For some of us, if our souls were flesh, there’d be long scars traversing the surface. The scars would be bumpy and jagged as if made by serrated edges. That’s what the hunt did to us. I got mine at age ten during the heart of the hunt. Sometimes I imagine it an open wound, bleeding and swollen, oozing white pus.
My father seemed saddened by the wolf hunt, then angered, then resigned. I tried to mimic my father's emotions, but only mastered sadness. Seeing the hunt bury me in sorrow fueled the quiet burn of his rage.
There’s no need to imagine his scar, it’s right there on his stomach. It’s brown and fat like an earthworm. The curved keloid looks almost cute, but that little mean thing is the reason his breathing sounds like knotted, labored grunts; the reason he moves like a 75-year-old—even back when he was a young man he shuffle-stepped like every stride was a torture.
It all began for us the night we found dogs quivering in the stairwell behind our house. The three of them curled into one another and shivered as if cold, but it wasn’t cold out. They looked pitiful and sad. Little black noses twitching atop pale brown fur.
I pointed them out to my father instead of shooing them away: “Daddy, can we help?”
Father, mother and child, like our own family, I told my dad. Forgive me, I tend to anthropomorphize them, even to this day. The father barked at me, weakly. It was pathetic and sad. My own father disliked dogs, but his hatred for the dog-hunters was greater than his disdain for the animals. The father dog barked weakly again, standing between me and his family.
It was the high time of the hunt. Bullets still cracked through the night. Before the hunt, you would rarely see wild dogs trotting the Northside, but now they knew they would be safer here—if only marginally—so it was no longer rare to encounter them, two at a time at least, almost never solo. We were in the grip of craziness and mob rule. Roving bands of lunatics with kill licenses roamed the town. The sound of blasted weapons and the sight of wolf carcasses still littered the Northside, but not as much as in the Wildlands and the Southside. We prided ourselves on our relative sanity.
“I’m your friend,” my father said.
The father dog seemed to understand. My father moved closer. The mother dog tensed. There was a gash on her paw and another at her side. The father dog wouldn’t let us within whispering distance.
“Smart man,” my father said. “I would do the same for my woman if roles were reversed.”
My father sent me to the kitchen for meat and bones. The father dog ate. He fed his son. His wife moaned, watching the food as if it were dirt. We sat with them for a while. My mother called from the window every couple minutes. It felt as if we were all one, united against the hunt.
We left the dogs in the stairwell that night. A friend of my father’s, a vet with a downtown practice, promised to be at our house at eight in the morning. Since the weather was fine and the dogs were used to being outdoors, he told us they’d be safe in our backyard. The dogs wouldn’t leave a food source and a friendly hand, especially with an injured party and distant gunshots popping more frequently than a Baghdad night.
Cal, my father’s friend, arrived before eight the next morning. My dad greeted him wearing a ratty robe, his teeth unbrushed and snot dotting the corners of his eyes. I hadn’t slept, not even for five minutes. At six in the morning, I left my bed for the living room window, keeping vigil for any sign of Cal’s car. Every ten minutes or so I peered into the backyard to make sure the dogs were safe.
“I thought you hated dogs,” Cal said to my father.
“Sometimes I hate humans more,” he replied.
Cal spoke softly to them. The family didn’t growl beneath his hands. He looked into their broken-toothed mouths. He massaged their flesh and fingered their fur. The bitch moaned in pain. Her husband and son watched sadly as Cal patched her paw.
“Cross River is inhumane,” Cal said. He scrunched his face as if about to cry. “Keep them inside if you want them to live. Especially the bi— the female.”
“Don’t worry Mr. Tillery,” I said. “I’m gonna write a letter to Mayor McJohnson. Things’ll change.”
I’d hoped an adult would validate my words, but no one even acknowledged I’d spoken. My mother called from the next room ; she’d made my favorite breakfast, fish cakes and grits.
Cal ran his thick hand through my hair and rested it atop back of my neck and it did nothing to reassure me that all would be fine.
That night, after we had gone off to sleep and the dogs were likewise resting in a cleared corner of the basement, the ringing doorbell disturbed the night. The chiming was urgent and insistent and followed by rough banging.
Something was all wrong. I sat still, hoping the knocking and ringing would cease. I heard my parents grumbling in the next room, but I couldn’t make out what they said. Then they started to bicker loudly.
“What are you doing,” my father asked. “Don’t go out there.”
“You’re just sitting here,” my mother replied. “You gonna do something?”
My father’s steps thudded down the hallway.
I looked out the bedroom window and saw three men standing on the porch. One waved a badge. The shiny thing caught the pale light from above and flicked it about.
I heard the front door creaking and watched as the men walked into our house. In my head I heard my dead grandfather, the civil rights attorney: Never open no door to let no po-lice in your house if they don’t got no warrant.
