Walkdog

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Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasyby Sofia Samatar

(Originally published in Kaleidoscope: Diverse YA Science Fiction and Fantasy)

This paper is in response to the assignment “Know Your Environment”. In this paper I will discuss an animal called Walkdog which is native to my local environment which is South Orange, New Jersey. First I will describe the animal (“Brief Description”), then I will write about it’s origin and habits (“Research”), then I will conclude with why I chose to write about this animal and why its important (“Conclusion”). Thesis statement: Even though not much has been written about it, Walkdog is an important part of North American wildlife.

1. Brief Description

What is Walkdog? Well Mrs. Patterson you probably know better than me. However, I am writing this paper and not you, because I need the grade as you know very well, so here is what I know.

Walkdog contrary to it’s name is not a dog. It is more like a beaver or large rat. It lives mostly in sewers but also creeks and rivers. It is nocturnel and believed to eat fish and also, excuse me, excrament1. Walkdog when walking is said to be about 5 feet long, including the tail, but when it stands up it looks taller than a man. Its fur is black and oily. Its a great swimmer and can stay underwater for 3 days without coming up for air.

Other names for Walkdog: Grimdog, Grimwolf, The Dog that Walks Men, The Dog that Walks Hisself, Jumpy Leg, Conjure Dog, Canewolf.

Some people also call it Growldog, but this is stupid because Walkdog doesn’t growl. It has no voicebox.2

2. Research

One thing you will notice when you start researching Walkdog is that not much has been written about it at all. It gets mentioned in a sentence here and there but you won’t find a book about it or even a Wikipedia page which is weird, don’t you think? Its like its hiding from everything with some kind of magic. Probably the person who knows most about Walkdog is your nephew, Andrew Bookman, the most hopeless dork in this school you’ll excuse me for saying, because you know its a fact and facts as you say are the Building Blocks of Research.3

From Andy I learned that the origins of Walkdog are, as he put it, “obscure”. There are three main theories on the origins of Walkdog:

  1. indigenous animal related to otter
  2. came over from Europe or Asia with immigrants
  3. came over from Africa on slave ship4

In other words, the origins of Walkdog are the origins of just about everybody. This is why I describe it as a native animal. I mean I consider myself a New Jersey native, what else would I be, even though I’m African and German and Spanish and God knows what else.5

Now for the habits of Walkdog. These habits are not what you would call nice. Walkdog steals kids (another name for it is The Child Thief). It does not steal them to eat, as stated above, it eats fish and excrament mainly, but it steals them at night and then it takes them for walks.

It takes them for walks. It just takes them around with it. I want you to think about what that’s like. Imagine your a normal kid asleep in your normal bed. Don’t imagine yourself as Andy Bookman, because that kid is not normal at all, but imagine you’re somebody regular like me. Me, Yolanda Price. I would say I’m pretty normal. I’m not popular, in fact I generally have to keep my head down, just smile at the right times and keep my mouth shut, because I am almost on the edge of nerd, I only manage to do all right because I can sing. If you have a cool talent like that and are not stupid you’ll be okay. I’m not saying that singing could of saved Andrew Bookman. Your nephew I am sorry to say was a grade-A world class nerd and singing probably would of just made things worse for him. Do you know he told everybody that after graduation he was going to go eat strawberries in Denmark? Who says that? Strawberries and new potatoes and the grave of Hans Christian Andersen. People called him The Little Mermaid for weeks. Bubble-Butt, your too ugly to get into another country. Did you notice? Were you afraid that defending him would make things worse? If so you were probably right. It was best to just ignore it. There are places that once you step in, you can’t get out.

So, you’re me, Yolanda, lying in bed. There’s a tap at the window. Tap tap tap. Annoying. You think its a tree branch on the glass. You get up and open the window, even if its winter you would open it to break off the branch and get rid of that awful tapping. So you open the window, lets say its winter like now, February, the worst time of year, with no holidays in sight except Valentines Day a.k.a. National Torture Day, and not being able to sleep is just the last straw, so you open the window and theres a small black shape looking at you from the yard. You stand there, because what is it? Too big for a cat or even a racoon. And then it rears up. It hauls itself up and its tall, its snuffling at the window, and its eyes are small red lights and it says in this voice that comes from no voicebox, this voice in your head, it says Come on girl lets get walking.

