Jerry knew the world looked at him like a third class entity or even fourth if there was such a thing. He was a three time loser on the outside; drugs, laziness and stupidity. If anyone ever asked what he was in for he would reply "Stupidity." In prison he was even more of a nobody than he had been on the street. Any mystique he welded as a wild boy cut no mustard with the hard men behind bars. Life in prison was long stretches of stress filled boredom punctuated with times of outright fear. That was what prison was - fear.
Jerry's eyes stung, 'Hold still,' the doctor had said pinning his eyes wide open spraying and horrible smelling stuff all over his eyeball, 'This will make any defects clearer on the scan.' For months Jerrys eyesight had been failing, his vision, now blurred, had narrowed till things more than 20 feet away were just smudges of light and dark. As he looked through the grill on the window across snow covered fields. Jerry wondered was this the last good look he would get at a free world.
The trip to the eye specialist in Fargo had been a welcome break from daily grind of life in James River Correctional Facility. They would have normally sent an inmate to hospital with a pair of deputy's in a state cruiser but the heavy snowfall had most of North Dakota's state troopers stretched to their limits. James River had one decrepit transport bus which just about ran. The bus was freezing as they loaded a handcuffed James in that morning, black duffel coat over prison jump suit did nothing to stop the freezing air from chilling him to the bone. Fat Paulie was the screw driving the bus and guarding him for the day. Fat Paulie was no understatement, he must of have 280 lbs of bone idle blubber. No point in sending a second man, even knocked out cold nobody was running anywhere dragging that great lump along. The falling apart bus and lack of worry about guarding him reinforced Jerrys belief that he was less than worthless.
Fat Paulie fumed behind the wheel of the bus pointed back along the I 94 towards James River crawling along at 4 miles an hour, his massive bulk blocking the tiny farts of heat the air-con unit was puffing out. Whatever the hold up on the interstate was did not bother Jerry he had years to kill, Paulie on the other hand was going to be late for his Friday poker game at this rate. When they reached Casselton Paulie had enough, he swung the creaking rust covered bus off the Interstate and onto 155 Ave.
"Hold on to your bretches this is going to be bumpy" he called over his shoulder as he ground up the gears gathering speed on the gritted put slippery surface. They had the country road to themselves.
"I know every highway and byway in the state," yelled Paulie back towards Jerry, sounding like some red neck tour guide. "This turnpike will take us on as far as Fort Ranson and then likity-split cross up to Valley City and a clear run for home"
"Don't go rushing yourself on my account Officer," said Jerry settling back like he was being chauffeur driven. Jerry caught the angry crease in Paulie fat forehead. The bus picked up pace making the ride in the back even more uncomfortable. The road narrowed but was mercifully straight soon signs for Fort Ranson State Park began appearing along the roadside, trees replaced open farm land and the road began to snake. Paulies fat foot was still planted firmly on the accelerator when a deer bounded out of a bush and across the path of the bus. It was only a reactionary flick of the wheel but it was enough to send the rickety bus into a sliding skid colliding full force with a massive pine tree on the road side. Like all the bad luck in his life Jerry never saw it coming.
Cold cutting air brought Jerry round, he felt sore but not the searing pain of broken bones or ripped flesh. His eyes took in what they could in the dying evening light. The bus was bent nearly in half behind the drivers enclosure, Paulie was slumped unmoving over the steering wheel his jelly belly swallowing half the dash. Most of the windows were smashed or popped. jerry got his feet under him and moved to the front of the bus.
"Hay" he called. "Paulie, wake up man," but the big man did not move. Jerry watched and his ribs were not moved by even the shallowest of breaths, from the cauliflower shaped ear a small trickle of dark red blood ran down the fat rolled neck and stained the collar of Paulies Prison uniform shirt.
Ah shit man what the fuck Jerry said to himself realising he was in a freezing bus, on a tiny back-road miles from anywhere. Paulies bunch of keys dangled from his belt, Jerry reached his fingers through the metal grill but they were way out of reach. Jerry looked around for something to hook the keys, he noticed the metal grill over the window nearest him had given way in the impact. Jerry got both hands and hauled on the grill using his feat for leverage. He fell back on his ass as the grill came off like a knife being pulled from a soft pound of butter.
This piece of shit is rotten to the core he said to no one in particular throwing the rusted grill to one side. Jerry eased himself out the smashed window. He sunk up to his knees in the fresh powder drifted in the ditch. He waded around to the front of the bus and climbed into the cab, shaking Paulie by the shoulder, but he was gone. Looks like you took your last tour chief Jerry said to the dead screw as he unclipped the keys from his belt. Once he got the handcuffs off he searched the cab finding Paulies winter coat and snow boots where he had stored them. He patted down Paulie taking the guards wallet from his rear pocket but leaving the gun holstered on his belt. It was one thing to be on the run, but being on the run and armed was sure to get you shot first, questioned second. Jerry was going to have to get out of here anyway, the choice was to go back to prison until he was stone cold blind or take the chance and see the world one last time.
