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Better Off Dead This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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“And what exactly do you think you're gonna do with that there gun, Curtis?”

Curtis turned and looked at me with a frown of unmistakable sorrow and sympathy. His fingers that held the rifle twitched and his other hand reached up to scratch his thick, brown hair. “You know darn well what I'm gonna do with it, Danny.”

“You ain't gonna shoot my dog,” I snapped. “He's my dog, and you don't have no right to shoot him.”

“When Ma and Pa are away I'm in charge, and you know it,” my brother countered. His tall, gangly stature seemed to sway with the spring breeze filtering into the kitchen from the screen door, and his large brown eyes said what he wouldn't say to me. “Your dog is eating all the eggs and all the chickens. I'm tellin' you, Danny, he's goin' mad; we gotta put him down.”

My little fingers curled angrily around the glass of milk, and I looked up at him. “I'll tie him up,” I pleaded. “He won't get to no chickens if I tie him up, Curtis, I promise!”

“I tied him up once already, and he got outta that in no time,” my brother replied. “Somethin's wrong with your dog, and I got no choice but to put him outta his misery. You know that's what Pa would do.”

“No I don't!” I argued as I threw my chair back and stood up. “Why don't you wait 'til Pa comes home and then see what he says?”

“Pa ain't gonna be home for another five days, Danny! We can't wait that long! In five days your dumb dog'll have eaten every last chicken we own!”

I fell back into my chair and rested my head on the table. I couldn't let him kill Houston; he was the sweetest dog I ever had. I found him when he was just a pup lost along the side of the road. When he had saw me walking toward him his little ears had perked up, and he jumped right into my lap. I couldn't let him die.

“Listen, Danny, I know you're sad, but you gotta get over it,” Curtis mumbled as he walked toward the door. “You won't even have to see him after I'm done with him; I'll take care of it all.”

When I heard the screen door slam, I finally got some life back in me and raced out of the house. “You can't kill him!” I shouted. “I won't let you!”

Curtis was walking to the barn where we had my dog locked up. He looked at me with a face full of impatience and annoyance. “I told you already, I gotta do it. Please don't make this harder than it's gotta be.”

I felt the wetness of the tears that streamed down my face, and I brushed my hair out of my eyes. “Let me shoot him then. He's my dog, let me kill him. It's only right.”

“Danny, do you even know how to shoot a gun?”

“I went huntin' with Pa and Houston all the time last fall! I might be eleven, Curtis, but I sure ain't dumb.”

Curtis sighed and gave him the rifle. “Fine, you do it. But, if you don't have the guts then come get me and I'll take care of it. You don't gotta do this, Danny.”

I nodded as I took the gun from my brother with cold fingers. I looked down at the death machine. Curtis patted me once on the shoulder and started back to the house. I turned to the barn where my dog was.

Maybe he was going mad. A couple weeks ago he got bit by that raccoon he was tussling with, but I didn't tell nobody because nobody needed to know – especially Curtis. That coon had probably been mad, and maybe he made my dog mad. Any coon that's out in the middle of the day ain't right ….

I opened the creaky barn door and peered into the dark. The air smelt musty. “Houston, boy, come here!”

I heard the rattle of a collar, and sure enough my Doberman came running. He jumped up and put his front paws on my shoulders and started licking me all over my face. I told him to stop, but set down the gun and hugged him as hard as I could.

My dog wasn't mad.

I didn't care about what my brother said, and I wasn't going to kill my perfectly healthy dog.

I grabbed Houston by the collar and led him out of the barn. I looked around the back yard warily to make sure my brother wasn't anywhere in sight. When the coast was clear I ran with my dog clear across the yard and into the thick forest. My little legs ran fast, and Houston ran even faster.

“I ain't gonna kill you, boy,” I told my dog as I patted him on the head. “Just 'cause you killed a couple chickens and stole a couple eggs don't make you mad. You were just hungry, that's all.”

