Lost Dog 18-20
The day following our capture of the pups I woke early and began my chores. My father remained a brooding presence in the cabin, watching through the window in readiness for the wild dogs to appear.
Outside the cabin I looked in to the cage where the pups were imprisoned. They were huddled together sleeping although one pup intermittently whined. I knew they must be hungry. The thought of them dying through starvation filled me with horror. Later I asked my father if I could feed them. He allowed me to give them water only. "Their hunger
pains" he said "will make them call out to the pack."
My father took his rifle and told me to prepare to go out on patrol. At first I didn't understand why we needed to do this and told him so. My father said the dogs could smell us, even though they were so far away. By leaving the cabin we would entice them even more.
I slouched my way through the forest. Every so often my father would stop and turn and gesture to me that I should pick up my pace. I knew he was still angry with me and it would be a long time before I earned his forgiveness.
We walked for two hours or more. As we advanced towards a clearing on the far side of the forest my father crouched and indicated that I should do the same. I looked around,
curious as to what he'd seen. There, standing in the open ground, was a wild dog. It was alone. It had picked up the scent of something and was meandering to and fro. Its movements were remarkably like a lion, the way it inched forward, its snout close to the earth, stopping suddenly and raising its head, alert to each and every sound.
My father had the dog in his sights. He held the rifle tight against him and fired.
The dog fell. My father made the rifle safe and walked towards his prey. I did likewise. My heart was pounding. "Is it dead ?" I said excitedly. "Did you kill it ?"
"Let's wait and see" he said. "It felt like a clean kill."
We were almost upon the animal. Sure enough my father had shot it clean through the side of the head. He knelt and began to tie the hind legs. The animal was much larger than I thought. My father said: "Go and see if you can find a long branch in the forest, something that will bear the weight."
I did so and spent the next thirty minutes or so looking for a suitable branch. I found one - a thick branch off a silver birch - and carried it back to where my father was sitting with his kill.
"That's good" he said and took out his knife to trim the excess vine and leaves. In my absence my father had bound the front paws. Now he ran a rope through the hind and front legs and tied it to the branch I'd found in the forest. He ordered me to lift one end of the branch and place it on my shoulder while he did the same. That was how we carried our kill back to the cabin - the dog trussed between us like a giant sleeping bat.
The long walk, and the effort spent carrying the dog, left me feeling tired. My father suggested that I sleep for an hour and I did so.
While I slept my father butchered the carcass. He skinned and gutted the animal, took off the head, and snapped the legs at the joint. He sliced off the four paws and put them in a small container.
When I awoke he had just finished and was washing his hands and arms. He'd thrown some of the innards into the cage for the pups to feed on. The carcass had been set on a spit for roasting.
“You ever tasted dog meat ?” he asked. I shook my head. “It’s dark and tender. We'll eat well for the next few days" he said. His mood seemed to have improved after the hunt. Perhaps he's already forgiven me my indiscretion, I thought.
While he roasted the carcass I went off into the surrounding area to gather fresh water and forage for berries and leaves to accompany our meal. I was beginning to value the knowledge my father had passed on to me. Now I felt confident identifying the plants and roots that were safe for us to eat. Near the river I discovered a cluster of mushrooms
hidden beneath a bush. I examined them and deemed them safe for eating. Nearby I found mint, basil and sweet water reeds. When my foraging bag was well filled I made my way back to the cabin.
The smell of roasting dog meat greeted me. As I approached I realized that my father was sitting with another man and it soon became clear it was Old Man Judge. He gestured to me as I approached, calling me Little Hunter. “Come and sit with us” he said. My father remained silent, overseeing the roast, prodding and poking the cooked meat with a metal fork.
"I bet you're wondering how an old man like me managed to get all the way to your cabin, eh Little Hunter ?"
I nodded and smiled as he ruffled my hair. I felt shy in front of Judge. He talked a lot. Like my father, I preferred silence.
