Category Archives: Fiction

Great Escape

“Do you want some water?”

I paused to think about the answer like I was on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” and Craig was Regis Philbin, like it was a trick question. I considered using a lifeline or opening the car door, jumping out at the next light, and making a break for it.

Could I really trust Craig? He was my roommate sure, but the kid is shady.  I had to play it coy and get some more information out of him.

“Maybe,” I said.

The ball was in his court.

He half chuckled, put the bottle between us and said, “Well, it’s here if you need it.”

Now certain of his indifference as to whether or not I took a drink, I did. If he was really up to something he would have been more persistent. Or would he? I second guessed myself as I brought the bottle to my mouth, but it was too late. Once I felt the wet plastic on my lips and the refreshing fluid within touch my tongue, I didn’t care anymore.  I even forgot what I was wondering about in the first place.

The water reintroduced the sensation of moisture to my parched, disgustingly dry mouth, washing the taste of smoke out, as it cooled its way down my throat.  I needed that.  My eyes were dried out too, probably bloodshot, but that didn’t bother me so much. It’s not like I was going to have to talk to my parents or the police or anything.

It was 2:00am on a Wednesday, technically Thursday I guess, and it was just me and Craig cruising down I-95 at just under 80mph. We wanted to get to the University and back as quickly and efficiently as we could.  After all, we had class the next morning and this wasn’t exactly conducive to the process of higher education.  We were going there to buy drugs, large quantities of them, with the intent to then sell.  Now, don’t get the wrong idea about us, we’re not drug dealers. We’re just college kids with alcohol fines and no money to pay them with.

It just so happened that Craig’s brother knew a kid at the University who would front Craig an ounce of weed, which he could divide into eighths, or grams, or whatever other denomination people wanted to buy it in, and then sell. Once this was done, he would have to return, give our source his share of the profit, and pick up the next batch. It was a flawless system.

Where do I come in?

Well, he’s my friend, and I guess trafficking drugs across state lines is what I get for being the only friend of his with a car. Plus, I had sex with his sister, and I guess I felt kind of bad about it. This made us even.

“Now my helmet’s on, you can’t tell me I’m not in space
With the National Guard United States Enterprise
Diplomat of swing with aliens at my feet
Comin’ down the rampart through beam on the street
Obsolete computes, compounds, and dead sounds
As I locate intricately independent
Economic rhymer got savory store food
In Capsule D my program is ability
For a reaction and response to a no-one
Identification Code: Unidentified
I got cosmophonic, pressed a button, changed my face
You recognized, so what? I turned invisible
Made myself clear, reappeared to you visual
Disappear again, zapped like a android
Face the fact, I fly on planets every day
My nucleus friend, prepare, I return again
My 7XL is not yet invented”

That’s Dr. Octagon, our music of choice when taking part in this kind of activity. It may not look like much to you, but it made a hell of a lot of sense to me at the time. I consider Dr. Octagon part of my college education, perhaps even one of my professors – though I don’t think he really has a doctorate. If he did though, it would be in the same field I’m majoring in, Perceptual Experimentation and Perpetual Escape, I call it.

That is, drugs have always been a way for me to escape. Escape from my petty problems, anxiety, and even society as a whole. I don’t get along particularly well with any of those things, and while I know that drugs aren’t a solution to those particular ailments (if such a thing even exists), what they do give me is a freedom from them – albeit a temporary one.

Now, I don’t know Dr. Octagon personally.  I don’t know what kind of drugs he does or what kind of world he’s escaping into, but it sure sounds like he’s having a hell of a time, and that’s something I can relate to.

We got to the university somewhere around 2:45… I think. I am frequently reminded of just how nice my own college’s dorms are when I visit other schools. I wouldn’t say they were like tenements, because that kind of irresponsible hyperbole would exaggerate the claim unnecessarily. But at the very least, I was glad to not be living in them.

The building most resembled an old run down hotel. In fact, it resembled one so much I thought it might actually be one. The carpet in the hallway was red with a kind of pedestrian series of green and gold tessellations. The walls were off-white, and by “off-white” I mean had at one point actually been white, but were now layered with filth and dirt. It was eerie, and not just because we were there to tend to such shady business, but because it was the kind of dirty and quiet atmosphere that make cop movies so suspenseful.

There were pipes running along the ceiling exposed, and thick doors on all the rooms.  I felt like had I approached any one of them and executed the secret knock, I would have been let into a room with sordid men betting cocaine, alcohol, and underage sex slaves in poker games.  Like there would be a gauntlet of crack whores guarding the door, each one missing a different tooth, and haggling over who could give me fellatio for a cheaper rate. You may think this an exaggeration, but I’d be willing to bet that something to that effect was going on in at least one of the rooms. It had to be.

