Lurking behind his inner question was the vivid memory of the barking and the whining. As recently as last night! It had irritated him, too, at three o’clock in the morning, when their neighbor’s dog Poopsy unfailingly awoke and began braying its sharp yaps into the sleepy darkness. He remembered countless nights in bed, naked and entwined with Julie, wide awake and wincing.
Of course he’d imagined throttling the hairy rat. Imagined!
“I didn’t mean to,” Julie repeated, reading his mind and answering his question. Recent tears were drying on her flushed cheeks. “Really!”
Brett looked over the hole at her. Trembling, she held Poopsy in her arms. The stiff dog, inside a turkey-roasting bag, was messily crimson, matted with dried blood.
Inside the house, the baby began to cry. Julie met Brett’s troubled gaze and whispered, “Hurry.”
“Drop her in,” he responded, his voice bitter.
She let the dog fall into the hole, and rose. She wiped her hands on her jeans as she jogged into the house to soothe little Kirk.
He couldn’t believe her, couldn’t buy that what she’d done had been some naive accident. The innards of the microwave were still chunky with Poopsy’s guts. Julie said she’d assumed that old urban myth to be just that: a myth. It had been a joke, she told him a moment ago, a prank to scare the mutt. Put him in a closed, throbbing place, make his fur a little hot. She’d watched him scurry and whimper for a moment, her finger poised to pop the door open. Then her cellphone had started buzzing.
Startled, she’d walked over to the phone and touched TALK.
“This is Mrs. Bzdek next door. Have you seen Poopsy around?” Suspicion in her voice, but also a bit of worry trembling over the line.
Caught in her crime, Brett’s wife had gone silent.
That’s when she’d heard the high-pitched wail, and the muffled whump of the mortally cooked Poopsy.
On the phone, the dying dog’s owner had cried, “Poopsy?!”
His wife had dropped the phone , dazed with horror, and it had clattered to the tiled floor.
Their world had turned to shit in a mere two minutes.
Brett, on his haunches, took a moment to stare toward Mrs. Bzdek’s small home. He could glimpse the roof over the high fence, but even that was shrouded in the darkness of a moonless night. He imagined the poor old woman in there now, bawling, curled up in her rocking chair, alone. What could she possibly be thinking right now? She’d heard the unmistakable, agonized cry of her precious dog over his wife’s phone! Should he expect the cops to show up at his door at any moment?
Jesus, he was shaking.
Listlessly, Brett tossed handfuls of dirt atop the bloodied plastic. It was surreal, he realized, the sight of falling clods over lumpy redness married to the sound of little Kirk crying in his crib. The dark night spoke of madness and fear. Down in the hole, Poopsy’s muzzle pointed up at him in a mockery of barking life. Teeth bared inside the roasting bag, the dog, already rigid in death, seemed to be howling a curse at him.
Brett took up the shovel again and covered the diminutive head with dirt.
He found himself grinning in a particularly evil way. There was something undeniably satisfying about burying this rat-like demon. No more dog-induced insomnia, no more bouts of lovemaking punctuated by high-pitched yips, no more lazy afternoons spent with a soundtrack of mournful howls.
Brett gave in to a quiet snicker, casting a glance toward the house to make sure Julie hadn’t heard him. He was still, after all, furious with her. “Fuck,” he said to the hole, finishing up and patting the mound, “how could she be such a moron?”
Little Kirk began suddenly to scream.
Alarmed, Brett stood and called, “Julie?”
His wife came running out of the house, her eyes bugged. Face ashen, she clutched him by the shoulders.
“What’s wrong with little Kirk?” he asked, swallowing inadvertently in the middle of the question.
“He’s not in his—he’s—he’s gone!”
Brett laughed uneasily, shaking his head. “But listen,” he stalled, not wanting to go into this future. “You can hear him.”
Julie shook him, and Brett saw a terrible, hopeless emptiness behind her eyes.
It was then that little Kirk spoke his first word.
“Daddeee!” he screeched.
Brett and Julie turned toward the fence simultaneously.
Behind little Kirk’s sound, a murmur of cackling laughter.
Brett bolted for the fence, grabbing for purchase and lifting himself to the top. Balancing precariously there, he peered into Mrs. Bzdek’s yard, glaring at the porch. Little Kirk’s screams were suddenly much louder. A hollow, helpless fear opened up in Brett’s guts. Out the sliding-glass door, snaking across the cement porch, an extension cord reached into Mrs. Bzdek’s yard. Brett followed the cord to the card table set up among the weeds.
On top of the table sat a large microwave oven.
Mrs. Bzdek, a shadow in the night, slammed the door shut.
The oven’s inner light came on.
“Little Kirk!” Brett yelled, tensing to throw himself over the fence.
Julie grabbed hold of his leg. “What’s happening?” she screamed. Brett lost his balance.
He fell back onto his wife, and the night shivered with their neighbor’s mad laughter.
Little Kirk stopped screaming.