Argos

The snow was falling so thick that Paul didn't think it looked real, but like the snow on a Hollywood set, or like a pillow that had been fed through a turbine and blown across the sky. He tapped the ash of his cigarette against the railing of the deck and turned back to the cabin as Cashel came outside and asked him where the keys were to the snowcat. He asked her what she needed them for.

"I just got a call from Peggy," she gasped in the cold air as she fit her head through her fleece. Paul didn't say anything.

"She took out the snowmobile to Giant's Peak and needs me to come out. Said she found a wolf or something laying out by some trees."

"A wolf? This late in the season?"

"She couldn't tell. Its face was all covered in blood, like it'd gotten into a fight."

"Buddha in the streets," Paul said.

Cashel gave him a strange look. "What?"

"It's just something you say when you find something weird. It's like seeing the Buddha in the streets."

"Oh." She threaded her arms through the fleece. "Do you have the keys or not?"

"They're next to the coffee pot." Cashel probably didn't know where the coffee pot was so he went inside to get them.

He wondered what Peggy was doing out at Giant's Peak. It would have been too late in the afternoon to be taking out any powderskiers so she was probably scouting the ranch to make sure there wouldn't be any potential for avalanches on the slopes. Even though it was the end of February they had been getting more snow than usual and all the accumulation could be dangerous if it didn't freeze over.

He found the keys and emptied a half-filled cup of coffee into the dishwasher before going back outside.

Cashel was staring at the snow and fingering the rifle looped over her shoulder.

"Christ," she said. "I don't remember the last time it's been this thick."

"Are you okay to drive?" Paul asked.

"I don't know. It sort of makes me nervous. Would you mind coming?"

He would; he hadn't slept last night and his eyes were tired. But he wouldn't tell Cashel that because she had been at the cabin for less than a year and still didn't have a good handle on the roads. He could still remember his first time out in the snowcat; how he thought each time he turned on the path the ice would snap off and bring him and that growling mass of steel and rubber down the mountain.

"Sure," he zipped up his parka and glanced at the rifle. "Did Peggy tell you to bring that?"

"No—she said it was limping pretty bad. It probably wouldn't get back up." She wiped a trail of snot from her nose. "I just want to make sure, you know? We can't have those things on the ranch."

After Miranda left someone told Paul he should go on a vacation up in the mountains. He had been living in Toronto at the time working as a canvasser and hadn't taken a vacation in years. Even then he didn't know why he eventually decided it was time, but that didn't matter. When got back he had known that the vacation had been fate or destiny, or whatever they called it, because that was when he had met Kitty.

She wasn't attractive; a fact his friends had let him know before he moved down to Utah. Pale, ember-red-headed, with a quick annoying laugh and massive thighs, Kitty had met him in one of the mountain cafeterias. She had sat down at his table because it was the only one open and unbuckled her ski boots. She asked him how the slopes were treating him. He hadn't wanted to be impolite but he didn't want to talk to her and he said he was waiting for his friends. She had nodded, brushed at one of her leather-red braids, but didn't get out of the seat.

"Have you been on any of the back bowls?"

No—this was his first time skiing.

"What have you done so far?"

He didn't know the names of the slopes.

"Are you on vacation or do you live in the area?"

He lived near the area and he was on vacation. She said that she came over to the continent whenever she could because the powder was drier than back at her ranch in Newfoundland.

"All the salt from the sea just makes it mushy—like slopping around in mashed potato. I could show you and your friends some of the slopes if you'd like. I'm Kitty by the way," she told him, almost as an afterthought. "Kitty Ó Donnabháin. Spelt the Irish way."

It didn't help any when Paul told her that they would figure it out for themselves because she had sat down at his table again the next day when he went in for his lunch, and later that day he met her again on the ski lift. "Still waiting for your friends?" she had given a little laugh. He pursed his lips against the wind and said nothing.

