By Sean Dietrich

My dog ran away. I feel like someone kicked me in the ribs.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault. It happened earlier. I got home to see the front door swinging in the wind. Maybe it didn’t latch.

I called Ellie Mae’s name, then listened for the sound of paws on pavement. Nothing. She’ll come back, I’m thinking.

Three hours: I am sick.

Three hours, she could be anywhere. She could be across the county line. She could have wandered onto a busy highway.

“Stay calm,” I’m telling myself. Dry insanity sets in. I’m imagining bad things. Like what happened to my old dog, Joe.

Years ago, Joe dug a hole under our fence. We drove, searching until we couldn’t. I remember seeing his body after the accident. You can’t unsee something like that.

So the sun is setting. The orange sky is turning into night. My best friend is gone.

I’m searching side streets, back roads, dirt trails. I’m praying under my breath. We knock on doors. We call the sheriff, neighbors, shelters.

“Ellie Mae!” my wife shouts into the woods, until her voice sounds like pleading.

It’s late. We’re hoarse. Eight hours she’s been missing.

We give up. We pull into our driveway. We’re silent. I skip supper. I crawl into bed with my clothes on, but can’t sleep.

I toss and turn. I think about when I took Ellie Mae fishing and my boat motor gave out. I swam the boat to shore. She swam beside me.

There was the time she stole a pecan pie from my neighbor’s backyard deck. She ate the pie and the tin foil together. The foil made a reappearance the next morning.

And the time my wife brought Ellie home. She was just floppy skin and bones. Her ears were a mile long. She tackled me and fell asleep, snoring on my chest.

Her snoring has been the sound I sleep by.

Morning is here. No sign. She’s been missing a full day now. The house is a tomb. I can’t find the gumption to even make coffee. I sit in a chair with my head between my hands.

My wife prints flyers. “Lost Dog,” they read.

I think I’m going to be sick.

Ellie’s photo is on it. I took that picture last year. We were in Mississippi, for my birthday vacation. She was on the porch. It was a pretty picture.

More driving. We stick posters to telephone poles, stop signs, trees, front doors, mailboxes, windshields.

I see a woman walking her dog. “Have you seen a dog?” we ask.

No luck.

We hike through the woods. We shout. We wander through an apartment complex.

There’s a sheriff deputy, sitting in his cruiser. My wife raps on his window. She asks if he’s seen any hounds.

“Sorry,” he says.

Sorry. That’s exactly what I’m feeling. I’m sorry I failed you, Ellie Mae, wherever you are. You trusted me, and I let you down. If you can hear me, girl, I’m sorry.

We’re riding streets again. Driving. Driving. More driving. I’m starting to see things. I see movement in the woods. Maybe it’s her. No. Just a shadow. This is ridiculous.

I pull over. We’re silent. There’s nothing to say. Nothing to do. She’s gone. She’s really gone.

Our phone rings.

My wife answers. Her face breaks. She’s crying.

“OH, THANK GOD SHE’S OKAY!” she says.

Someone found my baby.