Based on a true story. A good deed goes bad.
Only a monster would do what I’m about to do. The thought of it sickens me. I feel numb. Not just my body. My mind. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to look down at the meat cleaver in my hand. I just want to go back inside, slip into my warm bed and fall sound asleep. After I do this, I probably won’t ever sleep again. I’m not a monster. I’m not. I’m just a mom. I don’t want to do this…I have to. It all started eight days ago. That’s when I first saw D…
* * *
He was standing in the middle of Hickman highway the first time I saw him. It was drizzling out, a frigid slushy rain, just on the verge of turning to snow.
"What a stupid dog," Donny commented beside me as I was forced to stop.
"Out of the road, dummy," Ty groaned from the back.
"Oh, no." He obviously wasn’t an outdoor dog, one wise to the ways of the road.
A red pick-up truck was coming from the opposite direction. It slowed and eventually stopped when the dog wouldn’t budge from the double yellows. I watched as the poor thing approached the driver’s side of the red truck, looking up into the window. He was in rough shape, his shaggy, black fur wet and matted. Pretty pathetic really. The driver of the truck didn’t seem to care. He laid on the horn until it scurried off to the side of the road with its tail tucked between its legs.
The truck took off with a low rumble. I went on as well. I was running late for work and still needed to drop the boys at the highschool. But the further I went, the heavier my heart felt.
"Oh, come on, Mom!" the boys protested as I pulled into the Hickman Baptist Church to turn around. "We’re gonna be late!"
"I can’t just leave him." But immediately I was wondering just what I was going to do with him. If I could coax him into the van without causing an accident, that was. I would have to take him to work, call my mother from there. He’d have to stay in the van until she could come and get him.
I was hoping he wouldn’t still be there, praying that someone else had picked him up.
He’d moved further up the road when I found him. He’d wandered into a small grouping of houses just off the road. His nose was to the ground, sniffing, and he didn’t even acknowledge the van when I pulled in beside him.
"Maybe he’s blind," Ty offered from the back.
"I don’t think so." But it was odd the way he was acting, like we weren’t even there. Maybe he was deaf. He had his sense of smell, at least. He continued to sniff around. Seeming to find a choice spot, he squatted.
"Oh, nasty," Donny whined from beside me as a few squirts shot out.
He hobbled forward a few steps, still in squatting position, and squirted some more.
Great. He had the squirts. He was going to mess all over the van.
Having done his duty, he took a few wobbly steps, his nose to the ground, completely ignoring the giant green van purring beside him. He was having trouble with his balance. He could be diseased, maybe even rabid. I could be putting my boys in jeopardy. And baby Caleb, I thought, putting a hand to my round belly. Plus, he was definitely in need of a vet. We couldn’t afford that. Don would kill me. We were still trying to rebound from Christmas, struggling just to put together the electric bill before they shut us off.
He wandered into a grassy yard and squatted again.
It occurred to me that he might live in one of those houses. He was an older dog, hard of hearing, hard of seeing. Maybe he just wandered away for a few minutes. And even if it wasn’t his home, surely someone in one of the houses would spot him and see that he needed help.
Convincing myself that he would be fine, I turned around and went on about my business. The boys were just ahead of the bell and I was only five minutes late for work.
Even so, it was a decision that didn’t sit well with me. It gnawed at me all day, eating away at my insides. My hormones were going haywire, thanks to little Caleb, and I even shed a few frustrated tears. I was a mess.
I looked for him on my way home from work, scanning the sides of the road, hoping, praying he wouldn’t be laying there. He wasn’t. I was right. He must have lived there. Or maybe someone had taken him in. I wasn’t the only one in the world with a heart. I pictured him curled up on a cushy, red and white checkered dog bed with his master, an older man in overalls, snoozing on the lazy boy beside him while the tv played reruns of The Andy Griffith Show.
I slept pretty good that night. I haven’t slept good since.
I saw him the next day on my way to work. He was just this side of Hog’s Creek bridge, laid out flat on his side.
"Damn it! Damn! God damn it!"
"What?" Donny asked, pulling out his ear plug.
"That black dog," I forced out past the lump in my throat. "He’s dead."
"Bummer," Donny said before stuffing the plug back in his ear.
"Bummer," Ty agreed from the back.
I started to cry. Why hadn’t I picked him up? He was helpless and I just left him there to die. I knew he didn’t live at those houses. He looked like he’d been wandering around for weeks. He was wet and matted and cold and hungry, sick and weak, and I just left him there. Just drove away and left him.
I cried on all my breaks that day and whenever I had a few minutes to dwell on it, hoping my customers didn’t notice my red, puffy eyes. Maybe they chalked it up to hormones because they were generous with the tips. I didn’t really care. I was a monster. A big, fat, heartless, soulless, selfish monster. That poor pitiful creature had suffered. I could have saved him. I hated myself.
I slowed on my way home as I approached Hog’s Creek. I was hoping maybe someone had seen him laying there, had taken pity on him, picked him up and buried him. Surely I wasn’t the only person in this sorry town with a heart. But he was still there. Snow was beginning to accumulate, stark white against his black fur. My heart sank, the guilt weighing heavy. He looked so alone. So very alone, unloved, unwanted.
I lay awake that night, thinking of all the things I should have done, would have done if I was a decent caring person, which obviously I wasn’t. I was a sorry excuse for a human being. I didn’t deserve to live.
I didn’t want to look as I went by the next morning, but my eyes had a mind of their own. I hated seeing him like that, laying there all alone on the side of the road in a snow heap. It wasn’t right. It just wasn’t right.
Donny shook his head. "Quit kicking yourself. The dog is dead," he said without bothering to take out the earplugs. "We can put it writing, if you want. Put a sign up. Dead Dog Ahead."
Ty chuckled from the back seat. "Dead dog ahead, dead dog ahead," he rapped, bobbing back and forth.
Donny joined in, dancing in his seat.
"See ya later, D-Dog," Donny threw over his shoulder.
I moped that day at work. Caleb was pressing on my bladder and my back was killing me. But I poured coffee with a smile and served up eggs and hash browns just as efficiently as ever, playing the part of a dutiful, diligent waitress. My customers didn’t know they were being served by a monster. They had no idea.
