away from where I’d left Starlight, winded and gasping for air, when I climbed a tree.
Ralph, a dozen men, and a pack of dogs surrounded the tree trunk. “You come down out of there right now and show us where you got that bitch hid … and the beating will go easy!”
I was no fool. I knew what was coming. I held out as long as I could. Luke Grover finally climbed the tree and snagged my foot. He was a part-time lumberjack, when he wasn’t making whiskey, and he twisted my leg until two toes broke. I was bawling when they pulled me down.
I don’t remember telling them where Starlight was, all I remember was limping ahead of them to the spot with my nose bleeding …and my ears ringing something awful. My dog was gone. The rope was still tied to the tree but it had been chewed in half part way down. I don’t remember much of the rest of that night. I remember Sheriff Moss telling Ralph to stop kicking me because my death would complicate things. Somebody carried me in the house and dropped me in a pile by the woodstove.
Somebody was pounding on the door and Ralph yelled for me to see who it was. I was stiff and could hardly walk. It took a minute to open the door. I’ve never seen Sheriff Moss as wide-eyed and as scared as he was that morning. He had three deputies with him and they was all packing guns. “Something broke into the Grover’s house last night and ripped Clevis Grover’s head clean off,” he said. I noticed he said something … not someone. “Daryl and Otis is dead too. They still got their heads, but they was chewed-on something awful. Luke spent the night with that whore who lives down the river. He found his kin all kilt this morning and lit out for the state police in Little Rock.”
“You best be getting after that bitch dog then,” Ralph told the sheriff.
“This here ain’t no more my problem,” the sheriff said. “I found extra big tracks circling my house when I fed chickens this morning. I figure whatever killed the Grover family is coming for me next! You brought this trouble into our woods and you better take care of it!”
Ralph didn’t say nothing to me the next couple of days. It wasn’t like him and he was too quiet. I thought about Starlight a lot and I hoped she was okay. On Friday Bill Sievers stopped by and told us about the sheriff. It looked like somebody had forced his county car off the road and then broke out most of the windows. They found parts of his body scattered up and down the road and had to put most of them into plastic bags.
Luke Grover never come back to our neck of the woods and Ralph was extra nice to me. He never laid a hand on me once.
One evening when I was gathering hay for the milk cows, Starlight appeared around the side of the barn. She was bigger than I remember but half-starved and limping on both paws like she’d jumped through a broken window. I filled a bowl with water from the well and tried to get her to drink. Ralph must have heard me trying to coax her into coming to me.
Just when I thought she was going to trust me, Ralph came out of the house with a raw steak from the ice-box and the four ten hid behind his back. She growled once when she saw him but quieted down when he began to talk nice. He was standing with his back against the well and I heard the hammer on the gun click when he got it ready to fire.
Starlight stopped about twenty feet in front of him and looked at me. She whined like she was just lonesome for friends. I opened my mouth and no words would come out. Then Ralph pulled the whistle I’d made out of his pocket and blew on it. Starlight began to wag her tail walking toward him. Her eyes was on the meat.
I don’t know if I screamed but I wanted to. I saw Starlight flying through the air toward Ralph just as he brought the shotgun barrel up. Her mouth looked like them teeth they paint on World War II fighter planes.
I heard the blast and I was running toward her. When the smoke cleared, she lay on the ground bleeding. Her crying made my eyes water up. Ralph had fell backward into the well and I could hear him splashing around in the water far below and hollering for me to let down the rope.
Starlight was quiet … too quiet.
I used my shirt and the water in the bowl to wipe away the blood. Several pellets had grazed her stomach … but she looked okay.
I carried her into the house.
Ralph continued to cry-out long after dark came, and sometimes he was bawling. Other times he was cursing me something awful, describing all the ways he was gonna slow-skin me once he got out. I got so I couldn’t take it no more and after I put an old door over the well, me and Starlight lit out for the river. The moon was glistening off the water and after a while me and Starlight both felt happier than we’d been in some time. I don’t know if it was the night, the wind in the trees or something else but I could hear my mother whispering to me … telling me what to do.
