“Don’t forget to feed Doug before you go running off, mister,” my Pops called after me.
Talk about having a perfectly good day ruined right from the start. I was within an arm’s reach of making the gate when those dreaded words stopped me in my tracks. I had taken the porch steps two at a time that morning and was that close to dodging the single worst chore any boy could possibly have.
Feeding Doug was something I truly loathed. Mainly because it made me feel so bad for him. The way he always slobbered when he saw me, spinning around in circles and begging for me to let him loose. Made me feel guilty, knowing that I couldn’t dare for fear of Pops finding out. Poor thing.
It was actually supposed to be Joey’s week to take care of Doug, not mine. We switched turns every Monday. But my pain in the ass little brother had managed to sneak off early to school without bothering to fulfill his duties. It crossed my mind to remind Pops of this, but he’d been drinking all morning. Arguing with him now would only be asking for trouble.
“Don’t give me that look, mister.” Pops called us mister a lot. I’m not so sure he even remembered what our real names were any more. He swirled the cubes of ice around in his glass before taking a long pull from whatever vile concoction it held and grimaced. “Didn’t hear you whining when your mother brought the damn thing home in the first place.”
I stared at him blankly, unsure if I was expected to reply or not. You never quite knew with my Pops. If you opened your mouth you got a slap on the back of the head. Keep it shut and likely receive the same. Mostly it was best to say nothing at all and hope for the best. Especially when he’d started his drinking before breakfast, which was usually the case.
“Go and get Doug fed before you head out, son,” he said, rattling the last few swallows of his drink against the melting ice before making them disappear. He spoke Doug’s name as though the word left a bitter taste in his throat, but it might have just been the booze. “Do as I say, mister.”
I dropped my backpack at the gate and started for the shed. That was where we kept Doug after Pops came back home. Doug used to live in the house with us, but Pops put an end to that after he got out of jail and waltzed back home like nothing had happened. He saw Doug sitting on the couch, curled up next to Mom. One look on their happy faces and Pops darned near beat the poor thing half to death right there on the spot. Now Doug stays in the shed where Pops doesn’t have to look at him all day.
Pops was right about one thing. Joey and I were way happier when Doug was in the picture and he wasn’t. Doug made Mom happier than I’d ever seen her in years. Now she just stays in her room all
day and cries a lot. Too scared to spend any time with Doug even when Pops is gone to work. When he bothers to go, that is.
We keep Doug’s food in a five gallon bucket inside the shed. It’s a wonder he doesn’t paw the lid open and help himself when nobody’s looking, but he doesn’t. Can’t blame him really. Pops only buys him the cheapest brand dog food. The kind that doesn’t make gravy when you mix it with water. It just makes it stink worse than when it’s dry and turns to a pasty mush. Pops says that Doug doesn’t pay the bills so he shouldn’t get to eat anything fancy like the gravy kind. I’m glad he doesn’t think that way about my brother and me.
I filled Doug’s bowl and nudged it toward him with my foot, but he didn’t move. He just stayed curled up in the corner of the shed, barely breathing. The choke collar around his neck was all knotted around the thick ropes Pops used to bind his hands and feet. It was almost as if he were trying to strangle himself with his own leash. I held my breath and listened, but the only sound inside the shed was the ticking of Doug’s wristwatch. The only thing that Pops allowed him to keep besides his underwear.
“You okay, Doug?” I whispered in case Pops was listening.
Doug looked up at me with his sad old eyes. He looked so much different than he did when we first got him. After Pops broke the thick glasses he used to wear. “Just kill me, please.”
I petted his bald head gently even though touching him gave me the willies. It always left me with the urge to wash my hands afterward. “You know I can’t do that, buddy.”
I left him laying there and closed the shed behind me. As I made my way to the gate I knew that Pops would be waiting for me when I got home from school. Perched in his favorite chair on the front porch. A stiff drink in one hand and a shovel in the other. Telling me not to bother cleaning up for supper until my brother and I finished burying poor old Doug.
Bio: Craig Furchtenicht lives in rural Iowa where most of the inspiration for his writing comes from. He works by day as a mechanic in a toothbrush factory and spends his evenings pounding out fiction suitable for just about no one. His works include the novel Dimebag Bandits as well as several collections of stories, including Night Speed Zero. His stories can also be seen in such anthologies as Twelve Mad Men and Near to the Knuckle: Rogue.