You’re exploring and photographing an abandoned gas station and convenience store. Just farting around, really, as this was not a planned trip. An opportunistic stop on a meandering drive. A quick pullover off the highway. Broken windows. The husk of a building. The ghosts of the past. And the light is perfect. Might as well snap off a few shots. This scenario is familiar to both of you, as you’ve indulged many times in the past.
Eventually, you make your way inside the gloomy garage area, into the near pitch-black of a narrow hallway. Your friend warns you of an even darker area in the floor that appears to be a hole. Curious, a little concerned (kids have been in here countless times, have left their spoor and their tags), you fire your flash into the hole to gauge its depth. You’re shocked at what you see in that millisecond of hot, white light — it had appeared in the gloom to be a section of subfloor, maybe a drop of a few inches, but instead you see that it is a gaping concrete pit, with a height of at least 10 feet. Had your friend not warned you, you might have stepped right into it. Instant bone shatterings, possibly instant death. The game of exploring abandonments made suddenly, brutally into something more coldly tangible.
And what was that — that which you caught in the corner of your vision during the brief flash? Your imagination playing tricks on you? For surely it was not what your brain offered from the available possibilities? Something reflecting back at you. Framed by a dark shape. Eyes? A black animal? No, it couldn’t be. So you step slightly closer, fire the flash into the hole again.
No mistaking it this time. It’s looking up at you. A black animal. Not a bear cub — canine, lupine, you’re not sure. Dog or wolf (but surely not a wolf, you think immediately). You tell your friend there’s something down there, something with eyes, something looking up at you from the eerie murk. He doesn’t believe you — or at least, he doesn’t want to believe you, keeps saying no, but something in your tone has already convinced him you aren’t joking.
More flash firings and you both agree that it is a dog. Or a wolf. And that it is trapped down there, no way out. No food. No water. And it’s not making a single sound, not even a whine or whimper, though it is obviously very much alive, even moving around a bit.
Decisions are made. Phone calls are placed. No one in sight for miles, sun rapidly descending behind the mountains.
Eventually you are speaking with a Fish and Wildlife officer who reveals to you that you are on Native Reserve land and they have no animal control unit. It’s also technically not his jurisdiction, but due to the dog/wolf uncertainty, he promises to look into it. Your name and number is taken. He will call tomorrow to follow up.
Photos are forgotten. You leave, because there’s nothing else you can do. You don’t even have any food or water to toss down to the animal. The media is full of stories about half-feral Reserve dogs mauling native children, so you’re not about to climb down there in the dark and get bitten yourself. You’ve done all that you can, so you leave.
And it tortures you the whole way home. And it haunts you all that night. Did you do the right thing? Was someone going to come back for it? Was it down there for a reason? Was some homeless person living down there (unlikely, no signs of a camp-out, no food or water for the dog) and you have just taken his only companion away from him? Have you just doomed the dog (you’ve looked at the photos on your computer and are now sure that it is a dog, not a wolf at all) to being put down? Why was it down there? Did it fall all that distance without hurting itself? It seems more and more likely that someone put it down there on purpose, without food, without water — the breadth of human cruelty opens before you, a yawning pit as black as the one containing the dog, and you feel like weeping.
A phone call from the Fish and Wildlife officer the next day confirms that it is a dog. It was barking when he arrived on site, probably getting hungry. Again, not his jurisdiction but he has convinced Animal Control from a nearby town to come help him get the animal out of the pit. He agrees it is unlikely it got down there itself, much as he would like to think a human being wouldn’t do such a thing, but, he says in this job, just when I think I’ve seen it all… and you can hear the weariness in his voice, his quiet awe at humankind’s cruelty and stupidity regarding its animal kin. He is waiting for Animal Control. They will rescue the dog. Your end of the story is done, the dog’s ultimate fate unknown, though you are reassured by the notion of none of them really having jurisdiction on the Reserve that maybe they will just let the dog flee back into the foothills, and that it will at least have as much of a fighting chance for survival as it had before it wound up (however it wound up) in the bowels of that pit.
Whatever happened, black dog, whatever has become of you — surely it is a freedom, a kindness, compared to the lonely imprisonment of that black pit. At least one cruel, stupid human has to reassure himself that it is.