Houston and I walked deeper into the forest and didn't stop until the sun had almost set. I didn't know if we would ever be able to find our way back, but I didn't really care. I just wanted to be with my dog and I didn't want to go back so Curtis could yell at me and shoot Houston in the head.

I was happy out there in the wilderness with my dog by my side. We ran through the forest, zigzagging between trees and jumping over logs. I would climb up trees if I saw a squirrel in the branches, then I would scare the rodent down and Houston would have a mighty fun time chasing it around. Then we found a nice little slope in the earth next to a stream and we laid down in the grass.

My dog was sitting beside me. His head was down, and I rubbed his back. He was the greatest dog I had ever seen. I took my thumb and lifted up his eyelid so I could look into his soft amber eyes, and when I did, I didn't see no madness; I just saw love. He loved me and I loved him, and I wasn't going to let anybody drive a bullet through his skull.

“We gotta stick together, Houston,” I told him as I kept petting his back. “We can't let anybody hurt either of us, you hear? I won't let nobody hurt you, and you won't let nobody hurt me. We're pals, you hear?”

Houston's eyebrows rose up and he looked at me, as if he understood.

“Curtis doesn't know a darned thing,” I spat as I stared out to the stream and watched the birds flutter about the canopy. “He's the one that's mad! He's just jealous that I got such a good dog and all he's got is a big, smelly mule.”

Houston let out a sneeze, but I knew he was really laughing. We understood each other, and when I talked he listened.

“I love ya, boy,” I muttered as I rested back and threw my arm around my dog. His ears perked up and he looked at me. I smiled as I closed my eyes and allowed myself to drift off into my dreams.

He was telling me he loved me too.






The next morning I awoke to the rising sun and the low, gruff growl of my dog. The brightness of the sun blinded me for a second, and I rubbed my eyes as I sat up.

“What is it, boy?”

His growling continued, and when I opened my eyes I saw that he was staring at me. His amber eyes were no longer soft and full of love; they were mean and filled with hatred.

“Houston, boy … what's the matter?” I asked in a shaky voice as I got to my feet and took a wary step back.

My dog's lips were pulled back to show his shining white teeth, and his long, lean body was tense.

“Why ain't you yourself, boy?”

I reached my hand out slowly, hoping he would lick it. My fingers inched toward him, but he continued to growl and flexed his jaw.

I took a tentative step forward and reached my hand out further. When it was only inches away from Houston's face, he reacted with lightning speed. His teeth sunk into my flesh, and I yanked my hand away as fast as I could. I hit the ground holding my mauled hand to my chest and braced myself for another attack.

Houston barked a bark that I had never heard before, and through my tears I could see his slim figure preparing to lunge at me. I squeezed my eyes shut and waited.

And then I heard a shot.

I didn't move for a long second. I was convinced the gunshot was just in my head. But Houston was no longer growling. I opened my eyes and saw my motionless Doberman. His sleek black coat was tinted red, and his amber eyes had returned to their state of soft lovingness.

“He was mad,” Curtis said as he knelt next to my dog. He put his hand on my shoulder and looked at my wound. “He hurt you pretty bad?”

I nodded.

My brother sighed and ripped a long piece of cloth from his overalls. He wrapped it around my hand real tight, and then helped me up.

“He's dead, isn't he?”

“Yeah, Danny, he's dead.”

“How'd you find me?”

“I was wanderin' around lookin' all night. I found you just now. Good thing I did, too, or you woulda been dead, just like that dog.”

I opened my mouth to reply, but I couldn't force any words out. Tears were streaming down my face, and I wiped them away as inconspicuously as I could. My hand hurt, my head hurt, and my heart hurt.

“Sometimes they're better off dead, Danny,” Curtis muttered as he looked down at Houston.

My head shot toward my brother, preparing to yell at him. I was gonna ask him how he could say that, and who he thought he was … but that was when it hit me.

Maybe my brother was right.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the March 2014 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.




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maddymadmad3 said...
today at 8:59 pm:
This story was sad, but beautiful:)
 
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