Dan and his wife had always visited the beach and taken their Australian Shepherds with them so they could play and exercise along the beach. For a long time it had been too painful for him to return to the ocean with his dogs. Just the trip to San Francisco had been too much. He was finally convinced that Ronnie would have wanted him to continue on with the life and love of Aussies that they had so adoringly started together.
further pondering life, love , religion and the human condition, he finally
made the effort to get on with his life.
Out of habit he glanced up at the trophy clock they had won for Winners Dog
at the National Show years ago. It was an irregularly shaped piece of burl
wood with gold hands and numbers. A small plaque was attached to the left
indicating 'Winners Dog'. Dan sure didn't feel much like a winner and wondered
why it seemed so important when Ronnie was alive. It shouldn’t
even be working since it had stopped the very day he had returned home from
body off to the crematorium. But today it had started quietly ticking again,
taking right up where it had left off many months ago. He thought that maybe
battery had been loose and somehow had vibrated back into place again allowing
clock to work. After all, there had been several small earthquakes in the
last few months.
It was a perfect day everyone told him. Dan did not really care one way or the other. The sky was a clear light blue with just the slightest touch of a some small soft silver-white clouds floating through the highest part of the late summer sky. It was another one of those days when you just knew there was going to be a gorgeous sunset.
He had brought two of his favorite Aussies to join him and enjoy the day and the surf. A black tri named Raider and a blue merle called Chiller. Both names were chosen by his wife.
As the day wore on and the sun began to drop into the waves, Dan chose to stay and take some pictures of the sunset. Ronnie had always loved taking photographs of just about anything, the moon, sunsets, rainbows, their dogs, their horses, their son, etc. He had not taken a picture of anything since her untimely death. He gathered his courage and focused carefully when the sun had just sunk below the horizon.
After several photos of the sunset ranging from bright yellows all the way to deep purples and violets he was about to put everything away and pack up for the day. He noticed that he and his boys were just about the last ones on the shore except for a young girl playing frisbee with her golden retriever. He wondered why his dogs hadn’t joined in with them. As he glanced down the coastline in the opposite direction he saw his two Aussies. With just enough light left he decided to take one final photo and finish off the roll.
Dan brought the camera up and used the telephoto to get a close up of his two dogs. In the viewfinder he noticed a third object that had caught the dogs attention. As he snapped the shutter and replaced the lens cap he called his boys. They immediately started back toward him. But about a fourth of the way they turned around and headed back to the object that was just being kissed by the surf. He called them again, more sternly this time. And again they began running back toward him. But, they reversed their course yet again as they turned around and went right up to the object and began sniffing it.
He guessed he would have to grab the leashes and go gather them up. As he walked toward the dogs and their recent discovery, the light was really beginning to fade and cast shadows upon everything. As he looked back the other way he realized that even the young girl and her dog had departed for the day. When he was about half way to where the aussies were he thought he heard something. It sounded muffled like air escaping from beneath water.
Now Dan could just make out the object and it looked like the carcass of a small dead whale. But it was difficult to see in the dusky light. Curiosity and fear grabbed him and he shuddered just slightly to think that it might be a dead person. Here he was all alone with his two boys. What would the authorities think? Would they think him guilty of some horrible murder?
He threw caution to the wind as he had never had much concern for his own life since he’d lost Ronnie. In fact he thought that maybe this would lead to the end of all his grief. He would be found guilty and sentenced to death.
Dan's thoughts were interrupted as he got closer. As his eyes tried to focus in the dim light he was reminded of how it had been when he was a boy and slept under the stars. Even though there was no moon even the stars would cast an ethereal aura all about him as he and his friends gazed the heavens for shooting stars. As he cocked his head toward the object he realized it was a body and definitely human...... In fact............ It was a.......... It was a woman. She looked dead and lifeless. She was also quite nude.
Dan wondered what had happened to her clothes. Now he was almost certain that this woman had suffered some cruel and evil fate. His thoughts now turned to what to do next. Should he go and call the authorities? No, first he would check her condition and see if there was any sign of life. Her felt her skin, it was cold and clammy. He checked for a pulse and didn’t feel anything. Chiller began licking her nose as if to revive her. A memory of a mother Aussie licking her newborn pup flashed through his mind. They would always clear away the mucous around the mouth and nose so the puppy could breathe.
