A couple is concerned when their dog behaves increasingly bizarrely: first to their chagrin, and, eventually, to their alarm.
She was the first to fall. As she walked the dog one night, it saw something off to the side and bolted. The strength of the big animal’s lunge on the leash spun her violently around and she lost her balance. Falling into that awful moment we’ve all known, the “I can’t stop this” moment, her only thought was: Not my head. Not my head— But the drop was brutal and when she went down her head hit the curbstone. Luckily she wore a thick woolen cap, so the blow was softened. But her body took a full hit. She stayed down on the pavement long moments—breathless, shaken, and heart-poundingly disoriented. The dog stood calm nearby, staring at her.
When she got back to the apartment her stricken face said it all. Doing the dishes at the kitchen sink he looked up, saw her, and hurried over. “What’s wrong? What happened?” He made her sit down and drink a cup of tea. Unsteadily, she recounted the trauma. Talking it over with him helped a little to lessen the aftershocks but not enough. A fall like that always reminds us how, in a second, life can skid off the road straight into our very own black hole. Down deep we know sooner or later it will, God forbid. A trip, a bad stumble, stagger, and fall shouts the ugly fact we’re never really in charge or control of our steps, our days, our lives. No, not really.
As soon as she woke the next morning, she walked naked into the bathroom to look at her body in the full-length mirror there.
He stayed in bed as long as he could stand it, waiting for her to come out and tell him what she saw. But the anticipation was too great and he had to get up and go see.
She stood in front of the mirror, twisting from side to side, hands on her hips. The livid black bruise on her thigh was about ten inches long and spelled out in perfectly shaped block letters: MAMA BRUISE.
He winced when he saw it. “Jesus!”
“Where is he?” she asked quietly, still looking in the mirror.
“I guess in the kitchen in his bed.”
She looked at him. “Are you sure?”
“No. Do you know what you did? What might have caused it?”
She shook her head. “No, nothing—I did everything as I always do. Gave him the same amount of food, took him out when he likes to go . . . but then this. It’s getting worse. You know that—it’s getting worse.”
“What can we do? We’ve tried everything but nothing works. He just seems to get angrier. It’s almost every day there’s something that bothers him.”
It had begun weeks before, on the night they went to the opera. In the excitement of preparing for the special night out, they’d forgotten to feed the dog. During intermission, the man went to the refreshment stand to buy two glasses of champagne. Taking his wallet out of his pocket, he saw written in what looked like thick, purple magic marker on the back of his right hand the word LADDIE. He stood there, scowling. When and why the hell did he write that there? He had absolutely no idea. It was just weird. Wetting his left thumb, he tried to wipe the word off but to no avail. Days later, it was still there, although it had just recently slowly begun to fade.
That night, after they returned home late from the opera, the man was opening a can of the dog’s food and half-consciously noticed the name on the label: LADDIE.
A week later it was the cookies. For his birthday, she baked a dozen of his favorite chocolate chip cookies and left a plate of them fresh out of the oven on a corner of the kitchen table to surprise him when he came in from work.
When he entered the living room she raised her eyebrows in anticipation. “Did you go in the kitchen?”
“Didn’t you see what was on the table in there?”
He looked puzzled. “No—there was nothing.”
“What?” She got up from the couch and crossed the room to enter the kitchen. The table was empty. No cookies, no green plate. She looked quickly around, then down at the ground just in case. For a moment she questioned whether or not . . . Damn it, of course she did! She’d baked the cookies half an hour ago and put a plate of them out on the table for him when he got home. Happy birthday. The room even still smelled of baking. So where the hell were they? The dog lay on its bed at the far end of the room, watching them. She looked its way, wondering for a second if maybe it had eaten them. But if that were so, where was the plate?
“This is nuts! Where did they go?”
He stood behind her. “Where did what go?”
“Cookies! I made cookies for your birthday and— Wait a minute.” She went to a cabinet over the sink and opened it. Inside on a shelf was a plate with the rest of the cookies. That didn’t calm her. She pointed to them and made a face. “There you go—that’s the rest. But where are the damned ones I put on the table?”
