Bathed in the pale light of the misty prairie dawn, Boon Jenner stopped dead in her work. Off in the distance, just beyond the tall grass was the biggest, queerest looking wild dog she had ever seen. Standing stock still, Boon followed the beasts loping movements with a natural born sharpshooter’s eye. The damn thing looked like some kind of gigantic wolf, except this hadn’t been wolf territory for well over a hundred years.
Wild dogs had been worrying Boon’s sheep something fierce lately, she’d been finding mauled livestock for months now, and her dog Missy had vanished without a trace three weeks before. Boon was sure that something bad had happened to her, smart loyal dogs as loving and true as Missy don’t just run away or get lost. Boon had a powerful suspicion that feral animals were to blame for her disappearance. And judging by the sheer size and intimidating presence of the beast in her field, she reckoned this to be the alpha of the pack responsible. Although at the moment it seemed to be ranging on its own.
It was a weird looking beast to be sure, strangely beautiful in the eerie dawn gloom, but in a way that left Boon feeling decidedly uneasy. There was something oddly mesmerizing about the creature, something that left Boo with the impression that it somehow didn’t quite belong to the natural world.
The animal appeared to be in good health, no sign of illness or injury in its general appearance. In fact it looked more like a kept dog than a wild one, it looked too well groomed to be a wild thing. Still, it bore no collar and Boon didn’t recognize it as any of her neighbour’s animals.
Boon stood entranced by the astonishing creature for nearly a full minute before she finally reacted. She set down her fencing pliers and slowly retreated through the pines, which grew as a windbreak alongside of the field. Taking care to move as quietly as she could, over the dense blanket of dead needles and fallen branches, Boon retrieved her rifle from the bed of her truck.
Boon hated to kill any living thing, but the mess these dogs had been making of her sheep lately, galvanized her resolve. For as much as they were property, Boon tended to think of her livestock as under her care rather than in her possession. And although Boon tended towards affection for all living creatures, she was a pragmatist as well. Her animals needed protection from this dog, or wolf, or whatever it was. And if this was the one that had taken Missy….
….well, that alone was cause enough to shoot the thing.
Returning to the spot where she had sighted the beast, Boon shouldered her rifle, leaned into the shot and aimed down the sights. She was struck by the remarkable beauty of the creature, it was graceful in its movement and strangely fascinating in aspect, lithe and sleek. But she simply had no choice other than to put it down.
Boon concentrated on regulating her breathing and steadying her hand as she assessed her shot. The direction the thing was moving away from her, and the sheer bulk of it gave her few choices. If she missed with the first shot, she probably wouldn’t get a second chance, not with a beast this massive and obviously strong and agile.
If she went for its head she was just as likely to miss and graze its skull, rather than put it down. The heart was a clearer and easier shot, and should she be a little off target the creature would still be wounded sufficiently to end its life.
As Boon began to apply pressure to the trigger, the creature stopped and sniffed the air. Boon hesitated as she watched the curious animal in her sights, she had been around animals all her life, but this thing was something else. Boon had the queerest impression that the animal possessed an uncommon measure of intelligence, a sentience beyond that which might be considered usual.
She paused a moment and pushed her hat back from her brow. The day was already beginning to warm up as the bright sun began to ascend the dawn sky, and little beads of perspiration were beginning to gather on her dark brown skin.
“Dammit” Boon muttered.
She was hesitant to take her shot, the hound was such a queer creature, like no kind of wild dog she’d ever seen before. Maybe it was a kept animal at that. And if it was, then putting it down would be a terrible crime, to her way of thinking at least. But Boon dismissed the thought as her natural reluctance to kill, looking for an excuse to spare the animal.
‘Stop being so damn sentimental, Boon Jenner. This animal dies or your sheep get torn to pieces. What’s it gonna be?’
Reluctantly Boon took aim once again and slowly squeezed the trigger, and as the rifles report cracked like thunder in the air, Boon Jenner beheld the most astonishing and horrifying sight. An incomprehensible parody of reality that would sear itself into her mind, like a hot brand on the hide of a bull.
It happened in an instant, in the smallest fraction of a second. She missed, at least she must have missed. The beast must have bolted, but she didn’t see in what direction it had run off. Boon Jenner could swear she had seen it vanish, in the blink of an eye it just winked out of existence.
