I am not in the mood for trying to hide the above title somewhere in this text. The story is about a night in the life of a dog.
I know you are thinking “Oh no, Not another dog story”. You are correct. I am not fool enough to write another dog story (even though it is sort of one). So how about if I get rid of the ambiguity and get on with the story?
It was the first week in January and I had been working on a crossword puzzle as I sat in my recliner. The heat was set at 75 degrees Fahrenheit, just the way I like it; although my sons do not. But I knew they would not be visiting that evening so it remained at 75 degrees.
My hunting dog, a Beagle named “Dog”, also liked it at that temperature. He was lying on the carpet in front of my chair.
Whether he was asleep or not, I could not tell. The poor animal often slept with his eyes open. How or why some dogs do that, I will never know. But there Dog was, motionless, with his eyes open.
The noises were the precursor to my dog dreaming. The sounds always started out with a little “humph humph humph.” I knew what was coming next. It would be a sharp but somewhat muffled “arf arf arf.” That was always followed by a full voice of the howl that Dog made when he was on the track of a snowshoe rabbit. Dog was getting old and I did not have the heart to wake him. He had not hunted in over a year and I knew that he was enjoying his dream.
As I sat there attempting to imagine what he was dreaming (and where he was dreaming it) an unimaginable thing occurred. I actually entered (or was drawn into) Dog’s dream. I did not simply imagine it; I was fully and completely there. I never dream in color and most of my dreams are rather foggy. I was there in full color and everything was very lucid. Although I must admit that I was quite afraid of what was happening to me. I stood there motionless for a long period of time. Finally I overcame the first of many horrors due to my situation.
I was in a dream but it was not my dream; I had no control over it. I was simply pulled along on whatever Dog’s instincts were and wherever his nose led him. This immediately became a problem because Dog was running along at a rapid pace and I could hardly keep up with him. I thought about standing still and allowing him to bring the rabbit full circle (which he usually did). But what if he didn’t? What would happen if he became lost? Would I be stuck in this dream that was not mine? I could not take the chance. Running, as fast as I could, I followed his voice. The brambles tore at my clothes. My hands were scratched and bloody as I attempted to protect my face from sharp branches. The area was unfamiliar; as well it should, for I had never been there before.
Sometimes I would pass through a small clearing and only then would I see Dog; usually as he was leaving the other side of the clearing and entering the woods again. My heart was pounding from the stress of the situation and the strain of running through the woods while leaping over fallen logs. My legs were burning from lack of sufficient oxygen. I gasped for breath with every step and only then realized that I would not be able to keep up with Dog. I quit even though I knew it meant death or possibly something even worse.
I thought “What happens to a person who is condemned to someone else’s dream for eternity?”
I wanted to sit on an old log that was beside me but each time I attempted it my chest would not fully function. I could not get enough air so I stood there with my leg muscles burning; telling me to get off my feet. Two or three minutes elapsed before I was able to take a breath without gasping. Finally I was able to sit down, catch my breath, and rest my legs; all at the same time. My senses returned and I listened for Dog. He could not be heard. My mind raced through several possible scenarios of my fate. The terror returned.
My body was overcome by a chill; not one caused by mental anguish but rather a physical chill from the cold. My situation was direr than I had previously imagined. I remembered that it was January. No wonder I was cold. I had been thrown into this situation with only street cloths and no jacket. I quickly checked my clothing and it was soaked with sweat. I was quite lucky to have put on a set of long underwear that afternoon. Additional inspection of my clothing allowed me to realize that my long underwear was soaked with sweat. My top clothes remained dry. I knew what I had to do and quickly stripped down to nothing but my socks. I then redressed in my top clothing and hung my sweat soaked long johns on a bush to dry.
While listening for Dog I thought through a tough question. Should I stay where I was until my long underwear was dry enough to put on? If I did that the dog would get even farther away. I could leave the underwear to dry and retrieve it later. But I had no idea of where I was and even less hope of ever passing this way again. I made a compromise and put the damp underwear on over my pants and shirt. Even in that lonely situation my vanity made me feel self-conscious. I pictured myself being seen by someone while I was in that predicament.
Vanity soon departed as my mind started working on what actions I may take to get out of the predicament I was in. I walked along at a rapid pace and called for Dog. He was nowhere to be seen or heard. An hour passed. It started to snow. It was not a heavy snow; just flurries. I was worried about my clothing again. The long underwear seemed to be dry enough to wear the correct way so I stripped down again and put them where they belonged; on the inside. It only took me about five minutes to get warmed up. In fact I felt much warmer with the long johns on the inside. I continued hunting for Dog without any luck.