It was about halfway through the day when I decided that I was going to give him a proper burial. I’d get Ty to dig the hole in the back yard and on the way home from basketball practice, I’d get Donny to help me load him in the van. Donny was gonna gripe. But D-Dog looked to be about sixty, seventy pounds. Probably more frozen, being dead weight and all.
My heart didn’t feel quite as heavy when I passed him on my way home. I had a plan. I would place him in the ground and he’d rest in peace beneath the majestic maple tree. I’d place flowers on his grave. I’d ask for forgiveness.
Snow was flurrying by the time I left to pick up Donny, so I was right on top of D-Dog by the time he came into my headlights. When I saw him, I almost lost control of the van, nearly slamming into the concrete pillars that spanned Hog’s Creek bridge. I think I used some foul language right about then. I don’t have total recall but I think I may have even dropped an f-bomb or two.
My heart was racing so fast, I actually felt light-headed as I went up a ways and found a spot to turn around. As I crossed the bridge, I slowed and came to a stop. I don’t know how long I sat there gaping out my window. It was a dark cloudy night and the snow was coming down pretty good, but I was certain. It was definitely the dead dog. He stood not far from the spot he’d been laying in for two days straight, his head hanging low, his legs splayed for balance.
There wasn’t much traffic on Hickman Highway at that time of night, but I could see headlights approaching in the distance behind me. I jumped out right then and there and scooped him up. He was pretty heavy, but my adrenaline was pumping. Plus, my big belly acted like a nice little shelf to prop him on.
"It’s okay. It’s okay, boy," I said, trying to put him at ease even though he wasn’t struggling, not one bit.
My heart was hammering away as I turned around and headed back to town. I glanced over my shoulder to where he sat in back. He was between the two bucket seats, his head hung almost to the floor. "It’s okay, boy. You’re safe now. You’re safe. I’m gonna pick up Donny and then we’re gonna get you home, get you nice and warm. Oh. . . . I can’t believe this. I thought . . . I thought you were . . . "
I began to cry. I couldn’t stop it. I was so relieved. I couldn’t believe he’d laid there all that time alive, car after car after car just whizzing on by. Not that anyone would’ve stopped to help if they’d known. No one in the freaking town had a beating heart.
"What the. . . is that the dead dog?" Donny asked.
"Holy shit! Oh, sorry. I mean crap."
"Get in. You’re letting the cold in!"
"He looks like crap," he said as he climbed in and pulled the door closed. "And he smells like crap, too."
"You’d smell like crap after being dead for two days."
As I pulled out, he buckled himself in and twisted around for a better look. "Oh, my God! He’s got icicles on his ears."
I stretched my neck to peer into the rearview mirror. "The poor thing. I can’t wait to get him home, get some warm blankets on him."
"Where’s he staying? Not anywhere near my room, I hope."
"I’m gonna block off the laundry room for tonight. I’ll call the vet tomorrow. It’s gonna cost a fortune, being Saturday and all."
"Do vets see dead dogs?"
"Don’t know. I might have to pay a dead dog fee."
"Holy crap! Is that the. . . the. . ."
"Yes, dorkus, it’s D-Dog. You can put your eyeballs back in your head," Donny said as he slung his gym bag to the couch.
"Help me out, Ty. I need an old blanket." I set him gently on a pile of towels in the laundry room, and he sat as he had in the van, his head hanging. It was almost comical the way his front feet slowly slid on the linoleum tile until they were splayed wide. Not comical, I decided. Pitiful. I squatted before him, not an easy feat being big as a house. He was so weak. He couldn’t even open his eyes. "You poor, sweet thing," I said, feeling the tears well.
I plucked a towel from the pile and began to dry him gingerly, trying not to topple him over in the process.
"Here’s a blanket, Mom."
"Thanks, sweetie. Throw it in the dryer for a few minutes, would you."
He did what he was told. He always did. He was such a great kid. Then he squatted down beside me. "Jeez. He’s messed up."
"Yeah, well, he’s been laying on the side of the road for two days."
"I thought he was hit by a car."
"No, I don’t think so. He’s not injured, that I can see. Just near frozen. His ears are like ice," I said as I gently dried them, pressing them between the towel.
Ty leaned close. "Hey, boy. I dug your grave, buddy."
His only response was a slight wobble.
"Is he deaf?"
Should I get him something to eat?"
"Yeah. Here, hand up, please," I asked, and he obliged me, pulling me to my feet. I gave his hair a tousle. He hates that but it’s a habit I can’t break. It’s his silky blond hair. He got that from my mom. He got her brown eyes too. "I was thinking that leftover roast in the fridge. Tear it up real good, okay. And mix in a can of gravy. And mike it. Not too hot. About thirty seconds should do it."
"Okay, will do," he said as he trotted off.
Throwing the damp towel in the washer, I pulled the warm blanket from the dryer and draped it over the pitiful thing, gathering it snugly about him. Stepping back, I studied the bundled form, one too cold to shiver. "Please live," I whispered. "Can you hear me? I hope you can hear me. I want you to know. . . how sorry I am. So, so sorry. And I want you to know that you will never be hungry again. You will never be cold again. You will never be alone again."
He lifted his head weakly and opened his eyes.
"Oh. . ." The word caught in my throat, almost choking me. There was an opaque film over both eyes. He was blind, then. Leaning down, I gently caressed the top of his head. If he couldn’t see, couldn’t hear, at least he could feel that he was loved.
He settled himself down at last, lowering himself cautiously, inch by inch. Laying his head on his paws, he closed his eyes.
"Dinner, D-Dog," Ty chirped as he set the bowl in front of him.
D-Dog wasn’t interested.
I checked on him one last time before I went to bed, studying the blanket in the darkness, watching for the gentle rise and fall of breath. Dread set in when I saw no sign, but he stirred in his sleep and gave a muffled whine. I was relieved, but concerned that he hadn’t touched his food. His water looked undisturbed as well.
It was early morning when I checked on him again. The clock told me it was four twenty five, but Caleb was napping on my bladder again, so I figured since I was up to take a pee, I might as well take a peek.
"Oh. . . god . . .!" The smell struck me like a brick in the face. I think I even recoiled a few steps. In my sensitive condition, it was almost enough to make me heave. He was gone. The blanket lay in a heap. Poking my head in, I could just make out his dark form sitting in the far corner by the back door. Holding my breath, I moved the hamper acting as a doggy gate and flipped on the light.