Where are we going?

Down to the creek.

I don’t want to.

It laughs: Eee, eee, eee.6

I don’t want to. But your already putting your knee on the sill. Walkdog reaches its paws up and catches you as you fall out. It smells like drains. It puts you down on the ground and crouches on all fours. Bam, just like that, its small again. It sets off walking over the snow, and you follow. Your sliding down the slope at the end of the yard. Now you’re on Varsity Ave. It’s all dark out. I don’t know if you’re crying. Would you cry? Some of the stars are gold, the same color as the streetlights.

Now you are going to walk for a long time.

You might walk as far as the Wolf-Boy, Carlton O’Neill. Just trying to get back home again. I know for a fact you could walk to Indiana easy, like in the song “Indiana Morning” by Blueswoman Maisie Oates.7

Walking and walking. You’d see a lot. Maybe you’d like it since you are such a fan of Research. You could do all the Research you wanted, walking up and down the country. I think you’d be cold though. You’d sleep in ditches and drains. Curled up against Walkdog for warmth. Walkdog’s voice in you murmuring, Time to get up.

3. Conclusion

In this conclusion I will write about why I chose Walkdog for this assignment and why its important.

I chose Walkdog because I heard about it from Andy. What happened is two boys who you definitely know so I won’t repeat their names slammed into Andy in the hall and sent his papers flying. This happened on a daily basis. Every day. You have to ask yourself why Andy was always carrying stuff in his arms when he also wore a backpack. Why not keep everything in the backpack and then when people banged into him he would fall but his stuff would not be all over the hallway. Theres a sign above your desk that says “Nobody is Unteachable”, but Mrs. Patterson I beg to disagree. In this matter Andy was 100% Unteachable. So there his papers went as usual and these two boys enjoyed kicking them and leaving footprints on them. One of the papers slid over to me and almost touched my foot. I didn’t pick it up, because unlike Andy I am Teachable, but I glanced down at it. There was a drawing of something black and blobby with red eyes and underneath it it said Walkdog.

You could say that that was when I got the idea for this assignment even though you had not given it to us yet. I got curious about Walkdog. It seemed like such a weird thing to draw, even for Andy. I asked my parents about it at dinner and they’d never heard of it. Sounds like an urban legend, my mom said later, when I told her about my Research. Mm-hm, said Dad. Mom did remember when Carlton O’Neill got found in the reservation. That poor man, she said, God bless him. She said that’s probably where Walkdog got started, and poor wandering Carlton is the only Walkdog there ever was. I asked how she would explain the song “Indiana Morning” which was recorded back in 1955. Oh that’s just a metaphor she said, and I said, a metaphor for what? She looked uncertain. Alcoholism?8

When you gave us this assignment I went to the Union Market and found Andy at his parent’s booth and asked him about his picture that said Walkdog, and whether it was something that would be good for a paper on “Know Your Environment”, and he said it would be awesome. Andy was always saying things were awesome, and he meant it. He beamed at me from under the leaves of a plant being sold in the stall next to his. He didn’t even think that I might of come out there to mess with him or make fun of him even though that was the most likely scenario. Mrs. Patterson, Andy was special. I know you know that. I know you saw him getting picked on every day. When he raised his hand in class all it took was for somebody to shout Bookman! and the whole class would burst out in these awful little giggles. They didn’t even have to use his nasty nickname. Imagine how it would feel if just your name made other people laugh. You never batted an eye, you just said Yes, Andy? like it was all normal and like I said before it was probably the right thing to do. And then Andy would say whatever he was going to say, always something smart, while people made fart noises and snickered or whatever. You know Mrs. Patterson, this school is actually hell. I don’t know why everyone acted shocked when Andy got beat up the way he did. Special assembly and Principal Reed on the stage with his voice all wobbly. He said we must realize we are becoming men and women. He’s right about that. But that doesn’t mean we’re changing. It just means we’re bigger now, big enough to put somebody in the hospital.9