We went to the room our connection called home.  He opened the door and led us to the back. He looked pretty average, but not like a kid I’d fuck with. Just imagine an average sized 21 year-old with a shaved head, moderate build, and a tattoo. It doesn’t matter what kind of tattoo. I don’t remember what his was, but it was more likely generic and typical, rather than, say, an angry red demon riding a raging bull with bloody horns dragging the souls of the damned behind them on a leash.  I would have remembered if it was something like that.

There seemed to be a lot going on in the main room. At the same time, though, there was nothing much going on at all. There were maybe eight to ten people in there, most sitting on couches looking pretty high. They were all drinking what was likely the cheapest beer on the market, but none of them really seemed to be having that good of a time.

We were led into the bedroom that was decorated with posters fully endorsing marijuana as a way of life. One depicted a group of happy elves merrily collecting cannabis in wheel barrows and sacks they had slung over their shoulders, like trick-or-treaters on a particularly prosperous Halloween night.  All of their eyes were red and bloodshot like mine probably were. I had trouble imagining how a bunch of elves, blessed with such a fruitful bounty of weed and clearly high all of the time, could summon the initiative to harvest it so diligently. I wondered if they actually tended to the plants, but I got the impression that they were growing organically, without the intervention of elves.

A kid I hadn’t seen when I came in, interrupted my thought process by coming into the room, making sure to close the door behind him. He was holding a can of whipped cream.

“You guys wanna do some whip-its?” he asked.

By whip-its, he meant put our mouths on the nozzle (Yes, the same nozzle everyone else had obviously used) tilt our heads back and inhale the gas propelled by the aerosol can. That explained the glazed over, catatonic expressions on everyone’s face when Craig and I walked in, as well as their indifference to our presence. In seven minutes they wouldn’t have any recollection of us whatsoever. We politely declined, and the guy left to rejoin his friends.  They, unlike the elves, were not being productive during the course of their highness.

We made the transaction pretty quickly. Often when marijuana is purchased it’s customary to smoke some of it as an expression of good faith and gratitude. This, however, was understood to be a business transaction – one which was to be done with haste and just as quickly forgotten about. Craig and I would smoke on the ride home. It had been an hour and a half of highway driving since we last got lit and it was damn near time to re-up during the long drive home. Craig packed a small bowl while navigating me back to the highway.

Back on I-95 I got in the right lane, set the car on cruise control, and held the wheel with my knees while I smoked, constantly glancing up to make sure I wasn’t going to rear-end anyone and that I was at least somewhere between the lines. I was getting a nice buzz going. I didn’t even notice the cop car pull up behind me, not until he put his lights on, anyway. Then I took notice.

It’s tough to explain how I felt at that moment, high, driving a car full of weed, and now being pulled over by the police. All I could see was my entire life spiraling out of control. I was mortified by the idea of my car being impounded, having to somehow explain all of this to my parents, and the end of my life as I knew it. I couldn’t breathe, but somehow this situation needed to be dealt with. I quickly tried to reassure and compose myself. The last thing I could do was look scared or guilty; cops can smell fear.

I slowed down so the officer would think I was immediately complying but I wasn’t even thinking about stopping yet. Craig quickly stashed our pipe in my center console. Luckily, I had had the window cracked, I don’t like to bake out my car for a variety of reasons, this being one of them.  Craig and I both put our windows down all the way. We were lucky it was spring and having our windows down was legitimate. Had it been winter, we really would have been fucked.

Still slowly decreasing my speed, I coasted off to the shoulder of the road. Now it was time to put my game face on.

He took a few minutes, probably running my plates through the computer, and then he began the walk up to my window. I could do nothing but bear witness to the slow approach of my imminent doom through my side view mirror.

“Alright, I need your license, registration and insurance, please.”

I know it sounds cliché but that’s really what cops say.  I had the documents ready for him, and he examined them with his flashlight, then a black light, and then his flashlight again. Then he shined his light on me and I winced, closing my eyes as if I had just seen a solar flare. “What are you guys doing out this late?”

“Honeymoon,” I said. It was bold, and slightly aggressive, but tactical. I’d rather the officer think me an asshole than high or drunk.  Also, my experience has led me to believe that police aren’t robots, no matter how much they want you to think they are, and most all of them are insecure. That’s why they took the job in the first place. If you make a bold move it can throw them off balance. And it did, but he was hardly amused. I hesitated and then smirked, as a strategic retreat, then I gave him the real answer as a truce. “We were visiting some friends at the University of Delaware.” He said something like “Alright,” and went back to his car, leaving Craig and I to writhe in agony and contemplate the pending tailspin our lives were sure to take.

The officer came back.

“Have you been drinking tonight?”

“God no.” I said it with authority and conviction. Like the concept was ludicrous. That would be crazy. What kind of lunatic would drive under the influence, putting people at such unnecessary risk? And really it was true. I hadn’t been drinking.

