3rd Place * Michael D. Winkle

Comments: Love, love, love the plot. Very well done as well as original. I might remove a word here and there to tighten it a bit, but much enjoyed it.

MUTT

 The short-leaf pine grew wide at the bottom in the best Christmas tree fashion, the largest and lowest branches jutting out a bare foot off the ground. Mutt stretched out between the roof of shaggy limbs and the carpet of brown needles.

A tick floundered through the dog’s short fur. Mutt kicked at his black shoulder and nipped at his brown flank. He snorted and settled himself again.

An ancient station wagon rolled along the street, rattling like a load of beer cans. Mutt perked his ears, listening — but not to the noisy vehicle. The dog did not hear what he hoped to hear, so he lowered his head to the dry needles. The station wagon passed unmolested over the railroad tracks just beyond the yard of the short-leaf pine.

Mutt dozed. Rabbits and squirrels ran and died in his gray-crimson dreams.

Another vehicle approached. The dog under the pine snapped awake. A Toyota pickup rolled down the street from the same direction as the station wagon.

This time Mutt heard what he was listening for: a distant rumble, low as morning fog and thick as storm clouds. The sound was very distant, however; the dog did not bother to rise. The little pickup passed, unchallenged save for an involuntary “Ruff!”

Mutt bristled as the rumbling grew louder. The Other approached, and he wasn’t prepared. He whined in frustration —

Then he jumped to his feet, shaking the roof of bushy limbs. A third vehicle — a small hatchback — followed three blocks behind the pickup. When the hatchback reached the yard, Mutt charged, yapping jackhammer fast.

The man in the hatchback saw a crazy dog intent on diving under his front tires. He stomped the brakes; the car’s rear bounced as its wheels locked.

Mutt skidded to a halt at the curb. He bobbed up at the driver’s window, looked him in the eye, and dropped out of sight, barking all the while. The driver swore and stepped on the gas. Mutt ran beside the car, so close his floppy ear brushed the door. The driver glared down at the canine as he accelerated.

Mutt rocketed along at thirty miles an hour, panting between barks. He kept up the noise even as strings of foam trailed from his mouth. It was important that he be heard rather than the Other.

Car and dog passed the thick hedge at the western limits of the property. The railroad crossing lay only a dozen yards away. Mutt glimpsed the huge, dark shape of the Other out of the corner of his eye. The driver of the hatchback did not; at least, not in time.

The dog set his paws into the gravelly shoulder. His hindquarters rose high in the air as he scraped to a stop. He felt as well as heard the Other’s deep rumbling. There came a brassy trumpeting louder than the rumble, and a metal-glass crunch louder than that.

The Diesel engine, horn blaring, smashed the hatchback like an egg. Mutt cringed as glass and chrome and popped rivets hailed around him. The car’s left rear wheel hit the street and bounced high like the tennis balls Mutt fetched for Boy.

A steel strut clanged on the road, a ten-inch shred of cotton shirt fluttering like a banner from one end. Mutt seized the strip of cloth and ran back to the yard. He dove under the bushy pine.

Behind Mutt’s tree stood a white wood-frame house. The door flew open and Boy jumped down the concrete steps. He stopped halfway across the yard and gaped at the scattered wreckage. Most of the hatchback lay wrapped across the locomotive’s bow like aluminum foil. The train’s rumble gave way to the hiss of pneumatic brakes.

“Damn! Another one!” cried Boy as Mom and Dad stepped out on the porch.

“Jeff! Come back here!” called Mom.

“When are they gonna put a warning light there?” Dad asked rhetorically.

#

Mutt’s hackles rose as the sirens drew near. He sniffed the cotton strip inch by inch, flaring his nostrils over dark stains. He held down one end with his forepaws and methodically tore the cloth to bits.

The sirens reached a crescendo and ceased. Men walked around muttering. Radios crackled. Mutt ignored them.

“Where’s Mutt? Here, Mutt!”

Boy whistled. Mutt emerged from his hiding place and trotted toward the house, tail wagging. He was much happier here than in the city. After all, Mutt had been chasing cars since he was a pup, but he didn’t start catching them until Dad and Mom and Boy moved into the house by the railroad crossing.

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About annanddanbooks

Authors. Neighbors. Friends. Siblings. Described as an acquired taste in our Creative Endeavors. We have fun.
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