58. Awaken

This became an interesting exercise and a moment I’ve thought about many times.

The burrow was dark, calm.

In the largest room, the two sentries kept watch. One would occasionally add to the pit of coals, stirring it around with a large stick to keep them from going out. The other paced from the front entrance, which looked out on the field they lived in, all the way to the back entrance, where the creek trickled peacefully by.

Nets, woven by the women, were left in the water. They would be checked first thing in the morning for any minnows that might have found their way into their clutches. The fish would be descaled and would become their meal for the next day. If they caught enough, they might even be able to make fish stew, a staple down in the burrow.

Arthur, the erstwhile leader of the tiny community that lived under the ground in the warrens and tunnels they’d both found and built themselves, slept peacefully through the night.

His young daughter, Alyssa, slept in one of the nearby rooms that branched off of his. She was almost thirteen now, and itched to live in a place of her own like the others. His rule was she had to wait until she was at least fourteen. He didn’t want his only living relation to be too far from him, even in their safe world.

So late that night it was almost morning, there was a rumble overhead. Arthur sat bolt upright, his eyes going straight to the ceiling as dirt and debris rained down on him.

Something was happening.

As he tore out of his home, he shouted to Alyssa, “Stay down here! Don’t come up until we send the signal everything is safe!” She covered her mouth, her green eyes watery from the combination of sleep and fear that hit her.

He reached the top, and one of the wooden spears they sharpened up for protection was thrown to him. Arthur was as prepared as anyone to protect their home, and he caught it with the ease of long years, following the others to the main entrance.

Loud barks drowned out the rumbles, and Arthur and the others skid to a halt at the sight before their eyes.

The new dog that lived up at the House they’d come from was there, but he wasn’t the source of the angry snarls and scratch marks that marred the entrance. The massive black Rottweiler was holding another animal pinned to the ground, a raccoon whose dexterous claws could reach into the burrow and pull people out to snack on if they happened too close to an entrance while it was around.

With a resounding growl, the dog bared its teeth. They sealed around the raccoon’s throat, and ended the threat.

Even Arthur, with long years and harsh days behind him already, had to look away. The dog didn’t leave the corpse there, sitting on their front doorstep. It pulled the raccoon away, and vanished into the stalks of grass.

Long moments passed, and Arthur waited with the sentries and defenders. His arms shook, knowing they were helpless if the dog came back and wanted to dig up their home.

Ten long, arduous minutes passed before they heard anything else. Panting, the dog trotted up out of the grass. Arthur snapped his spear up, holding it defensively in front of him. The others followed suit.

Instead of an attack, the dog sniffed towards the entrance and let out a long, whining growl. It stretched out on its belly, expressive brown eyes blinking at the people guarding their home.

“I don’t believe it,” Arthur heard a voice say, and was shocked to find it was his own.

His spear dropping to the ground, he found himself taking a step forward.

“Arthur, get back here!” one of the others snapped, and he recognized Neera’s voice.

He waved her off.

The dog simply watched his approach, nose twitching as he came in range. He held up his hands. “Thank you for saving us,” Arthur enunciated carefully, laying a hand on the dog’s snout.

The chocolate brown eyes closed, and to his surprise, the dog let out a moan of contentment. Arthur’s face split into a grin, and he rubbed the fur with greater abandon, thanking their protector.

And so Arthur and his people adopted Rumsfeld much the same way as Rumsfeld adopted them.

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