He accepted my response. “Well you were going 75.”

That was when I realized that this was about me speeding, not, strangely enough, about me smoking weed while driving with my legs. If I handled this calmly I could escape with a fine.

“Well it’s just that it’s late and we have class tomorrow. I just kind of set the cruise control. It’s late you know, no one else is really on the road.”

I was starting to talk too much, but I didn’t mind looking guilty… guilty of speeding. I could put myself at his mercy and maybe get some sympathy.  Yeah officer, you got me. I broke the law.

“Alright that’s fine,” he said. “Just slow down and don’t let me catch you out here again.” I put the car in drive and he watched me take off. And that was the end of it.

Craig and I were shocked. We didn’t laugh, we didn’t speak, we didn’t make a sound. We just finished the drive in complete and utter silence.

I was talking earlier about escape, and in my opinion this was certainly a daring one. We were two kids who took a chance doing something dangerous and got away with it. In the end, there was no penalty and I have the luxury of looking back on an interesting experience that bore no unwanted consequences.

I won’t forget that there may have been though. Just like I won’t forget the difference between being home free and getting caught.  I might say that smoking a bowl while speeding down a highway with my best friend is as close a thing to free as I’ll ever feel.  I just hope I don’t get caught, not by the police, but by the idea of freedom being defined as doing whip-its in my drug dealer’s dingy apartment. At least after a while, the police let you go.

 

The Hunt

When I was just eleven years old my daddy taught me how to shoot. The gun was heavy but I could aim it. The sound was loud but I liked the way it shattered the sky. And the smell of gunpowder didn’t make me cough, it brought me home.

I learned to still my breathing and my body. It’s like being an Indian, he said. You lay perfectly still, one with the earth. Feel each leaf under your belly. Watch everything. See the way that tree bends…the way that branch bows… that leaf skips across the ground… that crow flies… that buck steps closer… and closer…. and drops. Drops before it even hears the round being fired.

I did see it. I did feel it.  You can feel a buck coming long before you can hear, see, or smell it. You can feel it pacing its last steps, and it doesn’t even know you’re there. Nothing knows you’re there.

Sometimes I hid so well my father couldn’t even find me. He’d look for me, to check up and make sure I was okay, but I let him walk right past – just because I could. If I could deceive him, nothing could find me. My father knew everything about me. He knew when I’d done wrong and when I’d done right. He knew when I was lying and when I was telling the truth. If I could hide from him I could hide from anybody, anything.

One time I was hiding down in a ravine, just up on the crest with my feet dangling a little off the edge. I was part way under a tree stump. I’d mired myself in dirt and leaves and thicket. I could see my father off in the distance. He could feel it in the air, just like I could but he was going the wrong way. The buck wasn’t near, but it would be. So I waited.

I watched. Just the way Daddy’d taught me. I watched the leaves, the termites, the birds, and the clouds. Then I heard it just like I knew I would. And it was close, so very close I could hear it breathe. I could see the steam billow from its snout. I could feel its muscles flexing through the ground. But I waited, and waited, and waited… still.

It was so close, that when I shot it, I heard blood spatter onto the leaves. I heard its fur flatten into the soil. I scared myself.

I jumped up so high so fast I almost ran. Why was it so different this time? Why did I want to run? Why wasn’t I happy? It was such a big creature, my daddy was gonna be so proud. Why did I want to run?

I walked slowly while my heart raced ahead. And I heard it fighting to breathe. I heard it kicking… gasping… struggling… surviving and wondering why. I was so close to it and it was alive and it was asking me why. I wanted to shoot it again but it looked so scared. What if I shot it again and it still lived? Then I wouldn’t just be a murderer I’d be a monster.

Die! I pleaded. Why won’t you die? Please just die. Fucking die…

I turned my head crying.  After a few more minutes it finally stopped. I ran off as far and fast as I could. And I hid. I hid in another ravine – in another pile of bramble and bark and leaves and dirt. I hid for what felt like hours. I hid until I heard it again.

I heard the light footsteps. The breathing. I wiped the tears from my face, I stilled my breathing, and I stood up straight as an arrow with my gun in hand.

“I don’t wanna hunt anymore Daddy,” I said.

“We haven’t been out here that long,” he said, “Shouldn’t we wait until we catch something?”

“No, there’s no game to be had. We’ll try again next time.”

My daddy knew that I was lying.

“I’m cold,” I said.

Daddy knew I was telling the truth.

Unhappy Meal

I ran out of the McDonald’s with clumps of rubbery purple foam dangling from my shirt and lodged under my fingernails. I had just emerged from the fight of my life. There was blood dripping from a cut above my left eye and scrapes on my elbows and knees, but you should have seen Grimace.

