Note: I left my Bible at home so that is why there have been a lack of unsettling verses. Also, due to the influence of endorphins I have not read a single page of anything in about a week so I feel it is inappropriate to repost the same books I’ve read in 2012. Stay tuned for that to continue when I get my mind out of the gutter.
So I have been in Edmonton for a few days now and as a result “The Muse” has had a chance to return slightly. I decided to post the first part of this short story I wrote a while back. I picked at it a touch and then figured if I publish this first bit then that will force me to finish it for good. It is called Bear, which is the name of the main character’s dog. After finishing school he and the dachshund make a break for the woods. You will probably notice a lot of themes that are commonly found in some of my ranting-style posts. Anyway, enjoy.
It had rained for nearly two days straight. Not just a drizzle, but a full on, wrath of God, torrential downpour. For the young man, this did not make for a pleasant hike. Virtually every step, save for the last hour or so, had been deeper into a wall of water. Most people probably would have waited out the storm before heading out on foot, but for him, there wasn’t any choice. He had graduated last spring, ridden out the last days of his lease, and a courteous letter of resignation sat neatly on his employer’s desk. That chapter of his life was over. And there was only one place he cared to venture during this period of liminality.
“whhwWhhit! whhwWhhit!” He let two sharp blasts out from the tight circumference of his lips. The small bush of weeds in front of him rustled and out popped a tiny, reddish-brown miniature dachshund. She came waddling towards him; something in her mouth caused a disruption in her normal gait.
“Bear!” he said. “Put that down. We already have dinner.” He held up a smoky-grey rabbit by the slack of skin behind its neck. It was still warm. She glared up at him from five feet below. She didn’t understand. He pointed the index finger of his spare hand at her. “Put it down. …Bear!” He pointed his finger a second time. “Drop it!” She knew this command and immediately her lower jam relaxed and the limp orange-breasted robin dropped to the blanket of damp pine needles that covered the trail. Her tail started to wag. It was amazing, he thought, that she could forget the hunt that concluded not five minutes prior. But then again, for Bear the only credible evidence of a meal was the feeling of satiety in her stomach. That, however, would have to wait for at least another couple of hours. First, the man would have to wash and skin the rabbit and then cook it over a tamed fire. The latter would prove quite difficult, as much of the surrounding kindle was thoroughly soaked.
The two travelers pressed on until finally reaching an open marshy area. Bear sat patiently while he scrubbed the blood and dirt off of the rabbit’s fur. This would all be skinned off anyway but Matthew, his old roommate, used to insist on the careful sanitary details. When the job was done they continued along the edge of the water. The open swamp eventually funnelled off into a thin sea of reeds. He removed the strap holding his .22 calibre Long Rifle from around his shoulder and rested it on the soft mix of sand and loose dirt – he would come back for it later. He reached down and scooped up Bear with his free arm and high stepped through the thicket. After forty metres of mushy trekking, the man, his dog, and their dinner reached the opposite bank.
They paused at the foot of a monstrous dune, unofficially named, The Behemoth. The two looked up at the delightfully tormenting peak and then at each other. “Race ya to the top?” he asked his companion. The two starred at each other for a moment. “Go!” he barked. Suddenly the young man charged up the base of the hill. The dachshund reacted quickly and, having no pack or rabbit to carry, was right on his heels. The moist sand gave decent footing for the bipedal racer. He pumped his arms ferociously and took short strides, leading from his toes. At the halfway point his turnover began to slow considerably as the lactic acid accumulated in his working muscles. With every step his heart pumped faster and harder. The end was near but every second dragged on. His lungs were ready to explode!
At last sweet relief came. He caressed the top of the sand dune and collapsed onto his back; carefully keeping the rabbit-bearing arm extended away from the ground. His lungs wheezed hard enough to suck the clouds from the sky. He was exhausted but it was a satisfying, cleansing pain.
