01 Feb The Tall Dog
We always expect life to be easier than it actually is. Why is that? Why do we assume we are owed happiness? Why do we act so surprised when things go wrong? Is it the society we live in? Is it the false advertising that surrounds us at all times? Is it because of the things we watch or the books we read? Why is tragedy always so shocking?
Life is a slog of disappointment and misery. Sometimes we are graced with pockets of joy, brief respite from all the hardship. In these moments, we feel like we have figured out what the purpose of our existence truly is: Love, family, culture, travel, natural beauty.
But it’s all bullshit.
Those fleeting hours of contentment are nothing more than a quick breath between beatings. It’s a ray of hope that gets stuck inside our minds like a cancer. We hold into it, we beg for it, we scream for it. During times of unbearable mental agony, having something to hope for is worse than if there was no hope at all. Hope is a lie. It’s a disease that tricks our minds into thinking this painful reality is going to evaporate like a puff of breath on a cold wind.
And let me assure you, reality is a brutal, bloody corpse.
Now, you might be reading this and thinking: I’m not like this. I have a good life, a healthy family, and I’m financially secure.
Let me tell you, I hope you enjoy your quick breath of clean air because there’s a bomb falling over your head. You might not see it yet, but it’s descending at a tremendous speed. When you least expect it, it’ll land and devastate your entire existence. It will destroy everything you love and it will leave you broken and weeping in the fucking gutter.
Why am I telling you this?
Why should you listen to me?
Because the bomb has already dropped on me. Because the fallout is unbearable and I can’t seem to find a gasp of clean air in this toxic wasteland of life. My throat burns, my eyes water, and I can’t speak for fear of tearing my silenced throat.
My wife is dead.
She died a year ago and left me alone to raise our little girl, Heather. Heather is all I have left. She’s the gas mask I struggle to hold on to. She’s the choked cries of desperation I emit from between bloody teeth.
Heather is five now. We did our best to recover from the pain of my wife’s death; a loss of a companion, a removal of a mother. I shudder to think my daughter has to face the bloody blade of life at such a young age. She needs to be sheltered from it, she needs protection.
And for a while, I thought I was providing that.
But that was before…that was before the nightmares started.
That was before The Tall Dog.
I scrubbed sleep from my eyes, rolling in the darkness to check the clock. Three am. I groaned and pulled myself from the warmth of my sheets. Heather was crying from her room, calling my name. She must have had a bad dream.
In a daze, blinking sleepily, I shuffled out of my room and down to hers. The house was silent and my feet scuffed over the cool hard wood floors. Heather never has bad dreams, I thought, yawning. Did I let her watch something scary before bed?
I entered her room, the space illuminated by a pink ballerina night light, and went to my daughter’s side. She was curled up in a ball with her hands over her face. She was sniffling and her pillow felt damp with tears.
Cooing, I scooped her up and told her everything was ok. After she calmed down some, I asked her if she had had a nightmare. She looked up at me with big teary eyes and nodded. She hugged me and asked if she could sleep in my bed. I told her of course.
“It won’t come in your room?” Heather asked me as I picked us both up off the bed.
“Sweetie, what are you talking about?”
She wrapped herself tight around me and whispered, “The Tall Dog.”
I didn’t know what to make of it, the phrase nonsense, and so I told her there were no dogs coming into the house and that we were safe. I felt her relax against me as I walked us back into my bedroom. I laid her down in my bed and stroked her hair until I heard the soft snores of sleep. I laid down next to her and exhaled heavily. Sleep returned to me in a rush of heavy fatigue.
The next day, life resumed its predictable repetition. I got Heather ready for school and then rushed to prepare myself for work. I left her downstairs in front of the TV, happily munching on some toast as I scurried to shower and shave. It was like this every morning, but I was used to the frantic pace.
As I threw my sports jacket on and bustled into the hallway to go downstairs, I paused. I bent down and wet my thumb with my tongue. I scrubbed it along the hardwood floor, wiping away a streak of dirt that ran towards Heather’s room. I grit my teeth and reminded myself it wasn’t a big deal. She was five years old and couldn’t be expected to remember to take off her shoes all the time.
Standing, I hurried down the stairs and collected my daughter to begin our day. I switched off the TV and grabbed Heather’s pink Barbie backpack, asking her if she had to go to the bathroom before school. When she said she didn’t, I snatched the car keys off the kitchen counter and ushered her to the front door.
