A delicate, orange ray of sunlight slid soundlessly into the room. It was almost as if the sun itself, with the back of its hand, gently pushed aside the faded, floral pattern curtain of the bedroom window. A thin beam of light drifted across the room the way a dandelion rides the wind, looking for just the right place to land to grow into something new, something beautiful. The spot of light drifted across a hand crafted cabinet nearly overloaded with trophies and medals, brushing past a 1st place trophy for a knife throwing tournament. Etched proudly on the base of the trophy read, “Dodger Rodgers”. And the trophy tucked tightly next to it, an award for 1st place pistol shooting, also read, “Dodger Rodgers”. Next to that, a trophy for 8 ball pool and a trophy for darts, among countless other trophies, hid tucked away behind a photo of a man and woman in their 30’s holding the hands of a smiling young girl with the world reflecting from the glisten of her eyes. The photo stood proudly, mounted in a wooden frame adorned with plastic butterflies and ribbons, clearly hand made by a child. While the trophies seemed aged and covered in dust, the photo frame shined immaculately.
The delicate ray of light came to a rest upon the face of a man, no longer in his 30’s. As he felt the warmth of the light, his arms jolted up to protect his face. He tucked his knees in tight to cover his torso. He waited for a four legged, happy faced, floppy eared assault, but was met with only the silent darkness of the bedroom. Dodger opened his eyes to see the gentle beam of mourning light land on an empty dog bed that rested on the floor next to Dodger’s side of the bed. Strands of tired, grey fur of a golden retriever still covered the bed. It was Samba’s bed, but Samba was nowhere to be found. Dodger stared at spot where he used watch to Samba fall asleep, trying to convince himself the past 3 weeks had been a dream. He half heartedly wished this was the morning he would wake up to Samba jumping on him to wake him up. He wished he would turn over to see Karol yawning and holding up her pillow to prevent Samba from jumping on her too. But instead…
Dodger scratched his cheek to find his five o’clock shadow had turned into a 12 o’clock shadow. He hadn’t shaved in days. What was the point? Dodger expected when he became a temporary bachelor, he would enjoy drinking beer all day, walking around the house without any pants on, and drinking milk straight out of the container from the fridge without pouring it into a glass first. Instead, he found himself going to bed wearing the same moose print 2 piece pyjama set Karol gave to him for his 50th birthday. Samba had chewed a hole near the ankle of one of the pant legs and Karol had told him to throw it out countless times but he always said it was still perfectly fine. Slowly, as if hoping to wake up from a dream, Dodger turned over to Karol’s side of the bed. It was empty. The ray of light had softly shifted over to the doorway as if telling Dodger to get out of bed and get into gear. There was no point in staying in bed. Karol wasn’t there. Samba wouldn’t come greet him. There was only the gentle beam of light leading Dodger forward.
He walked past a pink painted door, adorned with dried flowers. He half felt like humoring himself by knocking on it and saying, “Dahlia, it’s time to wake up. You’ll be late for school”. He chuckled to himself as he raised his hand to the door, unsure of whether or not he would follow through with it. It was a force of habit built by years of faithful repetition. And yet, Dodger wanted to knock. He wished more than anything he would hear Dahlia shout back, “Okay! I’m awake!” He wished he would hear her come charging down the stairs to scarf her breakfast down in a single gulp. He wished she would forget to hug her mom and dad goodbye as she sprinted out the front door to catch her ride to school.
By the time Dodger snapped out of his daydream, he found himself standing in front of the stove, about to drop an unbroken egg into a pan. He stopped and wondered if it was worth the trouble. He loved seeing the smile on Karol’s face when she sat down at the table to enjoy a pancake with a shredded bacon omelette on top and a moose sausage on the side. “Mmm, my second favorite sausage,” Karol used to say before giving Dodger a luscious grin. Dodger would wink back at her before setting their cups of coffee and his own plate on the table.
