Wednesday, September 09, 2009

A Big Black Dog Named Chuck

Several years ago when my stepdaughter Shannon was living with Marilyn and me, she brought home a big black Rottweiler. She is a sucker for animals and according to Marilyn, was always bringing home a stray dog or cat, or bird with a broken wing when she was young.

The dog’s name was Chuckie. He was big and black with white and tan markings. He was around ten years old and had belonged to an old woman that was going to a nursing home. There was no one else to take the dog and if Shannon hadn’t come along the only other option was the pound. Shannon moved to other digs shortly after bringing Chuckie home. Even though she dropped by regularly to take care of him, much of the feeding fell upon Marilyn and me.

Chuckie was old but he was an imposing animal, weighing in at well over one hundred pounds. We have a large pen on the north side of our property and Chuckie took to it right away. I was a little afraid of him and we got off on the wrong foot. The first week that he was here, I went into his pen to fill his water bucket with the hose. It was after dark and I’d had a few toddies. After filling his bucket, I turned to leave the pen only to find my way blocked by the big dog, his teeth barred as he emitted a low-throated growl.

I thought that I was a goner but walked slowly toward him and said, “No Chuck, you sit,” as sternly as I could muster.

Chuck didn’t sit but he did stop growling and let me move past him without tearing my arm off. I learned the next day that Rottweilers are territorial, and that before the old woman adopted him, Chuckie had lived with a man that often beat him when he got drunk.

“He doesn’t like men,” Shannon told me the next day as she arranged his food bowl and water bucket closer to the fence so that I didn’t have to go into his pen.

“Thanks for telling me,” I said.

From that point, I was determined to make friends with the giant dog. Every morning when I went for my morning paper, I would stop by his pen and give him treats. Every day when I got home from work, I would take him treats. Soon, he would jump up on the fence and let me rub his ears

The first time it rained after he moved in with us, I looked out the window and saw him standing in his pen, getting soaked. Considering the time that I had spent in the rain, in the boonies of Vietnam, I decided that he needed shelter – the sooner the better. I had a six-foot length of wooden fence in the yard so I lifted it over the fence and made a quick and dirty lean-to. I covered the structure with black plastic sheeting to shield it from the rain. Within minutes, Chuckie got under the lean-to as if he had lived there all his life.

When Shannon visited, she would let him out of the pen and allow him to run around in the back yard. During these times, I improved Chuckie’s lean-to by adding cedar chips. Before winter arrived, I got him a big doghouse and he loved it.

Soon, I was comfortable enough with the big dog to let him out of his pen even when Shannon wasn’t there, and I was happy to learn that he was just a big overgrown puppy. When I sat by the pool, he would rest his large head on my knees and let me rub his ears. He also liked to swim in the pool.

Shannon often took him with her during the day. He loved riding in the back of her truck, hiking with her and swimming in the nearby lake. Chuckie had found a home but that is not the end of his story.

Chuck had lived with us a couple of years when we noticed that he had a tumor on his belly. We watched it for a while and could tell that it was growing. Shannon’s vet finally told her he needed to remove it. He did and Chuckie was in horrible pain for what seemed like hours. He wouldn’t lie down because of the pain in his belly, despite the efforts of Shannon and Marilyn to soothe him. Finally the pain killers kicked in and he fell into an exhausted sleep.

The operation worked, at least for a while. Chuckie was more energetic and responsive during this time and I have little doubt that it was the best days of his life. The tumor stayed gone for around two years before recurring. This time it was much worse, Chuckie had grown quite old for a Rottweiler and suffered from hip problems (a common genetic trait of Rottweilers).

Chuckie’s health soon began degenerating at a rapid pace and it was obvious that he was in constant pain. One day, Shannon took him for his last ride in the back of her truck to their favorite hiking trail by the lake. The old dog could barely walk but it enjoyed lying in the shallow water one last time. Finally, she took him to the vet, gave him one last ear scratch and had him put to sleep.

