Chicken Feathers

Fiction
Ron Arnold


Golden neck feathers
Photo Credit: Magda Wojtyra

were suspended in midair, drifting as gracefully as butterflies, floating toward the ground, then being whisked back up again in a gentle breeze and parachuting back down, circling the little brown girl from all directions as she watched in wonderment, thrilled with a fantasy game of dodging the spritely fairies. Her mother poked her head out of the back door and screamed, “Mr. Guthrie… Mr. Guthrie…”

From the coop next door came a rotund white man outfitted in green overalls, with gray hair and mutton-chop sideburns. “Sorry about that, Mabel,” he chuckled, “but as you know they are show chickens. Best in this here county and maybe Virginia.”

Behind him roosters strutted their stuff and clucked in melodic tones—a lemony one with a black comb drooping forward Elvis Presley-style over his brow, a snow-white one with a crimson comb reminiscent of a sunrise or sunset, and others of different blends of color. About a dozen in all.

“Please clean up these feathers?”

“My boy, Luke, will be over straight away. Good day.”

“Thank you, Mr. Guthrie. Bye.”

That’s how it went day after day on this small farm next to the bigger one. Back in the day they divided up the property. The large estate with room for a pond and a pasture for horses and a dozen fields for different crops to Mr. Guthrie’s family. And the smaller plot, one-tenth the size of Guthrie’s Farm, for the family just freed from their plantation. Her great-grandfather thanked the union army every morning right after he thanked the Lord. The plot was big enough to grow vegetables for the dinner table, but not large enough to support a modern farming operation with the cost of tractors and fertilizer increasing every year. So Mabel’s husband, Josh, traveled to other places to work because he was too proud to work next door. Josh would drive down to Fayetteville, North Carolina to toil in the tobacco fields or go to a coastal town on Virginia’s Eastern Shore to shuck oysters or pick crabs. He might not be home for weeks at a time. That meant Mabel was stuck with the child rearing duty, which was not easy though Raineyl was an only child.

“Mama,” asked Raineyl, “why can’t we have chickens?”

“Child, you got a rabbit and a cat to take care of. That should be enough for a six-year-old.”

“Mama, Ms. Tubbs says we’re going to hatch a batch in our class. She told me I can have a half-dozen since I live on a farm.”

“Child, you don’t have time for that with all the studying you must do. Plus, Josh won’t be wanting them around if they’re not for the dinner pot.”

“Just one, please Mama.”

Mabel saw the pout on her daughter’s cherub face and couldn’t resist. “Only one, Child.”

Raineyl spread her arms as wide as she could and spun in a circle, listening to the tinkling of beads braided in her stringy hair and watching the feathers curl round her and float up into the air again. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a stocky figure coming out of the mansion next door.

The figure moved along a cobblestone path, underneath a trellis covered with honeysuckle, and through a flower garden more lavish than a hotel’s, becoming bigger and bigger the closer it got. Luke was twice her size, ten years older, and spoke with a cocky attitude derived from a sense of privilege and entitlement. “What do you want now?”

“Luke, could you be a darling and sweep up these feathers?” asked Mabel.

“I’m on it,” he whined. “My father already told me.”

He went to the coop, got a leaf blower, and blasted the feathers out of his neighbor’s yard, undeterred by the high-pitched whining of the machine.

Raineyl watched him packing up his gear. She asked, “Is it hard to raise chickens?”

“When you got show chickens,” he boasted, “it takes a little extra effort. You got to make sure their cages are clean and they get plenty of good food and water. You also got to clip their beaks to make sure they don’t go poking each other and hurting themselves, but it’s a small price to pay when you win prizes at the county fair.”

“Can anyone enter?”

“I suppose they could, but nobody is going to beat my father. He’s been doing it for as long as I can remember.”

“How about someone like me?”

He looked down at her and sneered, “Don’t even think about it.”

But it was too late. Raineyl’s heart was smitten with the roosters. The way they heralded the dawn of each new day with a cock-a-doodle-doo, claiming dominion over their little corner of the world, performed little dances and ruffled their feathers to impress the hens, and cackled songs reminiscent of lovesick troubadours.