He had to fight to keep from smiling. She was getting pretty wrought up over . . . uh . . . cookies.
“Oh, anyway . . .” She moved over to the broom closet and, opening the door, took out a big, gray, nondescript box with a red bow tied around it. “Happy birthday, sweetheart. I hope you like it.”
But she already knew he would because he’d been talking about getting a really good cowboy hat for months. She thought they looked dorky on anybody except cowboys a hundred years ago. But he loved them so she kept her opinion to herself and bought him a genuine, top-of-the-line Stetson Silverbelly 10X Shasta Fur Felt Hat—the gold standard of cowboy hats.
Taking the box over to the table, he put it there and sat down in front of it, placing his hands on the red bow. He grinned and she was really excited to see how he would react when he saw what it was, although she kept thinking about those stupid cookies.
“What is it?”
“See for yourself, birthday boy.”
“You always give great presents.”
“Open it.” She stood a few feet away from him, so at that angle she couldn’t quite see into the box.
He pulled slowly on the red ribbon and it slid off. He took off the top of the box and looked inside, his expression all happy anticipation—for a few seconds. Then it changed. It torqued into a sort of quizzical smile, an “am I being tricked?” smile. An “I don’t get it” smile.
She read the confusion immediately and came over to look. Inside the box was a green plate with five chocolate chip cookies on it.
The couple looked at each other skeptically, wondering if a trick was being played. Had he discovered her present and slipped the cookies into the box to give her a nasty little freak-out? From his perspective—was she playing some kind of not terribly funny prank on him on his birthday?
They’d been going through a rocky period lately, and at one point had only just brought their boat into shore before their emotional storms grew fierce enough to capsize them. Sometimes they still looked at each other warily, sadly, worriedly, both wondering if their marriage was strong enough to survive. In happier times they would have taken this moment to look slyly but delightedly at each other and assumed the best kind of joke was being played on them by their partner. But now, if this “what’s in the box?” was a joke, their gut reactions were mixed.
“There’s only five.”
She pointed at the cookies. “There’s only five there. One is missing. I put six cookies on that plate.”
They looked around the kitchen, as if the missing cookie might have escaped the plate while it was being put inside the box.
“Did you do this? Did you know about the hat?”
“What hat?” he asked.
She needed a long silent moment to look at him, at his expression, to make sure he was telling the truth. In the old days, in their solid love days, she would never have needed that moment.
“The hat I bought for your birthday; the Stetson.”
His face opened like a child’s in wonder. “What? You bought me a Stetson? Really? That’s crazy!”
Instantly she took what he’d said the wrong way. “Why crazy?”
“Because it’s great; because they’re expensive and you didn’t have to do that. What an amazing present!”
He could be so open, so full of joy and appreciation sometimes. It was one of his most lovable qualities. She didn’t see it so often these days, but knew that was partly her fault.
Still grinning, he asked, “So where is it?”
“The hat, the Stetson—I can’t wait to see it.”
“It was in the box. This box—the one which is now filled with chocolate chip cookies. Abracadabra. What is going on?”
He held up a hand to slow her down. He knew when she got really wound up it was time to run for the hills. “Take it easy—”
“I don’t want to take it easy—I want to find your hat and know why the stupid cookies are in there and not on the table where I put them.”
“It’s no big deal—we’ll figure it out.” He didn’t know what else to say, and could tell from the rising tone of her voice that she was about to blow.
She stopped checking the kitchen for evidence and slid her eyes back to him. They were cold as Antarctica. “I know it’s not a big deal, but the whole thing is very strange; no— actually, it’s creepy, and I don’t like creepy. Know what I mean? I had everything planned out for tonight: The cookies, the hat, a nice dinner with you on your birthday—”
“We can still do that! Where would you like to go?” But now his voice started to rise. Not a good sign. Not good at all.
