The men slammed the gate, trapping the dog inside. It paced angrily along the fence, snarling at any movement on the other side. Foam dripped from its mouth like froth from stormy seas.
"Someone should call the vet," I shouted to the men.
"Jacob is the vet," he replied, pointing at a gray haired man in a plaid jacket. I watched him slowly shake his head; the gray flowed over his jacket like a waterfall.
"There's nothing you can do?" I asked, walking up to the group.
"No, it's too far gone," the old man replied.
While I talked with the men, I realized the dog was suddenly quieter. It stopped pacing and stood motionless, looking through the fence. A man in dark clothes walked slowly toward the gate. His jet-black hair shrouded his face so, even in the bright sun, he appeared to be in shadow.
Without a word, he stepped through the gate and walked up to the dog. He kneeled. The dog lay down, resting its head on the man's legs. The man leaned forward, reaching both hands over the dog. Then, with an infinite tenderness he stroked it, once, then again. He moved the dog's head off his legs and slowly stood up.
The crowd of people, who'd gathered to watch the excitement, opened a path for the dark man to pass, fearing his touch. I looked at Jacob. The old vet stared into his hands, as a tear rolled down his face.
He was water, he was sky, he was darkness and he was light. Some called him "The Killer," others thought him an angel. I watched him soothe the rabid dog as it died and then he silently walked away. That completely baffled me.
I'm not what you'd call a religious man, but what I saw that afternoon was a spiritual thing. It was either something pristine and pure, or something altogether evil. I just wasn't sure which.
"I heard he killed his parents as a baby. He jus' touched 'em an' they slipped away, jus' like that dog," Emma said freshening my coffee.
"He's not from around here. He just walked into town one day," replied Deputy Ben. "He's been doing that since he got here, putting animals down like that."
"Has anyone ever talked to him?" I asked.
Emma shook her head no.
"I never had occasion to." Ben said, "He's always been just a quiet, gentle man. Everything I seen him kill, was dyin' anyway."
"You say he kills them? It just looked to me like he held that dog as it died."
"No, I seen rabies before. That dog would've run around nuts like that for another day. No, he held that dog and drew the life right outa him," Ben explained.
"But he was so gentle, so tender."
"They say he touches them with God's fingers," Emma added.
"God's fingers . . . infinite," I replied. I wandered out of the café without even saying goodbye.
His house was everything I expected; yet it was totally unexpected. Though small, there was a sense of order. The house and fence were all perfectly maintained and the grounds finely raked. It was beautiful, but so very odd. Nothing around the house was living, no plants, no grass and no trees. The yard was a fine gravel and sand, and boulders lined the edge of the house.
As I walked toward his door, I noticed movement at his window. I expected him not to answer, but when I knocked he quietly opened the door.
"Hello," he whispered, "I've been expecting you."
Stunned by the first words I heard him speak, so soft, so gentle, I stood at the threshold motionless.
"Please come in," he said extending his hand to motion me in.
"I saw you with the dog yesterday," I finally said. "I'm John Jackson, a writer." Instinctively I grabbed his hand to shake.
Suddenly I felt bathed in light, warm and pulsing. Darkness then splashed me, cold and damp. Then I felt the warmth again as a voice beckoned me. Soft, melodious words, like poetry, then harsh cutting words from a deep abyss. I felt torn, back and forth, then swirling, swirling . . .
I opened my eyes and saw his face.
"You mustn't touch me, again. I will talk to you, but you cannot write about me." His words caressed me as I'd never been touched before: so soft . . . so tender.
. . . So soft . . . so tender. I felt warmth in my heart as I re-read the magazine. My story of Destin, the gentle man with a gift, started in his youth and ended with our meeting, a meeting that almost killed me.
His touch eased pain and brought serenity. His touch brought softness and an infinitely tender death. He spent his life in a small town, helping farmers and townspeople mercifully treat hopelessly injured animals. He lived off small payments the people gave him for his "services."
Now, he'd be famous, thanks to my article. He could relieve terminally ill patients, he could provide a truly merciful means for state executions, and he could be rich.
I finished my coffee, picked up the magazine and went to meet him. Deputy Ben said he heard that Destin was at the Old Gorge Bridge.
I saw him on the bridge, where he gently held a raccoon that had been injured by a car. He laid its head down and looked toward me.
"I asked you not to write about me."
His words, spoken so gently, felt like a slap. "But you'll be famous now. Imagine all the good you can do," I replied.
"Good? Everything I touch dies. How can that be good? When they die, I hurt."
Before I could say anything more, he silently slipped over the rail, falling to the rocks below.
"But, you could have been famous." My words echoed off the rock walls.