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The dust of 100 dogs, p.22
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       The Dust of 100 Dogs, p.22

           A. S. King
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  “Seanie,” she whispered, shaking his arm. “Seanie, wake up.”

  “What is it?”

  “We have to go. He’s found us.”

  “We can kill him, then,” Seanie answered, still half asleep.

  “Seanie, come on. Get up. Help me move these crates to the rowboat. We’ve only got a few minutes.”

  Seanie got up and dressed, picked up the crates, and followed Emer and her shovel-cane up the steps again. She pointed to the rowboat and Seanie secured the boxes.

  “Just continue west,” she said to the first mate. “Don’t slow down.”

  “And when he catches us, sir?”

  “Surrender. Pretend you’re the captain—just shipping rum and food. Innocent.”

  “Aye. And will I return to pick you up?”

  “We’ll meet you back in Port Royal. Dock and wait.”

  Seanie helped Emer into the rowboat and gave the order to lower them. They tried to hit the water as softly as possible, but the frigate was moving at a hardy pace and their landing was rough. Once they cleared the frigate’s wake, they paddled slowly toward the Jamaican shore, toward the darkest spot. Emer prayed aloud.

  “Please, God, just one more favor. Just one more escape.”

  They dragged the boat ashore, hid it under the canopy of grape trees, and began to walk through the dark forest along the shore, dragging their luggage. Emer stopped to see if the Frenchman’s ship had slowed to notice them and saw it sail by, still in hot pursuit of her frigate.

  After an hour of walking, the two were exhausted. “Where the hell are we going, anyway?” Emer sighed. They sat on a sand dune to rest.

  “I don’t know,” Seanie answered.

  “These crates are too heavy to carry back to Port Royal, and this foot won’t make it much longer.”

  “Let’s have a rest,” Seanie suggested, and held his arms open for her to lie in. She propped her foot up on a crate and cuddled up to him.

  “Why don’t we leave them?”

  Emer shook her head. “No, no. It’s all I’ve got to show for all that blood.”

  “Then why don’t we bury them here and come back for them later?”

  Emer nodded in agreement, but stayed buried in his chest for ten minutes. She nearly fell asleep there, until he shifted.

  “Okay,” Seanie said. “Let’s get these in the ground, then.” Leaving the crates with Emer, he walked over to a small clearing in the trees, counting his steps, and began to dig with her well-selected crutch. She listened to the rhythm of his digging and accidentally nodded off. When she woke, he was shoulder-deep and sweating.

  “You should take a break,” she said.

  “You were starting to look pale,” he said. “You need to take care of that foot.”

  He finished. Returning with the shovel, he stuck it upright in the sand, peeled off his wet shirt, and leaned down to her. He kissed her, and she grabbed hold of his hair and held him there until he nearly lost his balance.

  “I won’t be long,” he whispered, turning toward the sea.

  Emer watched him walk into the surf, splashing water on his face and chest to cool off. She imagined him on his dream farm with his dream children and his dream wife. It seemed only fair that God granted her this after so many years of hardship—it seemed only just that she would now have a chance to be truly happy. As Seanie walked back into the firelight, she smiled and tilted her head, feeling deep love twist her innards.

  And then, a loud report. Seanie stumbled toward the shovel and fell onto it. He clenched his teeth, clutched his bleeding side, and collapsed.

  She leapt to Seanie’s aid, throwing herself down next to him on the cool night sand. He coughed three or four times, gurgling, and then stopped breathing. Emer cradled his head and hugged and kissed him, her face frozen in grief.

  She heard someone walking on the beach. Reloading. She scrambled to her feet and hobbled into the trees behind her. Reaching for her flintlock pistol, she loaded it and waited.

  The Frenchman approached slowly from the east, his gun scanning the beach for more enemies. He walked toward the two curious boxes and Seanie’s limp body. First, he stopped at the dead body and wiggled it with his foot. Then he took two steps toward the crates, and leaned down to open the lids.