Maybe it was the tone of their voices. Dogs seem to know when the human voice goes grim, and what that often portends. Whatever the reason, it got up from its bed in a corner, stretched, and walked over to them. Standing next to the man, it wagged its tail slowly. It looked from one human to the other. The man felt its presence and looked down at his old friend. He knew the dog didn’t like it when they raised their voices. Recently, when that happened, the animal had taken to slowly skulking out of the room as if it were to blame for their unhappiness with each other.
The man patted it twice lightly on the head, forgetting for a moment the article he’d read the other day that said dogs don’t like to be patted on the head.
“I just want to find your damned hat right now.”
The dog looked up at the man to see if he was going to answer. When he didn’t, it walked out of the kitchen, across the living room, and into the bedroom. There it started to bark. And bark and bark. In the kitchen, the couple looked at each other quizzically, because it never barked.
“What the hell—” They left the kitchen to see what was going on. Following the barking to the bedroom, they saw the dog sitting by the side of the bed, facing the door, as if it were waiting for them to come in.
Placed on the middle of the man’s pillow was a beige cowboy hat. On her pillow was a fat chocolate chip cookie.
He loved it. Turning to her, he said gleefully, “That is so brilliant, honey. Really! This whole setup—you had me so fooled.”
“I didn’t do this.”
“Come on.” Smirking at what she said, he walked to the bed, plucked the hat off the pillow, and plopped it on his head. He stepped to the wall mirror to check his reflection. “Damn!” Turning to face her, he pointed to the hat with both hands. “Come on—tell me I do not look gooood in this.”
She thought he looked ridiculous. But he was so happy, so proud and pleased with himself. How could she say no? She gave a wan smile, a tilt of her head to the side she hoped would tell him, You’re right—you’re the man! without her actually having to say anything.
“But really—I didn’t do this. I didn’t switch these things.”
“I heard you.”
“No, but you’ve got to believe me—somebody else or something did.”
He took the hat off his head and held it tightly in two hands in front of him. She wasn’t joking—that much was clear by the tone of her voice. But what was he supposed to say, or ask? Half sarcastically, he asked, “Well, who do you think did it, him?”
Standing a little off to one side, the dog watched and listened as the man pointed at it.
They didn’t put the strange incident behind them, but were able to shift it to a corner of their lives—for a while. Secretly, she continued to wonder if he had moved the cookies and the hat as a dumb joke. But if he did, why keep denying it? There was nothing funny about it, and he knew things like that kind of unexplained chaos, however small, disturbed her.
In college she had been diagnosed with a mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and no one knew better than he how it affected her. How many times had they returned to their apartment just one more time for her to check again to see if she had turned off the stove? It was imperative to her that certain matters and details be arranged just so—silverware in specific drawers, daily schedules, clothes lined up just so in the closet, the order in which she ate her food, the way she thought the world should work. It didn’t, of course, so she fretted about too many unknowns and unlikely possibilities, most of which never happened. Time and again, her husband told her she was too full of what ifs, and more times than he liked to admit, they screwed up the balance of their relationship. It was certainly part of the reason why they’d been so at odds with each other recently. Our quirks may define us, but they’re not always endearing or attractive to those who love us, no matter how much they care.
She understood that and could sympathize with how her eccentricities (she preferred that term) burdened him. On the other hand, wasn’t the wedding vow “for better or worse” what it was all about: Empathy, understanding, forgiveness?
And didn’t she put up with his shortcomings? The soul-withering tight-fistedness with money, and his loutish, sometimes truly embarrassing behavior when they were with friends or at social gatherings (the crude jokes and comments told to absolutely the wrong people who more than once looked at her with pitying eyes). But the worst of all were his dreadful parents, who from day one had made it very clear they didn’t like her and would be happy if she disappeared from their son’s life altogether. How they openly mocked her, but her man never said anything to them in her defense. When she brought it up, and she did often, he dismissed their gibes, derision, and personal insults as if they were nothing, or his parents didn’t really mean them, or they’d had too much to drink, or perhaps she was being a little oversensitive, thin-skinned . . . She’d even gotten right up from meals on two occasions and walked out the door after his father said something so cruel and hurtful that momentarily she could not believe what she’d just heard. Both times, she’d turned to her husband and asked if he was going to say anything. But he only looked away from her volcanic glare, embarrassed but not about to stick up for her against “Pop.” Well, bullshit on that.
