This story is by Melissa Iteld-Jurin and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Person in a hole: That darn dog or how I looked fear in the eye
Everyone on my street knew the house on the corner and avoided it like the plague. It was owned by a cantankerous senior citizen in his seventies named Mr. Maurice Boyd, and in addition to its peeling paint and overgrown hedges, it housed a particularly terrifying dog who, in a prior life, must have guarded the gates of hell.
Old Man Boyd called the dog Sugarplum, but she was anything but nice. Half Chesapeake Bay Retriever and half Great Dane, Sugarplum, a tall muddy brown dog with green eyes, spent her days chained to the door of a shed, barking ferociously every time someone passed by. Whenever I had to walk by the house, I prayed that Sugarplum would not break free and leap over the fence. One day, that fear became all too real.
I had just received my tax refund check in the mail, and I wanted to cash it right away. Thinking it would be faster to just walk to the bank than to drive and look for parking, I decided to go on foot. With the check in my pocket, I strategically crossed the street to avoid Old Man Boyd’s house of terror. I was not going to let anyone or anything ruin my day, least of all Cujo the killer dog.
As I stopped for a a traffic light, my phone rang. Instead of reaching for my phone, I pulled out the check. Before I could put the check back in my pocket, a gust of wind blew it out of my hand. First it landed in the middle of the road. A passing car propelled it in the air and then, to my horror, it fell on Old Man Boyd’s property, only a few feet away from Sugarplum!
“Oh my God!” I shrieked. “My check! My check!” How would I ever get it back, let alone wrestle it away from the jaws of Sugarplum who had heard my screams and was now coming toward me, her teeth bared in a vicious snarl.
The check lay close to an opening in the fence. If I could just reach my hand through the opening, I could retrieve it. But what if Sugarplum were to bite me? Worse, what if she were to break free of the chain, jump over the fence, and then maul me to death? I could see the headlines: Attack dog tears apart human intruder; Leaves tax refund intact.
I remembered my parents telling me that if I wanted to be friends with a dog I should not show that I was scared or anxious because dogs sense fear and become agitated. If I could calm myself perhaps Sugarplum would walk away and I could grab the check.
After a few minutes had passed, and I had regained my composure, Sugarplum stopped growling and walked back toward the shed. I stealthily walked up to the fence, and as I was about to put my hand through the hole, Sugarplum came running back, her barking growing louder and more ferocious. My heart felt as though it had jumped out of my chest. Suddenly, a door next to the shed swung open, and Old Man Boyd hobbled out. He must have heard the commotion.
“What’s the matter girl?” he called to Sugarplum who was still barking. Some of Old Man Boyd’s teeth were missing, and the few remaining hairs on his head stood up like a porcupine’s bristles. He petted Sugarplum with a trembling arthritic hand. He then looked at me.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “My envelope flew into your backyard, and I just wanted to retrieve it.”
“Fraid of dogs?” he asked. “Sugarplum ain’t gonna hurt you. She just wants to be friends. Don’t you sweetie?” Old Man Boyd caressed the ferocious mutt’s ears as she licked his hand.
“Why don’t you come around the front and through the gate and say hello to Sugarplum? She likes to meet new people,” he said. “Isn’t that right sweetie?” the old man cooed to his dog. Sugarplum looked up at him adoringly.
“It’s okay. If you could just pass it to me through this opening, I’d appreciate it. I’m kind of in a hurry,” I replied as I checked my watch. It was getting late and I had to get to the bank before it closed.
“Can’t do that,” the old man answered. “My back is as stiff as a board and my knees will pop.”
“Terrific,” I thought to myself. “I understand. I’ll be right there,” I said with a fake smile.
Sugarplum sat quietly beside her master, her paw in his hand. I scooped up my check and thanked Old Man Boyd for coming outside to intervene.
“Wait!” he called out. “Come and say hello to Miss Sugarplum. She’s dying to meet you.”
“Do I have to?” I muttered to myself. “Okay, ” I replied to Old Man Boyd. I walked cautiously toward the dog. I took a deep breath and petted her head. “Good girl,” I said as I stroked her fur with a trembling hand. Now was a good time to go before she changed her demeanor.
“Thank you very much for your help. I really should be going.”
“Don’t be a stranger!” Old Man Boyd called back.
“I’ll try not to,” I said as I closed the gate behind me. Whew. That was a close one.
Though I was still scared of Sugarplum, at least I had found the courage to pet her. Maybe someday, I’ll play catch with her.