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CORMORANTS SWOOP and dive-bomb into the salty water, their trajectory stealthy and deep. The ravenous dog looks on, the birds out of reach. He paces back and forth, riveted along the water’s edge. Frothy waves tickle his paws tracing wet impressions in the sand. He is prepared to wait. His stomach growls and bends.
The dog has been on the hunt for five days, lost far from home, disoriented since the electrical storm. He is managing quite well for a purebred: cozy cave, blankie, and binky, out of sight, out of mind. Foraging comes surprisingly easy for him, as if it were a daily hustle. He’s made friends too; first ever beyond the local fenced-in dog park. His master would be impressed, no, worried, both. He does not know that his human family has been busy plastering the neighbourhood with posters, leaving bowls of premium kibble and fresh water out on the veranda. The porch-light left on 24/7, beckoning him home. He is too far away to see the beacon.
He does not look back. He does not know where that lies. Adaptation happens fast. He caught and devoured his first field mouse his second day out, not altogether bad. Crab shells dropped by seagulls onto driftwood, shale, and barnacled rock, crack open, offering remnants if he is quick; the gooey innards delectable. The dog is now a scavenger. His lacerated gums and tongue are sliced on the sharp edges of shells he consumed in haste; little droplets of blood stain the hairs around his muzzle. Yesterday, he devoured the shells masticating claw and carapace in one fell swoop. Today he knows better. He eats slower. He has already corrected his mistakes; he is a quick study.
The cormorants circle around. They strategize en masse, targeting a school of pacific jack mackerel. The dog yelps knowing they will score big. He wants in and is not afraid to ask. The squadron descends in perfect alignment, a surgical strike. The display is impressive. He is eager to follow suit. He ventures out past the tide-pools but is immediately turned back. The undertow is strong. He faintly remembers being told once before to ‘be careful’. He takes heed. The tide-pools are teeming with life. He rummages. There is a lot to collect. Paws do the dirty work giving his inflamed lips and ragged tongue a reprieve.
There is a faint cry in the distance; the winds muffle anything more distinct. He hears it again, a little closer now. He turns his head up in the direction of the commotion but is not sure if he should scamper away farther down the beach. Cautious, he thinks he recognizes a figure trudging through the sand, coming closer, arms flailing. He is sure now, the spirited gait, long auburn hair flapping in the wind. He’s heard that call before — “Hunter”.
The dog will have a warm bath, fluffy blankets, and special treats tonight. Wild with hunger, the cormorants look on with indifference.