As I followed Heather out, I hesitated, my hand freezing before I closed the door all the way. I stuck my head back inside and listened. I could have sworn I had heard something from upstairs. After a second, I shrugged and closed the door, locking it tight.
The day passed like so many before it. The hands on the clock pushed forward triumphantly and finally announced the end of the work day. Not long after the trumpets of freedom were blown, I found myself at home once again. I ordered pizza for us, a rare delicacy to my daughter, and spent the evening watching children shows on Netflix. I barely saw the images on the screen, the fatigue from the day washing over me in heavy waves. A stomach full of pizza didn’t help either.
Heather shifted and snuggled into me, resting her head against my chest. I smiled and kissed her shoulder, telling her that after this episode it was time for bed. She put up her usual resistance, but I battled it valiantly. That was something I had had to learn how to do. My wife had always been the one to say no and knew when to say enough was enough. I was always the softy, allowing Heather to get away with a multitude of activities. It was hard to say no to her, her big cute brown eyes brimming with innocent pleas. My dad-heart melted every time and I would eventually cave, begging her not to tell her mother.
But after the brain tumor took my wife away from us, I had had to learn how to balance my daughter’s requests with fatherly affection and parental standards. I thought I had found a reasonable balance. With each passing day I would discover another piece of the puzzle and take another step closer to becoming a functional single parent.
When the show ended, I told Heather to go upstairs and brush her teeth and get ready for bed. Groaning, she obeyed and I began to pick up the kitchen. I placed our plates in the dishwasher and threw out the empty pizza box. I checked my watch and saw that it was almost eleven. I sighed, not realizing how late it had gotten. I should have put Heather to bed two hours ago. I exhaled. It wasn’t the end of the world.
After the kitchen was clean, I turned off all the lights and made sure the front door was locked. Satisfied, I climbed the stairs and went to check on Heather’s progress. To my delight, I found her already in bed and asleep. I went to her and gently kissed the top of her head, smiling to myself. She really was a good girl.
I turned on her night light and closed her door behind me. I went to my own room and prepared myself for bed. As I slid into the cool sheets, I decided that tomorrow after school I would take Heather to the park so she could ride her bike along the community bike trail. Content with my plans, I closed my eyes and drifted off to sleep.
Darkness. Haze. Groggy. I slowly peeled my eyes open in the black, head spinning. Why was I awake? What time was it? I rolled over and looked at the clock. Three am. I blinked and closed my eyes, deep drowsiness filling my body like hard liquor.
Heather was crying. I forced my eyes open again. That’s why I was awake. I pulled myself into a sitting position and scrubbed my face with the palms of my hands. Why was she crying? Another nightmare?
As I stood, I prayed that this wasn’t going to turn into a regular thing. I stumbled around in the darkness and pulled my door open. I stepped out into the hall and paused, cocking my head towards the stairs.
I…thought I heard something moving downstairs.
Another wave of cries from Heather’s room forced me back into motion and I shuffled down the hall and opened her door. The room was bathed in soft pink light, the tiny ballerina illuminating the walls with her glowing body. I went to my daughter and knelt by her bed, whispering softly that daddy was here and everything was ok.
She wrapped her arms around my neck and hugged me tight, soft sniffles escaping her bubbling nose. I stroked her hair and asked her if she had had another nightmare.
She pulled away and looked up at me, her eyes brimming with tears, “Yes daddy, it was awful!” she cried, “And…and when I woke up…” she trailed off, struggling to get herself under control.
My eyes melted, “What is it sweetie?”
“When I woke up and the Tall Dog was whispering in my ear!” She sobbed, collapsing against me.
I felt my stomach churn slightly. Prickles of unease rose along my arms like tiny mountains of fleshy fear. This was the second night in a row she had mentioned this Tall Dog. I didn’t know what the hell she was talking about, what it was, but it was clearly bothering her. I wondered if someone at school had told her something or she had seen something scary on TV about a dog. Whatever it was, it was giving my daughter nightmares and I needed to find a way to make it stop.
Suddenly, Heather squeezed my neck and I heard her gasp. Before I could react, she buried her face against me and started sobbing even harder, her whole body shaking. Confused, I pulled her off me and cupped her face in my hands.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” I asked urgently.
Heather pointed behind me towards the open door, “It just peeked around the corner and was looking at you!”
