By Lea Anne Stoughton
Bullets slammed into the side of the van. One twothreefour. Five. Rachel gave a small shriek as the window shattered above her head. Shards twinkled in her hair and her hands shook. Becky noticed she had managed to keep hold of the gun. Small favors, she thought.
In the lull, Becky slid up a few inches to look out her window. There were more now, at least three by the basketball court, plus the ones who were wrecking the paint job on the passenger’s side. At least they weren’t trying to negotiate anymore. The dude with the megaphone must be new to the job—the thing kept squealing. Becky had almost surrendered just to get it to stop.
The sirens in the distance grew louder, a bored droning wah-wah-wah that reminded Becky of the adults in a Peanuts cartoon. Laughter burst from her in a rush. Rachel was silent a moment, then joined in with a flurry of giggles.
“Hey Rachel,” she said, her voice still thick with laughter. “Remember last summer when the kids talked us into that damn pool party?”
Rachel swiped her hand across her eyes. “Hell yeah, I do. It was only the worst party ever. I still can’t figure out how that cat got in the pool.”
“And the ice cream? Holy shit, it was everywhere.” Something was going on outside. Becky could hear car doors and men talking. She wanted to look again but didn’t dare.
Becky shifted. They would have to make a move soon. If she could just see…
Becky sighed. “I don’t know. I really don’t. We just went out to get the—”
Clank. Becky felt the gas before she saw it. Water and snot poured from her eyes and nose. Rachel was coughing and gagging, the gun dropped to one side, forgotten now. She scrabbled at the door and managed to open it. Becky saw her collapse on the pavement.
Well. Becky slammed the gearshift into drive. Still slumped low in the seat, she stomped the gas pedal, yanked the wheel left, and hoped the cars hadn’t moved.
As her vision narrowed and the world grew quiet, Becky saw something red and sticky drip down the windshield. Ice cream.
By Nicole Cater
This could just as easily be titled “The Evolution of Love.” And really, who doesn’t like a good sequel? Fredo came home and just like his unusual brindley outside, he showed us his unusual gentle soul inside. Many Chihuahuas get a bad rap. They are high-strung, yippy barking dogs with no social skills. Oh, but not my dearest. He has a deep bark that issues forth from his strong barrel chest, but he seldom uses it. He is a lounge lizard, a couch potato, the ultimate lump. You can put him somewhere, leave and hours later, there he will be. Once he is introduced to a new person, he has made a friend for life, except for the ladies. Fredo loves the ladies; he doesn’t wait to be introduced. He just walks up and flirts his wiggly little butt off.
Not long after he came home, I realized Fredo was a genius, and that he did not always use his powers for good. You may think I’m bragging, but I’m not. I’m being honest. I enrolled him in an obedience class. It took him two tries to respond to “look at me.” The second class was teaching how to sit. Fifteen minutes in, he was sitting and wondering what the deal was with all the other schmoes. I decided then and there he was too good for this class. These dogs were amateurs. My dog was skilled. He needed personal attention, not some trainer distracted by mentally slow dogs.
Sitting was just a basic move. After a day, he was sitting pretty; straight up, paws clasped to his chest. He can do this for as long as you hold out the treat. Two days later he was giving high fives. He is way too cool to shake hands. His next achievement was the up and around, basically dancing in a circle. He commando crawls on the carpet. He does the circus walk, following you in dancing steps. He can also do it in reverse. He rolls over, but only on soft surfaces. I can’t say I blame him for that. His standing record is eight times in a row. The truly amazing thing is he does all of this by hand signals alone. You don’t have to say a word.
He loves to ride in bags. If you set one down and open it up, he’ll climb right in. And he won’t get out until he goes somewhere, even if you just walk him around the house. He’s learned the meaning of “inside bark” and that apartment buildings are not the place for outside barks. He has a large wardrobe, and he actually likes wearing clothes. When presented with a sweater, he even pokes his head through himself.
