By Erin Lunde
Nick immediately kicked dirt over the dog’s body. The moon cast enough light that he could see the red of the collar. “Give it to me,” Nick said, and Art finally handed over the rope.
“Don’t do anything, Nick,” Art whined. His T-shirt was bright white, and Nick saw him hugging his shoulders.
“Calm down,” Nick snapped, and knelt beside the dog. Even he was surprised at his steady hands as they reached toward the collar.
“Just, let’s go, Nick. Let’s go,” Art’s voice was quaking.
Nick shot a look at Art. Art whimpered in response. Nick briskly shoved a stick between the dog’s neck and the collar. He lifted the collar briefly, and the boys saw the head loll on the ground.
“Jesus Christ, Nick, I’m going to be sick.”
“Get sick somewhere else. I gotta get this off,” Nick seethed. He lifted the stick again. The tags on the collar clanged against each other. A few feet away, Art vomited into the brush.
Nick fumbled with the stick and the collar until he slipped the collar far enough around to unearth the buckle. He drew in a breath and reached in, feeling a warm mud under his nails that could only be the blood mixed with dirt. The buckle was stuck on something he thought, at first, was a bandana, like he’d seen the dog wear before. In the darkness, he pulled and pushed at what he thought was the cloth until he realized the collar had embedded itself into the dog’s neck. The slip of the blood seemed to grease it, and after only moments of jerking at the fur and the metal and the dark hot blood, Nick finally unclipped the collar and drug it from the dog’s neck like taffy from a puller.
Nick flung the collar at Art. Art saw it come at him, stepped back a few feet, tripped, and fell on his back. The collar rested in the leaves between the two. “Take the collar.”
“Take it where?” he asked from his back. “What am I supposed to do with it?”
Nick thought for a moment. He knew it couldn’t be thrown in the water with the dog. If someone were to see the dog floating in the river tomorrow, or the next day, or whenever, the tags would give his dad’s address.
“Just keep it. Keep it with you. I’ll bury it when I get home,” Nick said.
In the moonlight, Nick made out the end of the rope Art had handed over minutes before. He slid it along the ground beside the dog. It brushed against the rock, sitting in the black blood-mud, dark as the dog’s fur.
Nick hadn’t planned to use the rock. He hadn’t planned for the dog to be so loud.They thought driving to the river, a little more than a mile from Nick’s dad’s house, would be far enough away to do this. At that distance, no one would hear the truck driving too fast down the rocky dirt path, much less the snarl of a wicked dog on its bumper. But as Art and Nick struggled with the thing, two teenaged boys against one furious terrier, Nick became anxious. Even after the rope was tied, the dog fought and tore at the truck with its teeth gleaming white in the night. Panicked, Nick listened with the ears of neighbors, or stray campers in the woods on the clear summer evening, or even his father, who was most likely to distinguish the cries of fighting raccoons from the hateful snapping of his own dog. His eyes fell to the path under his feet while his ears rang with the high pitch of a frightened dog’s whistling growl. He deftly unearthed a rock the size of his fist and brought it up with a sudden flash of rage, catching the dog’s mouth and cracking away a tooth. The dog stopped, then gurgled shortly at Nick’s bloodied hand. Nick saw a faint smear of red on his fingertips where they grasped the rock. The dog’s blood, glistening in the moonlight, was reminiscent of Nick’s own, sometimes splattered on his bedroom floor or spat out in the sink moments before his father could be heard praising the dog or giving it treats. “You’re a good boy, you little mutt. The kid could learn something from you,” he’d say. And then Nick brought the rock to meet the dog once more, and the dog was quiet for good.
“Help me with this,” Nick snapped at Art. Nick grabbed the dog’s back legs.
Art wiped at his eyes with the heels of his hands. “OK, OK.” He was struggling to keep his breath under control. He tentatively approached the dead dog’s body and wrapped his quivering fingers around the front two paws.
“We’re just going to throw it in,” Nick said, keeping his eyes on his hands. “You have to swing it with me. I’ll count to three.”
The boys stood, neither looking at the head of the dog as it trailed spit and blood behind it. The night was quiet but for the shuffling of the boys’ feet in the dirt and rush of the river below them. Nick and Art didn’t look at one another when they started to swing the body, one, two, three in the air. When they let go, the black dog tumbled through the night sky a few feet before it hit the water below. Nick knotted up the rope and tossed it toward the river. He kicked dirt over the blood on the path as he walked, alone, into the woods.