“Did you see that?”
My cousin pointed off into the dense fog of early morning, and I followed with my eyes, squinting. “I don’t see anything.”
“There it was again, ducking under the grapevine hedge.”
“Probably a fox.”
“Didn’t have the right tail for a fox, and too big.”
“A coyote then.”
“I don’t know …”
“I saw it too.” I stood up, as though it would give me a better vantage point. It was closer than it should have been, little more than a canine-shaped suggestion.
“Is it a dog?”
It stopped. It watched us. It began to move forward.
“Is it a dog?” my cousin asked again, his voice almost cracking upwards.
“No,” I said, with a sickening certainty of unknown origin. It locked eyes with me, and a horror gripped me as primal as fire. “It isn’t a dog.” I looked around on the porch, surprised to see that my own dogs, all four of them, were gone, slunk off without so much as raising the alarm. I threw out the dregs of my coffee, dropped the paper cup and reached for my rifle. We’d been planning on hunting boar that day. When I raised the rifle to my camo-clad shoulder, it was gone.
And so was my cousin. He dropped to the porch with the finality of the last church bell. The medical examiner said later the aneurysm that blew out his brain killed him before he knew anything was happening at all.
Sometime I catch sight of that dog that isn’t a dog. On the side of the highway, on hospital rooftops, chasing ambulances, haunting cemeteries. When my own dogs jump up and slink off to cover, I go with them, rifle in hand, and cower with them in a closet or a bathroom, like it was a tornado that could be weathered in protected spaces. Not that the rifle would do me any good. But it passes us by. We’re not what it’s hunting, not that night. People I tell the story to think it’s crazy, that it’s just superstition, or coincidence that a strange dog happened upon us right before my cousin died, and now I’m seeing things. But I know perfectly well what I saw. I looked Death in the eye and it looked back into mine. One thought came through to me as clear as if it had spoken it. In that moment, it was plain to me that I had no hope, just as the hogs we were after had no hope, and the rabbit under the hawk’s shadow has no hope. It grinned at me – grinned, inside my mind, as it “spoke.”
Catch you later.