By Carl Bluesy
His wheelchair folded into itself when he was helped into the back of the police cruiser. I thought that seemed weird. Why did they send two police cruisers to arrest one injured old man? With Mr. Harlan out of sight, my eyes traveled to the dog collar. I did not realize I had picked it up. The collar spun in my hand.
I put the collar into my desk drawer. If I was not around Mr. Harlan anymore, I did not need to keep the dog collar either. I should have thrown the collar off the dirt road when I found it, but it seemed disrespectful to the dog somehow. The cops would leave soon, and his place would be empty. If I planned to go over to Mr. Harlan’s house, I needed to go before my parents got home.
Lauren gasped when I tripped on the litter box outside her bedroom. I waited for her to look at me standing outside her room. She didn’t make a peep. Lauren was pretending I’m not there like she does when we fight, and she wants to be left alone. She’s waiting for me to leave so she could cry with no one around to listen. I bent down to pick up the litter box but stopped when I saw the front of it. The black marker was still fresh where it read “Safety.” Above the name Safety, read Tomboy. Those letters that spelled out her cat Tomboy’s name were faded, but the line through his name was as fresh as the wound.
I stepped back from the litter box. It was not my responsibility. That was her job to deal with when she’s ready. If she turns the litter box around, she will have room for a new name. It might comfort her to keep it, but that box made me flinch every time I saw it. She wasn’t the one who found them. I was the one who found the dead pets, and I put them in the boxes and buried them.
Unfortunately, I kept grabbing that shovel for the same job time and time again. My dad found the box for each pet. It gave Lauren comfort to know they were in a box and not thrown into the ground bare and exposed. I was the one that got my hands dirty. I did not mind doing it for her. Each time I patted the dirt down, it would bring me a sense of relief to think it would soon be nothing but a terrible memory.
I still remember Mr. Harlan’s face when I first found Tom Boy on his porch. That should have been my first clue. It stuck in my mind, clearer now than ever. Perhaps a stain of guilt in my memory. Not the part where I almost stepped on my sister’s dead cat. I was caught up in the last moment of Wi-Fi. My best friend Dan’s hot spot would be out of range when the bus drove off my street. One of the many struggles of being a country boy.
If I recognized the signs back then, I may have been able to save the others and spare my sister some heartbreak. Mr. Harlan had not been surprised when I burst into his house and told him what I had found on his porch. I cannot be sure, but I swear he had a smile on his face.
“Well then, take care of things. You should know where I keep the garbage bags by now. Make sure you wrap the bag around the dustpan before you pick it up. I cannot have that stench spreading through my house, I’ve smelled it too much this week and sure you will agree when you’re finished with it all. I’m not trying to rush you, but don’t take too long. You should be well-practiced in dealing with such things by now,” He said.
How could he be so cold-hearted? I didn’t realize at first how his words showed just how little he cared. I thought he was being nice by saying he didn’t want to rush me. He even let me tend to it before I got to the chores, he had for me, despite my promise to always deal with my personal affairs after I finished doing whatever he needed me to do.
The squeak of his wheelchair grew louder as I began to scrape Tomboy from the wooden floor of his porch. It was the only place that I could hear him moving inside his house. I lifted the dead cat and placed it inside the bag. The fur was stuck to the porch from what I assume was the dry blood. When I was able to scrape the cat off the floorboards, the skin was still stuck to the deck boards. I had to use a shovel to scrape Tom Boy off. When I took Tom Boy’s body over to my garage, I left a note so it would not shock my mom when she got home from work. I would leave it for her or my dad to deal with.
The next day I returned to Mr. Harlan’s place to help with chores. He did not mention the cat, I assumed out of respect. Other than telling me what he needed me to do, the only thing Mr. Harlan ever talked about was the plans he had when his leg was healed.
“The ATV took the last bit of my freedom. I have never had a problem with my old one. The first time out on my new ATV and look what happened,” He said.
“Give it a few more weeks and you’ll be running down the road,” I said.
Mr. Harlan’s broken leg used to make me feel sorry for him. I felt sad seeing him so miserable. Now I wished his arms were broken too.
Outside, the police cruiser doors shut one by one until the officers were in the car buckling up. As the car engines started, I was jolted from my thoughts. I noticed the cage sitting in the donation pile that was accumulating on the front porch. Dad had said it was the best spot. If someone wants to steal it, they will save him a trip into town. Dad had thought about making a sign that read “free for thieves.” He never did make it because Mom thought that was a horrible idea.
The cage was still new, along with everything inside it. I bought it myself, which turned out to be a complete waste of money. All I ended up accomplishing was to add more grief to Lauren’s already broken heart. I suppose I should take comfort in the fact I had gotten her to smile for a few days.
I still remember that day her arms were crossed tightly across her body during the drive into town. She did not like being forced to join my mom and me at the grocery store. It led to a long, silent ride. As we got out of the car, I guided Lauren down a different path than our mother was on.
