Dog Days

They were a long way from anything. At first he desperately wanted to believe that they would both make it to the truck and back to the city in time. Maybe the dog could be saved. It was not a realistic hope, and he'd finally decided to accept that.

The dog, who had been his best friend for twelve years, wasn't going to last much longer. And although it wasn’t much of a surprise, it was the most heartbreaking thing he had ever experienced.

He had needed to get away from everything for the weekend, and what better way to spend a weekend than with the truest friend he'd ever had? No demands, no complaining. Just love, companionship, and a bit of begging when it was time to eat. But who doesn’t love fresh meat cooked to perfection over an outdoor fire? Burned on the outside, rare as hell in the middle, but still hot, and all the fat separated and burned just right, for dessert. The smell was enough to drive him crazy. It must have been unbearable for the pup. The begging was easily forgivable, so they shared meat that was cooked over a fire together. Best friends in their paradise under the sky.

It didn’t look like they would be sharing another meal after the previous night though. Pup wasn’t looking too well. He'd been steadily deteriorating for a year or so, and this was clearly the last journey. What a wonderful way to spend their final days together. The dog was the best person he'd ever known. And would probably ever know. He would miss his pal.

That morning was spent with pup laying in his lap looking up at him almost apologetically. Sorry for breaking the heart of this man he had known all his life, and for not able to do anything about it. Once he had been the strongest, proudest protector that could be imagined. Chasing off bears, or people, or some imagined threat. Now helplessly dying and as vulnerable as he had been the first day his friend had met him and brought him home.

It was over around noon. Except for the crying. That wouldn’t be over for years. If ever.

He had brought nothing to dig with, so he went to find something suitable nearby. Which didn’t prove too difficult in this landscape. A few grey, time-hardened branches from a dead, but still standing tree would do. He wrestled some off of a worthy volunteer that stood silently beside a rather ominous-looking rock.

It was tough work. The ground was dry and compact. It never rained very much here but the winters brought enough snow that when it melted, the ground became saturated, and then slowly cured hard as the days went from spring to summer. And now it was autumn. It was tough work.

He finished the hole close to six hours later, laid the empty vessel of his companion’s spirit at the bottom, wished him a tearful goodbye, and began replacing the dirt it had taken him so long to remove. This part was physically much easier, but the finality of separation between him and his dog was torture. He gave those spring snows a run for their money as his tears soaked the earth.

When the resting place was completed to his satisfaction, he stood up and took stock of his situation. His hands were torn and bleeding, and his left elbow was opened up from repeatedly slamming into the hole as he broke the ground apart with dead branches. His clothes were covered in dirt, mud and blood, and it was going to be dark soon. Enough food for the night if need be, but he had better get going.

He painfully shouldered his hiking pack, grabbed his walking stick and compass, verified that his internal compass matched his mechanical one, and turned to go.

In his grief and utter preoccupation of the last hours, he had not even acknowledged the existence of anything outside the ten-foot sphere of his little world. Didn’t smell anything but the earth beneath him, his own sweat, and the scent of the pup when he lifted him and placed him in the grave. Didn’t seem to hear a bird, the wind, or the grizzly-bear that had been watching him from the growing shadows beside the big ominous-looking rock.