Cap had been trying to get home for three days. Cap’s man had taken him out rabbit hunting just after dawn on the first day. The hound rode in the front of the man’s old pickup, with the torn leather seats and the faint smell of tobacco coming up from the floor boards, like he had every day for three years. Cap rode with his head out the window, taking in the almost cool morning air - it was the dead of summer.
Cap and the man went to new ground but their routine was the same. The man cast Cap out for rabbit and the man patiently waited for the black and tan hound to do his job. But this morning the hound passed the briars that smelled sweet of rabbit and he headed fast and strong on to a smell that he had never tasted before. It took Cap across a field of soybeans and into a rough clay ditch that seemed to run on for miles. Cap barely heard the man whistle for him, he barely heard the man call him back - he was intoxicated by this new smell and he had to follow it to its end.
The ditch gave way to another field, this one fallow with rag weed and small thorny locust trees. The midday sun began to beat down on Cap’s long dark back but he didn’t rest, the smell was carrying him farther than he had ever gone before.
When night began to fall, Cap reached the end of the smell. It collided with a cold running creek and fell away as suddenly as it had appeared that morning. Cap was glad to stand in the water and drink, then he layed down in the shallow water and wondered when the man would come and put him in the truck to go home. Cap rose out of the creek, exhausted and set himself down on a sandy bank as the cicadas started their evening concert. A thrush announced the rising moon. Cap was hungry and decided to wait there for the man. He fell asleep on the bank and slept harder than he had ever slept.
Early the next morning the grumbling in Cap’s stomach woke him up. He was surprised not to be on his old rug on the man’s back porch, but instead he was curled up under honeysuckle near the creek that he had found the previous night. Cap stood up and stretched out his front legs and then had a good shake. He trotted up a small deer trail and stood for a moment. He listened for the man to call him, instead he heard an oven bird and group of crows off in the distance. He sat and he decided to wait there for a while, certain that the man would come.
But the man never came and now Cap was working to find a familiar smell to lead him back home. He looked for the cow field and the old lady’s garden filled with green tomatoes, but nothing of his usual world was nearby. Cap had been lost before, but he always got home to the man.
On the afternoon of the second day, he crossed a paved road and entered the rows of a tobacco field. He heard men working on the other end of the field and turned down another deer trail into the woods. A mole jumped out in front of him and Cap was on him in a moment. The hound ate the mole and lay down again to rest. He stayed in those woods most of the day out of the heat and out of sight.
Now it was the third day, the afternoon sun was burning down onto the hard dusty gravel road that Cap was traveling down. Cap’s blaze orange collar felt prickly in the heat and his tags made a lonely ring as he swung along. He turned on to a tree lined sandy road - he smelled water nearby and he slowed his walk to enjoy this chapel of shade. The road opened up to a large field with three old barns standing in the sun. Cap smelled rabbit and ground hog - but he knew to stay off the ground hog, the man beat him something awful for cornering a ground hog once. And he never ate rabbit.
The sandy road curved among the barns and then rolled down a hill to a pond. The pond was large and sparkling. Beyond it was grape vineyard - neat as a pin with its rows and rows of vines and thick with a summer’s growth of grapes and flowers. The grass around the vineyard and the pond was mowed and soft. The sky was brilliant summer blue with not a cloud floating overhead. Cap was drawn to the lively smell of the pond - he had not seen water since he left the creek, except for some muddy puddles on the road. Cap crossed the grass toward the pond and stopped for a moment. He thought he heard the man call his name, but he didn’t hear it again, so he went to the water’s edge. Cap liked the feel of the marshy clay as he walked into the pond. It was soft and so cool. He drank the water for a long time and then he continued into the pond and began to swim. His whole body was suddenly cool and bouyant. He felt revived and now even hungrier than he was before.
As he swam, two Canada geese came into his sight across the pond. They were swimming slowly near the reeds and they were unaware of Cap. Cap began to swim toward them. He could smell them in the water. He had chased geese before and damn near caught one last spring. The hound’s memory of almost catching that goose on a spring morning urged him to swim faster toward the pair.
Now the geese saw Cap swimming like an otter toward them. They began to paddle away from the reeds and toward the vineyard. Cap was within 30 yards of them now but they began to paddle harder. One of the geese called out. And the other goose began to flap her wings she lifted only slightly out of the water as though she were kicking into another gear, not to fly away. Cap continued to follow the birds.
The geese now turned and crossed the pond back toward the old barns and Cap followed suit. As they reached the reeds on that side, the geese once again turned and paddled back toward the place Cap had first seen them. Cap legs were working hard to bring him closer to the geese and just when he began to gain on them, it seemed, they would kick just a bit harder. They let out an occasional call and maybe flapped their wings, but they never took off in flight, they never got out on to the land to waddle around where Cap might have a better chance of seizing on, instead they just continued their laps, as though they were playing a game with Cap.
Now Cap was swimming harder than he had ever swum before. His long beautiful black tail was his rudder as he lapped the pond for the 6th time after the geese. Cap had swallowed a lot of water and it was starting to bother his ears. He had always been a good swimmer, but he had never swum this far or this long and certainly not on an empty stomach.
The geese didn’t seem to tire of their game with Cap. Perhaps they had a nest nearby. Cap let out a series of small yelps, just like the ones he would let out when he found rabbit for the man. He was tired and hungry, but he was excited by the chase that he had instigated. The sun on the water was bouncing everywhere, Cap was beginning to lose sight of the geese. Suddenly he ran nose first into a large floating stick - something like the sticks the man used to throw for him. He stopped and grabbed hold of the stick and spun around to see if the man was at the water’s edge. But he wasn’t. Now Cap had the heavy stick firmly in his jaws, and the geese were still paddling away. Cap tried to begin his chase again, but the stick was heavy and he tried to spit it out, but it was not use. Cap’s hind end and tail sank below the surface of the water, Cap desperately tried to right himself, but the more he tried, the more he seemed to sink.
Cap finally gave in to the dark water. He fell into a dream among the cool springs below the surface of the pond. And by now the geese had reached the shore where they had first entered the water for this chase. They rose up on to the land, waddled past the screen of tall reeds and settled themselves down where they were no longer pursued by the hound.