Me and Jake
Ty told his twin brother, Cameron, that he felt like something was going to happen to change their lives. Little did he know how prophetic that statement would be, or how soon it would come to pass. What seems like a series of coincidences are anything but, and what’s more amazing, Ty’s coon dog, Jake, might not be a dog at all.
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The rattle of Dad’s old pickup lingered long after the taillights disappeared into the darkness. Cameron stared after it. I stared after it. I’d heard twins think alike, and it must have been true because there we stood, like statues in the cool morning.
A pair of goats had more sense.
I let my right hand rest on Jake’s head. My one-eyed Black and Tan Coonhound was never far from me. “What now?” I asked. Like I didn’t already know the answer.
“What time is it?” my brother whispered.
I shrugged. He knew I didn’t own a watch, but he asked anyway. “Morning time. Real early, I think, but maybe not. Clouds might be hiding the first rays. No stars out and all. Why are you whispering?”
Cameron let out a hard breath and looked up at the black sky. “I don’t want to wake up. We got to bed just shy of eleven. I don’t feel like I slept an hour before Dad yelled at us. I wonder what’s stuck in his craw. Did you hear anything he said to Momma Ray before we left? I didn’t.”
Our stepmom demanded we call her Momma Ray. “I heard ‘em talking, but all lovey-dovey, with Dad sipping coffee between times. They sound like a tractor tire hissing air around a nail, whispering back and forth at each other. You know they don’t have us in mind when they do all that mushy stuff.”
“Yeah, you’re right.”
“Let’s get cranked up and cut some hay.”
“Um, wait. What’s that noise? T, I think your angel is on the run?”
Everyone called me Ty but my brother. I liked it that way.
I looked down to my right, then behind us. What in the world? Jake had slipped out from under my hand and walked away without me knowing. “Jake is an angel. Only looks like a dog.”
“Brother, we’re fourteen, nearly fifteen. Angels and coon dogs? Come on. That’s fairytale stuff.”
“Well, how do you explain—?”
“I don’t have to. I’m not the one who thinks an old flop-eared hound’s an angel.”
My beliefs about Jake were an ongoing subject Cameron wouldn’t let be. Cameron’s anger was quick to flare up. He was lucky I wasn’t like him. His nose would’ve been bloody about then.
A deep bay echoed across the hayfield. Jake knew I was looking for him and hollered to let me know what he was up to.
Cameron elbowed me. “T, I’ll bet Jake’s on a coon. Let’s go!”
Just because a coonhound has coon in his name doesn’t mean he’s limited to chasing only masked bandits. Given the chance, Jake was apt to go after any critter that had legs to run on. Rabbits, squirrels, deer, bobcats and even a stray housecat could attract his attention.
Most times, I’d be the first one to run off and chase critters with Jake, but…Dad would show up again soon, sure as shooting, and he’d know by looking at the field we’d been playing around instead of tending to his business. “What about mowing? Dad said—”
“You didn’t listen. Dad said to cut hay when the sun comes up. The sun ain’t up. I’m taking him at his word. Let’s have some fun for once.”
Cameron made a lot of sense.
I hoped Jake hadn’t jumped a deer. They don’t tree. They keep running and running and running.
Jake could howl the bark off an oak tree when he got to going and made it easy to follow his line of travel. His bark led us across the pasture.
The sun was closer to coming up than I thought. Before we entered the trees at a run, I could see good enough to avoid low limbs, rocks, and tree trunks. And it was cloudy. Low and wispy, like fog, only higher, the kind Dad always said would burn off as soon as the sun came up.
The ridge across the north side of our pasture rose to our front. I pointed left, cut right, and yelled back at Cameron. “Go that way. I’ll circle in case they cross the top. Meet me at the pond.”
Cameron and I knew the country around our pasture. We had explored the woods with Jake many times. If I could make the top of the ridge before Jake chased his prey up the hill, I could call him off.
We didn’t own a gun, so we chased coons just to hear Jake’s voice. Maybe, too, we liked to run for the fun of it, free of the everyday chores that took up all of our time. If the coon treed, Jake would give him a good what-for, howling out of frustration because the chase was over, and we could get back to the hayfield and go to work.
My heartbeat kept pace with my feet as I pounded up the steep ground between rocks and trees. Bushes and tall grass shed the morning dew and soaked my britches. Once on top, I stopped to catch my breath and listen to Jake’s ramblings below. The coon was leading him in a circle. Jake’s bark echoed in the cool morning air and sounded like two dogs on the hunt.
Then, the biggest ruckus broke loose. Screaming and howling the likes I never heard before erupted. The hair jumped up on my head and goose bumps popped out on me from head to toe. What in the world? It sounded like Jake caught the boogieman. I headed back down the hill as fast as I could run.
The pond wasn’t big. About fifty paces across. Cameron and I had visited the little water hole many times for a drink when we could escape the hayfield without Dad catching us. Sometimes the water was clear, most times not. The smell of mud, rotten plants, and frogs and such made me wonder how I’d put my lips in it for a long drink so many times before.
The woods opened up and the pond came into view. Jake swam around in the middle, like he couldn’t make up his mind which way to go. A big coon scurried out of the water and disappeared into the bushes on the opposite bank. To Jake’s left, another critter thrashed in the water. A red and white…what? Coon? I stopped and stared, stuck in the mud like a dead tree stump. Moron.
Cameron wore a red ball cap and a white shirt, but he couldn’t swim.
My scream propelled me into the water.