I barely caught the scream in my throat. The floor was smeared in black blood, thick like oil. Bloody globules were scattered about, puppies, I realized, still in their sacks. I snatched one up, but it was a cold, hard rock in my hands. "Oh, my god! My god, my god!" I entered to check the others, and almost went down on a slimy spot.
Dead! All dead. D-Dog looked haggard. She was leaning against the dryer with the wall for support from behind. Her eyes were closed. I looked down at my hands covered in blood. They were shaking. I brushed the hair from my eyes with the back of my hand to take in the horror scene, a scene easily capable of haunting my dreams for the rest of my life. I felt like hurling. I didn’t want the boys to see.
Moving quickly, I gathered what I needed and carefully wrapped each tiny form in paper towels. I placed them side by side in the shoe box, five in all. I only stopped long enough to throw on my coat.
It wasn’t snowing at least, and the moon was shining like a beacon, lighting my way. But the air was frigid, my breaths coming out as misty plumes as I made my way to the shed in the back yard.
The grave under the maple was way too big, but it would have to do. I worked as quickly as I dared in my condition, shovel by shovelful of dirt. Caleb was cold. He gave me a couple of kicks to let me know.
I tossed the shovel on top of the dirt heap. My fingers were numb and my feet were freezing. House slippers were definitely inappropriate winter wear. I almost went down for the second time, my slippered feet sliding on the icy deck steps.
"What! Dammit!" I struggled with the door handle, but it wouldn’t budge. "You are a freaking moron," I shiver-mumbled as I made my way back down the steps.
My teeth were chattering by the time I made it around to the front of the house. I fished out the spare key from under the front steps and steadied one shaking hand with the other to hit the keyhole.
It wasn’t until I shuffled my frozen feet to the laundry room that I discovered I wasn’t just a moron, I was a monumental moron. The back door was ajar and D-Dog was gone. I spotted her sniffing the fence-line back near the shed.
"Perfect." I went to work cleaning the mess, fighting off the nausea as best I could. Wadded paper towels and a squirt bottle of cleaner took care of most of it. I threw the bloodied bath towels and blanket in the washer and turned it on. When I went to toss out the garbage bag, D was standing with her nose to the door. She trudged in and plopped down on the fresh blanket I’d laid out. She let out a groan as she settled in, and closed her eyes.
"Here you go, girl." I draped a freshly warmed towel over her and patted her cold head. "I’m so sorry. I. . . God, you really smell."
"Ty! You scared the crap out of me!" I clutched my huge belly. D-Dog wasn’t startled. She was snoozing soundly.
"Sorry." He rubbed at an eye. "Just checking on D-dog. He ate all his food."
"Yeah. And he had to go out. Good sign, I guess." I gave the room a quick once over, making sure everything was in order before I shut off the light. "And he’s a she."
"Yeah. She, uh…squatted." I slid the hamper back into place.
"Maybe he’s too weak to lift a leg."
Caleb was feeling crowded. I rubbed at a knot that felt like two knees pushing against my navel from the inside. "Trust me on this one, Ty."
I told Don everything when he called that morning. I didn’t hold anything back. I burst into tears when I described the puppy scene. I sobbed. I was in hormonal hell. I think he felt sorry for me because he didn’t gripe too much, even when I mentioned the forthcoming vet bill. Or maybe it was guilt. Another week-end was all shot to hell. A tire went down and he didn’t make it to the warehouse in time. He wouldn’t be able to drop the load until Monday.
"Tell Donny, I’m sorry about the game tonight," he said.
I loved my big bear of a trucker man, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. I wasn’t going to get all bent out of shape over it. I knew he’d be home for three weeks come Friday. Maternity leave.
No sooner had I hung up with Don, then my mom was calling. I told her about D, a shorter, less graphic version. She didn’t think I should be taking in strays in my delicate condition. Then she went on to talk about her lunch with the girls from the rose club. I don’t remember much about that conversation. In one ear and out the other. That’s usually the way it was with her. That kind of idle chit chat just didn’t hold my attention. I could only listen politely. It’s different now. If she called me today, I’d hang on her every word.
No sooner had I hung up with my Mom, then Selma was rapping at the front door. She lived at the bottom of the hill, my closest neighbor. She was in good shape for sixty-six, not even winded from the walk up the hill. I was winded just walking to the door.
"How you feeling, Baby," she crooned as she stomped the snow off her shoes and handed over the freshly baked goods. Cookies, this time. Chocolate chip.
"Big as a house. And this doesn’t help," I motioned to the plate in my hand. The breezy morning had teased her hair. It was especially unruly, the frizzy gray mess reminding me of Albert Einstein. But her senses were sharp as ever. Her nose crinkled as soon as she hit the family room.
"That would be D."
I told her the story, a quick version.
"That black dog? Over near Hog’s Creek?" she asked, her eyebrows shooting high.
"That would be the one."
"That’s okay, baby," Selma said when I went to move the hamper. "No need to disturb the poor thing." She studied D-Dog for the longest time, her wise blue eyes riveted, one hand held to her nose to stifle the stench. D was sleeping comfortably. She shifted with a wet rattling sigh. Selma shifted as well. Her hand went to the chain around her neck. She fumbled with it, pulling the cross out of her shirt to fondle it.
"You okay, Selma?"
"Why, yes. I’m thinking I might just get that closer look."
D shifted as Selma made to move the hamper. Pushing up to a sitting position, she opened her eyes.
"Yeah. I think she’s nearly blind. She may be deaf, too."
D’s lip curled up to reveal yellow teeth. She began to growl.
"Boy, she didn’t hang around for long." Ty took a glass from the cupboard and went for the jug of milk in the fridge.
"Yeah. She said something about forgetting to turn off the oven, but I think D scared her."
"Scared her? I didn’t think anything scared that old crow."
"Ty White, that is not nice."
"What? She’s a tough old bird, is all. It’s a compliment." He took a bite of a cookie.
"Well, she was looking mighty peaked when she left here. D growled at her."
"Growled. She probably got too close to her food, or something."
"Oh yeah, that reminds me. She ate all her breakfast."
"Already? I just put it in there."
"Well, it’s empty. She’s definitely got her appetite back. I was even thinking about putting off the vet until Monday, save myself about a hundred bucks."
He shrugged. "Sounds like a plan."
"But she desperately needs a bath."
