It was the cold that woke me.
Opening my eyes, I discovered I was lying down, and although I was disoriented, I instinctively knew I was in a strange place – a place I didn’t belong. As my mind fought to escape the fog of confusion that enveloped it, I began to realize that I wasn’t really sure where I did belong. For a few moments I remained prone, while I tried to focus on exactly where I was, but after working at the puzzle for a few minutes, I decided I’d have to get up in order to learn more.
Slowly I began to arise, but as soon I did, a sharp pain streaking across the side of my face forced me to stop. Pushed further into consciousness by the pain, I realized it was coming from sharp stones that were cutting into my cheek, and I finally understood that I was lying outdoors, on cold hard ground. Fighting the murky fog that muddied my thoughts, I pushed myself into an upright position, and placed my aching head in my hands.
Within a few minutes, my eyes focused on the world around me. My head continued to ache and a nauseating sickness rose up from my stomach. My ears buzzed with a low-pitched hum, a dull droning sound that vibrated in my head. I felt as if I’d been standing beside a large bell that had been fiercely rung – its reverberation continuing on long after its tolling ceased.
Since I was already on my knees, I leaned back on the heels of my feet. As soon as I did I felt more pain when the stone shards I was kneeling on dug sharply into my legs and knees. Steadying my balance, I reached out and held onto a large rock in front of me. Closing my eyes, I took a few deep breaths. The air rushing into my lungs, although cold and sharp, helped to further revive me. A few minutes passed and once more I opened my eyes. Moving slowly to a sitting position, I began to survey my surroundings.
I was in a dark and dreary place – perhaps an alleyway. It was deserted and eerily quiet. On either side of me abandoned and crumbling buildings lined both sides of its dirt and rubbish strewn cobbled pavement. Ahead of me the alley connected to a similarly abandoned street. Turning to look behind me, I discovered that it terminated in a dead end – a brick wall too high to climb or even see over. I’d forgotten the misting rain until I stood and felt it falling lightly on me. It had thoroughly soaked the filthy rags I was wearing, and I shivered when a cold gust of wind blew over me.
Looking down at my feet, I saw that they were bare. I also noticed that I was wearing some type of loose, ill-fitting garment. After trying to adjust it I could tell that I wasn’t wearing any undergarment, since I could feel the coarse cloth scratching the tender skin of my bottom. In fact, my clothing was in such tatters I might as well not have been wearing anything. Feeling something heavy on my chest I reached up and touched it. It was a disk suspended on a thick gold chain that hung around my neck. I took it into my hands and looked at it carefully.
The object was round and heavy. At first I thought it was a coin, for it seemed to be made of gold. Framing it was a pair of wings that wrapped around its circumference. In deep relief on its obverse, I could see markings in the form of swirling and spiraling lines. Turning it over, I found a different image carved on its reverse – a cloud with lightning bolts shooting from it.
From the size of my bare feet and hands, and the appendage between my legs, I could tell that I was a boy. But I couldn’t remember how old I was. In fact, I began to panic when I realized I couldn’t remember anything about myself. I couldn’t recall if I had a home, or family. All I had knowledge of was my present surroundings. Standing scared and alone, the only things I knew for sure were that I was cold and wet, barely dressed, and very hungry. I also became aware of a painful soreness all over my body. The dull aching sensation caused me to think that I might have been in a fight. My arms, legs, and back all hurt as if they’d been bruised, but I couldn’t see any marks other than a few cuts and scratches on my legs and knees.
Taking a few halting steps, I felt a burning pain in my back that was so intense I feared I might have been stabbed with a knife and left for dead. A quick visual scan of my body turned up no signs of blood. Reaching around in attempt to touch the spot, I failed, finding it impossible to put my hand on the place where the pain was most intense. Without success, I resorted to turning my head and looking over my shoulder, but my efforts were futile. If only I could have seen my reflection I could have gotten a better view, but under the circumstances that was impossible. For the longest time I stood like a statue, still trying to regain my senses. At the same time, I searched my memory for an explanation of my plight.
Finally accepting the fact that I couldn’t remain in this dismal place, I began to stagger toward the open end of the alley where it connected to the next street. Carefully threading my way around and between piles of rubbish and dirt I froze, gripped in fear, when I heard a low growl coming from one of the abandoned buildings on my right.
Turning toward the sound, I glimpsed the dark form of a large, furry creature lurking in the shadows under the crumbling arch of a doorway. Its one, red-stained eye stared menacingly at me. Its head was down and it uttered a second blood-curdling growl when it saw I was observing it. The thing may once have been a dog, maybe even someone’s pet, but it had a crazed and evil look.
As it crept from the shadows, it was clear this animal had lived a harsh life. One of its ears was torn off, leaving a small wiry tuft of fur. Emerging further into the light I gasped when I saw a pattern of deep scars covering its body. The bloodshot eye that first caught my gaze continued to coldly examine me as if I were about to become its next meal. Its head turned to the side, and I could see no evidence of a second eye, only a scar streaked area where it had once been.
