Lemon and Yellow
by John A. Monaghan
Click here to listen to this story on the Kaidankai podcast.
I appreciate the irony of suffering hypothermia because of an overheated engine but the humor isn’t funny until later. I’d filled up the gas tank in preparation for entering the stretch, or what I call the stretch, a lonely barren part of the highway between Prestonsburg and Ashland. But when the engine temperature began to rise while the heater blew cold air, I knew I had trouble. I’m not a mechanical man and on that road at that time, twisting and turning through Appalachia, the towns miles below and miles away, made me feel helpless. But I was closer to the stretch’s end than the beginning, and so I pushed on, peering through the darkness hoping for an exit.
It did not come before my car died. A look under the hood with the cell’s flashlight told me that I had an empty radiator and a faulty hose – not that it mattered; I’d no
water for the radiator or the hose or the tools. I held my already-numbed hands to the engine block for heat but it was already growing cold from the intense weather. I smelled only the acridity of burnt coolant. My cell had no signal and the battery was low from my overuse. I was completely on my own.
I was already freezing and knew that I needed warmth soon. My ears hurt in the cold. Ahead, I saw the outline of a change from guardrails to concrete barriers, indicating a bridge, and so I walked to find the sign that I hoped to be near it or to better see the North Star. The sign gave the nearest town as eleven miles. That put the nearest station as probably even further, too far to walk in the night’s intense cold. But I’d no choice; if a gas station was at the exit I’d be alright.
Then I saw the light. The bridge was really an overpass and below in the valley shined
the steady light of a farmhouse.
In the night’s gloom, I could just make out the edges of the steep descent to the valley below. I began to walk west when I heard a steady jingling of something metal behind me. I turned. A dog emerged out of the gloom, tags hanging from the collar. It’s funny the things I notice when I’m are freezing to death. He was a lemon yellow beagle. He paused and eyed me then turned around. For some reason, I followed him back, back east towards the car. He leapt over the guardrail and down the mountainside. He stopped and looked at me.
I followed. I don’t know why. In the moonlight, the mountainside was a field of grays and blacks and whites in all shapes. The dog never ran away but always stayed just ahead. Indeed, in the gloom and shadows, I saw that he took a path down. The only sounds were the crackling of ice beneath my feet and my breathing.
He was a perfectly normal dog. He leapt off the path to chase a rabbit. He bayed at the moon or something. He dug and sniffed in the snow. I stayed to the path. It twisted and
turned and curved and moved about without rhyme or reason but always the lemon yellow stayed in front. I followed his prints in the snow – little pools of grayed white in the moonlight. Sniffing, digging, chasing unseen game... in all ways a perfectly normal dog.
Slowly, we made our way down and then through a group of trees. Without the dog’s prints before me, I could not have found the path.
As we went down the steepest part of the path, it was almost a cliff, I thrust my hands into the snow banks, onto rocks or ice wrapped branches to keep my balance. The ice-cold snow felt warm. My ears ached,I ached, inside. I tripped off the slope to collapse into a snow bank. I sat up and held my hands to my numb face. In the dimness, they were no longer flesh tinted white but darker, like bluer. I could no longer smell a thing. I was lost and it was cold, too cold to be lost.
I thought of my wife and kids. I wondered if I had enough life insurance. I tried to remember the last time I told her “I love you.”
Warmth stung my hands. The dog was breathing on me.
I got up and pushed on. A few minutes later, I stumbled, my head swam, I felt level ground below and saw, as though behind a fogged over window, the farmhouse light. I walked the last hundred yards or so to the driveway. Those hundred yards were glorious. I saw daisies sprout from the snow. The yellow of daffodils broke the monotony of white and gray. I was that bad.
I walked up the driveway and knocked on the door. They took one look and pulled me inside.
“It’s too cold to be outside,” the man said as he put away his gun. The woman gave me hot tea. They called a tow truck and we waited. They told me that someone had frozen to death at the overpass last year. That I had taken the only path down. The other sides all ended in cliffs that the darkness hide well.
I looked around for lemon yellow, who was no where around, but there was a picture of him.
I said, “That’s a nice dog you got. What’s his name?”
“His name was Nicholas," the man answered, "the best hunter I ever had. Why
he could follow a trail that no other dog could.”
“I believe it. He led me here.”
They stared at me, then he said, “Nicholas died forty years ago. I buried him next to the creek.”
I didn’t know what to say. The dog that guided me and the dog in the picture, were the same dog. I’m sure of it. Now, I don’t know what to think.
John A. Monaghan lives in Virginia Beach, Virginia with his wife and children and three dogs. He can be found on Twitter at TitusLivy72, but be warned, he does not tweet much.
About the Host
Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.