July Writing Challenge Day 1: Dog Days

Here’s day 1 for my July writing challenge. Since this is a learning exercise for me, I think most days I am going to put at least a little bit of reflection and self-criticism. If you would rather read the days work fresh, skip ahead and then come back to this section.

So, today’s story started out by me thinking what it might be like to experience an interaction between two humans from the point of view of an animal. If you have even a passing familiarity with me as a writer, you probably already know what the event in question is. From there it kind of evolved into a piece about the animal, and doing a lot of anthropomorphizing in the process.

So, what do I think worked? Well, I have this view of my writing as being incredibly descriptive, today I tried to get away from that, or at least getting away from bogging things down unnecessarily. I tried to focus more on actions, on things happening, rather than spend all 2,000 words describing the setting and characters and having nothing else happen. I think I accomplished that.

As for what didn’t? Well, in such a rough draft kind of format, there’s going to be a lot. I think I maybe anthropomorphized the dog a bit too much, either that or not enough. I think if I’d tried I could have found more unique ways of describing a dog’s senses (how would it experience such a heightened sense of smell, for example?). Also, the “dog vs wolf” parts are a little bit ham fisted right now. The idea kinda came to me as I was going. I like the concept, but since I only really considered it a third of the way through I’d need to go back and smooth it out. This could probably be accomplished by sticking closer to what I had originally envisioned, where the dog wanders more, has more time to be a dog and think like a dog. This would also help because, even though I consciously tried to do away with description, I think I needed some more. Overall it might have helped the pacing. I may come back to this sometime this month in week 2 or 3, have one of my days be a rewrite? Maybe?

So…I guess the biggest thing I’m taking away from today is to work on balancing description and action better, being more direct and economical with my words so one doesn’t drown out the other, and to let myself be a bit more creative, open up and make interesting choices.

Anyway, that’s my two cents worth. Now here’s my 2,000 words worth. Thanks for reading, and here’s to the start of the month.

Dog Days
By E W Morrow
Word Count – 2070

The day had started out hot, and it was only getting hotter. It was only marginally less unbearable in the shade but even so those who found themselves abroad sought shelter where they could. And on a small, secluded bend of trail in a disused corner of a mostly forgotten park, the only souls bearing the summer heat belonged to a man and a dog. The man sat on a bench at the edge of a bank of shade. His tie was loosened, his sleeves rolled up past his elbows, and his pale face was flush from the heat. He didn’t look happy. The dog wasn’t his.

The dog wasn’t anyone’s, in fact. He had been, once. A long time ago. Longer than that, in dog years. Even now, if he tried, the dog could remember the way life had been: a little girl who played with him, a square patch of grass surrounded by chain link fence that he could wriggle under if he wanted, a house he got to go in when it rained, a pair of bigger humans who mostly ignored him but gave him food. He could also remember when things had changed: a new, tiny human that cried and cried whenever he barked, the bigger humans yelling, throwing things at him, the little girl coming out to play less and less, the anger on the big man’s face that last night, the bat in the big man’s hands, making it under the fence just in time.

The dog tried not to think about it too much. Especially not on days like today. It was too hot, and it stirred something inside him. Something old and a little bit feral. From before there were dogs. He didn’t like those feelings. He gave a little doggy sigh, which turned into a pant that refused to stop. He wanted to go back to the little hollow he called home and sleep the day away, but he knew he couldn’t. Too hungry. Too thirsty. For a moment he considered putting on his begging face and sad eyes and approaching the man on the bench, maybe getting a little treat or, if nothing else, a scratch behind the ears, but he quickly dismissed it. Most people were generally kind to dogs, even mangy looking mutts like him, but others got frightened. Or mad. This man looked like he might fall into that second category. The day was, inch by inch, drenching him in sweat, and his face did not look like it would be a kind face on the loveliest spring days.

And he reminded the dog of the man from before. The one who’d come after him with the bat.

So, instead the dog slunk out from between the trees and braved the sunlight. A short way down the trail there was a trash can he liked to rummage through every few days. He sniffed it first and was mildly affronted when he smelled another dog’s scent on the side of the can. Once he’d circled the can a few more times, he took assumed the position. His leg was hiked and he was already mid stream when he saw the second man coming down the path towards him. The stream cut off suddenly, and the dog darted for cover. Once there, he finished his business in a much less dignified manner.

Whereas the first man, the one on the bench, had been pretty big and pretty angry looking, this man was huge and not so much angry as terrifying. His skin was dark and the scowl on his face must have been chiseled there at birth. Like the first man, he was wearing a suit, but unlike the first, his was immaculate, unruffled by the heat. Also unlike the man on the bench, this human did not remind the dog of anyone, and for that he was grateful. He passed the place the dog was hiding and made his way to the bend in the path where the first man was waiting. The dog waited until he heard the two begin to speak in muttering voices and, confident neither man would turn their attention to him and label him a “bad dog”, made his way back to the trash can.

