Ssshould we be here? Sally stammered. “Mama says she’s a witch!”
“Mind your manners Sally Jane Watson. Do you want Bug to live or die?” Her older sister scolded.
Sally hung her head and held onto her tiny Beagle pup. Bug started struggling and whining when Esther said his name. The raw wounds from the BB pellets had begun festering and oozing. Seven-year-old Sally knew her dog’s injuries were severe since the infection appeared.
The day before her puppy had slipped out of the gate. Once Sally noticed her beloved pet had made a getaway, she began searching the fields around their farm. She searched for what seemed hours until she heard some boys in the woods behind her father’s pasture. She wandered towards the noise when suddenly, she heard Bug yelp in pain. The little girl ran towards the sound, and she listened to Bug wail again. She discovered the Bronson twins and another neighbor boy laughing and shooting, using Bug as target practice. Screaming Sally barreled towards the twin that had lifted his gun to fire at Bug once again. Although she was tiny, the force of her body toppled the older boy to the ground. In the struggle, the gun flew out of his arms and fell to the ground. Sally crawled over to her dog and covered his tiny body with her own.
“My pa will whip you for this,” she shrieked.
“Oh geez!” Bobby Dale whined. And the boys fled the scene, leaving the gun behind. The last thing they wanted was to be on the wrong side of Jimmy Watson.
Sally’s father was well known in Mason County for his temper although he only ever had but one major outburst. Once when he was younger, he almost beat old man Stevens half to death. If it hadn’t been for Mariah pulling Jimmy off of her father, he would have killed the old man that beat the woman he loved. While her father was still unconscious, the seventeen-year-old girl quickly packed her few belongings. The two left just as the old man began opening his eyes and muttering drunken curses under his breath.
That afternoon Jimmy convinced the preacher over in Lake City to marry the two. At first, the preacher started to decline, for the girl was softly crying and had the beginnings of a black eye. According to local rumors that had swirled around the county for years, Jimmy told the man, “Sir, you either marry us, or we will start living in sin. There is no way in hell I am going to let my gal step one foot back in that old man’s house.”
Glancing at the tearful bride, the minister noticed the old bruises on the young girl’s arm. Nodding in consent, he took them inside the parsonage. As soon as the minister’s wife understood what was going on, she took the little gal into her bedroom. With tender care, she helped the young bride freshen up a bit. Once the older woman and the young girl finished, they made their way back into the living room. Jimmy nervously stood in the parlor with a handful of daisies and pansies, flowers from the parsonage flower garden. When Mariah saw her future husband standing in the living while holding her wedding bouquet, the pretty bride smiled for the first time that day. Softly, Jimmy told his girl that she was the most beautiful woman he had ever laid eyes on, and at that very moment, Mariah understood her new life with the man she loved would be her own slice of heaven on earth. And not once had she ever regretted her decision.
Bug continued to softly whine as Sally slowly lifted her dog into her lap. Blood slowly slipped from the open wounds. As Sally looked down at Bug, her long blonde curls covered her face and the animal in her lap. She knew she had to get him home; Ma would know what to do. After removing her sweater, the young girl carefully wrapped her little friend in the warm softness of her jersey. As she stood, she noticed the boys had left the gun behind. Slowly, she bent down; she carefully shifted Bug in one hand and scooped up the weapon before placing the strap over her shoulder. Holding her baby tenderly, she made her way home.
Just outside the barn, Sally saw her father walking towards the house. “Pa! She screamed, and the tears began flowing once again.
Jimmy heard his daughter’s cries and raced towards his youngest child. Blood covered her shirt, and the frightened father thought for a moment that it was Sally’s until he noticed Bug wrapped up in her sweater. The small pup cried in pain, and it was then that he saw the BB gun that she carried, and he realized the dog was wounded.
“Whose gun?” He asked.
“One of the Benson twins. I caught them and Bobby Dale in the woods. One of the twins kept shooting Bug.” She explained to her father how she tackled the shooter, and how they ran off after she told them her father would “whip” them.
Her father smiled at his girl and praised her for her quick actions and for remembering to pick up the gun on the way home. He took Bug from his girl and the two walked back to the house. Once inside, Mariah went to the medicine cabinet, grabbed some supplies, and went to cleaning poor Bug’s wounds. The pup howled in agony as she poured whiskey into its wounds.
“Will he live Pa?” Her father looked into his daughter’s eyes and smiled.
“He will be fine once your mother fixes him up.”
Relieved the young girl hugged her father.
Early the next morning, Sally crept down the stairs to check on Bug. Her parents were already in the kitchen. Ma was starting breakfast, and Pa was drinking coffee. Pa had made a bed for bug near the stove. As she walked towards the small crate, Pa called to her. “He took a turn for the worse last night. He is gonna need your prayers and a lot of rest.”
She peeked inside the box and under the covers, Bug slowly panted. When he saw Sally, he thumped his tiny tail and tried to lift his head. The movement was painful, and the small dog whimpered. One of the wounds was red and warm; a yellow discharge oozed. She glanced up at her mother, “Mama, will he make it?”
“I don’t know baby. His has several wounds, and that one is infected.”
“Your Ma got up all night tending to Bug. She has tried her hardest,” Pa commented.
Sally stood up and ran to her father, and the man pulled his daughter close trying to smooth away the pain he knew she felt. He was angry at the boys who had caused his child so much heartache.
Throughout the day, Sally continued to check out Bug. Nothing changed. He didn’t get worse, but he didn’t get better either. Sally prayed as she had never prayed before. Hoping beyond hope, that somehow her puppy would survive this ordeal.
After dinner, her father took his daughter outside and broke the disturbing news to his daughter. “Sal, I don’t think Bug is going to make it.”
“No!” she cried. “Can’t we take him to the vet?”
“Honey, we do not have the money, and your Ma is the best animal doctor in the county anyways. If she can’t fix him, well, nobody can.”
The father held his daughter until she had spent all of her tears. “Damn, those boys for breaking her heart,” the father thought to himself.
Later that night, Esther shook her little sister awake. “Shh, be quiet. We don’t want to wake Ma and Pa.”
Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Sally asked, “What are you doing?”
“Get dressed,” she told her younger sister. “I will tell you everything downstairs.”
Once downstairs, Esther explained to Sally that she had an idea that just might save Bug. “We will take him to Ella Johnson’s old cabin.
Surprised at her sister’s suggestion, Sally gasped.
“Well, do you want Bug to live or not? Because if you do, we ain’t got no other choice. Are you in or not. He’s your dog.”
“In,” Sally whispered.
The two girls slipped on their shoes and jackets and headed out the door. Esther grabbed Pa’s flashlight from the shelf, and the girl headed out the back door. Sally followed, and Bug cried in the little crate; the jostling had caused him pain. Sally knew her sister was right. They had to try something. Miss Ella, folks murmured, had a calling, a miraculous gift from above, that sometimes healed the citizens of Mason County. Others suggested her calling came from the belly of hell, for they implied she was a witch. Even Mama believed the latter and warned the girls to stay clear of this strange woman. But tonight, the girls were desperate and were willing to try anything to save Bug.