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The Dog Flap
It was just a matter of time before the man came to kill him too. He was basically left for dead in center the house, and that was all that mattered. Death could crawl through the dog flap at any hour of night, and any hour of day. He was going to die, he was aware, but he also had preparation. He didn’t want to fight it, so he managed to stay sitting in his usual spot at the lone kitchen table, peering out the now tearing screen. He looked at the forest, hoping that he would hear her again—see her again. Although, as hard as he squinted and as much as he thought about the trouble he would be in, he realized if he took his eye from the door, the constant percussion of the dog flap kept encoring itself in funnel of his ear. He heard a bark and in the distance—up against the tensed forest, he saw a faint silhouette of the dog—the monster and Sophie struggling for release, for the last and final time.
“Blake, come over here and give your Auntie Faye a kissy!”
Before she could grab him, Smudge darted through the dog flap from the kitchen door and greeted him before Aunt Faye could. After breaking away from the hound, he found himself grabbed him by the globe of his skull and being kissed all over his cheeks. It left a pattern of a faint pink lipstick smeared over his cheek for proof that she’d done it.
“…and is this my new niece?! Aww, Charlotte, she’s beautiful…may I?” she held out her arms insisting on holding his little sister.
His Aunt looked up from Sophie. “He should be at his soccer tournament.”
He hung his head low.
“I’m sorry kiddo, there are plenty of people to talk with…” she looked around seeing nothing more than adults. She gave him a light push on his shoulder and he nearly drowned in the rapids of his family.
After a few hundred “Hey, good to see you too,” and “yeah, we should keep in touch more,” he was off to the kitchen. Christmas wasn’t for three days, but he vowed to stay at the table as long as he could until someone even bothered to try and notice he was ever gone.
It didn’t take long.
Smudge, a russet toned Jack-Russell tore after a squirrel outside which was visible from the kitchen and it caused a fuss flood into the cramped dining area. They all peered out through the screen in awe. Was it really that exciting to see a dog chase a squirrel? Or were they not looking at the dog?
“No, Faye, I think it was just a deer or something, no need to get in such a ruckus,”
“Well, Jim, I think I would like to know if anything in particular is taking place around my house—Especially if all my family will be staying with me until Christmas…” she kissed Sophie as Sophie turned to look at him, her pitiful eyes blossoming with tears; the poor baby’s cheeks were raw with pink lipstick.
“Hey, Faye, are you willing to trade something for that Jukebox up in one of the guest rooms?”
“Ha! Jim, you are too much, go ahead and have it, I don’t ever use it…”
“Do you mind if I go up and see it?”
“Well, Blake is about to go up there, so do you mind looking at it some other time?”
He frowned, but still nodded.
Aunt Faye turned back to him.
“What’s the matter Blake? Something wrong?”
“No. I’m fine.” He forced a smile. Sophie made it look so much easier.
She grinned crookedly, and polished her yellowish teeth with her tongue.
“Oh, Blake, I forgot to tell you where you’re sleeping,” she pulled her glasses back to the bridge of her nose. “unless you’d rather sleep out with the dogs of course.” She chuckled and looked through the cobwebbed screen.
He strained another smile. Then he too directed his gaze across the pallet of crumbled rock and dust, all towards the forest that ran along what seemed like a death’s horizon.
“I don’t really think that would be such a good idea though…” Aunt Faye said casually, smiled, and then started up the stairs.
When he realized he should follow her to the third floor of the house, it was like struggling up a steep mountain.
“This will be your room,” she pointed with her free hand and propped Sophie up on her hip. “This is my favorite bedroom, and has the nicest view…”
He couldn’t see anything, the room was smothered in darkness and before he could stagger over all the clutter to pull back the drapes, his eyes were adjusting to the familiar shadow. He couldn’t really tell what she saw in this place, apart from the jukebox, and the antique rocking chair.
The rest was only a pile of trash: moth devoured pillowcases, dusty wood flooring, and a poorly crafted wardrobe. There was a bed…if you could consider it a bed. It had pillows, a frame, and a bed skirt, but the mattress was like lying on a plate of stone brick and porcupine needles. He lay on the bed and stared up at the ceiling, allowing himself the privilege of the setting sun; its shadow resting on the window pane. He thought about his parents; how he would be there alone. With his aunt that was half dead in the mind to even realize he was being completely isolated on the third floor anyway.
