The Boy Who Grew up to be a German Shepherd

This story is the result of two beers at 3 a.m. when sleep was not an option.

“When I grow up, I want to be a dog.”

Mom smiled. “Hmm, a dog, Maybe you can be a collie, like Lassie?”

“No, I’m going to be a German shepherd.”

“But you don’t know German.”

“I can learn it.”

Twenty years later, a deutscher Schäferhund walked into a bar in Berlin and ordered ein Bier with a Tennessee accent. “You’re not from around here, are you?” the bartender asked.

“Nein. Warum do you ask?”

“Your accent. It’s not local. We get mostly local mutts coming in here.”

“Ich kommen from America.”

“America, huh. Your German is pretty good.”

“Ja, ich still learnen.”

“Well for an American deutscher Schäferhund, you speak it good.”

“Danke.”

The deutscher Schäferhund lapped his beer from a dish the bartender placed on the bar along with a plate of dog treats. “Sehr gut,” he said, letting out a bark, then a howl of  happiness that drew the attention of the other dogs in the bar who all began to bark and howl in unison. And by the end of the evening, the deutscher Schäferhund was speaking German like a local.

Day 7

Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been six months and four days since my last confession. Father, I have hurt others in the most horrid ways. I have blindly killed people, many people, even the most innocent, in the name of war and…for money. And I have disrespected my mother and forsaken my family in time of need.

Father, do you hear me?

On a hillside mount above the village, I watch and wait. Massive gunfire and exploding mortar rounds, flames and smoke, cries, screams, a woman running with two small children. I pick up and follow the woman in my crosshair. Holding one child and dragging the other behind, she carefully navigates the streets littered with debris and bodies—injured and dead. Then she stops abruptly, coming face to face with a soldier pointing a carbine at her head. I finger the trigger contemplating the two dead-still figures in my sight. As I start to squeeze, a huge explosion blasts the world into pieces scattering my body in every direction. Then in the darkness, I find myself falling, falling, falling into a never ending void.

Until…

Six days ago, I woke up not knowing where I was or how I got here or if I was alive or dead or both. I remember an explosion. That’s all. My body is in one piece, but my mind is something different, confused and elusive. I’m not sure what’s real and what’s not.

This place, for instance. I’ve seen no sign of life here, not one creature, not a bird in the sky, not even a bug. Not one human. No sign of humanity. Silence and an eerie stillness surround me like a landscape painting. I’ve spent six days walking through empty space where nothing moves or changes except for the sun and moon rising and setting.

From my initial exploration, I determined that this is an island, but where? The surrounding waters lie still, no breaking waves nor changing tides, no movement at all, just a silent flat endless mirror reflecting the heavens and dropping off into the horizon.

Tomorrow I hope to reach the far end, the part of the island still unknown to me. Maybe there I can find some answers. Or maybe I’ll just stumble onto the same nothingness, the same lifeless life I’ve gotten to know.

I must rest now. I’m tired and confused and have gone six days without food and water, but my body seems to function normal. Dead man walking, I muse to myself. Is it me or is it this world that’s out of order?

I doze off and drift into the world I knew before I ended up here. The dreams and the nightmares all the same, always with you. Then, from nowhere, the sound of screams—not the screams of animals, but people—awakens me.

The screams grow louder. I jump up and try to decipher where they’re coming from. But they are all around me, becoming louder and louder, low deep moans and high shrilling screams, cries of agony, getting closer and closer, echoing from every corner of the island.

I cover my ears, but they don’t go away. Louder and closer. Now I feel the screams touching me, the agony tormenting what sanity I have left. I run through the darkness but can’t escape them. I must have ran most of the night before collapsing, hitting my head on a boulder and passing out.

When I regain consciousness, the sun is up. Soaked with sweat, I shiver cold chills. I climb atop the boulder, warmed by the sun, and lie there trying to comprehend the voices and events that led me here. I feel my head for signs of injuries, but there are none. I eventually regain my senses, stand up, and look for signs of something.

I expect I’m near the other side of the island. The terrain has changed from dense forest to open fields. About a mile away, a hill stands between me and the hope of finding life. I start walking.

As I walk, I wonder what, if anything, awaits me over that hill. Part of me is excited and another part is afraid and apprehensive. I’ve never been afraid of anything. I wear my bad-ass attitude like a badge of pride. In my life, I’ve killed enough people to populate a small town and survived more than a few wars.

But this is different. It’s just me and the unknown.

Approaching the base of the hill, I see that it’s much higher than it appeared from a distance. Up ahead, I spot a path, steep but easy enough to walk. I ascend the hill quickly at first, then slow to a steady pace as the air thickens and it feels like I’m pushing through clouds. My breathing stifles and my pace slows to a crawl.

I reach the crest and pause to catch my breath. Then I notice something that can’t be real. A few feet in front of me, lying on a rock, is a sniper’s rifle and the rosary my mother carried to her grave.

I pick up and examine the rifle, then the rosary. Both are real.

Confused, I walk to the edge and look out over the rest of the island. I freeze. Below and as far as my eyes can see are graves, thousands or even more, some freshly dug.

I stand, numb and dumbfounded, holding rifle and rosary, staring out over the never-ending mass graves. Then my body goes limp, empty, and I snap and start laughing hysterically. I laugh so loud the dead down below begin to rise. And as they rise, familiar sounds—the music of war—silence my laughter. I turn to face clouds of war smoke covering the island and demons marching from the forest. I drop to my knees, gripping both rifle and rosary. I am no longer alone.

Father, do you hear me now?

(I entered this story in a contest sponsored by Dark Regions Press. The contest’s theme was a lone survivor on a deserted island with a word length of 1000 words. I didn’t win so I thought I would share the story here.)

Ozzie for President

Ozzie was a smart man, even though he couldn’t read nor write too good. But he could count. Especially money. Ozzie had a good sense about money and business. So I didn’t think he was crazy when he said he might run for president one day. He was always up to something.

Every couple of days, Ozzie drove around the neighborhood in his old beat up pickup with wooden sideboards rattling at every bump, looking for any kind of work he could find. He usually stopped and sat a while with my grandpa on the front porch, and they would gab about one thing or another.

One afternoon, Ozzie and Grandpa were discussing some wood rot on the far end of the porch. I sat listening and whittling down the end of a sapling branch into a spear.

“Looks like termites to me, Mr. D. Maybe I can get underneath and take a better look.”

“Don’t know, Oz. I just had it sprayed last year. The bug man gave me a three-year guarantee.”

Ozzie cocked his baseball cap to one side and scratched his head. “Maybe you better call the bug man and get him back here. I think it’s termites.”

About that time, Grandma appeared from around back of the house with a full laundry basket.

“Well, hello Ozzie. Didn’t know you were here.”

Ozzie stood up. “Hi Miss D. Let me help you with that there load.”

“Thank you, Ozzie, but I believe this young man is plenty capable of carrying my laundry inside.” Grandma handed me the basket without a word.

“I was just telling Mr. D, I think you might have termites over in the corner there.”

“Didn’t we just have the bug man spray last year, George?”

“I’m gonna call him to come take a look. We have a three-year guarantee.”

“George, do you know what day this is?”

“Friday, I think. Why?”

“Don’t pretend you don’t know. You know good and well Fridays is trash day. We got a heap of it you need to take to the dump.”

Back then, we didn’t have garbage collection service so people had to take their own garbage to the county dump. It was an unpleasant job that Grandpa hated.

“OK. Let me change my clothes first.”

Grandma smiled, wished Ozzie a good day, and went inside.

“I hate going to that dump. That place carries all kinds of diseases.”

Ozzie listened, thinking. “I got a idea, Mr. D. How about you giving me a little gas money and I’ll take your trash away for you?”

Grandpa’s face lit up. “How much we talking?

Ozzie wetted the point of his finger as though it was a pencil and began to calculate on an imaginary piece of paper.

“How about eight dollars? And I’ll load it up myself.”

That was the day that Ozzie, a smart man, began his run for the White House.

The idea was brilliant. Ozzie went from house to house and offered, for a small fee, to pick up and take people’s garbage away. It didn’t take long until everybody in the neighborhood was paying Ozzie to take their garbage away.

He did this for a couple of years, picked up more customers outside the neighborhood, then bought some more trucks and hired some kids to pick up the garbage. Ozzie had become our town’s first trash collector, and making more money than he could ever count.

I was out front tossing around a football when Ozzie pulled up in his brand new black Ford Ranger with his name and phone number printed in bold white letter on the side.

He went rushing to the front porch with a letter in his hand.

“Mr. D, take a look at this.” He handed Grandpa the letter.

“Well want you look at this,” Grandpa said. “It looks like the city council is giving you a contract to pick up all the town’s garbage, both private and municipal. You done went and got yourself an official government contract.”

“Something, ain’t it?”

“I’m proud for you, Oz. This is a big thing.”

“Mr. D., I been thinking. And I mean this serious, I might just run for president one of these days.”

“Shoot, Oz, you know no colored man can ever be president. It just wouldn’t be right. People won’t vote for a colored man. Same with a woman. You know that.”

“But you see, Mr. D, I have an angle. A little slogan Robbie worked up for me.”

Grandpa laughed. “OK, Oz, let me hear it.”

