A frigid prairie wind clawed and howled like a rabid animal as it thrashed through the black abyss of the late-winter night.
The large dog's sad eyes couldn't shut in sleep under these conditions, and he whimpered pitifully. The world was such a frighteningly vast, forsaken place to the quivering mound of brown fur huddled under the wreckage of an abandoned hay wagon. His inadequate shelter shook and groaned under repeated assaults by the lusty, gusty gale. One attack even threatened to blow the wooden relic over, and the dog's head lifted to howl back his defiance at this unseen but terrible foe.
Gone were the sweet, sunny days when his beloved master and he tramped the wild prairie together, carefree and unfettered. When they got hungry, they'd stop by a singing stream and sit under the skimpy shade of an overgrown bush.
"Big Boy, let's go splash a few minutes to cool off and wet our whistles before we has a bite to eat." Then Master would tug off his boots, roll up his pant legs, and the two of them would stand in the creek while their tired, burning feet found brief relief. Next, Master would scoop up cold, sparkling water to toss over their heads while they both sated their thirst.
"C'mon now, Big Boy! Let's set yonder and enjoy our grub." Master would open his battered knapsack and extract bread and dried meat to be shared equally between them. Afterwards, Master often brought out his harmonica and played tunes that seemed to make the wild grasses dance and sway in time. It made Big Boy want to sing along, as well. Sometimes he tried to repeat the notes but could only manage sharp barks and low whines.
Their idyllic existence ended the day Master fell into an unexpected and deep ditch while they hunted rabbit for dinner. "Help me, Big Boy!" the man yelled, and he obediently jumped down beside him. But there was so much blood flowing from a gash on the man's head. The dog licked the wound and laid beside him. He even tried to tug on Master's shirt to encourage him to get up, but something was wrong with the man's leg, too. Master grew weaker. "Don't leave me Big Boy. I can't die alone."
The faithful animal stayed at his post for two or three days until Master no longer spoke or moved. Finally, hunger and extreme thirst drove Big Boy from the spot. He'd roamed the country roundabout for some weeks now, existing on whatever he could catch, while his heart grieved his lost companion.
The morning after the wind storm, he came upon several buildings strung along either side of a wide, dusty street. Horses, dogs, and more people than he'd seen in a long time mingled in the road and on the boardwalks in front of the false-front stores and two-story houses. A cacophany of unfamiliar noises filled the air, and Big Boy decided to avoid the crowd. He slunk along behind the buildings in hopes of finding a scrap or two to still his stomach's grumbling before he headed away again.
Suddenly a back door flew open, and an aproned man tossed a tubful of dirty water right in front of Big Boy. He yelped in fright, and the startled man stared. The gaunt dog's eyes were both desperate and wary.
Smiling, the man squatted down in the dirt and held out his hand. "Hey there, big boy. Would you like something to eat?"
The dog trembled. How did this strange human know his name?
The man disappeared for a moment but then returned with a heaping plate of stew meat whose savory smell drew him hesitantly forward. After a few faltering steps he stopped as fear and hunger battled it out within.
Slowly the man set the food down and stepped back a few paces. Over and over he softly invited, "C'mon, big boy. It's okay. It's okay."
Whenever Master called, "C'mon, Big Boy," it was always something good. Maybe he could trust this man, too.
"C'mon, fellah. I could use a dog like you around here to eat leftovers and guard the henhouse. Yes, it's okay. Good boy. It's okay."
The dog's nose twitched. His tongue tingled with desire. He edged nearer and nearer until the intoxicating aroma became irresistible and he began to devour the nourishment.
Reaching out, the man tentatively touched his matted, shaggy coat. "That's it, big boy. It's gonna be okay."
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