When he finished his dinner and a whole bottle of wine at the hotel, two days later, she was there at the bar; that's when he realized that they were staying in the same hotel. There was nothing for it but to go up and say hi.

"Jesus. Again?" she said smiling, although her face looked worn and there were black rings beneath her eyes. She wasn't wearing any makeup. "Your friends?"

That's when he came out with it; told her that he had come alone because he had just gone through a breakup and someone had told him he could use the vacation from work. Everything had been going so fast up until then, he said. He had thought they were going to get engaged because they had been together since university. But then he had realized that he didn't love her or even much like her, and with that he had realized that he had been working as a canvasser since university; that he hadn't read a book in years; that he had never moved in his life and never even taken the time away from the city to go skiing.

When he had finished telling her everything his head felt lighter and he took off his glasses because they were disorienting. He ordered a Diet Coke from the bartender and drank it slowly. "It's like I've been waiting to do all of this, for some reason, and I only just realized that I had been waiting in the first place." Kitty was staring back at him, her tongue pressed against the inside of her cheek.

"If you saw the Buddha in the street on the way to work, what would you do?" she said. He had had no idea what to say. "I don't know. What about you?" He had been afraid she was testing him but she had laughed and drained her martini. "How the fuck would I know? But I think that that's exactly what the Buddha was doing there in the first place. He's waiting. And it's just sheer chance that that's why you even saw him, like the chance that I'd see you three times. I think that that's why I like the quote. It's just. Happenstance."

Paul remembered that moment as the first moment her found her desirable. It could have been because of the wine but he thought later that it must have been her eyes. They were glimmering, rings like silver dollars, lidless and wide like she was frightened because, now that they, both tipsy, had chanced on each other again, he would expect something from her.

Which had been true, he remembered thinking later as he sat on the lumpy hotel bed and watched her peel off her layers: first her puffer vest and then the sweater and the turtleneck, but leaving her lime-green bra on so that he'd have something to attend to once they got started.

She waited until he had gotten his things off and was laying, quivering, breathing the short, nervous vents of a man already short of breath and unused to these types of situations. "You know what's funny," she licked the balm from her lips. "I don't think I know your name."

Cashel insisted on starting the snowcat while Paul waited inside, although he told her he didn't mind the cold. "Keeps me on my toes," he said. "Too warm and all you want to do is lie down and sleep."

"Drink more coffee," Cashel said.

"I don't drink coffee." But she still insisted he stay inside until she got the machine heated. She loved treating him like this—a sort of fragile novelty that you catered to and pampered but would never really acknowledge.

When she pulled the cat closer to the cabin he took the wheel and backed, turned, shuffled, swung the cat with a forward lurch out onto a sugar-whited road.

"Why don't you play us some music?" he suggested.

"I didn't bring my iPod."

"Oh." He didn't know what else to say so he turned his attention back front and tried to make himself look as though he were concentrating harder on the road than he really was. The cat settled over something and the chug-chugging sound of the engine became infused with a gravel whine. "What the hell was that?"

"Rabbit," he joked.

"Are you serious?"

He wasn't and she didn't find it funny. "I used to have pet rabbits," she said, as though he should be ashamed of his joke. "My dad and I collected them. We used to have, like, twenty."

"Did you name them all too?"

"Oh sure. They all had famous rabbit names. Fiver. Thumper. Basil. Hazel. My favorite was Pipkin. He had these black spots like a cow, and this ugly squished-in nose." She was silent after this and he didn't ask any more questions about her rabbits.

He knew what she would say about them, that they were all eaten or drowned or starved, or that her dad finally got fed-up and made her get rid of them. For some reason women always attached themselves to things that have the least possible chance of survival. Cats missing tails and ears, or little families of mice, or dogs with three legs and tumor-knotted bellies. Colonize them and then watch their tiny lives go thin and end, or watch those crippling diseases you sort of love them for finally finish the job.

