lightningthrush: 17th century painting of a cat with a disgusted expression. (Default)
LightningThrush ([personal profile] lightningthrush) wrote2016-04-12 01:07 pm

Excerpt From Current Writing

It couldn’t be a very large dog, Dorothee thought, because then there would be blood everywhere and pieces strewn about and it would be a mess. But it was easy to believe.

They’d had problems with very large dogs before. People from the city liked to come out to the farmlands and abandon intimidating dogs they couldn’t care for, or, more likely, no longer felt like caring for.

Dorothee had always felt bad for the big abandoned dogs, in a distant way. They hadn’t asked to be adopted by negligent people, and they must have been scared and sad. And, most importantly, starving.

The pity only went so far. Big, starving dogs were death to sheep, or little kids if things got too bad.

The last time they had a real problem with a dog was when Dorothee was eleven. No one could catch the dog, and it tore through herds and knocked over bins, disappearing like smoke whenever anyone tried to get to it. Shepherds went out with their guns, if they had them, trying to catch it, but the dog was fast. They couldn’t land a hit on it at all.

Anita told Dorothee and Mordred the dog was a hellhound. She told stories about them haunting country roads in the dark, stalking people with eyes of fire, rending their flesh with vicious fangs. When Dorothee told Mum what Anita had said, Mum got bright red in the face and marched down to her cottage right then, and told her to stop frightening her children with nonsense and fairy tales. Bailey wasn’t allowed out and Cedowyn was loathe to let Dorothee out of his sight, in case she ran into the dog.

Mordred and she were out one evening, walking a fence-line on his farm, when the very thing happened. A sheep began to baa, and then to wail, so near to human Dorothee could hear it for weeks whenever she closed her eyes. Mordred had his dad’s shotgun with him, and he’d pumped it as they ran toward the sound.

As they climbed the hill, Dorothee wondered what the hellhound would look like. Would it have eyes of fire and a body of black smoke? Or would it just be a very, very, very large dog with matching teeth?

They crested a hill, and saw the dog in the valley. It was nearly the size of the sheep it had taken down (the rest of the flock had abandoned her and run away) and pitch black, save a reddish belly and legs.

Mordred shouted “no!”, and it looked up at them. It hadn’t had eyes of fire, but the desperate, starving look in its very normal dog eyes had been, somehow, even worse. Its fur was long and matted, covered in mud and dirt. Dorothee spied a chain collar amongst the tangles. Dorothee gasped, entire body ice-cold, and Mordred shoved in front of her, his finger on the triggers. Dorothee was too frightened to move. All she could see was its wild eyes and dirty fur, and the mangled sheep that was still kicking around beneath it. All she could think of were Anita’s stories.

The dog considered them. Then, it snarled, and charged them, barking.

Mordred shot it right as it got near to them. He was smarter than the panicking shepherds who’d shot in the dark as it fled, or maybe just luckier. It was nearly upon them when he pulled both triggers. At that range, there was no way he could miss, and no way the dog could make it.

It gave one last baleful shriek, and collapsed in a jumbled, bleeding heap. Dorothee’s ears were ringing, and she felt dizzy with terror and relief.

The sheep was still bleating pitifully. Dorothee looked past the dog, at its victim. She was trying to stand, though one of her back legs was hanging on by only a strand of ligament. Her throat had a terrible bite taken out of it, pumping out blood, her wool stained almost as black as the dog’s fur in the waning light.

“Mordred, do something,” she had begged. At eleven, she had believed that Mordred had some sort of magic way with sheep; they certainly liked him quite a lot, and he spent so much time amongst them that he knew more about them than anyone she knew. Anyone that talked to her, at least.

Mordred swallowed a few times, then approached the sheep. She looked back at him, and baaed pitifully. All the sheep knew at this point that it wasn’t Mr. Argosy who fed them and collected them and cared for them without fail. They knew who their shepherd was. Even a sheep wasn’t that stupid. Mordred sighed, and wiped his eyes.

Then, he leveled his shotgun at her, and shot her, just like he’d shot the dog.