She didn’t growl once. She let Ty lift her into the tub, and stood there with her head hanging as I poured water over her. "Thanks, honey. I’ve got it from here," I told Ty when I noticed the water start to turn bloody. It turned my stomach. I quickly slipped on my dish gloves, squeezed out some shampoo and began to lather her up. I almost lost it when the suds turned bloody. I felt flush and my brow started to bead up. I rinsed her and lathered again. It wasn’t as bad that time. The suds just had a pinkish hue. She was so matted, I tried to work my fingers into a large clump and it came loose in my hands and clopped into the tub. I leaned closer and saw a slimy gaping hole on her back. That’s when I almost passed out. I think I actually saw dark spots for a few seconds.
I quickly rinsed and then draped a towel over her and called for Ty.
"Man, she lost a lot of fur," he said as he lifted her out of the tub.
"Yeah," I said, picking out the clumps with wadded toilet paper and throwing them into the commode. I felt light headed. "She might have the mange."
I called the vet. The doctor on call said it sounded like she miscarried the puppies due to trauma. He wasn’t sure about the hair loss. He said it was a good sign that she was eating and drinking, but I could bring her in. Emergency calls were a hundred and twenty five bucks just to walk in the front door. Any other treatment and medication would, of course, be added on. I figured I was looking at at least five hundred bucks. I decided it could wait till Monday. I made her appointment for nine A.M.
I told the boys they were on their own for lunch. There was half a loaf of bread and cans of tuna. I had no appetite for once. I was feeling drained and a bit queasy. I laid down on the couch for a little nap.
Next thing I knew, Donny was shaking me awake. It was all I could do to open my eyes. When I did, I found Donny all dressed and ready for the game. The room was spinning when I sat up. "Three thirty!"
"I’ve been trying to get you up for an hour," he insisted. "You on sleeping pills or something?"
"I most certainly am not," I said, though I felt as if I’d taken about ten.
It was all I could do to sit through the game. Mom was being particularly chatty and her voice was grating on my nerves. Plus I was big as a whale and the hard wooden bleachers weren’t doing my aching back an ounce of good. And I was worried about D. I didn’t feel right about leaving her alone.
To top it all off, Donny was fouled by a big bully with a beard. He went down so hard, I thought he broke something. I shot to my feet, lost my balance, and almost tumbled head long down the bleachers. Mom tried snatching at my arm, but I was only saved by grabbing on to the man in front of me, practically snatching his shirt off. I apologized as he readjusted and grumbled. I didn’t blame him for being cantankerous. He looked to be about ten months pregnant too.
But Donny was fine. He actually played better after that, two awesome three pointers in a row followed by a beautiful lay up. Fueled by pay back, I guess. Even Ty was impressed. He gave a loud whistle. Any other time, I wouldn’t have minded this show of brotherly support. But that night it shot straight in my ear to my brain where it ricocheted around for the remaining hour.
The harsh lights at Polter’s Grocery didn’t help any. My eyes were sensitive to the light and I could barely maneuver through the aisles, tossing cans of dog food, a red collar, and a leash into my basket. I had to squint at the blurry numbers on the keypad and my fingers felt big as polish sausages as I tried to punch in my code. I had to try three times before I finally got it right.
My head was about to split wide open by the time we got home. I told Ty to open a can of dog food, and sat down on the couch to rub my temples. I didn’t mean to fall asleep. I remember stirring once and looking at the clock. It was after midnight. I remember thinking I needed to get up and let D out. The next thing I know, I’m being wakened from a dead sleep by blood curdling screams. They were so high pitched I couldn’t recognize if it was Ty or Donny, or some screeching tomcat that had snuck in the door when I wasn’t looking. By the time I struggled off the couch and stumbled down the hall, Ty was already up and standing in Donny’s doorway.
"What!" I screamed as I flipped on the light. I didn’t have to ask further. D was sitting next to his bed, staring Donny in the face, seemingly unperturbed by all the screeching.
"Get it away!"
"Just calm…oh, my god!" I clapped a hand over my nose and mouth to stifle the stench. It was smack dab in the middle of his room, a brown puddle of vile vomit. Or maybe it was a liquid pile of crap. Chunks of dog food squirming with worms. That’s all I saw before the room went black. I grabbed onto the dresser to keep from going down.
"Mom. You okay?"
"Yeah." I barely pushed the word out past the gorge rising in my throat. I struggled to swallow it back down. "Put D back in her room, Ty. And bring me a garbage bag and some paper towels. The whole roll."
Donny looked pale as he poured a bowl of corn flakes. "Sorry," he said as he closed up the box. "You know, for freaking out like that."
"My fault. I forgot to let her out."
"It’s just, I guess the smell must’ve woke me up, and when I opened my eyes, she was right there in my face, and her eyes…"
"I know. Pretty creepy."
He fidgeted in his chair and snatched up the milk. "If Ty says one word…"
"What word might that be?" Ty asked, making his entrance right on cue. He was toting his guinea pig, Houdini. Pulling a bowl from the cupboard, he took a seat and swiped the box of cereal. "Wimp? Sissy?"
"Shut up, barf face! You wake up with those eyes glowing at you, and see what you do. And do you have to put that rat on the table."
"Oh, glowing. Glowing eyes. Oooooo!"
"That’s enough, Ty. Off the table with Houdini, please." I wasn’t feeling so hot. My lower back was cramping, I had a dull lingering ache right behind my eyes, and I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything, not after the wriggling writhing mess I’d just cleaned up. D was in bad shape. No wonder she ate like a horse. The worms were getting all the nourishment. Worms, mange. Thinking of the vet bill was exhausting. I felt as if I hadn’t slept in weeks.
I was taking a nap when Selma rang the doorbell. She was in her Sunday finery. A bonnet laced with daisies held her hair in check.
"How you doin’, baby? Lookin’ a bit pale," she said as she stripped off her coat.
"I’m fine. Just tired. How was church?"
"It was good, honey. We had a guest speaker, a Reverend Jenkins. A very gifted man. Such a passionate sermon. It was on the different faces of evil," she said as she draped her coat on the coat rack. "Evil is not prejudiced as to which face it wears," she quoted. "It holds no preference as to color, or creed, gender, or age." She put a gloved hand to her crinkled nose.
"D," I explained. "Sorry. We gave her a bath, but it didn’t help much."
