By Reid Hoke
Copyright 1999 Reid Hoke
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Her mindless chatter could drive a person mad. She dropped by from time to time, irregularly but all too often. Not working a regular job she would find herself frequently bored being a simple housewife and mother. So Caroline would make her rounds through the neighborhood, house to house, searching out her neighbors like a bloodhound, needing an audience but much preferring to hear herself talk than to actually strike a conversation. What she did hear along the way, however, was easily assimilated and relayed as gospel to the rest of the neighborhood.
Eric had been putting the final coat of paint on a section of his new house when she had appeared. The dread of seeing her this particular time was poignant, not simply due to the expectation of yet another boring conversation. This was the dread of entering a confessional, knowing that your sin had already been found out and was liable to be broadcast across the earth.
A Chesapeake Bay Retriever lifted her lazy head and glanced towards Caroline sauntering down the driveway and across the yard. Her ears pricked up, and her teeth were being unveiled. She started to rise.
"Bristol! Stay!" a voice bellowed. The voice was authoritative, firm. Bristol cowered, then returned her head to the ground and fell easily back into the drugged stupor that she had come from a moment before.
Eric preferred cats. The docile, noble creatures were superior to dogs in so many ways. He had had two cats until a week ago and had still not recovered from finding Ollie dead in the yard. It was only when Bristol was discovered with a scratched and swollen eye that blame could be laid. Judge and jury had seen the indisputable evidence. Her fate was mandated. A short two weeks later the executioner would arrive with a lethal injection, and Bristol would stay tied up on Death Row until then.
But two days after, late one afternoon he found that Bristol had escaped her chains. Frantically searching for the escaped killer, she was discovered sleeping soundly nearby. "Bristol! Come!" Bristol rose obediently and lumbered over to her master.
Bristol was not a mammoth in height, but what she lacked there was doubled in girth. Solid muscle made her a formidable sight. She had stolen so much food from her own puppies the year before. Finally the game was up and she had been caught. Her modus operandi was simple enough: eat her own food until the master left, then chase her puppies away and eat theirs, too. No one could understand why they were so skinny. They were fed more than enough.
Bristol heeled neatly and followed her master to the prison chains. Then he stopped. Something in the grass had caught his eye. Bristol cowered, tail between her legs and shrank behind.
A bloody mess of fur, raw meat and dislocated bones was splayed out in front of them. Flies buzzed. Something resembling a head was there as well.
"Damn you, Dog. You are gonna die!"
Eric stood there staring for what seemed an hour, dreading another burial and feeling like the cleanup crew after a murder. He thought finally it must have been a poodle. Not a large standard poodle, nor was it the petite ‘toy’ size. It was somewhere in between.
This injectible death would not arrive for several days still. But more rope and acepromazine injections during this temporary stay of execution should be just the ticket. How strange that a dog of this age would suddenly take a turn for the worse. He tied the rope firmly, tighter than before, and came back directly with a syringe. "This oughta make you a nice doggie, Bristol," he whispered, but the affection was gone from his voice. It was more like ice now. There was warmth, though, and it was spreading from the point where the needle had entered her skin. She slipped into a deep dream, chasing furry white rabbits through the woods. Her legs twitched as she pursued them.
He dug a grave for the gory remains of the French poodle, several times on the verge of nausea.
The next day an announcement appeared in the mail boxes in the neighborhood:
Lost, chocolate brown miniature poodle.
Answers to the name of ‘Jacques.’
Reward. Please call 555-9838.
The master’s stomach sank. A name had been attached to the chocolate mess that had been interred the night before. And a family. Bristol would pay for her sins, and very soon now.
Two days later, Bristol had somehow escaped once more. She was again found in the yard without trouble, but while searching, Caroline’s huge German Shepherd was also found, splayed out like the others and spread around the yard. This time Bristol was tied even tighter, and with a slip noose that would surely throttle the bitch if she tried to escape.
It was a quick burial, simple and hasty like the others. Luckily the tall grasses hid the evidence. What a putrid scene! The stench of violent death emanated. He worked fast. Blood. Flies. Butchery.
Eric walked slowly up the slight incline to his house, deliberating with each step the ramifications of Bristol’s gory new hobby. The foreboding image that recurred was that of finding a dead person in the yard, the meter man or the UPS delivery man, that she would massacre a child. Bristol had to make a clean exit.
But the debate at hand was whether or not to tell Caroline what had happened.
"She would want to know what happened to her dog, that he’s dead!"
"I disagree. I don’t think she would want to know, nor would her kids. When the dog doesn’t come back for several days, they’ll think he ran away and forget him. Besides, what good would it do to tell her? The result is the same, except that you then have a neighbor who hates you. So, what’s it going to be? You know she’s going to come over here today. Decide."
"I don’t know. I think I should tell her."
And now here she was.
"I heard that Mr. George is selling his land for ten thousand an acre….… We’re almost finished with our house…..….The kids are starting school next week……… I heard that Marilyn is pregnant…… Oh, by the way, have you seen our dog? He didn’t come home last night, and we can’t find him anywhere."
Eric looked around uneasily as if the dog might be found standing right there beside them. He was searching for the words, though, more than the dog. Besides, what could she do, have Bristol destroyed? That would have been a favor at this point. He tried to say, ‘Look Caroline, I’m sorry, but….’ He tried, but the words wouldn’t come. Instead, other words came…
"Nope, haven’t seen him. But if I do, I’ll let you know."
"OK, thanks, see ya later."
A week later, Bristol was buried in the same makeshift cemetery as her victims.
Three months passed and Caroline appeared one day. She strolled down the driveway as usual, a blank smile on her face as she made her rounds through the neighborhood.
"Oh, did I tell you we found our dog?"
Eric’s eyes opened wide. He was white as alabaster, shooting a dread glance out to the grass-covered field of Bristol’s hapless victims, half expecting to find a giant crater from which Caroline’s big, swollen, partially decomposed dog had finally extricated himself after three months of digging out from its subterranean crypt. Or at least freshly-turned dirt. He already knew what the next sentence would accuse him of. His mind raced as he searched in vain for a credible excuse.
"Yes, we found him walking down the road about ten miles from here. But whoever stole him must have really mistreated him, ‘cause he’s half blind and deaf, and real skinny…. In fact, he doesn’t even look like the same dog."
"By the way, did you ever find Bristol?"