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 watched as they sat, side by side, heads swiveling in perfect synchronicity, clearly fascinated by something that Marie couldn’t see. She turned, 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 shook her head and turned back to watch them. She saw, in complete wonderment their fascinated expressions, both feline and canine. She calmly tried to tamp down the sudden chill that tickled the base of her spine. It’s only the beginning, way too early to be cracking up, she thought 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 remembered it was pretty anti-climatic. A mutual exhaustion after trying too hard for over 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 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 thought. The day he left, he talked about taking the animals with him, but Marie wouldn’t relent. She’d never give them up. They’d 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 complete despair. He could walk out on her, on their marriage, but he would never take them. Never.
The dog eagerly wagged his tail, almost in greeting, as the cat rubbed her face against the dog’s front leg, purring loudly. Marie looked around the room again, trying to figure out what had them acting so strangely. The real estate agent told them when they bought the house that something bad happened here. Marie didn’t want to know anything about it, but Johnny looked into it. Something about a murder-suicide. They’d 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 wondered if maybe there was something to it after all? Hadn’t she heard somewhere that pets could see things that their owners could not?
“Hello?” she said out loud to the empty room, “Is there anybody here?”
As if in response, a late autumn breeze lifted the curtains around the open window, making Marie jump a little. That’s all it is, she thought in relief. No ghosts, just a passing distraction outside, they’ll calm down in a minute or two. The dog let out a sudden bark making Marie nearly leap out of her skin. He walked right past her and sat down heavily, making a small whining noise. The cat jumped down from her perch and joined him there, both of them looking up in anticipation. She heard it then, a slight noise behind her. Some sort of shifting as Marie felt 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’d 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 did. She needed to let him go. She remembered 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.
Now 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 the shower was unable 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 twenty years. A blast of hot, rancid breath hit the back of her neck as the cat and dog pranced and leapt all around her, delighted in this 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.
A. Elizabeth Herting is an aspiring freelance writer and busy mother of three living in colorful Colorado. She has over 60 short story credits, podcasts, and reprints as well as non-fiction work, and two collections of short stories published by “Adelaide Books,” “Whistling Past the Veil” and “Postcards From Waupaca” available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
“Furry Children” appeared previously in Friday Fiction and Dark Fire Fiction.