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By Calliope Njo
I suppose I should have expected it. Baxter hadn’t been himself for a while. He didn’t greet me at the door like he used to or find the ball so we could play fetch at the park. I’d like to think the squirrels missed him too. About the only thing he did was eat and sleep. The final decision was done out of love.
When I bought the house, the furniture went in first but it still needed something. I got a dog and he fit in perfectly. The house was complete.
Since his death though, no familiar pair of brown eyes when I peered down the hallway or the noise he made while he slept. My once warm bed turned cold. The house felt incomplete again.
I complained every morning I had to wake up early to be sure he got his daily walk in. It felt funny to sleep in and it still did. I went back to the old schedule and became a member of a gym instead of sleeping the extra hour. Funny how it worked out.
I had two weeks coming, and that’s what I did. Grandpa had a cabin up in the woods and I took advantage of his offer. He warned me though that come Halloween, I had to be wary of the Nightmare Hound. An evil dog that if seen, would kill anyone and take away their soul to his master. Even though the story was hard to believe, I gave Grandpa a big smile. “Okey-dokey.”
He laughed and gave me the keys.
I smiled when I imagined Baxter running around chasing all the squirrels up into the trees. He would have loved this cabin.
Grandpa never mentioned wolves in the area, so when I heard howling, I wondered. Could have been the Nightmare Hound, but he spoke of no noise the hound would have made. I went back to sleep with that thought in mind.
Between hiking and fishing, I kept busy during the day. Made a trip down the hill to the local town. Scarecrows, Jack O’Lanterns, and decorated shops spoke of the coming holiday.
The cafe had a Halloween special. Mummy meatloaf, spooky scalloped potatoes, and ghostly green beans. I couldn’t stop laughing and only hoped that it tasted better than it sounded. The waitress told me I had better be careful because the cook was looking for brains. She pointed him out and he poked his head out. No mask but he had enough makeup on for me to believe he turned into a zombie.
The dessert sounded perfect, Goblin Berry Pie. The goblin berry was a mixed berry filling but delicious with a scoop of ice cream. A little too much to devour, and may have to pay for it by waddling, but it was all good. Baxter would have inhaled the potatoes and the green beans with a modified recipe of course. That mixed-up mutt would have had it, anyhow.
With all that food in my stomach, I had to do some serious hiking the next day to work it off. About halfway there, that howling came again. It sounded louder which made me think it came closer. Could it be after me?
I turned on my flashlight and quickened my step a little to beat that beast back home. I got in and secured the door. It might not have made a difference but it made me feel better.
A dog barked from somewhere. “Hold on a minute buddy boy you’re—” What did I say? Baxter died so how could that have been him plus it was lower in pitch. Maybe I needed sleep.
Changed my clothes and cleaned up a bit, and I climbed into bed with thoughts of sleep so I must’ve been tired. Something woke me up. I couldn’t quite place the noise. Something in between a hiss and a growl. I opened my eyes to see bright red eyes boring into me. It was dark but the strange thing was that I could tell a dog was staring at me. I never thought it was possible for something to be darker than dark.
No, it couldn’t be. An old story from an old man. That’s all. Get to sleep and it’ll go away. Yeah, and if I told myself that enough times, I might’ve believed it.
I could tell it was going to be an excellent day with the birds singing and the sun shining. A new day lay ahead. Whatever happened last night must’ve been something created from my loss of Baxter.
Another day spent hiking up into the woods. A shame nobody was around. I thought it would’ve been perfect to get a fire going and roast some marshmallows with someone. “Hey, Bax—” I had to stop. Sixteen and a half years of doing the same thing. I wasn’t sure if it was a good habit or bad.
After reality reminded me, I put away the marshmallows and went into the cabin. After the fire came alive in the fireplace, I couldn’t help but see Baxter as he would beg and yelp for a marshmallow. Well, time to call it a night.
No supper but I didn’t think I was hungry either. Maybe I ate too much the night before. On the other hand, eating wasn’t so much fun anymore without my partner.
I had to shake him. Maybe that’s not right. How about trying to let him go? That would be better. Otherwise, I would’ve sounded like a cruel human.
