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Fresh Dirt

Story by J. Chris Rock (Read author interview) December 15, 2006

I bury the dog where it dropped, just outside the bent chickenwire of Butch’s pen. A plot of fresh dirt in plain sight of the road, Ronnie Tauten will see it I’m sure. He might even say something. I won’t tell him I shot his dog, but I’m not about to hide its being done. The way I see it, the truth exists whether we ask it to or not.

Same way Ronnie Tauten sat his trailer down across the road from us, squatting on a free corner of his daddy’s land. No matter how hard we prayed for another kind of truth, there it leaned, ringed in trash, home to ignorance and sloth and roaring, four-wheeled redneck toys bought on thin credit. The good Lord who gave us our pride and strength armed Ronnie Tauten only with the absence of conscience, and we were stuck with him.

Butch had woken me up yelping holy murder in the middle of the night. Joyce slept straight through. I lay there gauging the cries. The chickenwire was strong enough to keep the old birddog in, but not nearly enough to keep something big or angry out. Coyotes had been at him once before, three of them yipping and trying the wire. I’d scattered them with a shot in the air and told myself I’d shore up the pen on the weekend. That had been two months ago.

All I heard this time was Butch. Whatever was after him was keeping quiet.

I unlocked the gun cabinet, took out the twenty gauge and flicked the light switch just inside the back door. Standing there, waiting for the yard light to sputter on, I heard the low growling of the something else, and then the ringing of the wire being hit, and then again. I pumped the twenty. In the dark then.

When I stepped out, the black mass by the pen turned at me and froze. Its eyes caught whatever light there was and threw it back at me in green sparks. We stared at each other for one second, two, then it turned back and the pen rang out again. Butch was in a high whine now, backed into the far corner, from the sound of it. The light was starting to come on, flashing every few seconds. Just off the porch I leaned back, gun to my shoulder, forty-five degrees into the night, and fired one off. Boom. Pretty sure Joyce didn’t sleep through that.

The eyes flashed back to me and lowered to the ground. I pumped, aimed straight into them and prayed for the thing to spook and scatter into the fencerow. But that growl huffed and went deeper, big paws dug into the ground at me faster than I would’ve thought and I squeezed off the shot. Boom and the eyes went out. A wholly different cry started up, hurt and dying over the sound of kicks in the grass. Another pump and I put the last shell into whatever it was on the ground.

The yard light popped on full as I knelt. Still no kind of color in that fluorescent, but I could see enough to know what it was. Pit bull, wet hole down its side, another pulling back its snout. The collar with its little silver tube attached, a rough T scratched into one end.

Radio hunt, they called it. Tauten and his buddies running their dogs wild in the fields. Transmitters on the collars, a handful of rednecks getting cross-eyed drunk and ripping down the highways hanging out the window holding aerials. Half of it was tracking, half was to see what the dogs would get. They were beaten, starved, sent out nearly feral into everybody else’s land. Supposedly one had brought down a deer, waited right by it for Ronnie.

I had thinned the horde by one. Good riddance to bad dogs.

Butch bit me once when I walked in the pen but I got him calmed down, talked until he started licking my neck with his rotten old tongue. Then I started digging. It only took an hour or so to get deep enough to keep the armadillos and the coyotes from digging it back up again. In went the body and back went the dirt. I finally got to sleep around three.

Today I’m tired, and dragging around a freshly chewed backside from Joyce, but still I’m outside pretending to work. I tinker on an engine in the gravel drive. I trim around the ditch out front. I wait for Ronnie Tauten to come driving by. If it isn’t today it’ll be tomorrow. I’ve got the time. I want to see him catch sight of fresh dirt by the pen. I want to be there when his forehead creases up and that slow brain of his starts to work it out, when he connects the dug-up ground to a loss he isn’t even sure of yet. This is how it either starts or ends.

About the Author

J. Chris Rock feels lucky to have been featured in The Science Creative Quarterly, Opium, Barrelhouse, Hobart and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and is equally humbled and giddy about upcoming work in publications including Cimarron Review and Wild Blue Yonder (the in-flight magazine of Fronter Airlines). He can be found with all the kids and their loud rock and roll music at www.myspace.com/gladyouasked.

This story appeared in Issue Fifteen of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifteen

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