BACK ON THE TRAIL, perhaps 10 minutes
after the encounter began, the battle takes
a turn. Summoning a final pulse of energy, Richard shoves away the two dogs
snapping at him and lurches over to John.
He succeeds in pulling John to his feet. A
long gash on John’s lower left leg spurts
blood; the bone and muscle are visible,
gleaming obscenely. The flesh of John’s
right arm hangs off of him like tattered
strips of wallpaper. Richard is equally
brutalized. His legs are so completely
covered in blood that he can’t
see the underlying flesh. The
blood feels thick and viscous,
almost like syrup. The dogs
still boil around the brothers.
And then a man appears.
He appears as silently and
mysteriously as the dogs did,
and approaches within eight
feet of the brothers. Richard
thinks he must have come
from one of the three houses
on the bluff overlooking the
trail. A tall flagpole juts from
the yard of one of the houses,
with a large American flag
flapping gently in the breeze.
Richard has run past these
houses scores of times over
the years, but he’s barely
given the structures a
thought, or even a glance. He
assumes they’re reservation
houses, but doesn’t know for
sure. The man is of medium
height and squarely built.
There is a heavy cast of muscle to his shoulders. Like the
dogs, the man’s face is flat,
impassive. He holds a chain
leash in his hand.
“Help us!” they call to the
man. “Please help us!”
He makes no response. But the dogs,
upon seeing the man, back away from the
brothers. Richard and John feel a surge of
hope. The boys wait for the man to speak,
either to them or to the dogs. Richard is
reeling. John can barely stand. It’s begin-
ning to get dark.
“Don’t leave us here!” John and Richard
plead to the stranger, almost in unison.
“Please leash up your dogs!”
The man stares at them. “Fuck off,” he
tells the brothers. And then he snaps the
leash on the collar of one of the dogs, and
walks back up the bluff toward the house
with the flag. Meanwhile, the other three
dogs have retreated back up the trail in
the direction of the schoolyard.
SCARRED FOR LIFE
The dog attacks left John (above and
left) with nerve damage in both legs,
the effects of which still linger.
The site of the attack lies only about a
mile from the schoolyard, and a little
farther than that from their parent’s
house, where the brothers could find
help. The dogs, however, appeared to be
headed in that direction. The produce
stand where they agreed to meet their
father is about four miles away, and it’s
getting dark fast. But the runners know
the trail, and at all costs want to avoid
another encounter with the dogs. Richard
decides that they have to move forward.
The brothers set out, reeling and stumbling along the
trail Shelby and Catherine
ran down. Richard moves
stiffly; John can barely crawl.
Blood spills everywhere—
pooling and squishing in
Richard’s running shoes,
welling from his punctured
arms. Richard walks in front,
moving as fast as he can
given his pain and his brother’s condition, lost in a haze
composed of equal parts
shock and terror: It has been
growing dark for half an
hour. But now the final
strobe of light fades from the
western sky, beyond Carlsbad, Del Mar, and the other
fashionable beach towns
gracing the North County
coast, settling into the hard
blue plain of the Pacific.
Richard watches it go with
a feeling of despair. The
meeting place, by his reckon-
ing, is still two or three miles
away. A gorge of panic rises
in his throat. Richard tries to
focus on moving forward,
one step in front of the other,
Richard observes that the wrestling and
seething and roiling with the dogs has
carried the brothers a good 20 yards down
the trail from the point of first contact;
that much farther away from the trail-
head, from the middle school, and from
their home. All this leads him to wonder
and worry, Where are the girls? How far
have they run? Are they safe?
BESIDES the sometimes critical news
stories that appeared in the ’80s and ’90s,
depicting the strict training and discipline he imposed on his young children
as they pursued elite-level competitive
running, deeper shadows darken the life
of Mike Garritson.
In 1979, in Orange County, a 13-month-
old child that Mike and Linda Garritson
were baby-sitting suffered a fatal head