The Big, Red, Dog – Chapter 1 of 2

That night was supposed to be so happy, and at first, it was.

Emily Elizabeth had said yes to her high school sweetheart, after three years of living with him above Clifford’s bed in the enormous dog house. The years after high school had been hard of course, Emily’s childish notion of raising a 60-foot-tall dog (sitting, not standing) had not been a good financial move at all. The canine required nearly 200 lbs. of dog food a week, and there was no buying generic either due to the incredible amount of calcium needed in Clifford’s diet to keep his spine from snapping from pressure. No, he needed a special, and specific brand. And the debt incurred in building his barn of a dog house haunted Emily’s family long into her high school career. None of this, however, could bring her to experience anything but daily joy. She just stayed, in this denying state of jubilation, regardless.

Added to all of this at home were the taunts at school.

Children are generally accepting when they are young, because they don’t have a fully developed notion of what’s ‘normal’. It’s a much different story when those children hit puberty and their insecurity prompts them to lash out at anything that could seem abnormal, just to establish themselves on the opposite side of that. They desperately needed something to draw the line, a reference point for the absurd, and Emily Elizabeth fit this post all too well.

The ostracism would have been too much to bear for sure, everyone at the school knew about ‘beast-girl’, who had a dog bigger than many of the buildings in town. Charley, however, never abandoned her throughout all of it. And so, after those hellish high school days, and three years of near isolation (Emily couldn’t pay for college due to Clifford’s expenses so she attended online, which didn’t much help the town image), Charley asked her a question she couldn’t refuse. So, a small ceremony was planned.

Emily smiled through it all.

Even through the incident.

It wasn’t an incident to the rest of the town, it was a tragic accident. The night T-Bone died. He was a withering small dog at the time, the years since playing with Clifford had not been kind. Cleo had moved away with Mrs. Diller back in Emily’s middle school years, after Mrs. Diller’s mother had fallen into bad health, and with her went T-Bone’s only potential mate. Old and alone, he succumbed to depression, and combined with his arthritis T-Bone rarely got up from his perch in the sheriff’s yard. So why he chose to visit Clifford that night, Emily never knew.

She awoke to whimpering in the barn below. It was a humid and misty Chesapeake night. It was nights like these that Emily would use the fog to sneak over to Charley’s house and talk for hours with him in his room. The opaque air was always a scene of comfort for the residents of Birdwell Island, but it was heavy with a sense of ominous anxiety for Emily tonight. She rose from her spring bed, it creaking slightly in protest. As she approached the balcony railing the whimpering grew louder, but it wasn’t Clifford’s characteristic whine. Emily strained her eyes, desperately trying to see in the misty dark, and jumped back slightly as a motion detector sprang to life and flooded the area with light.

An outline sitting in front of Clifford’s enormous figure, tired, was T-Bone.

Emily stood frozen on the balcony, there was no obvious reason to be afraid, but she got the sense that she had stumbled upon some secret and sacred rendezvous, whose unholy agenda was to be shunned from the public eye. Still Emily watched, transfixed, as T-Bone gazed up at Clifford and seemingly pleaded for something. T-Bone became more and more insistent as seconds turned to minutes. Emily began coming to her senses, and confused as she was she could see that something was terribly wrong. Nothing was happening per se, but seeing the two dogs sit there in incomprehensible communication frightened Emily enough to warrant a search for the light switch. But she wasn’t quick enough. Motion caught Emily’s eye, and as she turned around she saw Clifford’s paw slowly… surely… come down on T-Bone with a sickening squish.

T-Bone made no sound.

Emily watched in horror as Clifford’s silhouette slowly revealed a smile creeping onto his face. Clifford was enjoying it. He pushed down harder, with the light bouncy from his eye dancing in a crazed jubilee as T-Bone’s body once again contorted under his paw and let loose the muffled cracks of bones that could only be a rib-cage snapping under the pressure. And then Clifford lifted his paw.

The horribly mutilated body would haunt Emily unconditionally, the bones sticking out of T-Bone sparking a terrible irony.

And yet Emily stood, not unfazed, but unchanged in outward appearance.

She still smiled.

The gown for the wedding was quaint, not dissimilar to the one worn by her grandmother years before. Emily had insisted that Charley not see the dress beforehand but he had stumbled upon it while scouring the closet for work clothes, so here he was with her before the wedding. They had been through so much, and they were both so sure of the union yet unsure of the future that nothing could be done now except sit in silence and anxiety. Not the kind of anxiety that causes you to walk faster through a dark alley, or tap your foot as the doctor comes back with test results. It was a simple ignorance of what would come next, and it was devastating. Yet, Charley was there for her despite lacking the words. Charley had always been there.

He was there that night. Emily knew that if the town found out what had truly happened that Clifford would be euthanized, either that or they would try to euthanize him. Both options involved more deaths than Emily cared to witness, and so she carefully drug T-Bone’s decimated body onto the road in front of her house. Meticulously avoiding the motion activated floodlights around her house, she placed the disappointing carcass in a spot where cars were forced to swerve to due to potholes in the road.

And then she called Charley and asked him to come over.

And she still smiled.