by Lisa McCourt Hollar
“SNICKERS!” Eric stumbled through the woods, nearly blind, calling for the Golden Retriever that had inexplicably ran off, a very uncharacteristic thing for a Seeing Eye animal to do. Snickers had never done that before…guide dogs were dependable and could be counted on to stay with their masters without fail…and yet Snickers had taken off, leaving Eric stranded in the woods that surrounded his home.
Granted, Eric wasn’t completely blind, he had some sight, but it was so bad that even with glasses he could only see in shadows. Tripping over something in his path Eric nearly toppled over, catching himself on a tree instead. He cursed as he felt a piece of bark splinter off into his palm.
“SNICKERS!” His voice bounced off the trees, making it clear how alone he was. Squinting, Eric looked around, listening for any sound that might be the dog. Inching forward he kept his hands out in front, just in case he needed to break another fall. He and Snickers walked through the woods on a daily basis and his home, a log cabin, was just outside the entrance to the path they had taken…Eric was sure he could find his way back without the Retriever, as long as he stayed on the path. The problem was he had strayed from the path when the dog had taken off, certain he wouldn’t have ran far and now Eric wasn’t sure where the path was.
Eric’s heart leaped as he heard the dogs answering bark. He stood where he was, calling for the creature to come to him, but Snicker’s stayed where he was, emitting a series of barks and howls that made it sound as though the service animal were in pain. Now Eric was worried, was the dog hurt? Had he stepped into a trap that some hunter had set? Suddenly Eric was aware that he had more to worry about than falling flat on his face. He’d always stuck to the path, but there were hunters that invaded his territory every season and the chance that he could step in a forgotten trap left him paralyzed.
“Snicker’s,” he called again, but the dog just made some snuffing noises and stayed where he was. “Fine,” Eric mumbled, “I’ll come to you.” Shuffling his feet, he moved in the direction Snicker’s voice had sounded, following the dogs barks.
“Woof!” Snickers was right in front of him. Hobbling forward his foot caught on something and he fell, landing on something soft and wet.
“What the hell…” Eric pushed himself to his knees and peered at the thing he had landed on. It smelled horrible and he was stunned he hadn’t noticed the smell before…a rotten odor and something else…maggots. Maggots had a distinctive, sickening smell that he recognized from some garbage that had gone bad during the trash pickup strike.
Feeling the object with his hands Eric felt things crawling over the thing and heard the sound of flies. His hand touched what felt like a nose and he jumped back, realizing what it was he had fallen on.
“Oh my God!” Eric swatted at his arms and face, trying to brush off bugs, real and imagined, that were now crawling all over him. A fly flew into his eye and he brushed it out, blinking rapidly and crawling backwards away from the corpse.
Fumbling for his cell phone, Eric dialed 911, unaware that he and Snickers were not alone in the woods. The dog growled at the watcher, who remained hidden a few feet away.
"Hush Snickers," Eric said, looking around and wondering what had the dog worked up, besides the obv"The police are on their way," he said, a bit louder than he needed tol, if he were just speaking to the animal. A snap of some twigs a few feet away caused him to jump and beneath his hand he felt Snickers tense, as though preparing to attack something. Then the sound of sirens, another crack of leaves and branches and Snickers settled down.
copyright © 2011 Lisa McCourt Hollar. ALl rights reserved.
“He’s been dead at least a week,” the detective said. Eric couldn’t remember his name, he’d talked to so many since calling 911.
“I walk this by this way every day. You would think I would have noticed; even if I can’t see, I can smell.” ‘Of course I didn’t notice the rot until I was right on top of it,’ Eric thought to himself. ‘so much for increased senses.’
“He’s been dead a week. He’s only been here since today…I would say about an hour, probably about the time your dog ran off. More than likely he scared whoever killed this guy off before he had a chance to bury him.”
“I was in the woods at the same time as a murderer?” Eric felt a bit shaken thinking about it.
Snickers, sitting quietly by Eric growled, a low threatening sound that said, ‘back off’.
“Truth is, your dog probably sensed the danger and saved your life.”
“Yeah,” Eric said thoughtfully, rubbing the top of Snicker’s head. “I’ll have to apologize to him for every bad thing I thought about him when he ran off.”
“Okay, well you have our number,” the Detective said. “If you think of anything you may have left out give us a call. Ask for Detective Bower…Tony Bowers.”
“I can’t imagine what else I can add,” Eric said, reaching out to shake the detective’s hand. The man shook back, his grip strong and Eric smiled, wondering if he was as handsome as his handshake indicated. It was hard to tell from the shadows he saw. Beside him Snickers growled low and threatening. Detective Bowers pulled his hand back and moved a few steps, distancing himself from the dog.
“Snickers,” Eric scolded. Looking towards the detective…Tony, he apologized, “I’m sorry, he’s not normally like this.
“It’s no problem,” Detective Bowers said. “He’s just being protective.”
Once home, Eric stripped his clothes off, thinking he might have to burn them. Showering, he washed the scent of death off his body, walked naked to the kitchen, made a snack and then exhausted, went to bed.
His dreams were filled with shadows and blood. He was being chased through the woods by an unseen assailant. At the beginning of the dream he was on the path, but then he was deep in the woods, flies buzzing around his head and Snicker’s growling and nipping at his heels, along with the would be assassin. Suddenly he tripped and fell, landing on something soft and wet, the corpse. Suddenly the body moved, grabbing Eric and licking his face.”
“What the hell,” Eric said, sitting up and pushing Snickers off him. “Gross, dog drool, how many times I have to tell you not to do that?”
Snickers just snuffed at Eric’s hand, then went and lay in his corner, watching his master. Inside the house he was off duty since Eric could find his own way around.
“I should have known better than to eat nachos before going to bed,” Eric said, opening the refrigerator and pouring himself a glass of milk to wash some ibuprofen down with; he had a headache. Snickers followed his master into the kitchen, keeping a careful eye on him. He might be off duty but there was something wrong with him, the dog just didn’t know what.
Entering the living room, Eric flicked on the t.v, turning to the local news station. Leaning his head back, resting it on the back of the couch, Eric closed his eyes. His dream played out behind the lids, the chase, the fall, Snicker’s growling at him…there was something in the dream that was bothering him, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.
The news anchor was talking, his monotone voice soothing, helping him to relax. Eric was almost asleep when something the anchorman said caught his attention. Sitting up, he leaned closer to the television, listening to them describe the events of his day.
“The body found earlier today in the woods off Hawthorne Road has been identified as Senator Joseph Marsh. He wasn’t recognizable when found because he’d been badly mutilated. The Senator disappeared two weeks ago, right before he was to vote on issue 3, the proposal to allow gay couples equal access to programs available only to married couples, as well as the right to adopt. It was a highly debated subject and rumor had it that Marsh was going to vote for the proposal, which failed.”
Eric flicked the television off. “Jake Marsh,” he said, scratching Snickers on the back of the head, “dead in my woods.” Something in the back of his head was nudging him, but he couldn’t figure it out. Sighing, he stood and went back to bed. Maybe it would come to him in the morning.
copyright © 2011 Lisa McCourt Hollar. ALl rights reserved.