Kitty had been the same way. She collected sheep, had a whole ranch of them. Paul hadn't minded them as much as he had minded other girls' damaged animals because sheep had the least amount of personality. All they did was wander around and eat corn out of your hand.

He had visited her on her farm in Newfoundland about a month after his vacation and she had told him he had to feed the sheep at least once while he was there. He hadn't even known that there had been sheep until he had gone out to her ranch and seen what looked like strips of white cliff on the hillsides.

"Are those cliffs?"

"Caorach," she had said.

"What?"

"It's the Irish for sheep. They're everywhere here. Almost everyone has them. They sort of look like beagle puppies."

"You said everyone?"

"Almost everyone. You either have Caorach or a family."

She hadn't been kidding when she said that you saw them everywhere. In town, they waited by the traintracks and would wander in and around the shops. No one paid them any attention.

Kitty took a polaroid shot of him pretending to share his Diet Coke with one of them. "But what do they do about predators?" he asked her when they had lunch later. "Nothing hunts them. It's one of the few places where you can keep them without having to worry about coyotes or wolves or any of that. The community, the government, everyone cares about them," she said passionately. "Newfoundland sheep is Newfoundland free."

"They won't even attack each other? Competition for mates, or anything like that?"

"No wolves in sheep's clothing," she laughed. "We're peaceful here."

When he started working the ranch in Utah he hadn't known that it was employed as a sheep farm in the off-season, when the snowfalls were too far and few between to take out power skiers. He had hoped that the snow was year-round, although when Peggy hired him he told her that he wouldn't be disappointed to work the rest of the seasons.

"We take hikers out too," Peggy had told him. "If you're going to be here you might as well stick around."

"But the snow doesn't stay?"

"Not even here. If you're looking for winter year-round you should just try Narnia."

Kitty told him that she kept a nutrition and spirituality column in her local paper in addition to the Ask Nancy or Ask Judy, or whatever–it-was section. That would, he thought, probably explain why she was always going off about all the joy and beautiful things he would enjoy if only he could open his eyes and pay attention.

She demonstrated her philosophy with her sheep. "Rub his coat. Slowly. You feel it right? Sort of like sweeping your hand through a river current, only warmer and without all the bugs and fish in it."

He obeyed. The coat felt grainy beneath his fingers. "I think he has ticks."

"He doesn't have ticks."

"There's something moving in his fur."

"It's hair, Paul. And it's moving because he's breathing." She looked stern talking to him this way and he decided to humor her by not saying anything else about it. He was her guest, after all—she'd already gone to great lengths to host him at her ranch.

For that matter, he still didn't know why she had invited him or why he had accepted. They only spent one more night in the hotel together because he was going back to Toronto the next day. "Just don't forget about your neighbors when you're back in the big city," she told him before he left. "Most Canadians don't even know we exist."

"I won't forget."

She wrote her address on his hand but didn't include her number. "March is the best time of the year," she said. "Just in case."

So there he was in March, exhausted because he hadn't been able to sleep on the flight, meeting Kitty at the airport where she drove him to her ranch. The whitewashed house had been scrubbed clean shortly before he came; it still smelt like Pledge and bleach although Kitty had lit a pair of cherry-red candles to cover it up. "Not exactly what you were thinking you'd find in the backwaters of the backwaters, eh?"

He had to admit that she was right about that. He'd had it in his head ever since she told him that she owned a ranch that it'd be one of those old stone cottages from the Irish legends with a hearth and a smell of burning peat.

Kitty's home was like a single-story version of the 1950's American Dream; colonial white wood with red shutters surrounded by a half-ring of picket fence. She even had an out-of-tune Baldwin in the living room instead of a TV. "Maybe you can give us a tune?" she said when she caught him looking at it.

He sat down dutifully, began a bad rendition of "Heart and Soul." Kitty squealed, planting herself down next to him. "I adore that one!"

