~ Jon McGoran
The dog lying at her feet let out a sad, heavy sigh and then the house returned to a silence marred only by the clock on the mantle. The dog’s name was Bruce, after the shark in Jaws, but Frank only ever called it “The dog.” It was the only thing Frank had left her, apart from the debts she’d discovered the day after he died, and a few bruises from the night before.
Frank used to brag about the dog, what a killer it was. “He could tear a grown man to shreds as easy as looking at him,” he liked to say. She had always wondered why he needed such a big damn dog, other than that he liked to brag. Now she knew the real reason: The gambling. The drugs. The stealing. People had been after Frank.
But not anymore. A heart attack got to him before any of them could, and there was nothing the dog could do about that.
Frank had loved the dog, as improbable as that seemed. Or as close to love as he was capable. He loved it more than he loved her, that was for sure.
She should have left them both, back when she still had a chance. She could have made a life for herself. Not much of one, probably, but something. Something better than this.
The dog rolled onto its side, the big spiked collar scraping against the floor.
The room was getting dark again now, shadows seeping into the corners, pooling on the floor, like a leaky boat sinking into dark water. She could reach the lamp on the table, but she didn’t dare. There was still enough light that she could see the dog’s eyes looking up at her, watching, unreadable, never leaving her. They seemed to her more like the eyes of a reptile than man’s best friend. But man’s best friend it had been—Frank’s partner in crime, literally.
The pins and needles in her feet had gone away hours earlier, and she’d made peace with the itchy spot on her arm that she didn’t dare scratch. But the cramp in her leg was back, even worse than before. She flexed her foot just an inch to relieve it, rustling the damp fabric of the dress she’d been wearing since what had passed as a funeral the day before.
The dog showed its teeth again, giving her that hungry look and that low, throaty growl, the one that used to earn a clout from Frank and a stern, “Knock it off.”
The dog had actually listened to Frank, too. But only him.
Now Frank was gone, and the dog was still here.
It was almost dark when the clock began to chime. It was eight o’clock. Well past feeding time.
Jon McGoran is the award-winning author of ten novels for adults and young adults including the YA science fiction thrillers Spliced, Splintered, and Spiked (Holiday House Books), as well as the acclaimed ecological thrillers Drift, Deadout, and Dust Up (Tor/Forge). Both Spliced and Splintered have been honored by American Bookseller’s Association as ABC Best Books for Young Readers. His other books include the D. H. Dublin forensic thrillers Body Trace, Blood Poison, and Freezer Burn (Berkley/Penguin) and The Dead Ring (Titan Books), based on the TV show, The Blacklist.
He has published numerous short stories, including “Bad Debt,” which won an honorable mention in Best American Mystery Stories 2014. He is a freelance writer, developmental editor, writing coach, and cohost of The Liars Club Oddcast, a podcast about writing and creativity.
For more, visit www.jonmcgoran.com.