"Well," she said, reaching into her purse, "that’s why I stopped by. Just wanted to drop this off." She pulled out a plastic pint-sized jug. "It’s medicine for D. It’s just water, really, with some special ingredients."
"What, like minerals?"
"Yeah, like minerals," she said. Smiling sweetly, she headed toward the laundry room.
We heard her growling before we rounded the bend.
"D, what is wrong with you?" I poked my head in. She was standing by the back door, her head down, her teeth bared. She snarled when Selma poked her head in by mine.
"It’s okay, honey," she said. Sliding off one glove, she poured some water into her palm. "Look, just water," she said, trying to coax her over.
D began to snarl viciously and then to gag and up came the vomit. There were more worms this time. In fact, it was mostly worms, a writhing mass.
I think Selma got an "oh" out before she clamped a hand over her mouth and staggered away.
"Sorry you had to see that. She’s got some problems. She’s going to the vet first thing in the morning. Do you need a drink of water?"
"No. No, honey." But her voice was shaky. So were her hands as she tried to put the glove back on. "Promise you’ll give her the water right away, okay."
"I’ll pour it in her bowl a little later. As soon as she calms down."
That clean up just about did me in. Nausea forced me to the couch. I was napping when Selma called to ask if D drank her mineral water. I told her she wouldn’t go near it, that she’d been cowering by the back door since I’d put it in there. She made me promise to leave it, not to give her any more water till she drank it. I promised. I hung up and shook my head. I didn’t like lying. But I didn’t like seeing D upset either, so I’d thrown the water out.
I could hear Donny in his room shouting at the computer, hyped up over some ridiculous cyber battle. Ty was wasting the day away on his computer as well, no doubt. I didn’t blame them for not wanting to go outside. It was pretty nasty out. It was flurrying on and off. So many heaters were blasting that the power company couldn’t keep up. The lights kept flickering on and off.
I fixed spaghetti for dinner. Just didn’t have the energy for anything more complicated. Turned out that wasn’t the best choice of meals. I just couldn’t eat it. Kept thinking I was seeing the noodles squirming on my plate. I ate a piece of bread to try to keep the nausea at bay.
When he called that night, I told Don about the wormy vomit and about my wormy spaghetti dinner. He thought that was pretty funny. He was mad that he’d missed Donny’s rally in the name of payback, but he was glad they won. He told me he loved me. Said he’d see me tomorrow.
I didn’t sleep well that night. I kept having nightmares. I was running from something. It was dark and I couldn’t see where I was running, or what I was running from. I woke up a couple of times. I was sweating.
I got up to adjust the thermostat and to get a glass of water. I was parched so I poured a second glass, then went to check on D. Sleeping. When I sat down on the couch to finish my water, the leather felt so cool, I decided to stretch out for a few minutes. I placed my hands on my gargantuan belly and tried to picture what Caleb would look like. Would he have blonde hair, like Ty, or dark hair, like me and Don and Donny?
It was the noise that woke me. I was groggy and disoriented and sticking to leather. My neck was stiff as I turned my face toward the strange sound. D was laying in the middle of the livingroom. It sounded like she was gnawing on a bone. I reached up and switched on the lamp.
When I think back on it, I’m surprised I didn’t start shrieking like Donny had. I think I was too startled. That or I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing.
It was Houdini. Or what was left of him. Holding him down with her paws, she ripped off a leg. She chewed on it a few times before gulping it down. No sooner had she swallowed it, then she began to gag.
I couldn’t bring myself to tell Ty. When he told me Houdini escaped again, I just told him I would look for him. I was feeling sick to my stomach. I couldn’t get the picture out of my mind, Houdini’s body parts mixed with squirming spaghetti worms. I couldn’t hate D for what she’d done. She’d survived outdoors for lord only knew how long and she probably had to hunt a rabbit or two in order to do that.
I dropped the boys at school and went to pick up my check like I did every Monday. Though it had been the same for nearly two years, I checked the schedule. Tuesday through Friday from eight to three. Friday had been circled in red. It would be my last day for eight weeks. My check was a whopping one hundred seventy three dollars. Most likely not even enough to cover D’s vet bill.
I deposited it in the bank and was home by quarter after eight. Fifteen minutes later, Mom showed up to help me with D.
"Oh my lord," Mom’s face contorted as she looked at D asleep on the blanket. One hand fluttered to her nose.
"I know. I gave her a bath. It didn’t help."
"I have never in all my fifty three years smelled anything so horrid."
Mom could be over dramatic at times, but not this time. I decided not to mention she was fifty-eight. "I know. I think it’s the mange. You can’t see through all the thick fur, but she’s got sores where some of the hair fell out."
Mom leaned closer and pointed a finger with the hand that wasn’t guarding her nose. "What on earth is that?"
I leaned in. I saw it too. A big fat maggot was squirming along her back. You couldn’t miss it against her dark fur. On a hunch, I leaned closer and moved aside a patch of fur.
That’s when mom screeched. I didn’t blame her. She just beat me to it, was all. And that’s when I realized D wasn’t deaf.
She shot to her feet and lunged with a growl, grabbing the shrieking offender by the hand. No sooner had she latched on, then she realized her blunder and let go. She scurried from the room because, by this time, we both were screeching.
"She…she bit me."
"Oh, my god, you’re bleeding!"
I led Mom to the bathroom to run water over it. There were puncture wounds, two on her palm and a few on the back of her hand. I rummaged through the cabinet and pulled out some alcohol. She winced when I poured. She looked pale in the vanity mirror. "That dog is covered in maggots!"
"I…I had no idea. God! Where is that roll of gauze?" I didn’t feel well.
I was fishing through the medicine cabinet when D shot by the door like a rocket. I saw her out of the corner of my eye, a black streak. When she hit the wall at the end of the hall, the trailer shook.
"What was that!" Mom asked.
"D!" I poked my head out of the bathroom just in time to see her picking herself up off the floor. There was a hole in the wall the size of a dinner plate where her head stove it in. She staggered sideways a few steps and began to bark and snarl, a vicious sound that made the hair on my arms stick straight up. She began to twirl in circles, bouncing off the walls in the tight confines. A picture came off the wall and crashed to the floor, but this didn’t seem to faze her. She was foaming at the mouth. But it wasn’t just foam. Worms were dangling. She was in a mad dash after her tail. No sooner had she latched onto it then it came off with a sick pop. She began to shake it like it was a venomous snake, the slobber worms coating the walls.
