Monday, January 15, 2024

Pal; from Shepherd's First Winter

Here we are in the dead of winter. What better than an excerpt from my novella, Shepherd's First Winter. It is available on Amazon. It can be purchased in paperback or on Kindle


The snow came. It was in the night when it fell.

Shepherd scraped frost from a window in the dining room. White. He brewed coffee on the stove and slipped his clothing on. He jumped from the porch and into the snow. He was a child. He lay in the snow and looked upward and watched the snow fall on him. “The first snow, and I’m already mad,” he thought chuckling.

Two mornings later Shepherd sat in his chair in the living room. He was reading Call of the Wild. He heard dogs barking in the distance. He slung on his coat and stepped out on the front porch. He listened as the barking became louder. Over a ridge of snow in the direction of the stream, a dogsled team plodded toward the cabin.

The dogs and sled came to a stop only feet from the porch. A man in thick clothing and a fury-hooded parka walked from the rear of the sled to the steps of the porch. He slipped back the hood. It was Daniel smiling broadly.

“How are you doing, Shepherd?" Daniel said.

“I am doing well,” Shepherd said, “and you and your family?”

“We are native,” Daniel said. “We do well when things are bad.”

“Come in,” Shepherd said.“Let me warm you. I have coffee and pie. Do you like cherry pie?”

“It has been a long time,” Daniel said. “You go ahead. I’ll be with you in a moment. I will tend to my dogs.”

Shepherd went inside. He warmed some stew and placed two bowls on the table along with two slices of cherry pie and a steaming cup of coffee.

Shepherd heard Daniel stomp the snow from his boots. Daniel entered the cabin. Tucked in his arms held to his chest was a pup.

“My family and I were talking about you and how you might become lonely,” Daniel said. “A dog is a good gift. A good dog is the best gift.”

Daniel handed the pup to Shepherd.

“Look!” Daniel said. “He takes to you right away.”

Shepherd petted and smiled at the pup. “What kind of dog?”

“He is a Husky,” Daniel said.

“Does he have a name?” Shepherd said.

“No,” Daniel said, “he is yours, and it is up to you to name him.”

“Have you ever read Call of the Wild?” Shepherd said.

“You will name him, Buck?” Daniel said. “That name 's been taken.”

“You’re right,” Shepherd said.“I will call him Pal.”

“That’s a good name,” Daniel said. “He will be your pal.”

“How old is he?” Shepherd said.

“Two months,” Daniel said.

“I will have all winter to train him,” Shepherd said.“When spring comes he will be reading.”

Shepherd and Daniel sat down to a good meal of the stew and cherry pie.

Shepherd put the dishes in the sink and poured two glasses of whiskey.

“A man who lives alone must watch how much he drinks,” Daniel said. “Your life depends on how sober you are.”

“Don’t worry, Daniel,” Shepherd said, “only when guests arrive and the celebration of your gift.”

They sipped for an hour talking about the cold and surviving the wilderness.

“I must go now,” Daniel said. “Not much daylight remains.”

Shepherd opened the oven and pulled out another cherry pie. He wrapped it in cloth. “My gift to you and your family.”

“My wife and children have never had cherry pie,” Daniel said. “They will surely enjoy it.”

Daniel slung on his parka. He stepped over to the fireplace where Pal was asleep. He leaned down and said, “Take care of Shepherd.”

Shepherd walked with Daniel to the porch. Daniel packed the pie on the sled and rocked the sled free. The dogs sprung to their feet.

“Yaaw! Yaaw!” Daniel called out to his team of dogs. Daniel circled the dogs and sled around, and they headed down a gentle slope of snow toward the stream that led to the river.

As he watched Daniel skim over the snow, he thought about loneliness, real loneliness for the first time in his life. He realized that of all the things he planned for, that was the one thing he gave no attention.

Daniel was a man of the wilderness. He heard stories of loneliness and how it can shred a man.

Shepherd returned to the cabin. He pulled his chair closer to the fire. He held Pal in his lap and read to him from Call of the Wild.

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