Friday Story — Dog.
Sam sucked in air as his ute screeched to a stop. The solid white line that ran along the middle of the road was lit up directly beneath them in the low beam of their headlights. Fog hovered in thick plumes above the ground. ‘Shit!’ he said, slapping his fist into the side of the steering wheel. ‘Bloody thing came out of nowhere!’
‘What the hell was that?’ said Jay from the back seat, wiping a forearm across misted windows. It was pitch black outside.
‘Oh, man … I think it was a dog, bro,’ said Tai from the passenger seat.
‘I couldn’t see it,’ said Sam. ‘There was nothing … then it just appeared. It just ran at us.’
‘True, bro. No chance, man. The thing had its mouth open … must’ve been going for the tyres.’
‘The tyres? Why would it do that?’ said Sam.
‘Where are we?’ asked Jay.
They both ignored him.
‘Search me, bro. My cousin had a dog like that. Used to bark when you pulled into the street. Stupid thing hung off the wheels. Lost half its teeth, still never stopped doing it.’
‘Can we get off the road before somebody hits us?’ said Jay, staring out the back window. The red taillights of the van glowed; thankfully the road behind was black.
‘True. Let’s get going,’ said Tai, yawning.
‘What do you mean, get going? We hit a dog, can’t just … leave it there.’ Sam’s eyes were wide, his head twisted from left to right.
‘It’s dead, bro. Did you hear that crunching sound?’
Sam didn’t reply.
‘Yeah, nah, that was its head. It’s had it. She ain’t going nowhere, mate.’
‘Oh Jesus, man … I can’t just–’
‘Can we just get off the road!’ screeched Jay.
‘ All right, we’re moving,’ said Sam, pulling onto the shoulder. ‘Christ. This is just …’
‘Ain’t your fault, bro. Thing came at us. You weren’t even going fast.’
‘That’s right, I wasn’t. Not in this fog.’
‘There you go, bro. Nothing to worry about.’
‘Wasn’t a retriever, was it?’ asked Sam.
‘Don’t ask me, buddy. I didn’t see anything from back here,’ replied Jay.
Tai laughed at him. ‘Pretty hard to see anything with your eyes closed and mouth open, bro. It was white. Was on us in seconds. Even I’d have hit it, despite my superior skills.’
‘Superior mouth more like it,’ replied Jay. ‘I’m surprised you didn’t swallow it.’
Sam was out of the ute, the door slammed behind him. He walked to the front and knelt beside the headlights.
‘Damn it! Bumper’s a mess, it’s cracked through the right. There’s blood all over it. Oh man … should’ve seen it.’
He was up again, pacing before he disappeared down the road.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Jay through an open window. ‘Sam?’
‘What do you think I’m doing? I’m looking for the dog.’
‘Come on mate, you heard Tai. It’s done, there’s no point,’ Jay called.
The road snaked between them; stars were non-existent, the moon chose not to be seen.
‘Where are we, Tai?’
Tai pulled a phone from his pocket. ‘It’s after three. We left Kune round midnight.’
‘And why was that?’ asked Jay.
‘C’mon on man, she was keen. We couldn’t just leave, The Keg was going off. Sam was good with it.’
‘I doubt he is now.’
Tai dropped his window. ‘We’re beside the Waikato, not far from the Glenn Murray Bridge.’
‘Why are we on this side? There’s no traffic over there this time of night.’
‘True. Think our sober driver had a couple. He’d be well under, though he’s probably just playing it safe. Looks better this side, anyway.’
‘What looks better? You can’t see anything.’
Tai took the keys from the ignition. ‘C’mon bro, we’d better go after him.’
‘It’s cold,’ said Jay, pulling a beanie over his head. ‘What are we doing? I mean …. you said it was dead?’
Tai pulled a pack of smokes from his jacket, lit one, inhaled, before shaking the pack at Jay.
‘What are they?’
Jay shrugged, took one. He coughed, threw his head back and blew smoke into the mist to see which was denser. He couldn’t tell. It was quiet, still.
‘It’s because he had one,’ said Tai.
‘A dog, golden retriever, named, ah… what was it? Something stupid … Jeff. That’s it. You know how people do that?’ he said, turning to face him. ‘Give animals people’s names. Kind of weird, eh?’
Jay just nodded. He couldn’t see Tai’s face, just a silhouette wrapped up in a beanie. He looked like a dark shadow planet being circled by a small sun. He must have been feeling the tobacco.
‘Not after Jeff Wilson is it? Goldie?’
‘Yeah, his old man spent time in Otago. Thing got cleaned out by a car. He found it days later in bushes beside the road, wasn’t pretty. Poor thing dragged itself there with broken legs.’
They could hear Sam’s footsteps up ahead.
‘Sam?’ said Tai in a loud whisper. ‘Sam?’
Tai tapped the phone’s flashlight. He aimed it at the ground. Green and brown Kaikuia grass stretched from the shoulder of the road in tangled roots to the loose gravel beneath their feet.
‘Sam?’ said Jay under his breath.
‘Yeah … I’m here.’
They saw Sam on his knees.
‘You found it?’
He held a palm up, shielding his eyes. The body of a dog was sprawled in front of him. There were tears on his cheeks; they both said nothing. The dog was still, hind legs covered in blood.
‘You okay buddy?’ said Tai, placing a hand on his shoulder.
‘I need to find the owner … just to let them know … what happened.’
‘Bro, it’s three a.m. They’ll be asleep.’
