This is a short story called Masters Death. It will be part of my “Dog Stories” anthology once it is finished. Dog Stories will be a collection of short stories of fiction and creative nonfiction
Flecks of sunlight broke through the cloudy skies of Northern Michigan on a Saturday in October. The red, yellow and orange leaves of fall were scattered on the ground while some yet hung on the trees above until a cold gust of wind came and blew more down. Not far away the cold iciness of Lake Superiors’ waves gently lapped against the rocky and forested shoreline. Out in the distance a freighter hauling grain heading southeast towards Sault Saint Marie and the locks blew its massive horn, which echoed out over the water. A small fishing boat raced out from shore on its way toward a hopeful take of fish. And outside a wooden two-story cabin set back in the northern woods sat a 7-year-old husky named Murphy. He looked around him into the deep woods. Lifting his nose into the air smelling for things that were not supposed to be there and hoping for the scent of something that would be. He cocked a furry ear listening for anything most importantly a sign his boy was home.
He had been there alone for nearly an hour. Earlier there were people at his house. His female owner Lisa and her parents were sad and Lisa was crying. His other owner, his favorite human, Brandon, had been gone for a long time and he wondered when he would be coming back. Brandon was his best friend and he missed his boy. Murphy remembered the day Brandon left to go away. He was dressed in his weird colored hunting clothes and his wore his special hat. Brandon was very upset when he was getting ready to leave and packing his bag. He spent a long time in the back yard with Murphy throwing a tennis ball around playing fetch, talking to him and laughing. They went for a walk in the woods for a while just the two of them and saw a few deer that Murphy half-heartedly chased after. They sat against an old log for a while together which was next to a creek and looked out into the woods. Brandon sat with his arm over Murphy and ran his big hands thru the dog’s fur.
Before Lisa, Brandon and Murphy left that day in their old pickup truck to drop Brandon off at the airport Brandon hugged and petted Murphy for a long time. He cried a little as he rubbed Murphy’s face and ears. The Husky then sat in the front seat alone as he watched Brandon and Lisa hug each other good-bye, he was curious where Brandon was going. They were both crying and he pawed at the window trying to get out so he could make them feel better; it was his job. He did not like it when they were upset and Brandon rarely cried so it made Murphy nervous.
Before Brandon went into the airport, he walked over, opened the door of the truck, and took the dog’s head into his hands. Murphy licked his boy, his master on the face several time tasting the salt from the man’s tears. Before Brandon shut the door, he looked into Murphy’s blue eyes and said “Take care of mom. Be a good boy for her and I’ll be back as soon as I can”. That night Murphy slept in the bed with Lisa. She fell asleep crying with the dog pressed up against her.
After Brandon left, he called every week and Murphy was able to hear his voice over the phone when Lisa held it to his ear. Every time the phone rang, the husky jumped around and barked excitedly assuming every time it was Brandon. Lisa took Murphy with her everywhere she would go. He stayed by her side and protected her just as Brandon told him to do. The licks on Brandon’s face when he left was Murphy’s way of promising to do what he was asked to do. As the weeks turned into months, the phone calls came less and less and then stopped all together. Murphy would sit for hours near the phone looking at it hoping to hear his boy’s voice on the phone. Lisa would sit in a chair or pace around the house waiting for the calls that never came. Then she would go into her room, lie on the couch and cry; sometimes she would yell. When Murphy slept memories or dreams of Brandon would come into his mind.
Even though it was month’s later Murphy still remembered that last walk in the woods with Brandon. It was fall now and Brandon loved the fall, Murphy knew this. He knew his boy must be coming home soon so they could walk thru the bright-colored woods again or down by the water. Murphy liked going into the big lake, the cold water did not bother him. Often Murphy, Brandon and Lisa would walk up and down the sandy shore together. He would sniff and dig in the sand and occasionally chase sticks they would throw into the lake. Brandon and Lisa would walk and pick up stones that they would take home with them. Eventually it was going to snow and that was Brandon favorite time of year. The three of them would sit in front of the warm fireplace in the house and cook marshmallows or hot dogs and Murphy always got his fair share.
