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James Laytos glanced at his watch as he made the turn off the highway onto the short road that led to the house. He was within a few minutes of his expected arrival time, which was not at all surprising, because James – he preferred not to be called Jim – was a careful planner.

He had married late, because he wanted to find the ideal partner, and together with his wife Dorothy, they had waited several years before bringing their son William – who preferred to be called Billy – into the world. Even their move from the big city out into the country had been the result of several years of deliberate planning, because James was a deliberate man.

James felt a profound sense of satisfaction as the veranda of the house came in view, and the muscles in his shoulders relaxed when he saw his wife and nine-year old son standing there, waiting for him.

His muscles tightened again when he saw the dog.

James ignored the dog as he stepped onto the veranda to embrace his family. He was happy to have returned from downstate, where he had been attending a week-long seminar on homestead planning. As everyone moved inside, James pointedly shut the door in the face of the dog, which had begun to follow the humans into the house.

"The dog stays outside," said James.

"His name is Sailor," said Billy. "Isn't he a neat dog? Why can't he come in?"

James looked at the dog, which sat on its haunches outside the door, patiently, with its tongue hanging out. "Where did the dog come from?" asked James, looking at Dorothy.

"There was a thunderstorm the other day," said Dorothy, "and at one point, the rain was falling so hard, Billy and I looked out the front window just to see it come down."

"And there was Sailor, sitting on the porch," continued Billy, "and he was all soaking wet and looked miserable."

"So, it's a stray dog?" asked James.

"Well, yes, I guess so," said Dorothy. "I didn't see any harm in letting it in out of the rain."

"Billy," said James, "Would you please go outside? Your mother and I need to discuss something."

"Can we keep Sailor, dad?" asked Billy. "Can we?"

"I asked you to go outside," said James, a little louder than he had to. "Now, go!"

Billy went out the door and jumped the two steps from the verandah to the ground. "C'mon, Sailor! Let's play ball!" The dog stood up and eagerly followed the boy.

James turned to Dorothy with eyebrows raised and his hands held at waist level, palms up. "You took in a stray dog? Hello? We do not take in stray dogs. We call animal control."

"It seemed like a friendly enough dog," said Dorothy. "And it occurred to me that, between Billy being the right age to assume responsibility for a pet and how really lonely it was around here with you gone for your seminar, I thought it might not be all that bad an idea to have a dog around the house."

"But you just can't take in a dog that shows up out of nowhere!" said James. "Stray dogs are dangerous. If you and Billy think we need a dog, we can do some research, find out what breeds are appropriate for our family, scope out some breeders…"

"And what?" said Dorothy, clearly annoyed. "Get around to buying one at about the time Billy's in college?"

Their argument was interrupted by the sound of a dog barking, earnestly and aggressively.

"See, what'd I tell you?" said James. "The dog's probably attacking Billy." He strode to the front door while Dorothy stepped to the living room window. "Look!"

Indeed, the scruffy hound was barking at the boy, staying between Billy and the ball they had been playing with, which had rolled into some weeds. But there was no attack in progress. In fact, Billy was laughing as he kept trying to get past the dog and retrieve the ball.

It was Dorothy that noticed the movement.

"Snake!" cried Dorothy. "There's a snake in the weeds near the ball!" James shifted his gaze, saw the snake, and grabbed the shotgun that stood next to the door. He racked a round into the weapon's chamber as he stepped out onto the veranda.

Even at a distance, he could see it was a rattler. A big one, and apparently, a specimen that had not read any of the books that explain how rattlers attack only when cornered, because this one was advancing at something of an angle toward the boy and the dog. Looking past the furiously barking Sailor, Billy suddenly saw the rattler and tried too fast to step back, tripping and falling on his back in his haste. The dog turned to confront the snake, made a war face, and growled.

As James brought his shotgun up, the snake slithered to a point directly between him and his son, and coiled itself. James lowered the weapon, as his son was in the line of fire. The dog crouched.

The next couple of seconds were a blur. The dog jumped squarely in front of Billy as the snake struck, blocking the momentum of the snake's forward motion with its body. Sailor then whirled and struck the reptile, pinning it to the ground with both front paws, and then snapped its jaws at the serpent's head, very nearly severing the head from the nearly yard-long body on the second try.

As mother and father ran from the house, the dog dropped the snake and trotted to the boy, who was still on his back, wide-eyed. Sailor sniffed the boy's face, sat down on his haunches, and looked around, as if scanning the area for other threats.