There was some seaweed draped across the woman's nose. As Chiller continued to wash her face the seaweed fell to the sand. She had a pretty face from what he could see in the shadows. He was about to leash his boys and head back to call the police when Raider’s ears went up. It was as if he had heard something that humans could not.
Dan looked again at the body of this woman. She was maybe 30ish or 40ish but the light was probably fooling him by now. And then he thought he saw a tear run down from the eye that was closest to the sand since she was lying on her side. He guessed it must just be salt water since she was right in the edge of the surf and her entire body was wet to the touch.
He bent down to wipe away the droplet and maybe say a prayer for this poor girl. As he touched her cheek to capture the moisture from her eye he jumped back. Her face was now quite warm. He reached out carefully to feel her arm. It too was now warm to the touch. His mind raced with wild anticipation that maybe she was not dead. How could that possibly be? He checked to see if she was breathing. But before he could get close, another wave came up and splashed against the girl's body.
Dan decided to pick her up and move her to dry sand. What was he doing? If she was dead he certainly shouldn’t be moving the body. She was maybe 135 pounds or so but he didn’t seem to have any trouble lifting her. In fact, he couldn’t believe he had found the strength to move her.
As he laid her back down on the dry sand he was careful to place her on his jacket and cover her with his shirt. If she was alive he thought he should administer mouth to mouth right away. Why had he waited this long?
Dan knelt down to position the girl's head and start CPR. With the first breath he forced into her lungs it was obvious that that was all she needed. She coughed and took in a very long deep breath as if she had just come up from holding her breath under water. She was alive! Was she alright? Did she have any injuries? He couldn’t see any in the now very limited light.
His dogs were sitting quietly by and just watched as Dan tried to speak to her.
"Are you OK? Are you hurt?"
The girl didn’t answer but kept on breathing heavily. He started rubbing her arms and legs to warm her up. She didn’t seem to mind as she continued to regain her breath.
Finally, she breathed in and in a very soft and quivering whisper asked,
"I don’t know. Dan reassured her Do you remember anything?"
"I’m not sure," she gasped, "everything is just a blur."
"Are you able to sit up?" He asked.
"If you help me, I’ll try." she whispered.
Dan got her into a sitting position. He asked her if she could stand but her voice was starting to fail. He thought she said she was too weak. What was he to do now. He knew he couldn’t carry her all the way back to the van. He looked back down at her and asked,
"Are you cold?"
She shook her head and mouthed a single word,
He decided to sit with her awhile and see if she could gain more strength.
They just sat there holding each other as the curtain of darkness enveloped them. The lights from the street above were just coming on allowing them some visibility and they could see reflections dancing on the waves just off shore. How was he going to get this woman the help she needed?
Shis girl seemed all to familiar to him somehow as he held her hoping she could recover enough to walk back to his vehicle. As Dan gazed down at her face he could see she was asleep. She must be exhausted he thought. He had to try and carry her. He stood up very carefully as her body rolled over into a fetal position. He knelt down and lifted her up in his arms. She didn’t even wake.
It took Dan several minutes to get back to the van as each time he had carried her a ways he had to kneel and rest her on his thigh. But, eventually they made it to his van where he put the girl in the passenger seat and reclined it back so she could continue to rest.
In a very weak and raspy voice she said,
Chiller and Raider had only been too happy to follow him back with their new found treasure. He opened the hatch and his two boys jumped up into their crates. He closed the crate doors and shut the hatch to the van. Now what should he do? The girl was asleep again. Who was she? And what had happened to her? Where were her clothes? How did she get here? Was this a matter for the police?
Dan could see her face quite clearly now and the image that burned into his brain was enough to almost make him scream. At first he could barely breathe as he stared down at the face of the woman he had pulled from the waves. It just couldn’t be possible and yet here was this girl with the face he knew only too well. Maybe he was hallucinating but she definitely looked like Ronnie, his dead wife.
He started to put it all together. She was the right age, she was the right size, she had the right hair color, and that face, there was no mistaking that face. What was happening to him? Was he dreaming?
One of the dogs barked from the back shaking him out of his thoughts. Dan finally decided to go home, put her to bed and see if he could rationalize what was going on. He knew Ronnie had died. He had seen her body as they had taken her away to be cremated. He had spread her ashes. This just couldn’t be real.