EDDIE'S DEAD DOG
by Stephen Langlois
Eddie swept, penned a to-do list, labeled some boxes--dishes, blankets, clothes--but it was merely the illusion of an organized system. Weeks passed, yet he seemed to make no progress at all. Dusty drapes still covered grimy windows, cobwebs dangled from light fixtures, and the rooms were cluttered with the family’s unwanted junk.
Issue #100 soundtrack: Red Cosmos "Shout Into the Sky"
His plan, upon moving back to his childhood home, had been to fix it up, sell it, collect the money, then move the hell away--again. His dad died when Eddie was a kid, his aunt had put his mom in a nursing home, his step-dad was out of the picture, and his siblings had all dispersed. Andy was in the army. Teddy had bought himself a few acres upstate and was only seen once or twice a year. Abby had joined the Twelve Tribes, changed her name to Samarah, had her own family now. Eddie, the youngest, was the only one left.
Now, overwhelmed, he decided to work his way from the outside of the house in. He mowed the grass, plucked weeds, dug around the backyard to even out the lumpy ground a bit. It was behind the garage he accidentally dug up the dead dog, buried there how long? Twenty-five years? Her fur was dark and mangy, her ribcage jutted out, she had a stubby tail, and the tip of her left ear was missing. But then, she’d always been a ragged little mutt from what Eddie could remember, fending off attacks from other neighborhood dogs and enduring half-hearted kicks from Eddie’s step-dad. Yet never had she held a grudge. The second someone approached her, chained up alone in the backyard, she’d bump gratefully into their legs and look up with blank, blameless canine love.
Eddie was surprised she hadn’t rotted away, but when her eyes opened he was genuinely shocked, clutching the shovel defensively. When she started clawing her way from the hole, he realized he had a choice to make: He could tell himself it wasn’t happening, he was hallucinating, maybe going crazy from all the time spent alone in the weird, old house. He could reconsider all his previously-held notions of life and death. He could freak out. He could accept it calmly, knowing there was much in the world he didn’t yet understand. Or he could choose not to think about it at all.
“Frisbee!” he called to the dog, dropping the shovel. Her ears perked up. She looked around, blinking confusedly. “C’mere, Frisbee!” he called. She limped over, nudged her snout against his knees, sniffed his mud-stained jeans. Eddie wondered if she knew him after all these years. Did he smell the same? Could she remember such things?
“Good girl,” he told her, rubbing the scruffy head. The stub started waggling, and the two and a half decades underground were forgotten. Perhaps they hadn’t registered at all. She was no ghost, no reanimated corpse. She certainly wasn’t a hallucination. Eddie could feel her body as she leaned dumbly, dutifully against his legs. She was dead, yet somehow alive: A simple, unknown thing.
The dog spent long hours wandering the rundown house. Eddie’s mom’s old clothes were heaped on the floor of her bedroom closet, and these Frisbee sniffed with curiosity, as if trying to invoke the person who had worn them. His step-dad’s mildewed porno mags were crammed in the crawlspace, and these the dog sniffed with distaste, croaking in fright when a silverfish darted from between the pages. In Teddy’s room, she eyed the bedside table suspiciously. Upon it sat a bottle of stale cologne and an expired box of Trojans, leftovers from Teddy’s days as a teenaged mall-parking-lot lothario. In Andy’s room, she nudged the disused toys, the action figure limbs sprouting from between floorboards. In Abby’s room, her ears twitched, as if picking up a fragment of some long-gone radio song.
What could she be thinking? What sort of dim flickerings was that animal brain of hers--dormant for so long--generating? Eddie didn’t know. He simply followed her around, glad of the company. In his own room, the dog looked around impassively, took an uninterested sniff, turned, bumped into Eddie’s legs. They stared at each other, surprised, pleased.
The Alpo he got her she didn’t touch. Water she stared at vacantly. Never did she go to the bathroom. She went on their daily walks more for his sake it seemed than her own. Since his return, the neighbors had been watching Eddie with suspicion, studying him as he backed out of the driveway or worked in the yard, wondering who he was. He seemed seedy: A skinny, near-middle-aged man with no children or wife living by himself in a big house. Perhaps they associated him with the blow-outs between his mom and step-dad after the kids had all left--the shouting, the slamming doors, the car engines revving at two in the morning in angry exit.
But I’m the normal one, Eddie wanted to tell them. That he cared what they thought at all irritated him. Most were newcomers to the neighborhood and were themselves pretty seedy. They should be seeking his approval, not the other way around.
He walked the dog in hopes it would make him look ordinary. He trailed behind her casually, like an average, everyday homeowner, trying to ignore the shut-ins peering at him out of windows and the cigarette-smoking teenage girls snickering at him from stoops.
One day a bald, shirtless, flabby-breasted guy in too-short nylon shorts who had been mowing his lawn cut the engine as Eddie and the dog approached. “You gotta get that dog on a leash,” he declared. “It’s municipal law.”