Together we walked down the sidewalk until we came to a pet store. When I stopped and opened the door for Lauren, her jaw dropped, and her eyes lit up. She ran to the cats and looked for one like Tom Boy.
“Whoa, Mom and Dad said you can only get a pet you can hold in one hand, and reptiles don’t count.”
Lauren wasn’t phased by the news and said okay before she moved on. It took less than ten minutes until we were out of the store with Lauren’s new guinea pig and all the needed supplies the store owner insisted, we purchase.
“I think I will name him Fur Ball.” Said Lauren on the drive home. Fur Ball never left her hands and her smile never left her face.
“Put Fur Ball in her cage sweetie, we can’t risk her jumping ship out here, we would never find her. She would end up as a snack for some wildlife,” Said mom.
Lauren did not waste another second getting Fur Ball into her cage. She kept Fur Ball by her side from the moment she got home from school until she had to leave for school again the following morning. Lauren was always careful to place Fur Ball in her cage and lock it whenever she had to leave. Unfortunately, the top piece to one of the cage tunnels ended up twisting off, and she wound up under my foot on Mr. Harlan’s front porch three days later. She looked like a red ball at first, it wasn’t until I knelt to pick it up that I realized the red that covered it was every ounce of its blood it had.
“I sure hope these things aren’t in your sole care. What’s your kill count up to? Three by my count or were there more before old Hitch met your wrath?” said Mr. Harlem when I returned from prepping Fur Ball for his burial.
Mr. Harlan had bitterness to his voice whenever he talked about his dog. I was too wrapped up in my thoughts to continue to talk to him. He must have known it had been an accident. I didn’t know how I would break the news to Lauren. She would already be looking for Fur Ball. She must have been worried sick looking for Fur Ball before mom came home and found it in the garbage bag on dad’s workbench.
That night at dinner I mentioned what Mr. Harlan said when I found Tom Boy and Fur Ball. I don’t know what possessed me to bring it up at that moment. The only thing that came from me sharing what Mr. Harlan said was Lauren getting upset, and I should’ve known it before I spoke.
“Did he say that? I think he did it, he killed Tom Boy and Fur Ball. Scott killed his dog and so he got even by killing my pets.”
“No, Mr. Harlan isn’t out for revenge. He knows what happened to Hitch was an accident. Besides, Hitch had been more my fault than Scott’s. He’s just learning to drive. No one expects Scott to be skilled yet,” said dad. All the eyes turned to him as he continued talking. “My responsibility was to make sure he was following the rules and driving safely. What happened during the lesson was an accident. If Mr. Harlan has a problem with what happened, he would bring it up with me. He certainly wouldn’t go after Lauren’s pets. Besides, he is in that wheelchair. I don’t think he can even leave his home at this point. Isn’t that right, Scott?” Asked Dad.
“Yeah, he complains about being stuck home all the time,” I said.I stared at my plate and ate as the tension grew until we were done, and it was time for Lauren and I to wash the dishes.
The Police siren jerked me from the past. I moved off the dirt road and onto the grass to give the police cruisers room to drive by. When they passed, I waved at the officers and caught Mr. Harlan’s eyes as he went by. He looked livid. He blamed me for his arrest, no doubt. His shirt was wrinkled and torn at the sleeve. I wonder if he tried to put up a fight, it would have been a sad sight to see, I’m glad I missed that part. He looked like he hadn’t bathed in days. I could smell him from where I stood. It was a scent I had become used to in my backyard as I dealt with all his victims.
We discussed whether we should get another pet, Mom eventually caved and got Lauren a brown cat. Once again when I got off the bus and made my way to Mr. Harlan’s porch, I smelled it before I saw Safety in the hot June sun making the rotten stench far worse. I had a hard time identifying Safety without her head. Something needed to be done. Even mom and dad had run out of excuses for Mr. Harlan.
Mom and Dad said they would go over to talk with Mr. Harlan. Lauren and I waited a few minutes before we snuck out behind them. Mom and Dad were on Mr. Harlan’s porch by the time we got outside. There were a lot of places to hide between the two houses. We kept low and used a large bush to hide behind. From that location, we had the perfect view of Mr. Harlan and our parents. We could hear their conversation.
“Good riddance, neither of your kids are ready for such responsibilities. That boy of yours couldn’t even return Hitch without losing a piece of him.” Said Mr. Harlan.
“Now hold on, there’s no need for that, our kids have done an impressive job taking care of their pets. We are not blaming you, but they always make their way over to your porch somehow and thought you may have seen how they escaped from our place,” said Mom.
Mr. Harlan rolled out further onto the porch where the porch light shone on his face. That was when I got the clearest view of him. It was a look of rage and disgust I’d never seen before. I made the right decision. It all became clear when he brought up the accident again.
“Serves him right after what your boy did to my poor old Hitch. That dog was all I had. Now I have nothing, and I am a prisoner in my own home. I guess that’s karma at its best.”
