by Sean Gallagher
Bullseye was not one to dawdle. He somehow always had enough energy for both of us, and as Hunter Jacopo led us into the fragrant woods of Emilia-Romagna, I followed behind as usual and let Bullseye lead us. The one time I’d tried to lead, my snout led us to a strong scent off the main trail, which was a large pile of manure. I was ecstatic, but Hunter Jacopo wasn’t happy, and neither was Bullseye. I hadn’t led the way since.
‘Pick up the pace, pup,’ Bullseye barked, and I began to do just that, when my snout found a clear scent in the air that demanded I follow. Bullseye followed the well-trodden trail, but my snout told me different. I broke free and trotted past them both, off the trail and into the deeper woods.
‘PUP! You’re going the wrong way!’ Bullseye barked behind me, but I ignored him and kept going. The amount of truffles he’d found over the last few days had made him more insufferable than usual. Hunter Jacopo still treated me well though, no matter how Bullseye thought of me.
‘Everything in moderation!’ Bullseye barked. It was his favorite saying.
‘My wonderful Lagotto Romagnolos! Che bello!’ Hunter Jacopo said, and jogged behind me. I could hear the growls of protest from Bullseye, trotting himself forward to keep up. Now I HAD to find some truffles. Fortunately, my snout went into overdrive. I could smell fresh manure here and there, and on top of that, oak all around. On top of everything else was that hint, growing stronger the faster I went, until it was obvious--white truffles!
The scent led me down a new trail southeast, away from some of the usual smells. This was one I’d never taken before, and overgrown with more plants—the sweet smell of mimosa flowers, the reliable fragrance from many mushrooms, some clove in the air as well.
‘Rocket, calm down, what is that? Cos e quello?’ I heard Hunter Jacopo ask. Bullseye was growling under his breath, but I paid him no mind. I smelled something more than white truffles. How could he not smell it? I knew he was an old dog, but his snout still seemed to be working fine.
I skidded my paws into the dirt clods on the trail as I realized this was not a good smell. It was a sour, decaying smell. This was a death smell.
I knew rot well, even before Bullseye began his stupid lessons about sniffing out the best truffles. From the day Farmer Jacopo brought me in, Bullseye showed me what he knew about how to track, but deep down, we both knew I had already surpassed him when it came to finding truffles, so he made up other things he could hold over me. One day he killed a chipmunk near the farm and showed me its insides, sniffling through it and having me do the same. One lesson of that was enough for me.
‘WOOF WOOF!’ I barked, and Bullseye caught up to me. Hunter Jacopo was far behind, but catching up.
‘What is so strong that gives that rot smell—I fear this may be a human. Che macello!’ Bullseye barked.
‘Do we want Hunter Jacopo to see this?’ I barked.
‘Of course we do, he’s the only one who can do anything about it. Humans are big game, lots of clean up,’ Bullseye barked back at me. ‘Let me explain it to him.’ And like it wasn’t my discovery, Bullseye barked a shrill, loud bark. I’d only heard him bark that way a few times since I met him.
I barked louder. It was easy to drown out Bullseye; he wasn’t that loud.
‘What is it now, Rocket? Cos e ora?’ Hunter Jacopo said, excited.
‘He thinks you’re leading him to truffles, Rocket!’ Bullseye barked angrily, but I didn’t care, and let my snout lead the way again. I trotted into a quick pace to the dead human, right where the smell was becoming almost too much.
Hunter Jacopo gasped when he caught up with us. The human on the ground looked messy. There were arms and legs and a lot of blood around them. Hunter Jacopo spun around with his truffle spear. I followed behind him up through the low trail, covered by foliage and brush, and I could smell blood on some of the leaves and the ground. All of a sudden I saw movement. There was another human, and blood all over him.
‘Careful now, take it easy,’ Hunter Jacopo said, steadying his spear toward the bloody human. ‘CHI VA LI! WHO GOES THERE!’ he yelled, which made me jump a little, but Bullseye remained as cool as ever, not shaking or jumping at all.
All of a sudden Hunter Jacopo screamed louder than we’d ever heard him. It was a scream that hurt my ears and rung loud. I yelped along with it. Hunter Jacopo jabbed his spear at the bloody human, who fell and stopped moving. Hunter Jacopo also fell over as we ran to him, and I started whining before I knew I was doing so.
‘…Rocket…that’s a good boy, there you are. Bravo Ragazzo, ’ Hunter Jacopo said, and he was covered with the blood now too, and he was getting weak and then his eyes closed. It was very sad. He was so tall and strong, and now he was a smelly mess like the rest of them. I whined again, and I didn’t care if Bullseye heard me or not. Hunter Jacopo was a good master, had fed and watered me and Bullseye well. I was already missing him and his crooked smile and weird laugh. The smile he always showed when we gathered the day’s truffles.
‘Once we get this fresh wave of white truffles, we’ll be okay. Staremo bene,’ he’d said to us yesterday. ‘This corner of Emilia-Romagna will prove that venturing out to this area was worth it. I did my homework and now know where the money lies. This will all come together soon! Venire insieme!’
We saw the mess that was left. The man with a spear who had fought with Hunter Jacopo, he was dead too. He was bloodier than Hunter Jacopo.
‘Rocket, why did you lead him there?’ Bullseye barked.
‘I wanted to lead him away!’ I whined a bit more, then faced him.
‘I thought I was helping him!’ I barked.
‘I’m sorry pup! Hunter Jacopo is gone now. He is no longer our master,’ Bullseye barked.
‘I’m not leaving him,’ I barked, and laid down beside Hunter Jacopo and the other bloody human. The smell made me sick, but I was not leaving. I thought Bullseye would argue more, but instead, just stared at me, then laid down as well.
