Running the Dogs by James Dunlap
It was noon when my brother died. After the coroner confirmed what we all could see clearly, he was bagged up like spoiled meat and carted off. It was the cancer. Momma didn’t cook dinner that night, we ordered KFC. And there was hardly any missing when we were finished. I didn’t even bother to get a plate; I just swallowed a couple bites of a cold biscuit. I sat on the couch and watched the sun start its descent, and I sank with it, further into myself, further into the couch. I sat for awhile, wondering if I would ever understand what all this meant. If dad was hurt, he was doing a good job hiding it, momma went off by herself. When the light started bursting through the tree line and filtering through the shades, dad told me to run the dogs. That was my brother chore.
Once I stepped out and walked down the metal stairs of the trailer, I could hear his dog, Beauregard, howling. He was throwing his head up and pawing the hard frozen ground. It was mid-January before the snow came and steam rolled from my nose, spread, and then disappeared. When I opened the cage door, all the dogs rushed out. They knew.
I whistled and we set out into the woods behind the trailer.
The woods empty, dark, spanning out for miles—it swallowed me and the dogs entire as they raced in front. The faster I ran, the faster they ran. And I kept screaming at them.
He’s dead. Do you fuckin’ hear me? He’s dead.
I ran as fast I could tripping over dead branches, running through thorns, thin trails of blood running down my face and arms. I ran straight into the heart of the dark woods and kept running until my legs burned and my ribs ached and then I ran more. I stopped in a clearing, bent over panting and swallowing the sharp shards of cold air, biting it off and choking on it. All I could hear was the rattle of dead leaves in front of me somewhere in the growing darkness.