Tales From the Gritty World

Just Below Your Radar

Furry Children

By A. Elizabeth Herting

The dog and the cat were seldom in agreement, that was just a given. There were very few times over the course of an average year when they would actually work together for the greater good. Like when food was dropped onto the floor or the back door left open just a crack, allowing them a brief taste of mutual freedom. In times like that, Marie would always hold back, giving them a quick moment to savor their victory before intervening in any given situation. She wanted them to be a team, for that is what they were. Dog, cat, human, all starting out a new chapter in life–the three of them against the world.

Now she watches as they sit, side by side, heads swiveling in perfect synchronicity, clearly fascinated by something that Marie cannot see. She turns, suddenly, to look behind her, feeling more than a little ridiculous. Perhaps a stray bug had somehow gotten in, a loose floating string or an errant beam of sunshine?

Nothing. Complete still silence.

Marie shakes her head and turns back to watch them. She sees, in complete wonderment their fascinated expressions, both feline and canine. She calmly tries to tamp down the sudden chill that tickles the base of her spine. It’s only the beginning, way too early to be cracking up, she thinks sadly. He has only been gone for two weeks, I need to keep it together.

Marie couldn’t recall the exact moment when her marriage began to unravel, but remembers it was pretty anti-climatic. A mutual exhaustion after trying too hard for twenty years, with a dash of infidelity thrown in for good measure. She was loathe to admit it, but they were the typical middle-aged couple, slowly growing apart as their waistlines grew out. The spark was still there, but neither one of them cared to look for it anymore, or remembered how it all began in the first place. John, of course, just had to have the typical mid-life crisis, trading her in for a younger model–that stupid, overused cliche in the flesh. A new fling, she assumed, who would give him children since Marie never could. Not for lack of trying, but it seemed that Marie was the problem. She was barren. Or whatever the cold, impartial medical term was for it these days. Marie had made her peace with it long ago, letting her “furry children” fill the painful void in her heart, but it would seem, that Johnny had not.

They had gone through several sets of pets throughout the years, living a comfortable life together, such as it was, or so she had thought. The day he left, he talked about taking the animals with him, but Marie would not relent. She would never give them up. They had only been in the new house for about a year and there were too many other things to fight over. Bills, mortgage, mistress and a thousand other things that made Marie want to dive under the covers in despair. He could walk out on her, on their marriage, but he would never take them. Never.

The dog eagerly wags his tail almost in greeting as the cat rubs her face against the dog’s front leg, purring loudly. Marie looks around the room again, trying to figure out what has them acting so strangely. The real estate agent did tell them when they bought the house last year that something bad had happened here. Marie didn’t want to know anything about it, but Johnny had looked into it, something about a murder-suicide. They had gotten such a good deal on the house that Marie refused to entertain the notion of a haunting, that stuff was pure nonsense as far as she was concerned. Now, with her animals acting this way, she wonders if maybe there is something to it after all. Don’t they say that pets can see things that their owners cannot?

“Hello?” she says out loud to the empty room, “Is there anybody here?”

As if in response, a late autumn breeze lifts the curtains around the open window, making Marie jump a little. That’s all it is, she thinks in relief. No ghosts, just a passing distraction outside, they’ll calm down in a minute or two. The dog lets out a sudden bark making Marie nearly leap out of her skin. He walks right past her and sits down heavily, making a small whining noise. The cat jumps down from her perch and joins him there, both of them looking up in anticipation. She hears it then, a slight noise behind her. Some sort of shifting as Marie feels a sudden jolt of adrenaline, her heart slamming against her chest.

He told her in the garden, while both of her hands were buried deep in the wet earth. Marie was very proud of her garden, she started out as an Iowa farm girl and had managed to keep that part of her identity even living out here in the wilds of suburbia. He was in love he said, he hadn’t planned for it to happen but it had. She needed to let him go. She remembers standing up and grabbing the shovel, turning the dirt over and over while he stood pleading with her, insisting that he no longer loved her, that their marriage was finished. They would both be better off he told her, this had been coming for a long time–it was time to be honest about it. She couldn’t remember a thing after that, just the endless digging and turning of her beloved soil until she could no longer hear him. Later that week she stood crying in her shower, great heaving sobs of misery that he would betray her this way, that he would break his vows. The steam and hot water were washing her body clean, but were not able to cleanse her broken heart, her shattered soul.

The dog came into the bathroom, alerted like he always was when Marie was upset. She turned the water off and opened the glass door, noticing that he had a large object in his mouth. He loved to play “keep away” with her, waggling his entire back end and playfully growling as Marie fumbled, trying in vain to grab it from his mouth. The dog was covered in dirt, with what she assumed was topsoil from her garden. A foul smell assaulted her as she reached out in a panic and managed to get a hold of it. A hunk of blackened, rotting flesh came off in her hand as the dog pulled the severed arm away, enjoying their little game as usual. He turned and dashed away, forcing Marie to run through the house completely naked to chase him down. She caught him near the compost pile in her garden, the dog reveling in his newfound treasure. Pieces of dismembered corpse were strewn across her tomato patch and onto the lawn like a gruesome crop ready for harvest. Marie picked up her battered old shovel and went to work reburying her faithless husband.

Marie knew without looking that she was no longer alone, but then again, she always could sense when he was near and had for over 20 years. A hot, rancid breath hits the back of her neck as the cat and dog prance and leap all around her, delighted in their supernatural reunion.

“Honey, I’m home,” Johnny croaked into her ear, fresh earth plopping onto the floor as his one good arm snaked around her shoulders, “I’ll never leave you again.” Marie didn’t know what to expect when she finally turned around, but she knew one thing for certain. Johnny was finally honoring his vows and “til death do us part” was about to take on a whole new meaning.



THE AUTHOR: A. Elizabeth Herting is an aspiring freelance writer and busy mother of three living in colorful Colorado. When not driving kids around or writing, she also sings in Deja Vu ladies barbershop quartet and a 150 member award winning chorus called Skyline.

A. Elizabeth has recently completed a novel called “Wet Birds Don’t Fly at Night” that she is hoping to eventually publish and has had short stories featured in Bewildering Stories, Dark Fire Fiction, Peacock Journal and Fictive Dream (upcoming). She has also published non-fiction work in Denver Pieces Magazine and bioStories and is also a scriptwriter for her performing groups. You can see more of her work/contact her at: