The bus stops at the place where the road dips and the slaughterhouse rests on a little rise.
Kenny Barton pulls the lever and the door opens.
He looks up in the mirrored rectangle and watches my sisters and I come down the aisle.
He grins big, tanned and leathery, the lines dug deep on purpose around his mouth.
I think his teeth aren’t real.
He waits, his right hand on the lever, while my littlest sister hesitates, short baby legs slowly stepping down each step of the bus and onto the broken asphalt.
We wave Kenny Barton good bye and the three of us make our way up the incline toward the house.
I smell blood.
My throat goes tight.
There’s been some slaughtering.
I shift my lunchbox from one hand to the other.
I step into the back of one of my sister’s leg.
Both of them have moved in tight and I misstep.
We come to the top of the rise and Swenson’s Slaughterhouse leans back into the landscape like it grew out of the dirt.
The blood smells new and sweet.
There it is.
A just butchered cow is hanging from a hook above a channel carved into the floor near the open door.
I always look. Even when my stomach flips, I always look at the open carcass. White, then pink, then red.
Headless body swaying, swaying, swaying.
I watch the blood drain into the channel and without letting my eyes drift past the cow’s tail, I know the dog is lying there; a lying down german shepherd with tongue hanging over the channel filled red.
Brown and black sides heave in the heat. Long nose twitches.
My sisters and I huddle closer.
Don’t look at the dog.
Don’t make eye contact. Look straight ahead.
I can see the dirt driveway to our house up ahead. It’s not far. We could run, but my littlest sister wouldn’t make it without falling. It’s what the shepherd would want anyway. The small one. The vulnerable one.
He pretends to be a good dog, lazy-like, eyes pooled brown, watching, watching, watching.
I know different.
The moment we pass he will make his move.
When he can no longer see our faces and he has our backs in front of him, that’s when he will bolt.
A real life big bad wolf, fresh blood staining his tongue, the shepherd named Prince will suddenly run for all he’s worth because of the thrill. Because of the evil delight he has in terrifying three little girls.
Evil is like that. It is a coward with fangs.
It is a coward fully protected in military gear possessing an arsenal of weapons turned on innocent victims at their most vulnerable of times… during their leisure.
What is the remedy for such evil…such cowardice hell-bent on destruction just because….?
“The wicked plots against the righteous, and gnashes at him with his teeth.
The Lord laughs at him; for He see his day is coming.”
My sisters and I pass the wolf dog, the counterfeit prince, and true to his nature, he springs toward us.
Our minds say walk, but our hearts pound out run, and we do.
I get behind my sisters and let them run ahead of me because I am the oldest, not because I am fearless.
We hear Prince’s low growl turn into a raging bark.
We run and we do not turn around.
We run and we hope.
Hope that believes he won’t snatch a leg or arm flailing awkward in its pushing, pushing, pushing of our bodies.
Hope that believes we will outrun him this time.
Hope that believes we will be rescued.
We reach the driveway.
A voice suddenly calls “Hey!”
It is a voice that carries over the road and past the field and over the stone wall to our driveway.
It is a voice that commands obedience and immediately the dark prince turns abrupt and slinks, hind end low, head hung down.
Mr. Swenson calls his dog with a word and a tone and the dog obeys.
He is on an invisible leash, but a strong leash it is.
The day I hear of another shooting, another broad stroke of evil it is like I am back on a little road in Grantham running from a senseless blood-crazed dog and there is nothing I can do to save myself.
I say to God on that day….what is going on? Is there no safe place? What do I tell my children? My grandchildren?
The voice comes instantly. A voice that carries over the confusion and past the fear and around the questions of my heart.
Read Psalm 37
I run to the Word. To the place the voice tells me to go.
“Do not fret because of evildoers….”
“…for they will wither quickly like the grass, and fade like the green herb.”
I am rescued from the terror that tries to steal peace.
“Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there.”
I am comforted by the real Prince, the Prince of Peace.
“…the salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; He is their strength in time of trouble.”
I listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd and I am saved.