This story is by Hannah Tussing and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Can we keep him, Mom?”
Sarah stared in disbelief at the hairy mop of a dog standing next to her son. He looked like a cross between a shepherd and a shag carpet, his black and tan coat matted with mud and leaves. A rotting stench hung over him like an odorous cloud.
Her son’s lower lip trembled and his fingers tightened on the muddy rope around the dog’s neck. “But, Mom, he needs a home.”
“That mongrel isn’t coming in my house, Micah.”
“Can he live outside?”
“No, Micah, now get inside and wash up for dinner.”
The boy patted the dog’s dirty head and dropped the rope. “I gotta go, boy.”
The dog trotted at Micah’s heels as he mounted the porch, tongue lolling out the side of his slavering jaws.
“Oh, no you don’t.” Sarah kicked out her leg, blocking the dog.
She shut the screen door in the dog’s face. He flopped down on the porch with a whimper, head between his shaggy paws. He stared up at Sarah through the screen with sad brown eyes.
“He’s hungry, Mom.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “We’re not feeding him. Then he’ll never leave.”
Micah sighed and sat down at the table. He poked at the meatloaf and mashed potatoes, his gaze drifting back to the dog lying on the porch.
“Eat your dinner, Micah,” Sarah scolded.
“I’m not hungry. Can’t I give it to Monster?”
Sarah’s eyes darkened. “No. We’re taking that mongrel to the pound first thing in the morning.”
Before Micah could protest, the front door slammed open on its hinges and uneven footsteps pounded down the hallway. Sarah’s heart leaped in her throat.
“Where are you, woman?”
She didn’t have to see him or smell his breath to know he was drunk. “Micah, go outside.”
The boy stood up and made it two steps to the door before Tim barreled into the kitchen, bloodshot eyes narrowed. “Where do you think you’re goin’, boy?”
“Outside,” Micah squeaked.
Monster stood up, hackles raised.
Tim staggered toward him. “You don’t go anywhere I don’t tell you to go, boy.” He reached out and grabbed a handful of Micah’s shirt.
“Tim, stop it, you’re scaring him!” Sarah yanked on his arm.
Monster barked and snarled, clawing at the screen.
“Get off me, woman!” Tim roared.
He let go of Micah and the boy fell on his seat. He turned his drunken gaze on Sarah, snatching her arm. “Don’t disrespect me, woman!” His fist smashed into her jaw and she crumpled to her knees.
The dog launched through the screen, fangs bared in a ferocious snarl. His jaws latched around Tim’s arm, releasing a trickle of crimson blood.
“Get the hell off me, cur!” Tim shouted.
He released his grip on Sarah and swung at the dog. Monster tightened his jaws, refusing to let go even when Tim’s fist repeatedly clouted his face.
“Leave Monster alone!” Micah cried.
Sarah caught the boy’s arm and pulled him close. She dashed for the kitchen phone, her fingers shakily punching three numbers. The dial tone mingled with Monster’s snarls and Tim’s curses.
“Don’t you dare, woman, don’t you dare!” Tim bellowed, lunging toward Sarah.
Monster’s claws scrabbled across the floor, thrashing on Tim’s arm. Tim cursed louder and jammed his fingers into the mutt’s left eye and kicked him in the ribs. A hissing yelp left the dog’s throat and his body skidded across the slick linoleum. Blood, a mixture of his and Tim’s, gushed from his mouth.
“Monster!” Micah cried.
“That worthless mutt ain’t gonna save you!” Tim lunged for Sarah again, his fingers closing around her arm.
“Get off me!” Sarah twisted in his iron grip.
“Quit fighting me,” Tim hissed, slapping her face. Blood spattered across her cheek and neck from the deep gash on his arm.
He grasped her throat and lifted her onto the tips of her toes. Sarah clawed at his fingers, gasping for breath.
“You ain’t gonna fight me again,” Tim said.
Sarah’s blood pounded in her ears and she squirmed and flailed in Tim’s grip. “Micah, run!” she screamed before his fingers tightened on her neck.