Like I said, he has been known to use his skills for evil. If another dog takes a toy from him, simply because he has it, he will go and get another toy, tricking the dog into taking the new toy so he can rescue his old one. At dinner time, he’s been known to finish his food, go to the picture window and start barking. When the other dogs run to see what the commotion is, he’ll run back into the kitchen and eat their food; helping himself to a little extra dinner. In the summer, he loves to lie outside in the heat, getting his tan on. He won’t come when called, and when you pick him up (which inevitably he will make you do), he will go boneless; flopping his dead weight around to frustrate you into leaving him to his peace.
But these are mere parlor tricks. Fredo does these to get what he wants, which is usually food. But I will reiterate; Fredo is a genius. He has a job. He knows there are actions required of him. The reward for his job is love, loyalty and care. And he performs his job for the same reasons.
When I was diagnosed with Bi-Polar Disorder, medication only helped so much with the stress and the anxiety. What did help was Fredo. And so he went through a new kind of training. He learned to come running when he heard the dog clicker. That meant I was in trouble and needed him. He learned how to go into public places with me, staying right by my side. He was taught how to gauge my anxiety level and when to act as a buffer between me and other people; he knows when it’s time to lead me out of situations that I’m on the verge of not handling. He can sit completely still while I hold him during a panic attack as long as I need too. And though he doesn’t always enjoy it, he is the perfect little spoon when I just need contact, cuddling, and a little furry love. Not to mention he looks dashing in his official uniform.
Although his status as a therapy dog allows him to go anywhere, due to his impeccable manners, he is often requested to attend events. He has standing invitations at all of my friends’ houses. He has been invited to church, he went to my work, and he attends parties. He goes to family gatherings.
The truth is. I saved Fredo. And then he turned around and saved me back. We are symbiotic. We cannot exist apart. The night I saw his picture, I finally became a believer in love at first sight. But there was no way I could know from that picture, from that first meeting, the actual depths of love one can have. If a dog can be a soul mate, then Fredo is mine. He is my love, my entertainer, my protector, my solace. It may sound silly that a dog taught me just how divine a pure love can be. But at least I learned. And for that, I owe him everything.
It is on the far side of 11 pm. The only glow in my room emanates from the computer screen, tinting the swirls of cigarette smoke that curl around my head to travel out the window into the frigid March air. I miss my dog. She is a beautiful miniature Schnauzer named Elsie April. I had the bad fortune to let my husband buy her, with his checkbook, before our marriage. I may have taken care of her every whim, but the receipt and the law says she is his. So I do what I’ve been doing for the past six months when her absence in my bed becomes too much to bear; I look at Petfinder.
Every dog should have a home. So I look at the young adult little males. They are mops of fur that scream high maintenance. Their bios tell of not playing well with others, having difficulty with toilet training, kid-haters, and cat warriors. Since my divorce, I’ve moved in with my mother, and she has a wonderful dog, Trevor, the world’s kindest, gentlest, most beautiful schnauzer. He is my bubby and I love him. But he is not my dog; he is my mother’s dog. And so I look at pictures of mops. White mops, black mops, speckled mops, curly afroed poodles, obese dachshunds, wall-eyed shih tzus, yippy Pomeranians, it seems the whole high-strung gang is here.
And then I stop. I am stopped. A force beyond me has taken control and left me immobile. It’s a dog, full body perpendicular to the camera, head looking jauntily over his shoulder. He’s a Chihuahua, but an old-fashioned, scoff at your AKC Standards, Chihuahua. He is amazing. He needs a white linen suit, Panama hat, and jutting cigar. But no, that would only cover up the true nature of his outward beauty. He is a brindle! His fur is streaked with luscious chocolate browns, tiger black stripes, and toffee-colored patches. He has the Chihuahua deer head, as opposed to the apple head, with a long dignified snout, thin shapely face, and perfectly proportioned forehead.
His name is Burrito and he is homeless, a victim of the housing market crash. I have willingly abandoned sleep now. Everyone knows small dogs get snapped up from shelters. It is impossible that the rarest of the rare, a brindle Chihuahua, will still be available. Eight AM will never come. Instead, I spent the slowly creeping time reading his biography over and over. “Housebroken, well trained, good with kids, social, likes dogs and cats.” This is the perfect specimen. If I can’t have him, I’ll die.