Sophie had Aunt Faye, Smudge had the squirrels, and Blake, being Blake, left by himself scratching his head, to ponder the difference between alone and alive.
He turned over once he heard the first creak. He rubbed his eyes among the unnatural darkness. As much as he struggled, his efforts didn’t seem to get him anywhere; the room was embraced by a more defined shadow constricting this secluded chunk of Tennessee.
Creak! The rocking chair shrieked.
It was an immediate reaction to look up, although he saw nothing.
A dog barked.
So he assumed Smudge had come in to sleep with him for the night in the rocking chair.
He obeyed, and didn’t rouse around in his bed. He was swept with an entirely new intelligence of alarm.
“Night, Smudge” He said lethargically
Blake thought he heard a whimper in response. It was low enough, but wasn’t very “Dog Like” if you asked him.
Among the darkness, my eyes began to adjust and he caught a glimpse of a faint golden smile, and was hypnotized by the grip of another dreamless sleep.
He sat at the breakfast table stirring his eggs around with the tip of his fork. Suddenly bored with poking at his eggs, he began to drown his pancakes in syrup, and soon realized his eggs were too.
He sighed deeply and looked around to see if anyone had heard his tedious groan.
“Heehee, like a dollgee!” Sophie mumbled. She was crawling through the dog flap.
“Sophie, what are you doing?” he knitted his eyebrow.
She continued through, and pulled her pacifier from the flap, and returned it to her mouth.
“Sophie, get that out of your mouth that’s been on the ground… That’s nassey, say: no, no, nassey.” He really only was trying to teach her a lesson of not eating from the ground, until he noticed how nasty it actually was: There was grime on the handle, and filth on the rubber end, with flecks of what looked like static beard hairs.
She tilted her head.
“Well, I tried,” Blake smiled and picked her up. “Why did you go out there Sophie?”
She pointed outside the window, and then her hand followed the now barking Smudge as he tore after what he presumed that was another squirrel across the field and into the forest.
* * * * *
The Jukebox was playing. The annoying band of the dog flap constantly being opened was gone. His eyes were weighed down with anchors of exhaustion that he couldn’t gather the strength to care what was going on.
Blake barley looked up when he saw a figure crouched on all fours scratching at the jukebox, its nails clicking against the dusty wood. The neon colors exploding from the jukebox was alarming, he couldn’t possibly sleep with so much excitement going on, but he really didn’t feel like talking.
An anonymous barking echoed in the room. Much too deep for Smudge, it sounded much bigger. Blake pulled his boulder filled pillow over his head and struggled to repel the sound. He didn’t want to look to see a huge wolverine resting at the foot of his bed, but only wanted to view the comfort of his home from behind the drapes of his eyelids. He wanted to dream about something peaceful, something he could wake up to and rant about it for hours until everyone stopped listening something that would keep him amused.
Christmas Eve came as quickly as it had gone last year. He was aroused when he saw almost as many people as there were the first day from over the banister.
Blake noticed Uncle Jim and Aunt Faye over by the door, looking and pointing towards the forest again. There against its barrier of thick pine and threatening brambles, Smudge kept patrol. Blake ran along the semi circle of people crowding around the windows and he saw Aunt Faye and Uncle Jim talking.
“Are you sure Jim?” She scratched her chin. “This is getting completely out of hand…” she pulled back the drapes a little farther right that was blocking her view of the forest.
“Faye, you worry way too much.” He rolled his eyes. “Nothing is out there.”
Before Aunt Faye could notice, Sophie had wriggled her way in between Blake’s uncle and her and had already shimmied through the dog flap. My aunt ripped open the door and snatched her up like when she wringed chickens’ necks.
“SOPHIE! WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” She popped her on the wrist.
Sophie began to cry.
“Aww…I didn’t…I’m just…This place just isn’t the place to wander around, Sophie. You must understand that.” she looked back through the screened window. “Tennessee is not the place to run around…”
Sophie continued crying, and pointed out the door. Aunt Faye thought it might have been her binky left out again through the dog flap, but right when Sophie’s cry became fiercer he saw what she was seeing. Although, only for a moment, before it tore into the woodland.
“Smudge…” He muttered to himself squinting to get a more defined look. The russet dog reluctantly ran against the tree border before it emptied into the baffling wood. Before Blake could look again he departed in the handsome gloom.
“That stupid dog,” said Aunt Faye patting Sophie’s back. “Dogs are just so ignorant to dangers and safety of the world.”