“Thanks,” Eddie mumbled. The dog nosed a clump of grass, scooped it up with her tongue, limped away with un-swallowed blades trickling from her oblivious mouth. A leash seemed unnecessary for such a creature.
Another time, a pug-faced, buzz-cut-kid in baggy black t-shirt said, “What’s wrong with your dog?” He had on shoes with little pop-out wheels and he zoomed around on the sidewalk in a circle, popped the wheels back in, took a few steps towards them, then zoomed some more. “He smells like ass.”
“She’s a she,” Eddie said defensively. The dog stumbled back in fear from the abruptly zooming kid, fell to the ground, laid there stiffly. For a moment, Eddie thought she had died again.
“Fine,” the kid said, zooming off. “She smells like ass.” The dog stirred, bumped into Eddie’s leg. Maybe there was a faint, sour smell coming from her. Maybe her fur looked patchier than when he’d first dug her up. But what business was it of his neighbors? She was his dog, dead or otherwise.
Eddie had hoped the dog park would be more welcoming, but the regulars were a close-knit bunch. They would huddle around the picnic table, glancing at Eddie and the dog guardedly before turning back to sip from travel mugs. The other dogs avoided them, too: They were all pure-bred and well-groomed, wrestling playfully over chew toys on the far side of the park while Eddie and Frisbee loped around self-consciously by the gate. If one of them scampered into Frisbee’s path, they’d snarl at her, as if she had infringed on their territory. Frisbee would tremble and croak in terror, and the regulars would look over with smirking, mock-apologetic looks.
At these times, Eddie wished his dead dog could bark like a live dog. Yet he felt oddly proud, too. Her sickly croak--her very existence--was somehow defiant. We have as much a right to be here as you do, that croak implied, if not more so. Long before the hostile regulars had arrived in this crummy town Eddie had been here. Long before the beagles, boxers, terriers and Shih Tzu’s of the dog park there had been Frisbee, a nondescript pup brought home by Eddie’s step-dad in a cardboard box. His buddy’s dog had had an unwanted litter. Frisbee was a peace-offering, a bribe, a distraction for the kids while upstairs in the house their mom did odd, clamorous things with their step-dad.
The dog spent her first few days idiotically, obsessively chewing on an old frisbee, swallowing the plastic shards that broke off: Thus the name. Back then, the concept of a dog park would’ve seemed absurd. Such luxuries didn’t exist. Even now it seemed ludicrous. They’d drained the land behind the dilapidated mall, cleared a few trees, put up a chainlink fence. When it rained the ground was too soggy to walk on. When warm, mosquitoes swarmed in angry clouds. When still a swamp years ago, Teddy and his horny high school pals had taken their parking-lot conquests here, spreading out damp wool blankets and coaxing hands down pants. How many crumpled beer cans had the dogs dug from the mud? How many used condoms?
Eddie was pondering this one day when one of the regulars called over to him. “Your dog sick or something?” she said, faux-friendly grin upon her face.
“What?” Eddie called back, startled from his stupor.
“Is he sick?” she said, taking a swig from her travel mug. Eddie looked down at Frisbee, wheezing in exhaustion, tongue lolling. For the first time he noticed the sores on her back oozing blood, pus, or some other dark, sticky liquid. The acidic, nostril-stinging smell emanating from her was stronger, too. The regulars were all watching him now, smugly sipping.
“She’s a she,” Eddie told them and nudged the dog with his foot. She rose, joints popping, and followed him out the gate. The next time Eddie came to the park, the cluster of regulars seemed more conspiratorial than usual. A few pointed at Frisbee, then turned back to the group when Eddie noticed. He saw a clipboard being passed around.
Eddie marched over. “What is it?” he demanded. Frisbee shuffled up behind him, panting weakly, a pathetic punctuation.
“We’re starting a petition,” said the woman from the other day.
“A petition?” Eddie asked, as if he’d never heard the term.
“A petition,” the woman repeated. “To ban your dog from the park. We don’t want our dogs catching what your dog has.”
With nowhere else to go, Eddie kept the dog in the back yard. He found her old chain in a rusty pile in the garage, but decided there was no need for it. She spent most of her time curled up on a small patch of dirt, unmoving. Occasionally, Eddie would look out the window to check that the greasy lump was still there. Only rarely did she stir, stretching painfully, then limping a few feet before returning to her dirt-patch. Eddie would watch her reform into a lump, an oddly comforting sight.
One day, however, he glanced out and the patch was empty. Panicking, he scampered down the sidewalk. “Frisbee!” he cried. “Frisbee!” When he asked the stoop-girls if they’d seen her, they snickered, shook their heads, blew smoke at him indifferently. When he asked the boy with the pop-out wheels, he zoomed, stopped, sniffed the air dramatically, said, “Nope,” then zoomed away.
“You check the pound?” the flabby-breasted lawn-mower asked.
