I’ve lived in a small town in the North Eastern states my whole life. It’s a small town, really really small. So I’ve never had any friends here because I’m weird. I don’t play well with others or whatever. Even so, I don’t live with my parents. I moved out at eighteen. I rent an apartment and work two jobs to pass the time, one as a cashier at the only grocery store in town and I work weekends at the gas station. My apartment doesn’t allow pets. I’m always alone. I mean, I was always alone until I met the dog-boy.
It was September. I was walking home from my job at the gas station. It was late, nearly midnight. It was raining and the rain was freezing cold. I was walking down a street where all of the houses look abandoned. They aren’t pretty, decaying Victorian ghost homes. They’re small, four room buildings standing crooked in yards full of rusted cars and washing machines. I don’t walk along next to them. I walk on the other side of the street. On my side of the street I saw a dog crouching under a broken street-lamp. It was kind of far away, but it seemed large. It had a long chain hanging from its collar. It must have escaped from one of the houses. I didn’t feel afraid of the dog. My parents both love dogs and take in every stray they find. So I approached it, intending to take it to my parents despite the fact that it likely belonged to someone else. But as I drew closer, I realized it wasn’t a dog at all. It was a teenage boy, probably around my age. His hair was long and hid his face.
Unsure of what to do, I acted on instinct. I crouched down and held out my hand coaxingly.
“Here, puppy!” I said, in as friendly a tone I could manage. “Come here!”
The boy crept closer to me, his hair still covering his face.
“Good doggy,” I said. “Do you want to come home with me?”
Then, he stood up like a human instead of a dog. I felt suddenly afraid. He pulled a few strands of hair from his head, and tied them around my thumb.
“Ask your mother if I you can come over to play,” he said.
His voice was like that of a five or six year old child. He then made a high-pitched, whining sound, like a puppy that’s been kicked and loped across the street on all fours. I looked at the three strands of black hair that had been tied in a bow around my thumb. It’s strange to say, but I felt like I was in love with him. Instead of going home, I went to my parent’s house. He had mentioned that I should “ask my mother,” so perhaps she could tell me something about him. My parent’s, like most people who lived there, knew everyone in town. I did not. I had purposefully separated myself from those around me.
It was a long walk. I was soaking wet from the rain. My parents were accustomed to my sudden appearances, and did not greet me when I entered their home. I walked up to my mother and held out my hand to her, showing her the strands of hair tied around my thumb.
“Is there a dog-boy who lives in this town?” I asked.
She looked up at me with a spark of devilish curiosity in her eyes.
“I have heard that there is a family, I see them often at church, which has a child no one ever sees. Some people say that they have seen a dog-like boy steal chickens from their coops and eat them raw. Many think that the dog-boy is their child… But who really knows?”
My mother stood up and took off my rain drenched clothes. I did not try to resist. I saw her smiling at my obvious discomfort and fear. She shooed my father away and told me to lie down on the couch. I was naked and shivering. She handed me a mug of warm milk and watched as I drank it all. Then, she covered me with a white sheet and I fell asleep.
The next time I saw the dog-boy, it was on Sunday, at church. I do not usually go, but my mother had told me that the family’s other child had begun to attend with them. At first I did not recognize him, as I had never actually seen his face before. In church, he turned and looked at me. Then, he went to the back of the church, and beckoned to me. My mother stood beside me. I heard her whispering disapproving things under her breath. Then, she looked at me and said loudly,
“Well, then. You had better go to him, hadn’t you?”
My father shushed her. He was embarrassed by the people who had turned to look at us. I followed the boy to the back of the church, and then followed him outside. I cringed as the church door squeaked loudly, announcing our departure.
“Brother, don’t you remember me?” the boy asked.
I recognized his voice, and began to cry.
“What’s wrong?” he asked with a fearful voice.
“I don’t want to be your brother,” I said. “I want to marry you.”
“Is that so? Is that so?” he murmured to himself. “I suppose that’s alright then, if you say so.”
He looked again at me, and tilted his head in a friendly way.
“Come and visit me every day,” he said.
I nodded, solemnly.
Then, he got down on all fours, and ran away. He ran inhumanly fast when he was on all fours, and he kept his head down all the while so that his hair covered his face. I was cold, but I didn’t go back inside. I was watching the fireflies in the church-graveyard. There had never been any in September before, but that day there were hundreds.
I visited his house the next day. I was afraid of meeting his family, but to my surprise he was the one to answer the door. I asked where his family was and he said they were playing in the basement. I followed him up the trap door to the attic, which was where he lived. We spent hours talking to each other. I visited him every day, and each time we spent the hours just talking to each other. Over time, his family began to appear. Sometimes they would be sitting in the kitchen, and I would have to walk through there while they stared at me. The boy stopped answering the door for me, and I would have to go up to his room alone.
The undisguised hatred his family had for me was awful enough, but there were many other things which confused me in that house. Often, I would leave his house late at night. Hiding in the junk and the weeds, there would be little white lights. I thought they were fireflies, although it was September, but soon I began to feel certain that they were eyes. When I was upstairs with him, I would often sense something watching us through the small attic window. I begged him to cover it, and he did. But he said he did not feel like we were being watched. He did not notice anything that I noticed. When I told him my fears, he would look concerned, but he did not seem to believe there was any danger.
I was not afraid for myself.