  Emer aimed her pistol from the trees and fired.

  With one last, almighty roar, the Frenchman fell to his knees and died. When the smoke cleared, Emer kicked him to make sure he was dead. Bent on one knee in the moonlight, holding his head with her left hand, she took a marlinspike and removed his right eyeball with relative ease. She rolled it in the sand next to his head and shoved the spike deep into his empty socket.

  Placing her pistol gently into her waistband, she looked toward the sea.

  “I curse you!” she screamed at the dark water. “I curse you for all you gave me and for all you pilfered! I curse you for the journeys you begin and the journeys you end! I curse you until I can’t hate you anymore! And I scarcely think I will ever hate you more than on this wretched day!” Her fair hair stuck to her face, wet with sorrow and surf, and her hand-embroidered cotton blouse clung to her, stained with her lover’s blood.

  Turning again to the two dead bodies, she retrieved the shovel from underneath Seanie—Seanie, her first and only love. She limped back to the clearing. Looking around to make sure no one was watching, she sat down on the edge of the hole and talked to herself.

  “There was only one reason to stop all of this poxy business.” She turned and looked at the distant dead. “What worth is a precious jewel now? Damn it! In all these years, over all this water! And I end up a fool with a lap full of precious nothing.”

  She dragged the two crates into the hole and began to cover them quickly, concerned that the Frenchman’s reinforcements would arrive at any minute. She buried the shovel last, on top, and used her hands to fill the remaining depression, covering the sand with sticks and dead leaves.

  Returning to the scene of the dead men, she lay down beside Seanie, placed her head on his chest and sobbed.

  “It’s like two different lives in the same bloody day.”

  Through her sobs, Emer heard footsteps. A voice boomed from the darkness, making her jump. She scrambled to her feet and reloaded her pistol.

  “Foul bitch!” he began, in island-accented English. “You have meddled in my life for too many years! I’m sure you didn’t know every whore in these islands heard him scream your name a thousand times! And me, too! Now look at him! Dead!”

  Emer saw the man emerging from the tree line, his hands hidden. She had seen him before, on Tortuga and on board the Chester. It was the Frenchman’s first mate.

  “You will see!” he yelled, jumping from the brush. “You will see how true love lasts! You will see how real love spans time and distance we know nothing of!”

  He rushed forward, then, shaking a small purse toward her. From it came a fine powder that covered Emer’s hair and face. She reached up and wiped her eyes clear, confused.

  “What are you at?” she asked, spitting dust from her lips.

  He stood with his arms and face raised to the night sky. “I curse you with the power of every spirit who ever knew love!” he screamed. “I curse you to one hundred lives as the bitch you are, and hope wild dogs tear your heart into the state you’ve left mine!” He began chanting in a frightful foreign language.

  Still brushing the dust from her hair, Emer took aim with her gun and fired.

  As she watched the man fall, she felt a burning prod in her back and stumbled sideways—long enough to see that the Frenchman had miraculously not been all dead, and long enough to see that he was covered in stray pieces of the strange dust his first mate had thrown at her.

  She tried to fall as near to Seanie as possible, and managed to get cl
ose enough to reach out and grab his cold hand. She took her dying breath lying halfway between her lover and her killer, covered in the dust of one hundred dogs, knowing she was the only person on the planet who knew what was buried beneath the chilly sand ten yards away.

  And not knowing she was about to become a French Poodle puppy, two thousand miles away from the Caribbean Sea, with her memory completely intact.


  Learning to Be a Happy Dog

  Dogs don’t need much to be happy. Your dog will most likely be content with the basics. Food, water, exercise, companionship. You don’t need to give him warmed gourmet meats or hugs every ten minutes.

  Moderation is the key.

  The same goes for discipline. A beaten dog behaves no better than a spoiled dog who’s never been scolded. A dog must be taught what’s right and what’s wrong and learn from his mistakes. This goes for humans too, of course. Though dogs can’t argue about their mistakes, which is where humans waste so much of their time.