Her enthusiasm was exhausting but he let her play the duet, reciprocated the pecks she planted on his cheek, pretended to laugh with her and, later, act as though he were uncontrollably enraptured by the sight of her in her pale-blue bra when he lay on her bed waiting for the inevitable, trying to not look at the swelling paunch of her belly.

"Can you wait a moment?" was what she said to him once she had bathroom smelling like too much perfume. "I forgot to do my garters."

On a powder ski ranch in Utah almost two years later, he would still remember those details, and how later that night he had woken up screaming.

"What happened?"

"What?"

"To your rabbits," said Paul, feeling as though he should break the silence between him and Cashel. "What happened to them?"

"Dad got a dog," said Cashel. "This black Labrador he named Shepherd. My Mom had just left and I guess he thought it would cheer me up but all it ended up doing was play chew with the rabbits. Dropped them off on our back porch all covered with slobber. We got rid of most of them before Shepherd could get any more."

Paul was sorry he had asked. "No," said Cashel. "Don't worry about it. It wasn't, like, malicious or anything. He just wanted to gather them. Consolidate them, like a farm dog."

He nodded and twisted the snowcat up the narrowing road. Giant's Peak loomed through the windshield vertiginously.

"Dad used to tell this story," Cashel continued, "about this party he had once. An expose or something; all the guests just sort of standing around in suits with their cocktails. He used to do some publicity for these no-name artists—just to get their names in the paper. He let Shepherd wander around because having a dog there helped break the ice. It's not like he'd get rowdy or anything either—just went from guest to guest and nudged them around a little bit."

"What happened?"

"Nothing really." She laughed. "But every time he nudged them they'd take a little step back without even realizing it. At the end of the night everyone was in this little corner of the room practically shoulder to shoulder 'cause the dog had herded them all together like that. They never even noticed. He told everyone about that. Told all those young artists that that was a symbol for what they had to do—move their audience without letting them notice you. Be the Labrador at the dinner party."

He subscribed to her paper after he had left the ranch, out of some sense of duty. The Nuachtáin Sláintiuil was small and centralized: Irish relations on the continent with an angle on holistic and vegetarian living. Daily exercise was key. Grapefruits were a modern miracle fruit and should be eaten three times a day. Kitty's column ran once every other week but after a month he had read enough to realize that she wasn't cut out to be a journalist and he let the papers collect unread.

He went back to canvassing for the small Toronto-based paper where the two adjoining cubicle workers and by-default best friends had no idea that he had spent the last two weeks away. When asked why, he produced the polaroids of Kitty that she had given him before he left. She looked pretty much the same in each one of them; small sun-burnt braids curved in front of her shoulders like a pair of twisted bandoliers, gaunt faced twisted by too much smiling, the paunch curving out awkwardly no matter how many sweaters or peacoats she wore to cover it up.

"Glad you finally found someone else," they each said. "We were beginning to worry about you." He nodded: "thanks," and no one said anything else about Kitty. Paul might have forgotten about her if they hadn't agreed to write each other weekly or biweekly letters until or if she decided to visit him.

Her letters came perfunctorily in big envelopes with Snoopy stamps. He read them after his morning cigarette and wrote phlegmatic page, page and a half responses which he signed, simply, Paul. He could tell the way she wrote that she was struggling to make her letters exciting by citing newsroom dramas, changes in hair style (more polaroids showed a vaguely darker shade of red in her hair), updates in weather reports, hurricane swells and so on.

He had no new changes and didn't try to embellish the ones that did occur. Yes, he was still working on the advertising for that big pharmaceutical company that he still wasn't sure would sign with his paper or not. His coworker got a raise but decided to leave the paper and move to the States instead. He was still having trouble sleeping but was starting to take Valerian Root supplements with his after-dinner cigarette. Kitty was concerned about his sleeping and wrote him back telling him that he should exercise more.

Neither one of them talked about his screaming but it was there moving the conversation, like the Labrador at the dinner party.

