This story was inspired by a newspaper article about an Afghan warlord who kept a man as a human dog to terrorise travellers.
While Afghan hounds – ‘tazi’ in Dari, the Afghan Farsi language - are much prized and pampered, lesser dogs are called ‘sack’ and have to fend for themselves.
Dog fights are popular, often held on Fridays before the men go to pray. Dogs are not usually made to fight to the death; just until the weaker dog backs down.
A bleak landscape of stone. Stone and bone. Skin and bone. That is me. The bones they throw to me, my fierce turbanned men, are never enough to satisfy, but they keep me alive. The beatings are bad, but never enough to kill me. They call me Sack, a low, despised creature like all my kind, yet necessary to them. If it were not so they would chase me away or spit fire at me from one of the long guns they carry over their shoulders. Without me to guard the caves they would never dare to wrap themselves up in their blankets and sleep. Sometimes I am allowed to doze in the sunshine, but I have no warm blanket and when it is dark the cold and the hunger keep me awake. Most nights a heavy silence hangs over the hills, but my ears prick up at the merest sound; a pebble dislodged and rolling down to the road miles away, perhaps. Then I bark and they all rush out. Usually, I have to dodge the kicks as they return to their blankets, angry at being disturbed, but that is nothing to what they would do to me if I failed them.
Some days are better. Groups of travellers have to pass by on the rocky road below our caves. Where they come from and where they are going to is of no interest to me, but the men are pleased to see them. They cover their faces, some even put on bright, shiny things that hook over their ears and noses and make it impossible to see their eyes, and they run down to the road to stop the travellers, shouting and brandishing their knives and their guns. The travellers shout too as they are pulled out of their vehicles, kicked and beaten if they refuse to pay. A few escape, but most are robbed of everything they have. The foolish ones try to fight back and their bodies are tossed into the ravine on the far side of the road. Then my men climb back up to the caves with what they have taken and begin to celebrate. Soon their harsh voices are raised in song and they sway together in the dance. While their backs are turned, I sneak up to the fire and grab what I can for my own private feast. I know better than to linger by the warm glow. It is better to take the food into the cold shadows at the back of the cave where I can enjoy it undisturbed.
My men keep some of the vehicles, even a bus they once filled with holes while the passengers were still inside, and they take it in turns to go back to their families. There are no women in the caves and those they snatch from the road do not survive to satisfy them for long. I suppose they sniff them out, just as I do when there is a new bitch in the area. I have heard my men laughing as they carry off the writhing bundles of cloth, but the wailing and groans soon die away and silence returns to the hillside.
Quite often they take me to the village with them. The first time, I did not know what to expect. All the men were waiting in a big circle to see me fight. The other dog was no match for me and I soon had him pinned down. He was dragged off in shame and there were congratulations; not for me, of course, but for the men who had brought me. At least no one kicked me and I was given a bone to chew and some water before they all went off to bow down and touch their heads to the floor. Sometimes I am the one to back off and then I am sore for days, but I usually win.
Sometimes my men bring back travellers to the caves and chain them up to the walls. They are given food and water and a blanket, but do not seem at all happy to have these luxuries. Some are angry. Most are terrified. My men force them down onto their knees and hold knives to their throats. Just as the travellers are sure that they are going to die, they are dragged up again. Their bodies shake and their faces are wet. Usually it is not long after that before they disappear and my men are happy again. They sit around the fire, smoking and passing around big wads of paper and bags that jingle. Some travellers are with us longer, though, and they are the ones who have their garments stripped from them before they are beaten with thick sticks or rubber pipes until their bodies are covered with bruises. Sometimes they have their ears cut off. I like that. My men taunt me with the ears, making me jump up and down with my mouth watering, but they generally let me have them in the end. I make short work of them, I can tell you! Other travellers are hung from iron rings in the roof to be beaten. Their bodies stream with blood and their filth splatters all over the floor. Then they are made to clean it up before they are beaten again. There is nothing in it for me, though. I can only look hopefully at the tender body parts dangling in front of my nose. They look much tastier than ears. Every now and again, one of my men takes out his knife and makes a traveller scream by pretending that he is going to slice off the bits I fancy, but it has not happened yet. One day, maybe.
