He had put all his anger into the black dog. Every ounce, every trickle, every whisper; he filled up on it and put it into the dog, away from him.
As such, he didn’t like to think about what was out back, out in the broken little house that stood at the far edge of the long, narrow lot. He didn’t like to think about what spent its days hidden in the dark interior, behind rotting wooden planks, beneath loose, age-curled shingles.
He didn’t like to think about what it was that he had surrounded with rusty steel fencing, itself crowded by thick, yellow weeds that would never be cut and partly obscuring the torn “No Trespassing” and “Danger: Attack Dog” signs hung like protective wards around the property.
He wasn’t even sure whom he was protecting from what — if the fence was to keep everyone out or keep the dog in. Probably both.
He didn’t like to think about the dog, chained up out back, about the garbage-strewn ruin that was his backyard, the dry, barren earth, the yellow weeds, the black, skeletal trees at the far edge of the property and the thick screen of midnight-leaves and dark trunks that crowded to either side of the house and hid it all from the neighbors.
He didn’t clean out there, didn’t paint the back of the house or fix the windows or repair the doors on the back porch. He left it alone, and spent as little time as possible out back.
He was lucky he lived on the edge of town. He couldn’t have hidden the dog outside in any neighborhood in town, and the thought of having it in the same house with him, even locked away in a basement, disturbed him too much.
At least in the backyard, at the edge of the property, it was out of sight and out of mind, and the wilderness, such as it was, seemed to intervene in some way for him upon its lurking presence.
So he tried to forget about it, except for the times when he brought the thing out during the darkest midnights of the new moon and spoke the bad words, and put his hands on its misshapen head so that it screamed and howled.
Those nights, his neighbors — the brave ones — would call the cops to complain about the noise his dog was making. The officers that came would always ask to go into the backyard to see the dog, and he would always protest to deaf ears.
But once they caught flashes of its gleaming eyes in the dark recess of its doghouse, every one of them invariably backed down, as if instinctually sensing what he kept back there fenced away from the world.
So he would receive warnings about the dog, and occasionally a citation, but little else. These days, the cops rarely came; there weren’t that many of them in the small city and at this point every officer on the force had been by at least once, had seen those gleaming eyes, and made the decision to just leave it alone.
Today, though, he was thinking about the dog more than usual. Much more than usual. He was trying to think of what to do with the dog. He was not quite yet terrified of what he had created; he was far more afraid of what would happen to him without the dog.
Still, the question rolled both idly and with a rabid frequently through his thoughts: what would happen if the dog became unmanageable…if it began to show aggression towards him?
He peered out the broken screen door into the barren backyard, the yard bright and hot under the white noon sky. His dark eyes followed the line of the long, thick chain running across the dusty, pock-marked ground and into the dark hole of the doghouse where the dog lay doing whatever it was it did all day in the dry heat.
He didn’t know.
It never came out in the day. He never checked on it. He fed it in the evening, left its scratched and dented steel bowl near the iron spike driven about halfway between him and the doghouse, and when he would check in the morning, the bowl would be empty and overturned, lying somewhere else in the yard.
He never saw it eat. But he had to clean up its messes.
Long ago, he had learned not to be nervous around the dog. It wouldn’t hurt him, at least not as long as he showed no fear or anxiety near it, and any anger he might have held towards the dog for its occasional growls and territorial protestations were all channeled into it anyways.
Still, he couldn’t see anything in the dark interior of the thing’s doghouse. Sometimes he would see a massive black paw with long claws, or the tip of its huge black-nosed snout an inch out in the sunshine that sometimes bled a touch into the black entryway.
That was another reason he tried not to think about it: thinking about it too much made him nervous.
He was terrified of the day some stupid kid decided to show how brave he was by going into the backyard with the vicious dog with all his little friends watching…and then they would all see. They would all tell their disbelieving parents, and there would be a body to deal with. Another body.
There would be demands the animal be destroyed, taken away and euthanized. Animal control would show up to take the dog, and the police would finally get their chance to see what he kept chained up back there. He wasn’t sure the dog would like that. He wondered how many more people would be hurt or die before they realized the real danger of what they were dealing with?
And there would be the publicity, the reporters with their cameras taking pictures and asking questions. He didn’t want that. There would be questions, questions he couldn’t answer, because nobody would believe the answers he could give them. There would be an investigation and his life would be turned inside out.
He had buried one body already — he saw the “missing person” posters at the post office on Mondays, with the innocent, cherubic face staring out at him, and he had lived next to the distraught parents every day until they had moved and tried to build a new life somewhere else. He had never said a word to them.
There had been no point. Dead was dead. It had been an accident, and he didn’t need the questions, the police and animal control and the reporters and their cameras and probing noses. So he said nothing, and it ate away at his guts.
He still didn’t know what had possessed the child to crawl into the doghouse, didn’t know how the child had gotten into the backyard in the first place. He almost suspected the teenage boys down the street as having something to do with it — the twins, always in trouble with the authorities, always doing things they shouldn’t but never disciplined by their loud-mouthed, opinionated mother, but too young yet to be locked away.
He suspected they had something to do with it, but he was a poor judge of people, especially children, and could never tell what the furtive looks those boys passed between themselves when they saw him actually meant. If it was just teenage derision towards an adult widely considered an outsider even by other adults in his neighborhood, or if it was something more, if they knew something, or thought they knew something because they had seen something.
Regardless, it had been the dog’s fault, what happened. But there were good reasons to keep the dog around. Very good reasons. And it had never gotten loose or even tried to escape. That was supposed to be the deal.
Copyright (c)2006-2007 Raven Daegmorgan