Lisa did not usually leave the dog alone and he wondered where she was and what she was doing. She had done this a few times the last few days and was crying a lot. How was he supposed to protect her if he was not with her? How was he supposed to make her feel better if she was sad? Murphy didn’t want to let Jason down. He breathed hard, a dog sigh, then laid his head down over his paws, stretched out in a section of sunlight and fell asleep.
Most people do not think dogs can dream, that they have souls. Nevertheless, they dream all the time about many things and most certainly have souls, their ability to love proves this. Murphy, while he was sleeping began dreaming. His legs twitched and kicked then made small whimpering or crying noises. His nails dug into the dirt and made long claw marks as the sleeping dogs legged kicked. Suddenly his tail began wagging back and forth and hitting the ground. His back-end began moving around like it did when he was awake. Then a few tears came from the corners of his eyes and gently rolled into the fur around them.
Suddenly Murphy woke up, lifted his head then jumped up on all fours. He smelled the air and looked around him and was filled with sadness but also determination he just wasn’t sure why. Something was inside of him now, an urging and a feeling of sadness. There was something wrong with Brandon. Murphy turned and darted off into the wood running as fast as he could, running toward something, which he was not sure of yet. His instincts led the way and told him which way to go. He ran as fast as he could, as fast as his legs would take him.
. . . .
A few miles away Lisa and her family had just pulled up to a church in the small, lakeside town of Paradise Michigan. The colored leaves of fall blew across the green grass; the wind blew hard moving the pines gently side to side. They were now standing in front of the small white building talking, shaking hands and occasionally hugging others who came. People from all over the area showed up. Some from as far away as Traverse City in Lower Peninsula and even some from Iron Mountain in the western UP. Men and women in uniform came to talk to Lisa, saluting her and her parents. More people were showing up, the churches small parking lot was full now forcing others to park on the side of the road and walking from as far as half a mile away. However, nobody complained because they were all here to say goodbye to a good man, a friend and brother. The doors of the church opened and people began filing the inside pews as others were still arriving.
Lisa stood alone outside now, here parents having gone inside to warm up. She shook hands and made small talk with people as they entered the church thanking them for coming. Many of them she knew for years and some she had just met the last 2 days. Suddenly she began thinking about her dog Murphy, he was still in the back yard. He was not tied up; he was trained very well, a good boy, just sitting there waiting for her and waiting for Brandon. Sometimes he would go and lay inside of his big doghouse or on the back deck. She worried about him though; he was the closest thing to having a child that she had. She regretted not bringing him and wished she had, he deserved to be here just as much as anyone else and maybe more so. How would she explain tell him, she felt she had to do something. She told her mother about it who said, “It’s just a dog Lisa, he won’t even understand. Don’t be ridiculous”. Murphy had scarcely left her side the last few months and now, here, she missed him and wished he were with her. An old man with a cane walked up ever slowly, his wife holding him by the arm. He wore a hat, which said he was a World War 2 veteran. He stuck out his thin shaky hand toward Lisa and smiled. She looked up, overhead in the sky a flock of ducks flew over the church in a V shape, and somewhere a dog was barking.
. . . .
Murphy stopped for a moment to drink from a small creek in the woods. He had run far already but was not tired and would not stop his journey. Home was far behind him but felt as if he knew where he was. A bird flew by his head chirping away and he looked at it with his cool blue eyes as if he understood what it was saying. He leaned back on his hind legs, waved his paws in the air and let out a few little barks. Then he shot off again through the trees and thick undergrowth. The forest was filled with fallen trees, which were occasionally piled one on top of the other. A few times the dog had to balance himself precariously on them to get over.
As he ran through the deep northern Michigan woods, he heard a snort not too far away. He stopped to smell and see what it was. He knew he had to be careful out here alone. One time on a camping trip with Lisa and Brandon they were nearly attacked by a hungry bear looking for food. He also knew there were other dogs, wild dogs called wolves. He saw some once camping with Brandon, not too far away from their house. Murphy stopped and held still, his fur sticking up, ears poised listening to the surroundings; he heard the snort again. He moved slowly and gradually until through the dark woods he saw a giant shape walking between the trees. The giant Moose looked at the small dog and snorted one more time but did not move toward Murphy yet and watching him carefully. To a moose, there was no difference between Murphy and the wolf or coyote. Murph watched the moose then ran quickly and quietly the other way avoiding a problem and continuing on his journey.
