I was out on a hike when I discovered a dog in the forest. She was in bad shape. She didn’t have a collar, but it looked like she’d had one in the past. The fur and skin around her neck was terribly calloused and infected. She was skittish and didn’t want to come near me, but when I gave her a chunk of jerky I’d been carrying, she changed her mind.
She loved the stuff, so I used that to lure her out of the woods. When she got out from under the trees and I could see her in the sunlight, it was obvious she’d been neglected a long, long time. Every rib was visible under her mangy coat. She had a couple sores near the remains of her tail. Her left ear was missing, too. It looked like the poor girl had had a very difficult life; I got the feeling that if I hadn’t come around, she wouldn’t have lasted much longer.
When we got home, I lit a fire, put out a bowl of water and some leftover meatloaf, then poked around the house to see what I could put on her wounds. When I got back into the living room, all the food and water was gone and the dog was sleeping next to the fire. Steam was rising off her damp fur. Right then, I decided to call her Smokey.
As the days went by, Smokey got better. I looked online and learned how to give her some of my leftover antibiotics to clear up her infections. I bandaged her paws and tail and ear. They healed. Her weight went back to what I assumed was normal for her frame. After a month, she didn’t look like a husk of a dog anymore. She was starting to look healthy. Happy, too. She loved to wag that stump of a tail. I still couldn’t figure out what kind of dog she was, though. Just a mutt, I figured. A mutt, but a great one.
When I’d had Smokey for almost a year, I got a job offer that required me to relocate. I’d been working from home for the last five years and I wasn’t very happy with it. Sure, the freedom was fun, but I was starting to get bored. Rural life, it turned out, wasn’t for me. So I accepted the job and moved to a suburb of New York City.
The house I bought wasn’t too big, but it had a great yard for Smokey to make her own. It was fenced in, had a nice tree for her to sleep under, and I got her a great dog house just in case it started to rain while she was outdoors. It worked out great.
Then, somehow, Smokey broke through the fence and ran away. I panicked. I called veterinarians and animal shelters and police departments to see if anyone had found her. No luck. I drove through the neighborhoods and put up signs and offered a $250 reward. Still, nothing.
I couldn’t believe how much I missed her. She’d filled a void in my life I never knew I had, and now she was gone. I was devastated and terrified. I knew I’d get a phone call from animal control telling me they found her dead on the side of a highway somewhere.
Two months went by. I assumed I’d never see my dog again. One night, though, I heard familiar barking. I ran downstairs and flung open my front door. It was Smokey. I was bewildered and overjoyed; not only did she look like she was in good health, but she was plump with what I assumed was a late-term pregnancy.
I let her in the house, and only then did I discover something was amiss. She was skittish and didn’t want to be touched. I tried to pet her, but she snapped at my hand. I pulled away and she walked toward the back door, indicating that she wanted to go out.
During the time she was gone, I’d improved the fencing situation in the event she ever came back. I let her outside and watched as she made a beeline for the dog house. She disappeared inside and didn’t emerge for the remainder of the night.
Assuming her aggression was because of her pregnancy, I didn’t concern myself with it as much as I perhaps should have. I was happy to have her home.
A week later, Smokey had her puppies. She began guarding the dog house with a level of ferocity I’d never seen in her. I couldn’t even get within five feet before she’d bark and growl and lunge at me. I could hear her litter pitifully yipping and wailing, just like all newborn dogs. I decided to leave them be, assuming Smokey would come around after a while. I continued to leave food out for her and let her go about her business.
Weeks passed. I hardly saw Smokey aside from the few times she left the dog house to eat and drink. I’d clean up the yard every so often, just so there wasn’t shit everywhere, but she never came out to greet me. She’d stay in the dog house, glaring. I could tell the puppies were getting bigger by the sounds they made and how they bumped against the inside of the dog house. Not once did she allow them to venture outside, though.