I don’t know where that rotund purple wannabe comes from, or what his precise affiliation with the McDonald’s corporation or Ronald himself is, but I’m sure I knocked that smug little smile right off of his face. Maybe the physical bruises will blend in with his purple color, but the bruising I levied upon his ego will be perfectly evident for quite some time. It’s not going to be the same happy go lucky, self-confident purple powerhouse heading home to Mrs. Grimace, but a broken, embarrassed, shell of a Grimace who – like a Vietnam vet suffering from post traumatic stress disorder – won’t ever be quite the same. There’s no doubt he’ll be forced to take a few personal days before returning back to his little promotional tour.

You see, knowing Grimace, the Hamburgler, and Mayor McCheese would be at my local McDonald’s distributing free cheeseburgers and pencil sharpeners as part of a promotional marketing blitz, I showed up to the restaurant right at noon, when the giveaway would allegedly take place. I had only intended to pick up a free cheeseburger on my lunch break, but when I found out that Ronald-shaped McDonald’s pencil sharpeners were part of the deal, I was all the happier.

There were some kids already in line at the restaurant and I was willing to wait my turn. I waited for a number of minutes but Grimace, the closest representative to me, refused to provide me with the cheeseburger and pencil sharpener I well deserved. Maybe he thought one of the little brats crowded around my body actually belonged to me. I could accept this misunderstanding as plausible.  After all, how could Grimace know that I was mistakenly given a vasectomy by a negligent doctor who was supposed to perform a vesicotomy to remove a cyst from my bladder that had been causing me a great deal of trouble when it came to urinating.

Then again, how could I have known that the doctor I had been referred to by a “friend” that I used to buy my weed from would be capable of such oversight. Yes, the doctor blindfold me before leading me to his “operating room,” which looked strangely like the kitchen in which I had just been served pita bread and tequila. Yes, the doctor’s credentials looked highly suspect, in that his diploma was a piece of framed cardboard with “Harverd” written in magic marker.  And yes, I was anesthetized with a warm glass of rum garnished with a syringe still lingering around the rim, but his rates were affordable and I was uninsured. This is what you get when the Democrats are in office.

Regardless, after 10-15 minutes Grimace was still ignoring my repeated pleas for what was promised to all of those who arrived at McDonald’s between the hours of twelve and one o’clock pm on this particular Friday.  My patience with this giant purple gumdrop-shaped calamity was beginning to wear thin.

Several times, when he would go to distribute gifts to the smaller children navigating around me, I would make a quick reach to try and snatch them before the children could, but Grimace was quick to withdraw the offer, dodging my attempt and pressing the cheeseburgers and pencil sharpeners directly into the children’s arms and chests. More than a few times he turned to me and shook his whole body back and forth, each time with surmounting urgency. However, his fixed expression prevented me from knowing whether he was shaking to indicate anger, disappointment, or even pity. Or maybe Grimace was just trying to maintain his center of gravity which was surely tested by his awkward and cumbersome shape.

As twenty minutes, then close to a half hour passed, my frustration turned to outrage.  What did Grimace think? That I got my jollies by going to McDonald’s restaurants across the country on the off chance that there might be a promotional giveaway and I would be blessed with the opportunity to stand amid a swarm of small children whining and clamoring and carrying on, their parents looking on at me with disgust in their eyes? As if I was enjoying their little nuisances prattling around my hips, legs, and rear.

Well to set the record straight for Grimace and anyone else wondering, I’m no pervert. I just happen to believe in the American dream. An American dream that says we’re all entitled to the bounty of free corporate giveaways, I even more so than these little trolls.  After all, it was their parents who paid for their free McDonald’s binges. But the money for my Happy Meals and McNuggets comes right from my own pocket. This was blatant age discrimination and if Grimace would be party to it perhaps other McDonald’s icons would represent the corporation more fairly.

Having realized that Grimace, likely a communist pedophile and ageist, was not going to accommodate me, I moved on to who I thought would be a more open minded McDonald’s representative in Mayor McCheese. Surely, the product of a democratic election would better represent the ideals of this great nation and understand my plight.

As mayor, Mayor McCheese would certainly have the authority to right the wrongs rendered unto me by the evil Grimace. So I made my way through the mob of children, working myself up close enough to the good Mayor that I might make my plea.

“Mayor, excuse me Mr. Mayor,” I said, “I’ve been trying to get a cheeseburger and pencil sharpener for a half hour, but Grimace wouldn’t give them to me. He’s prejudiced and maybe a communist pedophile. Please could you hand me a cheeseburger and sharpener so I can get back to the work?”

But my appeal fell on deaf ears, if Mayor McCheese did in fact have ears, which it didn’t appear he did.

“Mr. Mayor, please, I really have to get back to work, and if you won’t give me the cheeseburger and pencil sharpener who will? I don’t trust the Hamburgler, he’s a criminal for God’s sake. He and Grimace are probably in cahoots.”

Still nothing. Sorely disappointed, I decided my next, and perhaps only, option was to bluff Grimace. I moved back across the floor towards him, the crowd of children beginning to dwindle.

“Look Grimace, I just talked to Mayor McCheese and he says that this promotional giveaway is for everyone not just those you judge as being worthy. He says if you don’t give me a cheeseburger and pencil sharpener, he’s going to revoke your right to participate in McDonald’s marketing campaigns. His authority comes right from the clown himself, and I’m sure he’s the one that stuffed the ballot boxes, so you better listen.”

Grimace continued to ignore me. It was now a quarter ‘til one and I was still without burger and sharpener. Soon I’d have to get back to work and I was hungry. This was unacceptable. I stood waiting for Grimace to make the right decision, but he didn’t.  That’s when it happened.

A child I had seen served, a child whose cheeseburger and pencil sharpener I had attempted to intercept, returned to Grimace who presented him with yet another cheeseburger – and furthermore a gentle pat on the head. He would go the extra mile to touch the kid. That was all I could take.

“Alright Grimace, you win I’ll just go to Burger King or Arby’s, somewhere middle aged divorcees with dead end jobs are appreciated.”

I turned my back and began walking away, towards the door, as if I were really giving up. Well, guess what I’m no quitter! I turned around and ran full sprint at Grimace. I buried my shoulder into his chest and took him hard into the counter, igniting an eruption of cheeseburgers and plastic pencil sharpeners. Grimace and I hit the ground, and next thing I knew the Hamburgler and McCheese were trying to restrain me.  I never intended this to be their fight but the turnstiles had been struck down and I was ready to take on all comers.

The Mayor put his arm under mine and tried to pry me off of Grimace. I threw an elbow back and connected with his giant hamburger head, turning it ninety degrees to the left. Sensing he was at a disadvantage, I kicked at his legs until he tripped and careened into the nearby trashcans. The print on the cans said “Thank You.”

“No need to thank me,” I thought to myself coolly. “That deposit is on the house.”

The Hamburgler took a step back, slightly startled by the thrashing his friends were receiving. But like the last generic ninja left in a Steven Segal fight scene, he had no choice but to step up and take his beating like a man. Slightly out of breath and my blood coursing with adrenaline, I said, “Bring it on jailbird.”

I got to my feet and he came at me trying to grab, but I pulled his hat down in front of his face to disorient him. Then I brought my knee into his abdomen. He doubled over in pain and gasped for air. I pushed him towards an empty booth, which he clumsily toppled into. I’d expected more from a guy who’d spent time in the clink.

Then I saw the looks of horror on the faces of all the children, parents, and McDonald’s employees, and I began to realize the magnitude of the altercation.

“I… I’m sorry,” I said.

I was about to explain that I had just wanted a cheeseburger and a pencil sharpener to keep in my desk at work when I felt two large purple arms grab me from behind.  Grimace had gotten up off the floor and had me in a bear hug with his fat mitts tightly squeezing my chest. I struggled, but his grip was strong and I couldn’t pry myself loose. I saw Mayor McCheese regaining his composure. The Hamburgler sat up. They were rallying.

Grimace held fast while McCheese lowered his head like a bull and took aim to charge me.  He stomped his loafer-clad feet and took off full speed towards me with his hamburger head poised for a direct hit into my sternum. The Hamburgler was looking on with a sense of satisfaction as he witnessed the assault from his booth. He was grinning with delight as he watched the momentum of the fight turn against me, his eyes glittering with anticipation. But I clinched and pulled at Grimace with all my might, tearing tufts of purple foam as I pried his arms from around my waist. I dropped to the floor just seconds before Mayor McCheese collided with him. Both toppled over the counter, taking one of the registers with them.

On the floor I grabbed two cheeseburgers, got up, and bolted for the door. The Hamburgler rose and tried to stop me, but he couldn’t get a handle as I stormed by pelting him in the face with one of the cheeseburgers before flying through the doors and making my exit. I didn’t run to my car. If the police came they’d be looking for it. There were too many witnesses. I’d have to hide out and return later.

I ran across the street, cars screeching to a stop, their horns blaring though my brain. I ducked into a nearby Burger King knowing no McDonald’s spokesman would be warmly received there and that I would be sheltered from any further attacks by my assailants. I’d be granted asylum for sure, possibly even praised as a hero and knighted by the Burger King himself. But not yet.

I rushed into the bathroom as quickly as I could. I had to regain my composure, clean the foam out from under my fingernails, and scoff down a hard-earned cheeseburger. But more than anything else, I had to take a piss. My bladder was killing me.

Murdoch’s Tale

I never had a proper name.

The Old Man, the farmer that took me, he called me Murdoch. I never liked it all that much.  I always fancied myself as something more traditional, like Blue or Jake.  It could be worse though, that’s what my friend Pickles says.