To Murphy’s left a big semi went down the road. The dog knew not to go in the road without Brandon or Lisa; he knew it was dangerous. For some reason however he felt he should stay near it, that it would take him where he was supposed to go. He continued running and scanning the woods all around him. He was nothing but a grey and white blur as he moved quick and effortlessly now through the woods. His hair was a little dirty and his paws covered with mud but he did not care. As he ran, the wind blew the hair on his face back, he squinted his eyes, and all the while, the voice of Brandon was constantly in his head.
. . . .
The church was small and only had seating room for about 200 people but far more showed up for the service. Strangers, families and friends stood quietly all along the sides and the back of the church, every inch was taken up that could be. Outside people lined up on the front porch peering inside and straining to listen. In the front pew sat Lisa, her eyes filled with tears as the priest began speaking. The words were pleasant to hear, meaningful, but Lisa was lost in thought. She and Brandon had been married for 8 years now; he was her best friend and the love of her life. He was a United States Marine, a Master Sergeant and proud of his job, what he did and had been since the day he joined 10 years ago. Lisa was incredibly proud her husband, what he did, what he stood for and more than anything the man that he was. Despite the fact he was a solder, a warrior, he was gentle and sweet. He was kind and not afraid to show his emotions like many men. He did a lot in the community, volunteered and worked with kids and often would go to funerals of other service men just like the ones who were here for him.
His unit had been attacked in the military controlled area now separating the United States from Mexico. The drug cartels had become such an issue that the Mexican government became virtually nonexistent. Then a few months ago, a small town on the border in Arizona was been attacked by a cartel, everyone one was killed, women and children were included in the slaughter. It was then that the President of the United States, despite international outrage took over a large swath of Mexican land running across the entire southern border now called the borderlands. A vast amount of the US military was deployed to keep anyone from Mexico out of the USA and vice versa. Brandon was a part of that force.
The borders were sealed and commerce was stopped between the two countries. It was not long after that the Mexican government fell completely and the country was thrown into complete chaos. For the first time in 2 centuries, the US Marine Corps and the rest of the military were truly protecting American soil and the American people on their own land. Brandon was proud of being there and volunteered to go even after serving three tours in Afghanistan. When he first told Lisa about going, she was relieved that he would not be overseas again and happy that it would not take him weeks or months to get home, at least she hoped. There were rumors that the US might invade what was once Mexico and take control.
While on patrol, his squad was attacked during the night by what they found out later to be cartel members. There were five soldiers killed and three more were taken hostage, no ransom was made. Last week Brandon’s beaten and mutilated body along with 1 other were found lying in the desert in the borderlands. Now he was home, with his family and he was finally at peace. Lisa knew his commanding officer was leaving out details so she was not as upset. She was just glad he was not in pain any longer; he was home with her; just not how they had thought. Her mom looked over at Lisa who was crying and reached over and held her hand as the tears ran fast and hard.
The priest’s words were comforting to her as she looked at the silver coffin draped in flowers and the American flag, a framed picture of her, Brandon and Murphy sitting on top. She missed Brandon more than she could say, more than she knew how to feel.
. . . .
Murphy saw a building through the trees and then cars driving by as he approached the side of a small field. He looked around and saw some deer on the other end, looked at them then ignored them as he darted across the field. It was hunting season and often hunter would mistake a local dog for a wolf or coyote and given Murphy’s breed, he could be confused for one. After running a short way, he laid down in the tall grass and smelled the air, smelling for people. He caught the scent of cooking food, heard a car horn honk, and took off in that direction as fast as he could.
Eventually he came to another road; this one lined with cars. A middle-aged couple was walking from a car and spotted him as he peaked out timidly from behind a parked pickup truck. They looked at him and the man wearing a wrinkled suit yelled and said, “Go on get out of here ya dumb dog before you get hurt”. Murphy, not used to being yelled at ran across the road between two parked cars then into the trees and brush watching the man and women walk away. Something inside of him told him to go this way, the same way they were. He stayed in the woods, crept along slowly keeping them in his sights. His foot hurt when he walked having stepped on a thorn in the last field. He stopped to try to pull it out with his teeth and could taste blood. He knew Lisa would fix it but then wondered if he would ever see her again, he had no idea where she was. She thought he was still back home in yard.
