Dogged | Behind Bars

By Jack Lewis, Photography by Jack Lewis

Rolling onto that shoulder wakes me every time. I limped to the kitchen on my rheuma-tastic ankle and called the dogs in from the freeze. Auggie, our ancient Heinzhund, lunged twice at the iced-over porch. He’s lost a step or two, but was way fast once…

I gave him an ear scritch and a ruff tug for courage before we faced the The Girls. Only one of us would be escaping the ’tween slumber party.

Layering up, I pulled the battered Gerbing electric vest out of the gear closet. Smacking a tankbag onto Black Betty, I hit the starter button. She turned over slowly but faithfully and fired off.

Selecting a new road toward Echo Lake, I skittered through an intersection with thicker ice than the nearby rooftops.

Heated grips on HI weren’t doing it. I pulled over to plug in my Gerbing, almost dropping the bike as my ankles and knees experienced a brief failure to communicate.

The pause did us no good. Betty wouldn’t turn back over. Turning toward the slight downhill, I gunned my stiff legs like Charlie Brown trying to loft his kite.

An open gate led to a steep drive and a boat ramp. A sign read “NO INTERNAL COMBUSTION ALLOWED.”

It was easy to see why: Lost Lake was a crystalline, eternal reflection of nothing. A few houses at tree-line looked blank-eyed over the water. Upturned, white-bottomed rowboats lined the quiet shore. How had I never found this place?

“Maybe you weren’t ready.”

I spun around. An old man stood there, precisely where no one had been. He said his name was Pete.

“Most people are taken by surprise,” he said. “The entry’s not what you expected, is it?”

I admitted as much.

“That’s just for the boats, you know.” He gestured to the sign and smiled, kinda crooked. “Folks are quiet around here. We don’t much run our motors.”

“But there’s a launch ramp…”

“No one’s driven down that in years.”

Pushed by the wet November wind, dark-gray clouds rolled overhead—but that wasn’t the only reason for the dimming, twilit glimmer.

“I should probably go,” I said, edging toward Betty. “Nothing darkens quicker than a Northwest day on Standard Time.”

He smiled again—I wished he’d quit doing that. “No Daylight Savings here,” he said, sweeping his hand and nodding by the lake. “You should think about getting a place. We’re nowhere near full yet.”

“I’m, uh, going…” I could almost remember where. If I got on the bike, she’d take me somewhere.

“See you again, son. We’ll be waiting...”

When he smiled this time, every part of his face wrinkled, a void falling off into nowhere, his eyes a perfect, glass-like blue.

My legs weren’t bothering me now. I couldn’t feel them at all!

I rode slowly up the steep drive, but as I eased Betty over the speed bump, she coughed and jarred to a stop.

On that steep incline, I knew I could bump-start her if I could get turned around. Looking back, I saw the old man still standing there. He raised his right hand and crooked a finger.

Whenever you’re ready, son.

Nudging Betty into neutral, I punched the gray button and heard the starter wheeze through half a spin.

One more stab at the starter. C’mon, c’mon, COME ON!

Tick, snap … BOOM-BOOM-BOOM!

Shamelessly slipping the clutch, I paddled uphill like I was attacking The Widowmaker before climbing out into the red-gold autumn sunset.

The entry is not what you expected.

Back home, Smalldaughter snoozed in a hamster’s nest of birthday wrapping while the old dog and I sat by the fire, staring into the flames.

Whenever you’re ready, son.

Raising my glass, I toasted those not present. “Not yet, old man,” I murmured.

“What was that, honey?”

“Oh … nothing.”

I took another sip, reached down and scritched Auggie on his head.

“Just talking to the dog.”

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