Charlie’s Lucky Star

Excerpt from, “Charlie’s Lucky Star,” a short story collection by Richard Authier Lee, copyright 2018

The trail was cold, so he stopped again to catch the wind. Nothing there. The big dog pressed on, still not sure enough to rest, moving within an easy lope. He didn’t know what he was tracking—but heStar001 would know it when he found it again. The sky turned to a high stagnant charcoal, as the night moved near morning. A chill had crept up under his coat.  His feet hurt.  He had barely been aware of them all night, beating through brush, field and rocky‑bottomed streams.  It had taken all his wiles and most of his strength to shake the devils, but he was clear now. Still, he had no scent to follow.

When he reached the cover of a mossy outcropping, he lay down in brush and licked his wounds.  The pads of his feet were crusted with blood and had taken on a rotted, sweet smell.  His legs were matted with mud and briar.  For a moment, he lay there panting, before he caught the strange scent again, dragged his tired body up, and forced himself on.

The trail was descending to the valley and a small farm house ahead.

*

A night chill got under Charlie LeMay’s coat and nestled close to his heart.  Somehow,  the nights of his life had run together, and the dawns all found him here, leaning into the doorway of Margaret’s chicken coop, drawing hard on a cigarette.  He took it to the nub, let it drop and crushed it like a bug.

And all the clucking, flapping and cackling died under the toe of his boot.  Son‑of‑a‑bitch.  Charlie cocked his head. Fox. The grass was parting like the Red Sea near the foot of the hill, moving straight for the chicken house.

Yessir.

Charlie reached into the coop and produced a corroded shotgun.  He wet his lips and held his breath, one wild eye peering down the mottled, stained barrels.

Big assed damned Fox?  Charlie shuffled sideways, away from the coop for a better shot.  Grass moved.  Shit, too much grass. Goddam Coyote, maybe?

He gripped the gun and spit on the ground at his feet.  “C’Mon,” he said under his breath, “c ‘mon you‑‑‑”

Sudden, lithe movement and a shadow broke from the grass through a stand of brush and into the open on a dead run, straight for him. Charlie staggered back and felt both triggers go, heard the hammers’ hollow clicks and felt a rush of wet warmth down the front of his pants.

The animal shot between his legs and Charlie heard the beast impact the kitchen door behind him. Inside, Margaret LeMay dropped half a roll of dimes with a start, scattering them across the linoleum. A single wretched, groan came from the porch.  Against the threshold lay a twisted mass of white fur: a tangled heap of muddy legs, battered feet and chocolate brown ears.

The old man sat in the dirt, gun across his lap and a dumb look on his face.

“Charlie?” Margaret cried, as she opened the door, “Damn it Charlie, you shot somebody’s poor old dog.”

Charlie propped himself up with the butt of his gun and scraped to the porch in a stiff‑legged gait, his soaked trousers sticking to him uncomfortably.  “I’d a liked to shoot him if the goddam gun weren’t empty again. Sheee-hite! I could’a been killed!”

“Hush up, you old fool. Just what did you do to this poor thing?”

“Would’a dropped the rascal if you’d leave muh’ damned Remington be!”

“And how’d he end up on the porch?”

Charlie thumped the butt of his shotgun on the rail, knocking a puff of gray dirt from the grip.  “I sidestepped his crazed charge and he barrel‑assed into the damned door.”

Margaret smoothed the fur of the dog’s neck and gently pulled at one velvety ear.  She cradled the big head in her lap.  “This old bird dog belongs to somebody, Charlie.  His coat’s dirty, but it’s soft as a coonskin hat.  Why a stray’s would be like straw in this weather. Maybe‑‑‑”

“Maybe you lost your marbles old woman. That crazy hound was fixing to tear up your God‑Almighty chickens. Come at me like a gored bull, till I put both barrels down his tonsils and‑‑‑”

“And peed yourself like a two‑year old.” Margaret said, shaking her head. “I swear I keep unloading that awful thing just for this sort of reason.” She stretched the animal out gingerly and struggled to pull him over the threshold into the house, finally wrestling the dead weight onto a throw rug and dragging him across the floor, big forelegs and floppy ears trailing behind. Charlie waved both hands at her, stepped over the two of them and went upstairs to change his pants.

The dog was still out when he returned, laying by the stove drawing deep, regular breaths, dimes still scattered around him on the floor.  Margaret stood with her back to them, warming a little milk on the stove. Charlie watched her as he stooped and plucked up thirty cents, then shuffled closer the stove and snatched up half a dollar’s worth near the animal’s stocky, squarish snout.

The heavy breathing stopped. The dog raised his head slowly, looked Charlie square in the eye and began to bang his big tail on the linoleum in a tired, satisfied rhythm.

“Well I declare,” Margaret said, turning to look, “That dog must be crazy, Charlie.  I think he likes you.”

Excerpt from, “Charlie’s Lucky Star,” a short story collection by Richard Authier Lee, copyright 2018

More from Richard Authier Lee

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