**This is an unedited preview of the first chapter of my upcoming book. Working title: Nighttime Fables Some of Us Adults Need to Read. **
Now, listen here. Rufus was a good dog. He was a very good dog. All of the other dogs thought so. He could catch his tail in only a few seconds, but he never shamed another dog for taking longer. Even stumpy, who, try as he might, could never reach his tail. Rufus was such a good dog, that he shared his pumpkins with the birds and he only killed what he needed to live. Rufus was such a good dog, that, when he found a warm patch of sunny limestone in the winter, he would howl loud enough for other dogs to hear him even if them joining him meant that he wouldn’t have much of the warm spot to himself. He was a very good dog.
Rufus had a best friend named Eadie. Eadie was a good dog most of the time. She really was. Sometimes she wasn’t good, but only because she didn’t know how to be good without embarrassing her friends. Sometimes, she would see a tick crawl across Rufus’s face, and she wouldn’t tell him. She didn’t want Rufus to feel embarrassed that someone had seen him with a tick on his face. Rufus would feel the sting of the tick’s bite hours later. Eadie reckoned that this was far better than the sting of embarrassment, so she let him risk catching a disease.
Rufus and Eadie liked to run and frolic by the river. They would dance with the otters and play with the snakes on the rocks. Of course, the snakes didn’t always know that they were playing. Then, Eadie and Rufus would race up the hills to the tippy tippy top of the bluffs and watch the sunset together before they went home.
On the way home, they always took the long way around the horseshoe bend and across the fallen tree. The rocks were pointy near the bend, but it was better than taking the short cut at night. The short cut went right through a pasture. During the day, the pasture was beautiful and fun with its tall grass and cute little stumps. At night, it was somebody’s home: the haint hounds.
The haint hounds had been dogs long ago, but they were the dogs that nobody loved. They had not been good dogs. When they had been alive, they stole pumpkins from other dogs, and they laughed at dogs who couldn’t catch their tails, and they killed a few more squirrels than they ate. Legend had it, that when they died, the dogs in doggy heaven didn’t want them around, so their souls scooted on down back to earth. A few of them found the pasture by the river and claimed it as their own.
Their souls settled into the stumps during the day. The stumps were easy to forget, and a critter running to fast might stumble right into them. The stumps might get a little damaged, but the dumb critter would get a good thwacking for forgetting their place. The haint hounds could relate to the stumps.
At night, the haint hounds came out to stretch and to play. They didn’t have much of a voice, so they didn’t sing through the night like the coyotes or the wolves. They let the hills make music for them. The cicadas and the frogs sang melody and the crickets and the water took percussion. The haint hounds moved with the music and danced a slow dance. Their bodies glowed black in the moonlight as they moved up, then down, then spun, slowly, slowly, slower.
Rufus and Eadie, didn’t know what would happen if they cut through the haint hound’s pasture at night, but they didn’t take chances on being around critters who couldn’t sing and didn’t breath. So they passed the day frolicking by the river, watched the sunset on the bluffs, and scampered home around the horseshoe bend every night.
One evening, Rufus and Eadie were playing tag. Rufus chased and chased and chased Eadie until she was very tired. She was much faster than Rufus, but Rufus could run longer. Tag! Rufus touched his nuzzle to her shoulder and took off up the bluffs. On the way up, Rufus had a brilliant and wonderful idea.
“I’ll hide here in the brambles” he thought “and I’ll jump out and scare Eadie when she comes looking for me. Oh, this will be so much fun.”
Rufus hid in the brambles and he hunkered down where Eadie couldn’t see him in the haze of the evening. The sky had passed red by the time she drug her tired self up the hill to the bluff. When she got to the top she was very confused.
“Rufus. Rufus? Where are you Rufus?”
Rufus waited for the right moment. Eadie was near him, and when she was distracted by a sound down the hill, he jumped out.
“Got you!” He shouted.
Eadie gasped and jumped back. KERTHWAP! Eadie jumped clear off the bluff and fell to her death.
It took Rufus a moment to figure out what happened. At first, he was confused. Then, he was scared. Then, he realized what happened and he was very, very sad. He leaned out over the ledge.
