...for readers who love animals, and animal lovers who read!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Excerpt: Close Call by Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna and Rhodry (1994–2008),
who inspired Pixel.
Susanna J. Sturgis is a freelance editor by trade and a writer by avocation. She blogs about writing and editing at Write Through It and about year-round Martha's Vineyard, where she lives at From the Seasonally Occupied Territories. Her first novel, The Mud of the Place (Speed-of-C Productions, 2008), included a much younger Pixel. This is an excerpt from her novel in progress.


As they rolled down twisty Tiah's Cove Road, Pixel climbed over Glory and stuck most of her head out the window. "Pixel!" yelled Glory. "You're wet!" On their walk, Pixel, a Malamute mix, had wandered off the trail several times to go wading in the adjacent pond.

Looking in the rearview mirror, Shannon slowed the car down to a near crawl. Glory was looking where Pixel's nose was pointing.

A big gray dog with a mostly white face was trotting loose and unaccompanied through the woods, a few yards in from the road.

Like wolves at Yellowstone, Shannon thought. Beautiful.

It had to be the Morrises' Alaskan Malamute, who was suspected of killing several hens and a lamb in recent months. In that moment the dog started to run, a long, loping run. "Shit," Shannon muttered. Just ahead of the running dog was a dirt side road, and at the end of that road was Everett Judd's farm. Everett Judd had no patience with dogs hassling his livestock. Everett Judd was a crackerjack shot.

Shannon pulled a U-turn in the middle of the road. "Try and keep him in sight," she said to Glory.

Glory and Pixel had already switched windows.

After turning down the dirt road, Shannon spotted the dog up ahead. He had a long head start but had slowed to a trot. The Judd farmhouse was still fifty yards ahead when he turned off the shady road to follow a post-and-rail fence. Shannon spotted sheep midway across the open field, and a pond glittering through scrub oak trees at the far end. Shit shit shit.

"Stay with Pixel, OK?" she told Glory.

"OK," said the girl, putting an arm around the old dog.

Shannon scooped Pixel's leash up off the floor and took off after the dog, stumbling over every clump of weeds, every depression in the ground.

The dog paused, looked back at her, then continued along the fence line. When Shannon gained a little ground, he trotted a little faster.

The sheep had stopped grazing. One of them bleated. The big dog hung a hard left where the fence turned a corner; he started to lope. Shannon was already twenty feet behind. Way up ahead and off to the left a screen door slammed.

Travvy - aka
ARCHX Masasyu's Fellow Traveller
on whom the unnamed dog in
 the story is based
Everett Judd was headed her way. He was carrying a shotgun. When he got to the gate, he used his free hand to raise the looped chain that held it closed. Passing through, he advanced across the pasture, sighting once as he walked. The sheep were freaking out but being sheep couldn't figure out which way to run. The dog was still outside the fence.

When Shannon caught up with him, he was trying frantically to squeeze through, but the rails were too close together and he didn't fit. Hoping the stitch in her side wasn't the beginning of a heart attack, she reached for his neck with one hand, hoping there was a collar under all that fur. He snarled at her, lips pulled back from very impressive teeth.

The sheep were finally making a beeline for the farthest corner of the field. The dog was going nuts trying to follow them.

Across the pasture Glory was running along the fence. "Don't shoot," she was screaming. In a flash she'd climbed the fence and dropped down on the inside. She kept running toward the man with the shotgun. "Don't shoot!"

The barrel of the gun come up slightly as Judd turned to see what was coming, then pointed toward the ground. The dog was briefly distracted by the commotion; Shannon made a loop of Pixel's leash and dropped it over his head, then pulled it snug around his neck. When he looked at her this time, she saw recognition in those almond-shaped brown eyes. He was a dog, not a wolf; she was a human, not a dog. She tugged him back from the fence.

"That your dog?" Judd asked, looking from her to Glory and back again.

"No," Shannon started to explain. "I--"

"I told 'em I'd shoot that dog if he showed up again," he said. The man was medium height and wiry, gray-haired and -bearded. He could probably run from here to town without breathing hard. "I could still shoot 'im. Dog like that's nothing but trouble."

I'll do you a favor, he was saying, and we'll all be better off. With the dog's snarling fangs fresh in her mind she half agreed with him. "Not now," she said. "Sorry about this."

Glory was watching and listening, stock still.

Shannon turned toward the car, giving the captive a mild tug on the leash. He dug in his paws and growled. She glanced involuntarily at Judd, who stood watching. Think smart, Shannon. She reached into her pocket, pulled out a tube of the string cheese that Pixel liked so much, and bit a piece off the end. She crinkled the wrapper. The dog sat down, wagging his tail on the grass. She offered him the piece of cheese. He started to snap at it. "Uh-uh," she said, pulling her hand back. She offered it again. He took it -- not quite softly, but at least she still had all her fingers.

"We'll see," she said, biting another piece off. To Everett Judd she said, "Thanks again," then she and Glory headed for the car with the big dog trotting between them.

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