The last time her father-in-law said awful, unnecessary things to her, thinly frosting the remarks with his brand of “humor,” she told the old man to go to hell. He was a seventy- two-year-old asshole, and she’d had enough of him. Then she marched like a majorette out of the restaurant. Later, she told her husband that was the last straw. He could visit them whenever he wanted, but she was done with both his parents. “Pop” had finally crossed the line. No, he’d crossed it a long time ago, but tonight was the end.
“What do you mean, crossed the line? What line?”
She patted her chest over her heart. “This one—this line. Remember it? For years, your father has said terrible things to me that hurt my heart, and you were there every time to hear him. But you never, ever told him to stop, or at least shut up. Fair enough—that was your right, because he’s your dad. But he isn’t mine, so I don’t have to put up with him like you and your mom obviously do.”
His mouth tightened. “What’s the matter with my mother?” His voice was a growl.
She growled right back at him, “Besides the hundred mean things she’s said to me, only in a quieter voice? She enables him; in her own slinky way, she eggs him on. You’ve said it yourself. But I’m done with both of them now, and you know why. Please don’t pretend you don’t. Go see them whenever you want—I’ll stay home with the dog.”
The first time he did go for dinner alone with his parents, she ate hers standing up in the kitchen. As usual, the dog sat on its haunches, watching. She thought it wanted a piece of the large chicken leg she held, but no, there was something else there, some sort of different look in the hound’s eyes that night as it stared at her.
“What? Do you want some of this?” She often spoke to the animal as if it were a person, and felt no shame or embarrassment doing it in private or when there were others around. She’d had dogs all her life and always considered them just another member of the family.
She was leaning with her back against the sink as she spoke, the dog directly in front of her. As soon as she finished speaking, there was a loud explosive shishhhh noise behind her. Shocked, she staggered forward then turned around to see what it was. The faucet was shooting water into the sink full blast, as if some invisible hands had turned on both hot and cold handles all the way.
“What the hell?” She knew she hadn’t touched them, and water doesn’t turn on by itself. The first surprise of the sound and discovering what it was receded, but she was still a little shaken up when she went back to the sink and turned off both spigots. Firmly. She stood there and looked down at them, trying to figure out how it had happened.
Then she remembered the chicken leg she had been eating. “Damn it!” She must have dropped it when the water started gushing. Looking down at the floor around her feet, it wasn’t there. For a moment she thought had she already finished it? No. It was definitely in her hand when the water started flowing, She was sure of it. But so where was it now?
“First the water goes crazy, then my dinner disappears. What’s next?”
What came next was the usual—when things got agitated in her life she almost always had to pee. Even the smallest things could set her off and start her bladder screaming NOW OR ELSE. Her husband thought it was cute and she knew he kind of secretly enjoyed her discomfort sometimes because normally she was such a control freak. But when it came to her bladder, she was its slave.
Stupid as it sounds, crazy water in the sink and a disappearing chicken leg set off the alarm this time, and she headed for the toilet. The dog watched her leave the room and padded after her. When she got to the bathroom, she opened the door and slid her hand up and down on the wall just inside, searching for the light switch. When she found it she flipped it on. The first thing she saw was the chicken leg placed on top of the lowered toilet seat.
After that, things got crazier in a hurry. They went from whimsical to worrisome and whaaaat? to dangerous and destructive. They kept coming and coming. But never once did either of them think any of it was because of the dog until finally, finally the writing appeared again on both of their bodies.
SPILKE changed everything.
One bright November morning, that name was inexplicably spelled out in clear black letters down the length of her right index finger. She did not notice it until she was brushing her teeth and saw it out of the corner of her eye.
