This story is by Rock Martin and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
We just couldn’t afford to keep her. The words lingered in my mind, like a heavy morning fog, grinding my life to a halt. My search began earlier today, on the tenth anniversary of her disappearance.
Her name was Rose, a black and white Brittany Spaniel. I’d often wondered what became of her. She shared three of my formative years, my companion throughout a tumultuous time. Morning after morning I’d wake up to a playful lick and a wagging tail. Until one morning I woke up alone, and never saw her again. Every year on this date she’s on my mind, and when I asked, I suppose my parents thought I was old enough to know the truth.
My parents had given her to a kennel, who then gave her to another. After giving birth to two litters, Rose was the victim of a car accident that claimed one of her legs. No longer useful, the kennel sent her here.
I peered through the front windshield at the rickety front door of Duncan’s Junkyard. It hung awkwardly from only the bottom hinge, with a few scattered blue paint chips remaining over the dull white underneath. Like it was last opened a decade ago. This is where Rose was brought to die.
The windows fogged against the cold February air, hiding my sorrow from the world. Where whatever remained of a 12 year old boy could mourn his best friend. Did she ever think about me, about what became of me, like I’ve thought about her? Did she ever dream about me, like I’d dreamt about her?
There’s little doubt that pain and hardship had come to define her life. Would she still trust me? Would she even recognize me? My resolve crystallized. If she’s here, I owed it to her to find her.
The clerk on duty insisted my best chance was Duck, an old mechanic who’s worked there for years. If anyone had seen her, it would be him. The junkyard was vast, with many rows of rusted steel piled high, separated by frozen, rutted lanes of dirt and mud. I canvassed each lane looking for signs of life.
In the fourth or fifth lane, the faint sound of twisting steel rode the wind from the distance. A dark, dirty figure began to take shape, working in a pile of oil buckets and car parts. “Duck?”, I yelled.
The figure slowly turned and looked at me, the white of his eyes visible against the black dirt smeared across his face.
“Yeah, whatcha need?”
“I’m looking for a dog. A black and white Brittany Spaniel with three legs. She might answer to Rose.”
“Trey. I call her Trey. She comes and goes. She doesn’t really like people.”
“Yeah that might be her. Do you know where I could look for her?”
Duck wiped some dirt from his face. “Well, back towards the woods there’s an area with some old truck parts, bed caps and old cabs. Sometimes they hide in there. Are you sure you want to go today? It’ll be getting dark in an hour or so and it’s supposed to get down to single digits tonight.”
“Yeah I’d like to look today if that’s alright.”
He paused for a moment, spitting some tobacco. “She used to be yours.”
“When I was a kid.”
“This is usually the end of the road for them. They’re beaten and battered, and want to be left alone. Are you sure you want to find her like that?”
“Yeah, yeah I do.” My voice deepened, choking back the guilt.
“Ok. Good luck,” he said as he turned away.
The search continued through the back of the junkyard. Toward the wooded area Duck had suggested, passing rows of car and truck bodies, scrap metal and glass. This was no place for a dog. How did she end up here? Was money really that important to us? Was it that important to me? My hands rolled into tight fists as my eyes fell to my expensive boots, my designer clothes, as I thought about my new car. All the stuff that’s supposed to make me happy, to make it worth giving her up. This path had been cleared and grubbed, trampled smooth by my parents, and I’d never set foot off it.
After walking for a half mile or so the rows of steel yielded to an open field littered with wrecked car and truck bodies, with trees further in the distance. The beginning of the end, where Duck had directed me.
The gray, clouded sky began to dim as the snow picked up, a few spits at first, then becoming a heavy flurry. I slowed to a creep, searching as intently as possible, my flashlight reflecting off the thick flakes. While I stopped to retrieve the pair of gloves in my pocket, the corner of my eye caught a flash of movement. After tracking in that direction for a few minutes, there was another quick flash. “Rose, Rose,” I called out, to no response. I caught another glimpse, a dog, white with black spots. My pace quickened, my steps silent in the dusting of fresh show. She held tight behind some car wreckage before jumping out and stumbling away, the unmistakable gait of a three-legged dog. “ROSE! ROSE! It’s me. ROSE!”
She didn’t stop, or look back, continuing toward the trees. My eyes welled with tears as she disappeared again near a large oak tree a few hundred feet away. Soon she popped out again, making a left turn and heading along the tree line toward a few wrecked trucks. It was now a chase, as fast as possible in the conditions. She made a circle around a wrecked truck, ran toward the woods and slipped through a shattered opening in the window of a truck bed cap resting on the ground. I stopped for a moment a few feet from the cap, trying to catch my breath. After 10 years of separation, I was now only a few feet from her, my heart raced.
I crawled partway through the opening and peered into the darkness. My flashlight revealed an open shelter with hard ground underneath, the grass long dead. As the light spilled into the back corner, it revealed a lumpy figure pressed against the cap wall. The glow of two reflecting eyes stared back at me. There she was, my old friend. Her white and black fur that was so soft and regal when I knew her, was now patchy, dirty and matted. All that remained of her rear left leg was a boney stub, the muscles of her thigh atrophied, the healed end rough and pitted with scars. Her ribs, shoulders and hips were visible through her fur. When our eyes met, she shot back a heartbreaking stare, raising her lips and growling.
“Rose, it’s me, remember? Rose, Rose.” There was nothing, she laid there, shivering, snarling at me. I stared back, tears poured down my frozen cheeks, wondering what she was thinking. Did she remember her life with me at all, or does she think it was a dream?
After a few minutes the snarling stopped. “Rose, Rose,” I tried again. She looked at the ground and lowered her head, shivering more than before, which reminded me that I’d passed a few hay bales a ways back. Surely they would make a warmer bed. “I’ll be back, ok.”
It was about a 30 minute walk to the hay and back. 30 minutes of regret, anguish. 30 minutes carrying the weight of a selfish decision. Somewhere along the way I stepped off the path that had been charted for me. This new course may be rough and overgrown, but it’ll be my own.
When I returned, I found Rose curled up in the same corner, her head resting on the ground. I carefully moved the hay inside the cap and followed through the back window. She was comfortable enough to let me get close, as I gently placed some hay around her, packing some between her and the cap. I hesitated for a moment before reaching my hand out to touch the top of her head. Her hair was thick with dirt, coarse to the touch, her ears still soft and floppy, with just enough warmth left to briefly carry me away, back to my childhood bedroom, with her lying beside me. But she was gone, succumbing to the frigid night. Perhaps she had managed to fall asleep and pass gently, with one final dream of her previous life, far away from this cold, unforgiving place. I leaned over her, wrapping my arms around her and gave her one final kiss on top the head, a few tears dripping onto her ear. Whatever hardships she had endured were over, she could rest. In a frozen junkyard, on the hard ground, far from the love and comforts that she once had. That we both once had.