Poet & the Witch of Highway K Ch. 01byelbiscayne©
Eight inches of old snow blanketed the ground and with temperatures in the mid-teens, a gusting wind and overcast sky, it had the makings of being a real whirling son-of-a-bitch of a day.
Being only 54 and retired had a hell of a lot going for it in my mind. For one thing, I wouldn't be out there hooking poles and repairing downed lines. For another, sometimes, you just can't beat a good read close to a nice fire.
Just as a by the way, my name is Nick. You may know me from my other tales, or you may not as far as that goes. In any case, if you want more of a physical description, you'll have to read it somewhere else. I haven't changed one damn bit since my other stories.
I was getting engrossed in my book when movement caught my eye. Looking out, I watched a big black and tan bitch, teats hanging, and then dragging as she struggled through the crusted drifts, and then hesitating before trying to push her way forward again.
I like to think of myself as being 'pert near' ready for just about any 'ole thang'; and this morning I was true to my nature.
Out the back door I went, kicking and shuffling a path thru the snow while calling to her and thinking out loud on the merits of requiring a background check before a person was allowed a pet.
She immediately headed toward me. As I drew near, her exhaustion and bloody paw prints had me juggling anger and concern.
Now I don't know much about dogs; I've never been owned by one, or felt the need to be responsible for one. When I get the urge to get up and go, I don't like the nuisance of finding someone to care for the critter, plus the worry about whether that person is doing his or her job.
Besides all that, I'm happy with myself and just don't need constant companionship to fill any blanks. After having said that; when I saw the look in her eyes and heard that low whine; I felt a lurch and one of those blanks was filled.
She followed me to the house with a crazy irregular limp that; I almost hate to say, bordered on being funny.
Getting her settled close to the fire, I checked her pads and found them split and raw. I tried to think of something to do to help her, but she beat me to it and started licking her paws. When she was satisfied, she gave out a big sigh and pretty much passed out.
She was a good-looking dog. Short hair, black and tan markings and while I could not discern a distinct breed, she definitely had a lot of hound in her, and most likely weighed in around ninety pounds when she was in better shape.
I moved her collar so that I could read the tag, and was surprised when I saw an address on Highway K. As the crow flies, it was probably 40 miles away.
The only other information on the tag was a name. Wilda.
She slept close to six hours.
When she woke, I gave her a bowl of warm water and another with two cans of corn beef hash, which may not be dog food, but in my opinion, sure looks to be in the same family.
As I set the bowls down close to her, I said, "Here you go, Wilda."
She growled at me in reply.
I tried what I thought was her name again; getting the same result.
"That ain't your name is it little girl?"
She answered with a whine.
Over the next few days she was content just laying there; making occasional trips outside; and didn't act fretful, like there might be pups out there somewhere.
I figured if there was, they were either weaned or dead.
As the days passed, she quit limping, and I knew it was time to take her home.
I didn't want to admit it, but I knew there was going to be a void.
The first part of the drive was uneventful, but as we got closer to the address on Highway K, she started acting strange. Whining, pawing at me, licking my face, I got the impression that she was apologizing in advance for what she knew was coming next.
The rutted and snow packed gravel drive was guarded by an old rusty mailbox that was in a losing battle with vandals. The drive wound through trees up to an old farmhouse with a wrap-around porch and detached garage.
The woman standing on the porch watching us drive up looked to be in her late sixties, maybe early seventies. Her long white hair was pulled back in a tail which hung over one shoulder. She was wearing a heavy turtleneck sweater under a pair of faded denim coveralls.
The dog gave a low growl.
The woman approached, and as I got out of the truck, I could feel her blue eyes on me, gauging, weighing, and measuring. The hair went up on the back of my neck, and I could feel myself starting to perspire. I felt an overwhelming desire for "flight" that I choked down hard.
As the dog jumped from the truck, I held out my hand to introduce myself, but was cut off by the woman saying, "So, this is the one?"
The dog gave a short bark and the woman replied, "Well, it took you long enough."
Holding me with her eyes, she said, "No sense standing here. My name is Wilda. This here is Fetch. Come on inside, you have payment coming."
She gave a short laugh as she turned and headed for the house.
We entered the house through a side door and into a room that was bare except for racks with plants growing and drying on them. Wilda saw me looking at them, smiled, and simply said, "I'm a herbalist."
That brought a small grin to my face, because I have been known to use (some would say overuse) herb from time to time. In fact, on the way here...
Leading me into her kitchen she made a motion toward the table, so I took off my jacket and sat. Wilda made herself busy getting water boiling in a kettle, and from what I could see, getting a pinch of this and that from various containers on the counter.
"I don't have any coffee," she said. "But you'll try some of my tea. You're sure to enjoy it."
Fetch gave a low growl and Wilda spun to face her saying, "Go tend to your bastard...now!"
Fetch backed up, turned and headed down a hallway and through a doorway.
I again got the feeling that I should run.
Wilda stood watching me, without a word and expressionless, as the tea steeped. She would test it from time to time with a finger to her mouth until she was satisfied. After pouring a large mug full and adding a piece of ice, she sat down across from me and slid the mug in my direction and motioned that I should drink.
It was good. Real good. Spicy would describe it. Hit the spot, so-to-speak, on this cold day.
As she watched me drink, she started humming or maybe it was chanting.
She leaned toward me, looking into my eyes and asked, "How did Fetch find you?"
I started to give the events leading up to this, and felt a sense of insistent calm and well-being pass over me.
Wilda was still staring at me but with a smile on her face as she asked me, "You like that, do you?"
I've been around the block a time or two and tried some things that were probably better left alone. I've felt rushes, brushes and downs with the best of them. Tasted colors, smelled thoughts before they were expressed, saw carnivals where others saw gas pumps...
You get the idea.
This was as different as night and day.
Calm. Dead calm. Peace. Every sense alive and the end of the world couldn't make me want to use them.
I remember her laughing and dogs barking.
I found myself on the shoulder of Highway K sitting behind the wheel. It was dark, the motor was running, snow was blowing in through the open window, Porky Pig was singing 'Blue Christmas', and a small animal had its paws on my chest; cleaning my face.
My body ached, especially below the waist.
Shaking my head to clear it, I put the truck in gear and headed home.
The animal curled up next to me and slept.