Her hand froze and then slowly she lay the toothbrush down on the edge of the sink. Raising her hand to eye level, she stared at the finger, incredulous at what was written there: SPILKE.
Dennis Spilke. My God, how long had it been since she thought of that name, or him? He was her first boy crush when she was eleven years old. Because she loved and trusted her father much more than her mother and considered him her best friend in the world, he was the only person she told about her love for Dennis. Her father was such a good guy back then. Back before the drinking and later the drugs hollowed him out and shrunk him into someone unrecognizable, then crazy as a fly banging against a window, then dead at fifty-one. Even her girlfriends at school didn’t know about her short-lived swoon for Dennis. Even Dennis Spilke didn’t know. Only her dad, and when it was over weeks later, he was the one who comforted her. He said: Somewhere out there in the world right this minute is the man you will one day marry. Can you believe it? He’s out there doing stuff, living a life like you. But all the time that’s happening, he’s moving slowly, slowly towards you. Think about that for a minute: He’s coming—that boy is coming just for you. And when you two meet, you’ll be so crazy about him that all the Dennis Spilkes you’ve known till then will seem like cockroaches compared to this new guy. Just the word “cockroaches” got her laughing and, as always, her father’s words made the hurt of her small world less.
But now here it was again, SPILKE, a zillion years later written in black on the inside of her finger. That odd name, all the forgotten memories of a boy and that time in her life suddenly came back zap into her head like an electric shock. A moment later she happened to look in the mirror above the sink. In the reflection she saw the dog sitting in the bathroom doorway behind her. Very humanly, it nodded at her as if to say, Yes, it was me—I did that to you.
Days later, when she finally told her husband the whole story, he exploded. “What do you mean it nodded?” Despite the loud skepticism in his voice, he threw a quick mistrustful glance at the dog lying near them on its bed. Its body was relaxed but the eyes were watching. When it saw the man look, its tail thumped once on the floor.
“Just what I said—it nodded, and then when I directly asked if it had written on my finger, it nodded again.”
“Bullshit! That’s completely bullshit!” He threw up his hands in exasperation. His wife could be nutty sometimes, especially about her obsessions, but this was way beyond that. This was stone-cold crazy.
She blew a strand of hair off her face. “Bullshit? Really? Then watch this.”
He glared at her.
“No don’t look at me—look at him.” She pointed to the dog.
He looked and the dog nodded to him.
He looked back at his wife. “It nodded. Great. Nice trick. So what? Dogs do stuff like that.”
“Now look at your fingers.”
He was right-handed. He saw nothing there. He looked at his left hand. Down the fat pad to the base of his thumb were black letters spelling TURLEY. Jennifer Turley was the name of his first girlfriend.
“What the fu— What is this?”
“I think it’s my father.”
After that it took almost a full hour for her to explain to him what she thought was going on. She used example after example, some of which he had experienced, to prove her point. At the end, he told her about the night at the opera when the word LADDIE mysteriously appeared on his hand.
She wasn’t surprised. “My dad died and came back as a dog. It explains why we chose him over all the others at the animal shelter that day. What made him so special? Just look at him—he’s completely plain, nondescript—just a dog-dog. Why would we choose him over all the other sweet ones we saw there?”
“You chose him. I just said okay.”
“Exactly—I chose him and now I know why, but I didn’t then. I just thought he was cute.”
While she spoke he kept glancing over at the dog. “How much does he know? I mean, does he know everything; can he understand everything we say?”
“I don’t think so, and that’s part of what’s so frustrating. He knows little bits and pieces, which come and go like fireflies. I think his mind or his soul is caught between three places—human, dog, and death, or back from the dead. When his head is clear he can do all kinds of magical things, but a minute later he’s like an old, old man with very bad Alzheimer’s disease. Absolute blank, or just absolute dog and only dog. He can’t remember or express anything; he doesn’t understand anything you say. No, he does, but only in the way a dog understands human commands. He knows and can do amazing things but it’s all broken up and scattered. Like, how did he know the name of your old girlfriend? And then the things he does know, he keeps forgetting. But he also can do these wild things, like making those words appear on our fingers, or turning on faucets, or . . .” She stopped and looked at him, her face almost guilty.
