Yesterday we shared Chapter 15 from our novel, A Good Place.
This part of the novel continues with Chapter 16.
I THOUGHT about picking Bo up to tote home, but any attempt to move him brought a terrible whimpering, and anyway, he weighed too much for me to carry that far.
Leaving him was out of the question. There was no way my dog was going to die alone.
In daylight, I would’ve gone for help, but I wasn’t sure I could find my way in the dark. To be honest, I was also scared ’cause of my deep fear of the dark. I still hated to be in the dark by myself.
I talked to Bo, but I was really telling myself, “There ain’t nothing out here to be scared of. I’m taking care of you, Bo. Just like you’ve taken care of me.”
I spent the next hour petting him and remembering all the things we’d done together. I especially thought about how Bo had saved my life in the storm as well as when Roscoe chased me. My love for this cur dog was stronger than my fear of the dark, and I didn’t feel alone anymore.
I piled a bed of leaves and eased some of them under Bo. I kept bringing him water, and he greeted each return trip with a thumping tail.
I wondered what my family was doing at the house, thinking,
my folks are probably turning flips wondering where I am. I’ll have some explaining to do, but I ain’t leaving my dog.
It makes for a long night in the woods with a dying best friend. It was a cool night with the wind blowing softly in the trees. Every noise and movement in the night made me wonder what creatures were wandering around. I snuggled up by Bo, listening to his shallow breathing. Sometimes he seemed to stop breathing, but I’d put my hand on his side and feel his heart beating.
I drifted off to sleep and was awakened by distant calling in
A GOOD PLACE
the pitch-black night. It was quiet for the next few minutes, and I thought I might have only dreamed of voices. Then I heard it again—a far off yell that sounded like my name.
I reached down for the cow horn and blew it repeatedly. Stopping, I heard nothing—then I heard distant shouts, “Mayo. Mayo.”
They were searching for me. Soon, I saw torches bobbing through the woods. As they neared, I hollered, “Over here. I’m all right.”
Three torches bobbed through the swamp. My rescuers were coming at a trot.
“I’m all right. It’s Bo. Hogs done kilt him.” I yelled.
Daddy was the first to get there. He was out of breath, and the flickering torch light revealed the worry on his face. He spoke with a mixture of anger and concern. “Son, what in the world are you doing out here? Your momma is worried to death about—”
But he stopped when he saw Bo. I was ready to explain why I’d stayed, but he’d already seen why. “I’m sorry, Son.”
“He ain’t gonna make it, is he?”
He knelt and had me hold the pine knot torch while he inspected Bo.
“Easy, Boy. I ain’t gonna hurt ye. Let me take a look.”
He didn’t say another word. He didn’t have to—we both knew. In fact, I believe Bo knew it, too.
The other torches arrived, and through tears, I looked up and saw PaPaw and Unk standing above me.
PaPaw, holding his gun, quietly said, “That’s the worst hog cut I’ve ever seen.”
Unk kindly put his hand on my shoulder, “There ain’t no good way to lose a dog.”
I’d held up pretty well until then, but my heavy heart was broken, and now the tears came freely as the four of us stood around my dying dog.
Daddy started hesitantly. “It’d be the uh, kindest….” I looked up at him through my tears. “Uh, son, it’d be the kindest—and best thing—to not let him
suffer anymore. He’s been lying here probably two days like this.” He turned to PaPaw. “Hand me the gun.” I rose in horror. “There ain’t no way you’re shooting my dog.” “But, Son….”
“There ain’t no way.”
I stood directly in front of Bo, pushing between him and them.
Daddy turned to the other men for help and PaPaw said, “Mayo, your dog’s suffered enough. It ain’t a kindness to let him lay there like that.”
“Bo’s last moment ain’t gonna be a musket blast blowing his head off.”
“Don’t but me. Y’all just leave us alone.” I’d never talked to my PaPaw that way. Normally, Daddy would’ve been swatting me, but he held both his tongue and belt. It got very quiet around Bo—only the dog’s labored breathing and my crying broke the night’s silence. I lay down beside Bo, as if doing so would make them take their torches and leave. A hand touched my shoulder, and I jerked away, afraid they would drag me off before shooting my dog. It was Unk, and he was crying.
One of the things I loved about my Redbone kin was the emotion of the men. No one would ever accuse them of being soft or weak, but beneath their tough exterior was a tender heart. A Redbone man might cry at anything—a song at church, a beautiful sunrise, a newborn baby—and even the heartbreak of a boy losing his dog.
Unk leaned down, placing his arm around me. “Mayo, I know how it feels to lose a good dog. I’m sorry. Your daddy and papaw are just trying to help. Don’t be mad at ‘em. They’re just trying to help.”
PaPaw knelt beside me, adding, “I tell you what we’re gonna do—we’ll leave you and Bo right here. I’ll be back—but it won’t be with a gun. I’ll bring a pick ax and shovel, and we’ll bury him here—unless you want to bring him home.” I looked up into the kind eyes of my PaPaw as my Daddy said,
“I can stay—”
PaPaw raised his hand and cut him off. “It’ll be just fine with the two of them.”
Turning to me, he repeated, “Do you wanna carry him back or bury him ri’t here?”
I stared off into the darkness. My answer was so low they leaned in to hear it. “We’ll bury him here—this’ll be a good place.” They handed me one flickering torch before leaving. I watched the two torches recede into the swamp. Soon, it began raining, and the torch sputtered out. Lying in the dark, I put my hand on Bo’s chest, felt his heart beating rapidly, then slow, and finally stop.
Bo’s suffering was over.
I cried like a baby—but felt strangely warm inside, wondering if I would ever have as good a dog again in my life.
Exhausted, I fell asleep curled up by my dog as a soft rain peppered down through the beech trees.
Daylight awakened me. Bo’s stiff body lay beside me. He’d died with a slight smile on his face—a peaceful look a gunshot wouldn’t have left, and I was glad I’d stood my ground.
I sat up and looked around the swamp. Seeing movement under a big oak about fifty yards away, I saw PaPaw waving. He slowly got to his feet, shouldered the shovel and pick ax, and came over.
We didn’t say much as we dug the grave and buried Bo. Sometimes words aren’t needed—especially among fellows who know each other’s hearts.
When we finished our job and heaped plenty of dirt on top of the grave to keep the varmints from digging around, PaPaw took his hat off, closed his eyes, and prayed.
“Lord, thank you for a good dog named Bo and letting him and Mayo roam the woods together. All good things—including good dogs—come from you. And thank you Lord for letting Bo die doing what he loved—chasing and fighting hogs.”
I should’ve closed my eyes, but didn’t. Instead, I watched his face, eyes closed as he prayed.
Suddenly he looked up, smiled, and winked, “And Lord, if you don’t mind, let me and Mayo live like that too—running with our nose to the ground, living life full to the end. Amen.”
I added an amen as we stood at the foot of the grave of the best dog I ever had—a hog dog named Bo.
Our walk back home was quiet. Being out in the woods makes a man ponder, and pondering can’t be done with words.
We walked together. I carried the shovel and my PaPaw, Willard Clark, whistled “Rock of Ages” while shouldering the pick ax.