“Eadie? Eadie, are you okay?” he asked, but she did not respond. He body just lay lifeless on the bank below.
Rufus stumbled down the hill as the night grew darker. He wondered if what just happened had happened. Maybe that wasn’t Eadie. There were lots of dogs who looked like Eadie who weren’t Eadie. Or, or maybe, it was Eadie, but she was playing a cruel trick to make him feel bad for scaring her. Oh yes, that was it. Well, he would show her.
Rufus rushed to Eadie’s side. If she was going to fake her death, he would make her feel bad about it.
“Oh no!” he wailed “ I have killed my best friend. Whatever shall I do? How shall I repent? What Have I done? I must flog myself with a willow branch, no, I know, I must sleep here in the water until I catch a cold. What have I done?”
Rufus swore he saw Eadie smirk.
“Here I go, laying down in the water. This is my punishment for being a bad dog.”
Rufus went and lay down in the water. The minutes went by. He waited for Eadie to give up. He knew she would feel so bad. There was no way that she would let him catch a cold. More minutes passed. Rufus’s paws started to get numb, and the night air made him shiver. He really would catch a cold if he stayed there any longer.
He realized the Eadie must have fallen asleep waiting for him. He decide to go wake her up with his now very cold nose. He crept up the bank and stood over Eadie. With a thrust he jabbed his nose against hers.
He couldn’t finish the sentence. It registered that, as cold as his nose was. Hers was much much colder.
Rufus whimpered. He tried again. Touch. Cold. Touch. Cold. Touch. Cold. He pressed his nose against her shoulder to push her to her feet, but, when he pushed, her whole body shifted in the sand, stiff, unmoving. Then he knew that she really was gone.
Rufus sat and cried. He lay down with his head over hers.
After a time, he began a service in her memory. He lifted his head to the stars, and he howled. He sang about the wonders of Eadie, about the joy that she brought him, about the things she had done. He sang the story of the time she freed a rabbit who was caught in a gooseberry bush, and he sang about the time that she rescued six puppies from a hungry bobcat, and he sang about the time that she farted so loud she scared a whole roust of vultures (he had never sang a funeral service before).
As he sang his next song, he looked across the river and saw the haint hounds dancing. As his voice moved, so did they. Up. Down. Spin. Slowly, slowly, slower still. How dare they? How dare they turn his pain into their fun? He stopped the vigil for a second to growl at them and to bark. Then, he went back to singing. They never stopped dancing. Up. Down. Spin. He tried to keep singing, but the anger seized his voice. He choked out sound after sound, but the beauty left his howl.
The anger raged inside of Rufus. How dare they? Dawn crept over the hills. His vigil came to an end, but the haint hounds were still out. He rushed across the river leaping from stone to stone. He sprinted around the stumps and forced himself straight into the middle of their dancing.
Rufus stopped. He hadn’t thought this through. He knew nothing about the haint hounds. Would they attack him? Could they? He would not give them a chance. He snapped at the one to his left. It did not flinch. He snapped at the one to his right. It did not flinch. He turned until he saw the leader of the pack. He rushed it as fast as he could, but his legs slowed. Slower, slower, slower still. By the time he reached the leader, he was moving as slowly as the others. He wanted to hurt them, but he couldn’t.
“She’s not here” a voice behind Rufus called, a new haint hound who hadn’t been in the pasture long enough to lose its voice.
Rufus wasn’t looking for Eadie here. She wasn’t here. She was a good dog.
“You can take the stump by the old oak if you’d like” said the voice.
Rufus had had enough of this cryptic nonsense. Rufus turned to face the voice and was surprised to see a very dog-looking dog. Rufus’s face showed the confusion.
“You can see all of us now that you are one of us. You will not find her here, because he was a good dog. Her last action came from love. She wanted to find you. You are here because you were a bad dog. Your last action was one of hate. You tried to hurt us.”
Rufus was confused. He looked across the river and saw his own body caught against the rocks where he had fallen in while racing to the other side. Then he understood. And Rufus took his place in the stump by the oak, never to see his friend again.
So, dear darling, listen up. In times when you are sad, your emotions may run hot, and you may feel very angry, but, even then, you must not act out of anger. Being angry is okay. Acting out of anger does more harm than good.