I spun around, my heart thundering. There was nothing there. Of course there was nothing there. Why would there be? Putting a hand over my chest, I forced myself to settle down.
“There’s nothing there, honey,” I said, “It’s just shadows. It’s late, do you want to sleep in my bed again?”
Her eyes remained locked on open door as she slowly nodded. I picked her up and rubbed her back as I walked us out of her room. There was nothing to be afraid of. She had just had a bad dream. As I walked down the hallway, I paused in the darkness. I looked to my right, down the stairs, down into the gaping maw of black.
Did I hear something moving down there?
Heather squeezed me tight and whispered into my ear, “It’s going into the basement.”
I shifted her weight in my arms, her words sending a shiver of unease down my spine. I told Heather there was nothing down there. I brought her into my room and tucked her into bed. I sat beside her and rubbed her head until she drifted off to sleep. It took longer than it had the previous night, but once she was breathing easy, I went to my bedroom door and stepped out into the hall.
In the dead of night, when surrounded by heavy darkness, fear has a way of making monsters out of the shadows. I forced myself to remain calm, reminded myself that I was an adult, and went and stood at the top of the stairs. I looked down, the enclosed staircase revealing nothing but the square black mouth at the bottom. I listened, holding my breath.
Silence. I shook my head, telling myself that I was being ridiculous, and went back to my room. I closed the door and lay down next to Heather. I stared at the ceiling, mind alert and awake. I knew I wasn’t going to be falling asleep anytime soon.
I pulled my phone off the nightstand and brought up the internet browser. After taking a moment to think, I searched the term “Tall Dog”. I scrolled through some dog show sites that popped up and finally found a link to a message board. I clicked it.
My heart skipped a beat as I read the question at the top: My son keeps having nightmares and complains about something called “The Tall Dog”…does anyone know what the hell this is? It’s happened three nights in a row! It’s driving me crazy! Help!
The top answer sent a chill rocketing through my body.
It read: Your son is telling the truth! GET HELP! The Tall Dog is real and it will keep coming back! It’s attracted to deep sadness and it won’t leave your son alone until it gets what it wants! IT IS VERY DANGEROUS! I know this sounds insane but I’m telling you the truth! I’ve come across others who have encountered this thing! IT IS VERY REAL AND VERY DANGEROUS!
I put my phone down and stared into the darkness. My heart was racing. This couldn’t be true could it? Every part of me wanted to write it off as a bizarre coincidence, but it was so…specific, that I couldn’t. What am I supposed to do with this information? I thought. This is crazy, stuff like this doesn’t happen, doesn’t exist.
And yet here I was, staring at a warning on my phone while my terrified daughter lay curled up next to me. It was unnerving. I turned on my side and stared at the closed bedroom door. Just outside the door were the stairs leading to the ground level. As I closed my eyes, I pictured something long and lanky pulling itself up them, its snout dragging along the wood. I forced the image out of my head and shivered.
There was nothing out there.
The next day, Heather didn’t mention anything about the nightmares and I didn’t ask her. I wanted this to go away and bringing it up in the daylight didn’t seem like it would help my cause. I prepared her for school and then got myself ready for work.
As we left the house, I realized just how tired I was. The lack of sleep last night was taking its toll on me and I made a metal note to stop and get more coffee after I dropped Heather off.
While I drove, my mind wandered back to the message board warning. In the daylight, it seemed a little silly. I pushed the fear back into the corner of my mind and scolded myself internally for being so irrational. I reminded myself again that I was an adult and didn’t believe in monsters and things that go bump in the night.
After I dropped Heather off, I went and got another cup of coffee and then drove to work. My brain accepted the caffeine gratefully and as I sipped on the steaming liquid I pondered what my wife would make of the whole thing. She’d probably say I was being stupid and to man up. The thought made me grin and I suddenly missed her.
Eventually, I pulled into the office parking lot and began my day. Being Friday, I was hoping I could leave a little early, the crisp morning air a prelude to a possible beautiful day. I still planned on taking Heather to the park. I had hopes that the fresh air and sunshine would erase her nightmares, burning them away in a blaze of brilliance.
Well…things didn’t go as planned.
Halfway through the day, I got a call from Heather’s school. I sat, dumbfounded, as the principal told me I needed to come pick my daughter up. When I asked why, he informed me that Heather had started biting her classmates and wouldn’t stop until a teacher forcefully pulled her off someone.