The old man, he did okay I suppose. He kept me fed alright, gave me plenty of time to myself so long as I kept crows and no good folks away. All and all he wasn’t half bad, neither was the Missus, she was just fine.  It’s just a shame what happened is all.  I’ll tell you about it.  I’ll tell you because I know no one will believe you, just like no one believes me. But it’s the truth, the honest to God truth.

It all started years ago, two or three I’d say, but keep in mind that’s somewhere between fourteen and twenty years for me. The old man wasn’t so bad back then.

Those days were most normal, I just kept to myself like a good dog should. Things tend to blend together a bit, more and more as I get older, but I remember one particular day when things began to change.  I remember the old man took me into town that morning.  I got to put my head out the side of the truck. It sure felt good the wind blowin’ through my fur. When it got cold I brought it in, and the Old Man scratched me behind the ears the way I liked.  He could be a good man when he wanted to.

When we got back, the Old Man went inside the house and I stayed outside to go look for crows.  I hate crows and I was beginning to suspect they hated me as it had been a while since I’d seen any around.  At some point, word probably got out amongst the crow community that a crow should stay away from the McNamara place on account of old Murdoch. Anyhow, that’s when I noticed one of those fancy city cars pull up.

I know that’s what it was now but I was just a pup back then, so I took to barkin’ at it, as I‘d never to my knowledge seen one before.  A man in a suit got out.  I was more energetic in those days, and boy did I give him a scare.  I was never gonna hurt him none, but he jumped back against the car and held his suitcase up in front of him like I was gonna try to tear at his throat or somethin’ like. I didn’t though, I just barked.  I barked until the old man came out of the house with his shotgun.  That’s when I believe the city fellow nearly marked his own trousers.  The Old Man, he yelled at me.

“Murdoch! Murdoch, down!”

I left the fella alone for the time being. It wouldn’t do me no good to not listen when the Old Man spoke.

“Mr. McNamara,” he said, “I’m from the bank, I need a moment of your time.”

“Alright, but you better be quick about it,” the Old Man shouted.  “That’s enough Murdoch. You sit down now.”

The old man went back inside, so I kept an eye on the city fellow.  When I saw him relax and drop his suitcase to his side I gave him a look and growled, but I stayed sitting, just like the old man told me.  I set right there in place ‘til The Old Man came back, without his shotgun.

“He’s not going to bite me, is he,” the fellow asked.

“Nah, ole Murdoch wouldn’t hurt a fly, would you boy?”

“Well, if it’s all the same sir, I think we should go inside,” the city fellow said to the old man.

The rotting wood steps rattled as the two men stepped up to the porch and went into the farmhouse.  I followed them the whole way, sniffing at the stranger’s heels. He smelled like perfume.  The Old Man and the City Fellow let the screen door close behind them but I pawed it back open and slid through.

When I got inside they were all sitting around the coffee table in front of the furnace, and the Missus was servin’ up some coffee.  We rarely got visitors, and the old man seemed a bit agitated.  I’m not too sure he much enjoyed company.

The Missus brought me a steak bone just like I was part of the family. The Missus was real nice like that. Sometimes she’d give me some bacon or sausage from the breakfast table when the Old Man wasn’t lookin’. He wouldn’t have liked me getting food off the table like that.

I nestled down in front of the Old Man’s chair right by his feet, where I could watch over things.  Sometimes he’d scratch me a bit on the head if I lay there real still, but he was a bit distracted. He and the City Fellow had some important issues to discuss, I suppose.  I overheard but didn’t quite understand them.  I am, after all, just a simple country dog, not one of those fancy, pure bred, collared city dogs.

“Mr. McNamara, you know why I’m here,” the city fellow started. “You’ve had problems with your loan.  Now, we at the bank have been very patient with you, and we understand the circumstances of your situation, but the fact is you simply haven’t been able to keep up with your payments.  To be frank sir, we can no longer let this continue.  If you do not assemble $20,000 dollars by the end of the month, the bank will have no choice but to foreclose on your farm.”

The old man, took quite a look.

“What? You know I can’t possibly get that much money in a month.  We’re just simple country folk out here, we ain’t got that kinda money just lyin around.  You… you city folk are all the same.  You don’t care about us simple folk out here trying to make a living.  You just care about your dollars and cents, and that’s all. Well, this ain’t right. This ain’t right and you gotta know it. You just don’t care is all. Mister you gotta give me more time. I just need more time.”

“I’m sorry Mr. McNamara, but the bank is out of time,” the fellow said standing up. “Thank you for the coffee Mrs. McNamara, and good luck to the both of you. I’ll be going now.”