Ozzie grinned and cleared his throat. “Here it is—

“Let’s put a trash collector in the White House. There’s plenty of trash up there that needs dumping.”

Grandpa slapped his leg, reared forward almost falling from the steps and hooted like I’ve never heard. “That’s a good one, Oz. A real good one. You definitely got my vote.”

(This short story was inspired by true events.)

Take Off Your Clothes: A Dialogue

“Take off your clothes!”

“And let you see me naked? No way Jose!”

“I will if you will.”

“Ha, ha. I already know what you look like with no clothes.”

“No you don’t.”

“I do too. I saw you.”

“When did you ever see me naked?”

“Ain’t telling.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not lying. I saw you naked. Just last summer up at the lake. You, Bobby, and Toby. Remember, you were all skinny dipping. Debbie and me watched every bit of it from behind some bushes. We saw your little thing.”

He blushed. “It ain’t that little. They just get little like that when the water’s cold. That’s all. Don’t you know anything?”

“You’re lying. I know what I see. If that’s true, then what about Bobby and Toby? They were in the same cold water you were in.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, they definitely had more to show than you, cold water or not.”

“Umm. OK, so they might be bigger, but that don’t mean nothing.”

“I’m just saying. Besides, I really don’t care how big your thing is. I’m not taking off my clothes for you, and that’s it!”

“You’re just scared I’ll make fun of you. Besides, I know what naked girls look like. I’ve seen a few.”

“In your dreams, maybe.”

“Dang, Shelia. Why do you always have to be so disagreeable?”

“Why do you always have to act like a prick? I don’t even know why I hang out with you.”

“Because we’re friends. And not only are you the coolest friend I have, but you’re the neatest person I know.”

“Oh Dougie. That’s the nicest thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

“Then what about it? Are you going to take off your clothes?”

“Sheesh, I give up.”

 

 

Two Travelers in the Night

A short story by Gail L. Winfree

Upon receiving the small package just two weeks to the day Bones died, Dexter packed his photo gear, laptop, photo albums, his favorite CDs and books, and a few clothes, and drove off into the loneliness of the night.

His road was unknown and his quest unsure. With Bones at his side, Dexter had taken many road trips—through forty-nine states and three countries—always returning home, wherever home was at the time. Bones was always at his side, his faithful companion for nearly sixteen years.

As he turned onto the road, Dexter reached over and patted the brown mahogany urn with the name “Bones” and four paws engraved on it, resting in the passenger seat on a blanket, Bones’ blanket.

“What do you say we just follow the road east, Buddy? See where we end up.”

Dexter heard the agreeing bark and felt a familiar cold, wet nose nuzzle his hand. “East, it is then…east it is.”

Sharing a train compartment with a woman who has fleas

a short story by Gail L. Winfree

A man and his dog squeezed into the small train compartment where a woman sat looking quite proper but desperately unhappy. The man smiled, tipping his hat to the woman, and took a seat across from her with his dog at his side.

“A fine day to travel,” the man said. The woman clutched her bag and scooted closer to the window, turning her attention to the activity taking place on the platform outside.

The man smiled and rubbed his dog’s scruff. “Rex and me are going to Aberdeen to see my daughter. Ever been to Aberdeen?”

The woman rolled her eyes and said nothing, still staring out the window with the demeanor of a big toad sitting on a lily pad.

“Yeah, Aberdeen’s a fine town. Been a spell since I was last there. May I ask where you’re headed?”

The train began to pull out of the station, huffing and puffing, building up speed as the waiting faces on the platform blurred into warehouses and apartment buildings. The woman shuffled in her seat and propped her arm against the window, watching the changing landscape.

The man looked at his watch. “Right on time,” he said to the woman. “That’s what I like about riding trains. Rode many in my day.” He stretched his neck toward the window to catch a look outside. The woman’s ample body made it impossible for him to sit any closer to the window side. “Do you take the train often?” he asked the woman.

The woman started to wriggle and turned to face the man for the first time.

Rex lay on the floor pretending to sleep while keeping one curious eye on the squirming woman.

“Sir.” she burst out. “Can you please take away your dog? I feel a flea crawling up my leg.”

The man sat back, stung. His smile turned confused. He got up, looked at the woman, shaking his head and tugging on the dog’s leash. “Come Rex, let’s go find another seat. I believe the lady has fleas.”

Who are my best friends?

We all have friends on one level or the other. Some, we’ve known our entire life, some we’ve never met, some are just work acquaintances, some are nameless conversations in a bar, some are distant, some are near, some are flesh and blood, some are virtual, and some are lost. Some we call our best friends, and they sometimes change. My best friends never change. They are always with me. My best friends are all I need. They give me comfort and a purpose to live. They make me happy. My best friends are my God, my wife, my animals, and myself.