“Autumn Blew In” Ryan C. Christiansen
The late summer grass whistled. Crickets refused to chirp. My hound, nose to the stony path, pissed on the milkweed. He shook, because his collar dug at his matted neck. I held him on the end of a thick rope leash and when he shivered, his collar-tags rattled and rang.A blast of wind swept at my feet. It blew my hair into tangles, and I frowned. I had no jacket or sweatshirt against the cold or impending rain. Sure, autumn meant Indian summers, and it meant cool, musty air, but I grew angry at its collapse. My intention had been to find adventure in the bald, baking sun of summer, now lost. And now it was dark. Blue clouds bled the western canvas, and the vein through the ditch at my feet ran cold. The drain separated my path through the industrial park from the county jail, a mini, faceless penitentiary with clean steel fences. I tightened the leash and thought, What separates men from dogs? My hound sniffed the grass and found a gopher hole. He pushed his snout into the orifice and took a good whiff of Mother Nature through her pores. He braced himself, digging his hind paws into the soft dirt. We had a mini tug-of-war as I tried to pull him from the hole. I decided to let him sniff. It's what hounds do. I followed a square of yellow, corrugated cardboard as it tumbled across the valley of the ditch. The yellow square stopped, caught upon something near the water. My dog pulled his head out of the hole and pointed at the yellow trash. He no longer huffed and snorted. Instead, he stretched into a compass needle and scratched his worn claws and rough pads into thatch and soil. He distended my arm and I followed him further into the ditch, my shoulder near the end of its socket. He coughed against the collar that bound his throat. "Apollo!" I said, calling his name to distract him from his pursuit. I’d grown tired of his hapless, unfulfilling tugs toward spots of ground with crazy smells that only hounds understand, treasure-scents to roll in and carry home. "Apollo!" He drew back and began to bay, the arr-up! sound that hounds make on the hunt. He pulled harder and continued to bay, and I dug in my own heels as he pulled me down toward the slimy grasses beside the cold drain water. I bent at the knees with my rear-end against my heels when I saw the man. Prone, with shoulders big as rocks, the naked man—naked except for dirty briefs—rose up slightly on his forearms. He glared, unafraid, but shivered through muddy, blue cheeks. He raised his shoulders, neck forward, and stuck out his forehead like a battering ram. Apollo arped and arped. He kicked his legs wildly and struggled to slip through the collar. I reached lower to pull him in and he gave a squeal as I dragged him across the grass to my feet. A skinny flash rose against the ochre skies and the man ran the drain-bottom to a large culvert. Apollo’s collar raked my fingers as he darted away, baying and scrambling, ears flying, looking jolly, and I fell back and alone against the cold, autumn ground. The man might be dangerous, I thought, even to Apollo, but the sight of him in overstretched briefs and with cheeks hanging out made me smile. "Get him, Apollo!" I yelled. I flipped open my cell phone to call the police, but then I stopped. I put away the phone and ran after the dog and after the man. He was heading south.