I met Mr. Casey after I injured my back and quit doing yard work. My dear Edna gave our tools away to the old man to store in his garage, a few blocks away on the other side of the school. Since Mr. Casey ran the church program for students working odd jobs during the summer, we donated our lawn mower and gardening tools in exchange for free services, which he continued to provide during the school year when the kids were too busy.
Lately, however, after his dog Max died in late August, Mr. Casey withdrew from church activities and stopped making his usual rounds around the neighborhood. He stayed at home alone, and nobody wanted to intrude. By the end of September, the yard was full of leaves. Edna and I let them pile up, not wanting to bother poor Mr. Casey.
Our next door neighbor, Mrs. Knox, was very understanding and paid her yardman to blow the leaves off our lawn and mow it for us. She was so kind, we didn't want to impose when Halloween rolled around. Edna was eager to set up her jack-o'-lantern posts, lighting the way to the doorstep, and needed to clear off the pathway through the grass to welcome trick-or-treaters.
Since the work was light enough for me to manage myself, I drove my truck over to Mr. Casey's to borrow a large broom and rake. I figured it was a good excuse to check on him, to make sure he was okay without Max around.
I found Mr. Casey sitting at his workbench, whittling with his carving knife. I explained what I needed and grabbed the push broom, but the handle came loose.
"Oh, dear," said Mr. Casey, looking up, "I just replaced that one. Maybe I should have tightened it more." He sounded sad and distant.
When I asked for the rusted green rake hanging on the wall, Mr. Casey suddenly turned cross. "No, not that one," he sharply objected. "That's Max's favorite."
"That's nice to remember old Max, and I'm so sorry he died," I said, trying to be tactful. "I'm really going to miss seeing him, too. But I'm sure Max wouldn't mind."
"Yes, he will!" Mr. Casey corrected me. "He likes knocking it down in the middle of the night and chewing it up. Wakes me up every time." Mr. Casey held up the wooden pole he was carving. "This is the third handle I've replaced for Max, on that rake alone. And it won't be the last one either, at the rate he destroys them!"
I paused, uncertain how to respond to a lonely man who was obviously grieving for his lost companion. "Are you sure it's not a raccoon? Or a squirrel that--"
"I know my own dog," Mr. Casey insisted. "Max never cared for balls or plastic toys like other dogs. Only table legs and wooden sticks. Teeth marks like that are not from a rodent." I examined the rake handle, which was covered with bite marks, but couldn't tell which were old or new.
Mr. Casey gestured around the garage. "I've seen his shadow moving around, sneaking from corner to corner. I never let Max in here before, but now he comes and goes as he pleases. He knows I can't stop him."
I turned to leave before I heard any more nonsense.
"I wouldn't get on Max's bad side if I were you," Mr. Casey shook his head, warning me. "Being part wolf, he's as unpredictable as ever. Loyal one minute, but turns on you the next. Hard to win his trust back once it's gone." But I was already out the door.
When I got home, I saw Edna and Mrs. Knox talking with the neighbor across the street. As I got out from the truck and reached for the rake in back, I thought I saw a long dark shadow slip down the side. Before I could walk around to check, I heard Edna arguing loudly.
Sensing trouble, I picked up the rake and waved it with a loud greeting, to create a friendly distraction.
"Hello, Ladies!" I walked up and put my arm around Edna, giving her a gentle hug. "How is everyone doing? Is something wrong?" I asked with sincere concern.
"Mrs. Carroll let her pit bull loose again, and he chased my poor baby down the street!" said Mrs. Knox, cuddling her tiny fox terrier in her arms. Dexter tried to wriggle free, so she set him down to play with the blue rubber ball at her feet.
"George," my wife added, "Bo has been barking at the kids every day, scaring them on their way to school. We're afraid he's going to hurt someone."
"But he won't! He can't!" Mrs. Carroll shouted defensively. "Bo stays fenced in. I only take him out for a walk when nobody's around." She tried to explain, but my wife wasn't convinced.
Mrs. Carroll looked to me for support. "He wasn’t fighting with Dexter! He was trying to make friends."
I smiled and tried to calm them down. "Don't worry. I've known Bo for a long time. He's a good dog," I assured Edna. "He's friendly and protective of the kids. He probably just wants to play." I stepped over to the chain-link fence towards my old friend. To my surprise, Bo growled at me with a deep sinister snarl I'd never heard before. It was as if he didn't recognize me either!
"What's wrong, Bo?" I asked. "It's me, George. Your old pal!"
Without warning, Bo jumped clear over the fence and dashed madly around my feet, while I stood there in shock. I could see a strange dark shadow descend upon Dexter, chasing the tiny dog into the bushes with Bo following right behind, barking wildly.
Edna screamed over the vicious growling, before Mrs. Carroll could even react. "Stop him!" cried Mrs. Knox. He's going to kill Dexter!"
I ran over to the bushes and tried to separate the dogs with the rake. But it was too late. Dexter's throat was torn, and there was nothing I could do to save him.
Bo's paws and fur were soaked red, though strangely no blood was found on his teeth and jaws. Mrs. Carroll was truly sorry and accepted full responsibility, reluctantly agreeing to give away her precious Bo to a rescue program instead of putting him down.
The whole neighborhood was devastated, and our only comfort was that a small child didn't get attacked first. A tragic death like that would have been terrible at Halloween. At least the children were safer without Bo around, even though the kids would all miss little Dexter.
Days later, when I returned the broom to Mr. Casey's after Halloween, I expected him to be angry that I threw the rake away.
Instead he was in a lighter mood than before. I looked around to see a familiar rubber ball in the garage. "Where did you get that?" I asked.
"Max brought it home," Mr. Casey answered, smiling.
"I thought you said Max didn't like playing with balls," I noted.
"It's not for him," Mr. Casey explained. "It's for his new friend, sitting in the corner."
I turned to look, but saw nothing in the shadows.
"Just a tiny little dog, very shy. Give him time. He'll start playing around, too, when he gets used to his new freedom." Mr. Casey grinned at me. "Hey, I think Max wants you to throw the ball to his little friend."
I watched in disbelief as the rubber ball rolled across the floor and stopped at my feet.
"I believe that means Max wants to make peace."
I tore for the exit, and didn't wait to find out.
"Trick or Treat!" I heard Mr. Casey call after me, laughing.
I never told Edna, and never went back there again.