On Sunday I Drove Us Past The Devil's Place.

by Serge Bielanko

Sometimes you chuck a fat knotty stick and it lands in hell. Not often, but sometimes. There I was in Dog Canyon at the edge of the creek with Monica and Violet behind me. First stick I see I pick up and toss it without really thinking. Max and Milo are two stallions in a great western: leaping through creek water. Majestic splashes rise like ghosts in the wake of their perfect arcing figures. They follow the stick. The stick hits the fifteen foot high debris cage, rolls a little, and slips through the small opening designed to let high water trash and branches and shit to pass. The stick hits the hard fast water there and slips on through.

Max hits the same water and tries to stop but goes through.

Milo hits the water there and probably doesn't even try to stop. Little bastard goes through.

I hear Monica screaming. But a lot of the sound in the world around me is sucked away. I hear my wife screaming and some of the sound of the slashing creek as it slams head on into the iron grates of the tunnel entrance. Mostly though I go deaf.

I know Max and Milo can swim good and there is this mid level step where they've ended up instead of flushed right into the dark whale's open mouth. But in an instant of life I can see plainly that there isn't much to be optimistic about here. Both fellows are barking, they're scared. Max has managed to swim toward the hole in the grate, but he's now too far below it on that next tier down. Plus the white water ripping through it ain't about to let some fucking dog conquer it. Behind Max, Milo is paddling/treading with all of his giant heart just to keep from slipping back the two feet to the place the strong spring current wants to deliver him. I see the horror in his eyes. And Max's.

"Serrrrrrrge get them out!" Monica is blaring. The sound slips into my silence bubble. "Do something!" She's crying: I can tell. Violet is strapped to her chest and she too must be feeling the sizzling panic shooting up and down the bank all around us.

My mind wanders over to re-watch the evening news from two nights ago. I put my feet up like I like to do and sit back with some imaginary snacks and watch the story of the lady across town whose German Shepherd went splashing in his local creek. He got pummeled by the sneaky sly current. Just washed away. His owner didn't think twice, she went in with/after him. They found her a good mile or so downstream wandering around the street above the gushing water, soaked and shocked and sad. The dog is still gone.

It must occur to me that I need to shut off the damn TV in my head. It must occur to me that Violet's watching. All of my body's blood is chooglin' across my heart; I am feeling mighty stoned on currently unfolding events. I love my dogs so much.

The water is made of old snow so it has to be as cold as a tomb but I don't feel it. I think a moment about the fact that I need to try and do whatever I'm about to do without slipping through the hole myself. I don't need that type of Sunday afternoon bullshit: riding a black river through a dark vein under the city. I'm not dressed for that. We're supposed to have hot dogs and sauerkraut and watch THE WRESTLER later. Plus, I don't wanna die.

At the hole I lean hard against the grate as the water pounds past me. Somehow Max has drifted back, and Milo is now under my face. I catch Max's eye/he winks. What would happen if they were gone? Both of them, on the same walk? A comet would slam into our world, I know that much. A fiery comet with steel spikes and pepper spray and bad bad vibes forever. I threw the fucking dumb stick. I need to make this happen.

I speak to my God. I reach through the hole and past Milo's petrified gasps, and I grab a hold of his blue collar and his neck scruff and I clamp in with all the dig my hand's ever had. I tell myself that it might be a good thing that I found Milo staring at his collar on the floor at the house a few days ago. I made sure I tightened it when I slipped it back 'round his head.

In Milo's eyes I see anticipation and looking forward to Frisbee. Dogs are beautiful soldiers. They never think of death. The notion escapes them. That's why its so sad when they die. They had no clue that was ever an option. I drag him hard, all 75 Country Ham pounds of him, and I mumble pray "Please let that collar stay tight."

He comes to me. I throw him hard behind me and shove his ass away toward the bank so he knows I mean business. I love Milo, but I could see the little fucker sailing right back by me through the hole as I'm trying to coax Max over.

As it turns out, Max needs no coaxing. He fights the current with whatever energy he's been ware-housing and moves towards me, towards the hole. Max is my best friend in the world. In his face I see his frustration, his questioning my aim. When he nears me I lean in, slide my arm under his long torso and just grab and pull and heave at everything, with everything I'm made of. He budges. Then he slides upward, through the rough boil of cold mountain tumult; first his head, then his shoulders as he grabs for me, and then he is there, in my arms...outside of the hole.

I throw him somehow. To the bank.

I wade backwards away from the gate. I turn my back on this vicious place. Monica is crying, sobbing. Milo is leaping around as if nothing different happened here. We all walk slowly past the five or six people who stood and watched. No one says anything.

I run my fingers through my hair/through my new haircut. I look like a fat Harry Connick Jr. Tomorrow morning AT&T will shut my phone off because we're a little behind with stuff this month. But whatever. Today I can walk around in minor shock and enjoy myself and my wife and kid. My dogs. My hot dogs.

And mark my words: whenever they tell this tale centuries from now no one's gonna care who threw the stupid stick in the hole.