Just keep moving he said to himself but his body so desperately needed to stop, His limbs were numb but his torso shuddered under constant attack of muscles trying to combat the frigid conditions. You stop, you die he repeated to himself through trembling chapped lips. Soon the falling snow had covered all signs of his passing , not that his blind eyes could pick out much in these conditions. It had been light a few hours when he heard the first helicopter in the distance. Twice he had to bury himself deep into snowdrifts covering himself completely with freezing snow to hide from the thermal cameras they would be using to locate him. Soon the low drone moved away to quarter another section of the park. Jerry trudged on, the woodland giving way to higher mountain tops where scrub was covered by deep snow hiding pit's with a deceptively level covering. Shit! Fuck! Bastard! he exclaimed each time his numb leg vanished under him threatening to break a bone or twist an ankle. The last stumble was accompanied by a savage bite through his jumpsuit leg and into his flesh.
For fuck sake, Ow fuck he shouted grabbing at the pain filled area under the snow, his fingers came away bright red , slick with blood. Reaching back under the snow his numb fingers played across the taut length of barbed wire now completely hidden under a bed of white innocence.
Barbed wire means livestock, livestock means farmers and farmers mean farmhouses Jerry said to himself aloud. His poor eyes scanned as best they could, squinting against the bright light and reflecting snow. In the distance he had a notion of a darker area more square than nature was fond of making, he headed for it favouring his injured leg and feeling for any more hidden fences.
The barn was long abandoned, or only used for high grazing in the summer months. The door hung ajar strong winter winds having ripped it from one hinge. Jerry slipped inside pulling the door shut after himself. The dark of the barn was as warm as a womb after the hours of biting cold wind. The timber sides of the barn let in silvers of bright winter light illuminating dancing dust motes disturbed by his passing. He Let his sight come as good as it would in the gloom of the barn but that was still only a notch above blind. In the far side of the barn was a mound of dry brittle hay, Jerry threw himself down on it exhausted from the cold and hours of walking, he drifted into a deep sleep as close to death any living man could get.
It was fully dark when he awoke, the growling of his stomach rousing him. It only occurred to him now that it was nearly two full days since his last bite of food or water aside from a few handfuls of snow on the run through the forest. He raised himself up on his elbow, his thirst winning the battle for his attention. As he stood another low rumbling growl came, this one not from his stomach but off to his left. The growl was low and threatening the word that came to mind was wolf. Feeling his way along the side of the barn Jerry backed from where the growling was strongest. His shoulders brushed some tools, he grabbed a handle and held whatever it was out in front hoping to defend against the attack that was sure to come. The growl came again at the clanging of the tools hanging from their hooks but it remained steady and in the distance. Jerry aware he could well have been holding a brush out in front of him felt quickly along the handle and fount the head of a spade at then end. It would have to do.
Easy boy, he said in a calming voice Easy. At last the edge of the door was at his back, Jerry pushed it open wide leaving a clear route to escape by if needed but waiting inside out of the worst of the elements.
Through the passing hours the growls subsided and an uneasy truce was called. In this tiny barn both dangerous beasts realised they needed shelter, it would have to be fought for or shared. Sharing seemed to be the choice of the night. Dawn came shedding a blue grey light across the floor of the barn before bursting alive in a naked fire ball crested the hill inching its way into the sky. The golden light flooded the barn, in the far corner Jerry could make out the glowing yellow eyes reflecting the light back hovering above pitch black paws spread on the floor ahead of the beast. As the light grew stronger the wolf in the corner shrunk to a skinny black mongrel with ribs sticking out painfully under paper thin skin. It gave one last guttural growl in Jerrys direction before laying its head down in defeat. You scared the shit out of me boy Jerry said in relief. With the immediate treat lifted Jerrys thirst returned with a vengeance.
In the corner he found a rusted catering size bean tin, he filled it with snow and held it close to his body letting his heat melt the snow, he avoided the area where the dog watched him from but searched the rest of the building for something edible. I may as well be on a fucking desert island mumbled to himself. He was soon getting sips of metallic tasting water from this can as he hunkered near the the door. The dog had not moved but its eyes never left him not even for a second. It had began panting its bony sided rising and falling with extreme speed as if it had just ran a good race.
What big house are you on the run from Jerry asked the dog. As if knowing the question was for him the dogs ears pricked up and it stopped half pant, cocking its head to one side. This got Jerry laughing good and the dog settled back into is position chin against the floor.