But she definitely hit something, and it wasn’t a wolf.
In the moment she saw the beast disappear, Boon saw a human figure fall to her shot. It was a girl.
But it couldn’t be.
Boon froze on the spot for a moment, her mind utterly overwhelmed at the horrifying and impossible event she had witnessed.
“….what did you do?”
With her heart gripped with anxiety and her blood racing with adrenaline, Boon rushed to the spot where she saw whatever, or whoever it was fall. And all the way she prayed to god that she would find nothing more than a dead wild dog, but god seemed not to have heeded her plea. It was a girl, white as winter snow with hair the colour of a raven feather, and as naked as the day she was born.
“Aw hell..!” Boon wailed.
“….oh sweet mercy!”
Boon hurriedly pulled her phone out of her jeans pocket and dialled the first name that came to mind, the name that was always first in her mind.
And Officer Mathilda Dixon pulled the patrol car over to answer her call. Checking the caller id Tilly wondered ‘what the hell could Boon want at this time of day?’
“What’s up Boo?” Officer Dixon answered brightly.
“Tilly, I need help, there’s been an accident….”
“….I shot someone!”
“You shot someone…?”
“Tilly, please. I was out by the north pasture, where we used to play in the pines. And there was a wild dog, I’m sure of it” Boon sobbed.
“I was sure it was a wild dog….”
“….but then there was this girl.”
“Okay Boo, just try and stay calm. Is she still alive?”
“Yeah, she’s still breathing, and she has a pulse but its running awful fast Tilly.”
“Okay, where is she wounded?”
“Shoulder, just below her collar bone….”
“….oh hell Tilly, she’s out cold.”
“Okay, calm down Boo, a wound like that won’t kill her. Not with that junky old rifle of yours. Just stay with her, staunch the bleeding best you can and don’t let her move. I’ll call an ambulance from Markham and I’ll call Doctor Cox too. Cody can get to you quicker than the ambulance.”
“Okay” Boon sobbed gratefully “thanks Tilly.”
“Where are you exactly?”
“I’m parked out by the old tree house, remember?”
“I’ll be right there, you just hang on Boo.”
“Oh Tilly, please hurry!” Boon cried.
Boon Jenner pocketed her phone, draped her coat over the girl’s naked form, and applied gentle pressure to the wound, in hopes of stemming the flow of blood.
“What the hell were you doing out here…?” She appealed to the unconscious figure, as tears tumbled from her eyes.
“…and why the hell are you neked?”
Boon sat down beside the unconscious stranger and monitored her pulse and breathing, as she anxiously waited for Tilly Dixon and Cody Cox. The girl was awful queer looking to be sure. She had great big creepy looking feral eyes, which stared open and unheeding at the early morning sky. And she had weird, kinda pointy ears, and she was paler than a ghost. And the girl had clearly never heard of wax or a razor. Plus she was in dire need of a hot bath, the girl smelled strongly of sweat and earth and….
Boon speculated that maybe the stranger was a vagrant, or perhaps some kind of hermit or something. No sane person would be running around naked in the early morning mist. But there was something about her that suggested not, shabby and grubby as she may be, Boon had never seen a railroad bum as curious looking nor as pretty as this.
Both Tilly Dixon and Cody Cox knew every mile of the roads around Hurley, and both had arrived at the scene in no time flat. Mathilda got there first and Boon hurried over to meet her lifelong friend, throwing her arms around her for comfort.
“She’s still out cold Tilly….” Boon cried in nervous agitation as she led Tilly to the wounded stranger.
“….I thought I saw a feral dog Tilly….”
“….or a wolf or something….”
“A wolf…?” Tilly remarked incredulously “….around here?”
“….aw hell, I don’t know….I didn’t know it was….”
“….I didn’t know it was a girl Tilly.”
“Okay Boon” Officer Dixon soothed.
“It’s gonna be alright, just let me take a look at her.”
Tilly barely had time to check the girl’s vital signs before Cody Cox, the local doctor and childhood friend to both arrived, and immediately went to work assessing the extent of the stranger’s injury. And by the time the ambulance finally got to the scene, Doctor Cox had the girl stable enough to travel, with her wound dressed and the blood loss minimized. The girl was maybe somewhere in her thirties with long dark hair, she appeared to be in very good health except for the bullet wound. She was white as a sheet, but Cody put that down to her natural colour as much as due to blood loss.
