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.”


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.


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.

Simple Pleasures

These days, I’m happy just sitting under a tree, walking down a forest path, kicking up dirt on a country road, lying by the shore of a lazy lake, wading a creek bed, sleeping under the stars, making love to the music of night owls and crickets, waking to bird songs, and getting high on the smell of cedar, honeysuckle, and earth after a summer rain.

I have come a long way to find myself in the simple pleasures of life.

Veliko’s Dogs

This story takes place in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria, where a young couple discovers the magic of a homeless street dog.

Veliko’s Dogs

by Gail L. Winfree


The small hotel stood a block off the main road and was one of the cheapest in Veliko’s old town district. The young couple arrived there late in the evening when a light rain began to fall and cleared the streets of pedestrians. The dark alley to the hotel was lit by two small lamps above the door. There wasn’t much more they could see.

Their room was adequate size and comfortably furnished with a bed, a small sofa and refrigerator, a desk, TV, wardrobe, and bathroom with shower. Helen began unpacking while Blake checked the room’s features to ensure they worked properly. Afterward, they went straight to bed. The flight, then the three-hour bus ride had worn them out. This was their first vacation together since spending their five-day honeymoon in Rome three years ago, and they were determined to enjoy themselves.

They woke early, showered, and began to get ready to go out.

“Do you think I need a jacket?”

“Yes, it’s still a little nippy out,” Blake called back from the second floor room balcony. He looked out across the narrow cobblestone street in front of their hotel toward the row of cafes, restaurants, and shops beginning to open. The crisp morning air smelled clean from the gentle rain that fell most of the night.

“The rain has stopped. Looks like it might be a nice day,” said Blake.

“I didn’t hear you. What did you say?” Helen yelled from the bathroom.

Blake returned inside, looking at his watch. “I said you should take a jacket.” He walked to the bathroom where Helen was teasing her hair. “Are you almost ready? I need some coffee and something to eat.”

“Almost. Are you sure I need a jacket?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Take a jacket.” Blake reached in his breast pocket and pulled out a crumbled pack of Marlboro he had bought at the Sofia Airport a day before. “I’m almost out of cigarettes. Why don’t I go ahead and buy a pack? I can meet you at the café.”

“Blake, you really should quit smoking.”

“Yes, I should quit smoking, quit drinking, quit eating, quit having sex. I should just…”

Helen interrupted. “You don’t have to get so nasty. Remember, we’re on vacation. We promised not to argue. Remember?”

“I’m sorry, Honey. I just need a cigarette, some food, and a cup of coffee,” Blake said. “Listen. Finish getting ready and I’ll meet you at the café across the street. I’ll go ahead and order you a coffee.

“Doesn’t the hotel serve breakfast?”

“I don’t think so. I didn’t see a restaurant anywhere. But there’s a café right across the street.  And some restaurants, too. We can eat somewhere else.”

“We should check if the hotel has breakfast.”

“I’ll go down and ask. Just get ready, OK.”

Outside, Blake lit his last cigarette and tossed the empty pack into a trash container next to the hotel entrance. This was the couple’s first morning in Bulgaria’s old capital of Veliko Tarnovo, and he was anxious to explore the area.

Next to the café Blake had his eyes set on was a kiosk where he bought a pack of Marlboro then walked next door and took a table outside in a spot where the warm Bulgarian sun began to penetrate the morning chill, and the sun on his face felt like stepping into a warm bath.

Blake looked at the pictures on the menu card that was on the table. Everything was written in Bulgarian. He was looking for food.

“Kakvo bikhte iskali?”

He did not notice the waitress who had appeared and stood next to him.

“Oh, hi. Do you speak English?”

“Yes. Would you like to order?”

“Two coffees, please. Do you serve breakfast here?”


“Yes, food. Do you have food?”

“Yes, food. We have toasts. Would you like toasts?”

“What kind of toast do you have?”

“We have ham and cheese toast and cheese toast.”

“OK, then bring us two cheese toasts and two coffees.”

The waitress looked puzzled, but took the order and left.

Helen arrived about the same time as the coffee. Her jeans jacket hung over her travel bag, and Blake picked up the clean scent of her perfume as she sat down. It was early and they were the only customers at the café.

“I ordered you a cheese toast. I believe that’s all they have.”

“That’s OK with me. We can pick up something later. Did you check if the hotel has breakfast?”

“I checked. The hotel doesn’t have a restaurant.”

“Not even a dining area or lounge?”

“No restaurant, no dining area, no lounge, no coffee machine, no nothing.”

Helen ignored Blake’s sarcasm and rummaged through her bag for a small cosmetic bag with a mirror. She was now fully awake, fully engaged, and talked nonstop. Blake—not so much—was immersed in the warm sun and half listened, hearing the words but assigning them no meaning. He could never understand why women talked so much and everything was always a question with them.

She looked in the mirror. “Blake, do I look OK?”

“You’re beautiful, Honey. Just beautiful.”

“You’re only saying that. You don’t mean it.”

