YogiA Story by Ron Sanders
Here doggie, doggie. Nice doggie.
Alleys can be spooky places at night, especially if you’re twelve years old with a vivid imagination. Robert knew the overgrown way between Pace and Hereford by heart, of course, but he wasn’t supposed to be kicking around the weeds and bins in the dark--it was dangerous, immature, and just plain wrong: perfect. Light from carports produced uneven blocks of light, though for the most part it was all bleak and crawly bliss. A whining behind leaning trash cans got his heart pounding. What was it--a roof rat, a gnarly old possum, a feral cat? Irresistible. He picked up a branch and crept over carefully, every sense perked.
What Robert found behind the cans was so gut-wrenching he almost swooned.
A horribly mangled German Shepherd lay crushed and torn, crusted blood on its muzzle and ears, flies and ants in its eyes and mouth, pus and foam clinging to its gums and nostrils. Pathetic little whining pants rocked its lungs. The boy froze with the branch clenched in his fist, trembling all over. Finally he leaned in, and said in a hoarse and cracking voice:
“Boy? Boy? Oh . . . boy, what can I do?”
Caked lids peeled apart. One glazed eye worked its way open and the animal began scraping and thrashing fitfully. The whining became a heavy gasping, a gargling rumble, a profound wheezing.
“Oh no!” Robert cried. “Oh no, boy, stay! Stay! Don’t move, don’t move--”
The dog forced itself a foot off the ground on its forepaws, emitting little panting cries. Its back was broken, the jaw shattered, most of the teeth missing. Foam puffed and spewed.
“No!” Robert screamed. “No, please!” But the dog kept trying to rise. Light came on in a window in the next building. “No!”
And the boy just freaked. He threw up his arms and raced the two blocks home, burst in the back door and huddled trembling by the washer and dryer. His parents were hollering back and forth as usual; his mother coldly demanding, the old man shitfaced drunk. As usual. Robert grabbed a plate and bowl off the sink, a pound of bologna and a pint of bottled water from the refrigerator, and ran back down the alley.
He came up on the trash cans shaking, half-praying the dog would be gone. Or dead . . . or anything other than that whimpering, gasping horror.
It must have heard him coming, must have felt his footsteps, for it commenced hyperventilating and attempting to stand. Robert set down the plate and bowl, laid on the meat and poured in the water. He shoved the plate and bowl forward an inch at a time, really scared now, but no less heartbroken.
The Shepherd sniffed and bit at the meat, then threw its head side to side with little agonized yelps. A terrified Robert nevertheless splashed his hand in the water and dribbled some in the dog’s arching mouth. It yelped and hacked, staring at him with one frosted eye.
“Please,” Robert begged, dangling a slice of bologna. The dog pushed itself up on its forepaws and, with a savage effort, began heaving itself from behind the cans.
“No!” Robert gasped, backing away. Out of its mind with pain, the snarling Shepherd hauled its smashed hindquarters even as Robert continued to backpedal. The dog dragged along a few yards, snapping and crying, at last making it to all fours.
“Stay!” Robert cried. “Stop!” But it kept coming on, and when the boy broke and ran it fought its way into an awkward leaning gallop, flopping in and out of the shadows, snarling and yelping with the rising agony. It followed him that way, down walks between buildings, in and out of carports, between cars--all the way home, where it collapsed in the backyard with a withering series of little screaming convulsions.
Robert blew in around the rear screen door, slammed the back door hard, and locked it against the night.
“I don’t give a good holy crap what he says.” The old man kicked over a kitchen chair. “There’s no f*****g dog out there!”
An abbreviated retort from his mother, a strong woman accustomed to abuse. Then the old man again:
“I looked everywhere with the goddamned flashlight; the whole yard, okay? No . . . f*****g . . . dog!”
“Well, something scared the boy. He’s terrified. If you can’t find anything I’m calling animal control. I don’t feel safe for him.”
“Ah, Jesus. Robert!”
“Howard, don’t you bring that bottle in there. If you strike that boy again--”
“Let me guess. You’ll pack up and head back to Elsie’s? Robert!”