As Dorothy knelt to comfort her son, James picked up the snake's remains and took them around the side of the house and threw them in the trash barrel. By the time he returned to Billy and Dorothy, the boy was standing up. The dog looked up at James, breathing heavily, its tongue hanging out in the afternoon heat. Then it turned its head to look at Billy, and at that moment, James Dunham realized his wife was right. Here was a companion for his son and a protector for his family. As the family began to move slowly toward the house, Sailor got up too.

And fell over on his side.

"Sailor!" cried Billy. "What's the matter? Are you okay?" The boy dropped to his knees and started petting the dog's head. James handed the shotgun to Dorothy, went down on one knee, and examined the dog, which was now breathing even more heavily. He ran his hands through the dog's coat and felt bumps of inflamed tissue that, on closer examination, revealed two angry red puncture wounds a little more than an inch apart.

"Snake bite," said James. "Billy, I want you to go into the garage and bring me the blanket that's in the big blue plastic crate labeled 'Camping' that's under the workbench on the left-hand side. Hurry!" The boy ran off in the direction of the garage.

"Honey," said James, "please look up the name and address of a vet or an animal hospital in town, give them a call and tell them we're coming with a dog that's been bitten by a rattlesnake, and then call my cell and tell me the address, okay? There's no time to lose."

"Okay," said Dorothy, and walked rapidly toward the house. Billy returned from the garage, out of breath, carrying a small, black army blanket, which James took and placed on the back seat of the car.

As James put the dog on the blanket, Billy asked "Can I come, too?"

"I don't know if that's such a good idea, Billy" said James, imagining what might take place at the veterinarian's office.

"But I can hold Sailor still while you drive," said Billy, "and pet him, and keep him calm, and let him know that we care about him."

"Okay, Billy," said James. "You sit in the back and hold Sailor. Keep him from moving around."

James ignored the speed limit on his way into town, stopping only to listen to Dorothy's phoned instructions on the location of the vet's office. By the time they arrived at the vet's, Sailor's breathing was very shallow, and his rear legs were twitching. Billy was crying and petting Sailor's head. Sailor's eyes seemed not to blink very often and his tongue hung listlessly from his mouth.

"I love you, Sailor," said Billy. "Please don't die!"

In the examination room, the vet examined the dog and shook his head.

"Look, doctor," said James. "This dog... Sailor... just saved my boy's life. You have to pull him through. You just have to. Whatever it costs, I'll pay." He felt his eyes getting moist.

"There's nothing that can be done, really," said the vet. "A snake bite like that puts a lot of toxin into the bloodstream, and too many places suffer too much damage. I'm sorry. The best I can do for you at the moment is put the animal out of its misery." James looked at Sailor, then at Billy, and then closed his eyes and nodded his head. He could not speak.

As the vet was opening a cabinet on the far wall of the examination room, Sailor gave a great shudder, and stopped breathing.

"Don't die, Sailor," cried Billy, heaving great sobs. "I love you!"

"I'm sorry, son" said the vet, examining the dog. "Sailor's dead." After a moment, he added. "I guess he sure must've been one special dog."

"He saved me," sobbed Billy. "I'm never going to forget him!" The boy hugged Sailor's neck and sobbed some more. After several minutes, Billy unwrapped his arms from around Sailor's neck, and turned to his father. "Sailor saved me," said the boy, through his tears. "Why did he have to die?"

James had no answer but to kneel and embrace his son, and they cried together for a while.

And in his mind, James the planner was already blocking out time to take Billy and Dorothy to the town's animal shelter, not someday, but sometime soon, to fill the void left by Sailor.

Date: 2010-05-31 01:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mstrobel.livejournal.com
That absolutely broke my heart. What a beautiful story. Excuse me now while I go fetch some more tissues!

Date: 2010-06-02 09:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
I'm happy you enjoyed the story.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-02 07:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mstrobel.livejournal.com
What I also loved about it was the feel -- there was something very reminiscent of a 50s family western type of film. I kept mentally casting the likes of Robert Mitchum and Jane Wyman as James and Dorothy. Definitely added to my enjoyment because I do love that type of thing :)

Date: 2010-06-03 12:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
My first reaction to your casting suggestion was to think that James would've been a very different kind of person, but when I reread the story, the idea didn't seem all that far-fetched (in fact, I seem to recall a role in which a teary young Mitchum said "You've just got to#" at one point, or perhaps it's my imagination talking).

Thanks for your insights.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-01 06:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] daphnis.livejournal.com


YESSSSSS!!!

