A short story by David C. Tyler
A mutual disdain was evident as John trudged by the dog, carefully avoiding the yellow snow to pluck a long object from behind the wood pile. He walked back to his truck, wielding a windshield ice scraper that appeared to be equal parts horse manure shovel, yard rake and janitor’s school broom – an effective device for scraping away Old Man Winter. However, there being no let up in the intensity of the storm, John’s handiwork to unbury his truck was a temporary solution. All surfaces, orifices, natural or man made objects were under a constant fluffy barrage, the flakes becoming a coating, the coating becoming a blanket, the blanket a welcome visitor to the Whiteside valley. They served as a reminder that weather in the extreme was a part of life here, and were an acceptable change of pace, not an affliction as viewed by Atlanta.
John said “just let me get her cranked up a mite, as she needs ta cough for she get’s a running” as he started to climb in, adding “Tom’s taint far, ‘bout five mile up a few rollin’ hilltops, nothing so tough as you all ready done come through. We’ll ease on into it; flash your brights if there’s any problem, any problem at all.” “Sounds good John, we can’t thank you enough for offering to help,” I replied. John eased into his driver’s seat like he was easing into a hot tub, nice and slow to get acclimated to the temperature, finding just the right setting down spot as though it was a horse’s saddle. The flakes infiltrated his truck cab as though they wanted to be close to him.
John then cocked his head – right ear down with a reassuring smile while raising his left arm, elbow high and pointing towards us. John Turner then slowly placed his first two fingers on top, and his thumb underneath the brim of his cap, you know – a southern sign of respect, a gentleman’s gesture — as if he was ready to undock a charter fishing boat and assure us we’d have smooth sailing.
I wondered for an instant if the wind and cold might make it difficult for John’s truck to crank, but a moment later heard the reassuring growl of that eight-cylinder Ford pickup roar to life. Injecting copious amounts of gas into the pistons set forth a deep-throated gallop, as though all the thoroughbred under-the-hood horses reared up and snorted at Keeneland, anticipating a trip around the track. As the throttle eased back, those horses settling into the starting gate at a smooth idle, John performed a two point turn and made his way out and to the left onto a smooth white pathway that we assumed was the road, framed by small undulations and trees on either side.
“Well, cross your fingers and toes that we can ease out behind John and keep up,” I uttered softly, lacking confidence in the ability to maintain traction, given Whitewater Falls road’s challenges just a couple of miles back. However, we found a comfort zone a few car lengths clear of John’s snowy dust-trail on a relatively level road-grade. I glanced at the speedometer which read a whopping 15 miles an hour, then noticed an aberration in my side-rear view mirrors.
On the driver’s side the snow kicking off the tires was a uniform rainbow arch of a pinkish-hue, a fusing of white with the red of our taillights, floating away and vanishing at an even-keel as we moved forward. On the passenger side, the rainbow arch was under attack by small chunks of snow being flung into the exiting archway, a relentless set of mini-explosions surging up from grade level. These small irregular disruptions had a deeper reddish glow due to the snow being thicker, less diffused than what the tires expunged. At first I thought the exhaust pipe was closer to the rising snow-level than normal, and with the engine working harder to keep the traction control in check, more carbon monoxide was belching from the tailpipe, causing the mini-chunk barrage.
But then I spotted something else, something alarming in the passenger rear view mirror. Two eyes, a snout, flopping ears, and a flopping protrusion that resembled a narrow fly-swatter moving rapidly up and down – all moving in unison, rising and falling into what looked like white gravel being flung everywhere. It dawned on me that I was viewing a dog chasing our truck – not a particularly unusual site but most dogs give up after an initial sprint – after the ‘let me show you who’s the boss, you nasty, fumy, noisy, boxy, rolling-contraption passing through my territory.’ It also occurred to me that this athletic canine must be John’s dog to be so determined. I thought John would be pretty upset to know his dog was chasing us up the road, subjecting himself to being pancaked by an oncoming semi. What’s more, I didn’t even know the dog’s name.
