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BLACK DOG AND THE LOST BOY

He tripped and fell in the darkness. In the distance,  he could hear the baying of hounds. His father and uncle were ahead of him crashing through the underbrush hurrying to the hounds and their prey. Face, stinging from the lashing of a limb that struck him just before he fell, he clambered to his feet and glimpsed the wavering light of the lanterns carried by the men who left him. Could it be they brought him along for the sole purpose of losing him in the dark Kansas woods on the shore of Labette Creek? He pushed aside the thought and a limb that caught at his bibbed overalls. The hounds were baying their catch when he realized he was superfluous to the night’s events. He heard the sharp report of the .22 caliber rifle his father carried on the hunt. Then the hounds were quiet. The hunt was over. 

     He knew that soon his father and uncle would lead the dogs out of the woods to the nearest roadway where their old Ford pickup truck waited. They would load the dogs and drive home with a dead raccoon lying on the floorboards. Its pelt would join others stretched and hung on the wall of the shed beside many other pelts readied for sale come spring. He waited in the darkness for his father’s voice calling him out the darkness. When only silence greeted him, he fought tears forming in his eyes. His breath came in shallow gasps. He heard the truck’s engine start and listened as it faded. They had left him. 
     Looking up at the winter sky, it’s stars flung across the dark prairie sky, he wished he knew how to determine direction but he had not learned about the North Star as a guide. Lost in the Osage Questa where dark woods spread themselves through the ancient prairie. Surely someone would come looking for him. Holding on to that hope as he stumbled his way through the woods. Then he felt rather than heard movement. 
     “Daddy?” he called. 
     There was no answer. The silence was oppressive. But, a sense of presence sharing the night with him remained. 
     “Who’s there?” he said quietly hoping no one would answer. 
     A figure stepped slowly out the darkness.  The boy inhaled sharply. It was like nothing he had ever seen. Tall, head shaved with only a stiff lock of hair standing upright across the crown with a single eagle feather adorning the scalp lock. The figure was nearly naked and wrapped in a frayed blanket. 
     “Do not be afraid,” the apparition said. “I have not come to hurt you.” 
     “Who are you?” the boy asked with a quavering voice. 
     “I am Black Dog of the Osages. I am also lost. Perhaps, we can help one another.” 
     “Black Dog?” the boy asked. 
     “Yes. This was once my home.” 
     “You lived here?” the boy asked. 
      “Long ago.” 
     “Right here?”
     “It is so.” 
     “On my daddy’s farm?” 
     “It was not your father’s farm when I lived here. It was the land of the Osage.” 
     The boy stood very still and took a deep breath as the apparition pointed with a movement of his chin to a fallen log. 
     “Perhaps, we should sit,” Black Dog said. “Maybe talk a little.” 
     The boy nodded and moved slowly to joined the apparition on the log.           “Are you worried that your father has left you?  
     “Yessir, I am.” 
     “Why would he do such a thing?” 
     “I don’t know.” 
     “Perhaps, he hates you.” 
     “I don’t think he hates me. Maybe he just forgot.” 
     “Maybe,” Black Dog said. “Maybe not.” 
     “Do you live around here,” the lost boy asked. 
     “Once upon a time,” Black Dog said. “My family and I lived right over there near the creek,” he said. “It was long ago before we walked the trail to the west to where my people now live.”
     “Where is that?” the lost boy asked. 
     “It is where your people call Oklahoma.” 
     The boy was silent then. It was getting colder and when he shivered, Black Dog took the blanket off his shoulders and handed it to the boy.               “Take this,” he said. “It will help until your father comes for you.” 
     “Aren’t you cold without the blanket?” 
     “I will be fine.” The boy wrapped the blanket around his shoulders. He was warm and felt sleepy. 
     “Thank you, Mr. Black Dog,” he said. 
     Black Dog did not answer as the boy fell asleep. 
     When the prairie morning spread its orange glow over the woods his father and uncle found him. He was curled beside a log wrapped in a tattered old Indian trade blanket. 
     “We look all night and here he is sleeping by that old log,” His father said.     
     His uncle bent over the boy, placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder. 
     “Wake up, boy,” he said. 
     The boy did not move. 
     “Wonder where he found that old blanket,” his father said. 
     The uncle shook the boy again. 
     “Wake up,” he said. 
     The boy did not move. He had gone to join Black Dog.
 -30-      

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