Her second-grade class hatched twenty-two chicks from thirty-six fertile eggs. They selected four roosters of different breeds and raised them in a pen until the last day of the school year in June.

“I want everyone to look them over,” announced her teacher, Ms. Tubbs. “Then we will select the best one for Raineyl to enter in the County Fair.”

Scratcher was all-white, but stopped every two steps to scratch himself. That was a habit Raineyl would have to break before she entered him in any contest. Pearl’s crimson comb was as large as a crown above his magnificent white feathers and his eyes glistened brighter than jewels. He must have been descended from a royal line of chickens. The yellow one was named Sunflower because of his bright feathers and outgoing personality that included a cackle as soothing as a cat’s purr. And the tan rooster was called Peanut Butter because he always flopped to the ground and stayed there like a glob of peanut butter stuck to the roof of your mouth.

They paraded each one back and forth in front of the class. The teacher called out, “Scratcher.”

Two students raised their hands.

“Sunflower.”

A lot of girls swooned for him—five votes. Raineyl was sure that meant the rest of her class would vote for Pearl.

Ms. Tubbs yelled, “Pearl.”

Only seven students raised their hands.

Raineyl was confused. She added up the number of votes cast and began to perform a head count of students.

The white boys were hanging out in the back of the classroom snickering to each other, “A brown bird has never won the contest before. Let’s stick Raineyl with him.”

The teacher called out, “Peanut Butter.”

They all put up their hands and hooted and hollered. Eight votes. He edged out Pearl by one vote.

Raineyl stomped her foot in disgust and raised her hand to ask for a recount.

“Why, that is as good a choice as any,” proclaimed Ms. Tubbs.

Are you kidding me, thought Raineyl. Where the other chickens had been active, this one sat in the back of the pen picking at his feathers. She would have to work hard just to get him up to grade to enter the contest.

With the help of her mother, Raineyl built a tiny chicken coop with several two-by-fours and a roll of chicken wire. The shelter was more of a lean-to than a skyscraper, but it served dandy for a space to keep her rooster. She grew fond of the bird, letting him roam free in the backyard and sometimes the house.

“Child,” her mother would yell, “that chicken better not shed any more feathers in here.”

To which Raineyl replied, “I’m watching him.” Then she would follow him around with a broom and dustpan, saying, “No… no… no… stop shedding… stop.”

After several weeks, the bird looked more scraggly than before. Her mother asked, “Child, do you still want to do this? There must be a better way for you to spend your time.”

Raineyl decided not to give up. She went to the local library and got how-to books about raising and grooming chickens: Dummies Guide to Chicken Farming, Raising Chickens from the Egg to the Broiler, Poultry Health 101, and Fowl Fan Book—Lineage and Breed. She fed Peanut Butter premium feed with marigolds sprinkled in to rejuvenate his skin. When those flowers weren’t available, she cut up roses into delicious, nutritious morsels.

She heard her mother screaming, “Raineyl, have you been in my garden again?” and hid several roses underneath a seat cushion.

Her mother found the stash and steamed, “Are these mine?” and peered into Raineyl’s eyes. Then her mother’s flabby cheeks became soft as she said, “Child, if you’re going to use all these, you should at least plant some new ones.”

One day Mabel heard some cackling coming from the living room. She hollered, “That chicken better not be losing feathers all over the furniture and rug.” When she stepped inside, she saw Raineyl prodding the rooster to step higher to reach a ruler held parallel to the floor. “What on earth are you doing, Child?”

“I’m trying to break his bad habit of pecking the ground all the time. So I’m teaching him to do the cakewalk.”

“The cakewalk?”

“Yes, Mama. I read about it in my bibliography about Johnson and Dean. They were famous dancers at the turn of the last century.”

“Is that so?” chuckled Mabel. “What did your book say about them?”

“It said that Charles Johnson and Dora Dean were known as the King and Queen of Colored Aristocracy and performed on Broadway and for royalty in Europe.”

“Did it describe the cakewalk?”

