By Dave Gregg
The pepper spray had arrived and I planned to be merciless. I was tired of running. I opened the box, removed the canister from the package and read the instructions:
1) Hold can in an upright position.
2) Remove safety and direct spray at face of attacker.
3) Spray liberally then run for help.
I felt stirrings of excitement do somersaults in my chest. This could work, I thought, this could really work.
My girlfriend, on the other hand, who insisted I join a gym if I needed exercise, disagreed. She thought I was doing the typical guy thing — which in her parlance meant something incomprehensibly stupid.
“That’s why women outlive men by seven years,” she argued. “That’s why men measure their penis sizes while women are busy raising future world leaders.”
The somersaults stumbled and fell awkwardly.
“Look, I can handle this,” I said, hoping to sound reassuring. “I know what I’m doing.”
“But, isn’t joining a gym better than being chased every night? Why subject yourself to more stress and injury?”
“Joining a gym would be a sign of defeat.” I said. “And I refuse to be chased out of my own neighborhood by a scruffy little dog not much bigger than a loaf of bread.”
I had just moved in with my girlfriend; we were even talking marriage. She was recently divorced and I had been waiting in the wings, so to speak, for what we hoped would be a better relationship.
I often took an evening walk before bedtime, to unwind and keep that middle-aged pudge at bay. And my girlfriend’s neighborhood seemed perfect, with steep, sloping streets and neighbors who were early-to-bed and rarely outside to observe my evening sojourn. As I occasionally perched above my neighbor’s begonias and showered their delicate petals with a gilded stream — when you gotta go, you gotta go — I preferred it that way, to be unseen.
The little dog, however, made my evening walks a thing of dread. The prospect of exercise now meant the terror of a moppy-haired, stubby-legged creature darting out of the shadows with a mouth full of razor blades. On several occasions, I tried to punt the little monster toward an imaginary goalpost, but it always scurried away before I could marshal a proper kick — and then the bastard would swing around and gnaw at my heels.
The cantankerous mutt, however, was not my only problem.
Millie, my fiancee’s seventeen-year-old daughter, hated me as much as I hated the little dog. Ever since I arrived she had made me feel about as welcome as mononucleosis on prom night. Sadly, using pepper spray on Millie was out of the question — I had checked the legal statutes on that one.
What I needed was to somehow make a better impression on Millie, to do something for her she would never forget. But first, I had to rid myself of the little dog. Millie could wait.
With the canister of pepper spray in tow, I felt armed-and-ready to face my four-legged nemesis.
I popped a couple pills when my girlfriend wasn’t looking. Red ones, blue ones — I was indiscriminate in my choice of color. Whatever gave me an edge.
As I headed out the door, my girlfriend’s voice trailed behind.
“The Weather Channel says it’s gonna storm!”
“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain,” I shouted back. “Meteorological hacks…all of them.”
“Millie’s at the movies with her friends tonight. If you skip that stupid walk we could get some extra snuggle time.”
“Don’t worry. I won’t be long.”
My girlfriend sighed. “Don’t you think using pepper spray on a little dog is asking for trouble?”
“But I’m the one that’s bringing the trouble. And I gotta say, the comeuppance will feel real good.”
“Come on, baby” she added. “Join a gym already.”
I ignored her and began my walk.
Shrouds of mist cast a fuzzy glow on the sleeping row of houses I wandered by, and something felt different about the night air.
Oh, great, I thought. A storm was coming after all.
Up one driveway a teenage couple huddled near a garage door and smoked pot, and farther off a man emerged from the darkness to roll a garbage can out to his sidewalk, only to be swallowed again by the shadows as he retreated.
I heard a car up ahead, and when it raced toward me I hid behind a parked sedan. The passing vehicle, however, was only a white pick-up, not the red Corolla — and I had reason to fear that Corolla. A week earlier it had cruised into the neighborhood, and from a rolled-down window in the rear, half-eaten discards of fast food were hurled at my head. The car sped away before I could ream their shanks with a satisfying array of profanity.