Hard yellow light cut into the room and Howard nearly fell in, using the swinging door for support.
There came a harsh word from Robert’s mother. Howard rocked his head out into the hall, slapped the whiskey bottle down on the nightstand. “There: you f*****g happy now? No bottle in the room.” He plunged a leg back in and, walking like a man on the moon, made his way around the bed.
Robert peeked from above the raised sheet.
“Hi, son.” The old man’s whiskey-breath was nauseating. He plopped down on the mattress. “I’m not mad; I’m not gonna hit you. I just want to say thanks for the wild goose chase, that’s all.” He sighed more of the same. “There’s nothing out there, boy. Nothing at all. No blood, no body, no nothing. Mom says you told her it was bad-injured, and she says too it followed you into the yard. Don’t you think we’d see some sign of it, son? Don’t you think?” The effort wore him down. After a minute he raised his head and forced a pacifying smile. “A boy should have a dog . . . deserves one . . . man’s best friend. Maybe he’ll come back when he feels better.” He winked boozily. “What should I call him? Duke? Fido?”
Robert pulled up the sheet, trying to survive those hated, ever-present fumes.
“Well, he’s got a name, don’t he? What’s his name?”
An anxious voice from the hall: “Is he okay?”
Howard forced his head around. “He’s all right!”
“Let me just talk to him for a minute.”
“I said he’s f*****g all right! God damn it, June, there’s stuff only a man can talk about with his boy. Now close the door.”
“No way, Howard. I’ll be waiting right here.”
“I said close the f*****g door!”
“And I said no.”
Howard swung his fright-mask back around, got right in the boy’s face. “What’s the dog’s name!” He huffed like a straining locomotive, then straightened as best he could. In a moment a kind of bilious humor rearranged the lines of tension on his brow. “Let’s see now. How’s about Hondo--you like cowboys, don’t you? Or maybe Frodo; you know, those little puppet people all the kids is so crazy about.” His eyes swam in his skull. “Got to have two syllables. For a dog, I mean. Cats are different. Football . . . baseball . . .” A lopsided grin cracked his face. “What about Yogi? You know, that old Yankees catcher. That’s perfect.” He rocked back and sighed. “Yogi it is, then.”
“Shut the f**k up, woman! You wanna know why I yell? This is exactly why! A man can’t have a private minute with his son.” He swayed to his feet.
“You’ve had your minute! Now it’s my turn.”
Howard staggered round in a half-circle, his fists balled. “Oh, you’ll get your turn, all right!” He threw a series of punches.
“I’m taking this bottle, right now! If you want it back you’ll come out of there.”
“God damn you!” One of those random punches took out Robert’s desk lamp, another shattered a square foot of plasterboard. Howard turned to the bed with hellfire in his eyes. “What’s the f*****g dog’s name?” His son whimpered and pulled the sheets higher. “It’s Yogi, boy! It’s f*****g Yogi. Say it! It’s your dog--say his name. Say f*****g Yogi!” He reached down and yanked him clear out of bed. “Say it!” Robert choked from the knuckles in his windpipe. “Say it, you ugly dummy b*****d, say it!” He hauled back his fist and sent it crashing into his son’s forehead. The impetus of his own roundhouse threw him stumbling against the door.
June screamed and tried to force her way in, succeeding only in nudging her husband back a foot or two.
“F**k you!” Howard howled, and yanked the door wide. Robert had time only to see his father lurch out into the hall before the blow to his skull sent him spinning into unconsciousness.
“It’s going to stop,” June whispered. “I promise you, baby, I promise.” The two sported matching black eyes. She kissed him tenderly, then gently massaged the whole area of impact with an ice pack, kissed him again. She pulled her face away to stop from crying, and sat up straight on the bed. “You’re staying home from school tomorrow; I’m going to . . . I’ve got to . . . talk to somebody.” She smoothed the boy’s hair. “He’s asleep now. You go to sleep too, Robert.”
