The wizard hat disappeared into the giveaway pile last spring along with the witch’s cauldron and purple fairy lights. Who needs that paraphernalia where bats fly at dusk, the moon rises above the ridge, and a cemetery tops the hill.
Heading toward the graveyard across the road at sunset had become a ritual, one practiced on nights when temps were still in the 90s at 9 p.m, and now in the weather that required me to make a fire in the wood stove and to start the walk before six. Halloween was no exception, though the occasion begged for something more surreal than a fox sighting or a crow in the branches. A hovering spirit? Glowing ghouls at the gate?
My maskless self strolled behind the dogs, who now trotted boldly with their leashes trailing behind them, dropped by their human in an attempt to show her trust in them after nearly five months of close supervision in the country. Their dog mom had outfitted them with harnesses, short leashes and the hovering eagle eyes of their guardian, who, like them, was urban bred.
I may have been wishing for the supernatural, but scary doesn’t pay attention to the calendar and despite my most protective intentions, the dogs and I had already had the fright of our lives days before.
The smallest, a mutt named Lucky, mostly Staffordshire terrier with enough miniature pinscher to make her cute when she’s not bearing her teeth and barking like a fiend, found herself in dispute with a creature eight times her weight and size. Champ, the land alpha, had been here the longest. The mastiff used to be the bouncer for the man who lived here before me. Now his niece Jan and her man Jeb care-take Champ, an outside dog with a rough ruff. He walks the railroad tracks looking like a lion.
The freak show occurred on the way to our sunset cemetery walk after a perfect fall day of outside chores for me. Can one’s life purpose be fulfilled raking leaves? With two dogs tracking you like every move matters, I am beginning to think so.
Through the line of pines, I spotted my landmates, the niece and her man, on their bikes up on the road. Lucky, Boots, the older and calmer Australian kelpie, and I were on the incline headed that way. Before their bikes hit the gravel at the top of the drive, their three dogs, Champ, Sweetie, and Swiftie (both sheep dogs) barreled onto the scene.
The unexpectedness of our position coupled with the endorphin rush of the oncoming canines instigated an unchoreographed scene of which I became a spinning part. Trying to keep my eyes on Boots and Lucky while the other dogs circled and jabbed our airspace disoriented everything in me. Suddenly reason was irrelevant, and all I could do was hope to stay upright, the yelping, ruffing, and intrusions of four-footed creatures testing my balance.
Then something defensible grew in me, forced my arms down around Lucky’s belly, as I fell to my knees and huddled there, with yapping Lucky wrestling under me while Champ’s slobber slapped my cheeks and his jowls pushed me as growls came in unsyncopated rhythms. At that, Lucky burst free and raced to the place she had learned was HOME, the repetition of the word for hundreds of times clearly in her vocabulary. Champ was no stranger to the driveway, the house. He loped toward her as we both watched Lucky disappear through the open gate.
I calculated my losses. I couldn’t catch either of them. I couldn’t control Champ. I could only picture Champ mauling my sweet lap dog, blood dripping from her neck and Champ’s mouth. Utter defeat landed me on the gravel, arms outstretched above me in a feeble child’s pose. I either whispered or screamed Lucky, I’m sorry! My mind fired blanks again. I wanted to think, I wanted to act. I couldn’t. But Jeb had rushed the gate shouting like an unhinged coach in a tied playoff game right at the buzzer. CHAMP! HERE! NOW!
As I trudged up the remaining hundred feet or so to the same gate, Champ brushed past me like a punished child. But I was too single-minded to notice. When I got to the porch, there was Jeb, with what looked like Lucky, head and all, sitting as Jeb rubbed his hands over her and kept her in place until I could reach her.
Yes, there was blood, but not gushing. Yes there was fright, but not for long. Boots came through the gate (Mindless, I had left her behind.) Jeb dismissed himself after I assured him I was okay, it was a perfect storm, nothing any of us could have done. Leave it to me to underplay the narrative. I don’t have time for neighbor drama.
I let the dogs inside for some water, and then I announced to Lucky and Boots that we were still going to do the cemetery walk. That it was important for us to do so. That we had to stake our claim. We had to keep doing what we loved. We wouldn’t give in to fear. And so we walked to where Jan and Jeb’s place breaks off, and we heard Champ’s rough ruff, and I yelled as loud as I could. GO! HOME! CHAMP! and waved a newfound five-foot stick in the air. He turned toward the trailer and sulked away.
“That’s how it’s gonna go, girls,” I explained as we crossed the road. “Ain’t nobody gonna scare us out here. And that includes Champ.” Then I dropped their leashes, and we headed for the cemetery on the hill just as the wizard sun poofed the entire sky into gold.