“Kind of pretty for a wild dog, isn’t she Boo?”
Cody Cox attempted to divert Boon from her trauma, hoping that the humour or irritation at a little jibe would do the trick.
“Just as well you only carry that antique peashooter, else you would have laid her low fer good.”
“Is she going to be okay, Cody?” Boon pleaded.
“I’m certain of it, Boo. Just relax and be thankful that you never could shoot straight.” Doctor Cox replied.
“But why is she still unconscious?” Boon pleaded.
“Can’t say, but it’s probably better this way. Trust me Boo, she’s going to be fine.”
“I’ll believe that when I see her walking and talking.” Boon paced nervously, wringing her hat in her hands.
The ambulance crew hurried over with a stretcher, and quickly had the stranger loaded up and on her way to Markham Hospital. Leaving the three lifelong friends standing in the very place where, as children they once played together.
“Okay. Let’s go over this one more time while it’s still fresh in your mind Boon. You were mending the fence just before dawn.”
“You saw a wild dog, so you went to the truck for your rifle.”
“You had the dog in your sights but you didn’t see the girl?”
“But you say something queer happened?”
“Gracious yes something queer happened.”
“….you took your shot. Then what happened?”
“I was certain my shot was true, I was aiming for the heart. But I missed, I must have done. Except I’m sure I didn’t miss. I saw the dog bolt, or…” Boon trailed off into silence.
“Or what?” Tilly prompted.
“Well it didn’t bolt exactly….” Boon continued to nervously fidget with her hat, obviously still in a state of distress and confusion
“….that is, it just vanished.”
“Okay, maybe don’t say that to the investigators, maybe just say it ran off.”
“Investigators…?” Boon pleaded, her face a mask of alarm.
“There will have to be an investigation Boo.” Tilly answered calmly.
“Oh hell….” Boon cried.
“….will I go to jail?”
“Boon, no. They’re not going to imprison you for an accidental shooting like this. Especially not as she’s just wounded.”
Doctor Cox prompted the rest of Boon’s account.
“Relax Boo, you’re not in trouble, just tell us what happened next.”
“Well the dog vanished…”
“Bolted.” Tilly corrected.
“….bolted. And at the very same instant, I saw the girl drop. It was weird Tilly, really weird. It was kind of like she…” again Boon trailed off as if unsure herself of what she had witnessed.
“Like she what?”
“Like she fell out of the wolf….dog….thing.”
“Okay, maybe leave that part out too, Boon.”
“Dammit Tilly, I’m telling true!” Boon protested, stamping her foot in frustration.
“Alright Boon, just calm down. It’s going to be okay.” Cody reassured her “maybe the girl was near the dog when you took your shot, but you just didn’t see. Maybe you hit them both”
“Nope” Mathilda answered. “No animal tracks leading away, no blood trail and no dead dog.”
Tilly thought for a moment as she inspected the scene.
“Look, here’s what happened. There was some mad girl, wandering around naked in the middle of nowhere. Who the hell knows why, maybe she escaped from some asylum somewhere, or maybe she’s a vagrant or some such. It was just on dawn, the light was still dim, and you thought you saw a wild dog. So you shot it. It was an accident.”
“Oh come on Tilly, are you serious…?” Boon protested
“….that sounds insane. People don’t just wander around neked like that. And people dun’t look like wild dogs neither, they just don’t.”
“Really? So accidental shooting sounds more insane to you than a vanishing wolf?”
“It’s the truth Tilly Dixon!” Boon insisted angrily.
“Well this is getting us nowhere.” Cody interrupted. “Are you alright to drive, Boon?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Right, then go home. Take a shower, drink some coffee and clear your head. Meet me and Tilly at the station at noon. We’ll get something to eat and we’ll work it all out. Okay?”
“Fine, but I already told you everything.”
“Okay” Tilly reassured. “I guess I believe you, I mean of course I believe you. But I have to make a report, and I won’t be the only one looking at it, so it has to make sense.”
“Boon” Cody interjected. “We all know you’re not mad and we know you aren’t a liar. This isn’t about that, this is about getting the paperwork correct and our accounts consistent. This is about keeping you out of trouble.”
“Fine.” Boon conceded “I’ll be at the station at noon.”
