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The Dog's Own Tale
By Paul Sohar
The world is full of mysteries to a growing child until life solves them all one by one, and then the world simply becomes reality. However, I grew up with one mystery that still retains its special fascination for me: the Stroll brothers’ house in my old hometown in Lower Carpathia. On my rare visits home, I cannot resist the attractive horror the Stroll House exerts over me, and I stop by the place, but only as far as the next street corner, and from that vantage point I make sure that house is real; therefore, the strange thing that happened to me inside once long ago also had to be real.
The sprawling one-story house still owes its aura of mystery to the rumor that its inhabitants are never seen to come out, and their only visitor is a garbage truck that backs up to the old gate to drop of bags and bags of trash at least once a week. According to the neighbors the trash piled up in the house and its courtyard breeds stray cats and rats that go around terrifying the whole neighborhood. But on the other hand, some say the miasma hanging over the house attracts such animals from town that feed on it. Nobody really knows the truth; the only people who actually enter the house and its courtyard are drunks from the neighboring taverns after they get fired up by cheap brandy and start looking for some action. They break into the house to give the Stroll brothers a good thrashing and thereby teach them a lesson in civics and civilized housekeeping, but they stagger out at dawn unable to tell a coherent story. Rumor has it that some of these intruders are turned into the stray cats and rats infesting the whole area.
My friends in high school were firm believers of these stories; one of them even knew someone personally who had been turned into a cat. He went home, and luckily his family recognized him in the cat that was begging to be taken in. He regained his normal form only after an exorcism by an abbot from a remote Transylvanian monastery. A tall story, I said, laughing at my friends, but they warned me not to talk like that because we too might incur the wrath of the Stroll brothers. I laughed again and offered a wager; for one hundred koronas I would go to the devilish place. Turning eighteen, I had just become an atheist and was eager to prove the courage of my enlightened convictions.
My friends agreed to the wager; by that time we had all had a couple of beers and were ready for action. They came with me to the corner to watch me from safety as I walked to the Stroll House.
To my surprise I found the door unlocked. I figured all I had to do was step inside quickly and stealthily, wait there for a few minutes and then go back out and collect my wages of fear.
The massive double door opened without a squeak. So far, so good, I thought and closed the door behind me, but this time it made a scraping noise like a knife on bone. That was enough, time to beat it, I thought, but the door was either stuck or locked. The darkness and the eerie silence of the place put me on edge; the lull before the storm, I could not help wondering. How am I going to get out? Still in the entrance tunnel to the courtyard I spotted a door, not quite closed, and the crack allowed some light come through. What if the room behind it was faintly illuminated by street lights? A front window! Just what I needed. I tried the door, and indeed it was stuck, but I was afraid to force it lest it make sudden squeak or worse, fall apart with a big rattle. I applied a shoulder against it with gradually increasing force, ready to stop if I heard anything.
No, there was no squeak, no noise at all even though the door started to move slowly, as if there was something behind it. What else but more garbage? I pushed harder and harder until I could see a window to the street; seeing the route of my escape aroused my determination. One more shove, and the crack was wide enough for me to squeeze through, which I had to do whatever lay ahead. The light was dim and most of the room was buried under dark shadows which on a cursory examination turned out to solid, not just darkness. The room was filled with garbage bags, and that was why the door gave way under my weight without any noise. Actually, it was impossible to tell what that squishy stuff was I had to crawl over, but I had no choice, I had to proceed as fast as I could. That is, until I was stopped by a voice before I reached the window to the street.
“Hurry up, get out before it’s too late!”
I didn’t see anyone accept a large, shaggy dog sticking its head out of a garbage bag. The voice had to come from a hidden sound device.
“If you don’t get out you’ll become like me.”
The voice got weaker, and the last words trailed off into a whimper followed by a few tentative barks. But that was enough for me.
I stumbled to the window, wrenched it open and crawled out to the street. On the sidewalk I found myself on all fours and unable to stand up.
I ran straight to my friends and barked at them, but they sent me on my way with kicks in my flank. Next I tried to go home, but could not get inside, could not reach the buzzer. When my father came home I tried to follow him into the house, but I got an even bigger kick from him than my friends.
There I was, a hungry stray dog without any of the necessary coping skills, and I had to go looking for something to gnaw on in garbage cans all over town. Before I could eat anything though I was chased away with broomsticks and rude kicks by the upright townspeople. I just could not go on like that and decided to end it all by throwing myself in front of a speeding car. That was something even I, an inexperienced stray dog could do.
I woke up a week later, hardly able to believe I was back in my human form albeit, lying in a hospital bed with every bone in my body broken. When they asked me about the accident I pretended not to remember anything. Amnesia was more acceptable than the true story leading up to my suicide attempt, and I never revealed it, not even to my friends who claimed about a half an hour later they saw a dog either thrown or jumping out of a window. The wretched cur ran up and down the street for a while, making strange whining sounds, but when it finally came to them they had a hard time getting rid of it.
They refused to make good on the bet saying I must have been knocked out and dumped in front of a truck; I didn’t leave on my own. I couldn’t admit to having been the stray dog they had to chase away. Moreover, I was losing more than the wager; my faith in tangible reality.
No, I said, I didn't remember what had happened. . And I didn't tell them the adventure made me a believer. Never again did we discuss it even among ourselves.
When I got well enough I went off to college abroad and then continued living there. On my rare visits home though I cannot resist the attractive horror the Stroll House, and I secretly sneak by the place to see if it’s still there, the legend still alive, whether or not once I was a stray dog for a day or two.
As long as life is mysterious, so is life after death; open to hope and fantasy.
#Unreal #Fiction #Stray #StreetDogs #Homeless
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