Full Moon and Forty Below

By Tim Nusse

I am older now. My joints complain often. But my memory is sharp.

I remember it was New Year’s Eve.

The temperature had plummeted to minus 40.

The sky was clear and the full moon was sharply displayed.

I was comfortably dozing under the kitchen table when I heard the plan being discussed.

“I have been waiting for a clear sub-zero night to light the burn pile. This pile is close to immature spruce trees and the cold air will keep the flames close to the ground so heat will not singe the needles on the spruce trees. I will take Luke with me and be back in about 3 hours.”

That was welcome news to my golden retriever ears.

I was privileged to ride in the front seat of the truck to our property 3 miles outside of town.

While my owner went about his business I went about mine. I was allowed to wander as long as I responded when I heard my owner’s whistle.

Soon my nose was filled with scent as I followed endless game trails. I was on one particularly fresh rabbit track when a hole opened underneath me. I had wandered onto the river. At a narrow spot the moving water had caused the ice to thin and I had fallen into the icy water.

Swim to shore.

Swim toooo shooore.

Swim … I cannot swim anymore.

Best to rest. Maybe sleep a little.

Then I heard it. Faintly at first, then repeated many times coming closer. My owner’s whistle. How long had it been since I left him at the slash pile. 10 minutes? Maybe 30? An hour. It did not matter. I must respond to the whistle.

Paw…swim…claw at the ice…swim…paw…I am out of the river. I must find the whistle.

There he is and I cannot move any further. I try to wag my tail in greeting but there is ice covering my fur. I lay down and waited.

I heard my owner greet me. Is that a choked sob I detect in his voice?

I feel him lift me and carry me from the river through the wooded trail to the bonfire. Welcome heat. Then he lifts me into the truck. Warmth.

When we arrived home he carried me into the house and placed me on my mat in the kitchen. All the children were hugging and petting me.

The ice covering my fur was melting. I could feel my muscles again.

As I began to drift into a sleep I could hear my owner talking.:

“I waited 10 minutes after whistling then I decided to go looking for him. The moon was so bright it was like daylight. You could see clearly without a lantern. I climbed a hill and could look down and see that the river was open in one spot. I wondered if he could have fallen through the ice and decided to head to that spot in the river. I kept whistling and then suddenly he burst out of the bush beside the river and laid down waiting for me to arrive..”

I spent 3 days recovering. I was hand fed. I was carried outside for relief. I was pampered by the children.

And I was a wiser dog. A much wiser dog.

Winter Story Contest 2020 – RUNNER UP