I know these stories might not be for everyone. Honestly it’s more difficult to share this online than it is my memories about Pistol River, or the fact that I peed the bed until I was eleven. So if you like the fiction pieces I’m writing, please let me know. I sorely lacking in self-confidence here. Many thanks to my readers.
The night before our dog disappeared, I dreamed I was walking the strip of land toward Pistol River with Old Shep. We we needed to do something important out there, but I could not remember what it was. In the real world, the river is a short walk, several hundred strides, but in this dream, no matter how much we kept walking, we were not getting any closer.
I looked at Shep. He was a rangy, panting thing, all black and white, with a doggy smile that makes you want to give him belly rubs and curl your hands into his coat of fur. He kept on moving, but no matter how much I walked, he kept going further ahead. He kept running back and forth from fifty paces out, to check back on my situation, in case there came a moment when I needed a dog more than just about anything else in the universe.
There’s a kind of terror in standing still when you know you should be moving. Shep moved; I stayed in place. The river just kept being in its same place, and my place in the world kept being where it was. A thrill rippled through me at the wrongness of the situation and I shuddered. But I kept walking, because that’s what you do in a situation like that.
Then Old Shep turned his head toward me, from far, far away, like he was on the wrong end of a spyglass, all of a sudden he was there. With his one blue eye burning into my soul, he said, “The things around here are going to change, Zahnie.”
I don’t know how you behave when your dog speaks with you, but I figure if mine has something important to say, I better take the time to listen. So I did. I stopped walking and looked right back at him and said, “How do you mean, Shep?”
“Your family. This spot of land. Your friends. The world around here.”
I sighed. Hadn’t I had enough pain already? Change is pain. “Well, I guess nothing stays the same. Got anything else to say? We’re almost at the river now.” Because, we were. Without moving, we were standing at the gravel bar behind a huge, white driftwood log.
“Just be careful. ”
“I usually am.”
“You can do this thing. You can make things right.”
“Well, thanks” I said, because it’s polite.
Then his ears pricked. He looked upstream and down toward the ocean. He yipped “Get away from here! Detnaaghi!”And then my dog was just gone.
Before I could even say goodbye, or ask Shep which things needed making right, the ground started to shake. First there was a jolt, which slammed me to the ground, and then the world rocked hard. The ground tilted and the high grassy river dune began to split apart, and huge cracks began to appear in the ground. Then the fissures filled up with water. The driftwood log I’d hidden behind shattered into a million pieces, and the splinters shuddered, and they were long black snakes. They slithered fast in every direction, trying to break away from the quake. And then at once. they were all over my prone body.
I thrashed about, flinging snakes outward, as but as fast as I could remove one, another one replaced it. The serpents bit at me, gouging toenail-sized chunks from my flesh. I screamed, and flailed my arms to protect myself, but the snakes kept coming. The snakes covered my sight. The world was black with them.
In the end, the river itself saved me. Her water covered me and, in a breath, the world was nothing but the persistent heft, and the eternal rumble of Pistol River. I was swimming, fast. I rolled in the rapids, coursed through the deep places, leapt over high rocks in my urge to move. I was full, and muscular, and nothing could stop me. I had been filled the ocean’s power. I was the powerful urge to move. I was instinct itself. I was the salmon and I was the river. I knew where to go, and how to get there.
And then I was awake, lying all sweaty and heart pounding. Alphie was next to me, on the straw mattress. She snored a few times but must have heard me. Her breathing changed and she fluttered awake. I just knew. She pressed her round, delicious warmth against me.
But the power and the fear of the dream was still there. I wondered if that earthquake had been a real thing. I wanted to run out and check for cracks in the ground. Look for snakes. Instead, I held still, and let my heart calm itself.
Sometimes I don’t have the right words for things. “Was there an earthquake?” didn’t seem right. Too direct. If I’m wrong I look like a fool. If I’m right, maybe she is imagining what I want to hear. “Did you feel that earthquake last night?” Too definite. I’m not sure the world even moved, outside my head.
I discarded both phrases, and simply whispered “I dreamed about snakes last night.” No reason to be so quiet, nobody was in the house. Whispering just seemed right. The last word Shep had spoken haunted me. Weird syllables that made me shiver. Detnaaghi.
“Oh?” I could hear the smile in her voice as her warm hand moved across my body. “Yeah, sounds about right. Snakes can pop up just about anywhere.”
“Alphie, we’ve got brush to clear.” But I did not really mean it.
“Do we really have to get out of bed?” she whispered. Her lips met mine in the dark.
Yes. I nodded, even though it was too dark to see. I held to the moment like a hummingbird egg. “No. I think the snakes can wait.”
“Chores, you mean?”
“Right.” I rolled over, and our bodies pressed together.
Lord, I loved that woman.