  Take the American Civil War, for example. It’s hard to believe there was a time in U.S. history when people thought it was okay to enslave other people. It’s hard to understand why, when confronted with ideas of equality and progression, people fought instead of changed.

  At the time, I was a Yankee dog living in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. My owner was an abolitionist who helped move slaves north to become free. He would meet them in the local wood, then bring them to our root cellar to hide until they were rested and fed enough for the next leg of their journey.

  Trouble started in late June. My owner sent his wife and girls, on his best horses, to his brother’s house many miles northeast, up by the Susquehanna River. As night fell on the county, Confederate cavalry moved in by the thousands.

  Five days later, the fields of Gettysburg were littered with more corpses than the war had seen so far. I found my master there, bloated and wet from the hard rain, missing half of his torso. The view from the top of the hill was unbearable. The smell was worse. Dead horses and men were laid out like carpet on a hot July afternoon. Men buried the dead, and piled up the distended horses and burned them for days, causing the entire town to swim in an ocean of thick, deathly stench which made every creature ill.

  All of this for slavery. All of this for a white man’s right to own a black man. To own wives and children and mothers. All of this stinking death for the right to deprive other people of their own rights.

  Crazy, isn’t it?

  And yet the war continued for two more years. And it took another one hundred years to give those freed slaves’ great-great-grandchildren basic rights. In fact, the microwave oven was invented two decades before a black man could sit where he wanted on a bus in some parts of America (the land of the free).

  If dogs ran the world, there would be endless food, water, walks, and humping, but not much conquering. Humans want to conquer everyone they can, and buy everything they see. I think this is because humans have forgotten how to be happy. It’s not their fault—it’s not easy figuring out how to be happy in these days of anything-but-moderation. But it’s possible.

  Step one: Start with the basics.

  Step two: Try not to make the same mistake twice.

  I dropped to my knees in the hole and cleared the surface of the crate. I exposed the corners and dug my fingers into the cool, compacted soil, then rocked it back and forth. It started to come loose and then, suddenly, jerked up toward me. As I scrambled to catch myself, my brain noted that the crate felt far too light. The lid was cockeyed, and only half attached with rusty nails. When I landed on my butt, the box on my lap, it opened all the way—revealing only a bit of deflated black fabric.

  My heart sank.

  I rummaged through every corner of the box, finding nothing but three of Emer’s capes, damp and full of small brown beetles.

  I flung the box and capes to the side and explored the hole’s walls for a sign of the second crate, but couldn’t find one. Had Emer buried it next to the first? Or had she buried it on top? I closed my eyes and ran the old film in my head. I saw Seanie digging the hole, then lying dead. I saw Emer shooting the Frenchman and taking his eye out. I heard the rustling of leaves—but then I realized that this rustling was not in my memory. It was right above me. I looked up just as Fred Livingstone appeared through the foliage.

  “Looking for something?”

  He was out of breath and sweating. His thin, greased-back hair fell in a straight line on his forehead, and his foot was wrapped in several layers of bloody terrycloth. He smelled vaguely like Listerine.

  “I said—are you looking for something, you stupid little bitch? Answer me!” He held out a thick hunting knife and shook it.

  Stupid little bitch? What happened to the guy who invited me to dinner? And why did he have a knife? I was so scared that my hands and feet went numb. My heart was jumping in my chest and I could feel my sinuses clear.

  Fred moved to the edge of the hole and squatted down to eye me closely. He had a look I can’t quite explain on his face. A mix of surprise and glee. He even leaned above me and sniffed the air. Almost seeming amused, he muttered to himself, “My God. It’s her.” Then he said, “Shut up!”

  He stood up again, still muttering a little, and looking at me as if he’d just realized who I was and why I was here. “Answer me!” he barked.