My big Lab Lucky is also getting old, now eleven. He lives in a large pen (quarter acre) on our property with Velvet and Patch. Marilyn and I were considering putting him in Chuckie’s old pen so we had it cleaned out last week and reseeded with grass. Yesterday, I strolled through the enclosure with my Pug Princess.

The pen is large – twenty by thirty feet, at least. Several large trees provide plenty of shade, although there is enough sun to lie beneath on a chilly day. One side faces the road and honeysuckle vines cover the chain link fence. What I found at the end of the pen was a very healthy clematis plant with eight purple blossoms growing amid the honeysuckle. The essence of their beauty reminded me what a wonderful dog that Chuckie was and what a pleasure he was.

The big black dog was an abused castoff, neglected most of his life. He was intelligent, had a wonderful personality and had probably dreamed doggie dreams of having a real friend someday. I am so thankful for Shannon and her soft streak. Because of her, he got his wish.

Even though Chuck and I got off to a rocky start, I came to love that big black scary-looking dog, and I miss him now.

Louisiana Mystery Writer

Friday, September 04, 2009

Ghosts, Spiders and Blood-Warm Water

As I walked to the swimming pool last night, a spider web caught in my hair and shoulders. It didn’t scare me but it reminded me of a section in my novel Ghost of a Chance. Buck McDivit is lost on eerie Caddo Lake at night near the place where he has recently seen a ghost. Here is a short excerpt from Ghost of a Chance.

