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The dust of 100 dogs, p.19
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       The Dust of 100 Dogs, p.19

           A. S. King
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  Men brought a basket of dried meat and a crate of fruit. Similar items were brought to the decks of the other ships, and the party began.

  Emer leaned against the starboard rail, searching the decks and sails of her new fleet. She asked the men for a telescope and looked from ship to ship, inspecting her new men and her new guns. She recognized a frigate from Port Royal and waved, and its captain waved back.

  Then, David gave a loud order. Simultaneously, all the ships raised a single flag to the top of their mast. It was Emer’s flag—or so David had named it when he’d had women in Tortuga stitch them. It was black, with a red and orange dragon eating a one-eyed man whole. Twenty of these rose in the sea around Emer. She focused on them with her scope—and, in doing so, focused accidentally on a sailor keeping watch from his frigate’s crow’s nest.

  From the side, the sailor looked familiar. And when he turned to face her, something hit her like a ton of double shot. She dropped the scope into the sea and grabbed the side of the boat with both hands. Her crew worried that she was relapsing, that the matching flags had been too much of a gesture.

  But Emer wasn’t overcome with embroidery.

  She yelled for another telescope, and when a sailor delivered it, she carefully focused again on the man in the crow’s nest three ships away. He waved a familiar wave— two fingers up, dancing from side to side—and she waved back, with two fingers, barely believing what was happening. David came to steady her as she began to quiver and sob hardy tears.

  “What is it?” he asked.

  Emer answered, “Lower a rowboat.”

  “What’s the bother?” he asked again.

  “Just lower the rowboat, aye, and get in it.”

  When they got to the deck above the boat, tears were still streaming down Emer’s cheeks and into the sides of her wide, grinning mouth. David had never seen her so emotional. He asked, “Where am I going?”

  “To meet that man, there,” she pointed. He was still waving.

  “Who is it?”

  “Seanie Carroll,” she answered, her voice shaky. “That’s Seanie Carroll.”


  The Pack Is the Safest Place to Be

  Dogs have roamed the earth in packs for thousands of years. A pack works well for taking down big prey, which is what dogs originally did. During early domestication, the pack served to keep working dogs in order and obedient. These days, however, domesticated dogs have no need for big prey, rarely work, and no longer hunt anything more than a bowl of Alpo Chunky twice a day. But they still roam in packs if allowed. It’s your job to make sure your dog steers clear of this dangerous habit.

  It’s also your job to do the responsible thing if you’re left with a dog you thought you wanted but can’t keep. Don’t ever think that releasing a pet into the wild is a good idea. It’s not. It’s cruel and lazy—especially these days when there are so many shelters that can help you do the right thing. Stray dogs are not happy dogs. They can become a menace and can do serious damage and even kill

  Each year, in many cities and towns, packs of stray dogs take over neighborhoods and prowl the night. Sometimes the news airs a viewer’s video, dark and shaky, with a dozen wagging tails barely visible. People are warned to stay indoors, to know where their children are. I find this funny, because humans all over the world are doing far worse things and aren’t getting any airtime at all.

  I learned a great lesson about human packs when I lived in Mexico (now Arizona) as a gray wolf from 1865 to 1877. I lived with a wild tribe who called themselves the Apaches, and I was happy. They, however, were not so happy. Having had decades of hassle from the Mexicans, losing many of their relatives and children and now facing new soldiers from America, the Apaches didn’t have much going for them, luck-wise. They eventually, like all the native tribes in North America, lost their luck, their land, and many of their lives to the new invaders. I was killed by a man named Nelson Miles, who shot me in an attempt to make Geronimo surrender—but it didn’t work. Geronimo didn’t surrender until 1886, nearly ten years later. My gray wolf descendants were shot dead too, but only because they got in the way and seemed scary as they roamed in large packs across the plains.

  Expecting modern dogs to stop roaming in packs is pointless. It is as pointless as the Apaches trying to get their land back. Pack mentality is built into every dog, the same as “finders keepers” is built into every imperialist. (One hundred and thirty years later, I find it amusing that if I ask modern Americans about genocide in Native American history they are outraged, and say I haven’t heard of the great consolations provided. They speak about spacious reservations, government handouts, and casinos. Hundreds of fabulous casinos. As if Native Americans are the world’s billboard for lucky.)

  The truth is, humans roam in more fearsome packs than dogs ever have. All over the world, this very minute, human packs (armies, political parties, PTA mothers, corporate bodies, country club socialites, and high school cliques) are operating to recruit new members and eliminate outsiders because of one thing—security. It’s safer in the pack. Everyone knows that.

  Dat man is crazy, ya know,” Hector said when I told him about Fred Livingstone.

  “Yeah. I figured.”

  “I mean it. Stay way from him, girl. Da man is trouble.”

  Hector drove so fast, and played his roots so loud, that my stomach turned. Though I trusted him, I couldn’t look out the front windshield, so I kept my eyes firmly planted on the road signs we passed.

  When we got back to the hostel, I rushed through the small lunch Hector’s cook had made us so I could get back to searching the beach. I hoped to find a different way into Fred’s sea grape grove, and finding it while he was still in Black River would save me a lot of trouble.

