Fiction | Issue 1 (April 2023)

The Adoption of Odin

Wayne McCray

Rural life is seen as this dull, chimerical, and remote landscape. But hidden behind all this wide-open greenspace, the boondocks have become a dumping ground for all kinds of unwanted things. Mostly discarded pets. It is not uncommon to find stray animals roaming the countryside. Many end up as roadkill, while others die of disease, hunger, as prey, or shot for being nuisances. Their chances of survival dwindle with age, breed, aptitude, and physical ability. Puppies have it even worse. They usually last, what? Two weeks, if that long.

So, there it is. Take today, it is a thick and foggy morning. Daybreak barely penetrates the gray haze, but as it lifts sunlight slowly stretches westward across an expansive family estate and onto a restored century-old home. Soon a dark bedroom becomes dim lit and wakes its sleeping occupants—a retired Marine and his wife. Fouet lies in bed naked, Marigold too, but she lays across his bronze body, their legs intertwined, her freckled face and red hair resting on his chest. She begs for him to stay and cradle her a little bit longer. Instead, he removes his firm but gentle embrace and sits up.

Marigold scoots down and pulls the bedding at the foot of the bed over her opulent frame and playfully uses her round butt to slowly nudge him out of bed to claim his very warm bed-spot. Now standing up, he throws up his hands in a gesture of defeat, and laughs at her good nature. “Alright, alright,” he says, then taps his forehead, chest, and both shoulders, and thanks God for allowing him another tomorrow. He then acknowledges two folded and framed American flags above the headboard before doing some basic calisthenics to get his blood flowing. A booming cry follows when finished.

“Fouet, sweetie? Go somewhere with that, please.”

“C’mon bae? It’s time to get up. There’s work to do.”

“There’s always work to do.”

He then parts the blinds to allow more sunlight. 

“Don’t do that,” burying her head under the pillow.

Fouet leaves but opens all the other window blinds leading into the kitchen. She quickly hops out of bed, closes the bedroom’s blind, and gets back in bed before the warm spot cools. Marigold isn’t a morning person. Never has been. At the kitchen table, he now looks inside his leftover soup mug of whiskey flavored coffee to make sure a gnat isn’t floating in it and finds none. He refills it with less alcohol and puts it into the microwave, and then presses the reheat button.

As it whirs, he plops down onto a wooden chair which creaks from his weight. He uses both hands to vigorously wipe his sleepy face, rub the crust from his eyes, scratch his shadowy beard, and then adjusts himself. Sitting there lazily, he decides to go through his phone left on the table to read and delete emails, text messages, and check for missed calls. Three minutes later, the microwave beeps. He lays the phone down, grabs his caffeine toddy, and walks out onto the front porch. 

He stands there completely nude, inhaling deeply, and then again. His shut eyes open. The sugar rich air tingles his nostrils, whetting his appetite so much so it produces hunger grumblings. He pictures a big breakfast of honey and butter drenched pancakes, smoked duck sausage, hash browns, and sunny-side up eggs. He licks his thick lips in anticipation, takes a few sips of his hot drink, and sits down on the dewy top stoop and looks out at the sunrise.

As the sky brightens blue, he smiles. Thinking? Rural life isn’t bad after all. Sure, he misses the military, his band of brothers, foreign theaters and combat, and a destiny with Valhalla. But life on the farm has its bonuses. To know it is to find the Freedman-Scotts mailbox. It sits at the edge of the state highway with a red dirt road which twists through a tall thicket of coniferous and deciduous trees and bushes before opening up to a massive plantation situated on two border counties.

Green acres after green acres of neatly lined pecan trees run parallel to the dirt road, followed by rows of sweet corn, stretching from one horizon to another. The red dirt road finally ends in front of, then forks, encircles, and extends on the other side of a large old-fashion creole-style plantation cottage. A raised home built of cypress with its high gable roof, double chimneys, wooden window shutters, two front doors, and a lengthy front porch.

This homestead has a nice layout. The backyard is in itself a small farm and extends to the edge of an enormous pine forest. There’s a workshop and barn, two fenced pastures minus livestock, a slave quarter converted into a smokehouse, chicken coop, one-acre garden, and dedicated burn pit. Freedman-Scotts is so large its closest neighbor is nearly a mile away and provides so much privacy it allows him to do as he pleases, like sit on the front porch butt-naked.

From the porch, his eyes suddenly fixate on two objects coming in his general direction. They both move in fits and starts. He can’t identify them at first, but as his vision sharpens their features become apparent. It is two emaciated puppies. A white mash-potato color Pitbull Terrier and a sable German Shepherd. The latter appears flea-ridden, beaten, woefully unhealthy, and, based on its overall gait seemingly on its last leg and likely in search of someplace cool to lay down and die. Its buddy remains loyal throughout, at its side. 

Fouet shakes his head and frowns. He’s not happy to see them, it is too early in the morning. He rises, coffee cup in hand, and follows their movements before going indoors; he absolutely loathes how often people abandon their unwanted pets into rural areas so nature can do its heartless duty. Marigold too. They both put stray dogs in the same category as snakes, skunks, armadillos, raccoons, possums, and the occasional coyote. Pests best suited for the fire pit. Only the local owl gets a pass for its trespasses, for it effectively controls the rodent population.

“I’m up,” yawns Marigold, now sitting at the kitchen table, wearing a pair of his boxers, her jersey t-shirt, and flip-flops, and enjoying a hot cup of Chai tea. 

“I see you, bae.”

“Doesn’t that get old?”

“What? Standing outside,” says Fouet. “Not really. I like how nature feels on my skin.” 

“I don’t count.”

“It’s not the same.”

“It better not be.”

