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Author Topic: Canines  (Read 913 times)

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Slimebeast

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on: 02:58:24 PM 05/20/20
Ever notice something that should've been obvious from day one?

The rotten bruise on a piece of fruit you just bought. The scratch or ding on a used car that looked spotless on the lot. The immediate red flags that should've told you a relationship was bad news.

I've found that the point at which you're most contented is when you should be the most worried. Arousal deafens you. Endorphins cloud your judgement. Adrenaline gives you tunnel vision.

I grew up in the 1980s. The era of unchecked overgrowth of consumerism. Happiness was getting the latest Ninja Turtle action figure. Un-boxing a gaming console was ecstasy.

That temporary state of nirvana probably explains why nobody noticed the dog.

It was my birthday. Everyone I knew was there, and as a child that felt as if my entire world, small as it was, had stopped just to watch me blow out candles and open presents.

My parents took photos of everything. The cake, me with a slice of cake, the other kids with their slices of cake, and so on. That year, they ordered said cake in the shape of He-Man's head. I was jazzed then, but looking at the photos now, the diced up pieces of a grinning face seem unintentionally morbid.

I was looking through those pictures in the middle of last year. One of my childhood friends, P.J., had passed away. Car crash. I wanted to remind myself what he had looked like before we had randomly parted ways for no real reason. The funny thing is, I never even knew what P.J. stood for, back then. I just accepted the name immediately and never asked.

The dog looked frightened. It sat there, tail between its legs, positioned beyond the sliding glass door in the background of a group shot. The party-goers, myself included, smiled for the camera as the flash lit up the animal's eyes outside.

I could barely make out what the dog looked like, since that night had apparently been black as pitch. All I saw were the twin blueish-green lights of its eyes, a curve of its body and tail, and a snout that almost seemed to end in a dramatic frown.

The sight disturbed me at first. Some dark, random beast lurking in the periphery of an old, creased photograph. However, reason stated it was just some lone stray that responded to the sound of children laughing and playing. Hell, it could've been a neighbor's pet trying to figuring out which house it belonged in.

I felt sad by the time I put the photo back into the old shoe box it had spent decades in. We hadn't noticed the poor thing. Who knows how long it waited by that door, only to be scared off by a camera flash?

P.J.'s funeral was out-of-state, so I couldn't find time to get out there and attend. I don't think anyone would have known who I was. He and I probably wouldn't have even recognized each other if we met on the street. In fact, maybe we had. Who knows?

I found a couple more photos of interest in the box. One of P.J. and myself using Super-Soakers to pretend we were Ghostbusters, and another of a cub scout troop we had both been a part of. I set them aside as the phone rang.

"Hello?"

No answer. I repeated the greeting two more times.

"Can't hear you. Might need to call back." I said quickly before hanging up.

In that moment between taking the phone away from my ear, and pressing the button to end the call, I heard what might have been a response.

It sounded like a high-pitched whine. Like a dog.

My mind only registered it after my thumb reflexively pressed down.

Beep.

The sound put me off right away. That wasn't a coincidence I could ignore. I waited several minutes for the phone to ring again. My brain told me it was just the sound of someone's phone dying, while the deepening, cold void in my stomach tried to convince me of more irrational things.

No call. Just a broad quiet that, in and of itself, became more eerie the longer I waited.

I told Alexa to play AC/DC. The complete opposite of silence.

Going back to the nearly bare drawing table I had used to search through the photos, I let out a tense sigh and instantly felt better.

"The Ghostsoakers". That's what P.J. and I had called ourselves on that hot summer day. We ran around the yard in our bathing suits, shooting water at nothing and screaming incorrect lines from the movies. My mom had to stop herself from giggling in order to snap the image. I don't know if she was laughing with us or at us.

It took a short time to notice the dog.

Cowering behind a tree, almost completely cut off on the left side of the image, it sat looking toward the camera once again. This time, the pronounced frown was gone -- replaced with what I can only describe as a flat expression.

I gasped. I had never gasped before, at least not to my recollection, and I'd only ever seen people gasp in comics and cartoons. I dropped the picture back down onto the table and physically pulled back from it.

Within seconds, I grabbed the second photo and began frantically studying it. There was my cub scout group, mostly kids I never actually knew, seated together at a wooden picnic table. The picture was taken by our den mother while we visited White Leaf park to earn our "insect study" badges. I don't even remember which child was hers.

