The North Runner

The yellow eyes bored into mine as the lips parted, wrinkled, and drew back into a silent snarl, showing the great fangs and the moist cavern of the mouth. He was without a doubt the most ill-kept, the most beaten-up, and the biggest sled dog that I had ever seen, and he was probably the most dangerous. His entire bearing bristled with threat, but it was the almond-shaped wolf eyes that most clearly signaled his aggressiveness; this dog was wild, he would not hesitate to go for the throat at the slightest opportunity. He stood, quietly sinister, his great paws planted solidly on the bottom of the truck box, and returned my gaze, holding my eyes where another dog would have averted his glance.

I stood looking into the creature’s face during those first few moments of our meeting, and my initial reaction to him made my scalp prickle and almost caused me to take a step backward. For a time we remained staring at each other while Alfred, the Ojibway Indian who had brought the dog in hopes of selling him to me, hovered nearby with a stout club in his hand.

I needed a lead dog for my team, but this monster spelled trouble. This one was a rebel with a mind of his own, as ready to take punishment as he would be quick to dish it out, a creature more wolf than dog who had learned early to hate man. No, he wasn’t for me, I decided after I had finished my inspection, had noted the heavy chain with which Alfred had secured him to one of the sides of the Ford pickup truck, and had noted also the open cut on the dog’s left shoulder and the large scabbed-over wound on his right foreleg. I was about to turn away and refuse the offer, but I hesitated, paused to have a second look, moving closer, but being careful not to get within reach of the gaping mouth that was so well filled with strong white teeth. There was something about the animal that touched me; he was so damned primordial! Half starved so that his ribs and hips were easily noticeable despite the heavy coat of fur, injured, scarred, evidently brutalized since puppyhood, the dog yet had dignity, and the strength of him showed in every line.

He stood chest-high to me from his place on the truck’s platform, which was not a good angle from which to view him for the first time, for with his head held high, he looked directly into my face; this intensified the sense of danger that he carried like a banner. Not one did he move; he stood rock still with his eyes fixed on mine while the autumn breeze ruffled his unkempt fur and fanned to my nostrils the rank dog smell of him. I noticed his lips moving again. They were coming together slowly, losing their wrinkles and covering the big tusks, closing the mouth. So we faced each other for some little time of mutual appraisal. I spoke to him as though he were another person.

“You’re a wild-looking son of a bitch, dog, but I’ll be darned if I don’t like the looks of you.”

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