I closed my open mouth, shock erupting across my face. There had to be some kind of mistake, my daughter didn’t do things like that! The principal assured me that he was just as surprised as I was, but that she needed to be taken home for the day. The other kids were scared of her and the parents were being notified.
Great, I thought, I’ll be the single dad with the violent child. As soon as the thought popped into my mind I got angry with myself. Who cares what they think, I need to go see if my daughter is alright!
I informed my boss of the phone call and he nodded me out the door. I thanked him and told him I’d make it up on Monday before bolting for my car.
As I drove, I tried to make sense as to the possible reasons why Heather would act out like this. She wouldn’t just do it! One of the kids must have been picking on her. One of them must have provoked her. She wouldn’t just start biting kids.
I sat at a red light, anxiously drumming my fingers against the steering wheel. Something was going on with my daughter and I needed to get to the bottom of it. First the nightmares and now this. Clearly, Heather was going through something and as a responsible parent, I needed to find out what it was. I grit my teeth as the light turned green and I gunned the engine. I wondered if it had something to do with my wife. I wondered if this was Heather’s way of coming to terms with her death a year later. I felt my eyes suddenly well up and my knuckles turned white.
It wasn’t fair that she had been taken away from us. What had we done to deserve such sadness? What was going through Heather’s young mind in the absence of her mother? What could I do to fill that sorrow?
And then I started to panic, the creeping thoughts of Heather’s upcoming teenage years. What if this was the end of our good relationship? What if she started blaming me for her mom’s death? I knew she was only five, but time has a way of preserving deep hurt and forming scars that never heal. I realized just how much I needed to be there for my daughter in these early years, these crucial developmental times. How I acted could make or break the way she viewed…everything.
As these thoughts scrambled my mind, I pulled into the school parking lot and was slammed with a realization that chilled me to the bone.
I remembered the message board warning: The Tall Dog is attracted to deep sadness.
I shook my head. No, don’t start going down that road. That’s insane and there’s no such thing. She’s forming waking nightmares in order to deal with what she’s going through.
Steeling myself, I ran into the school.
Before I knew it, I was sitting in the principal’s office listening to him apologize for making such a big deal out of this and that it was more for the other kids than for Heather. I barely heard him, nodding as his words washed over me in waves of numb noise.
Finally, a teacher led Heather into the room and I scooped her up in a big hug. I kissed her on the cheek and saw that she had been crying. I told her I loved her and that we were going to go home. She nodded silently at me, her big brown eyes filling with tears.
I told the teacher and principal that I was sorry for the incident and assured them it wouldn’t happen again. They both smiled and thanked me, but I saw something else behind their masks of public decency. Judgment. They saw me as a single father with no idea how to raise a little girl. They saw a struggling man with no answers. They saw someone who had lost his wife and was still finding a way to live without her.
I suddenly got angry, a spike of adrenaline coursing through my veins, but I kept my mouth shut. I turned and left, hugging my daughter to me as I stormed out of the school. I didn’t know if it was righteous anger or embarrassment and I didn’t care. They had no idea what I had gone through, what I was dealing with. Who were they to judge me?
I put Heather in the car and drove us home in silence. I fought to get myself under control. I reminded myself that this wasn’t about me, it was about my daughter. She was the one who needed help, she was the one who needed loving support.
We eventually arrived home and I checked my watch. It was almost four. I abandoned the idea of going to the park and instead sat Heather down on the couch. I placed myself next to her and told her I needed to talk to her about what had happened at school.
“Sweetie, are you doing ok?” I asked gently, gauging her mental state.
She looked at her hands and nodded.
I cleared my throat. I was always so bad at this.
“Is it true you bit those kids today?”
I saw her lip quiver and she slowly nodded without looking up at me.
I sighed, “Honey, you can’t bite, you know that right? Why did you bite those kids?”
She shrugged again and I saw a tear roll down her cheek.
Be brave, I told myself, you can’t back out now.
“Were you mad at them? Did someone say something mean to you?”
She put one hand in her pocket and slowly shook her head, eyes still downcast.
“Heather, can you look at me?” I asked softly.
She turned her eyes to mine and I saw she was crying openly now. She kept fidgeting in her pocket.
“Can you promise me you won’t do it again?” I asked.
More tears ran down her cheeks and she cried, “I’m sorry daddy! I’m really sorry!”