“Well, it’s clear that you’re in no mood to help. It would be best if Scott didn’t come over here anymore, I don’t want you laying a guilt trip on him. It was an accident. These things happen!” Said Dad in an unusually forceful voice.
As our parents stepped off the porch and headed back home, I tapped Lauren on the shoulder. We needed to do a little shuffling around to remain hidden as they walked past us. Once our parents were out of sight, we dashed back home. The slam of the door was covered by Mom’s calls.
“Kids come help clean up. You’re not going to leave your dirty dishes on the table, come on, you know better, the fun time comes after your chores are done.”
“Coming Mom,” I yelled.
“I knew it was him,” Lauren whispered to me. As we cleaned the dishes.
“What do you mean? He didn’t admit to anything.”
“Sure he did. You heard what he said about karma, how we deserved to have our pets stolen from us. How is that not a confession? If it had been the cops instead of Mom and Dad, they would have arrested him.”
“Not without a body. Besides, I cleaned everything up, and buried the bodies myself.”
“You’re right. You played right into his hands. If you didn’t bury the evidence, we would have had him. He hunted our poor innocent pets down when they had nowhere to hide, they were helpless with no one around to protect them.”
Lauren was hurting, but she was right. I knew what I needed to do. Dad let me know that my time working at Mr. Harlan’s was done. That’s fine with me, but first I had one last job to do at Mr. Harlan’s.
I set my alarm for four in the morning. The ground where I had buried the pets was still soft. I finished doing what I had to do and made it back inside around six-thirty. That gave me just enough time to sneak upstairs and clean myself up. The school day dragged on, I focused on what needed to do for the day and nothing else. Lauren picked up on my behavior as she sat next to me on the bus ride home. She did not normally sit next to me. It was the first time she had since kindergarten. She told me I was acting weird in the morning, and she demanded I tell her what was going on.
“We got him, we can get him locked up today, I’ve got the evidence.”
“What, how? How did you find it? What did you do? No, Scott, you didn’t.”
“Shh, don’t say another word, it will all be over soon,” I said with my finger pressed to my lips.
All went according to plan. I placed all the evidence we had into Mr. Harlan’s backyard, all in one pile. Lauren was upstairs. The sound of her sobs bounced off the walls despite her efforts to muffle the sound.
Lauren must have been watching me. She wouldn’t be able to see me from her room as it faced the road. She would have to go into my room to get an unobstructed view of Mr. Harlan’s place.
I placed the call to 911 and told them that my next-door neighbor had taken our pets and would not give them back. I tried to work up some tears so my voice would have a quiver when I spoke. The operator said not to worry, they would send an officer to that location. She kept me on the line, continuing to ask questions.
After a few minutes, the police cruisers made their way to Mr. Harlan‘s place. I ran to my bedroom to watch with Lauren. When I swung my door opened, I found she had already left and returned to her room.
Those pets deserve a proper burial. I needed to put them back. When I walked up the steps to his porch I stopped when something squeaked. I recognized the noise, I had always thought it was Mr. Harlan inside the house. He was always rolling his chair around to get a better view of me with his newest victim.
Mr. Harlan had already left, it couldn’t be him. I stood still and listened until I heard it again. I took a few steps closer, I couldn’t understand why I was not seeing anything. I realized it was coming from underneath the porch. I ran off and threw myself onto my belly. It was dark under the porch, I couldn’t see a thing. I pulled out my phone and turned the flashlight on.
At first glance, I thought it was a weasel, but to my horror realized it was a fisher when I saw the full size of it laying there. The stench grew stronger, the very odor that Mr. Harlan had blamed me for, saying that I did not do a good enough job cleaning up my dead pets. I cannot count the number of times he made me rewash that porch. That foul stench was worse under the porch. It became obvious to me why that was. There were discarded bones and carcasses of a variety of animals. I found a dead porcupine, rabbit, and something that made me gag. Most of the flesh had been picked clean, enough remained to know it was a dog’s leg, Hitches leg. Hitch’s missing leg. The one I spent hours looking for and never found.
The vicious killer had made quite the stash. I used the flashlight to scan the area and was surprised by an unusual sight. There was a litter of three or four kits laying close by. It was very unusual, as fishers were typically born in a hollow tree. How many little critters had this one killed for her young?
A horrible thought hit me like a shovel. My blood ran cold as my heart froze. Back on my feet, I made my way to the road. I looked up and saw a car coming, dust from the dirt road covered all behind the car as it drove closer. It was my mom’s car. The cracked bumper where Hitch had been struck stood out from a mile away. It would be a constant reminder of what I had done.
(Bio: Carl Bluesy has been writing horror stories for 6 years. Writing Horror stories has been a passion of his. Short stories of Carl Bluesy have appeared on websites such as Creepy Pasta and The Yard: Crime Blog, and have been narrated on YouTube.)