The dog hadn’t been so bad—if Mordred hadn’t shot it, it would have eaten them up—but as the sheep fell to the grass Dorothee had screamed and fallen on her bum, hands over her face. As soon as she’d run out of breath, she understood, but it didn’t make it any less terrible. She’d tried to scream the rest of it out, but her throat stopped working and choked the sound off, leaving the knowledge bubbling around in her chest.

There was no saving a sheep that savaged. Even trying would have been cruel, and eaten through money the Argosies couldn’t afford to waste on an animal that was doomed. She probably hadn’t even understood what was happening until she was dead.

Mordred put the gun down, very carefully, and turned away from the sheep. He was pale and shaking. Some of her blood was on his face from where it had splattered. He went to the top of the hill, and waited for someone who heard the gunshots to come find them.

Dorothee didn’t want to go see the sheep. Instead, she crouched down by the dog. She reached into his blood-clotted fur and turned its collar.
“Handsome,” read his dog tag. There was a ring where another tag, probably with his old owner’s address and phone number, had been attached and broken off.

Someone had given him such a good, loving name. Handsome. Then they abandoned him in the boonies to die. Surely they had known he would either starve, or begin sheep-worrying. Surely they had known that a sheep-worrying dog’s only fate was death when the shepherds caught it. They had to have known that, but they still left him. After giving him a name like Handsome.

This last detail was the last straw. Dorothee sat back and started to cry. Mordred came and helped her up and took her to the top of the hill. Before long, Morgan came in the truck, driving faster than Dorothee knew the truck could go. The breaks squealed as he stopped it, leaving ruts in the pasture, and he leapt out without turning it off.

“What happened?!” he demanded, looking from Mordred’s blood-splattered face to Dorothee’s tear-stained one.

Mordred took him down to the scene of the carnage. Morgan and he loaded up the dog’s body and the sheep’s carcass into the bed of the truck, and pushed up the console so Dorothee could sit between them.

Morgan called all the other shepherds, then Cedowyn, and finally Daddy, who would be pleased to know his renters’ herds were safe now. He omitted how close the dog had been, and he omitted the sheep. When Dorothee asked why, Morgan had just ruffled her hair, gotten himself a fizzy drink, and asked her to take care of Mordred. Dorothee had to dab the blood off of his face. No one else was there to do it. Morgan had driven off to meet Daddy in the village and take what was left of the sheep to the butcher to salvage what they could, and Mr. Argosy was asleep in his bed, stinking of booze.

“I never shot anything before,” he muttered, as Dorothee pulled the shirt off over his head. He wouldn’t look at her, just looked at his lap. “I never shot anything before in me life…”

In the morning, Mordred got taken to town and everyone was very proud of him. Other kids wanted to hear the story over and over again, especially the part where he shot the dog. The grown-ups said he was a crack shot, just like his dad had been. Anita hugged him and kissed him about the face, praising him in Cornish. No one commented on the sheep, or how close they’d come to getting eaten, or that the dog’s name was Handsome.

“German Shepherd,” her Daddy commented to Mum, while Mordred tried to get away from his admirers and someone took the dog’s body elsewhere. “Must have been too much dog. Obviously they never trained it, or it wouldn’t have done that. They probably just wanted something to intimidate their neighbors…”

German Shepherd. Knowing what kind of dog Handsome had been made it worse. Dorothee couldn’t imagine one of the Argosies’ English Shepherds, or any of the collies other shepherds owned, killing a sheep. She’d always just assumed that knowing how to be a sheepdog was in their blood, or something. She hadn’t realized that without training, a sheepdog might turn on its sheep, or attack children. She thought protecting sheep was something a sheepdog just… did.

Mostly, these days, the memory had lost its sharp edges. Thinking about Handsome just made her tut instead of making her so sad (so angry, at the time, so incredibly angry that anyone could be as cruel as Handsome’s old owners) and thinking about the grown-up shepherds patting Mordred on the back when he clearly wanted to be left alone just made her roll her eyes. People only ever saw what they wanted to see, especially when it came to making sure they could tell a good story later on.

Mostly, these days, if she ever thought of it, she thought about Mordred half-stepping between her and a murderous dog, big as a full-grown ewe, without an ounce of hesitation, and looking right at those big yellow teeth, those flashing eyes, and shooting it. And she thought about him blinking away tears, and shooting a sheep right in the face because it was the kindest thing to do.