CHAPTER 16: COMING OF AGE

Finally, Fabana reached her first season. She was nervous and restless, as if something was missing from her life. She had long felt ill at ease among humans and their strange world, but this was a different kind of stirring that she had never felt before. The dog, taking note of that, became restless as well and showed a new interest in her. He understood many things that she did not know about growing up.

At first, Fabana had no clue what had sparked his changed attitude. Usually Fielder would not even answer her direct questions. His few words to her had been insulting and demeaning, and when he even said “good morning” it made the whole day noteworthy.

Suddenly Fielder had become chatty, saying how good the weather was for that time of year, and inquiring about her health, and a great many other things of questionable value. He even brought her part of his coveted table scraps in an awkward attempt to curry favor.

And Fielder began to watch her intently. At first Fabana thought it was her imagination, but the dog began to stare more and more often, and for longer periods. Finally, she had to risk a direct question.

“What are you looking at?”

“You, Spotty. You’re blossoming into a fine young lady. I didn’t realize what a few moons would do to you–remember when you were that squalling pup yelling for her mom?

“Vividly.”

“I hate to say it, but I didn’t really like you then.”

“No kidding.”

“It doesn’t always have to be that way, Spotty.”

“My name is Fabana.”

“Whatever. Well–Fabana–you’re a young lady now. It’s time you were initiated into the secrets we grown-ups keep from the pups. You know, kind of like a ceremony of sorts–a rite of passage.”

“Can you do that? I thought only females did the Bak’ret Koth!”

Fielder laughed till his sides ached. “Oh for God’s sake, where DO you come up with these! There are two sexes–male and female, see.”

“Don’t you think I KNOW THAT?”

“Oh–the ceremony!” He laughed again. “Well pardon me!”

Fabana finally understood what was so funny, and she smiled, embarrassed.

When he regained his composure, Fielder drew near and said, “You want something, but you don’t quite know what it is. I know what it is, and I can give it to you.”

She tugged at her leash. “Oh, I know what it is I want. And I want it more than anything.” She strained to see the border of her homeland. “Help me please, and all is forgiven. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Trembling with passion, the dog came toward her. “Oh yes. This should be interesting. Just don’t brag about it afterwards, and if it’s good, maybe we can do this again sometime.”

Instinctively, Fabana knew what was about to happen. She bared her teeth.

“Oh, so you like to play rough?”

“Don’t touch me! I didn’t think you meant THAT.”

“Well what DID you mean?”

“I want a way out of here!”

“You do? Well you’re looking at it. But I want something for my trouble. Something you can give me. Come on honey, you’ll thank me later!”

“Don’t do this! I’d rather stay!”

“Your words say no, but your eyes say yes. You’ve never made it before with a male. If you had, you’d want this as much as I do. Maybe we can run away together.”

She began to stammer a prayer she learned in childhood. “Roh’kash ne nabu! Koh’pim ket ra mispa ojkhim!”

The private feelings she had been saving for her husband were about to be brutally exploited. She backed up again. “Please, in the name of God!”

“You will enjoy this. Calm yourself, Spotty. You’re not my first, and I’ll talk you through it. It’s really very simple, and when it’s over, you’ll beg for more. Trust me, honey bunch! Now just you stand still and let me handle the details.”

He started toward her again, and she sprang at him. She reached the end of her rope and was cruelly jerked back. “Leave me alone, Fielder!” she gasped. “Come at me again and I’ll kill you!”

His eyes glowed dully with loveless passion. “I want you, and by the gods I’ll have you!”

She started biting at the rope frantically. The sisal fibers stung her lips and tongue, but the rope did not fray in the least.

Fabana kept backing up further and further, and the dog kept advancing. She bided her time, waiting until he was far enough inside the circle that she could stage her last defense.

“Relax, honey. You can’t run and you can’t hide. So you might as well try to enjoy it. We’re going to have fun. Trust me.”

“I suppose so,” she said, drooping her ears and tail in submission. “Please be gentle.”

“I will. Hey, I don’t want to hurt you. We’re all friends here.”

She took in a deep breath, let it halfway out and held it. Suddenly she leaped at him. This time the rope did not stop her. She had not been trained in fighting, but neither had the dog. She closed on his flank and tore large hunks of his fur out with her superior strength, gripping him with her powerful arms. All thoughts of lovemaking fled from him, and he struggled to break her hold.

She knew she had to finish him. Tied up, she had to remain in that one place, while he could run away and recover, then come back when he had the advantage. If she surrendered to sleep, he would come ready to ravish her or choke off her wind.

She had him pinned where he could barely move, and could not afford to release him. “You’re right,” she growled, “I’m going to enjoy our time together. Now for love’s first kiss!”

She seized him by the throat and bore down with irresistible force. She felt something pop inside his neck and tasted warm blood.

He reached up in his death struggle and scratched down her face.

“Oh gods!” she cried, falling back and rolling in agony. Where there had once been an eye were now four parallel gashes. That side of her world was plunged into darkness and pain. Shrieking and yipping, she clawed the ground. “Roh’kash! Roh’kash!” she yelped. “Ne’b karssit dareh! Krekh toh, Fielder! Krekh toh, kresagit!!”

The dog, his windpipe crushed, crawled off a short way and collapsed, gasping. He stared at her imploringly, as if asking for his breath back. His jaws moved in silent words of terror.

Ed came running over. “What’s the bloody problem with you two??” He looked at the dog, prodded him with his shoe, and seeing his suffering was mortal, took his rifle and pointed it at Fielder’s head.

Fielder’s eyes grew wide. He held out a paw beseechingly.

“Poor wretch,” Ed said, pulling the trigger.

The sound of the shot made her freeze. She looked at the gaping wound and watched the unfortunate body twitch spasmodically. A red tide began to spread out on the ground, and the acrid smell of cordite and blood reached her.

Ed derisively said, “I should have known a stinking hyena would turn on me sooner or later!” He looked back at Fabana. “You made me put down my best dog!”

She dreaded the rifle he still held in his hand. “Roh’kash,” she whined, “I’ve always tried to live a good life. Take my spirit to your side.”

He pulled up the gun and pointed it at her. Fabana whimpered and trembled, cowering on the ground. She waited for death. It never came. He lowered the gun and stared at her eye. The end of the rifle barrel wavered uncertainly. Then without ceremony, Ed bent down and grabbed her by the collar, pulled his sheath knife and held it near her throat. Silently she prayed, “La’kuneh, dear maleh, come for my spirit.” The blade grazed her neck, pricked her, then with a quick upward pull, it bit in two the collar she had so hated.

“Get out, Spotty! Let God be your judge.”

She cowered in terror and could not move.

He picked her up bodily and hefted her toward her old homeland. Then picking up a rock, he stung her flank with a well-placed throw. “Get out, damn you!! If you come back, I’ll kill you!!”

She took one last look at the man that saved her life. She knew where she belonged, and she turned away. Without looking back, she slinked away toward the border of her old home.

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