I think Starlight could hear that voice too … she seemed to know.
The next morning there was no more sound coming from the barnyard … or the well. Starlight had a fever, probably infection from the gunshot. The evil men do, lives long after they do and Ralph had always kept old rusty shells. I tried to keep her warm. She was hurt worse than I thought.
After I put back the old door covering the well and did a couple of other things, I walked to the neighbors and told them with my eyes full of real tears that Ralph had had an accident. But the tears weren’t for him.
When they pulled Ralph from the well he was black all over and not blue like my mom. I was glad of that. It looked like they was bound for different heavens. The well was floating with empty whiskey bottles and they figured he was drunk when he fell in.
I was too upset to go to the funeral. I don’t know who showed up.
The new sheriff was as good as Sheriff Moss was bad. He checked on me near every day and then insisted on taking Starlight in for a rabies test on account he said some folks claimed my dog was trouble. Starlight was almost dead when they carried her to the car … but at least they was gentle.
It near broke my heart when they drove away. I’d always thought she would get better.
My uncle Pete from Kentucky came to live on the farm and after I’d cried for a few days, me and him got along just fine. He was just about the hardest working man I ever saw. He made me go to school and kicked the back of my pants a few times when I caught a bigger fish than he did, but he taught me how to laugh.
I’d just about given up on ever seeing Starlight again and was stunned when the sheriff’s car pulled into the farm yard. I dropped a whole bucket of milk … and it spilled everywhere. Pete was happy too. He threw the pail he was carrying. Starlight was out of the car like a bullet and knocked me down. She licked my face until I near drowned and her tail was dusting me like a broom.
“I’m sorry it took so long to get her back to you,” the sheriff said. “She’s clean as they come and to be honest … almost everyone at the courthouse wanted to keep her.”
Things were back better than they had ever been. Starlight was with me wherever I went. One morning she wasn’t in the barn when I went in to do the milking. I didn’t see her for two days and was near frantic. She showed up limping from a knife-wound and with a tiny little dog following behind her that was no bigger than a cat. They was friends.
It looked like no dog I’d ever seen. Someone had cut out round pieces of cheesecloth and most likely soaked them in cornstarch to make them stiff then attached them to the back of a tiny green costume the dog wore. The collar had the name Tinkerbelle stamped in the leather and a metal tag with some numbers. I figured someone had made up this dog to look like the fairy from that Disney movie.
I asked all the neighbors and no one knew anything about the dog. The next time I went in Annie’s General Store to get our mail I asked if anyone had lost a dog. Annie told me gypsies from a traveling-carnival had showed up a day or so before looking for a dog they had taught to perform in a stage show. That woman Annie is as smart as a fox and could wring the truth out of a sober politician. She said one of the gypsies confessed to her that they had stolen the dog from a country called England while they was crossing Europe. They lit out when she said she was going for the sheriff. I’d learned a bunch about England in school and knew it was full of castles. I figured this dog must belong to a Queen … Kings like big dogs.
Pete said that dogs were like people and they belonged with the ones who love them. He somehow came up with enough cash-money to put a five-line lost and found notice in a fancy London newspaper. He told what Tinkerbelle looked like and the numbers on the tag and who we thought took her. The money them folks over there use is called pounds and Pete said it was a lot heavier than our kind. We’re still waiting for a letter to come in the mail. I figure it will. God works in mysterious ways … and not just for church goers.
I’d brushed away all them big muddy wolf tracks months before except for one which I dug up real careful and hid under a straw-pile in the barn. One night after the milking, I called Starlight over and I compared both her paws with the print I’d been saving. Tinkerbelle sat there watching us with her paw on a squirming barn-rat she’d caught in the corner. She was one mighty proud and haughty fairy-dog. I looked them paws, and that wolf-print, over real careful under the lantern light.
I won’t say it came from Starlight, but I won’t lie either.
Some things are better left for me, my ma … and the dog with human eyes to know.
THE END ?