He sat up in his chair, sensing something. “What? Come on, what?”
She nodded slowly, as if telling herself it was okay to continue. “I told you about my father at the end of his life, remember? How he stole all of my mother’s savings to buy drugs. He even took fourteen dollars I’d saved for a skateboard and spent it, too. He was completely out of control by then—mean and scary and desperate. God, he was so desperate. He probably would have sold our house, too, if the deed hadn’t been in my mother’s name.” She made to say more, but instead got up and went to a desk nearby. She opened a drawer, took something out, and walked back with a bankbook in her hand. She opened it, leafed through some pages, found what she was looking for, and handed it to him. “Look at the balance.”
It was their joint savings account. Because he was a tightwad, he knew exactly how much was in there, or did until that moment. When he saw the new, hefty balance his eyes widened. His mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water.
Watching his reaction, she put a hand over her mouth and then flapped it away. “I didn’t tell you about it until I checked with the bank to make sure the money was real. It is. I believe he’s paying me back for all the money he stole from us when he was alive.”
He snorted. “Paying you back with interest! This is amazing. You’re sure it’s real?”
“It is real. And it fits a pattern—I think he came back to make amends.”
But their wonder and delight was short-lived because, like a person with severe dementia, whatever the dog knew or whatever powers it had brought back from death rapidly began to blur, fade, and slip away like a human mind sucked down into the quicksand of the disease. And with that fade came the frustration and fury of the sufferer.
For a while, a short while, there were fascinating glimpses of what the dog had experienced after it died as a human, what death was like and how reincarnation worked. But only in mysterious, tantalizing fragments—three words written in sugar across the coffee table in the living room. Or a paragraph on Tibetan bardos in a book about after-death experiences magically highlighted right before the woman’s eyes in vivid yellow as the woman was reading the words for the first time. When the highlighting stopped, three exclamation points appeared beside the paragraph and then, in black, the word this!
No more money was put into their account, but a beautiful new ornate gravestone for her mother was in the cemetery the next time they went there to lay flowers on her plot.
One night, his awful parents appeared at the door and invited themselves in on the excuse Mama had baked his favorite chocolate chip cookies and just knew he’d want to eat them fresh out of the oven. The real reason they came was for one of their periodic snoops around the house to find things to fault and be nasty about. But first the old bitch had to show off and there had to be a cookie unveiling followed by the son’s required yumming over how delicious they were.
The cookies were in the large red tin she always used and, for the umpteenth time, said she needed it back when it was empty. Why would the harridan think anyone would want to keep her old dented box?
The four of them sat down on the couch and Mama leaned forward to present the goodies. As she did, a loud sound—a sort of burp-urup-urup came from inside the box. When she pulled the top off there were no cookies inside but an enormous, slimy, brown African goliath frog as big and wide as a Frisbee; it must have been ten inches by ten inches. The giant thing fit perfectly inside the tin. Before any of them could react, it hopped out of the box, across the coffee table, and onto the floor. The dog took one look at it, leapt forward, grabbed the huge frog in its mouth, shook it violently from side to side, and ran out of the room with his catch going urup-urup all the way.
The old woman squealed, her husband squawked like a parrot, and the two of them fled.
The younger couple sat on the couch, staring straight ahead. The woman fought back a smile but it didn’t work. The smile turned into a giggle and then a howl of laughter. Her husband, his parents having just jetted out of his house in abject horror, cracked up, too. Neither of them felt the need to go find the dog.
When it reappeared later, its muzzle was covered with cookie crumbs.
Soon after that things got darker. The dog, that until then had slept peacefully, began having what sounded like terrible nightmares every time it slept. It twitched and shook, growled and barked. Several times, they tried to wake it, but that was dangerous because it came out of sleep in a rage, snapping and snarling, as if fighting off its dream enemies in real life.
