(a short story by Joseph Harrer)
I was incredibly moved by this short story a fellow writer fashioned. I asked for permission from him to post his story on my website, and he gave it to me (please see below Joe’s story for MY CRITIQUE regarding this beautiful and “3- [or 4-] hankie” story).
The old brown bulldog lay sleeping in the dirt patch surrounding his dog house. When he exhaled, small clouds of dust were blown from the dry ground. Old scars from his many fights were visible through his thin brown hair and the smooth scar tissue glistened in the sunlight. He preferred sleeping in the dirt as his doghouse stunk from years of neglect by the owner of the junkyard he protected. He was always sad because he had no freedom to roam. A chain attached to his collar was anchored to the doghouse.
At times he dreamed of visiting the lush Costa Rican forest which surrounded the fenced junkyard. But he knew that the chains which bound him were too strong to ever be broken and his torn-up teeth reminded him that he couldn’t chew through them. So, his whole life consisted of sleeping, wandering around the dirt patch, and watching for thieves that might try to steal the metal ‘treasure’ that his owner stored in the old wood shack behind him.
He could no longer remember how old he was, but always felt the pain that was the greater part of his memory. He had always been beaten, first as a pup by his owner to make him tough and mean; and later by intruders that wanted what was stored in the old shack.
He also remembered the times he had to fight off wild animals who came in from the forest searching for food and water. He would have gladly shared his rotten food and stinky water, but they also wanted to fight; and he didn’t mind because pain was an old friend and fighting had become his only entertainment.
This morning, he slowly awoke from a dream of chasing rabbits, free of chains and fences. He was young again and could run like the wind. But the Macaws in the nearby forest trees woke him by chattering at each other and playfully taunting him from a safe distance.
A large, yellow sun could be seen rising in a gap between the trees. Its light caused the morning dew to glisten. Then he saw it. It was very small at first; but its erratic, looping flight caught his attention. He had seen this thing from afar many times, but this time it was entering the junkyard and flying in his direction. If not for the brilliant color, he might not have seen it at all. This strange sight was a fluorescent blue Morpho butterfly.
When it got closer to him, he recognized it. His owner had one mounted in a clear plastic frame on the wall of the shack. He had seen his owner excitedly showing it to other humans who came to the shack to do business.
Now, a live blue Morpho was fluttering around him! He realized that it was much too delicate to ever be touched, so he lay perfectly still. The butterfly landed on his back and the bulldog could barely see it through the corner of his eye. Tears rolled out of the bulldog’s old eyes at the thought that such a beautiful, delicate creature would feel comfortable being so close to the ugly, scared monster that everyone thought he was.
Just then, the skin on his back twitched and the Morpho flew off. It circled around the old dog a couple of times then a miracle happened. It landed on the dog’s pug nose and looked straight into his brown eyes. The bulldog was amazed. How could the butterfly trust him so much when just a flick of his tongue and the Morpho would be in his mouth. The bulldog kept perfectly still and tried as hard as he could to memorize this beautiful sight that he might never see again.
The bulldog tried to remember if any creature had ever been this kind to touch and commune with him. Then, from somewhere deep inside came a realization that he had always tolerated the small defenseless animals; and sometimes, he even protected them from the other monsters in the yard. His affection for the butterfly made him realize that he really had a kind heart when not being threatened. Tears began to roll down his cheek as he felt the pain being miraculously melted by the love of the blue Morpho.
The Morpho used her proboscis to wipe the tears away, and then continued to gaze into the bulldog’s eyes. The bulldog had never known such peace; and felt something new…a kind of love that went beyond anything he had known. He suddenly felt young again, full of renewed energy. He had new purpose in life.
Soon the Morpho did what butterfly’s do, and flitted-off in looping circles basically in the direction from which it had come. The bulldog having been touched by love, knew he would never be the same. He knew there was more to life than fear, hate, and violence. He ran after the Morpho, but reaching the end of his chain, was yanked back. However, this time he had a strength and determination he had never know before, he yanked and yanked on that chain until his old collar broke.
Free from bondage, he ran in the direction of the butterfly; found a hole in the fence that the monkeys had made; and ran into the woods.
He soon caught up with the Morpho and ran beneath her. They traveled together through the forest until the bulldog saw what he thought was a blue tree. But as they got closer, he saw that it was really a regular tree covered by blue Morphos. He rested at the base of the tree until nightfall and then fell into a very deep peaceful sleep for the first time in his tragic life.
The next morning, the bulldog awoke and spent a couple of hours taking in the beauty of a tree full of blue Morphos slowly flapping their wings in happy commune. His Morpho and several of her friends left the tree and landed on his soft fur and fanned his face with their wings. He had been accepted as one of their own; and he now saw himself as their protector. Soon several of the blue butterflies flitted off to conduct their daily business of being a beauty and wonder to the forest.
The bulldog was hungry, so he wandered through the woods to find food and water. He had to walk for an hour before he found a creek; jumped in; and started lapping up it’s cool, clear water. A poisonous snake slithered nearby so he made a meal out of it. As soon as he was full, he started back to the blue tree.
When he got back to his new home, he was suddenly filled with horror. Humans were spraying something on the tree that made the blue butterflies drop to the ground and flutter around as they died. Other men were picking up the butterflies and mounting them in plastic boxes like the one his former owner had. He ran toward the men growling and barking with a ferocity that would scare a demon.