It’s true. People act like highschool students are kids and need to be taken care of all the time but we are actually adults. If this was the Middle Ages we’d all be married or in wars and you, Mrs. Patterson, you’d be considered a very old lady. And the truth is, you are a very old lady. The day after Andy got beat you looked so frail. You had that old lady’s look of being lost in the world. The truth is, Mrs. Patterson, that a lot of us kids are married and a lot of us are in wars. Andy was both.10

Now when I think about why I chose Walkdog, I think I really chose Andy. I think I chose him even before I knew it. That black, bulky shape on the paper was just an excuse. I wish I could end my paper there and say that getting to know Andy was getting to know my environment. You might give me an A for a paper like that, or you might give me an F, but I wouldn’t care because I would be going over to Andy’s after school, or I would have invited him over to my house, and on National Torture Day we would have watched dumb horror movies in my basement and laughed. My head on his shoulder oh God Mrs. Patterson where do you think he is? Is he still alive? Is he with Walkdog? Is that it? Is he walking around? Is he going to appear in thirtysome years in the forest like Carlton O’Neill and are people going to start calling him another Wolf-Boy? I went to look for Carlton, you know, after Andy disappeared, but I couldn’t find him, he’s not at his mother’s house anymore. I found his mother and she blew a ton of cigarette smoke in my face and said He gone for a walk and shut the door on me. Is that where Andy is? Just gone for a walk? If I’d known I never would have gone back to his house for the conjure mat like he asked me. Yes, I went back for it. He told me where to find the spare key and I went into his house and got the mat from his room. His stupid action figures staring at me in their creepy way. The mat was on top of the filing cabinet. It felt prickly and weird in my hand. I put it in a plastic bag that used to have my lunch in it and stuck it in my purse and went back to the hospital. Maybe I should of known something was wrong, but I just wanted to make Andy happy for once, and I could tell the flowers I’d brought him weren’t doing anything. He just sat in the bed and stared at nothing. White bandages over his nose, white light everywhere. He looked really drained there, drained and small. I didn’t know how to touch him, he looked so hurt. I was crying but he didn’t seem to notice. He just said in this muffled voice: Get me the conjure mat. Okay, I said, still crying. Andy’s parents were outside. Are you a friend? his mom asked, and I said, I’m his girlfriend.

Some girlfriend, right?

I never went anywhere with him. Never went in his front door. Never, ever walked home with him from school.

I should have walked home with him. I should have. I should have walked him home.

So now you know why I couldn’t finish my solo at the service they held in his honor. Praying for news of the missing Andrew Bookman. The choir kept going and I just stopped. I saw you out there in a pew, looking at me, so sad. I couldn’t keep going. My voice was just gone, cut off, there was nothing but air, like I was all full of dust, like I didn’t have a voicebox.

Mrs. Patterson this is my thesis statement: Even though not much has been written about it, Walkdog is an important part of North American wildlife. I hope you can see why Walkdog is important. I hope you can help me. The fact is I think your nephew conjured up Walkdog using the conjure mat. I think he felt so alone, so abandoned by everybody, including you and me, that he did something drastic, he summoned up Walkdog and Walkdog came. I want you to tell me if I’m right. Did you know that conjuring grandmother? What was she like? Did she leave you anything? Did she tell you the counterspell?

I want you to tell me that yes, you know a spell, or you have your own conjure mat. I want you to tell me how to find Andy. I need him. Mrs. Patterson this hound dog is walking me and he’s walking me hard. Everywhere I go I hear his footstep and his splash.

