Spring 2009, Volume 6

Fiction by Terry Sanville

Easter Dogs

"Did you hear that... what was it?" Alison put her book down and sat bolt upright on the sofa.

It rained so hard that Ray wasn't sure he'd heard anything special, except maybe the slow roll of thunder across the Blanco River Valley. "I don't know what you're talking about." He yawned and stared at a snowy television screen with the volume turned off.

"That sound, a sharp cracking. You were in Vietnam. You should know what guns sound like." Alison got up to pull the curtains back from the dining room window and peered out. Cold gray afternoon light filtered into a room filled with heavy Mexican furniture and a corner shrine that Tino had built for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"Honey, this is Texas—not Nam. It's probably just kids playing with a twenty-two."

"They wouldn't be out in this storm, and besides, it's Easter Sunday."

For a split second Ray's mind juxtaposed the bloody image of a crucified man onto that of two snot-nosed kids shooting squirrels. But he remained silent, stretched his skinny frame out in the recliner, and hoped the subject would be dropped, just like the temperature.

The sky had turned a sickly blue-green hue and pea-sized hail rattled off the tin porch roof. Horses in neighboring fields took shelter under skeletal oak trees, whinnying to each other. Ray wondered if the Chrysler dealer back in Los Angeles would cover hailstorm repairs under warranty. His white Caravan would look like a giant golf ball if the stones got any bigger.

"Raymond, I want you to go out there and see what's going on."

Ray knew his wife meant business because she'd used his full name. "Can't I at least wait until it stops hailing?"

"No. Somebody could be... "

"What the hell is going on?" Linda, Alison's younger sister, stumbled in from the adjoining bedroom, rubbing her eyes with one hand and unconsciously scratching her left breast with the other. Tall and wearing a gray sweat suit, she moved like a disgruntled hibernating bear. "I lay down to digest my effing dinner and World War III breaks out."

"See, Linda heard it too," Alison said. The two women pointedly watched Ray gaze at the fuzzy college basketball game. While cut from the same cloth, Alison was more pear-shaped than Linda's bear-shape ñ but her long streaked blond hair easily identified her as the visiting sister from California.

"Look, ladies, I'll check it out when the storm backs off," Ray said. "But if somebody's shooting, I'm not getting in the middle of it." Ray hated guns, remembering how his boyhood fascination with rifles had been replaced with revulsion after spending a week in a field hospital outside Bien Hoa, awaiting an airlift to Edwards.

"It could be that macho creep from across the road," Linda offered. "Emma May, our neighbor one block over, told me that years ago he kidnapped his own daughter and took her to Canada."

"Jeez, Linda, you have a kidnapper living across the street?" Alison looked scared but Ray was glad their attention had momentarily shifted away from him.

"Yeah, the guy is a real nut case, although his wife is friendly. Tino and I suspect he shot Scooter, our Shar-Pei Basset Hound mix. Ken, that's his name, always said he'd kill any dog that worried his horses or set one paw on his precious God damned property."

"Well, uncontrolled dogs can spook horses and they can get hurt," Alison reasoned, but quickly shut up when she saw her sister's glowering face.

"So throw a stone or something," Linda said. "Ya don't have to shoot it, Christ! I'm all for property rights, but ... "

"Ken's sounds like the kind of household Jehovah's Witnesses should steer clear of," Ray cracked, immediately realizing his mistake. Both women turned to glare at him, as he became their center of attention once again.

A blast from the telephone startled them. Alison put the receiver to her ear, then instantly pulled it away.

"THE GOD DAMNED ASSHOLE IS SHOOTING DOGS!" came booming over the line, loud enough so that Linda and Ray could hear it across the room.

"Is this Beverley?" Alison tentatively asked.

"WHO THE FUCK DO YA THINK IT IS!" came roaring back.

"Calm down, calm down, Bev. You don't have to bite my head off." Alison's voice had gone brittle and her lips formed a tight thin line.

"Here, let me talk with her." Linda took the phone away from Alison before she could say anything more. "Cool your jets, Beverley. Now, what's goin on?" Linda listened intently for a few minutes. "Yeah, that's what I thought too. Tino is visiting his mother in Reynosa and I don't know where he keeps the ammunition."

At the mention of bullets, Ray sat up and clicked off the TV. The room got even quieter.

"No he won't," Linda continued. "No. No way. He'd have done it long before this if he wanted to."

After a few minutes of back and forth conversation, Linda hung up the telephone.

"Beverley's afraid that Ken's going to shoot her cats."

"Jesus," Alison said.

Ray went back to staring at the TV, even though the screen was dark.

"Yeah, I told her we'd come up when the storm slacked off and that I'd call the Sheriff and tell them about Ken."

"Do you think that's a good idea?" Ray piped up. "You're going to have to live with this guy after the cops are gone."

"Yes, I know that," Linda snapped. "But enough is enough, and Bev is flipping out."

