He didn't come back that night, and Sam sat in total concentration while he worked on the poster. Working on the poster was keeping him from going crazy. Going crazy was the only option that sounded appealing if Hank didn't come back.
Hank was a mutt of dubious lineage. Seemed people always saw their favorite breed in him, and Sam never really got the mind to correct them. His folks called Hank a chameleon, which is a lizard that changes colors. Sam had seen one at the county fair.
Hank had gotten out before, but he'd always make a few charges at the squirrels that lived up in the big pines and then tire out. Then he'd come home and get scolded. Then he'd get a treat. Sam never got mad at Hank, and that was because there was nothing about the dog that he didn't love.
They'd been together since before either or them remembered it. The dog followed Sam everywhere. When he was inside, his eyes followed Sam's every movement. The boy belonged to him. You could see that. Folks said it was strange, but it was the truth. Sam didn't own that dog. That dog owned Sam.
Sam was brushing his teeth when he heard a long, low whine from outside. He knew the sound. He'd only heard it once before when Hank had surprised a porcupine. Now, his heart stopped.
Hank was sitting at the backdoor and, if you didn't know him, you might just think he was hungry. Tired. He was hungry and tired, but that wasn't the problem. The problem was the crushed hind legs that had carved a smooth swath through the fall leaves. Sam fell to his knees and hugged the dog, whose tongue wiped away the thick tears. Sam knew his dad was behind him, and his head sank. He could smell gun oil and, turning, he saw the face of a man whose heart was broken.
"No, Dad...we can take him...to town..."
Sam's Dad swallowed hard and wondered how you explain to a young boy that his best friend isn't going to be around anymore.
"Son, you know I hate to do anything to hurt you. This is going to break your heart and don't think I don't know it. Hell, I loved that dog, too. Not like you, but he was a good goddamn dog. Excuse my French...son, we can't let him suffer like this..."
Sam stared at the ground until he could slow down the tears.
"I don't want to shoot him, Dad."
"Son, you don't have to."
"He's my damn dog."
Sam took the revolver from his father's hand. He pressed his forehead against Hanks strong brow and hoped that dogs could read minds. Hank had always seemed like a mind-reader. Buddy, I know you understand. And I know you know I hate to do this more than anything. But the doc can't fix your legs, and we both know it. I love you. I won't ever forget you. I promise.
Slowly, he stood and led the dog by its collar, hind legs limp dragging. When they reached the trash pile at the edge of the ridge, Sam stopped.
From the back steps, the old man could see it all. Silhouettes in the moonlight. A broken dog, thumping his tail and whimpering each time it hit the hard-pack dirt. The boy got on his knees and pulled the dog to his chest. He was crying so hard it looked like he was vibrating, and the old man let the tears come.
The dog sat still. He faced the boy and nosed the barrel of the gun. He licked the boy's hand and then there was an explosion in the night. The dog crumpled and Sam dropped the gun. He was still for a good minute, chin on his chest. He looked up into the sky and the old man was glad he couldn't see his face. He walked away from the house into the dense, green woods.