In the black season of deep winter a storm of waves is roused along the expanse of the world. Sad are the birds of every meadow plain, except the ravens that feed on the crimson blood, at the clamour of harsh winter; rough, black, dark, smoky. Dogs are viscious in cracking bones; the iron pot is put on the fire after the dark black day.
--Irish, author unknown, eleventh century
I'm gonna sit here in my place on the hill behind the house. Waiting. And watching.
Aint nothing moving down there.
The valley look pretty bare in the snow. Just the house, gray and lonely down by the river all frozen. I got to think what I'm gonna do now that everyone gone.
But I got my dog head on.
The dog gonna tell me what to do. The dog gonna help me.
The house look proper empty--don't it, dog.
You just sit quiet in these rocks, Willo.
The dog talking sense like he always do.
I reckon the fire in the house probably gone out by now with no one to feed it cos everyone gone and I been sitting on the hill all day finding that out. Everyone got taken away cos I seen tracks in the snow. They all gone.
The others gone.
But I don't know why.
Tell me, dog--what am I gonna do?
I find the dog in the heather one winter. Cold and dead. He been a big old black dog. Fur getting mangy. But one time he been leader of the Rhinogs pack cos I seen him enough times out on the hill. I bleach his bones out on a rock behind the house. Summer come and the skull just sitting there washed out and white, teeth still holding in his powerful jaw. Talking to me somehow.
That's when I know he been my dog. And I got him stitched up onto my hat with stones tied into his old eye sockets so he can see. I near beg Dad to help me cure the skin cos he say it aint worth the effort. But he do it anyway and I stitch that tattered hide on my coat. Dog gonna keep me warm and tell me what to do after that.
Sometimes before a hunt I get him up to my secret cave on the Farngod. Get the power of the dog strong inside me then. All his cunning. His sharp ears and cold eyes. The oldness of the mountain and all its knowing inside my secret place. And I need it inside me too. That's how I catch so many hares see.
Dad say, you're strong like a Spartan, Willo. Could have left you out in the snow and you still gonna keep screeching.
Dad say we're like Eskimos now. And when he tells me about Eskimos I got to believe him cos he been born before and knows what an Eskimo is.
See, Dad got this book in his box filled with stuff from before, and when he gets it out he lets me look in it, and there are pictures of Eskimos in that book but they got funny faces not like us.
Sometimes the grown-ups sit around the fire and give us a Tell about the old days--that's the days before everything got proper cold. Everyone got trucks and cars back then. And stuff like electricity and hotbaths and water coming out the wall.
That's always in the Tell.
But like I say, that was in the oldtime, before the sea stop working, before the snow start to fall and fall and fall and don't stop. Grown-ups like remembering all that old-time stuff--they make out it's so the kids aint gonna forget, but I think they talk about it so they aint gonna forget it themselves.
Sometimes I sit in the corner with my dog skull on. I know the stories roundside about, but the dog might like to hear them. Just like the little kids who sit at the front with their mouths all red and open like baby birds. They lap all that stuff up.
I only get interested when the grown-ups talk about real things--like what's been happening in the city and the stealer camps by the power lines. Cos that stuff is more exciting than listening to a bunch of weary thin graybeards talking about hotbaths and food. But I don't need to tell you that--you probably got your own bunch of boring grown-ups to listen to.
After the Snow Copyright © 2012 by S. D. Crockett. All rights reserved. Donnelley & Sons Company, Harrisonburg, Virginia. For information, address Feiwel and Friends, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
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