Beverley was the youngest of the three sisters, had long red hair falling over a freckled face and still-curvaceous body. She lived alone in a tiny metal-roofed house on the parcel of land next door to Linda and was known as the neighborhood "Cat Lady," having taken it upon herself to care for thirty semi-feral felines. Every stray dog within ten miles sought out her place, which was right across the road from Ken, who had horses and liked to shoot dogs. Thus the trinity was complete—cats, dogs, and Ken.

"Why don't we just calm down for a few minutes, then go see what's happening," Alison said.

"No time. I gotta call the Sheriff, then we need to get up there before that idiot moves the bodies." Linda sighed, as if explaining something to a child.

At the mention of "bodies" Ray stood and started slowly pacing. Alison's face had lost some of its West Coast color and she slumped back onto the sofa and hugged herself.

"So what are we talking about, in the way of bodies?" Ray softly asked Linda, who tore through the white pages looking for the Sheriff's phone number.

"Don't know. Beverley said she saw one, but there could be more. What an effing mess!" Linda reached for the phone to dial up the Sheriff when it rang again. She yanked it off its cradle. "WHAT? Ah Jesus, hang on, we'll be right there."

Alison sprang off the sofa.

"Here's the Sheriff's number," Linda said and shoved the phone book at Alison. "Tell them to come to 1054 Longhorn Drive and that there's been gunfire. That should get them moving."

"What's wrong with Bev?" Alison croaked. Linda and Ray headed out the door.

"The nut job is dragging the bodies onto his property," she said and was gone.

Ray had to jog to keep up with his sister-in-law. Linda was through the side gate and halfway up the path to Beverley's house before he came alongside her. The downpour continued. Both were in stocking feet. Beverley met them on her porch.

"There he is ñ look at that son of a bitch." She pointed to a medium-height figure with rounded shoulders in the middle of the dirt and gravel road, not more than a hundred feet away, dressed in a hooded Army poncho with a scoped rifle slung carelessly over one shoulder, barrel pointed downward.

"I'll go," Ray said, not waiting for a response, and crunched down the float-rock driveway and through the front gate. The figure was bent over the carcass of a huge rottweiler that lay in the center of the road, legs in the air. He had it by its tail and was dragging it toward his own gate and driveway. Another carcass lay in a nearby drainage ditch, half submerged in runoff.

"Hey mister, hold on a minute," Ray called out in advance, keeping his eyes on the rifle and trying not to sound belligerent.

"It's none of your business so y'all just git back inside." The voice was higher than Ray had expected, almost effeminate. He tried to get a good look at the fellow but his glasses streamed in the rain and the guy kept his head down.

"Yeah, well it is my business—these animals were on public property and nowhere near your corral."

"Christ, don't ya think I know that?"

"Well, what the hell are you doing shooting dogs with a deer rifle?" Ray let go of his anger and fear. But the hooded figure just kept tugging on the dog's tail, cutting a bloody twisted path across the road toward the iron gate.

Linda walked up next to Ray. "Holy mother of God, IS THAT YOU, BETTY?" she called out.

The hooded figure froze, then stood up and came toward them, the rifle banging at its side. Ray made a move to take the rifle but stopped when the middle-aged blond pulled the hood down to expose a pitted and lined face without makeup. Sad blue eyes stared back at them.

"Betty, what in the hell are you doing out here? And where'd you get that rifle?"

The rain continued pounding them. Ray pushed gray hair out of his eyes and squeezed water from his beard. Linda was drenched. Nobody moved.

"I'm really sorry, Linda—I hope ta God these dogs weren't yours."

"No, no. Ours are inside the shed. Did you do this, Betty?" Linda demanded. "Did you shoot these dogs?"

Betty said nothing.

"You're gonna have to get your story straight 'cause the Sheriff will be here any minute," Linda continued.

Alison walked slowly up the driveway toward the huddled figures, a red umbrella keeping the rain off.

"It was Ken," Betty sobbed, swiping at her streaming eyes. "He's been drinking... since breakfast... wanted to try... his new toy. Sent me to clean up... like some damn dog ... fetching a bird."

Nobody said anything. Alison lifted the umbrella over Linda's head to deflect the downpour. A quarter mile down, two patrol cars turned up the ranch road, their red and blue lights flashing, but no sirens.

"Tell that to the Sheriff," Linda finally said. "When we're done here, come see Beverley. She has an extra room."

"I can't, Linda. You know I just can't." Betty pulled the hood back over her head, hiding her face.

Ray shook his head and walked away, his stocking feet squishing on the muddy road. The Sheriff's Ford Crown Vic slid to a stop and went quiet. Two tall Deputies in rain slickers stepped out and swaggered toward the women. The rain continued its battering assault.

In the morning, buzzards circled in a clear blue sky over the still-wet, oak-studded fields, searching for the remains of the previous day, finding some, but not others.

BIO:  Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California, with his artist-poet wife (his in-house editor) and one fat cat (his in-house critic). He writes full time, producing short stories, essays, poems, an occasional play, and novels (that are hiding in his closet, awaiting editing). Since 2005, his short stories have been accepted by more than 80 literary and commercial journals, magazines, and anthologies (both print and online), including the Houston Literary Review, Storyteller, Boston Literary Magazine, and Underground Voices. Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist—who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend, George Shearing.