We would have been better off picking a pizza hut to hide out in than a pottery barn giggled Jerry in the direction of the barn. With that the dog began to keen and whine. Oh come on! It was not that bad a joke Jerry said to his new cell mate. Now along with the whining the dog began to shake and shiver, Jerry edged closed a step at a time. That was when he found out that this poor little dog was not a dog at all but a bitch soon to be a mommy.
Good Girl, it will be ok Jerry cooed at her but staying back out of snapping range. She eyed him with pain filled eyes, deep pools of hurt and mistrust. They said to him 'I got bigger fish to fry right now, you can stay but no touching -OK'. Jerry got the message loud and clear.
The morning hours passed as the mangy little dog shuddered through labour and into birth. Jerry found a low dish and poured some water into it for her, shoving it towards her mussel with his toe, she cocked her head and lapped greedily at the cold water, Jerry topped up the dish from his can as the hours ticked by. Three little puppies arrived, two flopped to the ground slimy and still. The little black dog licked and cared for them with her long pink tongue but her efforts were for nothing, the tiny little things were never for this world. As the third still little body slid to the floor and she began cleaning and nursing her baby Jerry could not help saying You're a great little mommy, you know that girl, its not your fault, your a great mom. The little dog ignored all about her and licked with more vigour cleaning the tiny pink nose and rubbing the tiny pink and black belly with her glistening snout. She licked and licked until the puppy let a weak cry. The dog's ears perked up again and if a dog is capable of smiling this one was grinning from ear to ear.
Would you get a load of that Jerry said forgetting himself and reaching out to rub the little dogs head. As his palm touched the dogs neck she went rigid, looking sideways at him expecting the worst from a life time of abuse. They both stayed still for a few long seconds before her long pink tongue flopped back out and she continued cleaning her newborn. Jerry gently stroked the little dogs neck and felt elated, she accepted him and let him into her life when nobody else on earth could give a damn, that was when he noticed the spreading pool of blood.
As the little dog pushed the lone pup towards painfully empty teats on her belly Jerry saw the little pool of blood spread from under her tail.
That don't look right girl, that don't look right at all but what could he do about it. He watched as the little pup began to suckle and the momma dogs head flopped to the floor exhausted but happy. Jerry stroked the dogs neck. You did so good momma he said. In the distance Jerry heard the thump thump thump of a chopper searching for him, but as this little girl had said I got bigger fish to fry right now. Instead of slowing down the little dog panted harder and harder. Jerry looked into those innocent eyes and saw the fear he saw in his own shaving mirror every single day. Things will be ok now little momma, no more pain for you and I will take care of your little one for you. Jerry scooped up the tiny crying pup in one hand and laid it where the little dog could see it. Weekly the long pink tongue licked the tiny blind little face and with three happy little swishes of her tail the light in those beautiful eyes faded and died.
That was how a dangerous, escaped convict ended up cradling a new born pup and crying like a baby over a dog he never knew as anything except little momma. Wiping away the tears on fat Paulie's sleeve Jerry pushed the little pup against the dogs tummy helping it to find a teat Drink up little guy, it might be a while before we next get a meal. Jerry sat beside the little dog, encouraging the pup to suckle until the last heat left her body. In the corner of the barn Jerry found some old sacking and made a little pouch stuffed with straw for the new born pup. He covered over little momma with straw and stood over her with her baby in his arms We got to get going, girl but I promise I will get your little man to a good home.
The light was fading out of the day as Jerry unzipped the warm winter coat, he palced the pup agains his chest where it could feel the beat of his heart, holding the pouch in place he zipped up the jacket once more with his right hand buried inside like a modern day Napolen. He trudged out into the dim evening heading back in the direction he had come from. This little guy had not much time he had to get back to the road. He had not gone ten steps when a bull horn blared from off to the left
"Freeze, US Marshals Put your hands in the air," a pissed off voice commanded.
Don't Shoot Called Jerry to the voice he could not see
"Get your god-damn-hands in the air," Came the incensed voice they must give out in police school.
OK OK don't fuckin shoot shouted Jerry back at them realising that this was going to be the best outcome for his new little friend. This way he would be back in custody and where they can get the pup to a foster mom or something. Jerry raised his left hand high, he pulled his right hand free of his coat but the cloth wrapping the pup snagged on his zippier as he tried to get it into the air. Jerry felt the kick in his shoulder and in his lung, he was flung back but never heard the shots. Soon combat helmets and huge automatic weapons filled his vision.
"Get that god-damn-gun" a faceless voice commanded. Jerry sucked in air but it would not come, deep inside he felt the blood bubble into his throat. A rough hand ripped open his jacket and grabbed the piece of sack cloth. The pup gave a tiny little cry.
"Jesus, it wasn't a gun it was a fucking puppy". the trooper holding the scrap of cloth pushed back his helmet showing a startled but kind face. Jerry managed to wave the man closer to him before saying Take care of that little guy, he's all I got before his failing sight gave out at last.