Over his own scent and the smell of other dogs was something else he dearly wanted to investigate. He could smell the left over sizzle, a sort of brown scent with traces of pop and fizz. And, from the smell of it, it was only a few days old. Practically new. If he could get to it he might not have to spend the day walking to one of the dumpsters behind the restaurants blocks away from the park. From experience he knew that the can itself was planted pretty firmly in the ground, not something that he could knock over and pick through at his leisure, but it had a wide rim he could balance on. He’d have to be quick, since the metal rim was likely to be scorching hot on a day like today, and careful not to fall in, but the smell of days old sizzle was just too tempting to give up on. There was a complicated moment as he mounted the rim of the can and then his nose was inside and sniffing wildly. He pushed aside two empty water bottles and a clump of napkins before he found what he was looking for. He gingerly grabbed the edge of the bag with his front teeth and edged it out of the less tasty garbage. It caught for a second, and in a surge of panic he gave a yank that turned into a tumble as his paw slipped off the rim of the garbage can. He landed in the grass with a thud but was on all four feet in a moment. He frantically glanced around, searching for the bag, but it wasn’t on the ground.

He was just beginning to look up when the bag landed on his head.

Tail wagging with furious excitement, the dog picked up his bounty and trotted back over to the shade. He chose a comfortable looking spot far enough away from the bench with the two men that they wouldn’t notice him, but close enough that he could keep an ear on them. Their voices were no longer low and muttering, and the dog wanted to have ample warning if they got angry. In his experience, angry men usually took it out on the dog. Once he was satisfied, he laid down on the grass, bag between his front paws, and began ripping in.

Inside was more than he could have hoped for. Nearly a third of a cheeseburger had been left uneaten. It sat there, among the shreds of paper and a few shriveled french fries, simmering in the mid day heat like a brow crescent moon. The dog hadn’t experienced a windfall like this since the day that little boy had thrown a fit down by the sand pits and thrown his chicken fingers at his mother, and most of those had been unfortunately crunchy. Compared to most days, this was a feast.

He had the patty in his mouth when the men at the bench started yelling and he froze. At first it was just one, most likely the first, but after a few exchanges both men were shouting so loud that several birds in the area took wing, and the dog realized it was time for him to do the same. Memories were surfacing, the terror of childhood coming back after all these years. Keeping the burger clamped tight, he got up and began to trot away. Maybe it was the taste of the meat on his tongue, or the years of living as a stray had changed him more than he’d known, but those other feelings began to stir just below the fear.

Somewhere inside every dog is a wolf. Somewhere under the ages of domestication is the part of the animal that can truly be called the beast. Every dog has it, but only rarely do they give into it. And right now, even though he was slinking away, the dog wanted to heed the call, to bare his teeth and snarl at the danger. To make these men in their fancy suits remember a time when they, too, were more primitive. Man rules dog, but monkey fears wolf. He wanted it more than he’d wanted it ever before.

Then there was a crack that seemed to rip through the heat and sent a cold streak of fear straight through the dog. He jumped, the burger slipped from his jaws, and he bolted. The dog had lived on the streets for a long time, and he knew what a gunshot was. It was one more reason to keep the wolf at bay.

It was in the last stages of dusk before the dog returned to the park. The heat of the day still lingered, but at least the park was empty now. His wanderings through town that day had not been fruitful. It seemed every dumpster was empty and ever human he’d me baked callous by the sun. Only one man had actually tried to kick him, but even so it was another day of loneliness and hunger for a homeless dog. He stopped by a water fountain near the gates of the park, the one that leaked a steady trickle most days, and lapped at it slowly. The water was warm, but clean, and it went down without complaint.

Of the two men who had been there earlier, the dog saw no sign. In fact, he saw no sign of anyone as he made his way to the secluded corner of the park where the day had begun. For a brief moment he dared to hope that the burger might still be there, lying in the grass, but a cursory sniff of the area told him he was out of luck. Some other animal had already been and taken it away.

It was then that the dog caught another scent on the air. Something sweet and a little tangy, and dripping red. It was just a whiff above the earthier smells all around, but it seemed to pulse maddeningly in the air before him. For the third time that day, the wolf in him began to stir. And this time, he was too tired to, and too hungry, to stop it.

It led him exactly where he knew it would: past the garbage can and down the trail, around the bend and up to the bench. There he found a dark pool of liquid glinting in the last light of the day. This was the source of the sweet odor, but it was only the beginning. It spread out to the left, wide and wild, as if there had been an explosion of the stuff, but it quickly thinned and ended. But there was more, a long, thin trail that didn’t diminish, leading straight back into the trees. Cautiously, the dog followed it.

Perhaps twenty feet into the clump of trees the dog found the source of the trail. It was the man, the one who had been sitting on the bench earlier that day. He was lying face down in the dried up stream scant feet away from the hollow that the dog had made his den. The dog approached slowly, not trusting the man who reminded him so much of his troubled past. When he was close enough, he nudged the man’s shoe with his nose and scampered back a few feet. The man didn’t move. Again, the dog moved in and nudged the body, and again the body didn’t move. He reached forward with is paw and scratched at a bare patch of skin. The body just lie there. It seemed the man wasn’t faking.

Two things happened inside the mind of the dog. First, the wolf howled. It hadn’t quite been a hunt, but the beast reveled in the kill none the less. Even hunters like an easy meal. And second, the dog looked at the face of the man, and remembered the one from all those years ago, who had yelled and chased him away from the house and the yard and the girl. And his tail began to wag.

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