When morning rolls around, I’m reassured the yes, Burrito is still in residence in the shelter. I am faxed a 10-page adoption application. In between ridiculous and pointless requests from my over-micromanaging boss, I arrange for medical records and histories on Elsie, Trevor, and my cat Artie. After I send all the information back, I worry enough to pull my hair out. Artie has never had rabies or distemper shots. She’s an indoor cat; she’s never even felt grass. She’s only ever been exposed to Elsie and Trevor who always get their shots in a timely manner. I email the shelter with just short of a begging tone. If they will only give me the opportunity, I will get Artie vaccinated, I promise, I swear, I’ll sign it in blood. “Not necessary,” they tell me.
I make an appointment to drive from Rock Island to Iowa City, where Burrito resides. Actually, my mom drives. Because my Honda needs a new muffler, again. And because no matter what I want, what Burrito may want, what my mother may accept, the reality is the nub-tailed, docked-eared, four-pawed, silver-haired gent in the back seat is the one who really gets to make this decision. All the paperwork, all the medical reports, all the driving, any bonding that may take place, it could all be for naught. For though Trevor has never been known to be disagreeable, he does have his moments. I give him a pep talk on the ride there.
“Don’t you want a friend, Bubby? No, Artie doesn’t count, she scares you, and she’s not your friend. Burrito would be your friend. Remember how Elsie was your friend? Well this time, no one could take your friend away! He would always be there. At least try and like him Bub. They say he’s friendly. You’re friendly too. He’s a good looking dog. No, I know, not as handsome as you, no dog is. Just try, okay? Try for Sissy?”
My heart sank when I saw the “shelter.” I am used to professional, public shelters with dog runs, cat rooms, large buildings dedicated to care and proper placement of wonderful animal in “forever” homes. This made me sick. In the back of a pet store, there was a 20X7 area designated for the keeping of dogs. They were housed in crates, the kind you buy at the pet store to keep your dog in while you’re at work. They were stacked five high with a narrow lane running down the middle so you could access the door. Burrito’s crate was so small he couldn’t stand up all the way. I was relieved when a volunteer pulled him out and walked him a half block down to the park to meet Trevor on neutral territory.
Trevor and Burrito peed on the same tree. Then they proceeded to ignore each other for a half hour. The shelter volunteer declared it a success and Burrito’s leash was given to me to walk back to the shelter to complete the adoption process. As I waited in line, I learned more about my new little guy. Far from being snatched up right away, he had lived in that tiny cage for a month. He had quite the interesting life. He started out as a hobo. He was adopted, but the family lost their house. Two girls took him in, but had to abandon him when their landlord found out they were violating a no-pets policy. None of this mattered anymore. He was coming home, home furever. To prove it, he clutched my hands as I rubbed his belly.
As we all piled into the car and marveled over our new family member, one thing became glaringly obvious. This was a very serious dog. He had one facial expression: intense. How could someone give such a serious dog such a fun and playful name as Burrito? It didn’t work. We had to change it. Truth be told, I don’t think he minded. I can clearly picture him saying “Look at this dumbass name they gave me!” And so we started trying names out. Juan, Paco, Philippé, José, so many Hispanic names to choose from, what were we to do? And then mom said Fredo. Ears that had been perfectly relaxed perked up and he looked around. “Yes, are you talking to me?” Fredo it most certainly was.
After a good bath and a trip to PetSmart (where an obnoxious lady informed the entire store that the newly minted Fredo was most definitely NOT a Chihuahua because he was a brindle) we lay snuggled in bed. As he slept in peace for the first time in months, I couldn’t help but think “What did I just do? This is a life for which I am now responsible. It’s not a pair of shoes that I can take back if I don’t quite like the color.” But then he snuggled his little back to my chest. I let my deep breathing match his own. And as I hovered over the terminator line between sleepfulness and wakefulness, I realized the truth. I hadn’t found Fredo. He had found me.
This is our new Wicked Short Stories page with submissions from various Authors. Please look for bio-snippets about the Author at the bottom of the various pieces. Enjoy!