“And I’ll be taking that old pea shooter of yours as well, Boo.”
“What fer!” Boon objected “t’aint yours”
“What fer?” Tilly slightly mocked Boon’s heavy country accent “fer the vestigation, Miss Boo.”
“Don’t you make fun o me Tilly Dixon! You’n Cody spoke just the same, fore you both ran off to the city and came back all gentrified.”
“Okay Boo.” Cody soothed “No need to get hot about it, just let Tilly have the gun. And you go home and calm down. We’ll see you at the station, okay?”
“Fine.” Boon conceded.
Boon marched back to her truck, muttering angrily under her breath every step of the way. She wasn’t really angry at Tilly or Cody, it was just that they oughtn’t to tease her so. They were all three of them cut from the same cloth after all, and they were no better than her. Really she was just confused and upset by the mornings astonishing and traumatic events. But still, Tilly oughtn’t to tease her so.
But Tilly Dixon had always confused and upset Rebecca Jenner. Even as girls Tilly was always either teasing her or stealing kisses off her, and Boon never could tell exactly weather Tilly loved her or hated her.
But she sure wished she’d make her damn mind up.
Boon collected her pliers, wire and tensioning ratchet, but left her old rifle where it stood upright against the fence. She climbed into her truck and sped off, spinning her wheels in the dirt out of frustration, leaving Tilly and Cody at the scene.
Tilly inspected the area, hoping to find some physical evidence that might shed light on Boo’s strange tale. Beginning at the point where the strange girl’s blood dried in the morning sun, and working her way out in a concentric search pattern.
“See anything I don’t, Tilly?”
“No. Not a thing Cody….”
“….and that’s bothersome.”
“Yes?” Cody prompted.
“Well, think about it doc, there’s dog tracks leading to where the girl fell, but no such tracks leading away. No other tracks at all, except those left by us and the ambulance officers. Just a pool of blood surrounded by a whole lot of nothing in the middle of the prairie.”
“And no wild dog” Cody added “that is bothersome.”
“Yep.” Tilly replied simply before throwing her hands in the air as a gesture of exasperation.
“Hell Cody, I don’t know. Maybe Boon is telling true, maybe she shot a damn shapeshifter.”
“I’m sorry?” Cody scoffed.
“Aw hell, just blowing off steam Cody” Officer Dixon replied. “It’s just my grandmother used to tell old stories about people who lived separate, because they were half wolf, or half bear or eagle or some such.”
“They’re just stories, Mathilda.”
“I know that doctor. Thankyou. It’s just that the whole thing is downright queer” Tilly continued “if Boo says she shot a wild dog, she shot a wild dog, period. The woman isn’t a fool.”
“I know, I want to believe her too. But the fact of the matter is, we found a wounded girl, not a dog.”
“Yep” Tilly conceded.
As compelling as Boon’s account was, it must have been a trick of the dawn light or the mist or something. Tilly lingered a little longer as the sun rose in the sky, bathing the prairie in glorious light, all the way off to the mountains. She took several photos of the blood stain and the surrounding tracks with Cody keeping her company as she worked.
“Crime scene photos, really?” Cody commented
“Yeah I know, but it can’t hurt to have some kind of evidence. Just in case that girl dies.”
“She’ll be fine Tilly.”
“Yeah, I know that too. But I don’t want Boo getting into any trouble.”
“….so you’re still sweet on her then…?”
Tilly made no reply, perhaps because she was concentrating on her duties, perhaps because she had been over this with Cody before, and didn’t care to again. Probably both Cody surmised, but she persisted nonetheless.
“….and I see you’d rather torment the poor girl than come out with the truth of it.”
“It aint none o your business.” Tilly replied rather tersely to Cody’s admonishing comment.
“The hell it aint none o my business, Tilly Dixon. You’ve been in love with Boo ever since we were girls, I could always see it, plain as day.”
“So what, doc?”
“So I want to know what you aim to do about it. You’re finally home again, you n Boon are both full grown adults now, aint nothing standing in your way ‘cept yourself.”
“Aw hell, Cody….!”
“Yes this again. And again all over until you decide to do right, for yourself and for Boo.”
Cody had been subtly pestering Tilly about coming clean with Boon about her feelings, ever since she had been assigned as the sole police officer of the little town of Hurley. The damn woman was persistent in her nagging and cajoling, and Tilly was beginning to tire of the conversation.
