But I got a good grade on this, so it makes me feel a little more confident in posting it.
ALSO. I reached 50,000 words yesterday on my novel, but am far from the ending. I'm only about halfway, actually. But I made the goal, so I'm going to set it aside and take care of the rest of the semester first. Maybe read Pride & Prejudice. Just take an overall break. But I'll probably be picking it back up by the time January rolls around.
Anyway, here's the short story:
I had every intention to use the shovel--old and slightly rusted—and even took the time to furiously dig it out of the supply closet behind our carport, but somewhere between my trip between there and the burial site, it had slipped from my possession and fell to the ground with a muted thud. I, too, found myself falling closer to the ground and landing on the edge of the steps of our damp wooden deck. The small expanse of our backyard stretched out in front of me, sodden and empty. The rain had picked up during my search for the old shovel, but I had not noticed until that moment; it pelted upon my head as though the skies were daring to touch me, but as distantly as possible.
My clothes soon became completely soaked through, but I was already far gone in my mind. My eyes were transfixed on the 5’ X 10’ rectangular kennel in front of me, completely void of the deep ruff, ruff that used to ring out to my every passing for the last ten years.
* * *
School came back around as counted on, and though it was quite literally next to my house, I begged my father until he agreed to drive me to the front door every morning.
Recess, however, was quite different. Back then they had not thought (or perhaps just lacked the funds) to put a fence around the perimeter of the grounds to keep all the adventures in and the rest of the world out. Looking across the playground, I could see the very place I sat when the attack began the summer before, leaving an ever-present shadow lingering around me.
I remembered that day vividly. It began with my father urging me to play outside, convinced that every eight-year-old needed his fair share of sunlight.
“Not really,” I told him. “If I were a lima bean, then yes, but…”
Apparently these words were under the realm of “disrespectful,” because I had not even finished the sentence before my father stormed, “What did you just say to me? Did you just use a tone with me, Harold?”
I proceeded to tell him that everyone used some sort of tone when they spoke; shortly after, I found myself forced to play outside in the stifling heat of mid-July.
Legs crossed and head lowered, I focused all of my attention on observing the ants working diligently around me on the sweltering pavement. I was so focused, in fact, that I did not hear the pace of my neighbor’s dog until it was sprinting down the road directly in front of me. When it reached me, it came to a halt, eyes cold and ravenous.
I arose from the sidewalk and stretched to my full height—approximately 54 inches—and shakily faced the dog. My height did not contrast much with its colossal pitch-black body that was seemingly sculpted out of pure muscle. As soon as I stood, I knew it was foolish; though I could outrun eight-year-old girls during recess, there was no possible way I could have outran that bison-like canine.
The dog’s head lowered, teeth bared, and the thick matted fur on its back stood up like a porcupine.
It’s just scared, I told myself half-heartedly, but in that moment a low rumble emerged from the back of the dog’s throat. I swear I had never heard anything so threatening in all of my life.
Well, I should just slowly back up until I reach the door…. I began to think, but then realized what my father would have said if he saw me inside the house again so soon, and intimidated by a dog, no less.
The thought shortly evaporated from me, however, because at my slight movement backwards, the dog lurched forward and temporarily petrified me with fear. Half a second passed quickly along with my overexerted heart and the dog had already closed in more than half of the distance between us. I turned to run, not to the door, but to the carport.
My hands were trembling terribly as I climbed my father’s automobile and the soles of my shoes were inconveniently slippery. They did not seem to want to work properly; it was only when the dog was so close I could smell its breath that my feet decided to lift me to the top of the car, missing a vicious snap towards my leg by mere inches.
A mixture of screams and menacing growls echoed throughout the carport like the background of a horror movie. Finally, the door creaked open and my father appeared. Never before had I fully appreciated his large, bulky physique.
I had survived the attack unscathed, but was irrevocably troubled by the thought of having to endure another encounter. On more than one occasion I heard a rustle behind me and my entire body tensed before I jerked aside and realized it had only been a classmate rolling in the leaves or a squirrel digging for nuts.
Resurfacing from my thoughts, I realized that I had drifted towards a corner of the building and found myself staring at three pairs of black tennis shoes.
They quickly whipped their bodies around when they heard me approaching, eyes looking slightly frantic. The three of them were rather hefty boys, and when seeing me, automatically pressed their bodies together more closely, creating a wall of defense.
I stood there awkwardly, feeling as though I just caught a child’s arm extended far into a cookie jar. “Um… sorry,” I stammered.
A boy with curly blonde hair opened his sneering mouth in order, I assume, to mock me, but the high-pitch squeal of the bell rang throughout the grounds before he could spill the words into the air.
With a final grunt, the three of them ran off and I was met with what they had been hiding.
It was a small puppy—the body of it was no bigger than a football—and it looked incredibly terrified. The poor thing was backed against the wall and was lying on its paws as low in the grass as it possibly could. His fur looked like it was crafted out of layers of cotton balls and was brown from mud, but underneath golden red.
All of the students were sprinting across the playground to join their peers and go inside. I looked up and saw the door that led to my classroom—the door that I would normally be going through. But further on in the background, my eyes landed on the spot where I had been attacked by my neighbor’s dog. A sickly feeling of utter horror rose within me; I knew what it was like to be smaller than the world, to be the one subject to its dealings instead of my own.
Without another thought, I scooped the dog into my hands, tucked him between my jacket and my T-shirt, and raced home.
“What is this?” my father asked forcefully, indicating an overturned laundry hamper in the center of my room.
“My dirty laundry,” I replied.
“Don’t lie to me, Harold,” he said warningly.
“It wasn’t a lie.”
“I know you’re hiding something. I heard noises.”
I donned my most convincing expression of innocence. “What kind of noises?”