“It goes something like this.” Raineyl leaned backwards as far as she could and high-stepped across the room—lifting her knee up to her chest, kicking out, and moving forward by planting each foot in turn. When she got to the wall, she pirouetted as smoothly as a ballerina and pranced back.

“You know how to do the dance, but do you know what it means?”

“I’m not sure, Mama?”

“Back in the day the cakewalk was performed on plantations by folks like us. Sometimes we would be celebrating someone’s wedding and at other times we would be glad just to be alive. The couple that performed the best dance received a giant cake as a prize, but that wasn’t all. You see, white folks were always telling us to do this and do that. The dance means we bend in the wind like a willow tree, but never break. Remember that, Child, when people go bothering you.”

Raineyl kept putting flowers in Peanut Butter’s food and giving him dance lessons. By the end of the summer the rooster’s feathers glowed like caramel and his comb looked as luscious as dark chocolate. He could have been put on an advertising poster for a candy maker.

One afternoon Mr. Taylor stopped by from a neighboring farm. The skin on his hands and face had been wrinkled with age and his Afro was tinged with gray. He placed his muddy boots on the back porch and straddled a chair in the kitchen. Mabel served him angel food cake and coffee. He spoke carefully as though his words were ingredients measured out for a recipe, “I’ve come to give Raineyl this brush for grooming her rooster’s feathers.”

“For me?”

“Yes, for you.”

Raineyl hopped up from the floor where she was playing and took it. She examined the gift while he sipped his coffee.

“According to Ecclesiastes,” he explained, “a person can obtain things in two ways. One is by being wealthy. The other is by being wise. Your daughter has chosen to be wise.”

“Amen, ain’t that the truth,” replied her mother. “She’s making all of us wiser.”

That Saturday Josh came home reeking of fish. He settled into his La-Z-Boy recliner in the living room, stretched out his sore arms and legs, and clicked on the TV. While he flipped the channels to a baseball game, he breathed a sigh of relief. All he wanted to do was lounge there until dinner time. The announcers were chatting about a hitter leaning over home plate with a corkscrew stance.

Mabel sashayed in from the kitchen and turned down the sound.

“Why you be foolin’ with that?” snapped her husband.

“I need to talk to you about Raineyl.”

“Raineyl? Is she sick or in trouble?”

“I wouldn’t say trouble,” drawled Mabel. “She needs twenty-five dollars to enter Peanut Butter in a contest at the County Fair.”

“Peanut Butter?’

“You know, her bird.”

“I’ve been workin’ for three weeks straight at a stinkin’ wharf in Wachapreague, and all you want to do is pick my wallet. Woman, don’t you know we got bills to pay?”

“Josh, this is important to her. She has her heart set on entering that contest and competing with Mr. Guthrie.”

“A six-year-old girl competin’ with a sixty-year-old man? He’s got dirt under his fingernails that is six years old. What kind of competition is that?”

“Please let her try.”

He pulled out his wallet and counted out twenty-five dollars. “You women like to bend the world.”

Mabel snatched the wad of cash and replied, “It seems like you men bend it a lot more than we do.”

“Umph!”

 

The aroma of caramel popcorn and cotton candy filled the air and the clacking of a roller coaster and screams of passengers could be heard all over the fairgrounds. Crowds gathered around the midway which featured exhibits such as trained tigers, packs of acrobatic monkeys, a strong man capable of lifting a motorcycle or overturning a car, and a fire-eating gypsy woman. A Ferris wheel spun to a serenade of string music, sailboats glided across a pond, and go-carts zoomed around an oval track. Tents were set up for farm exhibits ranging from dairy cows to horses to hogs to chickens. The tent Raineyl stood in had a partition separating the pens from the judges and grandstands.

Several white boys gathered at the entrance and begged, “Please let us in.”

“I can’t do it,” she said. “We only got fifteen minutes before the contest starts.”

“That’s why we need to come in. We want to see if Peanut Butter can win before we place our bets.”

“Oh, okay, just for a minute.”

The boys rushed in and gathered around the pen, but were holding their hands behind their backs. Raineyl thought they were afraid of getting pecked. “Don’t worry. He won’t poke you.”

