Tuesday, December 22, 2020

A Girl and Her Dog (Lessons from Mother)

They come farther south every winter, as we move farther north. I know she hears them. Her ears perk up and she sniffs the air, but remains in the bed of leaves and dirt I have heaped together for us.

I don't know for sure but sometimes I think maybe she is scared of their howls in the dark. Wolves baying at the moon. She is alert but very still, only her eyes and ears move back and forth at each little sound I can hear and those I can't.

I have my momma's gun. I've counted the bullets and am sure there's not enough. Or rather, I need only two if it has to come to that.

Will she want to join them? I suspect not. Like so many times before, when a lone scout sniffs us out of hiding, she stays and defends me and I defend her.

That last encounter was too close even with her fierce growl and bared fangs that usually stalls their attack. I need to be more vigilant. Perhaps it was just too hungry to be wary of the threat she posed. Too wild to know the threat of my gun. As scrawny as that beast was, we dined well that night and it was several nights and many miles before we heard such wails again.

We are hiding among the trees and I am watching the town for movement. Everyone thinks the dark is more dangerous but we know better. It is the ones who come out into the daylight that ask no questions and shoot you dead as soon as they spot you coming. My momma taught me that.

I wipe the memory of her from my cheeks. She would not tolerate sentimentality at a time like this. At all times our concentration must be focused on survival because only the strong and the smart survive. Momma was not smart that day.

It is tedious and tiring to wait. On the edge of the third day we move out of the woods and scramble as silently as possible to the closest shack. We listen, and I watch her settle her ears to tell me she hears nothing worthy of our attention. The window sill is higher than I am tall, and I quietly place a wooden box underneath. Slowly. Slowly. Ever so slowly I inch upward and peek inside. It is empty, as are all the buildings on the outskirts of the town.

I consider the contents of my pack. If you take something then you have to get rid of something. Never carry more than you need. Never so much as to weigh you down and keep you from pulling the trigger faster than those who are chasing you. And never go so far into a town that you can't make an easy run out.

But the temptation of what may be further in is hard to resist, and this is a ghost town and I am tired. Tired of running. Tired of watching. Tired of waiting. If only we could rest here awhile. Make this town our home. I could build signal systems that warn us if something approaches, and traps to capture and kill that which comes within range. I could pitch the bloodied heads of those who came too close as a warning of what would befall whomever considers doing likewise.

Don't attract the attention of those who are hungry for blood.

That was my first lesson. Blood attracts and draws the attention even of the beasts we thought too far away to worry on. They race up from the south, fight for the entrails mother leaves out in the open, and we watch as they devour every morsel and then turn on each other for more.

No. We will not stay here, we'll keep moving north. Away from the heat and the dust and the things that haunt our days, and closer to the howls of the wild.

Perhaps we will find more like us. Mother found me in her time, and I in mine found another. Though she is different than me, I have grown too fond and too dependent.

Her ears perk up, she sniffs the air, and then she is on all fours and looking at me for direction. We run the quickest path back to the safety of the woods and into the trees for the tallest I'd prepared earlier. I haul us up among the top branches, pulling the ropes in with us, and we settle till nightfall.

The howls of the north are drawing near. Not tonight, but one night we will meet them. I am sure she will do her best to defend me. Even so, I need only two bullets if it comes to that.

<word count: 797>

🐾 For Gracie and Stella.

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