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My wife glared at me from across the kitchen table. Finally, she spoke, “Don’t you at least feel a little guilty?”
I shrugged. “Why should I feel guilty? It’s not my fault the dumb dog ran right past the underground fencing and onto the road. That shock collar never worked on Lucky; she was too dumb to figure out that the pain meant that she should stop.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” said my wife. “For five years all you did was make jokes about how dumb or out-of-control Lucky was. Now that she’s dead, can’t you show her a little respect?”
“Hey,” I defended myself, “You have to admit that we owned the least intelligent black lab in the world. Besides, I haven’t made any jokes about how stupid she was in front of the boys. And I’m going to wait a couple of days before I tear down the doghouse. A doghouse, by the way, that cost me nearly $200, and the dumb mutt didn’t sleep in it; not even once.”
“There you go complaining about how much keeping Lucky cost.”
“You’re darn right I am. Between the vet bills, the damage she did to our lawn, all the things she chewed to pieces, and the doghouse, she cost us a fortune. And that’s not even counting the useless underground fence system you made me put in.”
“So, it was expensive to have a dog. Big deal, she a good playmate for the kids.”
I shook my head. “Sure, when it was convenient for them to play with her. But who ended up having to take her for walks or entertain her most of the time? I’ll tell you who. Me.”
My wife wanted to continue the discussion, but she stopped short when Michael and Joe walked into the kitchen. They looked at their mother as if expecting her to say something.
“Oh yeah,” she said, “the boys have something to ask you.”
I didn’t even let them get the words out of their mouths. “No. We are not getting another dog.”
It was about two weeks after the accident that I had my first unexplainable encounter. The boys, like typical ten- and twelve-year-olds, got over Lucky’s demise rather quickly. Sure, they moped for a couple of days, but it wasn’t long before they were totally entranced in the latest Mario Kart or Zelda game. My wife eventually quit hounding me and I had, happily, put the entire fiasco that had been pet ownership behind me. I missed that darn dog but there was no way I was ever going to admit it.
It was around 10:30 on a Friday night and I was watching the end of a college basketball game. When it ended, I turned off the TV and started heading upstairs to bed when I heard a thumping sound in the basement. The kids have a playroom down there and I thought that maybe one of them had snuck out of bed.
The playroom was empty. Curious about the noise, I opened the door to the storage room and flipped on the light. At first, I didn’t notice anything but as I was about to leave, I spotted a tennis ball sitting on the floor.
The boys had talked me into buying a bunch of balls a few years back so that they could play fetch with Lucky. The dog never quite figured out the game, however. She would chase after the balls and bring them back, but none of us could ever get her to let go of the ball. The boys quit trying after a couple of weeks. I, on the other hand, had tried, unsuccessfully, to get her to play fetch properly for a couple of summers. Eventually, I gave up and stuck the balls on a shelf in the storage room.
I figured one of the cans must have tipped over and a ball rolled off the shelf. When I first touched the ball, it felt wet. The dampness only lasted for a fleeting moment. When I examined the ball closer, it was totally dry. The moisture must have been in my imagination. I shrugged the incident off as me being tired and nothing more.
During the next month or so, I continued to hear muffled sounds from the storage room in the basement. My wife and the boys never heard anything. After the first couple of times, I gave up asking them. Whatever was going on was either completely inside my head or only meant for me to hear.
Could it be that I was subconsciously missing Lucky? Was I hearing things out of guilt over the way I had talked about her? I never mistreated her, but I had spent years complaining about the hardships of owning Lucky. I had worked hard to maintain the charade that I didn’t like having a dog and I was too proud to admit that I missed the darn mutt.
Not believing that the noises were in my head, I searched for other explanations for the sounds. I set mouse traps all around the room and would check them nightly. I never caught anything.
It was during one of my excursions to check the traps that I had my next encounter. I walked into the storage room and immediately stepped into a puddle of amber liquid. I stepped back; my sock was soaked.
When I looked down again, the puddle was gone, and my sock was dry. I know there was something there. I’m certain it was dog pee. God knows I had stepped in enough times when Lucky was alive. I swear she had no control of her bladder.
I searched the room for anything that would explain the liquid. There were no leaking pipes or empty soda bottles. Even if there had been, there was still no explanation for how quickly the liquid had disappeared.
I had to face the truth, as strange as it seemed.
Lucky was haunting me. Perhaps she was punishing me for all the bad things I had said about her. I had no idea what kind of revenge this ghost dog had in store for me.