He continued along through the woods sneaking behind three houses while keeping the man who yelled at him in his sights. After a little while of walking slow, Murphy came to a large green lawn and saw a white building at the far end. He saw many people standing outside of it; none of the smells seemed familiar from here. In the lawn of the church was a tall pine free, it sat about 30 yards from the white building; it was a church. After looking around Murphy ran, sore foot and all towards it watching the people standing outside wondering what they were doing and why they were there. He sat down, cocked his head trying to hear them, and then sniffed the air hoping for a scent he knew. Then he laid down but kept his head up paying attention to everything. He could hear a loud voice from inside the building talking.
. . . .
“Whose dog is that sitting over there?” a woman asked.
“I have no idea, Rachel and I saw him down the road lurking around the cars. Tried to shoo him away but he must have followed us,” A man said annoyed that the dog was there.
“Are you sure it’s not a wolf, it sure looks like a wolf. There are children here ya know, we should call the sheriff,” another woman whispered then added, “What kind of person just lets their dog run around like that.”
“It’s not a wolf lady, it’s a dog, a husky actually, maybe a stray or a just a lost one. But it aint no damn wolf now hush up I can’t hear the priest over your jabbering,” a gruff looking man said who was wearing leather pants and coat which had a patch which said he was Vietnam Veteran. He looked back at the dog curiously who seemed be really interested in what was going on at the church. For some reason the dog-looked familiar to him but had no idea why.
. . . .
Murphy sat watching the people outside, some old woman kept turning around and doing a hand motion trying to shoo him away. He was still sitting by the tree as the wind kicked up more. He was worried about Lisa; he still wondered where Brandon was. For a moment, he wondered if he should have stayed home. Maybe Lisa came back; maybe she was worried and looking for him. He laid his head down on the grass looking at the door.
Something inside was telling him he needed to go inside but how could he. The people standing outside would not let me him for sure. He knew they would try to stop him and there were a lot of them. He did not know what do, he stood and slowly snuck off around the side of the building where no one could see him.
. . . .
Lisa stood up and walked to the front of the church. The priest asked if she wanted to say anything about Brandon in his memory. She was not sure if she would be able to. Nevertheless, with all these people showing up she felt like she should, as if she needed to. She looked at the front row where Brandon’s parents were sitting next to her own. Their eyes were red and filled with tears. Her heart was in pieces and she tried to find the words to start with. She was a writer after all and words were her bread and butter. The priest walked over, grabbed her arm, and told her she didn’t have to do this.
She said she would be fine and began by thanking everyone who came to say goodbye to Brandon. Suddenly a story came to her that she could share. She told them part of it but wanted to save other parts just for her memories. It was about the time herself, Brandon and Murphy went and got a Christmas tree. Brandon liked to go out in the woods and cut his down. Murphy their husky was still a small puppy and afraid of everything. He hopped all over in the deep snow, which was sometimes over his head. She told the people in the church she was furious at Brandon for how far out he made her walk in the cold woods and how Murphy refused to walk back. Brandon had to carry his end of the tree with one hand and carry Murphy in the other. As she told the story, it made her smile and it had been one of her favorite memories of the three of them.
“Brandon loved me, and he loved Murphy our dog. I wish he was here with me now since Brandon was Murphs best friend… the two were inseparable. The day he left Brandon looked at Murphy who was sitting in our truck and told him to take care of me.” Lisa said looking at the coffin as heavy tears began to fall before her sentence was complete. Then she continued talking while nodding “And he did, he never left my side even on the bad days when I was hard to be around. He kept his promise to his master, his best friend…my husband he took care of me. Brandon made me feel good about myself every day we were together; even just by the way, he looked at me. The best things in my life, the best memories happened because of that man. It is not going to be the same without him. I do not know what life is going to be like for Murphy and me without him; I never thought I would have to think about it. I would be lying if I said I was not scared”.