“Dammit Cody, you know how people are around here, this isn’t the city. Most would judge us as against god, and we’d find ourselves shunned in no time.”
“Shunned…? Oh come on Tilly, this isn’t the dark ages. You might get a little ribbing and a few sour looks, but most folk wouldn’t even have the smarts to realize that you and Boo were a thing.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right, but there are those that would notice, those as would take exception. I don’t care Cody, their bullshit wouldn’t weigh the least bit heavy on my shoulders, but it would on Boo. She’d be the one who’d get hurt.”
“Maybe. But how do you think Boon feels now, what with you drawing her near with one hand and pushing her away with th’other.”
Tilly had no good reply, and she had no interest in arguing the point even if she did. So she remained tacit.
“You can’t live in fear of what people might think Tilly Dixon, and you can’t let that woman who loves you, waste her life waiting on you to find your courage. You have to stand up for yourself and for Boon….”
“….you know I’ll stand with you.”
“Maybe you’re right.” Tilly quietly conceded.
“You know full well I’m right” Cody took advantage of this small victory to press home the point.
“Do you really think God would put love in your heart for that girl, if he didn’t mean for you to do something with it?”
“Guess not” Tilly replied “maybe I’ll think on it.”
“You do that Mathilda Dixon, and not just for your own self. Think on it for the sake of Boo.”
“Okay” Tilly snapped in mounting irritation.
“Boo doesn’t live alone because she can’t find love, she’s on her own because she’s waiting for you to make up your mind, even if she doesn’t realize it. You speculate on that, Tilly Dixon, Boo sat all alone every night waiting on you to stop being so damn stubborn.”
“Okay!” Tilly snapped again. “I get it!”
“Well alright then.” Cody replied.
The two searched the area in silence a little longer until Tilly finally announced.
“Well this is getting us nowhere….”
“….I’ll see you back at the station and we can start working on our reports. I’ll need a statement from you as the attending physician.”
And with this, the two headed back to the little nearby town of Hurley. Tilly spinning her wheels in agitation at her lifelong friends nagging. That Cody Cox sure knew how to get her worked up, the damn woman knew exactly what was going on in Tilly’s heart. And she seemed to know precisely which buttons to push.
All the way back to town, Tilly couldn’t get Cody’s lecture out of her head. She’d heard it all before from Doctor Cox, and she knew right well the truth of it. But this time it was different. Seeing Boo in such distress, seeing her so frightened made Cody’s words all the more effective.
Boo was alone right now, having to deal with her fear all by herself. She’d just shot a woman for heaven’s sake, she must be beside herself. Tilly knew it shouldn’t be like that, she shouldn’t be alone, not with this.
“I should be with her….”
“….she’s scared and I should be there for her.”
For years Tilly had been supressing her feelings for Boon, thinking that it was necessary to protect the woman from the sneers of her neighbour’s. But maybe it wasn’t Boo she was worried for, maybe she was just scared for herself.
Ever since they were teenagers, she’d been keeping Boo at arm’s length with her teasing and torments. All the while keeping her as close as she dared, stealing kisses here and there, keeping her wishes alive. Hoping no one would notice that she was sweet on another girl.
Looking back now, she felt shame and sorrow for the way she had behaved. She had been a bitch to Boon sometimes, usually when she wanted more than anything to hold her tight and never, ever let her go.
Of course Tilly understood that times had changed, that most folks were used to idea of two people of the same suit being together. Even if they were uncomfortable with the idea, there wasn’t the hostility there used to be. But still, evolution and change can take a little longer in small rural communities.
But would Boo even have her? Tilly had always assumed that Boo was in love with her too. And the truth was that she had always taken that love for granted, but maybe she had been wrong all along, maybe Boo never cared for Tilly in that way at all. Maybe Boo would laugh in her face at the suggestion.
“Damn you Cody Cox, you’ve got me all spun around!”
Confusion and doubt filled Tilly’s mind, driving her deeper into agitation and frustration. Her heart began beating rapidly as she considered turning the car around. Hurrying to Boon and declaring the truth of her heart once and for all.
She instead decided to take out her sidearm and fire several rounds into a shot ridden speed sign, as she hurtled down the road.
Why the hell not, everybody else did it.
Thank you for reading
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