I let myself relax again as my eyes swept across the scene and I found nothing out of place. Just smiling faces, spotless uniforms, and half-eaten snacks scattered all over the table.

I was playing a real-life hidden object game, and I was happy to lose.

Then, I realized I shouldn't be looking for a dog. I should be looking for those blue-green dots. The eyes reflecting the camera light.

The table.

Underneath it.

Between a criss-cross web of legs and walking sticks, in the dark shadow beneath us, I found the lights. I couldn't see the dog itself, just those eyes and the pearly white gleam of a slight grin.

Before I thought about the absurdity of what I was about to do, I was dumping the entire shoe box out onto my bed. I spread all of the photos out and flipped each one face-up. Holding the lamp from my night stand in one hand, I peered into each image and frantically searched the dog.

Eventually, I sorted them into groups. Photos that included me, photos that only included other kids, photos of adults, and photos of landscapes or objects that had no people visible at all.

Landscapes and objects were ruled out quickly. They had very few spots for anything to hide, as most depicted open areas or displayed vehicles.

It wasn't until I eliminated the pictures of the adults that I realized what I had been doing. Saving the most likely candidates for last. I had planned to look at the other kids next, then finally myself.

I knew, somewhere deep inside, that I'd only find the dog in that last group.

Sure enough, when night came and I was still sorting through it all, I discovered that I was right.

I held the lamp close to a photo of a school Christmas play. I stood on the stage, dressed in winter clothes and singing (badly) while someone in an awkward Christmas tree costume danced around me.

The dog peered menacingly around the bunched up stage curtain. Beneath the nearly white, glowing eyes, what had previously been a grin was now an over-sized, impossible smile full of nothing but canine teeth.

The dog's fur was black. Featureless. Seeing it on a lit stage instead of hunched in darkness was somehow more disquieting. It didn't even appear to have individual strands of fur. Its dark body was simply the smooth, fabricated shape of a normal dog.

The phone rang again.

Maybe it had been ringing the entire time. Between the music and my hyper-focus, I couldn't tell you which was the case.

I grabbed my phone and, without answering, checked the caller.

Paul Jerome Thomas. It was P.J.

Beyond all the other obvious reasons that didn't make sense -- he never even had that number. Looking back to the previous call, the whine, I found it had supposedly come from the same person.

Perhaps needless to say, I didn't answer. I turned the ring off and slammed the phone into a drawer for good measure.

In stark contrast to my previous reaction, I didn't throw the picture down or recoil from it. For whatever mindless reason, I clung to it, held it close to my chest, as I moved through the house. I closed blinds, checked locks, and searched closets. There was no reason to think I wasn't alone, but it seemed like a good idea nonetheless.

I sat up all night, sleepless, staring at the Christmas photo and wondering why the dog was tormenting me. I questioned whether it had actually been there that day, or if it was simply appearing to me now. I watched for it to move, but thankfully it never did. Thus, I convinced myself that it would indeed move if I stopped watching.

I woke up around noon, having no recollection of falling asleep or even feeling drowsy. I guess I should have made coffee or pounded some energy drinks.

Realizing I had looked away from the photo, I checked it again. The dog was still there. So much for my paranoid theory.

With a fresh mind and calmed nerves, I was able to make some sense of that photograph. Just a little, mind you.

The "Christmas tree" that was dancing around me during that musical.

That was P.J.

The memory made something fall into place, and that would have to be enough, I suppose. It was never about me. It was about him. The dog appeared in every photo I had of P.J. and, unless I had missed something, never appeared in the others.

I thought about how he died. A car accident. I would bet anything that he swerved off the road to avoid hitting a dog.

A dog with eyes lit by high-beams... and maybe even an unrealistic grin.

I took the pictures to P.J.'s grave. I didn't know what else to do with them. I considered making copies, or even taking photos OF the photos, but all that would do is create more copies of the dog.

When I arrived at the cemetery, I wasn't sure how long it would take me to find the right plot. I didn't tell anyone I was visiting, and I wasn't even sure I'd make it all the way before turning back out of dread.

That worry was forgotten when I saw a small, dark form in the distance, sitting beneath a specific headstone. It loped away and into the tree line before I could get close enough to actually fully see it.

When I arrived at the spot, I found it had dug a hole.

A hole just deep enough to bury a few photos.
« Last Edit: 04:13:03 AM 05/21/20 by Slimebeast »
If I should live until I wake, I pray the web my death to fake.



Poodonkus

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on: 05:23:28 PM 05/25/20
So what made P.J. connected to the "dog"?