In late October, I visited his house on a Sunday morning. The two of us hadn’t attended church since we had met each other there. I felt especially excited about visiting him, since his family would not be there. I climbed the step ladder to the attic, and we greeted each other with friendly barking. His eyes shone as I sat on the floor in front of him and began to tell him a story about arctic wolves. But my enthusiasm waned quickly. I began to feel heavy and disoriented. My sight seemed to get unnaturally focused, like when you put on a pair of glasses with a prescription too strong for you. Suddenly, I couldn’t move my body. My mouth opened wide, but not of my own accord.
“Kill me! Fucking kill me!” a shrill, girlish voice screamed from my own mouth.
And then, I, she, it, just kept screaming. My sight went black, but I could feel arms around me, holding me. I hoped they were the dog-boy’s arms. When it finally stopped, everything was silent, as if the scream had been cut off with a knife. My sight came back slowly, blurry. But I didn’t wait for that. I grabbed the boy’s hand.
“You can’t stay here anymore. I don’t know what’s going on, but you can’t stay here,” I said.
I felt ridiculously happy at the sound of my own voice coming out of my mouth.
“Come live with me,” I said. “I have to be able to know you’re safe.”
He looked confused, but he nodded in agreement. All the same, I practically had to drag him out of that house. He kept whimpering the entire walk to my apartment. By the time we got to my apartment, he was in tears.
“I don’t want,” he said. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to you again.”
“We’re all safe here,” I said. “See?”
I locked the apartment door.
“Nothing can get in here except for us,” I said.
The next day, I had to go to work. I reassured the boy that I’d have my cell-phone with me. I showed him how to use the house phone, and we practiced calling each other. We laughed hearing our delayed responses on the phones while we both sat in the same room.
“If anything happens, anything at all, I don’t care how silly it may seem, call me,” I said.
He tilted his head in a friendly way and smiled.
When I got home, it was dark outside. I saw the white eyes watching the apartment building, and I started to cry out of anger.
“Leave us alone! Just leave us alone, all of you!” I screamed.
But I had frightened myself by screaming, it reminded me too much of yesterday when something else had screamed in my own body. Trembling, I ran up the stairs to the apartment. I knocked on the door, and waited for the boy to open it. A sippy cup rolled down the apartment hallway towards me. It was my cup, my teddy bear cup from when I was a child. I wanted to just slam my head into the wall and pass out but I couldn’t leave the boy alone. I tried calling the house phone, but it was off the hook. Anger at whatever was doing this to us took over my fear. I went to the side of the apartment building. There was a fire escape that led to my apartment’s bedroom window. I ran up the fire escape stairs. I had been planning to break the window, but it was open. I went inside.
In my bed, there was someone sleeping. I stood beside them. It was a little girl with flaxen hair in two braids. Her mouth was stitched shut with fine, pale, long strands of hair. I felt suddenly protective of her. Her eyes opened. She looked frightened, so I sang to her a lullaby which I had often sang to the boy before leaving his house at night.
I heard in my head her voice. I was frightened, it rattled like a moth inside my skull. And I recognized it. It was the one that had possessed me before.
She asked me, “Is this okay?”
She asked me, “Do you still want me?”
I nodded again, my heart suddenly calm with understanding.
“I will always protect you, my doll-girl, my dog-boy,” I sang.
She closed her eyes again. She told me nothing else, although I wished that she would. I began to get drowsy, and as I was falling asleep I heard the dog-boy say, “Thank you. I will never, ever forget you. I wish we had more time.”
I woke, shivering, on the floor of my parent’s bedroom. I heard my father’s snores which used to frighten me as a child. I stood up. I was wearing a white dress, rather like an infant’s baptismal gown. A cold light shone through the window. I could see my mother was not in bed. She was in the kitchen, standing in front of the sink. The water was running. I crept down the carpeted stairs. The stairs did not creak. Small black shapes scampered past me. They were rabbits wearing red ribbons tied about their necks. My mother opened the fridge. I stood behind her. The small, yellow light from the refrigerator illuminated the kitchen. For a moment, I could see it was full of people.
“What do you want?” my mother asked.
There wasn’t room to move, at least not without pushing past the people who stood silently filling up the kitchen.
“Do you want this?” my mother asked, holding the knife she used to butcher our chickens.
I took a step back, only to bump into a warm body in a woolen coat. I couldn’t help but laugh when I said, in my own voice, “Kill me. Just fucking kill me.”
I woke choking on blood. There was blood on my bed, blood on the walls. It was like poppies, roses, a red flower garden. I went to the other room of my apartment, the kitchen/living room that most one bedroom apartments have. There was blood on the carpet, blood in the kitchen sink, clotted drips of blood on the front door. I didn’t feel anything. I almost believed I was still asleep. I went into the bathroom. There was blood there too. The dog-boy was gone. I opened the front door. My teddy bear cup wasn’t in the hallway anymore.
I went down the stairs. I went outside. It was early morning, not quite light outside yet. But, the little white eyes were gone. I was alone again. It was cold and I was barefoot and covered in blood. I ran all the way to the boy’s house. I rang the doorbell furiously as the sun rose. The mother opened the door and stared at me. I grabbed her wrist.
“Where is he?” I asked her.
“Angela, your son is here,” she said.
My mother came out of the house, and took me by the hand.
“It’s time to go home,” my mother said.
“Can we come back and play again tomorrow?” I asked.
My mother smiled.