Lost Dog 21-22
My father woke me - he kicked me in the back. "Get up" he said "and come outside." I struggled to my feet. It was a cool morning and a light refreshing breeze brushed my face as I walked out of the door. My father was standing beside the cage. The cage door
was open. "They've gone" he said. "You let them out didn't you ? Behind my back!" He was shouting, pointing his forefinger at my face. It took me a while but slowly I began to
recall the last of the previous night's events. "It was Judge" I said. "After you'd gone to bed Judge opened the cage and took out one of the pups. Then Jackson Brill came with the mules. Judge decided to ride back with him. He must have forgot to lock the cage."
My explanation seemed to pacify my father's anger. He looked into the empty cage and muttered to himself: "Stupid fucking Judge! Stupid, stupid, stupid!"
He kicked the cage and went inside the cabin. Secretly, I was glad the pups had escaped. I looked out towards the far forest and imagined them there, returned now to the den, re-united with the others in the dog pack. Now they would be taken care of, not left to fester in a filthy cage. I imagined the bitches of the pack feeding them hot dog-milk from their teats and their matted coats licked clean by their elders.
The carcass of the roasted dog was still skewered on the barbecue. I took it into the cabin and told my father I was going to cut off the remainder of the meat. He told me not to bother. "We're going out" he said, cocking his rifle "to get another one."
We headed in the direction of Judge's shack. My father wanted to let Judge know how careless he'd been in leaving the cage unlocked. I sensed also that he wanted to confirm I was telling him truth. After we'd settled things with Judge my father planned for
us to trek towards the forest and the open space where we had shot the wild dog. He also wanted to check the den where we'd found the pups but said it had most likely been abandoned. "Wild dogs aren't stupid" he said. "They'll have made a new den for their pups elsewhere."
We walked slowly, wary of everything around us. The weather was good and the ground dry. I carried a canteen of fresh water and some of the left-over meat. My father said that Judge would feed us when we arrived. "It's the least he can do" he snarled.
We got to within a mile of Judge's shack when my father suddenly stopped. He stood silent, looking around, listening to the rustling of the trees. I asked: "What is it ?" He said: "I don't know. Something's not right."
Judge's shack came into view. We approached warily and my father held his rifle ready. He called out Judge's name but there was no answer. I recalled our previous visit when
all-knowing Judge had stood waiting outside having anticipated our arrival.
My father told me to stay where I was. He went inside Judge's shack and I waited for a few minutes before he emerged with a puzzled look on his face. "He's not in there" he said. We checked the small outbuilding that acted as Judge's store and then my father turned his attention to some markings in the ground. He found the mule prints from the previous night which indicated that Judge had arrived home. Then he found fresh prints which corresponded to Judge's military issue boots. "This way" my father said.
We followed Judge's tracks towards the river. The tracks veered this way and that as if the old man was unsure of his destination. Eventually his prints led into the forest and
disappeared over boggy ground.
"Maybe he went out foraging" I said but my father didn't seem to agree. "Judge
is in trouble" he said. "He's out there, somewhere in the forest. We need to find him."
Our search continued. I readied myself by holding the knife my father had given me. Our
progress was slow - the forest was an unpredictable place. And it was quiet - eerily so. My father warned me to beware of traps. It had been known for folk in the wilderness to lay animal traps only for the traps to ensnare unsuspecting hunters like us. Some folk, those who lived deep in the wilderness and were more like animals than humans, had even gone out of their way to snare humans. Those kind of people, my father said, deserved to be hunted down and killed like the wild dogs.
We reached a clearing - the same clearing where my father had shot the adult dog. My father stood for a while surveying the landscape. He whispered: "Judge is here, I can
We crouched in the grass and slowly advanced. My father grabbed hold of my arm and said: "Look."
On the far edge of the open land stood an animal. The animal looked like a mutation - part dog, part wolf. It was the biggest animal I had ever seen. It sat alone, imperious, its wolf-like fur silver and light grey. And it was a handsome animal, regal like a lion, its
bushy tail wrapped around its front paws, its eyes piercing and deep yellow.
“Jesus...” my father said.
It was then I noticed the wolf-dog's mouth was red with fresh blood.
My father raised his rifle and took aim.
Before my father pulled the trigger another dog appeared to the right of where we were crouching. And then, to the left, another. And again, another. The dogs seemed to be appearing out of thin air. Some were wolf-like, others had the characteristics of domestic dogs, lean and fierce looking, growling. There were too many of them for us to even
contemplate moving forward. One false move and they would set upon us. My father whispered: "Do as I say. Slowly start edging back. We need to retreat to Judge's shack. Move slowly. Don't run or else we're dead."
He kept his rifle trained on the dogs and we edged backwards. The dogs remained where they were, only advancing when we had managed to put considerable distance between
them and us. I was scared that they would suddenly chase us down. If that had been the case we wouldn't have stood a chance. My father would have been able to kill a few but we would have soon been overwhelmed. When we’d moved to a safe distance and the dogs were no more than specs on the horizon we ran. Eventually we arrived at Judge's shack, hurrying inside and barring the door. Through the window we could see the animals in the far distance. They had followed our tracks. At a distance from Judge’s shack the pack halted. Some of the dogs lay down; others stood where they were,
howling or barking. My father took up position with his rifle near the front door.
Darkness came and I fell asleep, only to be woken in the middle of the night by the sound of the dogs howling. My father had stayed awake, monitoring the pack’s movements. A few of them, he said, had come up close to the front door. How many there were, he wasn't sure – maybe upwards of fifty now. The large wolf-like dog remained in the centre, observing, howling, overseeing like some sort of king.
We speculated about Judge - where he might be and what might have happened to make him leave the shack. My father said that perhaps Judge had tried to make his way to Jacob
Brill's shack but it didn't seem to make any sense. Brill lived deep in the wilderness and it took days to get there. The one possibility that we didn't mention but which played on both our minds was that Judge had been taken by the dogs.
After two days the dogs dispersed. They simply turned round and went back into the forest. Why they had appeared was a mystery. Was it to frighten us ? Intimidate us ? There was a moment, when my father first raised his rifle, the mutant dog-wolf in his sights, when the pack could have attacked us. We were vulnerable and had left ourselves badly exposed. My father said he hadn't realized how many wild dogs lived in the forest. I thought of the pups, growing stronger each day. Soon they too would be roaming the forest. Perhaps, sometime in the future, they would remember the place where they were locked in the cage and return.
We left Judge's shack and made our way back to our cabin. My father had left Judge a note, telling him to get in contact as soon as he was able.
What happened to Judge remains a mystery to this day. But I think I know what happened – a cruel and violent end that no man would ever wish to consider.