I continued walking. I was getting close to where I often encountered the little dog.
Overhead, menacing clouds seemed positioned to launch an advance. The swirling air, now heavy with moisture and getting colder, formed little eddies that shot icy drafts up my pant legs. I stopped and leered at the sky. If my girlfriend was right I would never hear the end of it.
Then, as if on cue, it began to rain — an unremitting downpour, actually, like the inundation of the great flood in only a square mile. Sidewalk gutters overflowed with tumultuous currents and even the shadows looked wet and waterlogged. God had parted a cloud and pissed on my neighborhood. Within seconds I was drenched.
I decided to call it a night. My head felt woozy and I could always fight my canine windmill another day.
Before turning back, I noticed what appeared to be a scrap of someone’s shaggy carpet dumped on the sidewalk ahead. The rain was now falling like shards of glass and I didn’t want to investigate further. Drawing nearer, though, I ruled out my shaggy carpet theory: this was a clump of wet, matted fur — the remnants of a small animal, laying in a slick of its own blood.
Standing above the dead animal now removed all doubt about its identity: it was the mutilated remains of the little dog.
Now at this juncture in the story, I must admit to making three critical errors in judgment. The first mistake being a tactical miscue of the gravest consequence:
When in immediate danger, never — EVER — give away your position.
I kneeled and brushed the hair on the little dog’s head, gently tugging at an ear. When the ear came off in my hand, I stood and shouted at the pathetic creature, “Jesus God! What happened to you?”
My angry outburst echoed from house to house, zigzagging like electrical sparks from a frayed wire. In response, a minor disturbance emanated from a shadowy patch in the yard across the way, a disturbance that captured my immediate attention.
Staring into the blackness, my head craned forward, my eyes straining to see, I watched the terrifying mass of an impossibly large dog emerge from the shadow, muscles rippling beneath the taut skin, the corpse of a cat hanging in a downward crescent from its mouth.
Stumbling back in disbelief, I regarded the monstrosity with horror. The animal could not possibly exist. As black as the inside of a grave, it was like a dark defector from the mist-shrouded moors of Grimpen Mire, and it didn’t belong — not in this neighborhood at least.
I shouted at the animal. “Go on…Get out of here. Get lost!” but my words had little effect.
The second of my three mistakes was having butter fingers.
I fumbled in my pocket for the pepper spray, clutched it in my hand, only to let it slip from my fingers and drop into the water still gushing through the gutter below.
“No!” I cried, dropping to one knee and plunging my hands into the watery torrent, fingers groping through the muddy flow but not finding the canister.
Meanwhile, the dog had flipped the carcass of the cat onto the grass and was glaring at me with savage intent. With a low, subterranean growl, the animal crept forward, teeth bared, ears pulled back, body poised to strike.
I frantically tallied my choices, but with my last option riding a swift current of debris down the gutter, my craven instincts took charge and seized my brain with the one command that might ensure my survival — run!
Convinced I couldn’t make it back home, I bolted in the opposite direction, hoping to spring onto the hood of a parked car or jump into the ugly dumpster that sat at the corner house.
The third mistake was a disastrous lack of common sense. The dog was like a primeval interloper from the Jurassic, and you can’t outrun the canine equivalent of T-rex.
The dog snarled with contempt at my cowardly retreat and sprang into action. My plodding attempts to flee were soon in rhythmic counterpoint with the more sure-footed advance of the carnivore, its jagged toenails digging into the asphalt not far behind, the pace quickening with each step.
I veered up an embankment of ground cover adjacent to the sidewalk and scrambled toward a large palm tree on the hill, hoping to use it as a barrier between me and my opponent. The dog soon matched my ascent, consumed by frothy, growling fits.