“There you go,” laughs Fouet. “Anyhow, I came back because I just saw two strays.”

“I’ll go get the rifle.” 

“Nah, I got it. It’s my turn.”

“But you’re not dressed.” 

“Not yet, but I am hungry.”

“The usual?” 

“I can eat.” 

“Okay? I’m on it. Say? I’m thinking about going to town, to John Deere, Wally World too, and maybe the library.”

“All I can say is kill as many birds as possible. Fifty miles isn’t  around the corner.”

“Who’re you telling? Hopefully, while I’m out I’ll find a Didion, perhaps a Hemingway, or Carver, and, if lucky, a Tan at the library.”

“If not, just buy it.”

“I’ll do no such thing. I like browsing the library’s free-for-the-taking book shelves. It says a lot about what people read and think in these parts. I found a Vonnegut last time.”

“You did, you did. Now we know there’s a third person who likes dark humor.”

“I suppose.”

He sits his cup on the table and goes get dressed. Marigold smiles as he strides past her. His put together backside is as inviting as his front. Shortly thereafter, he re-emerges in the traditional farming outfit: denim overalls, cowboy boots, long sleeve shirt, and baseball cap. A Remington .22 caliber long rifle is slung across his shoulder.

“I’ll be back.” 

“Don’t forget your phone.” 

“Taking it now. Call me when breakfast is ready.”

Marigold nods, lifting the cup to her lips. He steps out and begins searching for them, but doesn’t see them thus far. Maybe they left. Or, better yet, they’re hiding. Just when he pivots, the saddle-colored puppy comes out of the cornfield, alone, whimpering, and flattens itself. He aims his rifle at the lain target, but he can’t pull the trigger. His natural inclination betrays him. Especially after the puppy sits upright and then lets out a loud volley of high-pitch howls. 

Its baying reminds him of an incident when his unit’s military dog, also a German Shepherd, remained steadfast at its handler’s side until death. This memory prevents Fouet from killing it, so he lowers his weapon. He returns inside quite impressed at how it reacted differently from all the previous strays. It doesn’t run at the slightest noise as the others had. Nor does it act aggressively out of fear or retreat at the sight of people. Instead, it remains brave and prone.

“Is something the matter?”

“Nah, not really. Hold this,” handing her the rifle so he can look into the refrigerator. “What leftovers do we have?” 

“There’s some—wait! You’re going to feed them?” Marigold says. “Do that and we’re stuck with them.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“Where are they?” 

“Whoa! Where are you going?” 

“I’ll go put them down.” 

“No, you’re not. I got this, okay. Trust me.” Fouet says. “Say? What’s this?” 

“That’s your leftover deer stew and cornbread.”

“What’s this?”

“Oxtail pasta.” 

“And this?”

“That’s rabbit fried rice.” 


“Should I buy some dog food when I go?”

“Please do.”

“What kind?”

“I don’t care. Something healthy.”

Fouet kisses her. While she secures his rifle, he returns outside holding two bowls and finds it hasn’t left. He squats down and places both at his feet, one with garlic water and lunch in the other. He calls for it, but the puppy hesitates; however, hunger overrides its fear. The puppy sniffs the food, looks up, and wags its tail. The bowl is nearly licked clean, but it takes the last piece of bread and carries it back into the cornfield. Somewhat intrigued, he follows it and it leads him to a carcass. The puppy drops the bread beside his friend. Touched by this, Fouet pick-ups the dead puppy by the hindleg and carries it all the way to the burn pit, with the dark puppy still in tow. He flings the carcass atop a ready-made woodpile, dust his hand off across his pants leg, then proceeds into the work shed to obtain a shovel, a fire starter kit, and diesel fuel.

The woodpile is stuffed with well-placed balls of newspaper and he douses it thoroughly and sets it ablaze. Soon the odor of burning debris and frying flesh sours the sweet morning air, coning upward. Deadwood and bones crackle under the intense flames. Fouet uses the shovel to stir and control the fire. He looks down and finds the puppy still beside him. He kneels down and snatches it up, giving it a careful inspection while it strains and protests. It’s his kind of canine, faithful, strong, and a survivor. Fouet tells him his new name from hereon is Odin. The phone rings when the puppy tries to lick his face. It’s Marigold: “Food’s ready!”


“And the strays?”

“There’s only Odin.” 

“Who’s Odin?”

“That’s what I named him, the puppy. The other one died.”

“Did you hit it with something?”

“No, nothing like that. Nature got a hold to it.”

“Oh, okay. Odin, huh?” 


“Good. I’m the only bad bitch around here.”

“Stop it bae, bye.”


Fouet puts the puppy on the ground, stares down at him, and tells him for the fun of it to sit. There, in a single word, is another reason to keep him. Odin complies. Then, for unknown reasons, he lets the puppy know his expectations and lays out the rules. When done, he almost welcomes a bark back. Instead, Odin sits there obediently, wagging its tail, looking innocent. 

“Come on, Odin. Time to meet the other half and I’m hungry.”

And off they go, homeward bound.

Wayne McCray is a Susurrus 2022 Pushcart Prize nominee and 2023 Best of the Net nominee. His short stories have appeared elsewhere in Afro Literary Magazine, Bandit Fiction, The Bookends Review, Chitro Magazine, The Dillydoun Review, Drunk Monkeys, The Green Hills Literary Lantern, The Hooghly Review, Ilinix Magazine, Isele Magazine, Malarkey Books, The Ocotillo Review, Ogma Magazine, Pigeon Review, Roi Fainéant, The Rush Magazine, Sangam Literary Magazine, Swim Press, and Wingless Dreamer. He works diligently from his book-laden junk room.