If you can’t give me a spell then I want you to tell me that Walkdog is not a devil or anything scary but that its a helper and a friend. I want you to tell me that Andy’s not scared right now and not alone. He’s just walking. He’s doing Research, which is another kind of Nerd Heaven. Maybe he’s walked to Indiana by now. Maybe he’ll get to Denmark. Maybe he’ll swim with Walkdog who can stay underwater for three days. I see this boy in the waves, he’s holding onto Walkdog’s small black ears and heading out to where its strawberry season. I always see him in his hospital gown, the way he was the last time, the way I imagine he got up one night, his conjure mat in his hand, and walked through the hospital in the ghostly light and opened the doors and there was Walkdog waiting, black and low to the ground. Come on lets get walking. I want you to tell me that Andy’s not going to come back all skinny and beat-up like Carlton O’Neill. I want you to tell me that he’s not cold. Somebody’s always with him. He’s got protection. No one will ever hurt him again.11

Footnotes

  1.  The reason Walkdog is supposed to eat excrament is simply common sense, because what kind of fish is it eating in the sewer? Also we can assume that Walkdog has a seriously powerful gut and high-level immune system because eating random fish out of Jersey creeks will kill you. If Walkdog can eat bugged-out radioactive fish it would probably consider excrament a healthy snack.
  2.  Marjorie Wilson, “Sounds of the Jersey Night”, in Voices of Nature, ed. Steven Wilkins, Rutgers University Press, 1980, p. 115. “Then there is the Walkdog, a creature without a voicebox, known only by its footstep and its splash.”
  3. Facts about Andrew: fat (nickname: “Bubble-Butt”), glasses, always reading (and his last name is Bookman!), started calling himself “Andy” when he started highschool, which anybody should of known that was a stupid thing to do, he should of just stuck with Andrew, even Drew would be cooler, but no, he had to be Andy. Also, his aunt is a teacher (you) which does not help anybody I am sorry to tell you. The cloud of nerd gas surrounding Andy is so strong it could make your eyes water. People only go near him to mess with him. As a teacher you probably know this unless you are unbelieveably clueless.
  4. Source: private conversation with Andrew Bookman. Andy’s personal favorite of these theories was #3. Mostly because of the name “Canewolf” which must mean sugarcane which is something we don’t have a lot of here in Jersey. Andy’s grandmother, who I guess was possibly a relative of yours, died and left him what he says is a mat made of Walkdog hair. His grandma called it her “conjure mat”. This mat supposedly came from the Caribbean somewhere which Andy also says supports his theory. He kind of lost me at that point—he talks really fast when he gets going, and his face, which is already oily, starts getting oilier than ever, I mean really impossibly shiny, which is distracting—but it was something about slave routes and stopping points and getting from Angola or somewhere to Charleston. I don’t know. Poor Andy. He had on a white button-down shirt. Big sweat stains under the arms. It was like he didn’t want to be normal.
  5.  This note is not exactly related to the above, I just want to clarify the previous note in which I named my source as a private conversation with Andrew Bookman, but I also said earlier that people only go near him to mess with him. I want to be clear that I myself never messed with your nephew in any way, also I did not go near him at school because to be frank I did not want to get contaminated by his nerd gas. I went to Union Market on the weekend because as you must know that is where Andy goes every Saturday to run a coin swap booth with his parents.
    Andy’s parents are also terrible nerds, his dad in combat boots, his mom in a red wig, both of them obsessed with antique coins. Their super nice which just makes it worse. I guess you know that though. You certainly didn’t stop by their booth while I was there.
  6. This is the sound of the Walkdog laugh as you hear it in your head. Carlton O’Neill who was abducted by Walkdog when he was nine years old and let go again for some reason when he was thirty-six described the sound for the Star Ledger. “It sounded like a kid locked up and crying or a train whistle far away.” “’Wolf-Boy’ Found in Livingston Reservation”, The Star Ledger, August 14 2005, p. 1. Carlton O’Neill was skinny and a mess when he was found. He said he’d been to Canada and the farthest tip of Argentina. All on foot. They gave him a pen to write down who he was and when he remembered how to write his name he fainted.
    Andy who was a Walkdog fanatic had this newspaper article tacked to his bulletin board. He also had Carlton O’Neill’s signature on an index card. He had actually tracked the guy down and gotten his autograph. Carlton lived with his mother in East Orange at that point. I don’t know where he is now.
  7. Indiana morning, I’m as low as I can be.
    Indiana morning, I’m as low as I can be.
    Went to walk my hound dog, but now he’s walking me.

