Light snow fell through the tall conifers all around him; a single flake caught on his eyelashes, and here came others, settling on his nose and cheeks. When he’d first struck out the sun was still high in the sky, with only a few gathering clouds. Now he’d been drifting in and out of consciousness, not knowing how long he’d lain there on his back. The cold oddly did not bother him, but a searing pain in his leg stirred and nudged him more fully into awareness. Was it early morning? Dusk? He could not be sure. The dogs were nowhere to be seen, nor could he hear the reassuring jingle of their tags. He lacked the fortitude to call or whistle for them. And here came that insidious pain again, speaking louder and with more urgency. He tried to clear his head enough to pinpoint it precisely. Left leg, lower; anterior; anterior tibial, wait, there was more—the pain reached into his tarsals. He lifted his head and glanced down at his feet, relieved to see the left foot at least aligned as it should with the leg, and was not cocked at some crazy, unnatural angle. He put his head down again and gazed up at the clouds, remembering an MLB outfielder whose ankle snapped so badly during a misstep that his foot bent 90 degrees sideways to his leg; all the news outlets kept replaying that horrible clip again and again. Even he could not avert his gaze: why are humans so drawn to carnage, he wondered.
Now he tried moving and instantly regretted it: the scream commenced somewhere deep inside his belly, issuing up, up, up through the windpipe before it exploded out of him. He propped himself onto his elbows, panting, waiting for the agony to subside a bit. He’d found his voice, at least. Someone far away was saying, ain’t you and me had the shittiest luck today…. It was not real: the voice was inside his head, a little radio snippet, somebody else—somebody famous—channeling the miscreant who’d mown him down on the side of a rural highway. His own miscreant was nowhere to be seen, but now he remembered: the car had clipped him on his left side, sent him careening down the steep incline to the bottom of a ravine. Looking up he could at least see the highway from where he lay. And the notion that he could at least move the foot was its own kind of reassuring. But what of the dogs…were they dead, or lying injured somewhere as he was now?
At that instant he felt a warm tongue lick his ear, and turning his head first saw the nose and whiskers, then the worried eyes full of love, and the erect ears held forward: Chance! Chance was alive at least, but still on his belly, making no effort at all to stand: he tried wagging his tail, but even this small, celebratory gesture caused him to cry out in pain. His coat was filthy, matted with dried blood. And a few feet away from him, there lay Sophie, motionless, save only the tufts of her beautiful tawny coat fluttering in this early winter wind.