Date: 2010-06-02 09:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Gosh I hope that means you liked it!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-01 11:28 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] onda-bianca.livejournal.com
Well done as always...

Date: 2010-06-02 09:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thanks for the kind words.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-02 03:00 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] notbatman.livejournal.com
This was just terrific and heart breaking.

Very well done!

Date: 2010-06-03 12:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thanks!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-03 01:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] spydielives.livejournal.com
This is such a wonderful story... *wiping away tears*

Date: 2010-06-03 02:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
I'm pleased you liked it.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-03 01:45 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] beautyofgrey.livejournal.com
Oh, I've fallen in love with your hero... this is a great piece of creative fiction, it seems so different from your usual. I really love how much is said in those early paragraphs, too.

Date: 2010-06-03 02:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Well, this story has been bubbling up and down in my mind like a bone in a stew for some time, so when the opportunity came to match it to an LJ subject, I took it.

Thanks for reading!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-03 02:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theafaye.livejournal.com
This really reminds me of your Blanket entry from last season. Your dog stories are great!

Date: 2010-06-03 02:48 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
I didn't have the Blanket entry in mind so much when I wrote this, though when the time came for Billy to return from the garage, I did put a small, black army blanket in his hands.

Thanks for your kind words.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-03 03:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gratefuladdict.livejournal.com
I thought I commented on this the other day! Excellent entry.

Date: 2010-06-03 03:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thanks!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-03 04:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] teaberryblue.livejournal.com
Aw, this was just too heartbreaking. Poor doggy.

Date: 2010-06-03 03:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Well, it's based on something I heard - or imagined hearing - a long time ago. Thanks for stopping by!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-03 10:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] imafarmgirl.livejournal.com
boohoo! How sappy. That's why I'm all teary eyed. Grins. Great job.

Date: 2010-06-03 03:22 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
I think, from a certain perspective, stories like this can not be not sappy.

I'm glad you liked it.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-03 12:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] pricelessone.livejournal.com
You have such a distinct narrator's voice. This felt a lot like an episode of Lassie from the '50s (I caught the reruns in the '90s). The stories you tell about people and dogs are powerful, indeed.

Date: 2010-06-03 03:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
I didn't quite have Timmy in mind when I wrote this, but perhaps Billy is Timmy, but without any experience living outside a city?

Thanks for your kind words.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-03 03:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lawchicky.livejournal.com
Oh gosh- absolutely in tears over here. This was fantastic.

Date: 2010-06-04 05:19 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Thanks for the kind words.

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-03 04:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cacophonesque.livejournal.com
What a sad, sad story. I do love that James was so absolutely in the wrong, and that he discovered it. And I do like the message of strays and shelter animals being just as good--if not better--than the ones bought from breeders.

Date: 2010-06-04 05:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Well, I will admit I was aiming for the first two points, and while I agree with your last point (I'll take a mutt over a pure breed any day), I really only used breeders to underscore Jim's - I can call him Jim, right? <grin> - cautious/meticulous approach to the world.

Thanks for your comment!

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-03 11:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agirlnamedluna.livejournal.com
Aw, that reminded me so much of your blanket story from last year :( What is it with you and sweet dogs dying? :(

Date: 2010-06-04 05:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
There are some major differences, in my opinion, although I'll grant these have a tendency to be made superficial given the similarity of the evoked emotions.

Recall that in my blanket story, Bart really did nothing except wander out onto a road, and for me, the emotional impact of that episode was compounded by having to take the action that I did.

Here, I was trying to depict an animal that had bonded with a human boy, had recognized a danger to that boy, and then shielded the boy from and attacked that danger, destroying it.

Could I have let Sailor survive in the story? Probably, given that James had finally "got it" once the snake was dead. Maybe I'll go back and rework this and see how that kind of ending works.

That said, I sort of asked myself the same question you asked me, because I surely don't enjoy killing off sweet dogs. Believe me when I say that, given an opportunity to write another dog story, I will do my best to keep the animal alive. :)

Cheers...

Date: 2010-06-10 12:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] agirlnamedluna.livejournal.com
Oh I do realise there were distinct differences, but it reminded me of it :) I do hope you'll let the damn dog live next time lol

Date: 2010-06-04 10:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rattsu.livejournal.com
Okay, that was mean, you've left me all teary eyed here!

Date: 2010-06-06 04:41 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] alexpgp.livejournal.com
Sorry 'bout that.

(Not! :)

Cheers...

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