Gradually his breathing returned to normal and the sound of tribal drumming within his chest faded. He could hear the panting of his friend from below. Heh, heh, heh… It was quiet at first but grew steadily louder as she galloped towards the top. Heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh, heh… Bear pounced on the young man`s chest and started slobbering all over his face. He couldn`t help but giggle as he titled his head as far back as he could so that she was only licking the under portion of his chin. It took him a second to realize he still had one available arm. He used it to push the dog off of himself and into the bed of sand. He scratched her belly for a moment but then was directed to the growling of his own. He took out his semi-rusted, silver multi-tool, which was purchased at the local flea market, and tended to the rabbit.
Everything he knew about hunting he learned from Matthew. After finals exams the two used to take Bear out to Port Ipperwash to camp illegally. A week out in the semi-wilderness was always enough to make him forget the troubles of the previous semester and refresh him for the start of his next challenge. Bear was a natural born hunter. She could fit perfectly down a rabbit hole and flush out the nutritious dweller.
At first the young man felt saddened by the site of a dead rabbit. Matthew, however, felt no such sympathy for the animal. He thought it was ironic that many people he knew felt no remorse for eating upwards of twenty servings of meat a week but when he went to go hunting they were quick to criticize him for killing helpless animals. “It’s not the fact that the rabbit is dead that bothers you,” he used to say. “You would have had beef, or chicken, or fish for dinner tonight anyway. You just don’t want to be the one that has to kill it.” He knew Matthew was right. Once he learned to overcome the moral dilemmas he began to rather like hunting. Foraging was a simple lifestyle. The intense concentration and the lingering fear of going without a meal was enough to silence any other concerns. Matthew knew this; hence the reason he insisted on going camping after the slavery to testing had ended. This version of camping, however, was quite a bit more rugged than the roasting marshmallows and sleeping in air-conditioned tents type. Matthew was sad to miss this trip but now that his undergrad was done he was off to England for his Master’s program.
The young man searched for some fire starter. Earlier, he was able to find some dry logs underneath an overgrown section of brush but everything else in the area was still drenched. He needed something to get the primitive stove going. There were five books in his tan-green trekking pack. He unzipped the top and glanced in to see which one he could sacrifice. There was: On the Origin of Species, Old Yeller, A Modest Proposal, The North Runner and… He reached in for the thickest one of all. It had a maroon hardcover and fancy gold lettering. He breezed through the pages like one might do with a cartoon flipbook, just to take in any last information, for in a minute, it would be reduced to ashes. He stared at the front cover. How could one book cause so much love, hate, fear, hope and confusion? He wondered. Many times had he read this mysterious manuscript in order to give it a fair chance (as he did with the similar texts from different cultures). As much as he wanted it to, it just never felt right.
He tore the pages without mercy and tossed them in with some dead twigs. This would serve as the base for the fire. He hesitated for a moment and then lit the match. Once the logs were added and the flames grew higher, he tossed in the last remaining part of the book. Through the flickering of the bright orange streaks he could see the words Holy Bible slowly melt away.
He didn’t notice right away, because the added light from the fire masked the setting of the sun, but night had approached rather quickly. The sky was now an eerie orange with swirls of purple blended in like an exquisite oil painting. It reminded him of his time up at Bosoliel Island when he was a kid. Bear seemed to be drawn to the sunset as well. She sat at the edge of the hill, as proud as a statue, gazing out over the landscape. He joined her for a few moments in what R.D. Lawrence would call a “pantheistic communion”. The resulting shadows, cast back towards the fire pit, were as disproportioned as the two beings themselves. It then occurred to him; he had built a fire on this hilltop dozens of times before but never had the view struck him so deeply.
The pot of water gurgled. Boiling the rabbit was optional, and took longer, but as a boy, he had read in the novels of Gary Paulsen that it was more nutritious to make a stew than it is to eat the animal right off the bone. This was because the vitamins and mineral from the meat and bones would collect in the water. He could then drink the stew for nourishment and eat the soaked meat at the bottom of the pot as a source of protein. It proved to be almost two meals in one. Add that on top of the can of beans in his pack and the result was a meal more satisfying than any city-dweller could ever imagine.