We shadow boxed on opposite sides of the tree, the dog darting its head round the trunk several times to savagely bite at my extremities, before going for the kill with a lunge and a snap at my throat that just missed the mark. I angrily shot a knee into its muscular chest, knocking it off balance. Then in a last ditch attempt, I grabbed onto the hairy trunk of the palm tree and swung my body round, kicking the dog with both barrels and sending it sprawling. I rolled back down the slope and continued my mad scramble.
With the corner house just up ahead and my reserve of do-or-die attempts woefully depleted, I ran several more feet, took a running leap and launched into the air, aiming myself like a missile toward the gaping hatch of the dumpster.
My body ricocheted off the steel wall inside and I slumped over onto a pile of garbage and lawn clippings. The impact sent shock-waves of muscle-bruising agony across my back and shoulders, and I pulled myself into a fetal position and moaned, heart pumping wildly, lungs gasping, small rivulets of pain coursing everywhere.
Seconds later, the dog arrived in a rush of predatory speed, four galloping legs skidding out of control to avoid a collision.
The hapless animal must have struck the dumpster at nearly full speed. The walls shuddered with a sickening thud of muscle and bone, creating a bell-like tone that reverberated in a comical sonority.
I listened, too scared to move. Other than my own labored breathing, though, there was not a sound. The dog was either dead or it had knocked itself out cold. I felt a sudden urge to pee.
I sat up and looked around.
The dumpster was several layers deep in clippings, pruned branches, and what looked like the decaying body of a dead possum in the farthest corner. The arresting aroma of the rotting animal had just begun to invade my senses when the moldering remains of the possum morphed into a human shape, taking the physical form of Millie. I blinked several times and rubbed my eyes. I may have been hallucinating from the drugs, but there she was.
She sat opposite from me, wearing those tight-fitted jeans with the holes in the knees and that baggy sweater she often swiped from her mom. Her long brown hair, however, framed an accusatory gaze in her narrow blue eyes.
“You should have bared your throat to that animal. I hear ritual sacrifices are making a comeback.”
“Why do you hate me, Millie?”
“I don’t hate you,” she said. “I just want a colossally heavy object to fall on your head…an asteroid maybe, that would squash you into an insignificant lump of insect parts.”
“That sounds like hate.”
“It sounds like satisfaction to me,” she said. “Did you really think you could move in with my mom and me and not meet any resistance? You were responsible for my parent’s divorce. You have no shame.”
“Is there any way I could make a better impression on you?” I pleaded.
“Sure, wedge your head under the wheel of a bus.”
The metallic jangle of a door opening sounded from the house, and Millie’s image vanished, once again revealing the corpse of the possum.
A hushed tone of voices became more audible as they drew nearer. Embarrassed by my predicament, I kept quiet and listened, nervously downing a couple more pills to ease the anxiety.
“What is it, Dad?” a boy muttered.
“I thought I heard something in the yard.”
A patter of footsteps slowly approached the dumpster, followed by a gasp.
“Dad! Look at the big dog.”
“Stand back,” the father said.
I heard someone nudge the body of the inert animal. I cringed at the thought of the animal arousing from its slumber to massacre the father and son while I helplessly listened. Instead, I heard something more terrifying:
“He’s dead, son. Help me lift its body into the dumpster.”
I estimated the inside of the dumpster was roughly eight-feet long by five-feet wide. Within seconds, the one-hundred-fifty pound dog that had chased me four blocks and had almost torn my face off would soon be occupying the same space with me — a space that seemed infinitesimally cramped, like an outhouse in a flea circus.
I silently screamed into my brain — get the fuck out! — and with both hands grasping the edge of the dumpster, flung myself over the side and rolled onto the ground, stopping at the feet of my new acquaintances. They looked down at me in disbelief.
Maybe it was the drugs again, but the father reminded me of a praying mantis wearing faded denims and a ratty t-shirt; the son his smaller counterpart. They both eyed me with bug-eyed suspicion.
“Would you mind telling me what you were doing in my trash dumpster?” the father finally asked.