I didn’t know what to do. If I told anyone that I thought I was being haunted by my dead dog they would think I was crazy.
I tried my best to go on with my life. I ignored the noises from the basement; even when I started to hear muffled barking sounds. I think I put on a good façade, but Lucky’s presence was taking a toll. I couldn’t sleep at night. Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night and have to stifle a scream. I dreamt of unnaturally sharp dog fangs enclosed around my neck. I found myself unable to enter a room without the lights on. My nice, safe, suburban home was beginning to turn dark and threatening.
I started to catch fleeting glimpses of something black hanging just outside my peripheral vision. Lucky was there, waiting for her chance.
Fittingly, everything came to a head on Halloween.
I survived a few more weeks without being attacked by the ghost dog or having a mental breakdown. My wife had volunteered to host the annual neighborhood Halloween party. I still hadn’t told her about Lucky and had no choice but to agree to host the get-together.
That evening, four families came over for dinner and games. The adults visited and played cards upstairs while all the kids headed to the basement to play video games.
I have to admit, after a little while, I started to relax. Between the adults talking and the kids shouting as they played their games, I couldn’t hear any of the noises that had haunted me for the last few months.
When everyone had gone home, my wife and Michael headed up to bed, but Joe hung around. He had something on his mind.
“What’s up?” I asked.
“I need to tell you something that happened downstairs tonight.”
Suddenly, a million thoughts jumped into my head. Had Joe seen Lucky? Had the ghost dog done something? Was she beginning to extract her revenge?
“What?” I shouted, a little too anxiously.
“It’s about Andy Carlson. He did something bad.”
Relieved that this had nothing to do with Lucky, I nodded. I wasn’t surprised that Andy would make some sort of trouble. The boy was sixteen and already had a reputation in the neighborhood.
“What did he do?”
“Well . . .” continued Joe, “while the rest of us played video games, he snuck into the back room and . . .” He took a deep breath. “I think he was doing drugs. You know, marijuana.”
“Why do you think that.”
“Michael told me that the funny smell coming from the back room was insemps and that Andy was covering up the marijuana smell.”
“I think you mean, incense,” I said. “Thanks for telling me. I’ll let Andy’s mom and dad know about this tomorrow. You did the right thing. Now, get to bed. It’s past your bedtime.”
I had no desire to go into the storage room this late at night. I would check things out in the morning.
Something hit me, snapping me awake. I sat up. A tennis ball rolled off my chest and bounced on the floor. Before I could look for it, a soft bark drew my attention toward the doorway. I caught a glimpse of a black shadow moving past the nightlight and down the stairs.
I wanted to crawl back under the covers and hide but another whimper stopped me from doing so. It wasn’t a threatening sound; it was more of a plea.
I found the courage to get up and follow the sound.
Lucky’s whimpers lead me to the basement door. The moment I opened it; I was hit by a whiff of smoke.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs, I saw Lucky pass through the door into the storage room. She stopped and turned to make sure I followed.
Inside, I immediately spotted a box of old paperback books burning in the corner. The remnants of an incense candle sitting on top of them. The flames were growing but still not out of control. I ran back to the kid’s game room and grabbed the fire extinguisher that hung on the wall.
It didn’t take long to put out the fire though it was obvious that it would not have taken much longer for the flames to spread to the curtains and the many boxes in the room.
A quick look upward confirmed that Andy had disconnected the smoke detector. There was no telling how long it would have taken us to notice the blaze. We had narrowly escaped a terrible and, possibly, deadly catastrophe.
I turned to find Lucky sitting in the middle of the room, staring at me.
“Thank you,” I said. “I can’t believe it. After all the things I said about you, all the times I complained, you saved us.” I reached out to pet her like I used to do when nobody was watching.
Before I could touch her, she faded away.
I haven’t seen any sign of Lucky since that night. That’s a good thing because we’ve been awfully busy. Lady is quite a handful. Taking care of her is a full-time job.
James Rumpel is a retired high school math teacher who has greatly enjoyed spending some of his free time turning a few of the odd ideas circling his brain into stories. He lives in Wisconsin with his wonderful wife, Mary.
Linda Gould hosts the Kaidankai, a weekly blog and podcast of fiction read out loud that explores the entire world of ghosts and the supernatural. The stories are touching, scary, gruesome, funny, and heartwarming. New episodes every Wednesday.