They snickered and shoveled handfuls of dirt at the bird who flapped his wings to try to get away.

“No… no… no… What are you doing?” screamed Raineyl.

“We want to see if he can dance.”

Raineyl stomped on the boys’ boots.

They did a jig and cried out, “What’s wrong with you?” “Hey, that hurts.”

“Get out of here!”

“We were just having a little fun.” They skedaddled toward the exit. One quipped, “Nah, stinky isn’t going to win.” And they all chuckled.

Raineyl heard her mother’s dress rustling behind her. She turned around, “I’m sorry, Mama. I didn’t mean to cause a ruckus.”

“Ain’t no need to be sorry. You should have broken every bone in their feet.”

Raineyl went over to the pen and saw the sorry condition of her bird and sobbed, “What am I going to do?”

“Child, you go get a bucket of warm water.”

Raineyl ran outside and filled a plastic bucket from a pump. “This was the best I could do.”

“It’ll be good enough.” Her mother squirted Dawn dishwashing detergent into the water and stirred it up until it became sudsy.

“Will this work?”

“It was good enough for you when you was a baby.”

They set about scrubbing the bird from beak to toe with a dishrag. Mabel patted him dry with a towel and Raineyl brushed his feathers with the comb that Farmer Taylor had given her. When they were done, Peanut Butter looked shinier than a new mint penny coming off the printing press.

The roosters disappeared one after another into the exhibition hall and returned. Now a man in a suit came over and motioned toward a tent flap, “Miss Raineyl, be ready in thirty seconds.”

“Oh, Lord,” cried her mother. “Look at your blouse.”

Chicken feathers covered Raineyl’s blouse from her waist to her neck as though she had lost a pillow fight at a slumber party. “Mama,” she pleaded, “please help me.”

“You get that rooster ready. I’ll take care of your clothes.”

As Raineyl prompted the bird out of his cage and encouraged him to move toward the runway in the exhibition hall, Mabel picked feathers off of her daughter’s blouse. The last few floated to the ground as she lifted the partition flap.

Straw covered the floor of the exhibition area and the pungent odor of chicken droppings lingered everywhere. Even so, at least a hundred people sat in the wood stands or stood near the runway. Mr. Guthrie was already accepting congratulations from a bunch of good old boys. He had won the contest two years running and now only one rooster remained. An announcement came over the intercom, “Next we have the contestant from Raineyl Farm… Peanut Butter.”

“Come on, Peanut Butter,” said Raineyl. “Let’s show them how we do it. Hold your head high and lift up those feet. Be proud of yourself.”

Peanut Butter cackled and lifted his head straight up and paraded forward with each foot being held in the air for an extra second or two. Nobody had ever seen anything like that before. A bird strutting down the runway like the President walking down the red carpet from Air Force One or barging through the doors of the Oval Office. The woman judge’s mouth dropped open in wonderment. Another judge compared his checklist for this bird to the one from Guthrie Farms, shaking his head in disbelief.

After the rooster finished, he held his head in a dignified way, basking in the looks of astonished fans and making a fantastic portrait for those snapping photos. The lead judge came forward and gushed, “We have a new champion… Peanut Butter from Raineyl Farm. Here is a trophy from the County Commissioners and a check for five hundred dollars.”

Mabel clapped with joy and Josh hollered to several spectators seated near him, “That’s my girl. I knew she could beat that old man.”

Raineyl smiled brighter than a sunbeam. She finally realized you don’t have to be snow white to be a winner. No… no… no…

pencil

Ron Arnold is a freelance writer of fiction and poetry. His short stories have been published in The Binnacle, Creative With Words Publications, The Funny Paper, Joyful!, Northwoods Journal, Penny-A-Liner, The Pink Chameleon, Tale Spinners, and Toasted Cheese. He is also a member of the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Email: Rraflw[at]aol.com

In the Footsteps of Robert Running Bear

Ana’s Pick
Ron Arnold


Jimmy, my cousin, is lanky for a twelve-year-old, but not awkward. Once he clobbered a baseball so hard it sailed clear over the fence in the park. He always says, You’re a scrawny runt for ten. I’ve never hit a home run or come close. Our mothers like to dump us off at Grandpa’s farm on weekends ’cause it’s a convenient way to get rid of us. Whenever Aunt Betty sees me, she squeezes my cheek to put a dimple in it. Then Grandpa hangs onto both of them ’til I look like a bloodhound. I don’t like being called cute or being squeezed and poked, but I guess that’s the way relatives are.