  I moved my mouth to say something, but nothing came out. Where the hell was Emer Morrisey now? Couldn’t she see I needed her? He stood, waiting for an answer. Since I couldn’t find one, I continued to dig out handfuls of dirt, in search of the second crate.

  As I did, my index finger bashed against something solid, and I pried the second crate from the grip of damp earth. Fred circled me, limping, mumbling, and laughing. When I finally freed it, it too was lighter than it should have been. And when I opened it, I found the rest of Emer’s capes, but not one dagger. Not one gem. The Emer within snarled.

  “Where is it?” I asked.

  “Where’s what?”

  “You know.” Did he? Could he?

  He put his finger to his lips and feigned deep thought. “Oh! You mean your puny little collection of worthless shit?”

  I stared at him, incredulous. He knew?

  “It was garbage,” he said. “Didn’t get me more than a few hundred thousand.”

  “You’re lying.” Emer was hopping around inside my skin. I looked down at the capes, now strewn across the bottom of the hole. “You spent all of it? All of it?”

  “It was rightfully mine, wasn’t it? Just like you?”

  I stared at him, my head cocked.

  “Don’t you remember our nights in Tortuga? How we loved each other, my sweet Irish girl?”

  I blinked. Was it really him?

  I snatched my two woven bags from the edge of the hole while Fred continued to limp around, muttering under his breath. He seemed insane, like he was arguing with himself. Was he cursed too? From the dust that night on the beach? Had he just lived the lives of one hundred dogs like I had?

  Emer took control of me. “If it wasn’t for the daylight, I’d kill you right here and eat your eyes for breakfast!” I screamed, stuffing the capes into a bag.

  “Ah yes, my eye. Bad manners, entirely! But wasn’t I able to kill you, despite that? Just after I killed your little cabin boy? Honestly,” he said, twirling the knife around his wrist, “I never thought you’d be stupid enough to come here!”

  “I want what’s mine.” I tossed the second empty crate to the side. “I want my life back!”

  “Isn’t that what you have? Isn’t this your pathetic little life?” He splayed his arms to accentuate my situation. “And didn’t I leave you enough to be happy about? Those stupid cloaks. You used to prance around like you were some enormous hero. Like you were in charge!”

I was in charge.”

  “Not when I had you, you weren’t.”

  I stared at him so hard that I bored a hole through his skull. I didn’t know what to say, but Emer moved my mouth. “You never had me, asshole.” I snatched my father’s army shovel from the ground and climbed out of the hole, ready to beat him to death.

  He faced me.

  “Is dat you, Fred?” someone called from the road.

  Neither of us had heard a car stop, but now a taxi sat there, revving, and a plumpish Jamaican man stood there, the rising sun behind him, peering into the trees. We both froze. Every Saffron-atom in my body said, Run. And every Emer-atom wanted to kill both of them before they killed me. But once I thought about it, it didn’t seem worth it. Everything was spent. The whole crazy thing was over. All that time, I’d been calling on Emer to give me courage, and now that she’d finally come to help, I had to make her go away again. I didn’t want to kill anyone. I just wanted what was mine. And now I knew—there was nothing. The only thing left to do was get out of there before Fred Livingstone did something crazy.

  As I moved away, Fred limped after me. “Just where do you think you’re going?”

  “I’m going home,” I said.

  “What about me?”

  “What about you?”

  “Aren’t you going to fight?”

  “No.” What could he give me, anyway? He couldn’t give me what he once took away.

  “Fred?” the Jamaican called, now standing at the door of the condo, looking into the tree line. “You in dere?”

  “Oh damn,” Fred muttered. He seemed suddenly distracted and confused, like part of him wanted to crawl back into bed.

  He pointed the knife at me. “You can’t just walk away!”

  I shrugged and took a step toward the road.

  Fred Livingstone was not used to being blown off.

  “I’ll kill you!” he yelled and came at me, aiming the knife for my chest. I dropped the bag of capes and swung my dad’s shovel at his head like a baseball bat. I hit him square in the ear, knocking him off his feet.

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