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Dog Foot Woman
Scene 12 of The Acts of Awes West
The serpent seemed to have left his lungs. His fever was broke. But the wheeze in his chest and the taste in his throat suggested that it had maybe lain an egg or shed some sharp-scaled skin down there. Determined to cough some of what was left down there up, he hacked, and up came some blood.
Mused he: ‘Done for, I suppose.’
The Jesuit, Praying Injun and Voyager had been gone a month now and he had lived well and fat as winter blew Her fury down from the North. The bison was fine eating and he had even regained the strength to shovel snow and bring up firewood, becoming something of a cook in his lonesome.
There had been a time when all he wanted was alone, to be away from folks so that they would not try and kill you or get killed on you or because of you—that being the worst event. In the recent past, over these twenty-some odd years of his time in service to Father, he had resented the visitors, had ached for them to go and stop needling Father for this and that length of lore or yarn of yore.
He had not realized until now, in his stark loneliness, facing some unknown sickness, how petty and jealously mean he had secretly been in his heart. What ailed him now was that nothing got by Father, and he must have known and the old man bore the weight all alone. Now he was alone and he missed those good old boys, the burly Jesus man, the narley Frenchman and the kindly Indian.
Hands folded before the fire, prayed he: ‘Father, you was a far better man than me, and even you had your company, your Medicine Crow, your visitors, en finally rotten old me. How can I carry your burden least way speak to the burden of others?’
No answer came from the crackling fire, from the shadowed corners of the tower or from that inner lonely space, which had been of late such a busy place.
Mused he: ‘Is that what we do when we die, think, and dream, and wonder and factor like some mad hatter?’
He was tired, felt worn in his bones. He longed for Father’s bed, having never slept in it, feeling unworthy. So he curled up in the robes, upon the pile of hides the voyager had brought for a soft sit by the fire, wolf, coyote, beaver, bison, wolverine, bear, musk oxen and caribou. He curled up on that cozy pile with the fire stoked hot, between firewood drying for its turn as fire food while the kettle gave off salty, marrow-boned steam that had him of a mind to wake.
Papa Doc Rew looked down from the cross above Red River Moore, built up on a muddy mound on that island the Voodooists had fortified against the counter attack from The Knights of Saint George. Noose, newly minted Sergeant of Rangers, had lead the pursuit and attack like Hell’s own bloodhound. Finally, the few Voodooists that surrendered were all put to the knife. Now he stood, bloody, muddy, battle-worn and forlorn, that he would not be able to slay the mastermind foe that had taken Indian Ben and Sergeant Sacks from him, his uncle and daddy so to speak.
The bald, black fiend grinned down at him, having had his own men crucify him like The Lord. Three boys had even been placed to playing dice at his feet and murdered. This accursed scene drew anger from him. He knew not the Bible, but was all sermoned up at church and knew this to be some kind of mocking blasphemy. The Knight Roar and Squire Knell had fallen and were being tended to. He stood holding his toothpick, his pistols and saddle guns all of them trusty irons empty. Wishing he had some padre or knight to factor up this situation, he stood snarling in vexation.
The ashen black corpse on the cross, however, turned out not to be dead, as his head lolled forward and his shoe polish sack of a mouth drooled, “Christ Man-dog, I take you God’s slain boy’s place! I will bar you from you heaven place!”
He said so through fetid drool, over once ruby and now ashen lips and a rage flashed in Noose, the sure swift hand of death he always held recourse to in his otherwise factor-prone mind. The great needle-like knife flashed in his hand against the lurid torchlight at dusk and sunk into the Voodoo Prophet’s side—and the black man sighed, like one who has achieved victory.
“Father, Medicine Wheel Man, wake, wake from your battle place...wake…”
He was shaken, and he stirred, sitting up with the help of little, itty-bitty hands, a soft angel’s voice in his ear, as great big wolf-like dogs prowled all about.
One of those great glaring canines looked at him from across the fire and its eyes blazed blue and he groaned, “O, my ole bones wouldn’ feed dat hungry fire, let alone you proper—what a beasty ye be.”
From besides him a little woman held the back of his shoulders and ascertained, “He is Fury, my lead dog. It is bitter outside. Might they warm by the fire?”
“A course, Milady, sled dogs such o’ dese is a sort likes a should neva be wasted—near a pony he is.”
The dogs—or where they wolves, he could not tell despite his own sure lore, these being bigger than any of either sort he had ever encountered, five of them, any one a match for a cougar or black bear. The lot might even account for a grizz after some doing—sighed and flopped about around the outer edge of the firelight against the tower walls, not keen to be too near the fire.