  Stupidly, before I left, I called the trailer park in Hollow Ford to let them know I was okay. For some reason, when Junior answered the phone I wasn’t the least bit surprised.

  “I got your room,” he began.

  “Good for you, Junior. Is Mom there?”


  “Where is she?”


  “Asleep?” I sliced off the top of his head, like a machete through a coconut.

  “Yep,” he answered, half talking to someone else standing next to him.

  “Will you tell them that I called?” With the pointed tip of my boot, I kicked his brains into his skull until they were mush.

  “Sure,” he said, still talking to someone else.

  “Okay. See you in a few weeks,” I said.

  “Well, you can’t live here,” he replied. “I put all your stuff in the Goodwill bin.”

  I knew that meant he’d sold it, so I didn’t say anything.

  “I had to do something with it, didn’t I?”

  “Sure, Junior,” I said, and hung up.

  A feeling of sadness poured over me. Had he thrown out my yearbooks? My pictures? I thought of favorite sweaters and my two pairs of handmade mittens. My black Doc Marten boots. My books. My small collection of worthless but sentimental jewelry. My report cards. My beaded prom dress.

  I was sad, but surprised that I didn’t care more. Those things had meant a lot once, but something had changed. I had changed. I wasn’t just some skinny kid from Hollow Ford anymore. I was about to begin a new life as a new person. Before I wasted one more minute thinking about Junior, I took off for the beach, determined to find what I was looking for.

  At about two thirty, I passed the glass house and continued for fifty steps. To my right was the sea grape grove, fenced on the road side. I looked around, noting a landmark that I would be able to see from the road—a perfectly fan-shaped shrub—and continued to the end of the grove. There, I crouched down and crawled past the undergrowth.

  I wasn’t ten steps in when the Doberman app
eared. I heard him, first, crunching crisp leaves under his heavy feet, then saw his slow, tired body fifty feet away. It was obvious from a distance that something was wrong with him. I didn’t see the blood until he came closer. It had matted most of his facial hair into brown clumps.

  “Oh no. What happened, boy?”

  He came to me, wincing a bit under his breath. I inspected the wound in a sunbeam and found a small shard of glass lodged in the top of his head where the blood trickled. I picked it out and tried to press the cut together and apply pressure, but the dog couldn’t stand still with the pain. I walked slowly toward the sea, and he followed lazily after a few seconds. I walked into the shallow water and scooped up a handful of saltwater, placing it gently on his head and hoping he wouldn’t freak out too much. I was very aware whose house I was fifty yards away from, whose dog this was. I washed the cut and gently scrubbed out the blood in his coat. He didn’t flinch once.

  When I returned to the grove and crawled my way through the growth toward my perfectly fan-shaped landmark, the Doberman loyally followed.

  I patted his back. “Good boy.”

  As I squatted and paced fifty steps from the roadside fence, he trotted behind me and counted along. When I stopped and began moving dead leaves from the ground with my hands, he circled me and watched, curious about what I was looking for.

  I looked at him, face to face, and smiled. “Where is it?”

  He cocked his head, nudged me, and led me through the trees toward the glass house. As we got closer and closer, I started to doubt that the dog knew what he was doing, and I slowed down. I certainly had no intention of another audience with creepy Fred Livingstone that day, or ever again.

  The dog stopped about twenty feet from the edge of the tree line and sat down, panting and looking at me. I crept toward him, and when I got there, he stood up and nosed an area of worn, compacted sand. He winced again.

  The dog knew what he was doing.

  He knew there was something special under that spot.

  He nosed a protruding root and scratched it with his paw. He did the same thing with another root. Then, as if he was frustrated with me for being so stupid, he wedged himself into the worn area and lay down in it.

  “Is this your bed?” I asked.

  He winced and shifted himself around, trying to get comfortable, and then stood up again. He nosed what looked like another root—but when I felt its sharp edge, I knew it was something else.

  I sat down in the sand to get a closer look. As I pulled it back and forth, stealing it from the grip of three hundred-year-old sand, I recognized what it was. I’d completely forgotten about the shovel Emer buried that night long ago, and could hardly believe my own luck.

  I’d envisioned days of stealthily searching through the small forest, sweating, swearing, frustrated, and tired. I’d accepted the fact of a second trip already, and had prepared myself for a third, if necessary. I’d thought of every scenario except this one—finding my buried treasure in one short week. Suddenly, Junior Adams was slotted right into place next to all the other assholes I’d ever met. So what if he’d thrown out all my things? So what if he’d moved in with my parents and probably stole all their stuff and treated them like crap? What could I do about it? I didn’t have the time to slice a hundred shallow cuts into his lips and make him suck limes. I was too busy to make him swallow oiled musket balls. I had more important things to think about now, and a lot to do.

  To celebrate my good luck, I walked to the village and ate my first plate of green, very dodgy-looking curried goat. I washed it back with two Red Stripes, which gave me the tipsy courage I needed to make my final plan.

  I would dig.


  When I arrived at the hostel, Hector was still sitting on his porch, listening to his roots and playing dominoes with his cook.

