Through the pine groves, past the mown corn, down to the river bank the children gathered every day after school, with sticks hoping to see the dog. The river bed was nearly dry in deep autumn, with the leaves almost fallen from the sparse trees that spotted the bank. The soil was cold and stiff anticipating the first snow of the impending winter.
The children sat on the protruding roots of one of the larger oaks and drew patterns on the sand. There was a melancholy air among them as they sat cursing and carrying on. It had been twelve days since the gatherings started. At first it was one or two boys, but word had spread whisperly through the halls and school yard, filling the children with a sense of anger and reprisal that was tempered by curiosity to the lonely spot.
That afternoon there were seven of them. The five boys sat on one side, with Luke standing across from them batting rocks into the river bed with his stick.
“Stop it Luke, you’re going to hit one of us,” Shelly cried covering her face with her hands. Luke just shrugged and shifted slightly so that his volley would clear them a little farther.
“How long are we going to sit out here today anyway, my mother is going to get worried?” One of the boys whined a bit.
Charley shrugged, “Go home if you want, no one asked you to come anyway. But I care about Anna…”
Luke stopped for a minute and rested his chin on the long sapling he had cut up. “Did you go by there yesterday?”
Charley jumped to his feet and slapped the dirt off his jeans. “Yes but her mother still won’t let us see her. They say she’s still in bed and won’t be up for a couple days. I hope she’s OK. Stupid dog, if I find it…”
Shelly broke in, “Well Jenny told me that she went over to the house to bring Anna her home work and saw her. She said she looked really bad. She said that one of he eyes was swollen and that she couldn’t even get out of bed because of her leg being chewed. That’s so gross…”
“How did a dog give her a black eye? Jenny is stupid she never saw her…” Luke said disgusted.
“Uh huh, your just jealous because you couldn’t see her and you like Anna.” Shelly shot back causing the rest of the children to laugh and start chanting “Luke loves Anna”.
Luke’s face turned red and stern, “Shut up all of you” and batted a rock at his classmates. Charley yelled at him to stop, so he stood there writing his name in the sand.
Charley looked up, “Stop it, all of you. It was a dog, that’s what my parents told me, that a stray dog hurt her. And it happened here, that’s why the police and the ambulance were here all last week. Look at all the tracks in the sand.”
“Look those are even dog prints over there by the footprints.” One of the children piped in.
It was a couple minutes later, just about when the children were about to get bored and disperse that one of the girl’s shrill squeal cut through the bitter air. There, wandering op the river bed was a black lab, splashing in the puddles as it chased a rabbit or some other small animal up the bank. The children sat frozen, eyes on Charley, waiting for some reaction or signal. None of the children had heard a description of the stray. The dog continued up the trail and seeing children bounded toward them merrily.
At about twenty feet Charley sprung to his feet swinging his stick and letting out at deep shout. At lead the rest of the children bounded toward the dog with murderous intent. Through their screeching they never heard the dog’s whelping cries.
Ten minutes later a woman jogging came up the river bed whistling and shouting “Here Onyx, here boy.” When she turned the bend in the creek, she saw the children and burst into tears.