An excerpt from my story “Shepherd”

You may recall that recently (I think it was August? Wow, where has the time gone? I know, I know, it doesn’t really go anywhere, it’s us who travel through it in a linear fashion, but wow do I seem to be traveling through it quickly lately).

Wait, what was I saying? Right. I mentioned recently that I have a story coming out in the second issue of Foglifter magazine. Well, guess what? The issue’s out!

Foglifter cover

Pretty, isn’t it? In addition to me, it includes stories by some other writers I know, including Ed Moreno and Celeste Chan, who are both lovely people I met during the Lambda Emerging Writers Retreat in 2014. My copy is on its way, and I can’t wait to read what everyone else has written. (Have I also mentioned Jewelle Gomez is in this issue too? OMG.)

You can buy a copy from their website, which of course I encourage. In the meantime, though, you may also recall I promised an excerpt from the story once the issue was out. Let it never be said I don’t keep my promises.

Shepherd

Joe and Ed never did figure out where the dog came from. Their summer house, nestled in rustling knee-high grass and surrounded by black locust trees, had no immediate neighbors, and the only road was their long and winding gravel driveway.

“Summer house” made it sound grander than it was. It was a cabin that happened to have indoor plumbing and unreliable electricity. They kept a kerosene lantern just in case. There was no air conditioning, but it was still cooler than it was in the city, and the sea breeze made up for the primitive charm. Joe liked to leave the windows open so he could listen to the ocean’s ever-present background hum, somewhere out of sight.

Joe leaned over the kitchen sink, hands bracing against the porcelain edge slippery with soap, and peered out the window. “Ed, come look at this dog,” he called. This was the first time.

The fawn and black dog waded through the grass as if swimming through water, nose held just above the surface. He came from the direction of the woods, not the road, and paused at the white picket fence surrounding the property. After a moment, he nudged the gate with his snout and came into the yard.

As Ed took up a spot to his left, Joe felt a chill rush over him, though the breeze coming through the window as the sun set was only mildly cool.

“Where do you think he came from?” Ed asked.

Joe wiped his hands on a dishtowel. “I didn’t see him come up by the road.”

Ed leaned against the sink, the freckles showing on his arms as the sleeves of his t-shirt rode up a little. He always freckled in the summer. “Pretty, isn’t he?”

As Joe reached for the doorknob, Ed came up behind him and covered Joe’s hand with his. “Let me go first.”

For a moment, Joe let Ed’s hand remain there, enjoying the warm feeling that spread through his chest at the contact; then, as if remembering to be irritated, he withdrew his hand. “It’s just a dog,” he said.

“You never know.”

Joe didn’t wait, though, and followed Ed out the door and down the step. The dog stopped in the grass maybe twenty yards from the cabin and stood regarding them, its jaw slightly agape, as if smiling hesitantly.

“Here, boy.” Ed sat on the bottom step and leaned forward, hand outstretched toward the shepherd. Joe leaned against the doorframe and, arms crossed, watched as the dog edged closer until, eventually, he pressed his wet nose into Ed’s palm. Ed smiled and ran his hand through the thick fur at the dog’s neck.

“Doesn’t look like a stray.” Ed frowned. “No collar, though.”

“Think someone dumped him?”

“Maybe.” Ed’s jaw worked with some unspoken irritation. “Not right just abandoning a dog like this.”

The shepherd circled around, presenting his flank to Ed while facing Joe, who leaned down to let him sniff his hand, which was red and irritated from washing the dishes. He stroked the dog’s ears for a moment before hugging his arms to himself again. The golden, slanting light of sunset made the lawn look on fire, but Joe was starting to feel chilly. It was late July, and it should have been warm, even hot. But it wasn’t.

Ed yawned. The long commute into work had to be wearing on him, but he insisted it was fine, and besides, he loved coming home every night to the peace and quiet of the shore, which was good for Joe.

In August, though, their lease would be up and they’d have no choice but to close up and head back to their apartment in the city for the fall.

The dog turned away from them at the same time Joe heard the whistle of a bird, a frantic, three-note song that repeated. The dog took a step away from them, which seemed to spur something in Ed.

“Hey, buddy. Here, buddy,” he called. The dog turned, but then the bird sang again. It was a whippoorwill. Joe read once that those birds could hear the sound of a soul departing the earth, and since then, their song had left him cold.


To read the rest, go pick up a copy. Or, if you ask me really nicely the next time I see you, maybe I’ll read it to you….

(Hey, you made it all the way to the bottom of this post. That’s awesome. If you liked it, I have an e-mail newsletter. You should totally sign up for it. I might surprise you with stuff you don’t get to see here, or anywhere else, for that matter.)