Needed to close my eyes and think good thoughts. The trees, the birds that seemed to find me and snatch whatever food I might’ve brought with me, and the atmosphere. Clean and clear with a good breeze that blew across my face.
Where did that stench come from? Beyond description sort of smell. The need to see overrode the need for sleep and those same red eyes bored into me again. Except it wasn’t from a distance. Its nose touched mine. Back up and crawl out of bed as fast as possible and be sure to keep it in your sights or else it might strike.
I forgot all about the floor. After a hard drop, I somehow stood up and ran. It snarled as it chased after me. The bark it had told me it meant business. So any thoughts of throwing anything to distract it wouldn’t work.
Behind the couch would’ve been a good place to hide, but that thing weighed a ton. The bare cupboards in the kitchen were the only place left. I crouched under the sink and waited. It got cold, and I knew it wasn’t because of my hiding place. It had to be that monster.
It waited right outside. That growl and those eyes were clear even with the door closed. I didn’t know what to do.
I wish you were here, Baxter. I loved you buddy boy.
I heard a dog bark. Not that evil thing but a dog. It had to be Baxter. I’d know that noise anywhere.
The door opened enough for me to look and that thing turned around as well. At last, my chance to get out and run back to the room.
With the door secured, I breathed. Sounded silly but I had no idea if I did at all. That thing found me and it broke through.
I somehow broke away and climbed on top of the bed. I watched as Baxter bit the dog’s leg. The dog turned around and went after Baxter.
Baxter jumped high in the air at the same time that demon dog did. He got a hold of that demon’s throat. I screamed his name. I didn’t want him to die. Not like that.
The demon dog howled and a black substance escaped its throat. A bright light flashed and the two disappeared.
I knew what happened and that Baxter saved me. The problem was how to explain it without sounding like I lost my mind.
I sat on the bed and cried. “Oh, Baxter. Buddy boy. You saved me. Thank you and I do love you.”
The pillow felt so good under my head. Maybe, at last, I could get some sleep.
It wasn’t time to go home yet, but it didn’t feel right staying there. The events lingered in my head as I tried to sort out the events while my heart screamed and cried. Life had to go on and so did I. Some things couldn’t be forgotten and this event would never be forgotten.
I made it back home and got around to cleaning everything and throwing away Baxter’s things. Since I didn’t have a dog, there was no sense in keeping it. I could always get new stuff when I got a new dog. That would only be right.
Oh, what was I thinking? The laundry had to be done, Baxter’s old bowls and bed needed to be thrown out and all of his hair needed to be vacuumed up.
Before I could start though, someone rang my doorbell. I opened the door. “Oh, Grandpa. I was honestly going to drop by tomorrow. I wanted to get some cleaning done before then. Come in.” I waved him in.
“Well, I’m not alone.” I didn’t notice before he brought my attention to it, but he had a dog in his arms. “I brought this little one with me. She’s a year and a half, potty trained, loves liver, and a bit of a snuggler. If it’s too soon, I understand and I’ll keep her for you. Oh and her name’s Biscuit ’cause she’s biscuit colored.” He smiled.
Oh, Baxter. You had a sister and you didn’t tell me. “Tell you what. I have to get some cleaning done. So how about if I come to pick her up on Sunday morning. It’s Friday, so by then I should have everything cleaned and all of the supplies I would need. How’s that?”
“That’s perfect. See ya then.”
“Bye, Grandpa.” I closed the door. Then that night flashed in my head. I didn’t need to bring it up with him. He might think I went bonkers. That night was between me, God, and Baxter. More cleaning to get done if I was going to make it by Sunday.
* * *
Grandpa closed the door behind him. “Biscose, do you promise to protect my granddaughter for all that you are worth? If not, I will find another to take your position. That demon will not take my family.”
Biscuit transformed into a woman. “Yes. I do. I will protect her from the demons that linger. That is my duty.”
“Good. Sunday, your duty will begin. I suggest you rest until then.”
Biscose nodded and lay on the couch.
Grandpa poured himself a brandy while he looked into the fire. “No demon will dare take away the only thing that I hold dear. I would sacrifice myself before that happened. He must find another way to satisfy his greed.” He drank his brandy and stared into the fire.
Please visit Calliope on her blog at https://calliopenjosstories.home.blog