Padfoot

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I hate camping. There, I said it. The dirt, bugs- inevitable cases of poison ivy. Everything defined by the cutting noises on dead silence. I was more inconvenienced by my family's camp grounds than intrigued. And frightened- something about that forest...

I never built up the nerve to tell my father that before he died. He liked his hunting and fishing, and so when family vacations came around, me, Mom, Dad (and some occasional other relative) traveled out through a morass of endless highways, scores of pine and dogwood, and abandoned truck plazas. I lost myself inside the circuits of my Game Boy until we entered the dark forest paths or my batteries died, whichever came first.

Trees wound around dirt roads and up through hills, swallowing our station wagon into the belly of the woods. The cabin appeared from within the branches. Iin my child mind, it was relocated since the last time we'd been there.

Two weeks always went by, my parents trying to engage me with the outdoors and me, looking for more double-A's and ear bud plushes, daydreaming about when I could return to my friends. Mom and Dad finally became tired of that, I guess, because one year, on the third day of our trip, Dad started waking me before the sun rose and taking me with him to hunt, whether I liked it or not.

It went on this way every time for awhile. We'd stay out until almost noon, and sometimes we killed something. Mostly it was awkward attempts at conversations and the occasional deer sighting. If my eyes were tired enough, the light played tricks on my young mind, shaping the trees into devils and quiet rabbits into ghosts.

In the summer before I entered middle school, we found him out along those devil trees.

Me and Dad, walking quiet into a part of woods we'd never really been to before, when a rustling noise emerged in the nearby brush, large enough to be carnivorous. I cowered behind Dad's leg; he raised his gun defensively.

Out of the bushes came a mostly black border collie. His fur matted and muddy, blood stains blotching his pads. His eyes were unusually bright. Behind him trailed an abandoned, broken coil of chain, rusted with age. He looked at my dad for a long time, wagging his tail before he sat.

Dad lowered the gun and approached the dog. I followed with all the natural caution of a skittish deer. I never, never liked these woods.

We took him back to camp. "What else can we do?" Dad said. The dog followed without invitation.

I munched on a banana sandwich and watched as Dad worked through lunch, washing the animal, remoinge the mats and the chain.The dog's collar was buried in the dreads, a bright red band, with an unusual single sliver tag, no name nor address to call home. Only three dented lines down the center.

"We'll call him Tres," said Dad. "I don't know, he needs a name. He picked us, after all."

And so he was named. We didn't even know if there was an owner out there somewhere, and we'd named him already. So rushed, but my father was always in a rush. In three remaining days that we spent at the camp, no one ever came to look for a border collie.

Tres so present then. Strangely so, since he was quiet and slow for a young dog, but maybe I didn't know enough dogs yet. He followed Dad everywhere during the day. To hunt, to eat, to watch TV- wherever he was, so was Tres.

Except at night, when the dog snuck into my room and curled up at the foot of my bed.

He was so heavy and always smelled wet. The first time he did it, I spent half my night trying to kick him off, glaring at him. The cabin was already too hot without A/C; I didn't need the company.

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