Maybe the dread came because of the dog. Their former dog.
Jim didn’t know about their German Shepherd. It would a secret Gloria would keep buried like the dog she’d done the same thing for.
It happened three weeks ago during a sudden and unexpected blizzard that somehow hadn’t been predicted by the news people. Gloria and Jim weren’t high-tech kind of people. They didn’t have the internet and only had basic cable. Heaven forbid trying to get Jim to pay more than ten bucks a month for channels on the television. She wished they got channels like HGTV and Bravo so she could watch the shows her daughter watched, but thankfully Gloria watched them whenever they visited Hannah. Atlanta, however, was a long way from Mars Hill, North Carolina.
The snow had still felt like it came out of nowhere. They had let Butch out right when it started just as the sun began to set. Gloria had opened the door to check on him three times and saw the accumulating inches literally growing before her feet. After the third time didn’t happen to be a charm, she sent Jim outside to go looking for their ten-year-old dog.
Butch wasn’t as mean as he sounded or looked. He was lean and muscular but really he still believed he was just a playful puppy. Jim had named him after one of his favorite movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. With the kids being long gone, Butch had become like a fourth child.
Jim had been gone thirty minutes the first time, stepping back in wet and sweaty and frustrated.
“Stupid dog probably caught something and decided to take off with it,” Jim had told he.
He wasn’t worried then. Two hours later, Jim wasn’t calling Butch stupid anymore. He was out searching. The snow had piled too high to drive on it. They lived on a back road fifteen minutes from the town of Mars Hill, so when the snow came down hard, they had to plow themselves out. After being unable to find Butch this time, Jim decided to go ahead and start paving a way down their dirt road.
“I’m sure he’s just roaming around enjoying the snow,” Gloria had said to Jim.
It wasn’t even a good attempt to try to provide some hope. Something was wrong—Gloria already knew it.
“I’ll get to the main road and see if I can spot him,” Jim said in his typical slow and indifferent tone.
She wanted to ask him if he was worried. It wasn’t that Gloria thought he wasn’t, but once in a while it would have been nice to see Jim’s blood start to even bubble over a bit. It didn’t have to simmer. Heaven help them if it actually boiled. No, she just wanted a little more than this methodical, logical, analytical soul.
An hour later, when he walked back in, she got her wish. He took off his knit cap and threw it on the kitchen table and then shouted out “son of a bitch.”
They had checked by the door and out the windows and Jim had gone outside a couple more times, but there was nothing more they could do with the pitch black of night coming. Out here in the country it didn’t just get dark. A thick blanket covered everything. Tonight, it was accompanied by a foot of fresh powder.
She had slipped to bed before Jim that night, something that almost never happened. Sleep hadn’t come until long after Jim came into the room and clipped his toe on the edge of the bedframe, producing another curse. For a few moments, Gloria didn’t say anything, but finally she couldn’t resist.
“Where do you think he is?”
There’s something a bit unnerving about talking in a dark bedroom late at night in a silent log cabin while the wind outside raged. For a moment, Gloria wondered if Jim was even going to answer.
“I don’t know.”
Her husband knew a little something about most things and if he didn’t he would try to find out. He never—never—simply replied with an “I don’t know.”
She didn’t say anything because his response had scared her. She’d felt her body tremble, and wondered if Jim could feel it on the mattress as well. She waited for something more. Anything more. A “but we’ll find him” or a “he’ll be okay” or something like that. But Jim hadn’t offered anything.
The brushing of the snow outside continued while Gloria lay in bed with her eyes open. She thought she’d never drift off, but a bumping sound awoke her and let her know she’d actually slept until five in the morning.
It had been a flat thud, like something hitting the roof. Or maybe the side of the house. She wasn’t groggy. Instead, she was wide awake, holding her breath in order to hear as carefully as possible. Jim’s slight breathing could be heard, telling her he wasn’t awake.
She knew it had been something.
Maybe the German Shepherd had finally made its way home. Maybe it was at the doorway.
So why isn’t he scratching with its massive paw like he always does?
She climbed out of bed and began to head to the front door. A voice inside told her to stay under the covers, to not head into the main room, to definitely not open the door. But she ignored all the voices and did exactly that.
Butch was there. Except . . . He was only partially there.
His head sat in the snow at the foot of their door as if it had been dropped down like some kind of UPS parcel. The eyes didn’t look anything like Butch. They were glassy and just not there. She hadn’t screamed, though Gloria clamped a hand around her mouth in case she was going to. It was still dark outside so the tiny front light cast a hollow, orange glow over this thing at her doorstep. She wasn’t even sure at first exactly what she was looking at.
Once she realized that she wasn’t dreaming or hallucinating, Gloria felt this horrific sort of sensation.
Someone did this and they’re outside in the dark woods around our house watching and waiting.
The only glow for miles around was the light bulb hanging just to the right of the door.
Gloria did something she never would have believed she could do. She picked up Butch’s head like she might a newborn baby and then closed and locked the front door.
I can’t believe how heavy his head happens to be.
She rushed to the kitchen and then went to the small laundry room, finding a pillowcase in the dryer. There was something wrong about putting it over the dog’s head, but it was a dog’s head. A dead dog’s head that had shown up at their front door.
Jim can’t know a thing about this.
She wasn’t sure how he’d react but it wouldn’t be good. Butch was his boy, his baby. She couldn’t tell him what had happened.
With the wrapped pillowcase on the floor for the moment, Gloria took her hand and brought it up to her mouth, biting down hard enough to feel the jolt of pain.
I’m not dreaming. I am not dreaming.
Gloria hid the pillowcase and it’s contents under the sink behind the buckets. She looked at her hands expecting to see blood, but there hadn’t been any.
I’ll deal with this tomorrow when the sun comes up. When the road is plowed and I can get into town.
She wasn’t about to tell Jim. But there was someone else she could tell.
Someone else she could tell anything to.