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|There in the middle of the street, a broken and battered animal. I felt his heart and found only a slight
murmur. As I pulled him into my lap, he turned his head to me. Sniffed my scent and then turned away. I
was not who he had spent the last months and weeks searching for. I was not the one for whom he had
waited. I was the one, however, who, if I ever found the driver of that pickup, was going to neuter him with
two quick kicks to the groin. And then add a busted mouth for good measure.
It was not until I had carried him in my arms to my SUV and loaded him into the rear seating area that I
actually learned his name and began to comprehend a little of his terrible pain and discontent.
His name tag read Jake, and gave a phone number and an address half way across the country in Sioux City,
Iowa. It took a while to unravel the mystery of why he was here in the middle of the street in Palo Alto,
California. His emaciated body and bloody paws were quick clues. He had traveled a long distance retracing
his way home and then back again to the very spot where he had been dumped in the street, some 3,400
miles to complete the round trip.
He had waited here in the middle of the street for his master to return after he had been put out of a car or
truck or van, or maybe an SUV like mine. The cold and rain and the sound of the angry horns that passed
him by the first time eventually told him his master was not coming back. Had it taken a day, a week, a
month of dodging from the street to the sidewalk and back again until he had finally given up on his master's
return and begun his long trek home? Who knows? I know, because I work with an animal shelter, that he
did not start the trip home immediately. It must have frightened him greatly to feel so abandoned. Then
had come the heartbreak of knowing it was true. So there had been nothing left to do except find his way
Some say dogs can follow a scent more than 20,000 miles away. So it must have been easy enough for Jake
to put his head down and start the trip across country back to Sioux City. That had been the easy part. Then
had come living through the heat of summer followed by the cold of winter-- the discomfort of which for a
house dog was greatly heightened by rain, thunder and lightening. Until, now at the slightest rumble across
the sky, his entire body would begin to tremble and shake uncontrollably.
The hunger and thirst had been unbearable. Used to having two free meals a day, drinking fresh water from
his bowl, and then sleeping upon his bead, Jake had almost succumbed to hunger before beginning to forage
for birds, squirrels and even a cat or two. By the time he had reached Bolder, Colorado, he had been shot at
several times; suffering a puncture wound of his left hind leg, while scavengering for leftovers in dirty trash
cans. The wound and the constant dysentery from such a drastic change in diet, including eating rotting food
and drinking whatever water he could find, had made his travels even more difficult. The frequent and
vicious dogfights had added to his misery, for he was ill equipped to take on the pack and not the least bit
interested in joining them. The attack by the black lab that had left a deep gash in his side and had torn
away all of the claws on his front paw weighed heavily upon his memory. He had to lie on his back and offer
his throat to avoid being hut even more. After that he limped away, not towards, the scent of a fellow dog.
One can only imagine his heightened misery when upon finally arriving back at 100 Robin Hood Road, Sioux
City, Iowa, no one was home.
Confused and dejected, Jake had waited there too. All too soon to realize that his return had been
meaningless. There were no familiar smells there now. Only the smells of defeat and desertion. He
paced the yard, front to back, hoping for some familiar scent. Stopping now and again to sit perfectly erect
and sniff the air. What was it that had changed so drastically? He liked to remember the peaceful times
when he sat by the man and received gentle strokes along his head and soft, tingling scratches behind his
ears. And the occasional rough pat on his shoulder made him feel appreciated. The woman had call him
"lover" and "her handsome man" in a voice so soft and caring he had wanted to cry. The children had chased
after him in the yard and thrown sticks and their favorite Frisbee for him to catch.Then had come the anger,
shouts, and abuse. Abuse of the woman, then the children. And finally him.