Ghost Excerpt

The friendliest of country roads can become creepy as a carnival ghost house after dark. The road to Deception proved no exception. Thick fog wisped up from hot blacktop and danced across the roadway as Buck swerved to miss a darting rabbit. The frightened animal scurried into the forest, oblivious to its near demise.
Buck bypassed downtown Deception and found the boat waiting where he’d left it. The motor cranked on the first pull and sent a swirl of vapor curling up from the surface of the lake. Foggy haze continued to thicken as he adjusted the bow light and motored away from shore.
Heavy fog began rolling in as Buck neared the center of the lake. The boat's tiny light provided scant illumination, even on a clear night. Now it was all but useless. He quickly lost sight of land but, thanks to the continued effects of Richardson's brandy, wasn't immediately bothered by the lack of visibility. His blithe oblivion didn't last long.
Within minutes he'd lost all notion of direction and rocked the fuel tank to reassure him that he had plenty of gas. The heft of a half-empty tank only added to his growing concern. As marauding mosquitoes buzzed his head, a distant rumble interrupted the chorus of crickets and frogs - a non-muffled engine. Another boat was on the lake and Buck couldn't tell if it was approaching him or moving away.
"Hello out there," he called, his cry eliciting no response except for silence in the creatures of the lake.
As Buck listened for a reply his boat struck something in the darkness. The collision sent him sprawling. As he pulled himself off the bottom of the boat, he realized he'd rammed one of the old wood-framed drilling platforms. Luckily, he'd struck it at an angle. When he grabbed for a plank, a sharp splinter pierced his hand causing him to recoil and bang his head against the platform. Worse yet, red eyes glared up from the darkness beneath the platform.
When Buck gunned the throttle the motor raced, along with his heart, but the boat remained in place. The impact had thrown the engine out of gear, sticking the boat in brush trapped beneath the musty old platform. Now the boat rocked precariously amid dank odor of stagnate water and dry rot.
As Buck's little craft floated in a circle beneath the platform, it passed through elastic strands of a large spider web. Claustrophobia chilled his neck as the web encircled his face. Forgetting the racing engine, he grabbed the platform and yanked the boat out from under the planking. With hand and head throbbing he slammed the boat into gear, motoring blindly into what he hoped was open water. Again he heard the high-pitched whine of another boat.
Buck threw the engine into neutral, fear of striking a cypress tree or another platform in the thick fog fresh in his mind. After raking the spider web from his face he called for help again and listened for an answer. No help arrived as he felt something crawling down his shirt.
"Hey out there! Can anyone hear me?"
Buck's cry faded as a powerful light penetrated milky fog. It was attached to a fast boat powering straight toward him. Standing, he began waving and yelling.
"Here I am!"
The boat's approaching wail sounded vaguely familiar to Buck but it was too late to worry about it. As it streaked past, its wake lifted his boat almost out of the water. The little craft remained afloat but rocked dangerously. Then he heard the other boat turning for another pass.
Buck held on, waiting for the swell to subside. The wake had swamped the motor, stalling it. When the boat stopped rocking he yanked the starter cord but the motor only sputtered and died with a sick sounding thump. He had little time to worry about the stalled engine.
The marauding boat's headlight blazed through the fog, powering directly toward him. With little time to react he abandoned ship, diving overboard before the speeding boat plowed into his own craft with a tremendous crash and an ensuing explosion of wood. The wake of the collision sucked him to the bottom of the shallow lake, pinioning him in the murky ooze for a long, terrifying moment. When the wake passed, releasing the suction, he tried to kick toward the surface, his arms flailing against swirling muck and slimy vegetation. But something had his foot in its clammy grasp and refused to let go.
The crooked branch of a submerged tree, part of the rotting mass of vegetation at the bottom of the lake, had trapped Buck's foot. He struggled but his futile attempt served only to deplete what little oxygen was left in his lungs. Despite his efforts, he gained no leverage against the algae-covered stump.
Buck's eyes bulged, his head threatening to explode, his lungs desperate to gasp something, even blood-warm water, into them. Just before losing consciousness he felt icy fingers encircle his ankle. Ephemeral hands freed his ankle from the sunken tree and pushed him toward the lake’s surface. Stroking upward in near panic, he belched foul liquid from his lungs as he burst from the black water.
The first cognizant sound Buck recognized was the boat returning at high speed for another pass. Ducking beneath the water, he plunged back to the bottom of the lake just as the boat passed directly overhead. This time no sunken vegetation entrapped him and he bobbed to the surface, coughing up water but in no imminent danger of drowning.
Fog cloaking the lake showed signs of lifting and moonlight illuminated the silky sheath with a pulsating glow. It left Buck with the sensation of being trapped in a giant Lava Lamp. Having no better plan, he dog-paddled toward what he hoped was the shore. It wasn't. Only rotting vegetation impeded his forward motion, tangling him in scummy tentacles. Tearing loose, he back-stroked into open water.
A dozen or so strokes brought him to the edge of the lake where his feet finally touched shallow bottom. Neck deep in lily pads, he remained in stagnate water until he'd caught his breath, his thoughts turning to poisonous snakes and prehistoric fish with mouths full of razor-sharp teeth swimming around him.
A breeze began blowing fog off the lake and the moon soon poked a small hole in its gossamer shroud. What he saw frightened him more than the thought of an alligator swimming between his legs. Through the underbrush, not more than twenty feet from where he stood, were Humpback and Deacon John floating silently in their boat. Both carried automatic weapons.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Kansas Dirt Cake - a recipe

Here is a recipe I found on the web. The author (unknown) suggests that you serve it in a flower pot complete with gummy worms and artificial flowers. Sounds gummy, I mean yummy!

2 pkgs. vanilla instant pudding
2 ½ cups milk
1 8 oz package of cream cheese
½ stick of butter
¾ cup powdered sugar
12 oz. Cool Whip
1 pkg. Oreo Cookies

Mix the vanilla pudding and milk in a medium size-mixing bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Mix cream cheese, butter and powdered sugar together in a large mixing bowl. Mix in the vanilla pudding and mix until thoroughly blended. Add the carton of Cool Whip and mix until blended.

Line 9 x 13 in. pan with Oreo cookie crumbs. (I use 2 Oreo crusts and mash the crusts up with a fork. You need one crust for the bottom of the pan and one to put over the pudding mixture.) Pour pudding mixture into the pan and spread the rest of the Oreo crumbs on top. Refrigerate until ready to serve.