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from the October 2018 issue


In "Vengeance," Norov Dalkhaa weaves a Mongolian Buddhist folk legend that dogs have the reincarnated souls of humans into an urban parable of sex, jealousy, and violence.


Listen to Norov Dalkhaa read "Vengeance" in the original Mongolian.


The black dog's large brown eyes drew Chuluun's attention. They didn't seem to be dog's eyes at all. The dog stared at Demchig, not even moving when Chuluun waved his hands and feet at it. Uzmee looked as fragile as fine china as she sat next to Demchig. Each time he touched her hair, or touched her beautiful white hands, or touched the food and drink on the table, the black dog's hackles rose and its lip and whiskers quivered. But it never let out a growl. Occasionally the dog's gaze would drift up behind Demchig, to a picture affixed to the center of a tapestry adorned with a ceremonial blue silk scarf.

Although the dog's whiskers and eyebrows, even its eyes, expressed a decisive fierceness, a slight smile about the lips made it seem harmless. When the dog looked up at the portrait of the deceased, its pupils dilated and the fierceness in its eyes softened. After a moment, the dog started, and its pupil quickly contracted to the size of a needle's eye. It resumed glaring at Demchig with a piercing gaze full of fire.

These were not the eyes of a dog. These were human eyes. Dogs don't have eyes like these. Chuluun knew well that even when dogs beg for food or affection, or when they protect their owners and become aggressive, they never have eyes that look like this. As Chuluun glanced over at the dog, a chill went down his spine. Not knowing what else to do, he put a little bit of brown sugar in front of the dog, who sniffed it deeply. But again it pierced Demchig with its horrible glare. Chuluun pulled the dog close to himself. 

“Look at that dog's eyes,” Chuluun whispered as he shook his fist at the dog.

“Let's go,” Chuluun whispered.

“If my daughter and son-in-law separate, there's no way I can keep living comfortably in this house. All I'll have is this poor dog to keep me company. I've waited desperately for you to come with me and now there is nothing to fear. Surely you will come with me?” Uzmee said softly.

“Of course I'll come,” Demchig said, laughing heartily. He rubbed her eyelash with his thumb. Demchig was truly convincing  when he went on to say, “I wasn't just waiting around for your husband to die like a buzzard waiting for a field mouse.”

“You are afraid for no reason. You weren't afraid while he was alive—” Uzmee started, but Demchig interrupted her.

“Never mind that, darling. Now whenever I come over, you never let me leave,” he said as he caressed her. Struck by a bittersweet memory, the woman bowed her head slightly in shame. 

“You wish,” she whispered softly.

“We have to do something about this dog. Is there a muzzle?” Demchig said.

“What are you going to do?” the woman exclaimed.

“The dog needs to get used to me. Otherwise . . . well, just look at those eyes.”

“I know . . . how frightening.”

“OK, quickly . . . Find me that muzzle!”

“But I . . .” the woman hesitated meekly.

“It's OK my dear, just be patient for a couple of days. Together you, me, and this puppy will be a family; soon the dog will even be bringing us our slippers. It will never even utter a growl.” Demchig grabbed the dog. The woman fetched the muzzle and showed him how to put it on the dog and shed a single tear. Demchig and Chuluun left the woman.

Demchig went straight home from there, but he didn't bring in the dog. He put some things in a duffel bag and threw it in the back seat next to the dog.

“We're going hunting. Hunting at night can be nice,” Demchig chortled.

He is talking about making some money by giving people rides along the way. And he prefers his partner to be a dog, rather than a person, Chuluun thought. But Demchig went straight to the edge of town instead of going through downtown, where all the potential passengers would be. Chuluun wondered about that. The dog with the staring gaze sat in the back seat. Every so often he would catch a glimpse of its flaming eyes reflected in the rearview mirror. A shiver went down his spine.

They left the city and drove off the road for a while, stopping at the edge of the forest. Chuluun wondered why they stopped there, but didn't ask. He didn't like to ask questions. He had an unusually cold, bad gut feeling. But he didn't move, didn't say anything. He just sat in the passenger seat.

Demchig took the dog and the bag out of the car and brought them into the headlights. He tied a wire leash to the dog's neck and pulled. The dog resisted and Demchig kicked it, causing it to jump. He pulled the dog through the snow and tied it to a spruce tree. All of this unfolded in the bright gleam of the headlights. The dog refused to make a sound until Demchig's kicks broke its ribs. Tied up there, the dog looked beautiful. It stood tall like a lion with a chest full of fur and a short tail, ears standing up half a foot. Though it was favoring its injured side, it stood firmly, its eyes blazing like fire. The leash came loose, but the dog stood still, though not for the hope of love or mercy. Demchig took a rifle out of the bag, assembled it, and loaded it. Then he propped it on the open door and aimed.

Those two fierce eyes . . . I'll shoot them out, he thought.

Right as he thought that, he heard a low growl. Chuluun watched that brave animal standing, ready to die. Demchig fired, and the dog's legs spread out below it out in four directions. The blue light in the dog's angry, blazing eyes guttered out. Demchig jumped up with a knife in hand. He ran up to the dog, laughing to himself, and cut the wire leash. He cut off the dog's tail and muttered, “be reborn as a human.” With the bloody knife and his bare hand, he dug up snow and threw the dog in the hole, poured gas over the carcass, and lit it on fire. Afterward he sat and shivered in the car. He furtively opened a bottle of vodka and began to drink. The glass clinked against his teeth. Wiping the sweat off his brow, he let out a long sigh.

“Poor Uzmee, I took vengeance on your husband!” Demchig screamed. They turned off the headlights and stayed in the car for a while without making a sound. The brave dog’s blood soaked the snow, his corpse smoldering.

Finally Chuluun asked, “What will you tell Uzmee?”

“I won't be seeing her,”  he answered.

From © Norov Dalkhaa. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2018 by Sainbayar Gundsambuu and KG Hutchins. All rights reserved.

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