Trigger warning: self-harm; harm to animals.
She was two months old when I got her. And just four months when he took her.
Soft, long, golden fur. A tongue that was always hanging out and dripping with saliva. She loved to lick my face. She loved to cuddle up to me at night. And I loved all that about her.
I got her because I was lonely and lost in a way that no human companion wants to fix. But from the day I picked her up I didn’t feel alone anymore. I have two dogs now, one sweeter than the other, but I still thank Bessie for saving me.
I lost her the fourth of April. We were out of the city so that she could run without leash and Bessie loved running after the frisbee and I took the chance to practice a few commands with her.
Bessie rolled down onto the floor with her belly up and what seemed like a grin on her face.
That belly rub was the last time that I ever touched her.
We played for another few minutes on a field that bordered the street at one side and the woods at the other. She had trouble to decide whether she preferred the sticks or the frisbee and two or three times she ran off, brought back sticks and then ran off again to fetch the frisbee.
In turn I threw it further. And too far.
She was right at the edge of the woods when the man walked out from between the trees. Slim and tall, six feet at least, and dressed in jeans and a sweater far too big for his frame.
He walked towards her.
“Heel!” I shouted.
She looked at him and wagged her tail.
“Come here,” I said.”Come here, Bessie.”
She walked towards him, her head down for a rub.
I started walking towards her.
“Heel, Bessie, heel!”
He scratched her head. Her tongue was out, I remember that. She looked happy.
“Hey,” I said.
The man looked at me. His hands wrapped around her.
“Hey!” I screamed.
“Good girl,” he said.
He picked her up and ran. Back into the woods.
“Stop!” I screamed.
He was too fast; from one moment to the next only a shadow between the trees.
I ran; I screamed her name; I shouted for him to stop.
I only stopped running when I realized that I was too far in the woods, that all directions were nothing but trees. No sound but the wind and leaves and my own feet crunching through mud and leaves and twigs. I must have run straight into the woods for at least fifteen minutes.
There was a large, puckered tree in front of me. It looked like a warning sign, the type that you can’t ignore. Everything felt too cold and too dark. I wasn’t even sure from where I had come. Without a further thought I turned around and ran backwards, out and away. Shivers ran through my whole body. I didn’t even dare to call her name anymore. I just knew I needed to run and that there was nothing more important in the world than to get out of that forest.
My chest and sides were cramping in pain, and the way back seemed longer than the one I had come. Just when I saw the field ahead of me, the brown mud showing behind the trees, I heard noise to my right. When I turned my head I saw something large running in my direction. I sped up, my feet flying over the slippery ground; crunching leaves behind me – and suddenly the trees were gone and I was back in the muddy field.
I kept running until I hit the street. I flagged down a car and mumbled something about an abduction before my breath failed and I sank to the ground. The driver called the police. I didn’t even think of using my own mobile.
By the time the police arrived I had recovered enough to tell them what had happened. The two officers walked towards the beginning of the woods, looked around and returned.
“We don’t do search teams for dogs,” said one of them. “I’m really sorry.”
At least they filed a report. I went to the station and described his appearance. They made a sketch that resembled him.
“Still,” said the nice lady. “I doubt you’ll get anywhere.”
My dog trainer was more useful. Outraged.
“We need to do something,” Warryn said. “I have an idea.”
The next morning, just before 10 am, we stood outside that very same forest on that very same field with four men, three women and four dogs.
“You’ll see,” Warryn said. “They will find her scent.”
I don’t know what would have happened if there had been rain that night, or if somehow the dogs had picked up the scent of a deer rather than Bessie’s. But the weather was good. They found the track and we had trouble keeping up.
The two older dogs were staying close, but the younger ones sped ahead, past trees and through the undergrowth, forward in one straight line.
Some of the trees looked familiar. I wouldn’t bet my life on it, but I think, that night before, I had been running in the right direction. And I’m just happy that I turned around.
The large, puckered tree. The dogs sped up even further and ran past it, to the left. We got to the tree, running and huffing, and when I ran past I felt that same shiver return.
Then the dogs barked and my whole body turned cold.
He was just there, leaning against a tree.
Dark hair, stubbly beard, a wrinkled and gaunt face. He looked nearly relaxed, with his head sunk against the tree and his legs stretched forward.
There was a scalpel in his lap.
The sweater had slid back down his arms and towards his hands. The dark cloth was soaked in an even darker color all around his wrists.
Dried puddles of a thick, reddish black were on the ground and a few flies were buzzing around his body.
“Holy fuck,” said somebody.
“That’s him,” I said.
Nobody dared to feel his pulse, but the answer as to whether he was alive was already obvious. Still we held the dogs close.
None of us got cell phone reception, so two of the women and one of the men went back to the street, to call the police. The rest of us tried to stay close nearby and yet not too close; with the dogs leashed to make sure they’d stay nearby.
Just in case.
Every moment it felt as if he would open his eyes and jump towards us.
Warryn’s dog kept pulling the leash.
Warryn gave several commands, but the dog kept pulling, somewhere to the right of the man. The other dogs too seemed to pay particular attention to that direction.
I wish we had waited for the police, but we didn’t.
Bessie wasn’t even on my mind anymore. All I thought about was this man and that I had seen him. That I might have escaped him, just barely.
Warryn suggested that we had to check it out.
“There is something,” he said. “Maybe your dog’s okay.”
She wasn’t okay.
We walked slowly, as a group, careful to make sure that he was always in sight.
Something white was visible between the trees.
Warryn, his dog and I walked a few steps further while the others stayed to watch his body.
As said, just to make sure. We all felt the same shivering eeriness.
We squeezed past a tree.
“Bandages,” said Warryn.
Next to the bandages a medical kit lay on the ground. Even a defibrillator.
And two longish parcels wrapped in black plastic.
One of them wasn’t properly closed. I saw golden fur. I just had to look.
I gagged when I threw the plastic off her.
She was on her back.
Snout tied shut, but her tongue still squeezed out between her teeth.
All legs bent outward. Broken.
A large cut in her chest and the soft fur stained in red and black.
“My god,” said Warryn.
He walked over to the other parcel.
“No,” I said. “Please don’t.”
And yet he took a stick and pushed the plastic off.
Dark hair on a small and thin head.
A white cotton cloth lay on his mouth.
Instead a gaping wound in his chest, held open with metal clamps.
A reddish, fist-sized clump lay to his left.
A similar, but smaller, reddish clump lay inside his chest.
We weren’t told a thing, but it was big news in the local papers.
The police found a tent nearby, even a latrine pit had been built a few steps further away.
They were in the country illegally. The man worked odd jobs for the local farmers.
The papers didn’t specify the causes of death; they just wrote that it was a murder-suicide.
They also didn’t say that Bessie had been killed.
But they said that the boy had a heart condition.
That he would have died without a transplant.