‘Okay, pup,” he barked. ‘We’ll stay here for awhile.’ I thought of Farmer Jacopo, happy and alive again, and fell asleep fast.
‘Pup, wake up!’ Bullseye lightly barked to me, shaking my fur with a front paw. I stood up in an instant. It was cool and dark here; the sun was gone. I had slept longer than I thought. The smell around us was more sour now, and messy Farmer Jacopo--I couldn’t look at him.
‘We need to go,’ Bullseye barked. I looked at him, and whined again.
‘I know this is tough, but we need to leave!’ Bullseye barked, trotting deeper into the woods, but I kept sniffing, away from Hunter Jacopo and the other human. I saw a piercing brightness from far away.
‘See! The humans are coming, and when they do, it will be the pound!’ Bullseye barked, but I ignored him and kept sniffing the dirt faster. I could smell the humans too, and Bullseye was right, they were approaching fast!
We both ran into nearby brush and waited near a big oak tree. The loud whines from glowing lights announced the humans were here now.
‘I’m not as dumb as you think I am, Bullseye!’ I barked in a low voice.
‘I never said you were, pup,’ Bullseye barked.
‘Stop calling me that!’ I growled.
‘Shhh! We need to remain hidden until they leave. Just stay!’ Bullseye barked. I stopped arguing and sat again, watching through the brush.
There were many humans here. Many masters, young ones and old ones alike. There were humans dressed in suits who were putting up long strings to block other humans away, and other humans were pulling out long beds with wheels for...for Hunter Jacopo. I whined again softly.
A crowd gathered, cars open and humans watching all the commotion. Some of the humans saw us and were approaching us. There were young humans who were calling out to me, and they had bacon in their hands and it smelled wonderful. I started toward the bacon in the small hands, could hear these sweet voices lulling me in, and forgot about Bullseye at all.
‘Rocket!’ Bullseye barked.
His familiar bark woke me up and I shot away from the bacon and the young humans very fast. As soon as I caught back up with Bullseye, a big human appeared in front of us on the trail, another one who was wearing fancy dark clothes, like the humans who put Hunter Jacopo on a bed. He looked straight at us and waved his hand toward himself, whistling. He had ham instead of bacon, but it smelled so good!
My tail started wagging against my instincts, but I did not want to go away with this human. Bullseye didn’t want to, either.
‘Here, boy! Qui ragazzo!’ the human said, and made that whistle noise I liked to hear. I started to make my way toward him, but Bullseye dashed in front of me, blocking my way.
‘Don’t, Rocket!’ he barked at me, then was yanked up by the human. Bullseye wasn’t a biter, and it didn’t matter because they were choking him. They muzzled him, something Bullseye had always warned me about the pound. First was the muzzle, then came the cage, then finally, death…unless you were lucky. Always giving lessons, and now Bullseye was the one who was muzzled! I couldn’t see where they were taking him.
‘Bullseye! Stay!’ I barked, but then a few humans ran toward me to capture me too. I was faster, though, much faster. There was a younger, tall human who ran after me farther, but gave up at some point. I ran until I could no longer run, and stopped in the middle of the woods. I sat and looked around, thinking of what to do next. I sat there for a while.
Here in this place, the humans were gone. It was empty of any creature smells, maybe raccoons or chipmunks, but no humans at all. I didn’t smell any of them anymore, or Bullseye or Hunter Jacopo, or anything. I whimpered and sniffled around, but there was nothing good to smell anymore.
I saw the trail ahead of me as the moonlight was around me, but there were no smells anywhere that were good. Eventually I turned around. Bullseye would want me to keep going. That’s what he barked to me. But he was captured instead of me.
That’s why I turned around.
I saw that most of the humans had left, but there were still a few there, near where Hunter Jacopo and the other human died. These humans had heavy clothes, and were snooping all over the death spot.
Trotting closer, I didn’t need to hear his annoying bark or see his face to know that it was Bullseye! He was in a small cage in the back of the big truck, which was open, but no humans were near. They were all near the blood and where death had happened.
‘Rocket!’ Bullseye barked softly once he saw me.
‘Quiet!’ I barked back in a whisper, and was glad to be telling him what to do for a change.
I saw the nub of the handle, and made me think of the door Hunter Jacopo had on the back of his house. I nudged it with my snout, my claws clicking on the truck’s floor, and saw Bullseye looking worried. I froze. My snout could smell him now.
There was a tall human in the front seat. He didn’t notice us as he was watching his bright talky-thing.
I trotted as quietly as I could.
‘Just go on without me, pup,’ Bullseye barked, but I ignored him. I reached up with a paw like a human would, pushed on the latch as quiet as I could...and...
It snapped out and back in place quickly—and was loud!
The human jumped from his seat and turned and saw us, dropping his bright talky-thing. I dove my snout, my teeth, anything to move the latch again. The human was up and moving toward us! I began to jump then, desperately trying to just make something happen.
And something did! One of my claws pushed the latch loose!
The human was very close when Bullseye and I took off as fast as we could out of the truck, into the road, and then between the humans who were fast approaching us. The humans near the death place were coming for us. We ran back into the woods, toward the smell of the truffles I remembered, and we ran. I passed Bullseye and led until we couldn’t smell anymore humans.
‘The humans didn’t really care once they had pulled me away from Hunter Jacopo and the other dead humans,’ Bullseye barked. ‘Thank you, pup. Now, let’s get going.’
I stayed put.
‘No more calling me pup,’ I barked. Bullseye turned around and let out a low growl. I didn’t move, but continued to stare at him. He stared right back.
‘Okay, Rocket, that’s fair. Lead the way. Find us some food,’ Bullseye barked. He followed as I took over the lead at a trot, heading toward whatever came next.
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