Dodger sighed deeply and set the eggs back into the fridge. He grabbed a glass from the cupboard and checked to make sure it was absolutely clean before pouring himself some milk. With his eyes locked on the empty dining room table, he took a deep swig of the milk, only to be knocked out by the putrid stench of what seemed like a skunk’s asshole. Dodger whipped around and belched out whatever was left in his mouth into the kitchen sink but the damage had been done. He had swallowed some of it, and clumps of the rotting milk had latched onto his moustache. It was too late. He was tainted.
He threw open the fridge door, frantically searching for anything to wash the taste out. He was shocked to find the fridge nearly empty. Only old take-away containers from the local Frying Saucer diner and mysterious jars of years old jam accompanied two bottles of Hurricane Light. It was too early in the day for beer. He couldn’t just drink beer all day anyway. He tore open an old take away container to find a crumpled, miserable omelette. It stared back at him as if poised and ready for a fight. He couldn’t possibly eat the rest of the omelette. He picked it up two days ago when Falcon Allerdyce was supposed to be working the morning shift at the Frying Saucer. Falcon failed to show up at work and didn’t even call in so Nickelas Dollarbuck had to fill in the shift. Dodger had only gone to the diner that morning because he knew Falcon was working that day, and for as long as he had lived, no one in Silver Falls ever had the heart to tell Nickelas how terrible he was at cooking eggs.
No. It had to be done. It had come down to the wire. There was no other choice.
Dodger reached down with his tough, weathered, bare hands, ham-fistedly grabbed a chunk of that dirty omelette and jammed it down his throat. He winced as the grainy, chalky eggs scraped the lining of his insides. On any other day, it would have been torture, but just in that moment, the omelette somehow scrubbed his mouth of the rotten milk. He had been cleansed by the bland, void-like taste of Nickelas’ cooking.
There was nothing left for Dodger but to salvage his morning with a coffee. He checked the ceramic, wolf shaped jar to find it totally empty of coffee grounds. It was only a matter of time. Without anyone else to cook for, Dodger felt no reason to ever check anything in the kitchen. More and more, with Karol gone, he found himself buying meals at either the diner, Butch’s meat shop, or The Spaghetti Western. Could he seriously get his morning started without any coffee? Was there really no other option? No, there was one way out. All throughout the last week, Willie Belgrade had been going on and on about this latest new foreign coffee he had just found. It was late at the bar the night before when Willie brought a small bag of that coffee for Dodger to take home. Dodger squeezed his brain, trying to recall the details, but at that point in the night, they had enjoyed a few drinks, and Wirriam Shipwright had bought a round of shots of Honey Thunder for everyone. No one ever buys that expensive stuff but one round quickly turned into two and Dodger didn’t recall much of anything else that happened.
No, it was all starting to come back to him. He could hear Willie’s voice echoing in his head.
“Brazilian coffee with hints of orange and an aroma of guava and maracujá.”
Whatever the heck maracujá was, Dodger didn’t think a fruity aroma was all that important to coffee. He was happy to have Jen Ericcson brand instant coffee if it wasn’t for Karol demanding something better. Dodger found the small bag of coffee on the kitchen table. “Ritmo” it read on the packaging in curly, fancy lettering. For years and years, Dodger had nodded along to Willie raving about the latest new exotic coffee he found, and for years he just assumed Willie had been simply entranced by the intoxicating allure of foreign mystery. Yet when Dodger brewed himself a cup of Ritmo coffee, he found his sense of smell latching on to this steaming hot drink. The color wasn’t like that of his regular coffee. The drum-like rhythm it made as it poured into his favorite mug sounded like the gyrating hips of a gorgeous costumed dancer at Brazilian Carnival.
Maybe it was the lingering effect of the drinks from the night before, or maybe it was the combination of curdled milk and an omelette legally indistinguishable from sandpaper, but as Dodger took his first sip of that coffee, he swore he could hear the drum beat of some far off tropical festival.
“Oh shit. That’s good,” he muttered.
He sat and breathed deeply, trying to pick up that scent of guava and maracujá, whatever that was. We was certain he needed to have a good reply for when Willie asked what Dodger thought about the coffee. Dodger eyed the bag and guessed there may probably be enough for fifteen or so more servings. Surely, if he needed more, he could ask Willie to order more Ritmo for him.
