Chapter 13 - A Lie to Make a Panting Dog Smile
“I can smell a dog,” said Bone.
Notail peered out into the darkness. There was only the black of night and an occasional rustle. But he could smell the same scent from his den. It has been here, Notail thought. And yet they had not been found. He looked to Bone. He smells Bone, thought Notail, but my scent is weakened. It is confused but it is close.
The scent stabbed at the air. Something was out there, somewhere close.
“We need to run,” said Notail. “We need to run west.”
“I don’t know which way west is,” Bone said.
Though Notail could see nothing when he looked back, he knew it was there. A second more complete darkness within the darkness of night.
They kept running.
Notail led the way but soon the way brought them out of the woods into a cramped gathering of mandens. He could hear their own paw falls as they ran. Lights flicked on as they passed manden after manden. They heard a man shouting. And then there was the cry of fear of a woman. She has seen it, thought Notail and he ran faster. They climbed mantracks, they shot down mantracks and they did not stop.
“Dark, dark, dark,” came a call and four crows flew over them.
“Run fox,” they called. “Run, run, run.”
He glanced back. The way they had come was bright with the false light of mandens now and in the gaps between those lights he saw a shadow moving. He was sure of it. A deeper black in the black of night. It never came into the light. It stayed within darkness.
“Keep running,” Notail cried back to Bone.
The young dog was tiring but Notail would not stop.
“It is coming,” called Notail.
He could hear Bone panting desperately.
They ran down a steep and icy mantrack and leapt a stone edge into a field of wild grass. The grass was crisp with ice. And at the far end of the field where the grass was not so high Notail saw them. Four foxes. One, a male, standing ahead of the others ready to fight.
He looked to the dark sky but he had no idea which way was west and which way was south. They are here, he said to himself, so I have come south.
Notail glanced back. It is coming, he thought.
“Run,” he cried, without slowing. “He is coming, run!”
The male looked to the mandens and then with a bark from him the four foxes broke away from Notail and Bone, vanishing into the trees.
Behind him Notail could hear Bone still struggling to catch his breath. A murder of crows broke into the air. Their call was distant but he heard it clear enough. Run, run, run.
“Keep running,” said Notail so on they ran.
They bounded over a squat stone edge and through dense bushes. Soon they were running past more mandens. Lonely ones. Mandens clinging to the edge of the wild. Notail caught a glimpse of a woman scattering manfood upon the winter-held grass. A cat was watching the woman.
Time and time again he looked back. Bone was far behind him now but the young dog had not given up. Soon there was only the night around them. No chasing shadow. No howl shattering the world. No growl waiting. No claws descending.
Notail could feel his own heart bursting, his lungs stuttering. He thought of Bone. I have abandoned him, he said to himself and he stopped running.
They were at the line of mandens’ end and a moor waited for them just beyond a barren mantrack.
“Why have we stopped?” said Bone, panting. “I’m not tired yet.”
The young dog could hardly get his words out.
Notail looked down the dimly lit mantrack. A mancarrier was beginning to roar into waking but there was nothing else.
“We are safe,” said Notail. Bone smiled. It was a small lie but what harm could there be in a lie to make a panting dog smile? The truth was something else. The truth was something Notail could not hide from himself. The Black Dog had found them. And now it had their scent, it would keep hunting them. And it was only a matter of time before it found them again.