I think I made an attempt to scream, but there was something in my throat. Only a choked gurgling came out. I didn’t make it to the toilet. I only took one step toward it before the vomit came up all over the bathroom floor. Clutching my belly, I sagged against the sink. My legs were wobbly. I thought I’d peed my pants when I felt moisture trickling down my thighs. And then it dawned on me. My water had broke.
Mom grabbed me and helped me to the toilet where I plopped down. "The door," was all I got out before D came barreling in.
D had one target in mind when she leapt at Mom. She wasn’t interested in an arm or a leg. She went straight for the throat. Her momentum landed them both in the tub.
Instantly, I found my legs. I felt the strength of ten men surge through me as I jumped up and grasped two handfuls of fur. I was going to yank her off Mom and fling her out the door in one deft movement. But there was a ripping sound as I wrenched backward and the only thing I flung aside was two wads of maggot infested fur. I lunged at D, gouging her in the eye. I wasn’t expecting my finger to sink in so deep, like sliding into mush. She whirled on me and grabbed me by the arm.
When I replay it now, it’s all in slow motion, a horrifying fight for my life right there in the bathroom, careening into walls, screaming, snarling, me and D both, a long, drawn out, bloody battle. But in reality, it probably lasted about sixty seconds. At first, I beat on her with my free hand. And it worked. She let go of my arm. But then she latched onto my other at the elbow. I lurched around in circles like an idiot before coming to my senses. I tried to drag her out the door, but slipped on my own vomit. As soon as I went to a knee, she went for my face but I got an arm up in time. Somehow I struggled to my feet with her mauling my forearm. I trapped her against the sink cabinet and kneed her in the belly two or three times. It worked. She let go of my arm and began attacking my big round belly. But it wasn’t shaped right for biting. She only managed to drag me around by my shirt, ripping it to shreds. She went for my calf. I remember howling when she latched on. It wasn’t just the pain, I was terrified. If she pulled me off my feet, I was dead. I wedged myself between the sink and toilet so I wouldn’t go down and she moved her grip to my ankle. Her right eye was gone. Yellow pus was running from it. I searched for a weapon. There were toothbrushes to my right, only the toilet to my left. I grasped the tank lid, heavy solid porcelain, and brought it down on her head. She staggered backward and before she could recover, I used it as a barrier to push her out the door. The slippery vomit helped. She had no traction as she fought against me.
I almost didn’t get the door shut when she got carpet under her feet. She had her muzzle pressed in the crack, snarling and snapping. Her teeth were coated with blood. That’s a sight I’ll never forget. I pressed all my weight into it. I was prepared to take her nose off if I had to. I was prepared to take her fucking head off.
I believe Mom may have passed out for a few seconds. She was just coming to when I leaned over her in the tub. She put a hand to her bloodied throat.
Her brown eyes were wide and frightened when they moved to me. Her face was deathly pale, her lips tinged blue. She moved them as if trying to speak, but no words came out. I realized she was in big trouble.
"Okay. I’m going to slide you down a bit, okay? So you’re laying flat."
Straddling her in the tub, I slid her so that her neck wasn’t angled so oddly, but she quickly let me know that this position was worse yet.
It took a seated position to get her comfortable. I rolled a towel to get her neck angled just so against the spigots. "Good?"
"Yeah," she breathed. Her voice was weak, barely a whisper. "You…" She motioned to my neck.
I hobbled to the mirror. My face was pale. I didn’t remember D ripping my ear. The blood had flowed to my neck. "It’s not my throat. She ripped my ear." My voice was shaky. So were the arms I lifted to examine. I quickly lowered them. They weren’t just puncture wounds. There were several deep gashes. My left arm was the worst. One gaping wound especially. I leaned on the sink as a wave of vertigo swept over me.
"Rabies," Mom breathed.
A long shuddering breath came out before the words. "I don’t know." I couldn’t stop picturing what I’d seen in the hall.
I yelped when she hit the door. It sounded like a battering ram. I was looking at it when she hit it the second time. It shook and the lights flickered.
The door was locked. There was no way she was coming through it. That’s what I thought, until she hit it a third time and a hole the size of a baseball opened up with her snout poking through. Damned flimsy trailer doors where hardly more than glorified cardboard. That’s the thought that hit me. And that’s when the first contraction hit me.
It was strong enough to get my attention. I steadied myself on the sink as a giant fist squeezed my mid-section and a cramp attacked my lower back. I could hear D at the door, snarling and scratching. I heard splintering. She’d jammed her nose in again, trying to push her way through.
I flung open the top drawer and tossed out the Q-tips and Don’s razor. I snatched up the nail scissors and tossed them aside. I remembered, in the second drawer. I yanked it open and tossed out my hair scrunchies, my brush, hair dryer, curling iron. The hair scissors were near the back. They were long and pointed. I snatched them up.
When she jammed her nose in again, I jabbed at her muzzle with some snarls of my own. I don’t know how many attempts she made before giving up. If I had to guess, I’d say around ten. Then the phone started to ring and she disappeared.
I was breathing hard, my adrenaline surging. I didn’t want to take my eyes off the hole. Finally, the phone stopped ringing, breaking my trance.
When I looked to Mom, her eyes were wide and glassy. I was afraid she was going into shock. There were worms in the tub with her, and maggots scattered about. I scooped them out with toilet paper and flushed them, then pulled down a pile of towels from the cabinet and piled them over her. The bathroom looked like a war zone. Vomit and blood, gobs of fur with maggots, worms scattered about. I lifted the toilet lid and threw up again, soured orange juice.
Another contraction hit me. I sat on the toilet, clutching at my belly. I wanted desperately to knead the muscles in my back, but my arms were too mangled. I did breathing exercises until it passed.
Mom reached weakly for my hand. When I took hers, it felt cold to the touch. She was shaking even worse than I was. "Phone," she pushed out with some difficulty.
I thought for a moment. "The nearest is Ty’s bedroom."
"No." She shut her eyes and tried to swallow. Her whole body stiffened with the effort. "Purse," she said at last.
