The hillside sloped down at a thirty degree angle with trees and bushes spotting its’ décor. I headed down the slope. Then, spotting smoke rising to mix with the wind, I changed my original direction and headed toward the smoke. Smoke meant a fire-and maybe food. I hadn’t eaten for days and my stomach ached from the emptiness.
Approaching a stream, I could smell fish being cooked. My mouth began to water at the thought of eating freshly cooked fish. Keeping my pace slow, I followed the scent upstream where I came upon a man stoking a small campfire. Over this campfire there stood a cleverly crafted iron-looking grill frying fish in a pan ‘trapped’ atop it. When he saw me walking toward him, he set aside his cooking fork. Reaching for his rifle and taking aim, he asked in a stern voice,
“Friend or foe?”
“Depends,” I replied in a small voice, lowering my head and glancing towards the fish.
He began to laugh.
“Come on o’er here, boy,” the man called in a loud voice. “There’s plenty of fish fer me ta share a bite with a fellow traveler.”
I cautiously took a step forward and tried to pick up his scent. He didn’t seem to wish me any harm, so I walked over and sat down beside him.
“Well, hows about that? You’re a tame one, ain’t ya?” the man asked me, laughing at something I must have missed.
“To an extent!” I barked.
“For a moment, I thought ya was a wild coyote lookin’ for a bit of trouble. Silly old man I am,” he explained (more to himself than to me) as he patted me on the head and began scratching around my ears. (I like that. He didn’t seem that old to me.) “What’s this?” he asked, noticing the strap of leather wrapped around my neck. “I sees’ ya got yerself a collar, but no name on it. Has ya got yerself a name?”
“The name is Tuke,” I replied as I helped myself to a piece of fish.
“How’s Shep sound to ya?” he asked, looking me over from all sides. Yep, you look like a Shep, so’s that’s what I’s gonna call ya. Me, I’m O’Harren, but me friends just call me Harry.” Harry threw a few more pieces of fish on the ground in front of me. “Think that’ll do ya alright, Shep? Wasn’t ‘spectin’ any company, or I’da tried catchin’ a few more?”
“This is fine, thanks.”
When we had finished eating our fish, Harry stood up to stretch. Then, with a yawn, he crawled into his tent.
“Time fer a bit a shuteye, Shep ol’ boy,” he said to me. “You’re welcome to stay if’n ya’d like, just keep out of me tent. ‘Night boy.”
‘Good night Harry,” I replied as I settled myself closer to the campfire.
. . .
(Sniff sniff) Mmmmmm, nice dream. (Sniff sniff sniff) Not a dream? Slowly waking, I lifted my head and sniffed once more. Mm mm mm! Definitely not a dream. What is that? Not fish; besides, the man had said he only caught the few we ate last night. I got to my paws and wandered over to where Harry was sitting and cooking.
“Good morning Harry,” I barked. “What are you cooking?” I asked, licking my lips and stretching my neck towards the pan to get a better look at what smelled so mouthwatering.
“Well, top o’ da mornin’ ta ya, Shep! Did ya sleep ah’right? Betcha yer hungry, huh?” Harry ask enthusiastically. He seemed to be very excited about something, but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was about; and I still couldn’t see what he was cooking.
“What is that?” I asked, trying not to sound gruff.
“Looky here ol’ boy! Seein’s how I got more’n just me to be thinkin’ ‘bout, I got up early ‘n caught us a couple o’ jackrabbits! How’s that for a nice bit o’ breakfast?”
“That sounds wonderful!” I said perking up quite a bit now. The smell of the jackrabbits was incredible. Aside from the fish the night before, I hadn’t tasted real meat cooked up like this in a long time.
“Here ya go, buddy,” Harry said, tearing off and tossing me part of a leg. I finished it almost in a gulp. Mm mm mm, so good! I cautiously approached Harry, licking my chops.
“More please, Harry? It tastes so good.”
“Want some more, do ya? Well, I think this one is done,” Harry replied with a big smile. He then grabbed a metal round plate of sorts and putting the rest of the whole rabbit on it, he set it on the ground before me.
“I get the whole thing?” I asked, looking from the rabbit to the silly, smiling man. “Really?” I whimpered, “the whole thing? Mine?”
“Go ahead boy, its fine. I was super lucky this mornin’, got us five of ‘em. That’s two each and a third to split! Go ahead, it ain’t gonna bite ya back,” he said chuckling.
