March 20th, 2019.
Weather is clear. Fluctuates in temperature. Clouds on the horizon as of 3:00 pm. They approach steadily.
Thunder approaching. Pregnant storm clouds. Purple in color. They are approximately five to 10 minutes from opening up.
Skin is tingling. All the usual signs. My jaw, neck, and fingers feel particularly painful since two days prior. Everything is on schedule.
On the afternoon of March 20th, 2019, Anna went to the window to observe the approaching storm. The clouds were ripe with it. She was following protocol: checking off the usual signs of the season's change. Her last box to check was the dog.
Alfred, an Australian sheepdog puppy, had been given to her by her father before he and her mother and her little brother left three weeks earlier.
"When he starts to whine and get restless, assume you have about one week. When he becomes skittish around you, give it three days. When he tries to get away from you, commence lockdown," her father wrote in his note to her.
The note was left in an envelope taped to a cardboard box with the dog in it. When she woke up that morning three weeks ago, the box was sitting in the living room and her family and all of their things were gone.
Three weeks later, Anna looked out the window and watched the puppy dig frantically at the dirt next to the fence surrounding their property. "Property" was probably too fine a word for the dumpy, two-bedroom cabin in Pennsylvania she had shared with her parents and brother for the last six months. Anna and her family moved around a lot since she turned thirteen five years ago. They kept their living situation simple and cheap. It wasn't worth spending the money on damages.
"Buddy!" she called out to Alfred. It was her term of endearment for him, but in truth, she called them all Buddy. It was too upsetting to learn their names.
Buddy whipped his head towards the sound of her voice. His eyes, usually clear and innocent, were dark with panic. Anna had a flash of her little brother's eyes looking at her in terror. It happened two years before and it was a close call. Her parents hadn't been smart enough yet to know that removing themselves during the change was necessary.
The dog put his focus back on his digging. Anna watched sadly as he dug until he could just push his snout under the fence. He pushed wildly until his head made it under. He got stuck there and a moment of panic reached up through Anna's throat and she couldn't help but shout out to him, fearing he would hurt himself in his effort.
The dog turned his eyes towards the cabin. His panic showed the whites of his eyeballs as he frantically strained them. Anna opened the screen door on the porch and called again.
"Buddy!" she tried, but his name came out of her mouth in an unearthly howl. Alfred's hair stood up all along his spine and he dug his nails deeper into the earth and pushed himself under the fence until he was out on the other side. He ran off into the forest and Anna could smell his sweat leaking through his pores. She could smell the blood coursing through the little dog's veins, pumping in and out of his sweet little heart.
She turned and leaped onto the porch and threw the screen door open so hard it snapped off of its hinges. She tossed the kitchen table aside and ripped the rug away to reveal a trap door. She pulled the door open, feeling her concentration wane. All she could think about was the woods. She could smell the animals. She could hear them. She could feel them and she couldn't wait to see their panicked little faces.
Anna stood looking down at the hole in the kitchen floor, wrestling her own mind. The last shreds of her rational brain tried to get herself to go down the stairs. She thought of the Robert Frost poem her father had taught her to keep her focused:
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
She repeated the lines over and over again in her head and agonizingly, stepped down the dark steps to the lockdown room. She stepped into the human-sized cage that her father had fashioned from steel in his shop.
But I have promises to keep
With a shaking hand already sprouted with hair and sharp nails, she closed the door to her cage and took the key off the floor next to the door. She tried to lock it and dropped the key. She was panting, her bones and muscles twisting as she tried to manipulate the tiny key into the lock. Finally, the key went in. She turned it and heard the click, threw the key away from the cage and let her mind go where it would.
Thirty seconds later, she couldn't remember how she got into the cage. She pulled at the bars and howled. She stayed that way for a full day and a night, dreaming of the woods and smelling all of its delicious treasures while cursing the creature that locked her away from it all.
Written by Dgrady237