He had said it to me over and over, even when the conversation had nothing to do with the subject of the police or our Constitutional rights. I imagined my grandfather watching from above, shaking his head in disgust and shame.
The darkness of my room suddenly became so thick I thought I needed to scoop it off my body. I felt it invading my airways and I wouldn’t be able to breathe if I stayed in the room, so I crept to the door and cracked it, just enough to let a river of light pour in.
“Mr. Bosley,” I heard a man say. “We’re told you have some guests in your basement. Wolves.”
Some unfamiliar voices mumbled in agreement. I eased further down the hall to hear the exchange more clearly. “There are no wolves in Cross River,” my father said. “A shitload of dogs though.”
“No one showed any ID or anything like that since you’ve been inside,” my father said. “Can I see that badge again?”
I was now at the edge of the corridor in plain sight. There was a man with a thin mustache standing before my father and two shorter guys hanging back. One man held a long black bag. It was dark in the living room, but it seemed to me that they were all wearing black leather and official-looking uniforms that didn’t at all resemble the clothing of any police I’d ever seen. I felt a hand touch the back of my neck and I jumped and softly yelped. I turned to see my mother.
“What are you doing out here,” she whispered sharply. “Get back to your room. Now!”
She brushed past without making sure I followed her orders and I probably would have if she didn’t decide to enter the drama.
“Are you police,” she asked, cutting in front of my father. “You don’t look like police so you have no right in my house.”
A moment of tense stares passed between my parents and the men and then, as if appearing via magic, a small handgun hovered just inches from my mother’s face. She gasped and my breathing grew shallow. The man with the black bag removed a shotgun and passed it to the other unarmed man. Then he removed one for himself, letting the bag thud to the floor with a heavy metallic thump.
“Taking in strays is against the law,” the thin-mustached man said, gesturing with his handgun as if it were just a prop. “We’re going to have to take them and put them to sleep. I don’t mean to scare you, and this doesn’t have to end with problems. The guns are for wolves, not people, but I ask that you don’t get in the way of our work.”
“You’re not police, huh,” my dad said.
“Is that your boy back there?” the man asked. “Hey little guy. My name’s Sid.”
“Didn’t I tell you to go back to your room,” my mother yelled. “Go. Now.”
“No,” Sid said. “Stay with us, buddy. It’s cool.”
“Are they in the basement?” Black Bag asked.
“I don’t have any dogs,” my father replied.
“Hey, little guy, is your daddy telling the truth? I know he told you to never tell a lie. Is he telling a lie to Sid?”
My body became mannequin-stiff. I was scared to even turn my head to make sure my mother was OK. My dad always used to say, “If anything ever happens to me, you gotta look after your Mom. She’s tough, but in the ways she’s not, it’s your job to be tough for her.”
At that, I’d nod. In those days there was not a single way I could see that my mother wasn’t tough.
“Someone should give the dogs guns,” my mother said.
“We’re the Wolf Pack,” the hunter with the friendly face, chimed in. “Just doing our part to rid the town of wolves, that’s all. I know you heard of us.”
My mother shook her head. My father shook his. I shrugged.
“I hate dogs,” my father said. “I didn’t bring any in here. Whoever informed you is mistaken.”
“Your friend, the vet told us, man. If it’s any consolation,” Sid said. “The brother was under duress. Had big guns in his face, not no little shits like the ones you’re shivering about.”
“Again, we don’t have any do—”
A blue spark momentarily gave light to the darkened room. The pop of Sid’s gun deafened me for a second or maybe my brain couldn’t process it all; my father falling, bleeding--the brown stain at the back of his pajama pants as he tossed side to side. My mother crouched over me—the same way the father dog had guarded his wife—holding me tight to the spot as if I even had the ability to move. And my father on the floor, all alone.
Raucous barking rose through the floorboards. Sid and Black Bag laughed. The third hunter though, watched my father with a frown and a brow knotted tight with pain. Maybe he felt compassion or maybe disgust. Or perhaps an empathy he couldn’t fully express in front of his friends. Sid and Black Bag walked past us into the basement as the empathetic hunter trained his shotgun on my mother and me. He didn’t speak or react to my dad’s screams or my mother’s whimpering. I heard footsteps padding down the stairs and then some brief barking followed by three loud, blunt pops.
Moments later, as my father dipped in and out of consciousness, the hunters mumbled back and forth and I studied their mostly blank faces—another roving pack of madmen, run wild by the hunt. When I could no longer take staring at them, I lowered my eyes and watched three sets of black boots walk out the front door.
copyright © 2014
Rion Amilcar Scott lives and writes in Beltsville, MD and currently teaches English at Bowie State University.