Ceasing all movement, I stood silently and watched as it arched its back, made a few angry barks, and began to advance toward me. Paralyzed with fear, my eyes darted about while my mind raced to discover a means of escape. On either side of me stood dilapidated buildings that might contain more of the same terrifying creatures. Looking closer, it was obvious that none of the structures were stable or safe. After a few more seconds of frantic searching, I realized that even if I made a dash into one of them, there were no doors or windows to bar the creature from charging in behind me.
To my back was the high brick wall, in front of me lay the intersecting street, but what was beyond it remained a mystery. The dog continued to glare at me. Its constant growl fueled my fear. As the beast stood watching my every move, I took the only option open and slowly inched my way toward the street in front of me, hoping that I could disengage myself from the animal or that someone might be nearby to save me.
Cautiously, I moved toward the intersection of the alley and street. The creature never took its eyes off me, and my heart pounded as I watched it follow in my wake. I knew its powerful jaws could easily tear me to shreds. Beads of sweat dotted my forehead, my mouth was dry, and my breath came rapid and shallow.
Caught in the animal’s gaze, I made a foolish mistake. Propelled by terror and fear, I quickened my pace. Fixing my eyes on the creature’s single riveting eye and not on where I was walking, I didn’t see the small hole in the pavement – a hole easy enough to avoid, but perfect to catch a boy’s foot. I stepped into it, twisted my ankle, and fell.
Tumbling forward, I threw out my arms in an attempt to break my fall. Hitting the ground hard, I cried out when I felt a searing jab of pain come from my hand as my palm scraped against the rough pavement, shredding the skin in a bloody rash. I hit the ground hard and fast – so hard that the breath was pushed from my body.
Back on the ground, I looked at my now injured hand. The pain coming from it was intense. For a few seconds I pressed it hard against my leg to stop the bleeding, but only succeeded in stamping a bloody handprint on my thigh. In my fall I’d momentarily forgotten the creature, but a sharp bark followed by a low growl brought me back to reality and face to face with my dire predicament. By now the angry animal stood only a few feet from me. Its head was low to the ground, its eye cold and unblinking, and I could almost count the long sharp teeth in its mouth as it snapped and snarled at me.
Looking upon this instrument of my eminent death, my mind reeled as an intense burst of feelings and emotions filled my head. The sensation was so powerful it took me by surprise and almost caused me to faint. It was as if I had somehow mentally reached out to the creature, and I cried out in terror when I found that I was powerless to stop my mind from melding with that of the beast.
Strong emotions and strange feelings flooded my consciousness. Were they from the creature? Was it somehow reading my mind? Terrified, I felt like an observer outside my own body, unable to control what was happening in my head. Raw, painful memories of torture, cruelty, and mistreatment rushed into my mind and I shuddered at their intensity. Yet while emotions of anger and hatred bubbled to the surface, I became aware of another set of feelings buried deep below the layers of pain. Falling deeper into the mind of the beast, I was shocked to find feelings of love and gentleness, loyalty and courage, and I came to understand that the positive and negative emotions of this animal were in a relentless war with each other.
Engulfed in an emotional tug of war, I began to choke and cough on the bile rising in my throat as a sickening wave of nausea boiled up from the pit of my stomach. I was in the midst of an emotional storm, wrestling with the same conflicting memories and emotions that inhabited the creature’s mind.
This second set of emotions stirred up feelings of sorrow within me, but their strength and intensity also terrified and confused me. My mind fought with the mental irrationality I found myself caught up in, and my growing fear was more palpable to me than anything I could imagine.
The animal, its head down and its single eye unblinking, continued to advance toward me. By now it was so close that I could see my own reflection in its eye. I sat and shook as it closed the gap between us. As the distance narrowed from a few feet to a few inches, I lowered my head and closed my own eyes as tightly as I could. If the thing was going to kill me, at least I wasn’t going to watch it.
By now, it was right next to me and even though I pressed my eyelids as tightly together as I could in a weak attempt to pretend it wasn’t there, I couldn’t ignore the stench that rose from its body and filled my nostrils causing me to gag and cough. Grimacing, I turned my head when I felt the warm moistness of its foul breath against my face.
The creature advanced ever closer, and I flinched as a few drops of the drool that had been foaming up on the sides of its muzzle dripped onto one of my bare legs. When it was as close to me as it could get, it stopped and then began to circle me. Completing its circle, it came around to face me and stood motionless before me. Once more I shuddered as I felt a few drops of its drool fall onto my right foot. Terrified over the pain I was about to suffer, I drew my arms and legs together in a ball bracing for the coming attack…when it abruptly ceased growling and lowered its head.
Opening my eyes, I stared into its bloodshot eye. This time I was overcome with feelings of great loneliness and sadness. The years of pain and suffering it had been subjected to crashed over me like a wave. Tears came to my eyes, and it was at that moment I no longer saw a horrible monster, but a kind and noble animal tortured and abused to the edge of madness, and although a part of me couldn’t believe my actions, I instinctively reached out a trembling hand and began to softly stroke its gross and misshapen head.
The dog, slowly and deliberately, lay down beside me and gently rested its head on my thigh. From deep inside its scarred and deformed body, it released a long, low sigh. My tears ceased and I continued to gently stroke its head while I spoke to it in soft, low tones. The dog remained quietly next to me as the light rain misted down on us. Still fearful of what was to become of me, I kept stroking and petting its scarred head. And that’s the way we were when they found us.