An introduction to my scribbling!
Last Summer, Jean and I signed up to a couple of evening courses at our local extension college, here in Payson. One of the courses was creative writing, something we have continued this year. That, plus encouragement from a number of writers (thank you all so much) who subscribe to Learning from Dogs, has pushed me to taking writing more seriously. Therefore, from time to time, I’m going to indulge myself by publishing a story on Learning from Dogs.
The following story is fictional in that the event did not take place, but the names of all concerned and the location are real!
Messages from the Night
“Jean, where’s Dhalia?”
“Don’t know. She was here moments ago.”
“Jeannie, You take the other dogs back to the car and I’ll go and scout around for her. Oh, and you better put Pharaoh on the leash otherwise you know he’ll follow me.”
“Paul, don’t worry, Dhalia’s always chasing scents; bet she beats us back to the car. Especially as it’s going to be dark soon.”
Nonetheless, Paul started back down the dusty, dirt road, the last rays of the sun pink on the high, tumbled cliffs of granite. This high rocky, forest plateau, known as the Granite Dells, just 3 miles from their home on the outskirts of Payson, made perfect dog-walking country and rarely did they miss an afternoon out here. However this afternoon, for reasons Paul was unclear about, they had left home much later than usual.
No sign of Dhalia ahead on the road so he struck off left, hoping she was somewhere up amongst the trees and the high boulders. Soon he reached the first crest, panting hard in the thin air. Behind him, across the breath-taking landscape, the setting sun had dipped beneath faraway mountain ridges; a magnificent sight. Suddenly, in the midst of that brief pause admiring the perfect evening, a sound echoed around the cliffs. The sound of a dog barking. Paul bet his life on that being Dhalia. Just as quickly the barking stopped.
The barking started up again, barking that suggested Dhalia was hunting something. The sound came from an area of boulders way up above the pine trees on the other side of the small valley ahead of him. Perhaps, Dhalia had trapped herself. More likely, he reflected, swept up in the evening scents of the wilderness, Dhalia had temporarily reverted back to the wild, hunting dog she had been all those years ago. That feral Mexican street dog who in 2005 had tentatively turned away from scavenging in a pile of rubbish in a dirty Mexican town and shyly approached Jean. Jean had named her Dhalia.
He set off down to the valley floor and after 15 minutes of hard climbing had reached the high boulders the other side.
Paul whistled, then called “Dhalia! Dhalia! Come, there’s a good girl.” Thank God for such a sweet, obedient dog. He anticipated the sound of dog feet scampering through rough undergrowth. But no sound came.
He listened; no sounds, no more barking. Now where had she gone? Perhaps past these boulders down in the steep ravine beyond him, the one so densely forested with pine trees. With daylight practically gone he needed to find Dhalia very soon.
He plunged down the slope, through tree branches that whipped across his face, then fell heavily as his foot found empty space instead of the expected firm ground. Paul cursed, picked himself up and paused. That fall had a message; the madness of continuing this search in the near dark. This terrain made very rough going even in daylight. At night, the boulders and plunging ravines would guarantee a busted body, at best! Plus, he ruefully admitted, he didn’t have a clue about finding his way back to the road from wherever he was!
The unavoidable truth smacked him full in the face, he would be spending this night alone in the high, open forest. It had one hell of a very scary dimension.
He forced himself not to dwell on just how scary it all felt. He needed to stay busy, find some way of keeping warm; last night at home it had dropped to within a few degrees of freezing. Paul looked around, seeing a possible solution. He broke a small branch off a nearby mesquite tree and made a crude brush with which he swept up the fallen pine needles he saw everywhere about him. Soon he had a stack sufficient to cover him, or so he hoped. Thank God that when he and Jeannie had decided to give the four dogs this late afternoon walk, he had jeans and a long-sleeved shirt on, a pullover thrown over his shoulders. Didn’t make Dhalia’s antics any less frustrating but he probably wasn’t going to freeze to death!
The air temperature sank as if connected with the last rays of the sun. Paul’s confidence sank with the temperature.
He lay down, shuffled about, swept the pine needles across his body, tried to find a position that carried some illusion of comfort. No matter the position, he couldn’t silence his mind. No way to silence the screaming in his head, his deep, primeval fear of this dark forest about him, imagination already running away with visions of hostile night creatures, large and small, watching him, smelling him, biding their time. Perhaps he might sleep for a while?
A moment later the absurdity of that last thought hit him. Caused him to utter aloud, “You stupid sod. There’s no way you’re going to sleep through this!” His words echoed off unseen cliffs in the darkness reinforcing his sense of isolation.
He was very frightened. Why? Where in his psyche did that come from? He had spent many nights alone at sea without a problem, a thousand miles from shore. Then, of course, he knew his location, always had a radio link to the outside world. But being lost in this dark, lonely forest touched something very deep in him. Suddenly, he started shivering.
The slightest movement caused the needles to slip from him and the cold night air began to penetrate his body. He mused about how cold it might get and, by extension, thanked his lucky stars that the night was early October not, say, mid-December. So far, not too cold, but soon the fear rather than the temperature started to devour him. What stupid fool said, ‘Nothing to fear but fear itself!’ His plan to sleep under pine needles, fear or no fear, had failed; he couldn’t get warm. He had to move.
He looked around, saw a boulder a few yards away, like some giant, black shadow. No details, just this huge outline etched against the night. Paul carefully raised himself, felt the remaining needles fall away, and gingerly shuffled across to the dark rock. He half-expected something to bite his extended hand as he explored the surface, ran his hand down towards the unseen ground. Miracle of miracles, the granite gently emitted the warmth absorbed from the day’s sun. He slowly settled himself to the ground, eased his back against the rock-face and pulled his knees up to his chest. He felt so much less vulnerable than he had laying on the forest floor. Paul let out a long sigh, then burst into tears, huge heart-rending sobs coming from somewhere deep within him.