But he couldn’t sleep, not after the day’s events. Once she was gone he found his good eye tracing shadows on the ceiling. The night was pleasantly cool. There was a breath of autumn through the open window, and a peculiar, yet vaguely familiar, sound in the garden. Robert crept to the window and leaned over the sill. The avocado’s branches were right in his face, but after a minute he could see something large flopping about in the flower bed. A sickening whining wound up and passed.
Terror ran down his spine like freezing water, crimping his neck, locking his hands. The boy genuflected so he could just peer over the sill. Now the wretched animal was obvious, rolling on its broken back, kicking its forepaws. For one horrifying moment it stopped, its battered head half-in, half-out of shadow, and an ice-cold eye returned his stare.
Robert instinctively yanked the curtains together and dropped to his knees. The thrashing picked up in the flower bed, punctuated by hisses and snarls of agony. The boy ran on all fours to the door, tore it open, and scrambled out into the hall.
“All right,” Howard sighed. “The doors are locked and the windows closed. Nothin’ can get in or out of this house, not without getting past me. You hear?” He leaned this way and that on the bed, fighting for balance, but his center of gravity inevitably made him weigh on his son, who could only scrunch deeper into the mattress. “So I don’t wanna hear any more crap about some goddamned imaginated dog, either from you or from--” and he spat the word “--that woman.” Howard attempted to scoop up the boy, almost sliding off the bed in the process. “She ain’t my wife no more, hear? She’s just your f*****g mother.” He crushed Robert’s face in his chest: stinking BO, drunk-breath, filthy crotch-smelling slob.
“I’m sorry I hit you, boy, I really am. And I’m gonna make it up to you.” Howard began to weep softly--selfish tears as cheap as his word. “Whatever you want.” He rocked side to side. “Whatever you need.” A hideous smile half-lit his face, and at that moment Robert didn’t know which was worse: the suffocating breath or the image his father now presented:
“It’ll just be me and you from now on, boy. No more of that b***h, I promise. Me and you’ll take up on our own somewheres; oh, don’t you just know she’ll get the house. It’s what she’s been after all the while.” He sniffed back the tears. “I don’t care if we have to live in a tent in the goddamned woods, I don’t care if we have to live in the f*****g car. Just me and you, boy. Just me and you for ever and ever.” He kissed his son stickily and repeatedly. “I’ll never let you out of my sight, Robert. I promise you, boy. Never!” He pulled himself away and wobbled to his feet. “As God is my witness, son, I’ll never let you go.” He snuffled up the snot and tears and staggered to the door. “Now go to f*****g sleep.”
After that he dreamed. He dreamt of exploring strange places, with no home to return to, no family to endure. In this private world he picked through abandoned houses and climbed jetties, free as a boy can be. But, somewhere in there, an odd feature of dreams took a hazy but relentless hold--he felt, he knew that he had a companion, a faithful dog sharing his adventures just at his heels. But this dog wasn’t sniffing and cavorting; it was dragging itself room to room and rock to rock. Furthermore, it proved unshakable; worse, far worse, it was impossible to turn and confront it--this the dream would never allow. Now it had him by the ankles; a terrifying living anchor, dragging him down, making awful little gasps and yelps of growing intensity, painful to hear and horrible to anticipate, until they took on a frenzied and hounding feel, and the dream descended into a silently screaming, slow-motion nightmare.
Robert woke absolutely rigid. Every sense told him to not make a move or sound. The nightmare’s source was right at the foot of his bed, resting between his ankles. Panting whimpers caused the mattress to tremble; he felt the nails of one paw digging into his calf. He squeezed his eyes shut tight, as though to slip back into the false security of complete darkness. The whimpering was torn by a terrible, abbreviated cry, followed by more panting. Robert opened his eyes to find the dog staring at him fixedly, its mangled body frightfully bent and its muzzle a mess of dried blood.
“Yogi,” he whispered, his mouth dry. “No, boy, no. You go away, Yogi. Go away.”
The dog whined from its bowels. It began to hyperventilate, and, still staring as though mesmerized, commenced pulling itself forward inch by inch, its nails catching in the boy’s thighs. When Robert couldn’t take it any longer he cried out, and in seconds there was an answering cry from his mother. The door burst open. Seeing the dog upon her son, June screamed for all she was worth. Yogi turned and snarled.