He forced another smile.
Aunt Faye looked at him awkwardly,
“Here take her, and watch her for a while. I can’t stand to see the poor child cry.”
Aunt Faye handed over Sophie reluctantly and walked up the stairs.
Sophie made sure he was awake for Christmas morning. It wasn’t as exciting as it had been the previous years. He hated how all that he got was clothes, but he didn’t want to disappoint his aunt, so he wore them anyway.
Still in his pajamas, he climbed back up the mountainous staircase and staggered over to the wardrobe where he found his suitcase empty.
“What the…?” He crouched down and rummaged through his suitcase.
In the wardrobe there was nothing left but his toothbrush, his Bible, and his empty water bottle. He climbed to the back of the wardrobe although he knew nothing would be back there and found nothing as expected.
He walked out the room and peaked over the balcony and called: “Aunt Faye! Have you seen any of my clothes? They are all gone from my suitcase for some reason.”
“No.” she called back firmly.
He grabbed his toothbrush, and went to the bathroom to get ready. He realized that his new Christmas clothes didn’t have to wait until he returned to Florida after all, considering the fact that all his attire had disappeared.
He returned to his room to get his Bible, taking his time.
When Blake entered the kitchen, he glanced over towards the stove and realized that it was an hour past noontime. The day was dragging on as slowly and silently as all the days combined had been since his stay. The only interest illustrated during this boring Christmas was the orchestra of helpless animal in the distance beyond the forest, and then he remembered Smudge.
Blake took his Bible and sat at his familiar seat in the kitchen and sulked over it. He nonchalantly, gripped the tattered spine of his Bible and flipped it to what he discovered to be the heart of Psalms.
The screen door opened.
“Hey, did you guys know that man and his daughter was watching the house?” Uncle Jim said glancing around the room for a nod in agreement.
“Now what in God’s name are you talking about, Jim?” she said panicking and looking around the floor. “Where is Sophie?”
A familiar crowd gathered around the screened door, barricading the dog flap.
“I see him!” Came a voice who Blake guessed may have been a distant cousin.
“Me too!” replied another.
“Are you even sure that’s a man?” Aunt Faye squinted, “I mean—he’s not even standing, he and the little girl are…sitting? Crawling?”
“Okay, this is the end of this,” Uncle Jim shoved through the crowd and nearly severed open the weak and thin threaded screen.
Boldly, Uncle Jim strode across the barren field. Everyone slowly following, feeling awkward in his absence and stood cowering on the front porch.
Blake, feeling a sudden charge of adrenaline in his gut—content of something to do, trailed behind Uncle Jim, he gave Blake a faint smile and they continued.
The closer they got, the easier it was to identify this man—this thing, was nothing more than a monster. His paws were knuckled into the clay; brushing the rock; His hair was a mop of grease and gray sweat; his clothes, torn from collar, showing off a series of tattoos; his eyes, they were a vivid blue as the ocean in the Caribbean; and his jacket, wasn’t his—it was Blake’s.
“Hello, sir!” Uncle Jim called, adjusting his glasses and squinting.
The man pulled the girl closer.
Blake could feel all of his relatives tense in his spine, and his hands began to sweat as they slowly edged closer.
“Can we help you?” Uncle Jim’s hand was shaking.
The man stared at the house.
All of Blake’s family backed closer towards the screen and slowly piled in through the back door.
“Is there anything I—we can do for you?”
The man continued staring at the house.
“Sir? Could we give you anything? Would you like to come in?” He stammered.
The man smiled, carelessly throwing the girl over her shoulder.
“Nassey!” called the girl, and Blake realized what his whole family reasoning for going inside was. Aunt Faye’s hand was pressed up against the netted window and she was crying, the rest of her sisters and brothers crowded around her and just stood there. Watching.
“Sir, would you please, please come over and…I’ll just…” Uncle Jim edged closer to him.
He reached for the left of him and from the ground pulled up a russet colored rug that may have been an animal, and passed it up to Sophie. She constricted herself with the animal pallet as if it were a quilt.
The closer that Uncle Jim came, the more swiftly the man moved towards the forest.
“Stop, please, I want to help you.” He was tearing up now. “Just come over…”
The man barked.
Uncle Jim took a couple of slow steps backward.
The man just sat there for a moment, hugging the baby against his furry chest, and he scratched his head pondering the difference between alone and alive. He turned towards the forest, picking his paws and crawled away.