“Do you see that dog over there?” I said, still gazing up at them. “Well, it just tried to make a late-night snack out of me.”
The father shot a spindly arm down to hoist me up. I pulled a penlight from my pocket and trained it on the body of the dog, which remained motionless.
“Have you ever seen that beast around here before?” I asked the father.
“It could be the Cunningham’s Rottweiler,” the father said, wrapping a thin appendage around the back of his neck, then reaching up to scratch his antenna. “They live just up the street. They had wanted a guard dog to ward off burglars.”
“Well, midnight prowler was apparently on the menu tonight,” I said, my sarcastic riposte not getting the snare shot I anticipated.
Somewhere in the distance, coming from a house several blocks away, the voice of an elderly male intervened.
None of us made a sound.
Something stirred in the yard near us, rustling the grass as it moved. I trained the penlight on where the body of the dog had rested: it was gone. I stiffened and awaited the inevitable attack from the animal.
“Look!” the boy cried out.
The large Rottweiler was now trotting up the sidewalk to his expectant master, his tail wagging, his once ferocious growl now an excited little whimper that, in different circumstances, might have been thought adorable.
My strange journey was now in the rear-view mirror.
Yes, I was soaked, soiled, and stinking of dead possum, but my limbs were intact and I still owned a face. The idea of going home to snuggle with my girlfriend now felt like the balmy bliss of being in the womb again. I needed that.
I turned to my acquaintances with a smile. “Well, gentlemen, it’s been one helluva evening, but mostly hell.”
The father smiled and stepped forward to shake my hand. Then his eyes widened and he backed away as if he feared I might puke on his shoes.
Too exhausted for further alarm, I drooped my shoulders and uttered under my breath, ”Now what?…” I turned in time to watch someone hurl a combination burrito from a red Corolla that idled in the street behind us.
The half-eaten projectile struck me square in the forehead, the refried beans and cheese still warm and bubbly on my face.
This time I was angry — I really hated Mexican food. I bent down, seized the remnants of the burrito and heaved the gloppy mass in a spiraling arc that caught the accelerating vehicle as it banked round the corner of the street, the burrito splattering against the rear windshield, leaving a long greasy smear as it slid down the glass.
Upon impact, the Corolla screeched to a halt, idling for several dramatic seconds before reversing direction. With another screech of its tires, it came roaring back. But I was already sprinting down the sidewalk. Somehow, I had grown accustomed to running away from things.
I had made it halfway down the street, reaching a side road that jutted up a steep incline, when the Corolla, picking up speed, swerved to the right, jumped the curb, and smashed into a garbage can, the contents tumbling out ahead of me.
I leaped over the debris undeterred and veered up the hill, which I knew would end in a cul-de-sac. But that was my plan. Instead of continuing the ascent, I ducked into the first yard I encountered and ran to the gate of the fence, where I lifted the latch and hurried into the backyard.
The yard was pitch black and the house itself looked abandoned. I listened to the engine of the red corolla as it continued up the street, eventually coming to a stop somewhere. Then I basked in the murmur of the evening for a while, the foliage around me still dripping after the earlier shower. It was the first moment of peace I had experienced since I had started the walk. But I had to keep moving.
Warily, with knees quivering and arms outstretched, I staggered forward into the darkness, one wobbly step at a time, feeling like a blind beggar or Karloff’s mummy. I hadn’t stumbled more than ten feet before I toppled head first into the deep end of a swimming pool.
Being submerged in black, icy water was disorienting and I thrashed around for several anxious moments before fighting my way to the surface, where I immediately detected it was not a well-tended pool.
The water seemed mired in a festering ooze of debris, a noxious slick that had once been leaves, dead insects, and other nameless filth, but was now a buoyant, fetid mass — and I was bobbing up and down in it, a turd in a toilet.
After considerable coughing, retching, and the sputtering of four-letter expletives, I paddled through the muck, keeping my head above the stench.