The old man just stood right there starin’ at the city fellow, didn’t move at all.  I thought he might be fixin’ to go get his shotgun again, but he didn’t.  The Missus saw the city fellow to the door.  They both retired to their room and left me all alone.  After I was done chewin’ on my bone, I went outside to look for some crows.

I didn’t see neither the Old Man or the Missus for quite some while.  With me spending so much time outside I guess I just missed ’em, but they were upstairs an awful lot and I wasn’t allowed up there.

Then one night, I was all curled up on the rug as it had gotten a good deal colder out recently, and I heard the Old Man goin’ out.  It’d been a while since he’d gone out at night.  I thought it was strange, not just the Old Man leaving, but he usually took me along wherever he was goin.’  It bothered me a bit, I would have liked to go for a ride.  It had been too long since my ears had had a good scratchin. I didn’t pay no mind though, I just went to sleep under the chair where I liked.

When I woke up a little while later, I had business to tend to.  So I went outside to lay claim to some of the land as they say.  I came back up to the porch and drank some water from my bowl.  It was plenty late in the night now.  That’s when I saw the Old Man’s truck coming down the road.  It didn’t seem quite right though, how it kept speeding up and slowin’ down and slidin’ back and forth all over the road, kicking up clouds of dust.

Funny thing was, though, he didn’t park in the driveway.  He drove his truck right up on the lawn. First it slowed down, then it stopped right in between two tall oak trees.   I thought it a bit unusual, but I suppose it proved to be a bit more practical for what he was fixin’ to do.

The door swung open kinda wildly and hit one of them oaks directly.  That’s when I saw the Old Man squeeze himself out and stagger towards another tree.  I reckon the he was fixin’ to lay claim to some of the land too.  Didn’t bother me none, so long as he stayed away from my spot.  When he was finished, I walked over and met him half way.  He didn’t smell like himself, like dirt or leaves at all.  He smelled bitter and pungent. I drew back a little from the smell and took a step back, that’s when he said something.

“What? You don’t want to say hello and help your master to the door? Some dog you are.  Man’s best friend my ass.”

He took a step towards me, lost his balance, and leaned against the truck.

“You think this is funny? You don’t know what it’s like. You don’t know anything.  You’re just a dumb dog.”

Then he lunged forward and struck me clean across the face.  I yelped and tried to turn away but the grass was wet and I stumbled.  I got back to my feet as quick as I could and I saw the Old Man coming toward me. He raised his fist like he was going to bring it down on my nose.  Then I felt a hard kick into my chest.  I turned again and backed further away.  I’d always known the Old Man had something of a temper, but never anything like this.  I turned and ran across the lawn to the trees.  He started to look for me, but then I heard the screen door on the porch swing open. I could always hear those rusty hinges no matter where I was.

“Shamus,” I heard the Missus yell from the house.  “Is that you out there doing all that yelling?”

The Old Man gave one last look in my direction and began to make his way towards the house.

“Yeah, it’s me you shrew! Who in the hell else would it be?”  The Old Man’s voice trailed off.  I followed him slowly through the trees and caught up to him and the Missus by the porch.

“Well, what on earth are you doing out so late,” the Missus asked.

“You know damn well where I was and what I been doing,” the Old Man replied.

“You promised you’d stop drinking, Shamus, ever since that night you hit me.  I told you I wasn’t going to stick around here for that.  I still won’t. I don’t care how long we’ve been together.  I told you then, that if you ever came home like this again I’d leave,” she said.

The Old Man looked at her.

“Well what do you expect?  We’re losing everything.  We’re not going to have a pot to piss in when this is all over.  You heard the… the banker.  We don’t have anything.”

“We have each other,” the Missus said, tears beginning to well up in her eyes.

“And a hell of a lot of good that does us,” the Old Man replied quickly.  “I’m going to bed.  Don’t even bother to wake me up tomorrow.”

The Old Man walked by the Missus without even lookin’ at her and disappeared into the house.  The Missus on the other hand, she just stood there.  I never seen anyone look so bad.  The Missus looked vacant, like she was dead inside, like the last petal had withered from a flower leaving only the stem.  I myself didn’t want to go back inside either, so I just settled down to sleep out in the bushes and trees.

I woke up and brought the paper in the next morning. I’m not sure why, habit I guess.  But when I got inside, I didn’t smell any bacon, egg, sausage, or even any toast.  I didn’t hear any clamoring in the kitchen at all.  I thought maybe the Missus had taken to sleepin’ in, or maybe she’d become distracted elsewhere.  Whatever the case I decided to go upstairs and look, but the Missus wasn’t there either, it was just the Old Man.  He was sitting on his bed, and boy did he seem out of sorts.  He had the same look the Missus did the night before, like some awful spell had come over him.   It looked as though he’d seen a ghost.  I walked over to him and put my head up on his lap.  Sometimes, scratching my head the way I liked was good for the both of us, but he didn’t want any part of that.  He just pushed me off and said, “Get out of here mut! You know you’re not supposed to be up here.”  The Old Man had a desperate look in his eye, and I didn’t quite trust him after the events of the night previous, so I just left.