The day after it happened she approached him gently about, apologizing for her own behavior, asking him if he had seen something that had startled him, or what. "No…" he lied. "It was nothing. I didn't see anything."

"It didn't sound like nothing."

He said nothing. "Paul," she put her hand over his. "Have you ever had therapy?"

He hadn't. "Have you ever thought that it might be a good idea?" He had never thought that. "But if it keeps up," she said. "It could have something to do with why you have trouble sleeping. These sorts of things just aren't normal." She trailed off and he looked out the window, past the pastel-colored curtains of her living room. It was snowing outside, nothing more than a drizzle of grainy flakes.

"I think," he said finally, looking back to Kitty, and said, not untruthfully, that it could have something to do with Miranda. "We were almost engaged," he wasn't sure if he had told her this already. "I haven't been with anyone since her. Not even for a movie."

Kitty looked at him, tender but confused, and rubbed his hand unsurely. Unsurprisingly he felt uncomfortable brining up Miranda with Kitty, but for Miranda's benefit more than his own, as if mentioning her were somehow a violation of her privacy.

"I've even forgotten a lot of the time together," he went on, unable to help himself. "But what sticks is just random. I remember her the last time I saw her. She was wearing this blue bathrobe because she had just gotten out of the shower. She was pissed off that I had used all the hot water before her. And that was it. I had to run to the airport and I didn't see her after that." He took a deep breath.

Kitty said that she understood but not in the way that he would have preferred. Because to be truthful, the split between him and Miranda had been almost natural; a continental drift apart they had both recognized but that she had reacted to. He didn't miss her any more than the western coast of Africa missed South America. Bringing her back up like this was like forcing her into a situation in which she had no place and trying to make her fit.

"Do you two still talk to each other?" said Kitty. He had hardly talked to her during the relationship, wasn't even sure if she was still in Canada or not. They hadn't had any children, no shared assets except for a set of kitchen knives he had let her have when she left. "I understand," Kitty said again with less confidence than before.

She rose to clear away the breakfast dishes and Paul went outside to smoke.

They spent his second-to-last day in the hills instead of in town because Kitty wanted him to go out to the pastures with her to feed the sheep. "You have to feed them at least once," she said.

"I already fed them."

"No—these are the domesticated ones," she gestured to the crowd of beagle-like animals nipping at her picket fence. "You have to see the wild ones before you go. Between here and Scotland you'll never have another opportunity."

They hiked out under the fog of the morning, skirting the stream that ran down from the valley. Kitty hadn't mentioned that there was no path up to the ridge where the sheep were grazing and he followed her blindly cross-country, the bag of dried corn slung over his shoulder like a soldier's knapsack. He wasn't cut out for mountain climbing and after huffing a mile behind her he set down the corn for her to take. He told her he'd wait for the sheep to come down to him.

"I know it's slow," she said. "But give it one more mile. Dyfal donc a dyr y garreg."

"Is that Irish?"

"Welsh. " Through the rainproof material of her pants, the muscles of her thighs bulged, stone-cut as she bent down to take the corn he had dropped. "Steady tapping breaks the boulder."

The bleating came much sooner than a mile. Paul thought it was an alpine horn when he first heard it: one prolonged bellow through the cloud like a long, wailing clap of thunder.

He wouldn't have ever guessed that sheep could sound like that, or that so many could gather in one place. It seemed ridiculous to think about even later, those dozens and dozens, even hundreds of the tufted animals that, if it wasn't for the occasional pair horns, could have been mistaken for a cluster of poodles.

"Keep your fingers flat, whatever you do," Kitty cautioned when they came nearer.

"I know."

"No, you don't. They'll be biting at anything that fits in their mouth. You wouldn't even see the one that took your finger."

He shut up and did as he was told and gradually the animals converged around him. "Aim for the little ones. They can't get the feed that falls on the ground—the bigger ones will just push them away."