The men kicked and hit him with a stick as he bit their legs. They fought for a while, but the men got scared. Perhaps he was the rabid wild dog that was said to be roaming the woods in search of people to eat, so they fled.
He chased them as far as he could; and then ran back to the tree. Again, tears welled up in his eyes; but this time it was not for the joy of being loved. He felt rage and unquenchable sadness for all the dead and dying Morphos that lay at the base of the tree. What monsters could kill such beautiful delicate and harmless butterflies? They just flew around sharing their beauty and drinking nectar from tropical flowers. With his paw he gently pushed at the butterflies lying on the ground hoping they were merely asleep, but none of them moved.
Luckily, most of the butterflies were high enough on the tree that they were not touched by the poisonous spray. Several of them flew down and covered his body as he openly wept for their fallen members. Why had he wandered so far? Why was he not there to protect them? The guilt he felt for not being there when they needed him was more than he could bear. Looking up into the eyes of his special blue Morpho, He realized that she didn’t judge him. Her only emotion was love, and he would always be loved unconditionally.
At that moment, a great understanding came to him. Every creature in the forest had a purpose, the silly Macaws were clowns, the mischievous Monkeys were rascals, the amazing blue Morphos were for love and beauty, and he, the bulldog would spend his life protecting the defenseless forest animals.
(Joseph Harrer grew up in Thibodaux, La., a small, clean college town surrounded by the swamps and sugarcane fields of south Louisiana. He has many great memories of the people and places that surrounded that area. After graduating from Thibodaux High, Joe worked on the oil rigs and eventually became a derrickman, even though he has a great fear of heights. He eventually came to the realization that if he put as much time and effort into studies as he did on the rigs that he could excel in college even though he had poor grades in High School. An opportunity opened for him to attend Nicholls University and study Geology. He did well enough to receive a scholarship at Auburn University again to study Geology and Micropaleontology. After receiving his Master’s Degree, he entered the field of environmental geology and helped investigate contaminated sites across the US and Canada. He has written hundreds of environmental and remediation reports. He is presently retired and now writes about the adventures he’s had along the way in this exciting career path.
Let me first and foremost give you a little bit about me so you can see that I have SO MUCH to say about your story that I LOVED and that I want to give it the “full treatment,” because there is something so special for me here about the story you wrote: I am an animal welfare advocate. I co-founded CHAIN FREE AUSTIN and helped to successfully pass a dog-chaining ban for the city of Austin, Texas, that went into effect in October 2007. I am also a Christian and believe my life has been one of a (1)”caterpillar life” until tragedy struck and (2) I went into a cocoon to (3) eventually emerge as a beautiful butterfly. As you can see, all these things brought your story to me with great interest and much Kleenex.
This story is beautiful. I know I’m prejudiced for “chained dog” stories but that still doesn’t take away from your story of what it means to be free. I do wonder how this story would go over if it was written from the dog’s point of view. I think that might lend to a more emotional involvement for the reader (like your story needs more emotion; it was heartbreaking enough for me).
If we could all just understand that all people and all animals want to live free, free from pain and suffering and, yes, “chains.” This is not just a “human” thing; this is a “living and breathing and feeling soul” thing. I fight for animal rights AND people rights. If one animal or person is NOT free, then I am not free. We are all that interconnected. This is not necessarily a Christian perspective for most, unfortunately, but it is for me. “You, Lord, preserve both people and animals alike” (Psalm 36:6). What I hear in this Bible verse is that God cares about both people AND animals alike (the same). Many want to put people above animals, but that’s not what this verse is saying. This verse is saying both people and animals are equal in God’s Eyes. It’s about dominion, sure, but NOT about domination, and yet I see this ALL THE TIME in the best of people including Christians!
Any story that brings together different species in shared love and respect is always a pleasure for me to read, because I don’t believe in speciesism. An animal is defined as “a living organism that feeds on organic matter, typically having specialized sense organs and a nervous system and able to respond rapidly to stimuli.” I don’t know about anyone else, but that sounds just like the definition of a human. If that be the case, we are ALL animals! Some might disagree, but I don’t. I am not superior to anyone, person or animal, and, in fact, I typically take the inferior route to keep my ego in check and God always ahead of me. I AM AN ANIMAL!!!!
Your story talks so much about “empathy,” which is my very favorite thing, as I am an empath and highly sensitive to boot. What is so wonderful about your story is that you took a species (a dog) and brought in another species (a butterfly) and made them both “sing” together. That is entirely wonderful in my book. I think that is when I learn my greatest lessons, i.e., when someone of another species or persona alters me in some way for the better. This is what we could all experience if we would just extend the circle of love and compassion to including ALL feeling and living and breathing beings! Many of us want to keep our circle contained with like-minded individuals and species but it’s when we break down (or apart) that circle and allow the “different ones” to come in that we truly and spiritually grow. Your story brought that message home loud and clear, and I thank you for that!
I would very much like to feature your story on my website. If you wanted to consider rewriting it from the dog’s POV, you can certainly try that but, either way, I want to feature your story on my website because I want to highlight the brilliance of it so others can relish in it and have their hearts and minds altered by it. I write to alter people’s hearts and minds, and I would love to join you on such a journey!
Blessed writing, Joseph, and thanks for such a wonderful and three-hankie story!