As she spoke, the entire church was silent. Everyone just watched the young woman she as she spoke and cried. All around the church eyes became wet with tears in men and women alike. On one wall of the church, a window was open and a gust of wind came in blowing Lisa’s hair and making the candles flicker. The cool air felt good and she was not upset about it at all. The entire church watched as Lisa walked over and collapsed onto the floor to her knees crying as she faced her husband’s coffin that was only feet in front of her. Even with all these people around she felt alone; who could possibly understand what she was feeling.
. . . .
Suddenly Murphy heard a voice he knew, or he thought he did, it was very faint like a whisper. He was on the side of the building and tried to look thru a window but it was too high. He ran around the building again and came back out in the front and stood by the pine tree once again. He sniffed the hair and looked at the people in the front more determined than ever to get in. That same old woman was looking at him with distrust. Murphy whined a little bit and stuck a paw in the air, trying in his own way perhaps to let her know he was a good dog. He wondered if any of the people here knew Lisa and where she was at. His paw was beginning to hurt a lot from the thorn that was still in it. He laid down on his stomach and licked it gently. His fur was dirty, he smelled and was thirsty and wanted nothing more than to find Lisa and go home with her.
Just then, a gust of wind blew into his face and he closed his eyes. He saw Brandon’s face in his mind and heard his master’s voice speaking to him and saying things that made him sad. He saw the man’s smile, he was standing in the woods behind their cabin by the creek where they would go and walk and he had a tennis ball in his hand. He was wearing the same clothes he had on when he left. It was then that Murphy knew somehow, for some reason he would never see Brandon again. He laid his head down in the grass alone as tears came from his own eyes.
Then another wind gust blew into his face but this time there something different about it, a smell that he knew, and a smell that he loved. However, he just wanted to lay there, he was too sad to move and he felt alone. Through his tiny dog sobs, he heard Brandon’s voice say, “She needs you Murph, our girl needs you now buddy”. He was startled and looked around for his friend he just heard his voice.
Just then, Murphy jumped up and realized the smell was Lisa, she was in that building and he knew he had to get to her. Everyone outside was looking into the door and not paying attention to him. With a mighty rush of energy, he jumped forward and ran as fast as he could for the door. The old woman saw him as he bounded up the stairs and tried to stop him saying, “that damn dogs trying to get in”. She grabbed Murphy’s collar but she could not stop him and he broke free of her grip easily. He weaved in and out of people’s legs and even jumped over a small child who was sitting on the floor. He would not be stopped then suddenly there was nothing in front of him but a long walkway and people were sitting in seats on both sides.
. . . .
Somewhere behind her, some people were talking but Lisa did not pay attention to what they were saying or what was going on. She was in her own little world. She looked at the silver casket as a flood of memories rushed through her mind. Her heart was broken and she had never felt this much sadness in her life. She knew she should get up so the priest could continue, so all these people could go on with their lives while she tried to move on with hers without him. The only thing though was that she was did not want to. She felt cold and swallowed up with loneliness despite all the people that were there.
. . . .
He stood there looking forward and saw that there was a woman on the floor on the far end of the building. Then he realized it was Lisa, his girl and the only person he had left that he cared about and that cared about him. Murphy slowly walked forward, his paw aching and bleeding as he moved. As the furry dog moved forward slowly and carefully toward Lisa, he left light bloody footprints on the floor. He looked cautiously at the people sitting in the pews waiting for them to grab him and prepared to run, but they did not. He was sore, tired and hurt and the person he came all this way for was right in front of him.
As he crept forward, more people began to notice but did nothing while he just looked at them with his big blue eyes. Some looked at him then pointed toward Lisa; he did not realize they were pointing at the picture of him and Brandon together on the casket. He recognized a few people by site and by their smells the farther up he got and when they saw the limping, dirty dog, they began crying. Despite how he looked, they realized who he was and new why he was here. People began to whisper, grown men cried, woman covered their mouths and wept harder and many people smiled. The dog turned and looked behind him. When he was sure that no one was trying to stop him, he continued forward slowly until he was near the first step leading up to where Lisa was. The church was completely silent and everyone was in awe.