He wanted to tell her that they could just as easily push him away but the bleating was so loud that she wouldn't have heard him. A moment later and he was ringed with heads, all bowed towards his hand like a mass of worshippers. He didn't know how long he was supposed to squat there but when he turned towards Kitty she had disappeared up the hill, leaving the bag of corn behind her. He called her name but she didn't hear him, or didn't respond.

After five minutes he kneed his way past the sheep and followed her up the hill, bag in hand. She was kneeling away from the others, one hand stretched over the burred coat of a dead sheep. He thought the others had trampled it until he saw the tear along its belly and the messily discharged organs. The left eye was missing and it smelt of rot.

"Couldn't have been more than a day ago," Kitty said.

"Do you think it could have fallen off the ridge?" He motioned upwards to the bluff in front of them. She shook her head. "Its skull isn't broken. And falls don't leave gashes like this." Paul looked behind him. The pack was breaking up but most were picking leftover grains off of the ground.

"Wolf?" he said. "Coyote?"

She shook her head again, slower. "But we don't have those here."

He started walking in the mornings, after his cigarette. In the early summer everything was wet and the trees, still denuded by winter wind, hung their thick branches out to dry. The damp air made his throat feel phlegmy. Walking outdoors he began to realize how much he missed the cold: the bare, clean feeling of the air; the invigorating wind in his eyes; the simplicity of knowing that he need only dress warmly for the day and not for the possibility of rain or a baking sun.

He still wrote Kitty but their correspondences were short and infrequent. He started reading the Nuachtáin Sláintiuil again and saw that she had been working frequenter, writing more for her column about spirituality: Irish therapy methods, the healthy way to embrace summer depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. ' "SAD" affects 6 per cent of the entire population,' she wrote. 'A statistic companies are using to solicit even more unhealthy medications. Biologically, we're all hardwired to feel depressed during these changing times of the year. Don't resist the change. Don't resist the suffering. The Buddha once taught us that suffering is all we have. Empty yourself of suffering and you have nothing. Better to embrace it.'

"I know it's not holistic," Paul wrote her, "but I'm still taking the pills every night for the sleeping. And I'm going for walks. I'm exercising more, but I'm still having trouble. More than ever," he added dramatically.

Her response came three weeks later, short and vague and impersonal. "Sleeping is a temporary release of suffering, and all life really is is suffering. Have you ever thought of that, Paul?" She closed the letter with an epigram copied out in Tibetan.

"I've been thinking about relocating," he wrote her back. "You know, I've never liked canvassing so I wouldn't miss Toronto too much. I'd like to go somewhere far but still in the mountains. Toronto's so close to the seaboard. I think moving might help the sleeping."

He didn't tell her that he had been thinking about moving since the winter. Didn't tell her that he had scanned atlases and newspapers for job openings in the United States and was all but settled on a small powder skiing ranch in Utah. Didn't tell her that the idea appealed to him even though it'd mean cutting off whatever paper relationship they still had, and that it appealed to him still more when he saw her article about trauma and night terrors and unresolved relationships.

"You're not the first person to think that moving away will help you with your sufferings, Paul," was her response. She had written another epigram at the bottom of the page: "If you saw the Buddha in the street on the way to work, what are you supposed to do?" The answer was scribbled on the back of the page, like an afterthought. "Put a bullet through his head."

"Jesus Christ." Kitty in half-buckled garters leapt out of bed when she heard him screaming. "What the fuck is wrong? Is there someone in the room?"

Paul couldn't move anything except for his eyes, as though he were a patient that had been etherized under the covers to wait for the scalpel. He felt himself being shoved and rocked, felt the bare, cold air of the room envelop his shivering legs.

He could swivel his head but couldn't close his mouth from the long-departed scream.

"What the hell is it?" Kitty's voice was even more frantic than before.

"I don't know," he finally managed.

"You don't know? Did you see something?"