  “Saffron, girl!” he said. “You want a game of domino?”

  “No thanks. I’m beat.”

  “Come on! Sit here! Take it teasy!”

  I walked into the kitchen and got a bottle of water from the fridge. When I passed by the phone I thought about Junior again, and my parents. What a pathetic bunch of losers! “Not me,” I thought. “Not me.”

  As scared as I was about the task ahead, I was more scared of what I already knew. There was no way in hell I was going back to Hollow Ford, Pennsylvania, to live like a loser. There was no way in hell I was going to let them drag me down with them.

  Fred’s foot would not stop bleeding, no matter how much ice he piled onto it. He tried wrapping it up tightly with some paper towels and masking tape, but his blood took only five minutes to soak through, leaving him worried that he might have to go to a hospital. He wrapped it tighter and tighter until, on the third attempt, the blood stayed where it belonged, away from his Italian yellow leather. He leaned back and switched on the television, propping his bloody, taped foot on his desk next to the pair of steel handcuffs.

  You should go to a hospital, Fred.

  “It’s fine.”

  It could get infected.

  “It’s fine. Stop nagging,” Fred said. He shifted in his chair and turned up the volume on the television.

  I think you killed the dog, Fred.

  He swatted the idea with his free hand. “He’s fine.”

  I think he’s dead.

  “Well, think what you want. He’s fine,” Fred answered. He pulled his foot nearer and looked for blood. He inspected his toes and scratched between them, releasing dry flakes of his skin and fungus onto his hand. He brought his fingers to his nose and sniffed them.

  Fredrick! I’ve told you to keep those tennis shoes out of the house! Why must I ask you again?

  “Oh Mother, stop nagging.”

  I’ll stop nagging when you get up and move those wretched things out of my house! Honestly! How can you live this way?

  “It’s just athlete’s foot, Mother.”

  I don’t care what it is! Just get them out!

  Fred pushed his chair back and got up. He limped to his bedroom and into his en suite bathroom and sat down on the toilet. His foot looked terrible in the bright light. Blood had dried and left brown stains everywhere—between his toes, around his heel, even under his toenails. He ran some water in the Jacuzzi and unwrapped his foot. The last layers of paper towels stuck fast to the wound and Fred had trouble pulling them free, so he pulled off what he could and let the warm water dissolve the rest. His foot wasn’t in the bath a minute before it began to bleed again. He started to worry as the water turned red, and made a quick effort to rub the brown stains from the rest of his foot with his fingers. Grabbing the nearest towel and washcloth, Fred dried himself, inspected the wound for any signs of infection, and then pressed the washcloth into it. He reached for the magic cream and unscrewed the lid from the tube. Starting with the space between his callused big toe and the next, longer toe, Fred rubbed the cream in, as he’d done ten thousand times before.

  He hopped to his office chair and collapsed into it, all the while holding the washcloth to his wound. He wrapped more paper towels around the whole lot and applied masking tape, propped his foot up, and turned up the volume on the television.

  Why don’t you find a good porn movie?

  “Stop telling me what to do.”

  You never minded before, Fred.

  “I don’t have to listen to you.”

  Fred ignored himself and took a light nap, but startled himself awake ten minutes later.

  She’s telling people about you, Fred!

  “Rumors,” Fred replied, half awake.

  She’s telling them about your dog. About how you killed your dog.

  “I didn’t kill him. He’ll be back later.”

  He’s dead, Fred. You killed him.

  Fred sat up in the chair and poured
another glass of bourbon. He reached in the ice bucket and retrieved two ice cubes and placed them under the washcloth on his foot, then put two more in his glass. He changed channels until he found some light pornography and turned the volume down.

  Now that’s more like it. Ooo. Look at her, Fred! What an ass! I bet you could bounce a squash ball off that ass!

  “I bet you could.”

  I bet you could bury your face in there and never come out.

  Fred didn’t answer.

  I bet it’s like honey down there, Fred. What do you think?

  Fred ignored him.

  God, Fred. You are such a faggot!

  The guys at Princeton were always calling Fred a faggot. Back then, when he ran with the frat pack as its only exchange student, it didn’t bother him. It was just something to say. Those were the days when the voices were barely audible and the visions were barely visible. They’d all joined the pack the same way (one hundred blows to the ass with a paddle, two from each brother) and they would all leave the pack the same way—as hungover grown-ups with an education that might get them somewhere.

  Fred was voted “Most Likely to Direct Porn Movies” at the senior bonfire, a prediction that, at the time, he’d half hoped would come true.

  The phone on Fred’s desk rang, and he knew it was Winston.

  “Hello, Winston. Fine, fine. How did things go with you?”

  Fred drank back the rest of his bourbon and listened. Winston hated the noise and action of Miami and never failed to moan about it. “You’ll be home tomorrow, old boy,” Fred assured him. “Try to think about something else. No. I can’t promise you that, Winston. You know I can’t run this business on my own. We’ll talk about it when you get here, okay?” He eyed his throbbing foot in the flickering pornographic light. “Okay, me too. Right, Winston. Good night.” He placed the phone in its rest and sat back again.

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