“Ella, do me a favor and look behind you near the shoulder of the roadway, assuming we’re on the roadway and tell me what you see. I need to keep an eye on John as he seems to be ever-so gradually speeding up.” The boys heard me as well and all three craned their necks and positions to full-stretch in order to catch a glimpse of the ruckus. “Daddy,” Christopher exclaimed, “I see the dog who pee-pee’d on Mr. Turner’s wood pile, and he’s chasing us!” Another glance at the speedometer confirmed we were moving up to and through the 20 mile an hour barrier. “Are you sure that’s the same dog,” I asked, and Chris said “yessir, looks like he’d like a ride.”
A ride for the territory-marking, nonchalant mutt wasn’t what I had in mind. And when John Turner started down a hill cruising a bit faster, there was not a chance I’d stop our two-wheel drive Yukon or flash our headlights at John to let him know about the dog, because he’d hit the brakes and risk us sliding into his back bumper. Rather, my objective was to maintain contact with both the road and John’s pole-position at a sustained moderate pace. Yea — nope, not a chance we’d stop.
That dog would just have to find his way back home, just like all the others who chase cars, before being splattered under a random tire they could never quite bite-off. After all, any normal dog recognizes it is imperative to hastily return to their domain, instinctually returning to guard their fragrantly marked territory, as most canine’s realize the folly of the chase before becoming road-kill.
Only this mutt was on a mission unlike any other. Apparently more interested in running after John Turner than staying close to home and maintaining territorial rights, he appeared relaxed in gait, flinging fresh powder in every stride. He stayed right off our bumper as we gained confidence in the driving conditions, reaching over 30 miles per hour as a mile clicked off the odometer since leaving John’s. Ella, Christopher and Cameron kept a watchful eye, with constant updates, “that’s one stubborn dog,” then, “that dawg can flat run,” followed by “no, he can fly!”
How long could he keep up became the question of the moment, a moment that ran into and past a couple of minutes, a reprieve from white-knuckle driving. This overdue entertainment in a small freight-train of long-legs, tongue wagging, ear-flapping inertia was maintaining remarkable speed and exhibiting amazing endurance. “Crap, this dog is probably going to have a heart-attack and keel over any minute, just when we’d gained a friend and helping-hand in John,” I said remorsefully.
While I tried to keep eyes-forward, the chase became all-consuming. And while there are a number of fast dogs out there, the obvious being Greyhounds, Vizslas, Dobermans, and German Shepherds (watch out criminals), deer-hunting bred Weimaraner’s can hit 35 miles an hour or about 8 miles an hour faster than the fastest human, Hussein Bolt at the peak of his sprint, and they can maintain a high-rate of speed over distance. Given the color of this dog’s eyes and coat, I was certain we were watching a new speedy breed, a mutt mix of one-part hound dog and one-part Weimaraner.
With the length of the chase now well over two miles and coming up on three, we were in awe of his endurance. This cross country track star even took a momentary pit-stop to mark a random roadside protrusion, then caught us again in a flash as though the snow was firm and springy, though we’d encountered plenty of sparse traction as evidence to the contrary.
“We’ve got to stop Daddy, he’s gonna die!,” Cameron said, echoing my very thoughts. Only then a solution presented itself – no, not us slowing down to check on the poor beast, no, not chasing another dog, not pulling up lame, nor hitting the proverbial endurance wall as you might expect. There being no quit in this remarkable participant in the dog chases machine war, a solution soon presented itself in a form of intervention from Mother Nature in an unexpected way. For you see, Mother Nature’s unpredictable weather, such as the winter bomb her uncle had dropped on us, is just one way she disrupts our daily lives. And while our chaser had proven to be unfazed by the accumulation already on the ground, another of Mother Nature’s afflictions reared-up, literally, the inevitable call to nature. For just when I thought we’d hit 35 mph and tucker that dog out, he put the brakes on and could be seen hunching his back, drawing his legs more tightly together, butt pointed downward to let loose his last meal.
