Excerpt from my in-progress novel
After a warm December, the weather finally turned seasonal for New Year’s Day in Woodbridge, so James took his new camera, and Willy, out for a walk. Willy (real name Willoughby, also known as Willow, Will, Billy-Boy, Billy-Bob, and Wilhelmina, among other silly doggish nicknames) was the family’s 10-pound ball of fluff and affection, and James’s constant companion. With the coloration roughly equivalent of any given holstein, and the added bonus of brown wizard-esque eyebrows, he was comically cute. He also happened to be blind, due to a mysterious condition they called “suddenly acquired retinal degeneration,” which was a fancy way to say: “I’m sorry your 4 year old dog has gone blind and we don’t really know why. We’ll sew his eyelids shut for you. Good luck.” Willy adapted rather well, navigating the house and their local patch of woods by smell, sound, touch, and a surprisingly good memory. Perhaps paradoxically, he was even cuter after he went blind, in a pathetic sort of way.
“Come on Willy, let’s get outside together. I want to try out my new camera.” James said. He poked his head up, got down slowly from the couch, did his obligatory doggy yoga (downward dog, upward dog) and trotted over to James. “Let’s put your new sweater on so you look even more ridiculous.” Willy spun in a circle, wagging his tail furiously.
The neighborhood patch of woods was just a 10 minute walk up the road. Here, in this sanctuary of greens and browns, quiet if you could ignore the power plant for the regional mental hospital nearby, is where James went for a small slice of sanity. And Willy loved hunting for deer scat and rolling in as much as possible.
That winter day almost everything looked dead, although if you looked closely you could see next spring’s buds ready and waiting. The trees have eyes, in a sense, or at least light-sensitive cells, waiting to see enough light for enough days to get the blood pumping again. Until then, unnoticed by most, the tiny brown buds wait at the ends of their branches, sheathed in weatherproof jackets.
James walked to the woods, to slow down, stop, and notice. See it, capture it, show it. A bud on the tree encased in ice: hope beyond hope. Thick icicles tipped with delicate hoarfrost: a star on an inverted Christmas tree. There was fresh footprints and cigarette butts along the well-worn trail, but how many have stopped and noticed? His new self-appointed and unpaid job was to bring to light what might otherwise be missed.
One small advantage of having just one working eye was when he shot a gun (which he didn’t do too often) James had no need to close his other eye. There was a more significant up-side when shooting photos: there was no need to think about how the 3D world would appear in a 2D photo. The world was already flat for James, so composition came naturally. The little creek, tumbling down from the green mountain just to the north, provided an impossible variety of ice formations even in the simplist spots.
“Alright, Willy, I’ll let you run around if you promise not to go too far.” He never would have expected a little blind dog to develop bat-like sonar, but that’s exactly what he did. Of course it helped that they had been on the trail too many times to count.
With the fresh snow all else was silent, the dome of milky clouds still hanging low. James saw a few tiny tracks as they veered off the trail toward the creek: probably a chickadee, which started chattering above, and some sort of mouse. As they rounded the corner beyond the giant fallen oak, the three of them noticed each other simultaneously: Willy sniffing the air, and a huge doe and James suddenly locking eyes.
She was 10 yards beyond the creek, which at a glance James could see was frozen, but not very thickly yet. Perfect conditions for shooting ice formations. He slowly raised his camera, but Willy had other ideas.
Never one for self-control, after a few more sniffs he tore straight toward the deer, yapping and stumbling the whole way. Of course the deer gracefully bounded away, white tail flashing, and James had barely enough time for a couple attempted shots of her rear-end, before he realized Willy was headed right for the creek.
“Willy, no! Stop! Come, now!”He ignored James completely, nearly made it across the half-frozen creek, and promptly fell through the ice still forming at the edge. The poor pup never knew what hit him, yelping and sputtering, instinctively clawing for the bank. As the current tried to wash him downstream, James dropped his camera bag and tried to set the camera on it as he lunged toward the ice and water.
Tripping over a root hidden in snow, he toppled head-first into the dead center of the frozen creek, landing with a glorious crash that sounded like a half-dozen whips cracking in succession, crashing through ice, water, and rock. The impact stunned him for a second, but the icy water woke him right back up. He twisted his body toward Willy, who was pushed further downstream by his inglorious entrance. Willy started to go under, but thankfully the creek wasn’t particularly swift or deep. In two giant steps James was on him, grabbing the back of his sodden sweater, holding him close as they collapsed on the snowy bank.
James waded across the creek and took stock: snow boots filled with ice water, snow pants torn up at the knees, cellphone and wallet completely soaked, a large knot on his forehead oozing blood, and a camera dumped in a few inches of snow. Willy was shaking violently, in both shock and cold as James peeled off his silly sweater. “Well, Willoughby, now you really are a pupsicle. Let’s go home and get by the wood stove.”