All mine, how about that? And another one just waiting for me to finish eating this one first. I still wasn’t too sure, why was he being so generous and kind? But my hunger got the best of me. I tore at the rabbit devouring it within a few short minutes. It was Heaven! Harry finished cooking the rest of the rabbits while I ate. When he was finished, he cut the last one he cooked, cut it straight down the middle with an old looking hunters’ knife and threw half into my dish; then sat down with his own food. After setting another dish down beside my food and filling it with water appeared to be water; He finally began to eat his own meal.
“I must say, it’s rather nice havin’ me some comp’ny to share my meals with. It gets a wee bit lonely jist talkin’ wit yerself all the time. Not ta mention wondrin’ if ya dun lost yer mind or not!!” He laughed heartily at this. I was surprised to find that I enjoyed his laughter. It was…pleasant. “I’s been treckin’ across these plains fer ne’er on five weeks now! That’s a long time to go wit no comp’ny ‘cept fer yerself. Seen a few snakes, way to many o’dem lizard things. Dem is some UGLY creatures!!”
I decided at that moment that I would stick with Harry for a while; assuming he didn’t shew me away anytime soon, which didn’t seem very likely. He was a good man, and I had been lonely too. The added bonus of his willingness to feed me was also pretty hard to overlook. (Can he tell that I’m smiling?) This could be a good thing for both of us.
After we finished eating, Harry cleaned and packed up his gear and we set off to the east. I have no idea where we were going, but I toddled alongside Harry while he talked. He had some interesting stories about days that have past.
. . .
Harry and I had been traveling along for what seemed like hours. The sun was sitting high above us, mocking us it seemed. The greenery that had seemed to span out across the plains forever had all disappeared, and with them my hopes of us happening upon a stream or brook or any other source of water. I tried to restrain myself from panting too much as my tongue seemed to attract way too must dust. Not very tasty or thirst quenching. Yet Harry barely seemed to notice. He just kept hiking and talking along as we went.
“…An’ Bobby jus’ climbed back on dat poor dogs back, bound an’ determined ta ride ‘im like ‘e was a horse!!” Harry laughed a deep, throaty laugh. “Kept sayin’ ‘es gotta be a horse, pa! Doggies can’t git dis big!!’ L’il Bobby done only seen one kinda dog before, and that was one a dem little beagley pups. He’d seen pi’tures of some shepherds, but ya jist can’t tell ‘ow big a critter might’n be from a pi’ture.”
Bobby had been Harry’s grandson born to Jonathan, his eldest of three sons. Jonathan and his wife Heather had two difficult pregnancies which produced three semi-frail yet uncommonly lovely daughters early on in their marriage. Harry was all for it, but Heathers parents didn’t really approve of Jonathan, so the two kids had run away and married quite young. Jonathan was sixteen and Heather was fifteen. Harry was a grandpa by the time he turned 34 already. In people years, to me, that just seems crazy!
“The pregnancies was very hard on young Heather, depleting her young body of much needed nutri’nts. It was on accoun’a this that young Jonny thought to study med’cine and become a doctor; which later saved his Heather’s life and L’il bobby-born ta them in their mid to late 30’s when they was certain any child-bearing possibilities was passed ‘em. Heather always said, “God works in many a change and mysterious ways. Some things are just out of our hands”. Such a sweetheart of a gal, that Heather. She and my Jonny was definitely soulmates; you could see that silver cord between them whenever they got within 15 ft. of each other,” Harry smiled an almost smitten looking smile as he remembered. His eyes appeared glossy and as a soft chuckle escaped his lips, two full tears ran down his cheeks only to be briskly brushed away.
The way Harry told the story, I could picture everything, see it all the way Harry remembered it. It was…amazing! I’ve never had a connection like this with a human before, only other animals, so this was a very unique and confusing experience. I was supposed to have this connection with another human, many moons ago…we were paired as cubs and he named me…but as he grew older our connection weakened and broke. He died of an unknown illness shortly after and I couldn’t stay with the tribe. It didn’t feel right…”hhmmpprr,” I couldn’t help whimpering at the memory.
“Tuke? I-uh, have I done an’ lost the last o’ ma darned mind at last? You wasn’t raised by no injin tribe, was ya, boy?” Harry was pacing frantically back and forth in front of me with a combined look of stunned shock, disbelief and wonder.
“Yes, I was!” I barked with excitement. “It’s you!”
“Spirit brother? And that’s why you n’ the boy didn’t bond the way ya’s was s’posed ta, ya figure?” Harry asked as the tribal traditions, rituals and history flooded his mind from mine.
(To Be Continued…???)
♥ ~ Kyla ~ ♥