Today Grandpa is riding the tractor to break up and turn over soil. Worms and bugs are everywhere. A swarm of seagulls has flown in from the coast and follows the tractor wherever it goes. The birds squawk and dive down to pick up the quivering insects in their beaks. A red pickup turns off the road and kicks up a stream of dust as it heads toward the barn. Grandpa stops the chugging tractor and climbs off. He says, “That must be Robert Running Bear.”

We walk across the field to greet him. Robert Running Bear has high cheekbones, a broad nose, long black hair, and the sunburnt complexion of an American Indian. Another Indian, Daniel Black Swan, starts loading sacks of Sweet Silver corn seed from a stall in the barn to the back of the pickup. Sweet Silver is Grandpa’s cash crop ’cause he can plant it in early spring and harvest it in the middle of July, which is a good three weeks before anybody else does. Robert Running Bear pulls his hair together in a ponytail and knots a leather band around it that has two feathers hanging down.

“Are those eagle feathers?” I ask.

“Eagle, no. Falcon, yes. Never the eagle! That is a sacred bird.”

“What’s so special about eagles?”

He studies me closely before speaking, “At one time the earth was covered by an immense, dark cloud. The eagle gathered the lightning during a storm and soared high into the sky and flew in a circle to form the sun. Then a lightning bolt came loose and spun off to form the moon. With its work done, the eagle glided back to earth and built a nest in the highest treetop.”

I imagine the bird gliding in triumph on wings turned gold by the sunshine.

Robert Running Bear goes over to help Daniel Black Swan load the sacks of corn.

Jimmy snickers.

“What are you laughing about?” I ask.

“That Indian is loco. Everyone knows eagles can’t fly that high.”

“He says they can.”

Jimmy scrapes a stick in the dirt. “My father told me Indians are drunks. He says most of them have a stash of liquor in their living room.”

“Robert Running Bear is not like that,” I insist.

“How do you know?”

“How do you know he isn’t?”

Jimmy throws dirt balls that splatter against the tires of the pickup. Grandpa shouts at him to stop and invites the Indians into the house for coffee. Only Robert Running Bear accepts the offer. Daniel Black Swan stands guard by the pickup and Jimmy sits outside on the porch. So I find myself in the kitchen with Grandpa and the Indian.

Grandpa tinkers with the coffee pot on the stove, “Tell him how you got your name.”

“It happened when I was fifteen,” says Robert Running Bear. “I was fishing with my older brother at a creek near our village. We were catching striped bass and cleaning them. I walked back up the path toward my home. That’s when I crossed paths with a crazed black bear.” He looks over my head as though he’s seeing something.

“The bear was crazy?” I blurt out. “How did you know?”

He looks into my eyes. “Most of the time they stand up and huff. That means leave them alone. Or sometimes they turn and tramp through the woods to get away. But this one was foaming at the mouth and charged toward me.”

Grandpa pours the coffee into several cups and sets a pitcher of cream and a jar of honey on the table.

“I tried to move out of the way,” explains Robert Running Bear, “before I could, it was towering over me.”

“Those bears out in the backwoods are really big,” says Grandpa. “I’ve seen them myself.”

“I left my hunting knife down by the creek.” The Indian sips his coffee. “Luckily, my elders taught me to keep a clear head in times of danger.”

“What did you do?” I ask.

“I reached into my pants pocket and pulled out the round flint stone I used to sharpen the knife with. I delivered it like a hammer blow. I killed the bear right there. That day I became Robert Running Bear.”

I’m not sure whether to believe him, but he has a proud look on his face. He unbuttons his shirt and shows me the scars scratched across his chest.