    This song is from the album Indiana Morning by Blueswoman Maisie Oates. I heard it at Andy’s house which is also where I read the article about Carlton O’Neill, and also I may as well say since its part of my Research that I saw and touched the “conjure mat” Andy inherited from his grandma. I am wondering if you know anything about this mat? Have you ever seen it? Its gray and hairy and about as big around as those things you put on the table under hot dishes. I said I thought it would be black and Andy said he doesn’t know why its gray, he thinks maybe since its cut off the Walkdog its lacking essential oils. That was in his room which is like Nerd Heaven, full of action figures and model planes. You can’t touch anything or Andy starts freaking out. Obviously I would not be caught dead going in the front door at Andy’s house. I went in the back. He opened a window.

  8. This is Mom’s explanation for most bad things. It is based on personal experience because my grandfather (her dad) drank himself to death. In my opinion this is the reason she married a security guard (my dad) who works at the same bank where Mom is a teller. Security is her thing. This is my parent’s week: Bank, Bank, Bank, Bank, Bank, Groceries, Church. After graduation I am going to Rutgers and my mom assumes I will major in Accounting. Accounting is a good secure choice. I want to major in Music. The only person I have told this to (besides you) is Andy Bookman. It was after we listened to “Indiana Morning”. He said I should do Music if I want, maybe I should even go to an arts school instead of Rutgers. I never thought of that, I said. I felt like such an idiot. But Andy didn’t laugh. He looked calm and thoughtful. Its hard to get started, he said. Its hard to get going by yourself. He was looking at my boots, which I’d left by the window. Snow melting off them on the floor.
  9. They cornered him down by the creek. Behind the fucking police station. I am sorry, I don’t care that I’m swearing in my paper. Why did he have to walk that way? Why couldn’t he have gone down South Orange Ave. like everyone else? Why didn’t I invite him to my house? Do you think Andy Bookman has gotten invited anywhere since seventh grade? They cornered him down by the creek. They yanked off his backpack and threw it in the water. They broke his nose. They broke three of his ribs. They stepped on his wrist and broke that too. They kicked him all over, those same two boys that I won’t repear their names. Nice boys that everybody knows. All they got was suspended because they’re sorry. Right behind the police station. Where were the police? Where was fucking Walkdog when Andy needed him? I went to the hospital after and Andy’s father was crying in the hall.
  10. His bed was so saggy. He’d probably slept there since he was six years old. It seemed too small. He had the best smile, a perfect dimple on either side. Long eyelashes that brushed my cheek. I don’t want to ruin anything, I said, and he said what? and I said I don’t want to mess up your trip to Denmark. I was already hoping he’d cancel and stay with me because even if I had my own money my parents would never let me to go Europe with a boy, not even a boy like Andy who was so sweet, its not secure, even though there is no place more secure than Andy’s arms. He laughed and kissed me. Your not ruining anything. I love you. Model plane wings turning, shadows on the wall. Snow outside and the windows all blue. He hugged me and I just sank. There are places that once you step in, you can’t get out.
  11. To complete my Research here is the rest of the song “Indiana Morning”.If you got a dollar, why don’t you give me half.
    If you got a dollar, come on and give me half.
    The stories I could tell you, they’d make a preacher laugh.

    When I had a good man, the sun shone every day.
    When I had that good man, the sun shone every day.
    Now I need this whiskey to take the pain away.

    Budworm in the cotton, beetle in the corn.
    Budworm in the cotton, beetle in the corn.
    Feel like I been walking since the day that I was born.

    Hear that hound dog. Day that I was born.

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