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One night we both became sleepy after hours on a new video game and I decided it was time for me to turn in. It must have been early in the year because the nights were chilly and the air I breathed in when I sat on the freezing saddle stung in my lungs. It took me a few moments to become accustomed to it, since I’d just come from the warm and comfortable indoors.
My way home was no longer than fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on weather and traffic or tiredness, but in the early hours of the night there was little traffic and sometimes I managed to make it back in less.
That night the sky was clear. The moon shone so brightly that no stars were visible in its vicinity; only its two giant blue-white halos radiated on the deep blue canvas of the night. I left Jono’s place around 2:30 a.m., sleepy and shivering. My teeth were chattering for the first few minutes despite my thick parka, comforter and woollen hat. After one turn right and one left, the route was pretty much a straight, uneventful line with a handful of traffic lights which I breezed through often enough during those late night rides. Music from the mp3 player in my coat pocket usually helped pass the time. That night, though, the mp3 battery had run out of juice. I plugged in the earphones anyway, to protect my eardrums a little from the freezing air.
All I could hear was my own heavy breathing, the chain revolving on the cogs of my bike and the biting wind gnawing at my ears. I had been on my way for a few minutes when I noticed the distinctive sound of a dog’s claws hitting the ground in a swift, solid gallop. I was only mildly surprised to see the dog — something of a German shepherd mongrel with the rump higher than in true German shepherds — appear on my right-hand side, in the corner of my eye. I had not noticed any dogs on the way so far. It had happened once before that a stray dog, I suspected lacking human company, escorted me in a cheerful gallop to my house and let me pat it on the head and stroke it when we parted at the front gate. But the events of this winter night would be very different from that previous encounter.
As the shepherd seemed to be intent on catching up with me, I saw that it was looking at me without looking at the road even for one second, breathing heavily, its tongue dangling from a mouth displaying a full set of white teeth. In those few very short moments I thought that despite its heavy breathing, the canine seemed highly energetic, unlike me. Part of me was already prospectively tucked into my warm bed.
Then I realized that the shepherd was not alone, and a shiver rose from my tailbone to the back of my skull. At once I remembered the bite mark on my scalp and my skin began to crawl. Both dogs were on level speed with me, running easily on their four strong legs. To my left, the second one was a dark bastard thing of a large hound breed I could not bear to ponder. A thought exploded inside my mind: one dog is OK, two dogs is a problem. The one on my left hand side was also looking at me without watching the road. As far as canine facial expressions go, as far as I could tell, these dogs were not looking for friendly play. This was pack behaviour — one being the alpha and the other its subordinate. They were hunting. I noticed a sound they were combining to produce under their breath: it was the deep, guttural, primeval growl of dominant canines about to attack.
A dozen thoughts ran through my mind at once while I forced my entire body to push those bloody pedals harder and faster than I have ever done before or since. One thought was that you only realize that your warm-up was not enough when you tear a ligament or something else when having to increase cadence very rapidly. I was wrapped in my thick parka, a wool comforter around my neck and face up to my nose and I wore a woollen hat. But my pelvis and legs had only a pair of cotton shorts and jeans to fend off the winter cold. Until then I had not realized that my legs were actually freezing. And now every fibre inside them began to ache.
I nervously glanced left and right, trying to stay focused, in case one of them started at my feet or legs. There is not any rationality in a predator’s choice, only opportunity. And I was trying hard to keep the opportunity away from them. When one has seen on television how a pack of wolves can take down a grown male moose or buffalo, it is easy enough to imagine the fear the overwhelmed prey must be experiencing. At that moment I understood that fear, and I knew that my skinny body would not resist canine teeth as much as a buffalo’s does.