I scramble outside to tell Jimmy. “Robert Running Bear was in a fight with a bear. I saw the claw marks on his chest.”

“It’s probably a knife mark from a barroom brawl.”

“There’s a lot of them.”

“He’s been to a lot of bars.”

“How can you say that?” I complain. “You don’t even know him.”

“My father told me what I need to know about Indians.”

“Your father doesn’t know Robert Running Bear.”

Jimmy walks over to a stack of tools and pulls one out. “Do I have to hit you over the head with this rake?”

“Why can’t you believe him?”

*

Summer seems to drag on except on rainy days when Jimmy asks Grandpa if we can play in Uncle Bucky’s room. Grandpa thinks we admire Uncle Bucky ’cause he has gone to Agriculture School and shows up at family gatherings sporting clean overalls and speaking in scientific lingo. But me and Jimmy like the room ’cause a trap door is hidden underneath the rug, allowing us to sneak outside by climbing down a wood ladder and scooting underneath the house. Sometimes Jimmy takes along a slingshot to shoot stones at squirrels. Lately, he has an urge to go snooping in the woods leading to Peterson’s house.

Last night’s rain has tailed off to a drizzle. Black pools of water dot the ground as we jog across an open field. “No trespassing” signs are posted on either side of Peterson’s gravel driveway. We ignore them and slip into the woods. The upper side of branches and leaves are wet but underneath the ground is dry. Jimmy tugs on the collar of my shirt and stops me.

“David,” he says, “You might not know this, but there are spooks in these woods from John Bonner’s graveyard.”

I creep forward. The closer we get to Peterson’s house, the more eerie it feels. We spot a fence that is at least ten feet high. My heart is racing faster than the clogging of a thoroughbred as I follow Jimmy. I see a pair of black eyes and a toothy grin behind the fence. Then a dog comes roaring out, snapping its fangs.

I scream and flee for my life. I stumble over a bush and fall into a big puddle.

Jimmy stands by the fence and laughs.

He torments me for weeks by calling me a coward and teasing me with wolf howls. He says that Peterson makes his living by breeding watchdogs for city folks stuck in poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods and always keeps a pair around to scare suckers like me.

I can’t sleep for weeks, causing dark circles to form underneath my eyes.

One day, Grandpa shows us the vegetables growing on his farm. He can recognize each type by the shape of its leaves which he holds in his thick, leathery hands. He kneels down along a row and digs up a purple beet. I detect a sharp odor. He breaks open a pea pod. I can smell a sweet green flavor.

Then Jimmy charges toward me with a garden snake dangling from a stick.

“Argh!” I run away.

Jimmy doubles over with laughter and stomps the ground.

When Grandpa comes over, I hang my head and almost cry. I tell him I’ve been having nightmares about the dogs.

“Robert Running Bear might have a prescription for that,” says Grandpa. “We’ll call him this afternoon.” He picks a few ripe vegetables and puts them in a cardboard box. He tells me he’s going to play the role of a Good Samaritan and dole them out to the neighbors.

“Why are you doing that?”

“Because you can do something extra that is easy for you to do and in return they will help you. It makes you wealthy like having money in the bank.”

Our first stop is Grandpa’s next-door neighbor, Clara, who has brown hair rolled on top her head like a cinnamon bun. She talks to us while hanging up clothes on a rope strung from the back porch to a pole in the middle of the yard. She starts with a light syrupy gossip—Jean’s daughter has chicken pox. Becky is engaged to a boy in another town.—and ends up with a story at least six months old about the time the tractor rolled over onto Roy Tillman and crushed his leg. She lets us use her phone.

We call Robert Running Bear’s village. He has just come back from a hunting trip for white-tailed deer. Grandpa tells him about my situation and puts me on the phone.

“If you put a man into the right situation,” says Robert Running Bear, “like planting a seed in fertile soil, courage will sprout and grow.”

I doubt it.

*

Grandpa can’t resist doing a favor. So when Peterson asks for help taking the dogs to the vet, he can’t say No! I tell Grandpa that I’m scared. He says Peterson sometimes allows the dogs to stay in the house and eat dinner in the kitchen. They like spaghetti. I picture them sitting up at the table with a plate set in front of them. “Do they know how to use a knife and fork?”