I leaned down and kissed her on the head, “It’s ok honey, I know you’re a good girl. Daddy loves you. Just please don’t bite anyone again ok?”
She sniffled back another outburst of tears and her hand kept twisting in her pocket.
I finally noticed and patted her leg, “What’s in your pocket Heather? You have something you want to show me?”
She suddenly looked embarrassed and shook her head, but I prodded her and after some coaching she finally pulled out a handful of brown nuggets.
I blinked, wondering why my daughter was carrying around a pocketful of dirt and then my heart slammed so hard against my ribcage I thought it would break.
“Sweetie,” I said, trying to keep my voice under control, “Is…is that dog food?”
She balled her fist up and hugged the nuggets to her chest, staring at her feet that dangled from the edge of the couch.
“Where did you get that?” I asked, feeling a deep disturbance roll over me.
“I found them,” She answered quietly.
“And…and what are you doing with them in your pocket?” I asked, a flurry of nerves fluttering in my chest.
Heather looked up at me, “They taste good.”
I forced myself to breath and held out my hand, “Why don’t you let me hang onto those and I’ll make us an early dinner ok?”
Reluctantly, she handed over the nuggets and I plastered a smile to my face. I asked her if she wanted to watch some TV while I made dinner and she offered me a small grin and nodded sheepishly.
As I turned on her shows, I fought with the voice screaming in my head. Something was going on here. Something really really awful was happening to my daughter. I didn’t know what exactly, but the past couple days seemed to mark a turning point in her behavior.
I started preparing dinner, begging myself to stop overreacting, but I couldn’t shut it out. The nightmares, the Tall Dog nonsense, the biting, and now she was eating dog food? I didn’t know what to do, didn’t know what to say to her. I wanted to ask her about her mom, ask her if she had been thinking about her recently, but I was afraid to. I didn’t want to open up a wound I couldn’t close. What if she started asking questions I couldn’t answer? What if her behavior got worse?
I began to wonder if I needed to take her to see a therapist. As the thought entered my mind, I violently slammed the door on it. There was nothing wrong with my daughter, she was just a vibrate little girl who had a few nightmares and bit a couple kids! So what! When I was her age, I’m sure I did things much worse and I turned out fine!
Yes but…what is the Tall Dog? What does that mean?
I shouted internally at myself to stop thinking about it. There was no such thing and I needed to face the problems I could handle.
I finished making dinner in mental agony and prepared two plates. I went to the couch and sat with Heather, both of us eating in silence as cartoon images danced on the screen.
When I woke up the Tall Dog was whispering in my ear…
I grit my teeth around my food. I wasn’t thinking about this bullshit anymore.
I crawled into bed, mentally exhausted. It had taken me forever to get Heather to sleep. She had begged to sleep in my bed, but I told her no and I’d keep my door open in case she woke up scared. I didn’t want her to start forming bad habits.
I rested my head against my pillow and stared out into the dark hallway from the crack in my door. I shut my eyes and said a silent prayer that Heather would sleep through the night. Maybe then all this would be over and she would go back to being the little angel I knew she was. I didn’t want to continue down this road of parental speculation and continue assuming that every little bad action was a foretelling of a bleak future for her.
I let out a long breath and waited for the gentle arms of sleep to rock me into the world of dreams. It didn’t take long.
My eyes snapped open, bloodshot and wide. I was soaked in sweat, the horrific nightmare still clinging to my brain with razor sharp claws. I rolled onto my back and wiped sweat from my face. I swallowed hard and waited for reality to clear away the cobwebs of slumber. My heart was racing and I put a hand over my bare chest, willing it to slow.
My wife. I had been dreaming about my wife. She had been in a hospital bed, screaming my name and clutching her head. I had been beside her, crying, begging her to tell me what was wrong, but she just kept screaming. I began to scream for a doctor and that’s when I realized all the lights in the hospital were off and no one was in the halls. I kept screaming for help, pleading with my wife, until I finally heard a noise.
From the blackness of the hall, a doctor in a bloody lab coat came crawling into the room on all fours. His eyes were wild and he started barking at me, his mouth foaming. I backed away from him, shock and terror rising in me like a dark mountain.
The doctor lunged at me, teeth bared, and that’s when I woke up.
I pulled my hands across my face, forcing the images from my head. What a horrible nightmare. I realized my stressed mind was probably mixing all my current worries into a terrifying night time cocktail, sneaking up on me and pouring it down my throat while I slept.
