My feet are bare, which in retrospect was a bad decision, but by staying in the dirt bike and 4-wheeler tracks, I avoid most of the rougher patches of rocks. The padded dirt isn’t bad at all, alternating between cool and hot depending on its exposure to the sun.
I left probably under an hour ago, just walking for the sake of moving. I had been spending the day doing homework, and Algebra gives me headaches. To clear the most recent one up, I left to walk. Now I’m here, bored, but without a headache. Maybe a snake will slither onto the path and bite me. At least it would make things a little exciting.
There’s a rustling in the brush to my right. I freeze. Maybe insincere wishes are best left unthought. But it isn’t a snake that bursts out of the tall grass. It’s a dog. A Golden Retriever, I think. It barks at me, and I half smile, wondering if it’s lost and wants to play. It seems to have a collar on, but when I go to get closer, it barks loudly and rushes towards me, circling me twice.
Now there’s a second rustling in the grass, and a man has emerged from where the dog came. He spits, “Stupid dog—” and then freezes, staring at me. His clothes are grimy, covered in wet mud. Dirt stains his skin and even his eyes seem covered in filth. His pant legs have rips and tears in them. I squint. Is that a bite, or a claw mark? Before I can figure it out, he twists suddenly and rockets away, down the trail, going opposite the direction that leads back to my house.
I haven’t moved since the dog growled at me, initially afraid of it and then afraid of the dirty man. But now that the man is gone, the dog is moving again, circling around me and then heading to the gap in the tall grass. It barks frantically before diving into the grass. After a second, it comes back into view, barks at me again, and then whirls around and runs away.
My heart beats once. Twice. And then, still unsure of what is going on, I follow the dog.
The dog dives through the grasses like it’s being chased, faster than I can keep up with. There are branches, logs, and bumps that I have to navigate, and I catch myself in the midst of falling more than once. But after the beginning of the run, I start to go faster, observing more, avoiding more of the obstacles. Something about the way the dog barks, and keeps coming back to ensure that I’m still following; its urgency is spreading to me.
The grasses abruptly shorten, changing from yellow to light green blades only as tall as my knees. I can see the Golden Retriever, barking at the top of a small ledge. I take a step closer, and sink up to my ankles in mud. I’m sure my face is a sight. It’s showing disgust that one can only mirror when they can feel the texture of wet dirt in between their toes and sliding under the cuffs of their pants.
The dog’s fur is as muddy as the man’s clothes had been, a detail I hadn’t bothered to notice before. It’s barking at something past the edge of the ledge, more frantically now that we’re at our destination. I slop forward a few steps, before coming to a complete stop.
The mud in the grass is from a shallow stream, barely a foot deep and two feet wide, that flows through the tall grass and over the ledge, falling below for twenty feet in a brackish waterfall that splashes across a mound of jagged rocks. There’s a fallen sapling at the end of the stream, bent, hanging half ways out into the air. And hanging from the top branch of that small sapling is a burlap sack that’s wriggling around. Distressed, high-pitched howls sound from within.
There’s puppies in that bag. The Golden Retriever’s puppies, from the way that her barking has increased. That man had thrown that sack. I wasn’t sure why, or when, but I knew in my gut that for whatever reason he’d wanted to get rid of the puppies, and the mom wasn’t a fan of that idea. The mom attacked him, so instead of getting to the edge and dashing the bag onto the rocks, he’d arced the sack into the air, where it had landed on the end of that sapling, inches from sliding down and falling to the rocks below. The mom had come looking for help, and he’d come looking to punish her for intervening. And now he was running because what man wouldn’t run after trying to murder a bag of puppies?
The sapling moves, snapping me out of it. I take a faltering step forward, hands reaching out. Did I imagine it, or —? No. There it went again. The stream has dislodged the trunk from its holding in the bank, and it’s sliding inch by inch further towards the waterfall, ready to slide over the edge.
The sapling’s final connection to its trunk snaps, and now it’s drifting, the weight in the sack on the end carrying it away, to smash on the rocks below. Only a third is still on the ground, the other two thirds are going into the air past the ledge. I throw myself forward, landing in the stream. It’s cold, and I gasp in shock, but my fingers scramble for purchase on the slimy trunk of the sapling. It keeps going but my fingers catch a low connecting branch, and I heave, pulling back with strength I didn’t know I had.
My brain is panicking, full of horrified thoughts like, They can’t die, they’re puppies, they can’t die, there’s puppies, they can’t die, they can’t die, they can’t die, they can’t die—
I pull harder, the third of the sapling on the ground becoming half the sapling, then two-thirds of it. The bag hits the lip of the edge before the top finally slides back over, and its occupants yelp; I scream. I reach for the bag and grab it, holding it tightly to my chest as I jump away from the stream, the mud, and the sapling, and back to the dry tall grass.
I roll onto my back, letting go of the sack. It flops to one side and small golden heads poke out, yipping for their mom, who flattens the grass in her haste to be reunited with her children. I watch and slowly smile, reaching over to pet them all. And then the mom turns her affection on me, and the puppies follow suit. I’m laying in the grass, getting loved by an entire canine family.
Thoughts of catching that man and making him pay for what he did flood my mind, of reporting what happened to the authorities, of trying to explain to my parents why we have half a dozen new pets, but I’m too busy enjoying myself to pay them mind. I sit up, hands busy petting the small puppy who just slid into my lap.
Maybe this isn’t such a boring day, after all.