Two men came out of a snow-covered wood. One man was short and broad shouldered, the other narrow and tall. They wore brown leather coats and dark pants. The short broad man had a blue woolen hat and carried a rifle against his shoulder. The tall narrow man wore a black pleated cap and carried two fishing rods and a knapsack.
A dog trailed behind, big and thick-chested with shaggy mud-colored fur and a long muzzle. The dog passed the men as they moved out from under the trees and into a clearing by a frozen lake. The snow was deep in the clearing so the men slowed. The dog bounded through the snow and was out on the ice before the men were halfway to it. You could see the ice where the wind had blown the snow away. The wind was gone now and it was still and quiet around the frozen lake.
The men stopped at the shoreline. The tall man laid the fishing rods in the snow and dropped his knapsack. The short man kept his rifle against his shoulder and looked across the lake. The dog turned to look at the men, then started back toward them, skidding across the ice.
The tall man opened his knapsack and brought out a stick of dynamite. He found a fuse in his bag and fitted it to the explosive. The big dog ambled up and sat panting at his feet. The tall man lit the fuse and threw the dynamite out onto the ice.
The dog ran after it. The tall man yelled at him. “Burl, come back here! Stop, dammit!” The dynamite landed on open ice and slid across it, spinning in lazy circles. It stopped against a patch of snow. The big dog followed, his momentum carrying him across the ice, his paws slipping only a little here and there.
“Burl, come on! Here, Burl!” “He’s not listening,” the short man said. The dog reached the dynamite and got it in his mouth. The men could see the fuse sparking
and could hear its hiss in the still cold air. “Dammit, Burl! Drop it!” The dog started back slowly. He had no momentum to carry him, so he slipped and slid
across the open ice. But each step brought more speed and greater stability. “Aw, hell,” the tall man said. The two men stepped backwards in unison, turned simultaneously, and started to run. But the snow was deep in the clearing, piled up off the ice by the wind that had stopped, so the men moved slowly. They went only a few steps and looked over their shoulders and the big dog was already nearer. The tall man stopped running and turned back toward the ice and the dog and the hissing stick of dynamite. The short man went another two steps before he stopped too.
“How long’s that fuse?” the short man asked. “Shoot ’im,” the tall man said. They glanced at each other. The short man lifted his rifle and pulled the trigger. The shot cracked the air and boomed back from the snow-covered hills across the frozen lake. The dog’s front legs folded under and he ran down into the ice. He yelped and the dynamite fell from his mouth and skidded across the ice into another patch of snow.
“Aw, Burl,” the tall man said. The dynamite never exploded. When it dropped from the dog’s soft mouth and slid into the snow, the fuse went out. In the spring, when the thaw finally came, the two men buried Burl in the clearing by the lake.