As he slowly savored his coffee, he looked around the living room. The sparkle of Samba’s dog collar resting atop the fireplace caught his eye. Behind the collar was a photo of Samba and Dodger out on a hike. The photo had been taken many years ago. Dodger’s mind wandered back to a night many years ago, just after Dodger had finished training Samba as a search and rescue dog. Fred Hardluck, then sheriff at the time, had asked Dodger to help him with something. He needed Samba to find a missing person. Dodger squeezed his brain to recall the details, but for some reason, he just couldn’t put his finger on exactly what happened that night. They had been celebrating the birth of Stormy Skiesgard’s son and the Silver Courage seemed to pour out of the bar like rain water that night.
Dodger didn’t remember much of anything that night. All he knew was that Samba was a very good dog who had kept them all safe somehow. He gave Dodger more years of companionship than anyone could have asked of a golden retriever, and Dodger knew it. If he knew Samba wasn’t going to last until the end of the year, he wouldn’t have sold all of the new puppies he had just finish training. He was starting to regret giving the last one, Artax, to Tafford Weatherstone. If only he knew Samba wouldn’t last much longer.
No. That was a lie.
He knew Samba was old.
He just didn’t want to accept it.
While training the last batch of puppies, Dodger felt a connection to Artax. Maybe Dodger would have kept him, but Tafford seemed so panicked and frantic to get a dog. All the talk about weird animals out in the desert and weird noises on his roof at night made Tafford sound like a crazy conspiracy theorist. Maybe he was going to end up becoming another Nickelas Dollarbuck. It didn’t matter anyway. Samba was gone. Dodger knew he could never replace a dog like that one.
Too much had already happened those last few weeks. The night Samba died, something strange happened that Dodger still couldn’t explain. Maybe he was afraid to fully understand or admit what happened. Maybe he simply wasn’t capable of understand. What he did know was that two weeks ago, the new electric keypad lock he put on his basement door malfunctioned and somehow ruined the electrical wiring in his house. Karol wasn’t home so what was the point of fixing it? Dodger knew where everything was in the house so he didn’t need any lights at night to make his way from the front door to his bed.
It would be another two weeks before Karol came home from her shift at the campgrounds. Dodger figured he may as well fix the electricals in the house since Flatwoods Electrical hadn’t called him in for a shift in more than a week.
After finishing his coffee and putting on his least dirty clothes, he stepped outside to face the morning head on. The crisp autumn air filled his lungs as he looked up into the warm, purple haze of the seemingly endless sky. He paused for a moment, believing that things would definitely be alright. Things would soon go back normal. Today was going to be a good day.
The gravel of his front yard crunched under each of his short steps. The air was colder than he expected. Just as he reached for his keys, he caught a glimpse of one of his throwing axes on the ground, just below the driver’s door of his car.
“Huh. Well tickle me silly,” he said, scratching his mustache. He wasn’t one for leaving his throwing gear lying around. Then again, he was out late the night before with the other guys at the bar. He picked up the throwing axe and turned around to face a target hanging from an old oak tree.
“Six yards,” he whispered to himself as the steam from his breath slowly drifted away.
He drew his arm back and took a deep breath. Just as he had done hundreds of thousands of times before, he stepped forward and swung his arm. He let that axe loose like an eagle taking flight. The axe soared through the air with a whistle and then
There was no familiar clash of metal on wood. There was no satisfying “thunk” as the axe embedded itself into the target. No. Instead the axe missed the target by what may as well have been the broad side of a barn.
“Slap me silly,” Dodger grumbled, taking off his camouflage baseball cap, as if to punctuate his incredulousness. He paced over to the target and set his hand upon it, feeling the groove that he had carved out hitting the exact same spot hundreds of times over the last few months. He retrieved his axe and drove down to the local hardware store in near silence. Only the sound of radio static distracted Dodger from the agitation he felt from missing a throw that he had never missed before in his entire life.