"It so happened that a friend of mine who lives even further out in the wilderness than I do was passing this way with several mules and asked me if I wanted to ride with him. It was a sore few hours on that damn animal but it saved my legs, that's for sure."
My father nodded and poked the now crisp meat.
"Looks like I picked the right day to visit too" Judge continued. "Roast dog for dinner - now that's a real treat for us, wouldn't you say Little Hunter ?"
Judge asked me what I'd gathered so I opened up my bag and laid out my hoard. Judge examined everything, especially the mushrooms which he put to his nose. "Beautiful" he said, taking deep, satisfying breaths. "As fresh as nature intended. No need to
cook 'em" he continued. "These babies deserve to be eaten raw."
The dog meat was just as my father said it would be: succulent, fragrant and crisp. It melted in my mouth. The aromas and juices were so rich they made me giddy. We all ate greedily, my father slicing piece after piece off the carcass. Old Man Judge had bought a bottle of home-made hooch and he shared it with my father. Judge kept saying that I should drink some too but, perhaps as punishment, at first my father told him no. Eventually, though,he allowed me a taste. The hooch was hot, strong and went straight to my head. Much to Judge's amusement I spat some of it out.
We sat feasting on the dog meat for what seemed like hours. When I could eat no more I looked up at the sky. The moon and stars had unfurled themselves and the sky that night was particularly clear and bright. Old Judge, merry from his hooch, began singing the old songs, songs that had been passed down through the years by folk who lived out in the wilderness. My father sang too, joining in the chorus to each song, beating a rhythm on the fire bricks with his long fork. I listened carefully to the words, Old Judge mesmerizing me with his heartfelt emotion. The songs he sang were about loss and loneliness, anguish and regret. And, as the embers of the fire slowly faded, and Old Judge grew tired, the songs were replaced by the night sounds of nature - the wind cutting through the forest trees, the sweet clear water of the river flowing strong, the distant howls of the wild dogs in their den.
When he had drunk his fill my father fell asleep where he sat. Old Man Judge struggled to his feet and slapped my father on his back. "Come on, soldier. Time to crawl into your sack." My father woke suddenly and obeyed the command.
Alone now with Judge, I watched as he went over to the cage and peered inside. "Look at 'em" he said. "These little scraps of nuthin' - can you believe they grow up into rabid, snarling killing machines ?" He opened the cage door and grabbed one by the scruff of the neck, holding the pup head height, framing it against the night sky. "Don't look so dangerous now, do they little hunter ?" he cackled. The pup was trying to wriggle free,
yelping as it did so. Its soft fur was oily and matted with blood from when we fed them the older dog's innards. The inside of the pups' cage was now a fetid mess. The creatures were constantly crawling over one another. Piss and tiny dark gloops of shit, as well
as the uneaten offal, added to their misery. Soon they would turn on one another. They would either kill or be killed.
Judge threw the pup back in the cage. As he did so we heard the sound of animals
approaching. A voice called out: "Is that you Judge ?" A man riding a mule came into view. Following behind, were two other mules, tethered to a rope which the rider held fast.
"Well if it isn't Jackson Brill" said Judge. "I wasn't expecting you until first light."
Brill brought the mules to a halt. "Sold four an' come back with two" he said.
"You heading home straight away ?" Judge asked. Brill spat onto the ground. "Sure am. If you want a ride you'd better get on board now, Judge."
Judge turned to me and said: "Tell your old man I bagged a ride with Mr Brill. You look after your poppa, little hunter, do you hear ? I'll just take a snack for myself and Mr
Brill for the journey."
Judge wrapped some of the dog meat in a piece of muslin and placed it in his bag along with the remainder of the hooch. Brill helped him onto one of the mules. Old Judge was no lightweight and I thought the animal was going to buckle as soon as he mounted. But mules, I guess, are made of stronger stuff and they set off towards Judge's shack.
When they were gone I went into the cabin and lay on my bed. My father was snoring. Soon I too fell into a deep sleep.