Howard, hard-drunk on the front room couch, yelled groggily, “What the f**k?” and came lurching down the hall. When he entered the room the dog went right for his throat, but, unable to coordinate movements, was easily beaten back. June went running to dial 9-1-1, Howard went reeling down the hall. He kicked open a wide cabinet and tore out a shotgun and shells, still so drunk that, upon loading, he put one shell through a window and another through the roof.
Robert reached under his little desk and pulled out a hard rubber door wedge, a hush-hush gift from his mother for just such an emergency. He kicked it into place, sobbing all the while, and bundled up Yogi in his arms. The dog, as big and heavy as the boy, gnashed wildly as it was half-carried, half-dragged to the window.
Another shotgun blast rang in the hall, just outside. With his mother’s screams still muffled by the door, Robert forced up his window, lifted Yogi onto the sill, and climbed out onto the shingles.
He wept as he fought the convulsing dog onto a main limb. This was his old escape route; he knew every hold and knothole, but the awkward load of the dog, his great fear and hurry, and the godawful kicking-in of his bedroom door caused him to miss a beat and grasp only air. Robert plunged the twenty feet to earth and cement all wrapped up in Yogi.
The shock of impact was a heartbeat’s flam: butt and shoulders, followed by an accent to the skull. After that he felt nothing. A minute later he was roused by a blast and bellowing. He looked up to see Howard hanging half-out the window, waving the shotgun with his free hand. The boy struggled to his feet. Bent like an arthritic old man, he limped to the avocado, seized the handle of his little red wagon, and dragged it over to Yogi. He had to turn it on its side, and it required an astounding effort to push in the howling dog, and to lever the wagon back upright. Sobbing with the exertion, Robert hobbled through the yard and out the back gate, the bouncing dog yelping pathetically at each bump and crash.
They swerved and jerked down the alley, a quirky compound shadow surrounded by scrambling homeowners and running pedestrians, everybody jacked out of whack by the shriek of sirens, the whipping lights, and the memory of Howard’s shotgun blasts. Robert had no inkling of what or why; he was following instincts, hauling his snarling and howling cargo back to its source. He wept like a baby as he shoved the wagon behind the cans and tenderly laid page after page of yellowing newspaper on the panting animal.
From somewhere up the alley came the sound of Howard staggering along, cursing the planet’s every aspect, continually smacking his shotgun’s butt on a caving pine fence.
The smacking stopped; Howard had knelt and was now inspecting the wagon’s tracks. Robert clamped a hand over Yogi’s thrashing muzzle as the footfalls approached.
Howard grunted. His flashlight’s beam swung erratically, at last falling on his son and the wagon. The old man’s eyes gleamed. He grinned and held the flashlight against his chest with the lens pointing up, so that his face was lit like some kind of psychotic jack o’lantern.
“Out of the way, dummy! I’m putting that ugly m**********r to sleep.” Howard seized his son by the collar and yanked. There was a squeal beneath them--with a lurch and snarl the dog sprang half-out of the wagon and clamped his jaws around the old man’s throat. Howard screamed and flailed furiously, dragging the dog and boy into a heads-butting embrace.
A siren’s wail approached at one end of the alley, headlights tore in from the other. A spotlight played over the scene and an officer raced in even as a hubbub of neighbors blew down the walk.
Unwilling to fire into the tangle, the officer first clubbed Yogi with his baton, then used Howard’s shotgun to repeatedly bludgeon the skull, but the dog would not release its death grip. Robert, rocked with each blow, found his face shoved into Yogi’s muzzle and his father’s face until all three were eye-to-eye. Blood spewed from Howard’s wracked mouth and nostrils, his expression grew impossibly contorted, and he gagged one final time. The crashing shotgun became a flagging piston, a throbbing spike, a cotton-soft jackhammer. And Yogi’s eye burned into Robert’s, grew opaque to the tungsten and halogen spears, and was lost like a wraith in the night.
© 2010 Ron Sanders
Marina del Rey, CA
AboutL.A.-based novelist, illustrator, poet, short story writer. more..