He did not understand the concepts of "job loss" or "substance abuse," although he had begun to pull away
from the man's breath then. Even so he had gone with him when the man left the others behind, happy to
jump in the back of the man's truck thinking it might be a pleasure ride to hunt some coons
or deer. But the ride had been very long. The man had stopped several times leaving him in the truck
overnight. Then moving farther away from home the next morning until finally a deep sense of dread had
fallen upon him that had foretold the end of days of happiness, home, and unconditional love. The worst
moment of all coming when the man had called for him to get down and he had cringed backwards against
the cab of the truck, only to have the man grab him by his collar and throw him into the street. When the
man slammed the rear hatch closed and got back in the truck, he had run to the passenger's side and danced
up and down to be allowed in. But the truck had sped away almost crushing his front paws under its heavy
wheels. He stood staring after the truck. And then he had just sat down very erect, in the street, at the end
of time, in the rain.
He rested at the house quietly for several days anyway, feeding on the neighbors’ garbage and drinking
water from the street and a nearby pond that he remembered from before. Until he heard the gunshots
again and decided to go back now to where he had last been with the only person he could fully love. The
very thought of the long trek back to California enough to break the will of the strongest animal. And yet, he
had succeeded. Somehow. Only to suffer a double torture to his mind and body as he sat there
a second time, ears up, tail in an involuntary wag, and eyes bright for the first time in a long time, watching a
different, dirty, pickup truck approach, hoping desperately that it might be the man.
But this truck had aimed its headlights straight at him with a vastly different purpose than reunion. Too
broken to move now, he had welcomed the crash of the front bumper and the terrible bounces under the
truck’s chassis. When it had passed, he just lay down to die, unaware of the ugly laugh and cackles
of that real smartass truck driver.
I had found Jake emaciated, scarred and bruised, flea and tick ridden, infected with heartworm, and
favoring a broken left leg. After a period for treatment, including surgery to repair his leg and stitches for his
wounds at our nearby animal hospital, Jake had endured an extended stay at the shelter to recover from
heartworm. The treatment to cure heartworm was potentially as deadly a threat to life
as all of his wounds.
I saw that he DID recover from his tribulations, if not from his broken heart. During that time, I made
inquiries about the truck driver who had deliberately run over him and if any one had seen the vehicle that
had left Jake behind on that street originally. The time I spent sharpening my hunting knife and picturing it
slicing away at the groins of both of Jake’s traitors ending in nothing more than wasted fantasies.
Today Jake rides shotgun with me in my SUV, loves to surf, gets "two-free-a-day" with fresh water, and
sleeps on his own bed . . . sometimes. (Some of the time, he sleeps with me.) So, for the most part, Jake is a
well and happy dog once again. But, I often wonder just what he is thinking as we ride along a rain-swept,
deserted street or out into the countryside. For whenever he turns and looks at me with his sad eyes, I
know I am not the one he had waited for.
©2016 David M. Ackerman [All Rights Reserved]
|NEW REVIEWS: A story filled with so much sorrow and love. I could not stop crying. I have a dog named
Toby, and I cannot imagine ever leaving him to such danger and heartbreak. Thanks for a lovely if
heartbreaking story, and welcome to LMI, David. *****__Su Chang-Wu.
A powerful and poignant story surly written by someone who must own a dog and love it deeply. Welcome
David! There are so many moments in your story that broke my heart. I appreciate the kind ending, but I
can never forget the pain dispensed to that poor animal. Sometimes we are a very hard people who need to
be reminded of our humanity, as your story so aptly does. Thank you, and keep on writing.*****__Michelle
WOW! You got ink, man! A most powerfully written piece that made me cringe and brought tears to my
eyes. Not easy for me to say because I am the kind of man who would still be hunting down those bastards
even now, ready to shove a Glock-17 up their asses. Welcome to LMI, David. It is a pleasure
to read such a stirring piece from a real man.*****__Anthony M. Gullatta.
I like a good heart-wrenching story, which this certainly is. Reminds me of some of the high energy tales
that my Great Uncle Jack often told about the animal kingdom. It is a true art to explain with such care and
tenderness what goes on in the heart and mind of a dog. Welcome, David, and send us more of the same.
*****__David W. Carpenter.