Bear was given a few scraps of rabbit, a handful of dog biscuits (he had packed more food for Bear than he had for himself), and the femur bone for desert. He used to keep the foot for good luck, but eventually considered it more important to dispose of the carcass, as a sign of respect, rather than to wear a part of it as a trophy to acknowledge some petty superstition. He wrapped up the remaining ear in a piece of cloth and placed in his bag. The rest of the non-eatables were tossed far down the hill, for any scavengers wandering by that night.
In the last morsel of daylight the young man pulled together a make-shift shelter, composed of sticks and pine-tree branches; all leaned against a fallen trunk. He then sat down across from Bear and watched the fire perform its improvised dance. For a long time he said nothing.
“So what now?” he asked Bear. “Back to school again?” She stared blankly back at him. “I know. You’re probably sick of those parties by now, eh?” Whenever he and Matthew hosted a party they usually kept Bear around as a conversation piece. She didn’t much care for the noise but she had a way of getting into the spirit of things. One time she was sitting on the end of the burgundy L-shaped couch (the cushion with the big coffee stain on one side and a puke stain on the other) when a drunk, uninvited guest sat on her. She let out a shrill yawp, causing the man to jump up and spill his beer (only adding further to the existing stain). For the rest of the night she made it her mission to revolt against this guest. Every time he got up she would nip and claw at his heels. Whenever he came around a corner she would cut him off and cause him to stumble. He eventually came close to kicking the rebellious little mutt in a burst of frustration: his girlfriend was not impressed.
“What about that museum that just opened up? I could actually put my degree to some use.” He said very unconvincingly. “Europe? We could go to Europe for a year. Matt said if I ever went backpacking over there to call him up.” Although he missed the usual company of his friend, in a way, he was happy that Matthew had left. After all, if he stuck around here they would have had to fight over who got to keep Bear. They had her for three years. Two of those years were spent in a student house just off campus. When the older housemates moved on they had to leave their beloved dog behind. The young man had worried much of his senior year over the future fate of Bear. When Matthew said he was going to study abroad it was a bittersweet relief.
“We could go tree planting out West. I know a couple of people at UBC we might be able to stay with for a while.” He tossed around some more ideas in his head. This made him fidgety. He reached around for a stoking stick and prodded the fire a little bit. A tiny piece of paper floated out and landed by his feet. He patted it down and then attempted to make out the scripture bordered by a rough, charcoal-black frame. It read:
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you wh…
The flames had engulfed the rest of the print. This paragraph alone survived the scorching wrath of one of man’s oldest marvels. A look of bewilderment drooped over the man’s unshaven but otherwise youthful face. After he had memorized the small patch of ground surrounding his heels he lifted his head and gazed deep into the fire. Had it any more words of wisdom? Its monotonous crackling seemed to answer no. Bear sensed her friend’s discomfort and curled up against his right hip. His resulting crooked grin favoured this side ever so slightly.
The sun had now completely set. The only thing that fought off the surrounding dark was the seemingly supernatural light source, which had an estimated hour of life left. He pulled out Old Yeller, and read aloud until the words merged together on the page. He crawled into the low-lying shelter and moulded his long, flexible body into a disfigured S-shape. Through the triangular window at the foot end of the shelter he could just make out the silhouette of his dog. She usually didn’t come into the shelter until after he was asleep. On this particular night, that seemed to take an inordinate amount of time. His eyelids were light and his mind was heavy. He tried to concentrate on the song of what must have been a million crickets. What started out as a staccato pulse had quickly evolved into a steady tone. If he had a watch it would have read 2 a.m.
Gradually, the hectic chatter finally turned into a serene melody. The ever-cooling touch of the sand sedated the sleep-deprived man. Much to the delight of his canine companion he drifted off into a deep slumber.