As time went by and I grew worried about Smokey’s aggression toward me, I considered asking a vet to visit the house to tell me if her behavior was abnormal or simply an instinctual drive to protect her young. Then Smokey stopped coming to the porch for food and water. She was still out there, guarding the dog house, snapping and barking whenever I approached, but no longer eating. I assumed the puppies were doing okay, but I still hadn’t been allowed to see them. On the third day of Smokey refusing to eat or drink, I called the vet to make a house call.
She arrived late that afternoon.
We went outside and approached the dog house. The moment we stepped off the porch, Smokey began to growl. For the first time, the puppies growled too.
“See what I mean?,” I asked the vet.
She didn’t reply, but a look of concern crossed her face. We approached the dog house and stopped about ten feet away. Smokey kept growling.
“Do you know who the father of the puppies was by any chance?”
I shook my head. “No, she disappeared for a while and came back pregnant.”
She stepped forward and Smokey’s growl got deeper. So, in turn, did the growls of her still-hidden litter.
“And she hadn’t exhibited aggression toward you in the past?”
“No. None at all. She’s been sweet and kind for as long as I’ve known her.”
Smokey barked as the vet closed the distance.
“I don’t think it would be a good idea to get any closer – it’s obvious she doesn’t wa-”
Before she could finish the sentence, Smokey lunged. The vet, expecting the attack, pivoted to the side. Smokey dropped to the ground where the vet had been standing a second before. I screamed.
Stretched between Smokey and the dog house were loops of intestine which bulged from holes in the dog’s side and belly. The flesh of her rear half was bloody and ragged; almost looking as if it had been chewed. She barked and howled at both of us, struggling to leap again, but she had no strength remaining. She watched, the violence in her eyes waning, as we approached.
The vet dropped to her knees to inspect the wounds while I tentatively placed my hand on her head. She growled at first, then whimpered. I scratched her ears and she licked my arm. I knew she was about to die.
A sound from the dog house made us jump. More growling. The puppies. We saw shapes moving inside the dark, wooden structure. The shapes didn’t move like dogs.
All at once, some… things… tumbled out.
The vet gasped. Writhing on the lawn were half a dozen creatures. Their faces were semi-canine, but the rest of them was something entirely different. Entirely wrong. Eight, twitching legs each. Hairless, veiny, gray skin. Red eyes. And they were long. Serpentine.
“Oh my God,” the vet breathed. I said nothing. One of the puppies, the largest of the six, clamped its tiny, sharp teeth on a yellow cord of viscera. Smokey didn’t move. She was gone.
One of the young looked at us for the first time and it yelped. They all craned their heads up in our direction. Upon seeing us, they started backing away toward the dog house. The vet moved closer, bending down to pick one of them up.
As if fired from a canon, the puppies fled across the lawn at blinding speed. Before either of us could react, they’d clambered across the yard, scaled the fence, and disappeared over the other side.
They were never seen again.
I allowed the vet’s office to perform a necropsy on Smokey. Her determined cause of death was consistent with the injuries she’d received. There was no explaining the deformities of her litter.
I miss Smokey every day. She was my friend and my companion. I try not to think about the last portion of her life with me; the part when she was obviously scared and in pain. Still, on clear nights, I hear strange howling and bizarre, cackling barks. I know what they are, but I don’t want to imagine how they look like now that they’ve grown up. The vet notified animal control and they patrolled the area for a while before giving up. I know they’re out there, though.
It’s hard for anyone in the neighborhood to keep an outdoor cat for very long. They just disappear. Racoons don’t knock over garbage cans anymore, either. A few streets down, Ron Perriman and his wife, Alyssa, lost their toddler daughter. She was playing in the backyard, Alyssa went in to grab her cell phone, and in that 20-second span, she was gone. The police are still looking for her.
I don’t try to speculate about what happened. I try to get on with my life; home to work, work to home. It’s tough to enjoy the time in between, though. The stillness. The silence. Aside from Smokey being gone, it just feels like things are missing. I can’t even tell you the last time I heard a bird singing outside.