Comments: Outstanding! Great pseudo-threatening opening and the surprise ending. Excellent.
Large teeth bit at Greg’s fingers. He shoved the furry head away, but the animal did not relent.
Greg finally managed to remove the leash from his dog’s collar. It hadn’t been an easy task, seeing as how his black lab had jerked, strained, and nipped playfully with excitement the whole while.
He smiled as he watched his pet run off to chase a smaller dog. Greg looked around the dog park. There were only a handful of other owners around, and they all seemed to be congregating by an ice-cream cart at the other end of the park, a good hundred yards away. The noonday sun was warm and Greg knew he had lots of time before his dog would even come close to being worn out. He walked toward the other two-legged animals, with visions of an ice-cream sandwich in his head.
Greg absently watched the foam on the slow-moving river to his right, until movement amongst the trees to his left caught his attention. He turned and spotted a boy about ten-years-old digging in the shade. The boy abruptly let his shovel fall to the ground, and he sat down next to the hole he’d dug.
Curious, Greg approached the boy. When he neared, he heard crying. The hole looked like a shallow grave. And indeed, once he could see into it, Greg discerned what appeared to be a lump at the bottom under a thin layer of fresh dirt. The job of refilling the hole was nearly done, but the boy seemed too weary to go on.
Greg stopped at the foot of the hole, and the child finally became aware of his presence.
The boy wiped his tears away and focused his big blue eyes on Greg. He stared steadily at the man as he stood and wiped the dirt off–or rather, smeared the dirt into–his t-shirt and jeans.
“Hello,” he said. “I’m Billy. Who are you?”
“My name’s Greg Roebuck.”
“Are you here with your dog, Mr. Roebuck?”
“Yeah.” Greg pointed in the direction of the river. “My dog’s playing down by the water.”
The child’s face brightened momentarily. “Do you think I could play with him?”
“Well sure, but what about your dog–do you have one?”
“Rags–” Billy’s voice choked, and fresh tears shimmered across his eyes. He blinked hard, then said, “Rags is dead. My stepfather Doug ran over him with his truck.” The word “Doug” sounded the way most people would say, “damn,” when they were angry.
Greg looked down at the hole, and understanding dawned. He looked at Billy with sympathy. It was always tough for a kid to lose a pet. Heck, even at thirty, Greg had been beside himself when his dog had recently suffered through a bad case of intestinal worms.
“He ran over him, twice,” Billy said. “He said it was an accident, but he never liked Rags–said he chewed up all his shoes and stuff.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Billy.” Greg picked up the shovel. “Would you like me to help you?”
“Would you, Mr. Roebuck? I’d sure appreciate that.”
“No problem, kid,” he said, though he couldn’t help but think that the careless stepfather should have been there. Greg dug into the piled dirt, and set to filling in the remainder of the hole.
“You know,” Billy said out of the blue a little later, “he tried to run me over too. He was drunk again. He yelled at me to get out of the way, but I think that was just in case anyone was around. He always said that I was an annoying kid and he wished I wasn’t around so that he could F-word my mom.”
Greg paused long enough to smile warmly at Billy. “I’m sure he didn’t really try to run you over,” he said.
“Yeah, he did, because I stopped bringing him his beer. He said he’d only keep me around if I got him his beer and corn nuts when he hollered, and never ever opened my ‘yap trap.’”
Greg wondered how much of Billy’s story was exaggerated. Young boys weren’t exactly known for their honesty. Still, there were jerks like Billy’s stepfather in every neighborhood, and the boy did seem truly upset. Perhaps he’d walk Billy home and have a few words with this Doug. He shoveled faster, not wanting Billy to get any ideas about leaving the park without him.
Billy sighed. “Rags really loved this place,” he said. “I sure wish I could’ve brought him here one last time.”
Greg stopped shoveling. “Well, uh…” He cleared his throat, not quite sure what to say. “Rags is here, sort of,” he said, though he knew it sounded lame.
“No, he’s not here. Doug brought Rags to work and threw him into the wood chipper. He told me all about it afterward, about how Rags got what was coming to him for chewing up all his things. He laughed and laughed and told me that if I didn’t stop crying that he’d throw me in there too.” Billy stared into the nearly full hole and a strange smile twisted his lips. “Doug will never laugh at me again.”
The sweat on the back of Greg’s neck turned icy, and his legs went rubbery. “Billy,” he said, “what’s in this hole…?”