I found it lodged down between the toilet and the tub, her little black pocketbook. I emptied the contents onto the sink and snatched up the cell phone. It was an ultra slim, size of a cigarette lighter, version. My hands were shaking and my bloody fingers were slipping and sliding on numerals about the size of pin heads. It didn’t matter though. No reception. Not even when I stood on the toilet. That’s the way it was at my place. She always had to step out the front door to get a signal.
I stuffed a towel into the hole in the door. Maybe if D didn’t see it, she wouldn’t remember it was there. Maybe if we didn’t make any noise, she would forget we were there too. Maybe she would wander off and fall asleep. I threw some towels on the floor and got down on hands and knees to peek under the door. My mangled arms screamed when I put my weight on them. I screamed when I saw D.
She had her eye to the crack the same as me.
I snatched up a towel and stuffed it under the door and she snarled and scratched, her nails digging into the ‘cardboard’.
The next contraction caught me off guard. It was strong, strong enough to double me over. I tried the phone again. I was desperate. I entertained the thought of flushing the damn thing down the toilet. The next contraction brought me to my knees. Caleb was coming.
I was terrified for Mom. Her throat was swelling, making it hard for her to breathe. And she was so pale. I kept talking to her, trying to keep her awake. I knew she was in shock. She wouldn’t stop shivering and I had no more towels to pile on her. I’d already lost five or six to D. I kept stuffing them in the hole, and she just kept snatching them out. I would hear her on the opposite side of the door attacking the towels like she had a piece of me, snarling and bumping into walls, a mad frenzy to tear them to shreds. I stuffed a roll of toilet paper in there, wedging it in tight, but she managed to get a hold of that too. I took the shower curtain down and stuffed it in. I even reinforced it with the curtain rod. I really didn’t think she would be able to pull that though. But she did, even with me tugging on the other end, and the damned thing widened the hole on its way out.
She kept coming back to the hole, tearing at it with her nails, mauling it with her teeth. When I wasn’t doubled over panting, I would jab at her with the scissors. I got the ingenious idea to plug in my curling iron and use it on her nose. I sprayed different things at her. I used up all the bathroom disinfectant and my hair spray. I even squirted toilet bowl cleaner at her. All this only seemed to incense her further. She rammed the door until I thought it would come off its hinges, the cheap piece of shit.
As my contractions intensified, my interest in the door diminished. I had one objective. Get Caleb out. Then I would deal with D. But Caleb was being stubborn. He liked it right where he was. I didn’t blame him.
After three hours of labor, the lights flickered and went out. I didn’t care about the dark. There was an emergency battery-operated night light by the sink that gave off plenty of light. I did however care about the exhaust fan. The stench that was permeating through the door was putrid. I don’t know why I didn’t recognize it before. But I recognized it then. I smelled death.
The bitch watched. The fucking bitch stood there with her eye to the hole. Donny was right. I could see it, the round, yellow, glowing orb. And the smell. I couldn’t stop gagging the whole time I was giving birth. Push and gag, push and gag, glance over at that glowing orb, push and gag. I didn’t dare lay down. I knelt, hugging onto the toilet for dear life. The gauze I’d wound around my arms was soaked through and blood was trickling down the toilet bowl to the floor. My legs were in bad shape too. One gash on my right calf wouldn’t stop bleeding. I was weak and wobbly. It was a constant battle to keep from passing out.
Childbirth. It’s an amazing thing. A new life coming into the world. A magical moment. I felt it, even then, amongst the horror. Sitting on the floor with the tub as my backrest, I cradled Caleb to my chest and wept. I had just set eyes on him for the very first time, yet I loved him more than life itself. He was crying too. It was a good sound. He cried like his brothers had, not a piercing shrill, a soft bleating, like a little lamb.
I cut the cord that connected us, severed it with scissors, but we were still connected. And it was powerful. Mom reached out weakly and I took her hand. She’d stopped shivering, but her chest was hitching with every breath. There were tears glistening on her cheeks. We were three crying connected souls. It was beauty in the midst of bedlam. A tidal wave of emotions swept through me and then it was gone, leaving me exhausted. I barely had the strength to bundle Caleb in a towel. I refused to look to the door. I knew it would be there, that filthy yellow orb. The room was spinning. Thoughts were spinning in my head, jumbled nonsense. I was rocking. I was rocking my baby. And I was humming a lullaby. It was the same I sang for Donny and then for Ty.
It hit me then, a powerful blow, a slap to the face that brought me back to my senses. I snatched up the phone and looked at the time. A frightened whimper came out. I couldn’t help it. It was two thirty-eight! Donny had basketball practice. But Ty would be walking in the front door any minute.
I screamed when the phone rang in my hand.
D went into a frenzy. I think it was the phone that set her off. She hit the door and I heard splintering as the hole opened up, and I screamed again when her whole head popped in.
I answered the phone. I didn’t wait to hear who was on the other end. I remember screaming help a few times. My eyes were riveted on D. She was struggling to push her way in. I remember putting Caleb in Mom’s lap. My legs were like rubber. I had to crawl with the scissors in my hand. I was going to extinguish that nasty yellow orb for good. I missed the first few jabs. I was weak, on the verge of collapse. D almost got me. I felt her teeth graze my fingers. On about strike six or seven, I found my mark, and the scissors sank deep. Yellow puss shot out, and D pulled out.
I gave a shriek of triumph and called her a name. I called her a fucking blind bitch and turned to Mom with what I’m sure was a maniacal grin on my face. Her eyes were closed, her head slumped to one side.
In the bathtub. Not in the bathtub! I crawled to her. I screamed at her. I shook her hand. I even smacked her in the face. Then I sat on the floor and cried. Caleb was bleating. It sounded far away. And I could hear a voice, small and tinny, one coming from the back of a long dark tunnel. I stopped in mid sob and snatched up the phone from the floor, putting it to my ear.
At first I couldn’t understand her. The signal was weak and her voice was fading in and out. "Selma!" I screamed at her that D attacked me, that Mom was dead, that I needed help. And then I listened. And then I heard. Four words. She repeated the four words and then she was gone.
The room began to spin. It took my breath away. Round and round. A carousel. I even heard the music. It bounced around the bathroom walls. It bounced around in my head. The phone clattered to the floor. I squeezed my eyes shut and put my hands to my ears.
I came awake gasping for air. It took me a minute to realize I’d passed out. I looked to the door. She was there, at the hole. She was watching. The fucking blind bitch was watching! I snatched up the phone and looked at the time. It was two forty-six.
