Fritz had been the last dog of his childhood, the last before his mother left for good, never looking back or making contact again. Her decision had come the night she and the old man sat on the front steps. Clark had stationed himself secretly inside the doorway out of the old man’s sight. Fritz sat on the ground at the bottom step, facing the two adults, eyes alert between them. The old man had been drinking again, and he draped his arm around Clark’s mother. The dog bristled, and the boy’s heart raced. His mother shrugged off the old man’s caress, and the old man drew back to smack her.
The old man’s temper exploded. He lunged from the stairs to slam Fritz with both hands. The dog flailed over on its side, hitting the ground hard enough to knock him breathless. The old man was on him instantly, pinning him with a knee across the neck. His arms churned, fists pounding the dog’s gut and chest until it ceased all struggle.
The old man fell back, winded and sweating as Fritz lay in a spreading puddle of vomit and blood, gasping small breaths.
Only then did the boy realize his mother had been screaming all along. Clark’s father teetered onto unsteady legs and turned on the woman. She backed into the house and fled to the bedroom. She grabbed as many clothes as she could, stuffing them frantically into a pillowcase, but the old man appeared in the doorway before she could escape. He dove across the bed for her. She dodged to one side and slipped past.
The old man rolled off the bed and swayed toward the door. “You evercome back,” he shouted after her, “I’ll put you in the goddamn ground.”
Clark cowered in the corner of the room, hidden behind a chair, until the old man passed out, snoring on the bed. Clark eased out of the house and down the steps to the dog, chest hitching as he knelt beside the animal. Tiny bubbles formed and popped in the blood around Fritz’s mouth. Clark curled up beside the dog, laying his arm across Fritz’s chest, sobbing until exhaustion quieted his cries and he slipped into sleep. When he woke in the twilight of dawn, the dog and the old man were gone.
Now—in this chicken house—Fritz was apparently back.
And the old man’s gone for good.
Clark supported the animal’s head gingerly as he cut the rope from around its neck. He closed and slipped the knife into his pocket. The dog whimpered and floundered as Clark lifted him into his arms and started out. The boy had vanished. Clark quickened his pace and exited the building, eyes searching the yard, but there was no one. He took the dog to the truck and placed him gently on the passenger side floorboard. Fritz closed his eyes, his breathing shallow and rapid, but easing as Clark closed the door.
Look for the boy.
“Kid. Where are you?”
The dog—yes, he understood, logically it could notbe Fritz, nor could the other dogs tied to the heaters be those they appeared to be from his past.
But they are.
C.S. Fuqua is a full-time creative writer. He began his career in the late 1970s as a freelance journalist for trade magazines. He later worked as a newspaper reporter and consumer and trade magazine staff writer before becoming a full-time freelance writer in the 1980s.Since then, his work has appeared widely in publications such as Year’s Best Horror Stories XIX, XX and XXI, Cemetery Dance, Dark Regions, Christian Science Monitor, Slipstream, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, The Writer, and Honolulu Magazine. His fiction and poetry have earned several “Year’s Best” honors. Chris’s books include Walking after Midnight ~ Collected Stories, the SF novel Big Daddy’s Fast-Past Gadget, White Trash & Southern ~ Collected Poems, Hush, Puppy! A Southern Fried Tale (children’s), and Native American Flute Craft, among others. He is also a craftsman of Native American flutes and a recording musician with several albums of Native American flute and world fusion music available.