I have only ever known one creature that dared to help itself. Some strangers arrived late one night. Of course, I heard them long before they reached the road below our caves and my men were waiting for them, but they all seemed very happy to see each other. The strangers were carrying a gift, something rolled securely into an old carpet, tied with rope at each end. They unwrapped it and stood well back. What they had brought was gaunt and mean looking and covered in coarse hair, rather like me if I am honest, but much bigger and it smelt foul. Its eyes were sly as they adjusted to the firelight and then it snarled, baring its big yellow fangs and snapping at my men. It took several of them to wrestle it to the ground and get a chain round its neck and then they fastened it to an iron ring in the wall at the back of the cave. During the days that followed it was given nothing to eat or drink and it howled and whined as it fought its chain. My men laughed, pointing at it and calling it Sack, but they kept well out of its reach. So did I. It was a nuisance having it there because it had taken the space I used for my private feasts and I had no intention of sharing them. Instead, I had to take what I stole outside and risk losing it to hungry scavengers. It was a relief when my men decided to move it. They beat it unconscious before they picked it up between them and took it down to a cave at the bottom of our cliff. It was only a small cave, but deep and the entrance was close to the road.
I soon found out why they were keeping it there. My men were excited the next day as they waited for the first travellers to appear. Several groups meekly handed over their goods, but then came the one they had been waiting for. The head of the family, a fat old man sweating under his black lambskin hat, shouted angrily and raised his fist. My men dragged him out of his car and forced him down onto his stomach on the bonnet. It must have been red hot and he roared as they pulled off his baggy trousers. They were not lusting after his meaty rump, though. They pushed him inside the cave. The snarling began at once and the chain rattled as the creature leapt forward to grab its first meal in days. It tore off the part it wanted most and swallowed it in one gulp. Before it could attack again, the traveller was dragged out into the sunshine and flung onto his back on the ground. He lay motionless, blood pouring from the big open wound and attracting flies from all around. There were no more arguments from his family, who handed over everything they had, even their Tazi bitch. My men laughed at the young man struggling to load his father’s body onto the back seat of the car, but they let him drive off.
I had never seen a Tazi before but I was not allowed anywhere near her. She looked down her long nose and straight through me as my men admired her. Not at all afraid of them, she made no attempt to run away and stood haughtily as they stroked her silky coat. They fed her well that night and let her sleep comfortably near the fire with them. It made me sick and I was pleased when one of my men took her off the next morning to sell. I have never seen a Tazi since.
My men treated the creature in the cave better after its attack on the fat man. It was never allowed out into the daylight but they gave it a longer chain and much better food than I got. It even had a blanket of its own as well as the old rug in which it had arrived. After they stopped beating it, it never tried to go for any of them and it only came to the entrance of the cave when they called it. Whenever it was set on to travellers the men laughed. I even saw one or two of them patting it on the back afterwards while its fangs were still bloody. I hated it and wished they would kill it or send it back where it came from.
As it happened, I did not have to wait long at all to get rid of it. One day, I was woken up from my afternoon sleep by a lot of shouts and bangs. My men were all running around, picking up their knives and their guns, but they were not going down to the road. Instead, they were hiding themselves behind rocks and watching a big cloud of dust that was rapidly heading our way. It was made by a line of vehicles the colour of desert sand. They stopped directly below us and strangers dressed in the same colour as their vehicles jumped out. They looked up towards our caves. There were a lot more loud bangs, from down there and from up above and behind me. I made myself as small as possible. Soon, the strangers were climbing up to our caves. Some of them fell and rolled back down again. Some of my men fell too. There were screams. There was blood, a lot of blood. Then it all went quiet.
Some of my men were led down to the road, their hands tied behind their backs. The strangers pushed and kicked the ones who did not want to go. Looking out of the window of one of the vehicles was the son of the fat man. He was wearing the black lambskin hat now and pointing at the creature’s cave. A group of the strangers went in there with ropes and I heard more shouts, the snarls of the creature and a grating sound that hurt my ears. They had cut through its chain and it struggled furiously with the ropes as they carried it outside and laid it on its back on the road. Some of the strangers sat on it while another took something shiny from a box and jabbed it into one of its forelegs. It went limp almost immediately, which was odd because a small wound to the leg is usually just something to be licked and then forgotten. The strangers untied the ropes and dressed the creature in some sand coloured garments, just like their own. Then two of them got into the back of one of the vehicles with it and sat it down between them. If it had been awake, it would have been very uncomfortable. Its head was lolling sideways onto the shoulder of one of the strangers, who was holding a cloth over his mouth. Its back was straight up against the seat, its forelegs were dangling uselessly and its back legs were bent in the middle and reached down to the floor. It was just as well that it had no tail to be fitted in as well.
They all drove off. Those of my men who were killed have been returned to the village. Those who were taken away have never come back but others have taken their places. Now my life has returned to normal and I am glad.