My legs could barely support me at first. Seated on the toilet seat, I slid my sweats back on and stuffed a few towels in the legs. I wrapped towels around my arms and secured them with my hair scrunchies. I took one last look at my mom, at her bloodless face, her blue lips. I took one last look at Caleb in her lap, swaddled in a towel. He wasn’t bleating. His eyes were half mast. He was falling asleep. He had Mom’s fair hair. I picked up the scissors.
She was gone when I looked back to the hole. I jammed a towel in it. I wedged it in good and tight.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified when I opened the door. Like a prowler in the dead of night, I popped my head out, looked left and right, then slipped out quickly and shut it quietly behind me. The hand holding the scissors in front of me was shaking so violently I was afraid I might drop them. I put my back to the door so I could see in both directions, the boys rooms to the left, the livingroom to the right. The hall was full of debris, shredded towels and toilet paper everywhere, the shower curtain in a mangled heap, ripped pillows and bedding from the boys’ rooms, one black furry tail. I could see debris out in the livingroom as well, a lacerated lampshade, a mutilated couch cushion, laundry scattered about, a tipped and ripped vacuum cleaner. I couldn’t bring myself to move. I didn’t want to leave Caleb. My ears were on high alert. With the electricity off, it was deathly quiet. Maybe that’s why I heard the key sliding in the front door lock.
I meant to run. I really did. Instead I lurched on leaden legs. My leg muscles were frozen in place. My knees were locked. I almost went down. Only the wall held me up. When I hit the livingroom, the front door was opening. D was there, waiting to greet him.
I caught a glimpse of blond hair. I screamed at Ty. I was screaming as loud as I could, but I guess the muscles in my neck were frozen too. All that came out was a thin squeal. The door was swinging shut when she pounced.
Ty doesn’t only have Mom’s hair. He has her slim build. D’s weight took him right to the floor. And the blind bitch went right for his throat.
His winter jacket saved his life that day. I really believe that. It was cold out. Ty hates the cold. He had his jacket zipped to his chin. Fluffs of down went flying as she ripped the collar off.
I drove the scissors into her side, drove them with such force, they went in clear up to the finger holds. She whirled on me and latched onto my arm as I went stumbling backwards, but all she got was a mouthful of towel. My hastily devised towel barrier was short lived however. She snatched it off as I hit the ground then shook it furiously.
I screamed at Ty, the same word over and over. He lay stunned for a few seconds, and then it registered. He scrambled to his feet and ran for the back door.
She lunged at me and I threw up my other towel barrier, but it wasn’t thick enough. I felt teeth sink into flesh. I let out a squeal. That’s when she went for my throat.
We grappled, rolling around on the floor, bumping into things. The coffee table toppled, the lacerated lampshade crumpled beneath me. She had me by the throat. I had her by the throat. She won out in the end. I was just too weak. She got me on my back and gave one final powerful shake. Maybe she didn’t realize it was only a towel that she ripped away. She shook it for a few seconds and then she was gone.
I couldn’t catch my breath. I felt my throat. My hand came away bloody. I rolled to my belly and pushed up to hands and knees. I heard her hit the bathroom door. Wood splintered.
I crawled. That’s all I had left. I crawled down a hall that was a mile long. She was halfway through the door, her back legs working to push through the rest of the way. When finally I reached her, I braced my feet on the door and pulled on her hind legs. It was the scissors. That’s all that was keeping her from going through. She squirmed and kicked. I couldn’t scream. I couldn’t cry. It took every ounce of my strength just to hold tight. With her tail gone, it was obvious her mouth wasn’t the only body orifice worms were exiting. They were dangling inches from my face. I closed my eyes and held on for dear life. But the bitch was strong. The fucking blind bitch was inching her way in.
"Mom?" His voice sounded a million miles away. When I opened my eyes, he was by my side. His eyes were wide and frightened. He had the ax.
I was panting, struggling to hold on to two legs pumping like pistons. I knew the four words, but I couldn’t find my voice. I could hear the bitch on the other side, snarling and snapping, could hear her front nails digging into the door as she tried to pull herself through. And I could hear the tiny lamb. It was bleating softly.
"Cut off her head!"
It looked like he didn’t understand at first. Then his eyes popped wider still. Then they narrowed. His chin jutted as he set his jaw. He hefted the ax, feeling its weight. Then he switched it to one hand and reached for the knob.
Ty always did what he was told.
I held tight to the pumping legs, scooting backwards as the door opened, so I didn’t see the bitch. I saw Ty’s face, the look of horror when he got a glimpse of D. I knew what he was seeing. I see it every night in my nightmares, two empty pus-weeping eye sockets, snarling bloody teeth.
Ty was no stranger to ax wielding. He helped Don every year chop wood for the bonfires they loved so much. Still, it took three swings before the bitch stopped kicking. On the fourth swipe, I heard the head fall.
* * *
The paramedics had to give Mom a tracheotomy right there on the spot. They said she was seconds away from dying. I’m so grateful she’s alive. Selma wasn’t so lucky. Ty saw the blood around the shed when he went for the ax. That’s where they found her, wedged in between the shed and the fence. She had a crucifix gripped in one hand. There was an unopened container of water laying nearby. I figure she must have come over while I was dropping the boys at school. The coroner’s report said she’d been dead for eight hours.
All things considered, I guess I got off pretty easy. Five hundred and fifty stitches. My left arm has some nerve damage. I can’t grip anything, not tightly. I can grip pretty good with my right hand though. It’s gripping pretty tightly to the meat cleaver, a death grip.
There’s a bluish glow of moonlight reflecting off the snow in my backyard. It’s so beautiful. It only makes this night seem more surreal. From my vantage point, high up on the deck, I watch the five tiny forms so dark against pale snow. They’re leaving tiny trails as they drag themselves along. They aren’t actually making any progress. Just squirming in circles, really. But I’ve put it off long enough. Dawn is close and Don is an early riser.
Note from the author: There is an epidemic of stray dogs here where I live. No animal control. No neuter and spay laws. It’s an outright disgrace. I currently have ten dogs, all of which were abandoned. I would love to open an animal shelter some day where dogs will be neutered and spayed and then placed into good homes. I have the land, the heart, the desire. All that is missing is financial support. If you can help, or know of someone who can, please contact me. And yes, my goal is to rescue them before they are dead!