‘What do we do? Leave it here, for some kid to find in the morning?’
‘Mate, he’s not saying that,’ said Jay. ‘They’ll be asleep. Would you want to be woken in the middle of the night and told your dog’s dead? And anyway, whose dog is it? It’s total darkness out here, man. Are you going to wake someone that might not even own it?’
Sam got to his feet. ‘I’m not leaving it here.’ He put his arms under its body. The dog looked heavy, though Sam was a decent size and said nothing.
‘Christ!’ said Jay. ‘All right then. Which way, Einstein?’
‘Back where we hit it.’
They walked twenty metres before Sam stopped, then crossed towards some houses. They moved without light, their eyes having adjusted to the darkness. There was nothing to see, only closed doors and black windows. The dog’s body was warm, though Sam could feel it cooling.
‘Now what, Sam?’ said Jay. ‘It’s freezing out here, man. No one’s awake! I’m working tomorrow, mate. It’s not like … damn it!’
‘What is it, bro?’ asked Tai.
‘Dog shit, I just stood in … that is just–.’ He raised a foot.
They watched as Jay dragged his shoe through the grass in an attempt to clean it.
‘There you go. We’ll try in there,’ said Sam, pointing at a house with a pitched roof.
The colour was hard to make out, though they could see paint peeling from the window sills. White strips hung like cloth from its corners.
‘Yeah, this is it, bro. Check the kennel,’ Tai said, pointing it out.
The lawn was bare, flat, and dirt-packed in places. A letterbox sat askew on a steel strut to one side of a cracked concrete path. The place looked barren.
‘Put the dog down, bro. Let’s just see if anyone’s home.’
Sam placed the dog gently on the ground, then climbed the concrete steps to a door that was black as night, which seemed strange, given paint was peeling everywhere else. He reached out to knock, but his hand hit nothing.
‘I don’t like this, bro,’ said Tai.
‘So what. The dog pushed his way out and left it open. Let’s just knock and see.’
Tai and Jay were silent.
Sam reached for the door, pulled it towards him, then knocked. They waited for a sound. He knocked again before pushing the door inwards.
‘Sam,’ said Jay under his breath. ‘Don’t, man. It’ll be trespassing … you can’t. Just call out.’
‘Hello? Is anyone there? It’s your dog … we, ah … we have him. I mean, he was hit.’
Sam peered into the darkness, listened quietly, thought he heard something. ‘Anyone got a phone?’
‘Yeah,’ said Tai, attempting to hand it over.
‘Come on, Tai, bit of moral support wouldn’t go astray. Let’s just take a quick look. Someone could be hurt in there.’
‘Man, I’m not liking this at all bro. Just saying.’
‘Hurry up. Stop being such a pussy and let’s go. Jay, wait by the door.’
Tai’s phone blinked to life.
‘Oh shit. The place has been trashed, bro.’
A side table was upside down in the hallway. Plates had been smashed into pieces, strewn from one end to the other. They could see a blinking light.
They strained their ears.
‘What do you see?’ called Jay.
They both jumped, Sam hit the door frame.
‘Jesus, Jay! Shut up.’
They heard it at the same time — whimpering coming from the far side of the room.
Sam felt Tai’s hand on his shoulder, breath in his ear. ‘Bro, the dog hit the bumper, didn’t it?’
‘I heard its head being crushed. They try to bite tyres, bounce off, then run away. The dog I saw you holding … had blood all over its hind legs. They’d been cut. Not like road gashes or anything. See I … I’m not sure it was running after us, think it might have been running–’
Something thudded down the steps at the front of the house.
Tai swung the light around. ‘Jay? J-dog? You good?’
There was no reply, only movement from outside.
‘Oh shit,’ said Tai.
‘Help,’ came a weak voice from the lounge.
‘Oh … damn. Head for his voice,’ said Sam.
A large man stood there, a knife in one hand above a guy on the floor.
‘Too bad fellas. Doesn’t look like it’s your night,’ he said from behind a balaclava.
Tai ripped a white table lamp from the wall and threw it, catching him full in the face. He screamed. They turned and ran for the door, tucking and charging as they both hit open space, tackling a second robber blocking the entrance hard, as they flew down the steps. His head thumped the concrete path, knocking him out cold. They could hear the first robber’s footsteps behind them.
‘Where’s Jay?’ screamed Tai.
‘He’ll be okay, keep running! Tell me you got the keys!’ shouted Sam.
‘I got ’em,’ he said, running beside him.
‘Split up!’ said Sam, peeling off in a different direction.
Sam ran hard. The guy looked much bigger, though Sam was strong. He blinked away tears. Cold mist clung to his face. He shouted as he ran, leading him on, his chest burning as he pumped his arms. He could see dark stretches of the Waikato in between patches of fog. He was tiring now. He could feel his muscles were spent, cramping, having driven for three hours. He’d have to conserve whatever energy he had left, to face him. There was no other way. He stopped in the middle of the road and braced himself.
The shadow came out of the fog. There was no mistaking his smile. The mist intensified with light from in behind them. Headlights crested the small hill they had climbed. Sam could hear the familiar sound of his engine. He took off his denim jacket, threw it on the ground, revealing a white shirt underneath. He prayed Tai would recognise him in the darkness. His assailant paused, ripped off his balaclava, took one look at the ute before he turned and sprinted for the river as it roared towards him, though it was too late. Tai wouldn’t miss.