The sun was going down and my chill returned. I knew that I had to prepare someplace to spend the night; someplace where I would not freeze to death. I found a stand of hemlock and white pine. The next half hour was spent breaking branches off these trees and making a bed that would keep me off the ground. Underneath me would be the hemlock boughs that were a little thicker and had small main branches. They would be more comfortable than the pine boughs. Over me would be a nice blanket of pine boughs. I was able to gather up several armfuls of leaves and pine needles. These I placed on top of the whole bed. Next I found a mixture of dried moss and princess pine vines. This served as a net to hold the pine needles and leaves in place.
I was nice and warm from the work of making this combination bed and shelter. Deciding to conserve this heat I crawled in between the hemlock and pine boughs. I reached out as best I could and pulled in some leaves and moss to fill in the large holes to my side.
As I laid there I was surprised as to how comfortable it was. Not too lumpy and not too cold. I had often wondered how the Native Americans survived in the winter and now I knew. Necessity is the mother of creativity. The disquieting thought of how soft we had become, as a nation, was troubling. But that thought was not as horrifying as the situation I was now in. I still remained in Dog’s dream world. I had no way to wake him since he was not there. No one would be looking for me because I was not missing. Worst of all I had no idea of where I was or what to do, other than to take care of myself minute by minute. The minutes seemed to be made up of hours.
I laid there and thought about things that made no sense. I wondered about things such as how the factory was doing now that I had retired. Wondering if there was a trout stream in the vicinity of where I was. I also wondered if the country’s march toward socialism would ever be stopped. I even wondered if I left the lights on in the house. Was the door locked? It was getting colder as the hours passed. My mind returned to the situation that I was in. I now wondered if I was going to freeze right there in my own personal purgatory. I finally drifted off to sleep. Possibly it was a defense mechanism used to ward off the bitter cold.
I woke up intermittently throughout the night. Little field mice were scampering beneath me. They must have felt the warmth of my body. I wished that I could also feel the warmth but that was not occurring. I would fall asleep almost as soon as my intermittent awakenings would disturb me. It had to be my mind’s way of dealing with the cold.
I awoke to a loud noise and peered through the boughs of my shelter. There was nothing to be seen. My viewpoint was very limited and there was only a dim light in the clouds above me. I realized that it was very early morning and the sun must be about to show itself over the horizon. The loud noise repeated itself and I recognized it as the gobble of a wild turkey. The grimness of my situation returned in full force but the terror was no longer there. I realized that I had made it through the night and could resume my search for Dog (or possibly find another way to escape from this strange dilemma which I had been thrown into).
I threw my forest covering off to the side and slowly rose to my feet. My knees ached from the cold. They didn’t work very well either. I fell to the ground as I tried to rise. Finally I was able to stand. I stumbled over to a tree and leaned against it as I emptied my bladder. That was the only thing that felt good. The rest of my body was complaining about a list of grievances. Putting one foot in front of the other was the only goal that I had. Eventually my mind was fully awake and I yearned for a cup of coffee.
Continuing on my path to nowhere I kept calling and whistling for Dog. I was disappointed that there was no answer. However, I was pleased that my legs were now fully functional and my body was warming up. I came close to searching my mind for a logical reason as to why I was in this situation. But just as quickly my mind would close the questioning down. I was required to figure a way out of this horror.
The sun was high in the sky and I was pleased to feel its heat. I wondered how long I would be stuck in these woods. For a guy who loved the woods I was beginning to feel a dislike for this particular forest. Just as I was having these thoughts I saw something through the trees. As I got close I realized it was a cabin. “Thank God” I said out loud. Thinking that there might be some food inside I picked up the pace. There were no paths leading to the cabin so I assumed it would be empty. Better judgment overcame me and I decided against breaking the door down; which was my first plan. It would be better if I first looked over the situation.
The cabin had a small window on the side that I was approaching. I could not see through because the bright sun was glaring off it. I braced my knees against the cabin and leaned toward and very near the window pane. Covering my eyes from the sun I could now see the whole interior of the cabin.
Sitting in a chair with a half-finished crossword puzzle was a spitting image of my self. At his feet was Dog. I rapped very loudly on the window pane but neither of them moved. I realized that Dog was dead.
Sadly, I walked back into nowhere.