The woman got from his side and ambled to the kettle oddly with one of the wooden bowl ladells the Voyager had fashioned. He saw, that although she had a pretty little face with rosy cheeks and strawberry pursed lips, that her feet were abnormal. Where she should have knees was a backward knee of a four-legged critter, like a dog, bent inward like a dog-leg, down into a foot that must have been clubbed on both sides, for her mucklucks were as short as a large bull mule dear hoof or a fare-sized dog paw.
Admired he: ‘And yet look at how fine shaped and fawn-faced she be, like an angel on moccasined dog feet—could it be?’
Her gait was awkward and she noticed his look and smiled. To this he apologized, “Sorry, Milady, fer bein’ rude. I didn’ think you was real, but a fable like—iz you dream, or come ta see dis ole bag a bones true?”
She smiled and brought him the steaming spruce bowl of bone broth and spoke in a voice as beautiful and light as if a rocky mountain creek spilled over clean rocks and sang, “No dream am I, Father, though I often wished I were and might wake from this crooked fate. Dog Foot Woman is not the name my mother might have prayed. She was taken by a Wendigo. I was the issue. She died in birth and only the intercession of The Lady Saint of Whitefish Nunnery spared me from death by exposure as a monstrosity.”
He was in open-mouthed awe.
“You is da one dat Father walked ova yon round top ta speak wit when da wolves did howl—he’d neva let me escort ‘im.”
“Yes,” she whispered huskily. “He did not think you would understand and did not wish to trouble you from your devotion to God with the sight of one of His less favored creations. You had fought the Voodooist and might misunderstand in your heart.”
“You is beautiful like spring butterflies ova flowers. Tank ye fer vistin’ me,” he croaked, somewhat raspy in the throat.
She smiled and held the steaming cup under his nose for sometime, and after testing it with her dainty pinkie finger, for she was a little thing, a midget almost, she gave to him to drink and his chest burned and his heart did sink.
“No need to talk, Father. Lie back, on your right side. I will examine you.”
Croaked he, hollowly, “Father...word what neva ‘fore pass’ fro’ such angel lips—not but gallows-born boys eva spoke such o’ dis ole coon.”
“Quiet, Father, soothed the pixie song voice. She poked and prodded, listened and tapped all about, gave him some vile medicine to eat and laid a pile of the stuff in see-through pouches near him.
She finally kissed him on his ugly cropped ear [1] and whispered, “Father, you have cancer of the lungs. When the pain is too much, eat some of the laudinum paste, just one pinkie joint in measure. You must keep warm, so stay here. Do not take the paste before going for wood.”
“How long?” he croaked.
“Summer, Father. Ration out the paste and you should be able to enjoy the spring flowers. I cannot come this way until the first snow. So we will not meet again. It is my sore loss, you being such a sweet old soul.”
A tear dripped from his left cheek as he realized he would die all alone and it was all he could do to keep from bawling like a babe. It was bad enough that he just now for the second time in his hard life cried.
“Tank ye, MILADY!—I so wish ye were my daughter eben if I ‘ad ta be a Wendigo Ree.” [2]
She kissed away the tear, drank it in like a Fine Lady does wine, and she soothed in a grace-played fiddle of a voice, “Father, once Noose Gun, you have the love, prayers and devotion of The Lady Saint of Whitefish Nunnery—the adoration of the very Angel of Awes West. I am Her frail Factor. A dozen nuns sing for you into the rising and setting sun with the dawning of every night and the falling of every day, even as Our Lady prays pardon to Our Lord God Almighty, for those sorrow-gone acts of the gun. Bless you,” and a sweet, salve of a dainty kiss sealed his thin, cracked and bitter lips.
The paste took him to deep dream where no nightmares waited raking the flinty floors of hell with their savage hooves.
In the inner distance a great wolfish whine seemed to ask of its kind’s very goddess if it could dine.
Notes
-1. Condemned boys, runaway boys, who may be of any age, had each ear notched on the bottom for theft, on the back for running away and on the top for rogue status. The entire ear was removed down to the root for murder. Hence, Noose spent his every year since the tenth, without ears. Order Rangers were permitted to wear their hair just below the ear. Noose had to wait until graduating from pony boy to Ranger to grow his hair lower than his brow on back of side, in the traditional bowl cut of the servant class, intended to expose the ear.
-2. The cannibal wild men of the Winter Woods were said to be related to the Ree Indians, who did not deny the connection.
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