“I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”



“Blake, why don’t we do this more often?”

“Do what?”

“Take vacations. Be together more.”

“You know I can’t with my new job. We’ve been through that already.” Blake said while studying the menu card, thinking of a way out.

“Do you believe this? Look, coffee is only one lev. That’s about fifty cents.

“Remember that one night in Rome when we were looking for a restaurant and found that little place in the piazza in middle of nowhere?” he said.

“You mean the place where they were having the private wedding party?”

“Yeah. We went in and took a table and everybody looked at us real strange. How were we supposed to know it was closed and they were having a private party?”

“It was nice of the waiter to invite us. We ate and drank for…what…three, four hours, and the bill was something like ten dollars. I don’t think we’ll ever see that again.”

Helen laughed. “You practically had to carry me back to the hotel.”

“And you were ten pounds heavier. Almost broke my back.” They both roared with laughter.

The waitress looked oddly at them, then showed her first smile, an attempt to join their laughter.

“Your toasts.” She place two plates on the table. The toasts were large—more like flatbread than toast—with slices of tomatoes and cucumbers on the side.

“Are you English?” she asked.

“No, I’m German and my husband’s American,” said Helen. “We’re here on vacation.”

“How do you like our city?”

“We just got here last night. We haven’t had a chance to see much of it, yet,” Blake replied.

“Veliko Tarnovo is beautiful city and very old. We have many English people here…and students. You must see the castle while you here. That’s our…uhh…our spectacle.”

“Yes, we will,” said Blake.

The waitress stood for a moment, studying the couple. “Please. I hope you enjoy your toasts,” she said and left.

They ate the toast with the tomatoes and cucumbers and drank their coffee. Blake was beginning to feel like a human again. When they finished, he lit a cigarette and sprawled back in his chair as though he were lying on the beach.

As he wandered off into la-la land, he heard Helen talking, but not to him. He opened one eye and saw her petting a dog that was standing next to her wagging his tail and panting.

“Hello big boy. Who are you?” Blake watched as Helen talked to the dog.

“Look, Blake. We have a visitor.” She continued to pet and ruffle the dog’s fur around the neck and ears and he responded with faster tail wagging and panting, almost dancing. “You’re a beauty, aren’t you, boy?”

The waitress came out with a bowl of water and set it on the ground under the tree that shaded the front part of the café.

“For the dog,” she said to Blake and Helen.

“Does he have a name?” Helen asked.

“We call him Jacko,” said the waitress. “He live here on the streets. We have many street dogs in Bulgaria.”

“He doesn’t belong to anybody?” Helen said.

“No. He street dog. Many of them here.”

As Jacko lapped up the water, Blake and Helen did not notice an old man walking toward the dog. The man moved slowly, like someone out of shape, just finishing a marathon. From his ragged appearance, he was obviously homeless. He carried five or so old plastic shopping bags. When he approached Jacko, the dog looked up at him like an old friend, and the man took a sandwich from one of his bags and gave it to him. Jacko torn into the sandwich finishing it in three huge bites. The man smiled, gently patted Jacko on the head, and continued down the street.

Helen and Blake watched the man as he stopped every few steps to rest and check his bags, then saw Jacko trotting after him.

“You know, I miss Chester,” Helen said.

“Yes. He was a good dog.”

“Maybe we should consider getting another one.”

“Honey, you know how I feel about that.”

“No. you never tell me. How do you feel?”

Chester was Blake’s dog before he met Helen, and Blake’s closest companion for nearly twelve years. Helen accepted that and grew quite fond of Chester. The couple—Blake and Chester—became a trio after Blake and Helen married.

“The worst thing that ever happened in my life was losing Chester. I don’t want to go through that again. I’ll never be able to replace Chester with another dog.” A lump grew in Blake’s throat. “I loved that dog.”

“You don’t have to replace Chester. I loved him, too, and I miss him. Blake, there are so many dogs who deserve good homes. We could adopt one in Chester’s memory. Don’t you think Chester would like that?”

Blake rubbed his eyes to hold back the tears beginning to form. Then a dog barked and he jerked his head around to the other side of the street. Two street dogs were standing together having a conversation in the middle of the sidewalk while people walked around them. He smiled and leaned over and took Helen’s hand.

“You might be right,” he confessed. “Listen, when we get home, we’ll go to the pound and find ourselves a dog that Chester would be proud of.”

“Oh, Blake. That’ll be so wonderful. You’re adorable. Now I know why I love you so much. You’re just a big softie.”

“I have an idea. Let’s find a store and buy some dog treats and then go see that castle.”

Blake paid the waitress and asked where the nearest store might be. It so happened there was one on the way to the castle. As they were leaving, Blake noticed something.

“Wait a minute. Helen, your jacket. You left it on the chair. Go ahead. I’ll get it for you.” Blake walked back to the table and fetched Helen’s jacket. When he caught up with her, he stopped and threw the jacket over his shoulder and watched as she handed money to a homeless man sitting on a bench next to a sleeping dog.