I reckon I chased a lot of crows that day, just trying to keep my distance from the Old Man.  He’s not a man to tamper with, not when he’s put afoul like he was.  I spent a lot of time outside from that point on.  Every now and then, I’d hear the Old Man’s truck start up and pull away, that’s when I’d go up on the porch to look and see if there was any food in my bowl. There never was though.

I’d get mighty hungry, so I’d have to eat whatever I could scrounge up out in the woods or there in the house.  It seemed like every day there was less and less food around.  Less food, but more trash, more bottles.  Bottles were everywhere, inside the house, outside the house, in on the porch, out in the woods, they’d even fall out of the Old Man’s truck when he opened the door.  Bottles may satisfy an old man but they don’t do much for a poor country dog like me.

If I was hungry enough, which I often was, I would nose through the Old Man’s trash in the kitchen.  There was never much food in there, but every now and then there’d be some table scraps or something close enough to edible.  I’d made something of a habit of this and I reckon the Old Man was starting to get sore about having to clean up all the trash I’d rummaged through.  I’d always hear his truck coming though, and I’d be sure to get out of there as fast as I could.  Naturally, I worried about what the Old Man might do if he ever caught me, but I didn’t have much of a choice really.

The fact is though, that one day he did catch me.  I don’t remember hearing his truck, maybe I was too busy making a mess of everything, or maybe I did hear it and I was just too darned hungry to stop what I was doing.  No matter the reason, the Old Man caught me, and I took a beating.  You’ll have to forgive my not going into detail but I’d much rather not discuss the specifics.  It’s plenty to say I took quite a beating, and I wasn’t sure that it’d ever stop.  I stayed out in the woods for quite a while after that.  I didn’t move an inch out there, no matter how hungry I was.  It was lying out there in the bushes and trees that I realized things couldn’t go on this way, they just couldn’t.  That’s when I had a funny notion.

I was tired, I was sore, I was starving, and I was certainly afraid, the young pup that I was, but I went back to the house and waited by the driveway.  I waited by the trees for the Old Man.  I listened for his truck, and when I heard him climb inside and start it up, I went back inside the house and I made an awful mess of things.  I tore through the garbage, I gnawed on the Old Man’s chair, I even went upstairs and laid my own particular claim to his bed.  That’s about when I heard the Old Man’s truck pull back into the driveway.  As soon as I heard it, I trotted on over into the Old Man’s closet and hid myself as best I could.  I heard the screen door swing open and slam shut.  Then I listened as the Old Man saw all that I had done.  He was God awful mad, and he started screamin.’

“That damn dog has crossed me for the last time! I’m going to put an end to this right now,” he said.

Then I heard him coming up the stairs, just as I expected him to.  That old man didn’t often stray from routine, neither do I myself, ‘cept when I’m starvin’.

He went towards his bed, and I heard him grow even angrier when he seen what I done.  Then the Old Man picked up his shotgun, and loaded both barrels, and he started towards the doorway at quite a pace.  Just as soon as he had left the room, I climbed out of the closet as fast as I could, and I ran towards the Old Man.  He was just beginning to take his first step down the stairs.  That’s when I jumped up and threw all of my weight into him.  I fell back down and landed hard on my ribs, which were all but bare due to my lack of nourishment, and yelped as it hurt quite a bit.  The Old Man, he fell down the steps.  I heard him strike each one as he rolled and tumbled awkwardly down all the way to the bottom.  Then I heard a loud blast from the shotgun.

It was awfully loud, ’specially indoors the way we were.  I pulled myself as best I could to the edge of the steps and I saw him lying there lifeless, bones broken from the fall, and flesh torn from the shotgun blast.  It was a terrible mess we were in.

I musta fallen asleep right there, cause next thing I know, I felt like flying.  Then I felt a hand on my head. I opened my eyes, and I was moving.  It felt like the Old Man’s truck, but it wasn’t.  It was softer, roomier, and smelled like perfume.

“Hey boy, you coming around now? Don’t worry I’ll get you to a vet in no time.  Just sit tight, and don’t try to bite me.”

It was the City Fellow.

“It’s a shame what happened,” he said, “I guess you two were planning on going out hunting and the old guy took a spill huh? Is that it boy?  Well, no matter, I’ll take care of you.”

I couldn’t have bitten him if I wanted to, I was too darn exhausted. No, I just laid there and fell back asleep as the City Fellow scratched me behind my ears the way I like.

It’s like I said, the Old Man, he was alright, even with the beatings.  He just got stuck in a rut is all.  I suppose I did love him. But sometimes, even though it hurts, the most humane thing to do is what’s best for everyone, to just put’em down.