The few messages it conveyed became more and more incoherent, most of the words misspelled; toward the end, strung together, they made no sense at all. The dog grew surly, sullen, and aloof—a complete change from the lovable goofy, friendly, warm guy who in the past liked nothing more than to cuddle up next to you on the couch and snooze.
After it pulled the woman to the ground, things got even worse. MAMA BRUISE was the last coherent message it communicated until right before the end. Twice after that it knocked the man down from behind when he was walking to answer the front door after the bell had rung.
“It’s like he doesn’t want me to answer it—like he’s expecting someone bad.”
And by its behavior in other ways, it did seem like that. For hours it sat on the couch looking out the picture window onto the street, just watching. When they took it outside for a walk, it moved its head from side to side like a searchlight, its body so tense that it shook much of the time when it stood still.
The day it bit her, it ran away. She was walking it around the block when they saw another person coming toward them with a large white poodle on a leash. As soon as the two dogs saw each other, they stopped. Then the poodle flew into a barking, growling, snapping fit. It started jerking wildly on the leash, as if to get off and attack her dog however it could.
She’d never seen an aggressive poodle before, so she was surprised and caught up in watching it act out. Then she felt a terrible pain in her right hand—the one holding the leash. Looking down, she saw her dog biting her for the first time in its life. Yelping, she dropped the leash and the dog ran off as fast as it could, the leash trailing behind.
She just stood there watching it, helpless, her hand exploding with pain from the bite.
Although the dog had all of its rabies and distemper shots, her husband insisted she go to the hospital to be checked.
Driving home, he asked quietly, “Do you think we should try to find him?”
He nodded and said nothing more.
Hours later, in the middle of the night, he awoke and found she was not in bed. He got up and padded around searching for her. She was sitting in the dark in the living room on the couch, in the same place where the dog had stationed itself in the past days, staring out the window there.
Her husband sat down next to her. She turned to him and held up her bandaged hand. “This was a message. He didn’t bite me because he was angry or trying to get away. He was telling me why, and that was the only way he could convey it at this point.” She stopped and swallowed. “This was the only way he could tell me.”
“Tell you what?”
“It came to me before when I was sleeping. It might’ve been the bite. Somehow it connected us in a way we hadn’t been before. What came through was when you die and are reincarnated, you’re not supposed to bring anything from your past life into the new. But for some reason he did, somehow he stayed part human—my father—part dog, and God knows what else. I think that combination should never have happened. But it gave him those special powers like some kind of weird alchemy. After a while, though, it all started to mix together in bad ways and then implode. Like a medicine gone bad, or that stops working. At the end, everything was slipping away from him. But whatever he was by then, he still knew one thing—they were coming to get him.”
Her husband frowned. “Who was?”
“Other dogs and whatever else didn’t want him alive. It’s why he sat at the window all the time watching. He knew something was coming for him. That’s why the poodle went crazy tonight when it saw him. They know. They all know that, with his mixed knowledge, no matter how debased it is, he’s a threat, and they’re out to get him.”
“Get him? Why? What did he do?”
“Nothing. He didn’t do anything—somehow it was done to him or it happened by mistake. He’s like a calf born with two heads. A freak, but a dangerous one, because he knows things he’s not supposed to. We’re not supposed to communicate with animals, or know what happens to us after we die. But he does, so as long as he’s alive he might tell us—” She stopped, cocked her head to one side, and held up a finger for him not to speak.
In the midnight quiet that followed, after a few moments they both heard it—a faint scratching. A faint scratching on their front door. Then loud sniffing—scratching and sniffing. Then, their ears attuned to the sounds, they heard more of them, many more just outside the house, all of them near, all of them growing louder. Scratching, hard scratching now, frantic sniffing and whining. Louder, all those familiar sounds times ten, louder and more every minute, everywhere out there in the night. Very close.
“Mama Bruise” copyright © 2019 by Jonathan Carroll.
Art copyright © 2019 by Mark Smith.