Bartholomew Scuggins, called Brownie due to being the sole brunette in a family of tow-heads, dropped his string-tied books and tipped his head, listening. Somebody was in trouble. Brownie liked to walk home from the schoolhouse through the woods, even with his bare feet. He felt at home here. But that sound of misery didn’t belong. It was yelps, somewhat muffled. Whining in between. Brownie began working his way through the underbrush, sticky, prickly vines grabbing at his ankles, snagging his overalls.
The noise stopped suddenly, Brownie halting. He must be near. It stopped when it sensed his presence. Brownie squinted and turned in a slow circle, looking, looking.
And then he saw it. It was a dog. He was of medium size, grey, his eyes full of pain, fear, and anger as he held Brownie’s stare. The boy slowly held up both hands and walked carefully toward the dog.
“Easy boy,” he said soothingly. “Brownie’s gotcha. What’sa matter, boy?”
The dog’s body leaned somewhat away as if to escape. But Brownie could see there would be no escape. Two of the dog’s legs – a front and a rear – were wrapped in the fast-growing, prickly vine that permeated these woods. Somehow he had allowed the vine to entangle him, his legs bleeding where the vine had dug further into the fur as he fought to get out. The dog’s mouth was also bleeding.
“Oh, boy,” Brownie said with great sympathy. “Tried to chew out, didn’t you. Tore up your poor mouth. Here,” Brownie added, moving closer now, “let me see what I can do.”
It didn’t take much inspection to see that even with his pocketknife, Brownie could not get the deeply imbedded vine unwrapped from the suffering dog’s legs. When the boy tried to take the dog’s foot to get a closer look, the animal pulled back, beginning to panic, his yelp sounding more like a growl.
Brownie stopped, leaned in closer to the dog, giving him his sternest look. Trying to sound older and surer than his half-score years, he said, “Now look, you’re in a real fix here. You need to decide to trust me. You hear?”
The dog’s eyes widened and Brownie saw a decision slowly being made. The dog didn’t relax, exactly, but he…allowed.
Good enough, Brownie thought, and went to work on cutting the vines with his pocket knife. It seemed to take hours, Brownie’s hands quickly bloodied, then becoming numb. When the second vine was finally loosed, the dog began to pull away, but Brownie lunged forward and wrapped his arms around him.
“No you don’t,” he said, cradling the dog to himself and picking him up. “We gotta get those things offa you.”
Thirty minutes later, Brownie came crashing into his house, still cradling the bleeding dog. “Ma! Pa! Help!”
His parents froze in their tracks when they took in the sight.
“Can you help him, Pa?”
The man looked from the animal which eyed him warily, to his son, who eyed him with undeserved faith. Looking slowly to his wife, he nodded his head.
“Hot water,” he said to her simply.
Later that evening, Brownie reluctantly convinced that his dog needed to find his own way home, the three stood in the moonlight and watched the animal trot stiffly off, its legs shiny with healing liniment. He stopped before the tree line and looked back at the people, at Brownie, then turned toward the trees and disappeared.
Brownie walked slowly back toward the house.
The woman looked at her husband and whispered, “That was-“
“Yep,” he said, nodding. “A coyote. Shoulda tore us up.”
He sighed, shrugging, then looked over his shoulder at his son carefully opening the door with his bandaged hands.