A short story by Dale Childress
He pulled the string on the bow all the way back and aimed at the dog’s shoulder. His fingertips touched his cheek just as he had learned to do. The bow was only a twenty-five pound draw. It had been James’ but he had given it to Philip when he brought a much stronger one. Philip had used finger tabs but did not like them. Now his fingertips had toughened to the bow string. When he first shot the bow he had used an arm guard but he did not like it either so after burning himself with the string several times he learned to hold the bow so that the string would not rape across his arm when he released it.
The dog’s nose was sniffing the air on the other side of the fence. His tail stood curved over his back and his ears stood erect. The boy could not let go. He remembered hearing of his brother once shooting a dog with the same bow. The dog had been trying to get into a trash can. The arrow had gone completely through the dog. The dog ran off down the road. He made it home and his owner had followed the trail of blood. They found out the James had shot the dog. He was in big trouble. The only reason James could give for shooting the dog was that he should have not been trying to get into the trash can. Maybe the thought of what would happen came to mind. He rarely considered the consequences of his actions but he did on occasion. What if he killed the dog? If someone saw him he might have to bury it. Even if no one saw him, he would have to at least move it. But he did not want to kill the dog. He only wanted to scare him.
He released the tension on the string until there was hardly any tension at all. Then he released the arrow. It arched it way to the dog. It seemed to fly in slow motion and looked as it would fall short but it did not. The dog jumped to one side and the arrow fell to the ground. The target point had stuck into the dog but not deep enough to stay. Jumping sideways the dog let out a yelp and took off out of the yard. He ran down the road towards the park. He went through the ditch and started down the road which went around the park. In front of the Wilson’s house the dog fell into the ditch.
Ben came running from across the street. He had to run down the side of the road until he came opposite of the boy so he could run straight across. The summer sun was hot enough to soften the asphalt. With no shoes on it did not take long to burn your feet.
“Boy! Did you see him jump? I bet he won’t be coming around here again.”
“I think I killed him,” said the boy.
“Naw. You didn’t kill him. I bet he’s still running.”
“I saw him fall into the ditch.”
“Well come on then. Let’s go see.”
Ben ran back to his house across the street and came back on his bicycle. “Come on. Let’s go,” he said as he came up the driveway. The boy went into the garage to get his bike. Then they both rode off towards the park. When they came in front the Wilson’s house they found the dog laying in the ditch.
“Do you think he’s dead?”
“Sure looks dead,” said Ben. Ben picked up a stick off the ground and started to poke the dog.
“Don’t do that,” said the boy.
“Why not? I want to be sure he’s dead.”
“Just don’t. I only wanted to scare him away.”
“Where did you hit him?” asked Ben.
“Right behind the shoulder,” he answered. “I should have shot him in the butt.”
“I don’t see a hole and there’s no blood. Did you hit him or just scare him to death?”
“How could I scare him to death? You’re as silly as Brenda. She’s always saying she’s scared to death but she ain’t never died. You can’t be scared to death.”
“Oh yes you can.”
“Who did you know that has ever been ‘scared to death’ that really died?”
“Well there no blood so he must have been scared to death.”
“It didn’t stick in very deep. When I shot him he jumped and the arrow came right out. He didn’t even holler much. He just ran off to over here. I watched him run until he just fell over.”
“I heard him holler.”
“It was only a little “Yelp.”
The dog lay on his side in a patch of bluebonnets. His eyes were full open and his tongue stuck out of his open mouth. Already ants were crawling over his tongue. The boys could not see it but there was a small hole behind the dogs left shoulder. The blood that had oozed from the hole was not enough to even dampen the hair around it. The boy did not like looking at the dead dog. He knew that it was his fault.
“He shouldn’t have been messing around Lady. I’d never shot him if he wouldn’t have been trying to get into the fence.”
“Why was he trying to get into the fence?”
“Mama said that Lady is in heat and that every male dog in the area will be messing with her.”
Ben laughed, “That one won’t be. Look at the ants on him. I bet they’ll have him ate in a few days. He’s going to get all swollen up so big that he’ll almost bust.”
The boy looked away from the dog saying “I’m going home.” He pushed the kickstand up on his bike. He swung his leg over the seat and spun the pedal backwards so that the right pedal was where he could start on it.
Ben said, “Why you going home? Let’s ride around the park.”
“No,” said the boy. “I just want to go home.”
“Why don’t we go home and get our gloves and come back and play catch?”
“I just want to go home.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Ben asked.
“Yes there is. What is it?”
The boy refused to turn and face his friend. He looked awkward as he was getting his bike on the road.
“He was only a dog,” said Ben.
That night the boy did not think about the dog. He watched television as he did most other nights. At midnight the National Anthem played with Old Glory fluttering in the wind across the screen. And then the test pattern came on. Television was over for the night. With nothing else to do the boy went to bed.
That night he dreamed that he was lying in a ditch full of bluebonnets. The dog stood over him. His tail hung between his hind legs and his ears flopped down. His yellow eyes looking down into his eyes as if asking “Why?” The boy was not afraid of the dog. All the boy could say was “I’m sorry.”
The boy woke up the next morning. He did not remember the dream nor the dog for a long, long time.
As a child, Dale Childress answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was a writer. Life got in the way. He likes to read and write stories that are about real life and that have a point to them. He has a BA in religion and philosophy from Campbell University in Buies Creek North Carolina. Originally from Houston, he now lives in Rocky Point North Carolina.