Slowly and carefully, he made his way to Lisa who was crying and did not even notice he was there. She was on her knees, bent over, her hands covering her face. He crept up next to her silently, cocked his head at the sound of her crying, and looked at the casket curiously. Then he took one paw, his injured one and set it gently on her arm startling her. She pulled her arm away and sat up slightly revealing her tear soaked face and looked at the dog with shock, amazement and then joy . Murphy made a whimpering sound, moved closer and began licking Lisa’s face as much as he could, his eyes filled with a mixture of tears of happiness and sadness. They could be sad together.
. . . .
The blue eyes of the dog filled her vision as she sat up and she wiped the vision blurring tears away. She felt as if she was dreaming, it looked like Murphy but how could he be here, he was at home in the back yard and their home was so far away. She felt the dog’s warm licks on her face and it instantly calmed her down. The dog was wet and dirty but she did not care, the fact he was here made her happier than anyone realized and now she did not feel alone at all. She grabbed the dog and pulled him onto her lap running her fingers through her fur. Murphy licked her face and hands and made small whimpering noises. Then he rested his head on her shoulder looking out at all the people and began crying as Lisa hugged him as she cried also. He was with his girl taking care of her just as he promised Brandon and always would. She made him feel better also, he was sad and she made him feel better.
Behind the young woman and her dog that were alone in the front of the church people were whispering and crying all over the building. Nothing like this in the small town of Paradise had ever happened before and no one ever heard of it happening anywhere else. Even the old woman at the door who tried to stop Murphy was wiping her eyes with a tissue. People were recording and taking pictures with their phones and some with cameras. This vision of Lisa and her dog that traveled a long way to be with her now sitting in front of Brandon’s casket was more than people could take.
Lisa petted the dogs’ face, looking into his blue eyes then pointed at the casket and whispered, “Brandon is in there Murph, he died at work and I’m sorry I didn’t tell you sooner boy, I really am. He loved you so much, so very much and so do I, it is just you and me now. We are all each other have left”. Then Murphy looked at Lisa, deep into her eyes and licked her nose, it was his way saying OK and that he understood.
Then he pulled away gently, but not before licking Lisa’s hand and walked over to the casket. He walked around it studying it and smelling it. Gingerly he jumped up and smelled the hat that was sitting on top of the casket; it was Brandon’s he knew this because it smelled like his boy, his friend. He pawed at the casket a few times and whimpered then sat calmly on his rear and looked up at the silver box. He knew Brandon was inside and he understood now Brandon was dead.
Lisa moved up next to him though still on her knees and placed a hand on the dogs back rubbing his fur. The two looked at each other, connecting in a way that few people in the church could understand. What happened next took the entire church by surprise. Anyone whose eyes were not already filled with tears now were.
Murphy, sitting perfectly still tilted his head back until his nose was pointed up and began a long, low howl. It was sad and mournful but beautiful and loving all at the same time. Lisa looked over at the dog whose eyes were closed tight. The hair below them wet with tears. She noticed the blood on the white fur of his left front paw, and grimaced. She wondered what he had been through to get here, to be here for her. As the white and grey dog howled mournfully, she began to cry even more. After a few minutes, Murphy stopped and looked over at Lisa. It was the most beautiful goodbye she has ever heard. She smiled, ran her hand over the dogs face and wiped the tears from his eyes, reached over and hugged him. Then despite the fact he was heavy, she picked him up in her arms returned to the front pew where they sat alone. The man in leather, a biker walked forward and handed Lisa a towel for the Murphy’s bloody foot, he had tears in his eye as he handed it to her and she thanked him. The priest did his best to hold back his own tears as he continued with the service.
The Husky was hurt and exhausted but fell asleep with his head on Lisa’s lap, his journey over. She looked down, rubbed the dog’s furry head lightly with her fingertips. She smiled and realized how lucky she was to have Murphy. His master was dead but he kept his promise to him, he was here for her and would be for a long time. Murphy would never leave Lisa and she would never leave him again but he would always miss his master Brandon.
© Michael James Melville and oregonmike98.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be considered for use, provided written permission is given by the owner and author Michael James Melville and that full and clear credit is given to Michael James Melville and oregonmike98.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Masters Death by Michael James Melville is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://oregonmike98.wordpress.com/2013/06/26/master-death/.
If you are interested in other published pieces by me please check out Running Northwest and Christmas Senses on Amazon.com