the principal difference between a dog and man

POSTED: Sat Apr 13, 2019 12:24 pm

He hadn't meant to help, not exactly. The problem with helping, as Sawyer had realized long before he was properly old, was that good deeds never went unpunished.

It was an admittedly bleak expectation of the world. Experience had jaded him to the delights the rowdy boys he was traveling with seemed so eager to find. They were like puppies, all of them grown men and still trying to fill their eyes with wonder. Sometimes he laughed long and hard, and sometimes he was content to sit back and watch them.

Sometimes they reminded him of people he hadn't thought of in years, and woke old aches that refused to go away.

The sun had still been high when he left, but so had he and his sense of time grew out of touch. It was near evening now, and before long he'd lose the light. This was becoming more of a hindrance than he wanted to admit, but his nose still worked and it wasn't hard to find the Troupe. They had lost any fear of being followed, and the woman was talking about going back to Portland. He imagined it would be easier for her than the boys – people overlooked pretty faces.

There had been just one turn, one crossroad where he had chosen at random this path, and now he found himself looking over a great hairy mass that stunk of booze. When it woke, Sawyer realized it was a dog – a big, sharp-faced dog that was quick to try and get up. Try was an appropriate word, for it groaned and staggered back down soon after. The secondary scent of blood soon explained why.

Hey, you hurt?

What? I think so. Who are you? Did you see what happened?

Name's Sawyer, and no, I just got here. Do you know what happened?

Pah! Someone hit me when I wasn't looking, that's what! Cowards!

He was a mess, the collie-dog. His fur was disheveled and matted, and he had a wild look in his feral eyes. Sawyer considered abandoning him to the elements, but he had been with the boys too long now and started to put some weight into their Lady Luck. Sometimes things like this happened for a reason.

You from around here, friend?

The collie-dog squinted at him and looked around. As the sun descended it illuminated the sky in a kaleidoscopic range of colors, setting fire to the lingering clouds even as darkness began to swallow the east. In the fading light the stranger's pale collar and lighter hairs caught the warm hues, and for a breath, Sawyer could see the shadow of what he must have once been.

Somewhat, the dog grunted. This time when he stood he found his feet, even though he swayed on them. Sawyer reached an arm out to steady him, which surprised them both.

Just your head hurt?

I don't know.

I got a camp nearby, Sawyer heard himself say. Why was he saying that? Because he had been this dog once, and a gang of boys saw fit to offer him help too. If you want to rest. Get you situated, anyway, and sees how you feel after.

This had the dog's expression turn vaguely hostile. Why? He demanded.

Sawyer shrugged.

'Cause I offered, and 'cause you look like you need it. S'how luck decided to land tonight.

The stranger's face displayed his struggle keenly – the lingering doubt, the suspicion, they remained, but there was something else in it too. Hope, maybe, or the far baser recognition of similar superstitious energy.

I am Gaston, he finally offered his name, going so far as to hold out his open hand. No tricks?

This time, Sawyer did laugh. Aw hell son, if I was tryin' to trick you I wouldn't bother takin' you anywhere. Besides, he eyed the taller mutt and took his hand. You look like you ain't typically need help.

They shook, and Sawyer felt the strength in Gaston's grip keenly. Even if he was drunk and hurt, he was still a large, formidable dog.

Are you alone?

No, I got friends, Sawyer told him as they released their handshake. Don't you worry 'bout them, they're good kids. Come on, he gestured, moving onward on his trail through the crumbling town and towards the forest. He spared a glance back to the dog to make certain Gaston was following. You ain't got no one after you, do you?

There was a moment there where Sawyer saw Gaston's face betray him, but only briefly. Maybe, the old dog thought. Maybe once, maybe not so recently, but enough of a maybe for them to be aware. He was like that boy Mateo had befriended, Ruckus – there was a shadow there they weren't fully aware of.

No, I don't think so, was the dog's quiet, sad response.

The Troupe
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