Grandpa laughs in his easy way.

That Saturday Jimmy is nowhere around. I guess he died of fright and his ghost is looking over my shoulder as we walk on the driveway of crushed gravel which dips down and rises again. My hopes soar in a strange way. Maybe I’ll get along great with the dogs and handle them like a pro. I expect to see a break in the trees any moment. We round a bend. An old Chevy sits at the end of the driveway next to a pale yellow house. An oak tree with crooked branches reaches out for us from the front yard and an oval pond with a rock wall gazes upward at the lazy blue sky. I stand over the clear water and see goldfish wagging their tails and darting around. Grandpa knocks on the front door. Peterson has white hair like Grandpa’s, but a stern face. He looks mean enough to raise killer attack dogs. He lets us inside the house. I hear the dogs growling from their pen in the backyard.

When we walk out the back door, my spine tingles with fear from the sheer size of the dogs. Both are German shepherds with a blend of black and brown fur. Rex leans against the wire and stretches out to six feet in length. Sheba, the female, stands behind him and is slightly smaller. Peterson pulls Sheba out of the cage. They slip a muzzle over her snout and led her to the car. Next, Peterson grabs Rex by the collar and slowly walks the dog toward Grandpa. Grandpa tries to hold the dog still, but Rex twists out of his grip. As Peterson brings the muzzle to its face, his right hand, which is clenched into a fist, comes falling down and bops Rex on the nose. The dog recoils backwards like a stallion rearing up on its hind legs and knocks Peterson to the ground. The old man lies there motionless. Then with a fury born of a million years of instinct, the dog lunges at Grandpa. Grandpa falls to his knees and yells, “Go get help!”

I spin around and sprint like the devil. When I get into the house, I look back. Grandpa has slipped off his jacket and wrapped it around his forearm for protection, shielding himself from the dog’s gnashing fangs. I don’t know what to do. I can’t find a phone anywhere. I knock over a dining room chair on my way out the front door. I begin to run down the long driveway toward Clara’s house. I stop. My clothes are wet with sweat. What would Robert Running Bear do?

I turn around. I race back to the front yard and kneel by the pond. Water trickles over my hand as I pull out a flat rock from the wall. I hurry back through the house.

Grandpa is lying on his back. His jacket has been ripped to shreds and blood covers his face and shirt. The dog swirls madly above him.

I step outside and heave the rock like a shot put. “Grandpa!” The rock lands with a thud about two feet away.

Grandpa crawls on his back toward it. He wraps his hand around the rock.

I pray. Then I hear a clap of thunder and an ungodly squeal. It is over. I rush to Grandpa’s side. The dog has marbles for eyes and is crumpled into a ball. I take off my belt and wrap it around Grandpa’s bicep like he tells me to. His forearm is mangled. Peterson is still out cold. I calm down and run to Clara’s house for help.

*

In the hospital Grandpa has a white bandage covering his forearm. After two days, they are ready to let him go. He puts the arm into a sling and laughs, “The doctor says when they take this off, it’s going to be a real shiner.”

Back at the farm the Indians are in the field clearing the rows of corn with a combine. Robert Running Bear drives the machine while Daniel Black Swan and another Indian pick up stray ears of corn and toss them into the back. “Those are Good Samaritans,” says Grandpa. “That’s what they are. A group of Good Samaritans returning a favor.”

Robert Running Bear stops the combine and walks over. He plucks a falcon feather from his leather band. Then he ties a knot in my hair and tightens it around the quill. “From now on, you are David Running Dog.”

Grandpa smiles.

Jimmy stomps the ground in a rage. “I could have done that. I could have.” He looks in awe at Robert Running Bear and the other Indians.

They go back to work all sweaty and dirty.
pencil

“I am a freelance writer of fiction and poetry. My short stories have been published in the following magazines: The Funny Paper, Penny-A-Liner, Northwoods Journal, Creative With Words Publications, and Tale Spinners. I am also a member of the Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.” E-mail: rraflw[at]aol.com