“This is ridiculous,” he bellowed, ignoring my question altogether. He bent down to the hamper, laced his fingers through the ventilation holes, and with one swift pull, expelled all of its contents onto the bedroom floor.
“See? I wasn’t lying,” I said to him over the heap of unwashed clothes.
He looked immensely frustrated and turned to leave when he saw the clothes faintly stir. My body was instantly seized by both fear and dread; I was now the child with my hand at the bottom of the cookie jar.
His eyes squinted towards the mass, trying to make out what sort of creature dwelled beneath it. He leaned in closer with his hand creeping forward to reveal the life-form. Before he reached it, a small black nose the size of a dime emerged from under a yellow shirt.
The puppy’s short snout remained motionless for a moment, then snorted and furiously shook his head from side-to-side, successfully squirming his way out of the pile.
I tried my absolute best to make myself as small as possible, knowing that fury was about to be unleashed.
“Where did he come from?” my father asked, his tone even and calm. His hand rested on the puppy, rubbing behind his ears.
“School,” I said faintly. “A group of boys were scaring him.”
My father stood up then, and by reflex I flinched a little. “He can’t stay in the house,” he said firmly.
“I know,” I said with deflated hopes.
He turned to leave. His hand grabbed the doorknob, but before he closed it, said, “He’ll need a name.”
Friendship had been unfamiliar territory before then, but Gordo and I sailed across those uncharted lands from day one, and two years later, could not have been one without the other.
I usually walked him directly after I got home from school—I loved seeing his eyes light up as soon as he spotted me approaching. He would always dance in little circles around his doghouse whenever he knew it was time, making my hands work feverishly to clasp the leash onto his collar.
That particular day was overcast; the wind whipped furiously at me as I ran home across the grassy hill. My house grew larger in front of me, though Gordo’s doghouse was obstructed from view.
My pace quickened as I became increasingly eager to see him. Suddenly, a black figure crossed my path ten yards ahead and all the excitement fled from me. I recognized that thick, matted fur.
Both my body and brain seemed to freeze almost instantly as the dog began to snarl exactly as it had two years previously. Averting my eyes, I tried to ignore the dog and walk forward towards my house, but the deep-throated growl rose to a menacing bark that knocked me back a few steps.
I hesitated a moment, weighing the options before me. The dog began to creep forward towards me, its large teeth revealed behind its snarl.
My feet took off before my brain had fully comprehended the action, but I could not afford to rethink anything once I started running. The dog had been waiting for it; his four legs moved swiftly a few feet behind me, gaining with every stride.
I’m not going to make this, I sensed after stealing a glance over my shoulder. I had almost accepted the terrifying thought of it catching me in the back of my neck and sinking its horrible teeth into my flesh when another sound ahead of me caught my attention. As I faced my head forward, the dog leapt up from behind me. My footing was lost and before I knew anything, I was staring at the deep green of September grass.
The dog had not continued in his attack, however. I lifted my head expecting to see him contemplating his method of devouring me, but instead saw a huge, furry coat of golden red crouching between me and the black dog in the same territorial, threatening stance.
They sprang at each other. Gordo looked like a huge, majestic mix of lion and grizzly bear—a side of him that I had never before witnessed. Part of his metal chain was still attached to his collar, broken from where it had been attached to his doghouse. As they were snapping and biting at each other, I took the opportunity to hobble through my front door unnoticed.
* * *
“He’s lying in a hole.”
“He’s been getting old, Harold.”
“We have to do something—we have to call a vet,” I nearly shouted.
My father sighed. “We all knew this was coming.”
“No,” I said. My voice began to waver. “His leg looks bad…What if he can’t pull himself back out? We can’t just give up on him!”
My father looked at me as though I was a child again, but did not speak.
I stepped through the back door and approached the rectangular dog kennel that had housed Gordo for eight years, ever since the day our neighbors reported him as being dangerous. He was in the far corner, lying on his side in a large hole. I saw his body rise and fall with every drawn-out, uneven breath.
“Hey, buddy,” I whispered to him in a choked voice. Lost for words, I stretched my fingers through the metal fence and stroked his bushy red fur.
“I just….I just wanted to say thank you,” I said. All of the oxygen seemed to be drained from the air as I tried to inhale.
The sky unexpectedly burst open with a thunderous crack. Looking up, I saw dark, weighty rainclouds filling the sky.
No, I thought, he’s stuck in a hole…if it gets wet…
I could not think about the consequences. I ran into the supply closet inside the car port, dug until I found a long blue tarp, and carried the mass of it back to the kennel. The rain began to pour as I frantically tried to cover the top of the kennel.
After my third failed attempt, I felt like I might dig myself a hole to crawl into. My head had sunk into my palms when I felt one hand on my shoulder and another taking the tarp from my grasp.
My father secured the tarp to the top of the kennel with one mighty toss as though he was a skilled fisherman casting a net. He then unlocked the door to the kennel and gently draped a towel over Gordo’s fragile body.
“The vet will be here on Thursday,” he said.
Wednesday was dreary with the promise of another rain. After getting home from school, I decided to change the wet towel from Gordo’s kennel.
Part of me seemed to expect what would be there—with every footstep forward, my heart sunk a bit more. When I reached the kennel, the towel fell from my clasp unnoticed.
Gordo’s hole was full of water, his snout bobbing underneath it.
My knees threatened to give out from under me, but instead turned towards the carport to search for a shovel.
Ten minutes later, my father found me hunched over the steps of the back deck. I turned my shoulder to hide my face from him, knowing that it was red and distorted with anguish, and fully expecting him to criticize me for being upset.
He seemed to survey the scene for a moment, gave a low sigh, and took a small step forward.
“He loved you more than anything,” he whispered, then picked up the shovel that had fallen.
I raised my head to look at him. “Thank you, Dad.”