I looked over at the clock. Three am. I snorted, eyes wide, grateful that at least it was me instead of Heather who had woken up tonight. If I could take her fears from her, I would gladly. I just needed to be careful I didn’t end up burning myself out.
As I rolled on my side to face my door, I heard something from downstairs.
Immediately, my mind exploded into alertness, the nightmare fear still fresh on my breath. I lay in silence, ear cocked and listening, my heart racing.
It sounded like something was…walking around.
Get up, you have to get up, I thought, fear tingling my stomach. It’s probably nothing, it’s probably the house settling. Maybe Heather got up for some reason or is sleep walking.
I pulled the covers off me and swung my feet over the side of the bed. I jumped as I heard more movement.
What is going on…
Tense and terrifyingly nervous, I crept to the door. I paused, staring out into the empty hallway. I didn’t hear anything.
I slowly opened the door and went out into the hallway.
Something was making noise at the bottom of the stairs. I balled my sweaty hands into fists and steeled myself. The house was impossibly dark, every corner filled with grinning black. The floor underneath my feet creaked as I slowly edged myself over to the top of the stairs.
I looked down.
And something was looking back up at me.
I stifled a scream, terror clenching my throat like an iron grip. My eyes bulged and my breath rushed from my lungs in a wave of cold fear.
It was long and slender, its hairless body a sickly gray color. It looked like a dog, but it was greater in length and bone thin. Its snout pointed up at me from the foot of the stairs, easily two feet in length. Its eyes were completely white and swollen in their sockets like bloated marsh mellows. It was on all fours, its front two legs resting on the first two steps.
As it gazed up at me, it began to pull itself upright. My knees turned to liquid and I watched in absolute horror as it rose to stand on two legs, its head towering towards the ceiling. Its neck was long, too long for a dog, and it snarled at me, its mouth full of black needle-like teeth.
It started slowly walking up the stairs towards me.
I backed away in frantic desperation, unable to comprehend what I was looking at. I tripped over my own feet and fell, not able to tear my eyes away from the advancing monstrosity. As it neared the top of the stairs it crouched back down on all fours and I saw its swollen white eyes pulsing with excitement.
I tried to scream, but found that I didn’t have the breath. It was the most terrifying thing I had ever seen and every alarm in my head was blaring with furious urgency. I scooted backwards with my hands into the safety of my room and stood, grabbing the door and slamming it shut in one violent gesture.
I stood with my back against the wood, sucking in hungry lungfuls of air. What the hell was that thing?! What was it doing in my house?! Where had it come from!?
I pressed my ear to the door and heard footsteps pad down the hallway. Toward Heather’s room. I scrambled in the dark for some kind of weapon. I grabbed my discarded work pants that were lying in a pile on the floor and slid the belt from the loops. I wrapped it around my knuckles, turning the buckle outwards.
I went to the closed door and took a deep breath. I couldn’t let that thing hurt my daughter. I opened the door and stepped out into the dark hall. My eyes scanned my surroundings but I didn’t see it. I knew it had to be in Heather’s room.
I cautiously crept down the hall, ears trained to pick up any sound of the creature. Heather’s door was wide open and faint pink light drifted out from the inside.
I entered her room and froze. The monster, the Tall Dog, was on all fours by Heather’s bed. Its snout was inches from her ear and its mouth moved rapidly, but I couldn’t hear any noise. It was like it was speaking directly into her dreams. Heather’s eyes were shut but she had begun to stir, soft cries escaping her lips as the Tall Dog silently filled her mind.
Suddenly, it realized I was in the room and whipped its head around. Its eyes seemed to vibrate in their sockets, thick white pus leaking from the gelatinous, milky scleras. It silently bared its teeth at me, its mouth filling with sharp, ebony darkness.
I took a step back, feeling my throat tighten, and gripped the belt harder in my hand. I needed to get it away from Heather. My heart was seizing in my chest and my back was coated in a cold layer of sweat. I forced my knees to lock and I licked my dry lips.
The Tall Dog turned away from the bed and rose up up on two legs, towering over me. Despite its appearance, it didn’t move like an animal. Its balance was perfect and its legs and muscles twisted and flowed with the confidence of a human.
“What do you want?!” I whispered, holding my ground as a trickle of sweat slid down my face.
It leaped at me.
