running up the trail. Richard immediately realizes that these dogs aren’t like
the others; they will not be content to
merely snarl and watch the runners pass
through their territory. He feels a jolt of
adrenaline; in an instant, a heartbeat,
everything has changed. The amorphous
danger that has always seemed other
people’s fate—that Richard assumed he
could always outrun—descends with a
terrible suddenness and a surreal immediacy. Normal time stops, the moment
now meted by the spectral pulse of instinct: the human instinct to flee, the
canine instinct to pursue, and Richard’s
instinct to protect.
The girls and John have to get away, he
realizes. If the dogs attack—when the
dogs attack—then Richard, the eldest
and strongest of the group, will be the
one to face it.
“Keep running!” he shouts. Shelby,
Catherine, and John do as they are told,
fleeing a hundred yards or so up the trail.
Richard turns back to the pit bulls,
waiting for his trailing sister. It only takes
fear that runs back millennia, to a collec-
tive past when humans lived in dread of
wolves, the forbear of today’s domesti-
JOHN’S THE DREAMY theater kid, Richard’s sweet but sometimes impractical
little brother. He’s not as fast or strong as
Richard, although he hopes to run a
marathon one day, like his hero, the
Olympian Ryan Hall. On the trail, standing with his sisters and niece, watching
his brother sink under the horrifying pit
bull tsunami, all John can think about is
But John shares a bedroom with Richard. And over the course of his life he has
run thousands of miles beside him. He
turns to the girls. He orders them to run
ahead and meet their father. When the
girls are gone, to his own amazement,
John runs back toward the nightmarish
scene. He picks up a rock and throws it at
one of the dogs. He finds a stick—a flimsy hollowed-out stick that must have
come off a yucca plant—and starts wailing on one of the dogs.
Seeing John return, Richard feels a
surge of hope. While barely stinging the
animals, John’s blows distract them
enough that Richard, kicking furiously
Every runner knows the hair-raising cues: the chain scraping
on the driveway blacktop or the bark shattering the silence
during solitary dawn miles. But on this familiar trail, on a
sunny afternoon, Richard doesn’t have any warning.
about a minute for Maegan, a tall, quiet,
willowy girl, to reach the spot where he
stands facing the dogs, but for Richard it
feels like an eternity. Finally he sees Mae-
gan out of the corner of his eye. She
freezes when she sees the pit bulls. “Go,
Maegan!” he shouts. “Keep running!”
Maegan obeys her big brother and runs
down an adjacent trail that leads her back
to the others. He feels her rush past—the
rustle of her footfall, her ponytail’s slip-
stream—and watches her disappear
around the bend in the trail, while, out of
the corner of his eye, he glimpses the
dogs inching closer. Maybe he can follow,
he thinks; maybe now he can escape, too.
But it’s too late. Three more pit bulls have
appeared, as silently as the others. Now
there are six dogs, forming a brindle-
colored mass, one animal indistinguish-
able from another, a welter of jaws, mus-
cle, and menace. Looking into their flat
brown eyes, Richard is raked by a primal
enraged 60-pound hornets, snapping and
tearing at his legs. Many pit bulls are kept
and bred to attack intruders. Once they
attack, they don’t let up until they’re
commanded to by their owner.
at the dogs, aiming at their faces, succeeds in battling to his feet. He and John
stand side-by-side, fighting for their lives.
Two of the dogs have left the scene, departing as mysteriously as they appeared,
but the four remaining again close on the
brothers, backing them farther up the
trail. John trips and falls, and two of the
dogs pounce on him. They go for his legs
and his armpits.
The other two dogs resume the attack
on Richard. One strikes the tendon behind his left knee—the pain is blinding,
this bite might hurt worse than all the
others—and again Richard nearly falls.
He is spent, exhausted. He’d been running hard for 30 minutes prior to the attack. Adrenaline has powered him
through the early stages of the battle, but
now he’s tapped out.
Meanwhile, John feels the mortal fear
that Richard had experienced moments
earlier. He’s scared that he’s going to die.