(About 1000 words)
“You sure you’ll be okay, honey?”
Danny looked up from his copy of The Secret Garden. Again. He smiled and nodded. Again.
“Come on, Winnie! The market closes in an hour and a half!” His dad called from the other room.
“Coming!” She looked at her son. They’d be back in an hour or so, sure, but this was the first time they were leaving him alone. She had every right to be worried.
“There’s some leftover meatloaf in the microwave if you get hungry,” she said for the twentieth time, “and remember—”
“Don’t let in strangers, don’t go out into the backyard, and if Doormat barks, only check from the balcony. I remember, mom.”
Winnie smiled. Her little boy was growing up fast. It seemed like yesterday that she was teaching him to say his name.
Meanwhile, John came in. “Winnie, let’s go.”
“I was coming, just—”
“Danny’s a big boy now.” He went in and ruffled his son’s hair. “Almost eight, am I right?”
“Yes, daddy.” He smiled.
“You be good, Dan.”
Danny saw them off and bolted the door. Their deep blue Chevy screeched away and finally, for the first time ever, he was alone.
Danny read maybe three more pages before Doormat started barking. He went out to check, but no one seemed to be around. He looked back at the dog, who was no longer barking but looking up at him expectantly, wagging his tail. Danny sighed, went inside, broke a piece off the meatloaf and threw it down. The dog sniffed at it but made no attempt to eat it. He looked back up again, tongue lolling, tail wagging.
Doormat wanted to play.
Danny weighed his options. If he ignored him and went inside, he’d keep barking and the Dorrises would come over to see what was wrong and then Danny would have to shout from the balcony that he was home alone. Not very wise, that. Besides, with Doormat barking in the background, it was impossible to get anything done.
Or, he could break his promise, go down into the backyard, play with him for a while and come back up before mommy and daddy came home. That’d mean a blatant disobedience of his commitment, but what else could he do? He picked up a rubber ball and went down.
Doormat bounded to him as soon as he was within sight and licked the back of his hand. Danny patted him and threw the ball. “Fetch, boy!”
The command was unneeded, though. The big golden retriever was already after it, almost a blurry yellow streak. Their garden was big and the dog had lots of room to run. Funny how until a few months ago, Doormat had been the laziest dog he’d ever seen.
They’d got him that March, and for a month his father’s attempts to train him had been futile. The big canine would simply lie by the front door the whole day, his beautiful furry body like a doormat sans the Welcome sign, hence the name. Finally, John had given up but Danny, fresh off movies all the way from Lady and the Tramp right up till the latest Bolt, had taken the task upon himself. And Doormat had responded surprisingly well. In two months, he’d learnt to sit, stay, fetch the newspaper, pee at his designated tree in the backyard and whatnot. The boy and the dog had gelled like in a dog movie.
Doormat hadn’t returned with the ball yet— Danny was sure he hadn’t thrown it that far. He looked around and saw his golden tail peeking out from behind the kiddie slide. He seemed to be digging something up. Danny went after him.
Doormat’s powerful hind legs were hard at work, spraying dust behind him. The red rubber ball lay forgotten near the foot of the slide’s ladder. He seemed to have unearthed some old tree branch, blackened in places.
The dog kept digging and Danny saw that the branch was attached to… a hand.
It wasn’t a branch.
Moving almost involuntarily, he backed away and fell on his behind. The rational part of his brain– whatever was functioning, anyway– was screaming at him to get up and run away as far as possible. Call mommy and daddy, maybe.
But he couldn’t. He kept staring at Doormat’s grisly find with a kind of horrid fascination. He tried looking away, but his eyes always wandered back to the hand, the terrible black decayed hand lying in the soil, a dull golden ring visible on its ring finger now. Danny couldn’t tell where the ring started or ended— it seemed to be fused to the horrible brown finger.
He could feel his heart pounding at his ribcage like an angry bull at the ground; his face throbbing, although his head was frozen in place, watching the dog dig up the arm.
(There’s an arm?)
It was like when you saw a pool of vomit in the street. You averted your eyes and got away as far as you could from the disgusting little puddle, but try as you might, your eyes kept getting drawn back to it. You were grossed out again and the cycle repeated itself until it was out of sight.
The mottled flesh of the arm did more than disgust. It was a proper zombie arm which scared the breath out of Danny. Which was probably for the best, because the putrescent, dead smell of the corpse
(oh god there’s a whole person in there)
started creeping its way into the air. For Doormat, it was overwhelming and he backed away as well.
The maggots did it for Danny. He finally threw up when he saw the slimy little grey worms crawl up the exposed flesh. They made his flesh crawl even more than the sight of the body itself. A few white flecks splashed them too, but they didn’t seem to mind. Danny scooted away on his butt fast enough to feel a slight burn from rubbing on the ground.
His wits came back to him when the arm was out of sight. He got up and ran. He ran up the stairs, taking them two at a time, which mommy had told him never to do. Well, that ship had sailed.