I screamed, raising my hands to protect my face as its long body crashed into mine. I fell to the floor, its sinewy flesh pressing mine to the wood. Its breath was hot on my face and stars exploded across my vision, my head bouncing on the ground. With the energy battered out of me, I blinked back darkness and scrambled desperately, trying to get it off of me.
It pinned me where I lay, its powerful legs digging into my sides. I looked up into its hideous face and the white ooze pouring from its eyes dripped into my hair.
It leaned down and opened its mouth, its jaws parting to reveal rows and rows of black teeth. I watched in horror as its throat began to open, folds of dark flesh parting like oil and water.
And then I heard my daughter screaming from deep down inside.
“Daddy help me please! Don’t let it take me! Daddy please!!!”
Heather’s voice was shrill with panic and it sent waves of chilling terror through my body. No, this wasn’t happening, that wasn’t my daughter, it couldn’t be! Please God NO!
The Tall Dog snapped its jaws shut and I shoved it off of me, a surge of energy igniting my muscles. It skittered on all fours towards the open door and I scrambled to stand, breathing heavily.
“What did you do to her!?” I screamed, shaking in fear and fury. “What have you done to my daughter!?”
The Tall Dog crouched and eyed me, sniffing the air. I waited for it to strike, waited for it to move. This creature was going to kill me, I knew that, but I was ready. I stood my ground in the dim light, trembling, accepting whatever happened next.
Instead of charging me though, it turned away and sprinted down the hall. In shock, I listened to it crash down the stairs and onto the ground floor. More footsteps followed then faded and I realized that it was gone, leaving me shaking in horror.
I turned to Heather who lay motionless on the bed. I threw the belt onto the floor and went to her side, prayers flowing from my lips. Tears leaked down my cheeks as I grabbed Heather and lifted her head to rest on my lap. Her eyes were closed and her body was still.
“Please, God, I’m begging you, no, no, no!” I cried, my mind collapsing. “Heather, baby, my angel, wake up, daddy’s here, please sweetie wake up!”
I shook her, pleading, drool and mucus bubbling from my face as reality tore my exhausted brain in two.
Suddenly, her eyes flickered and then she opened them. She stared up at me, blinking rapidly as if she wasn’t sure where she was. I let out a cry of raw relief and hugged her tight against me, more tears pouring from eyes. I sobbed, rocking back and forth on the bed, clutching her to my chest. I thought I had lost her, I thought she had been taken away from me.
And then Heather began to bark.
My bloodshot eyes widened and I pulled her away to look at her face. Her eyes roamed around the room curiously and her tongue lolled from the side of her mouth. Drool leaked from her lips as she sat on my lap, panting. She finally looked up at me and let out a series of yaps, all signs of humanity draining from her eyes.
“Heather, stop it, stop that!” I cried, shaking her. “Don’t do that! It’s ok, its gone, its gone, sweetie!”
But she didn’t stop.
She jumped from my arms and began to run in circles as if she were chasing an imaginary tail. She stopped and cocked her head at me, shouting a sharp bark as if she wanted me to play with her.
I sat on the bed, watching her, and gripped my face with sweaty hands.
I began to scream.
Heather will never be the same. That night, I rushed her to the hospital and begged the doctors for help. After examining her and bringing in a multitude of specialists, they informed me that she wasn’t in control of her mind any longer. They told me she would never regain it. Something had been taken from her that couldn’t be replaced or repaired.
I don’t know how long they ran tests on her as I desperately expended all my options, desperate to try anything. I couldn’t imagine a life without her. I couldn’t image a life alone from her. I wept and prayed until I had nothing left to offer. Nothing changed, nothing helped, and I wondered if anyone even noticed.
You see…life is an unflinching monster. It doesn’t care about you, it doesn’t take your side, it simply is. It took my wife away and opened up a wound in my daughter’s mind. A wound I didn’t even have the courage to ask my daughter if it even existed.
Something horrible had caught scent of that gaping wound, something had grown hungry for it. It had entered our life and slipped into the gory cracks of my daughter’s hidden, suppressed sadness. It had replaced her mind with its own and had devoured the fractured remains of a confused and hurt psyche.
And I know I have lost Heather forever to it.
So now I stand here, in the darkness, over my daughter’s bed.
I grip the pillow with shaking hands.
Tears roll down my face and I beg God to forgive me.
But whatever is laying in this bed…I know it’s not my daughter.