The phone rang, jarring Ben away from the most recent Kathy Reich’s novel. “Ben Feinstein.”
“Ben, it’s Atticus. Your dog’s in the cemetery again. She’s not bothering anybody, but it’s supposed to freeze tonight. Just thought you’d like to know.”
Ben glared down at the snoring schnauzer. “I’ll be right there.”
Every chance the dog had, she escaped and went to lie on John’s grave. He tossed on his heavy sheepskin coat and grabbed a quilt from a closet beside the door. He was at the cemetery in less than five minutes. The parsonage’s front yard was full of cars and Ben remembered there was supposed to be an elders’ meeting this afternoon. As he got out of his truck, the elders were all leaving. He nodded shyly at the few who greeted him and went to retrieve the dog. She lay there, as if she were dead herself.
Suddenly, the hairs down his arms and legs zinged. He heard shouts coming from the elders and turned, expecting to see lightning bolts shattering the clouds. Instead, he saw a silver white circle expanding to the size of a garage door and people began leaping through towards the elders.
Ben gaped. He knew this was what happened, but he’d never seen it for himself. Twelve children, three men and two women tumbled from the white circle and were screaming and bleeding and shaking short knives and what looked like beaded nets.
“Is that all? Are there more of you?” Atticus roared above the din.
The refugees argued among themselves.
Like a stream of gold, the dog bounded past Ben, around the circle the elders had formed, through the screaming foreigners, and leaped into the center of the portal.
The voices fell silent.
Ben ran up to Taralyn. “Where’d she go?”
The young woman shook her head.
They waited, holding their breath. In minutes which felt like hours, a child tumbled through. A rope was attached to her leg and stretched back into the light. Right behind her appeared a golden rump and shaggy tail of John’s dog. As her head cleared this side of the portal, Ben could see blood dripping from its snarling fangs. She was protecting the child from whatever monster had the other end of the rope.
Without thought, Ben ran, grabbed the rope, and yanked it with all his might. The end, attached to an empty gauntlet, flew out of the portal just as the light winked out. He knew what he’d seen through that circle would haunt him if he let it; a man – with face and neck torn away by an animal – roaring in fury. Numbed, he turned around. The creature which had savaged the soldier was panting joyfully. The girl she had rescued clung to the dog’s chest as if she would never let go.
Atticus looked stunned. Several of the elders stood gaping in confusion. The newcomers quieted and moved as a group away from the rest.
“I thought only people with souls could travel through a portal,” Sarah’s voice trembled.
“You’re never had a dog?” Eduviges asked. “Dogs have souls. So do cats.”
Sarah sputtered, “That’s not in the Bible.”
“Neither are ukeras, but they have souls,” Gwen knelt down in front of the girl. The child squeezed her eyes shut and clung more fervently to the dog.
“Welcome in the name of God. We serve the light. Whom do you serve?”
The dog hassled and pressed her muzzle on top of the girl’s head. Muffled against the golden fur, the girl responded, “I serve the light, the bringers of light, and the light eternal. And so does Ohamaha.”
“Would you like to join your family?”
Swiftly, but with absolute certainty, a woman stated, “She is not ours.”
A man beside the woman agreed. “Ventu has no claim on us, nor we on her. We took her in – is all – for a short while.”
“And she brought nothing but disaster in her wake,” snarled the younger man.
Ben was watching the dog. Whatever had happened on the other side of that medallion of light had been miraculous for her. Ben had feared she would pine away and die within a week, so deep was her grief. But now, her eyes twinkled. She grinned and huffed in that way that dogs do when they’re laughing. And she’d saved this little girl.
“You need to come with us, girl,” Gwen reached toward her. The dog growled deeply, brooking no interference.
“She can come with me.” Ben heard himself saying. “John’s dog found her. She can come home with us.”
Atticus stared down at the vet who showed up six months earlier, claiming he’d been told to come here in a dream. There was a goodness in the man, Atticus had felt it when they prayed together before allowing Ben to join the church. A good man with a deep sorrow. Atticus nodded.
John’s dog seemed to understand. She stood slowly and with the child still holding her, walked to Ben’s truck. He wrapped them both in the quilt after buckling the girl in the front seat.
And then Ben headed home.
“Dogs have souls,” he said aloud.
To Build an Army
© Evelyn Rainey
Available for publication.