“The pound?” Eddie wondered dazedly.
“The dog pound,” the lawn-mower said. “It’s where they take unleashed dogs.”
The dog pound was a squat, windowless building on the far side of town. Eddie leapt out of his hatchback and burst through the door. “Is my dog here?” he cried at the two men behind the counter.
“Woah,” said the taller one. “What’s your dog’s name?”
“Frisbee,” Eddie said. “Small. Black. A little sick-looking.”
“Oh yeah,” the tall one said. “Brought him in earlier.” The small one yawned, as if in affirmation. Behind them, the whine of unhappy dogs could be heard through a heavy, steel door. “Do you have proof of ownership?” the tall one said, shuffling through some papers on the counter, trying to appear professional. When the yawner yawned again, he glared at him disapprovingly.
“Proof of ownership?” asked Eddie.
“Before we can release him,” the tall one explained, “the dog needs a license and rabies vaccination. The license is thirty bucks, the shot’s twenty-five. Then there’s the impound fee--that’s a hundred bucks. If he hasn’t been fixed, you gotta leave a deposit--that’s another hundred. Then you gotta go to the vet and get him fixed--that’s another hundred.” He shuffled more papers, looked at Eddie sternly. “If you’re unable to collect him within five business days we’ll have to euthanize him.”
“She‘s a she,” Eddie said, turning to leave. He had eighty dollars in his bank account. But what really worried him was the license, the vet, the people poking and prodding the dog, the inevitable questions: How old is she? How did she come back to life? They’d want to study her, run tests, cut her open. All of which was pointless. There was nothing to learn. She simply is, thought Eddie, just like anybody else. The fact of her existence was no stranger than his own.
He’d been a kid when the dog first died and couldn’t remember exactly how it had happened. Sickness? Old age? Whatever it was, it had to be better than an injection at the dog pound, better than a meaningless, redo-death in a windowless building at the hands of a yawner and a paper-shuffler.
He spent the next four days hunched in his hatchback, parked across from the pound, studying the habits of the two men. The yawner left in the van each morning and returned in the afternoon, dragging a couple strays through a door in the back of the building. Afterwards, he strolled back outside, yawned, smoked a lazy cigarette and fiddled with his cell phone. The door he left propped open with an old paint can to save himself the trouble of digging in his pocket for the keys.
Andy would storm through the front, commando-style. Teddy, back before he’d become strange and reclusive, would’ve charmed his way in and talked the two men into giving the dog up. Abby could’ve flirted with the yawner, made the paper-shuffler jealous, then turned them against one another. Eddie would have to sneak through the back.
On the fifth day, the yawner propped open the door and Eddie sprang from the car, sweaty and nervous. As the yawner wandered idly around the far corner of the building, Eddie slipped inside, into a narrow corridor. Overhead, fluorescent lights hummed. Cages lined the wall. Ragged strays paced unhappily on the other side of the bars. Some spotted him and moaned mournfully.
“No,” Eddie told them. “No, no, no.” He glanced up the corridor to the steel door. He looked back and saw Frisbee, slumped in one of the cages, sores oozing. He unlatched the door and pulled her out. She opened one blank eye, burped an awful, sour burp. Eddie clutched her to his body. She was cold, skinnier than ever, too light. Did she know him? He ran down the corridor, oily clumps of hair dropping from the dog’s body in a sickly, tell-tale trail. As he ran across the street, the yawner came around the corner and saw them.
“You can’t do that!” he yelled idiotically. Eddie dived into the hatchback, tossed the dog onto the passenger seat and sped away. He was flushed with triumph, stunned by how easy it’d been. Halfway home his adrenaline ebbed and he started sobbing, nearly swerving off the road.
That night the dog coughed up an inexplicable green blob. Eddie scooped it up with a paper towel and dropped it in the trash. The next day he found the dog curled up on the dirt patch, lifeless. He got the shovel and re-buried her behind the garage. In the end, he supposed, it was a disappointing resurrection: To find oneself so unchanged, then dead once more. Still, he could dig her up again in a few weeks--just to see what happens.
Stephen Langlois is a writer of the fantastic and absurd. His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from Glimmer Train, The Portland Review, Necessary Fiction, Weave Magazine, Big Lucks, Burrow Press Review, Juked, and Gigantic Sequins, among other places. He lives in Brooklyn. For more, visit stephenmlanglois.com or @stphnlanglois.
Anke Weckmann is a freelance illustrator from London, where she spends her days drawing, listening to audiobooks and spying on the neighbourhood cats. She's a little obsessed with vegetables and New York. You can find more of her work at ankeweckmann.com.
Red Cosmos is musician Kim Tortoise, who makes psych pop music (with occasional electronic bits) from his spare room in York, U.K. "Shout Into the Sky" is the last track on his recently-released album, Dreaming In Unison, which you can stream or download via redcosmos.bandcamp.com.