Standing on the rock patio, I assessed the damage: a sliver of light from a nearby street lamp revealed a layer of black sludge now hung on me like a suit made from sewage. I tried shaking myself the way wet dogs do after a bath but the feculent goo seemed determined to remain a part of my attire.
The rain clouds were dispersing.
The purple sky rippled above as if I was looking at it from the bottom of a fish tank. When I thought I saw my girlfriend flex her back fins and swim across the night air, I popped a couple more pills to verify the observation. When I saw her do a backflip and several playful pirouettes, I made the decision to head home. I was officially stoned.
I crept along the side of the house and peered over the fence: the red Corolla was parked out front, presumably awaiting my reappearance. But a young girl stood outside the Corolla smoking a cigarette, pacing back and forth. Her door was ajar and the cab light in the vehicle betrayed something of even greater interest: the car was occupied by three other adolescent females.
I bit my lip hard.
Gone were the violent gang members I had imagined chasing me, the drunken linebackers from the high school football team, the desperate prison inmates that had climbed over the wall looking for hostages. In their place: a giggling gaggle of teenage girls.
After the girl returned to the car I searched for answers.
My mind reeled. Just who did these tramps think they were? Didn’t they have boyfriends to lord over? Didn’t they have legal guardians to keep them chained in the basement?
A lesson needed to be taught. I was feeling just unhinged enough — and thoroughly tripping on those red and blue pills — to mount a proper counterinsurgency. I crawled over the fence, crouched down, and watched from the shadows till I was ready — then I made my move.
I must have looked terrifying to those teenage girls as I charged toward their car, screeching like something from a recently unearthed grave and covered in that black shit from the pool — my eyes, wild and maniacal, just two white cut-outs in the filthy sludge.
Soon Dirk Diggler was out of my pants and it was like watering my neighbor’s begonias again. I blasted the Corolla with a hot stream of urine, the muffled shrieks from the girls inside only encouraging further dousing. I sloshed the windshield, the side doors, the mirrors. Before long the entire car was slathered in piss.
I embraced my victory by stomping around the vehicle like a drunken Viking.
Inside the car, everyone was still screaming save for one girl who sat in the backseat, rigid and magisterial, as if she were presiding over a court room. She glared at me with baleful eyes that seemed horribly familiar. As I looked closer, I realized my indictment was complete: the girl with the baleful eyes was Millie.
With the rain dance officially over, Dirk Diggler now dangled limply from my pants like a busted slinky, and all I could do was gape at Millie dumbly. Her hateful visage left me feeling like a sleazy neon sign. I tried saying her name but the drugs were slurring my speech by then and instead my mouth jettisoned a long sinewy strand of drool. I felt nauseous, my chest grew tight, my chin began to quiver.
Millie then revealed a sly little grin — a wickedly evil grin — that stretched across her face like a funeral procession. She nodded toward a friend occupying the passenger seat of the car, a friend who was training an iPhone camera at me — and probably had been the entire time. She then mouthed a frightening two-syllable word: F A C E B O O K
And just like that, my fifteen minutes of fame had been assured.
The video immediately went viral and played on multiple online services. A local news station even ran an expose on “How To Stop Neighborhood Degenerates From Urinating On Your Children.”
Unbelievably, my girlfriend forgave me for my incomprehensible stupidity — to use her parlance. In my defense, she told the judge I had just made a horrible mistake, but I was still a good person.
Our neighbors were less tolerant, however, and they frequently circled our property, carrying signs, shouting profanity, and brandishing garden shears.
I’m now doing time in the county correctional facility where I’ve become quite popular with the degenerates in my cell block.
It’s on those nights that I miss the little dog the most. It’s on those nights — when my cellmate has me pinned against the cot and his heaving buttocks is bobbing perpendicular in a rhythmic fury — that I find myself wondering…
Why in the hell didn’t I just join a gym?