Micah’s sobs filled the air, his arms buried in Monster’s scruff. The dog growled softly, trying to get to his paws. Micah looked up, eyes stretched wide at the sight of his father’s hands around his mother’s neck. A silent scream left his lips.
Sirens wailed outside in the street. Moments later, the police kicked down the door. “
Freeze and put your hands in the air!” A policeman aimed a gun at Tim’s head.
“Drop your gun or I kill her!” said Tim.
A gunshot rang out and Tim fell to his knees, screaming. Blood welled from his already injured arm. Sarah tumbled out of his grip and onto the floor, oxygen rushing into her aching lungs.
An officer clasped a pair of handcuffs around the man’s wrists and dragged him to his feet.
“You better kill that mutt! He bit my arm off!” Tim howled as they led him off to the police cruiser.
Sarah sat up, her hands shaking. Her breath wheezed with each inhale and her vision spun.
“Are you alright, ma’am?” Another officer knelt beside her and touched her shoulder.
Sarah nodded, rubbing her neck. She crawled over to Micah and hugged him close.
“Monster,” he whispered against her shirt. “He’s hurt, real bad.”
Sarah glanced over at the dog. Blood trickled from his jaws and left eye and his breath came in heaving gasps.
“We have to help him, Mom. He saved me.”
“Is that your dog?” the officer asked.
“Not really,” Sarah answered.
“He’s a stray?” The officer jotted something down in her notepad.
“No!” Micah cried. “Monster’s mine!”
“Is he up to date on his rabies?”
Dread sank in the pit of Sarah’s stomach. Micah stared at her with wide, innocent eyes.
“I don’t know,” she said. “We just got him and I haven’t gotten him to the vet yet.”
“Do you have any past vaccination records?”
“No, I don’t. But that doesn’t mean he has to be…?” Sarah swallowed hard. “He was defending us, not acting aggressively.”
The officer made a few more notes. “Since this is an assault case, we might be able to work things in the dog’s favor. But he’ll have to be placed in quarantine for at least ten days since we don’t know his vaccine status and he’s bit a person.”
“We’ll do whatever we need to keep him alive.”
The officers slipped a muzzle around Monster’s face and carried him out to an awaiting cruiser.
“Monster!” Micah cried.
Sarah held his arm. “It’s the only way to help him.”
The rest of the day passed in a blur of questions and doctors and legal jargon. The officer insisted that it would work in the dog’s favor, as far as the legal issues were concerned, to have him kept in strict quarantine under the care of the veterinarian.
At Micah’s insistence, as soon as they were released from the hospital, Sarah drove them to the vet clinic.
“You know they probably won’t let us see him, Micah. He’s under quarantine and isn’t allowed to have visitors.”
“We have to try, Mom. He can’t think we abandoned him.”
“Alright, we’ll ask if we can at least see him.” Sarah parked her rusty pickup, took Micah’s hand, and walked into the clinic.
The receptionist greeted them with a smile and Sarah explained their situation.
A few minutes, a young doctor emerged and shook her hand. “I’m Dr. Evans. I’m so sorry for everything you’ve been through today.”
“Thank you, Doctor.”
“Can we see Monster now?” asked Micah.
“You won’t be able to touch him right now, but I can take you to see him, how does that sound, buddy?”
“Better than nothing, I guess.”
Dr. Evans ushered them down the hallway and into a small room with a glass door and a metal cage. A shaggy dog lay on a blanket inside.
“Monster!” Micah cried, pounding his fists on the glass.
Monster’s tail thumped against the metal walls. He stood and turned his head, revealing the naked, bruised left side of his face and the sutured eyelids where his eye had once been. Micah slid a hand down the glass. Monster whimpered softly.
The doctor turned to Sarah when he saw the horrified look on her face. “I couldn’t save his eye, so I had to remove it. But as long as he doesn’t show any signs of rabies, he can go home and should make a full recovery.”
Sarah let out a pent-up breath she didn’t know she was holding. “That’s good news.”
Micah looked up at her, tears shimmering in his blue eyes. “Can we keep him, Mom?”
A half-smile curved Sarah’s lips and she pulled him into a tight hug. “Absolutely. Monster is part of the family.”