The boys, being well-schooled in the art of pick-up poop baggies for our own golden retriever walks, were greatly amused by the broader freedom of this outdoor playground that had no pooper-scooper requirements. They commenced to chortling, hee-hawing, and ha-ha’ing so enthusiastically, their stomachs ached and their eyes watered. “Mommy, Daddy, dog’s going number two!” they said simultaneously, tickled to death by the circumstances that allowed us to speed ahead and break free of the chaser. As I laughed heartily in concert with their hearty laughter, I assumed the speedy breed would return home, leaving us to wonder if he’d tested his endurance limit. “What a relief,” said Ella. “Literally,” I said, as the rear-view mirror sadly returned to a monotonous monochrome white-vapor.
The boy’s mouths were agape, in awe of the retreating cross-country star. “Daddy, do you think the dog will be okay,” asked Christopher, and Cameron added, “do you think he’s thirsty?” After some thought, I said, “he looks plenty healthy to me and I’m sure will find some water, or snack on some snow. Yea, that trail-blazer will be just fine, particularly with an owner like Mr. Turner.” And on top of that, for the first time in memory, Ella’s natural motherly instinct of caring for the poor doggie did not overwhelm her, as she instead refocused on our predicament.
“How’s the traction?” she asked. I replied that all seemed well as we headed up a considerable hilltop that went on for over a half-mile before another short dip, only to head uphill again. That seemed to be a constant in western North Carolina – it’s all vertical geography-gain coupled with an elevation in awareness – sights, smells, senses – anything biorhythm-related becomes elevated. After all, isn’t North Carolina where the phrase “communing with nature” comes from? – defined as a fusing of people, culture, tradition, mountain fairs, mountain air, mountain honey, and jamborees with plenty of jaw-boning, jowls, and mountain pickers jamming?
Then before you could brush the snow from your eyelashes, I saw John’s taillights growing brighter and he signaled left. And through the cascade of flakes, creating a fog-like effect, appeared a beam of light at the end of which was a green glow. As we drew closer, a rusty original BP station sign came into view, elevated just a few feet off the ground unlike the modern day sky-scraping signs that keep the neighbors awake at night. It was a traditional painted metal sign with rust surrounding the top, illuminated by a flood-light propped on the ground. Flakes were evaporating from the hot surface as they struck the light, adding a mist to the furious snowfall that passed through the beam and threw off just enough light to reveal a parking area in use by a few other trucks and an old green nostalgic GTO.
As we parked, John Turner was already out of his truck, stamping out fresh tracks toward our Yukon, motioning us to join him in Tom’s BP store. “That wasn’t so bad with you leading the way, John,” I said and thought how much better the ride and traction was the last few miles versus that snake-like staircase of Whitewater Falls Road, coiled and ready to strike your vehicle without warning.
Then as I watched the flakes quickly cover the brim of the John Deere cap, I had to say, “John, I’m sorry about your dog. He ran so hard and for so long to keep up with us, miles literally, but finally turned back home. Hope he’ll be okay.” John cocked the right side of his head slightly lower, his right-eye squinting as though to give thought to the dog’s predicament. His forehead ruffled like a Shar Pei as his scalp lowered to meet his rising eyebrows. It became clear in that expression that he was searching empty memory-banks.
“Dawg, what dawg,” John inquired. “You know, that lean, long-limbed dog with the grey and black coat and those golden eyes?” I asked. John hesitated a moment, the wrinkles gradually dissipating as a twinkle emanated from his eyes and they opened wide. “Oh, THAT dawg, that ‘taint my dawg,” he said. I was a bit dumbfounded for a moment, but managed to say, “well guess we just assumed he was yours, given his extraordinary effort to keep-up.” “No, never really liked that dawg anyhow.” And that was the end of it, the track-star, new speedy-breed was relegated to the ranks of an unwanted guest.