"I don't know." Turning towards her, only then could he recognize that it was her, Kitty, sitting up next to him, and not the woman he had seen an endless second ago, crossing the room in a pale-blue bathrobe, walking determined, fast steps, hands rigid at her sides, as though she were hurrying to catch a train but didn't want to run for fear of losing her dignity.

"Could I get a glass of water?" Kitty hurried to get out of the bedroom and returned with the glass. She watched him as he drank, for ten minutes, before she went back into the kitchen. Paul heard the refrigerator door open. Out of the corner of his eye he could see her take out a grapefruit. "Scared the hell out of me," she said from the other room. "Just—just try and go back to sleep."

Over her shoulder he could see a set of kitchen knives. He counted the handles over and over again until he was convinced that they were all there—that one hadn't disappeared from the set and into his dream and into the rigid hand of the woman in the blue bathrobe.

"Kitty," he said. But she was licking the red juice from her fingers and couldn't hear him as she worked to disembowel the fruit with her spoon.

Paul couldn't see a thing through the falling ice except for Peggy's red parka when he finally pulled the snowcat over. He left the keys in before getting out. The snowmobile was parked in a ring-shaped grove of trees and Peggy was waiting next to it. Inside the ring there was no wind but the snow was falling just as heavy.

"Christ," said Peggy to Paul and Cashel. "You two took forever."

"Where is it?" Cashel said, shouldering the rifle. Peggy gestured to a small, dark lump about ten meters away from the snowmobile. "Is it dead?"

"Could be." Peggy shrugged. "Like I said, it was looking pretty banged-up when I saw it. Might have got into a fight."

Paul wandered over to where Peggy had gestured and was startled to find the creature squatting up in a waiting position, its legs curled in a heap, looking broken. Blood, most of it still dripping, covered the face. The left eye was hanging out of its socket. The heartbeat felt weak but he was amazed to find that the creature was able to keep itself sitting upright so calmly, almost meditatively.

"There's more blood back over here," called Peggy. "And some fur, or something. You think it was fighting another wolf?"

Paul heard a tiny whistle from the creature and turned away from Peggy without answering. It had raised its head to look at him and something was shining underneath the neck. He gave it a wary look before stretching his hand into the warm fur. He felt something cold and round, as big as a silver dollar, wet with blood. He wiped it with his thumb. "Argos," he read. "Jesus Christ."

"What is it?" Cashel came over, bending down to look at the creature.

"It's a dog." He showed her the nametag. "Oh my God," she said. "Where did he come from?"

"He's one of the dogs from the ranch. He must have been out of here the whole season. Since Fall."

"He didn't go in with the others?"

"They don't go in unless all of the pack is in. He must have been out here with one of the sheep. Protecting it."

When Peggy walked up Paul asked her if she found any remains from whatever it had been fighting. She shook her head. "It didn't finish it off, whatever it was. Course we wouldn't find any blood when the snow's falling like this."

"It's a dog," said Paul again. "Not a wolf."

"A dog?" Peggy knelt down, passing a hand under the neck. "Goddammit," she said when she found the nametag. "I didn't touch him before. Thought he would have bitten me."

"Can we take it back with us?" said Cashel.

"He might have an hour. If you want to clean up the cat after he bleeds all over it, be my guest." Peggy took a deep breath. "It's a real fucking shame though. You can't find many sheepdogs like that. That loyal." She gave it another look before walking back over to the cat. Paul turned to watch her fade into the snow.

"Do you want to do it then?" Cashel said finally. Her hand fingered the rifle.

Paul looked back at the dog. Argos. He had lifted his head and a trail of blood or a tongue was dangling from the mouth. There was another whistle when he opened it, as though he were trying to bark, but no more sounds came after that.

A sharp, phlegmy cough came from behind him as Peggy started the snowmobile. Instinctively Paul looked over his shoulder but the snow outside the trees was falling too thick, and he couldn't see beyond it.