Kidnapping your neighbor’s dog in the middle of the night when you suffered from arthritic knees was probably not a good idea, but Brian was doing it anyway. The muggy air clung to his skin like a wet bathing suit as he stood couched in the shadows of his house, cloth sack in hand. He’d already purchased some chloroform; all he had to do was stuff Fifi into a sack, and voila, all his problems would disappear. Brian couldn't help grinning at the thought of a world without Fifi.
After glancing furtively up and down the street, he began creeping–more like plodding–toward the Henderson’s Victorian mansion. Brian wasn’t sure why he was trying to be inconspicuous; the streetlights were so bright that anyone could have glanced out of their window and seen a 69-year-old man in black sweatpants huffing across the Henderson’s neatly manicured lawn. But being a die-hard fan of Mission Impossible, he wasn’t about to pass up the chance to imitate Tom Cruise.
Within seconds (the lawn was quite small), Brian was standing on the Henderson’s porch. Brian pulled the black beanie Archie had left behind further down his balding head. He slowly pushed up one of the windows and snickered at his luck. Idiots. Who leaves their windows unlocked? He took a deep breath. And then the home alarm system went off.
Fuck. The lights flared on upstairs and banging feet joined the chorus of beeping alarm bells radiating from inside.
This is why old people don’t kidnap dogs, Brian thought, and began sprinting–well, hobbling–to his house.
One month earlier…
“Dad? Dad!” Brian knew it was Archie pounding on the door, but the La-Z-Boy rocking chair was particularly comfortable, and the bar of Ghirardelli dark chocolate in his hand was particularly delicious, so he didn’t get up.
“I know you’re in there. I can literally see you. By the way, you have a ring of chocolate around your mouth.”
“Pah!” Brian sighed and heaved himself out of the rocking chair. Licking away the chocolate, he opened the door for his son.
“Didn’t the doctor tell you to reduce your sugar intake?” Archie asked, dragging his suitcase inside.
“He did.” Brian ruffled Archie’s curly blonde hair. “How’s the new job working out?”
Walking to the window, he replied, “It’s fine. Hey, did you know that the house next door has been sold?”
“What?” Brian pushed past Archie and scowled at the red sign screaming ‘SOLD!’ “Ugh, I had no idea.”
“When was the last time you went outside?”
“Perfect. Just perfect,” Brian muttered. “Now I have to deal with the whole new neighbor shebang. You know how I would introduce myself? ‘Hi, new neighbor! I’m so not excited to meet you! Here’s a crap ton of pie that you’ll never eat, but social law requires that I give it to you. Keep the hell out of my life. Bye!’”
“You are such an outstanding role model, Dad.”
After a moment of silence, Archie mumbled, “Mom used to make pies for the new neighbors.”
Brian looked down, trying to push away Helen’s beaming smile from his mind. “Yeah. She did.”
The new neighbors turned out to be a young couple by the name of Henderson. Brian glared at them out the window all day when they moved in and refused to see them when they came to introduce themselves. Regardless, he got a letter from them the next day, which he tossed on the coffee table unopened.
“Aren't you going to read it?” asked Archie.
Archie grabbed the letter and followed his father into the kitchen, reading as he went. “The Hendersons are inviting you to a housewarming party!” Archie rolled his eyes as his father made puking noises. “You should go!”
“Aw, c’mon! You need to get out of the house more, socialize. It’s good for your health.”
“Yeah, like standing for hours and eating shitty hors d'oeuvres is going to fix my knees.”
“Well, if you’re going to be like that, I’ll schedule a date with Lisa on the same night. Do you really want to be home if we’re upstairs? In the bedroom?” Archie asked, waggling his eyebrows for emphasis.
“Woah, woah, I didn’t say you could have sex all over my new sheets! This is a G-rated house, my friend.”
“Those sheets are ten years old!”
“All the more reason not to bring Lisa over.”
“You are insufferable.” Archie tried to say it with conviction, but he couldn't keep in a giggle.
Brian was smiling too now. “I think you meant to say ingenious.”
After much back and forth, Brian found himself on the Henderson’s doorstep a week later, tugging at the too-loose suit he’d last worn at his wedding and clutching the cheapest bottle of Rosé he could find. He instantly regretted the ten dollars he spent on the Rosé when Arnold Henderson launched into a lecture on all the home improvements he’d done on his old house. I don’t give a crap about your granite countertops and parquet flooring, Brian wanted to scream, but he only opened his mouth to shove in devilled eggs.
The worst part was the Henderson’s toy poodle, Fifi. The vile creature jumped up and slobbered all over him as soon as Brian set foot in the house. Then she barked and nipped at Brian’s heels all evening. Of course, everyone cooed and cuddled Fifi. You’re lucky I don’t kick your ass to Timbuktu, he thought as he discreetly glowered at her.
Finally, the evening came to a close. Brian was happily shrugging on his jacket when Karen Henderson, mistaking his grin for satisfaction, approached him.
“Nice party, eh? I think Fifi really took a liking to you, sweet thing that she is.”
“Did she?” Horrid dog.
As if on cue, Fifi pattered over and began yapping. “Aww, come here, cutie,” Karen crooned as she picked up Fifi. “Do you want to say goodbye to Uncle Brian? Yes, you do! Give him a kiss, Fifi.” Oh no.
“Uh, I think I’m good–”
“Don’t be shy. Kiss her, kiss her!” By now, everyone had gathered around Brian, pushing him toward the beast. Was he the only one who saw the evil bubbling in the pup’s beady eyes?
“I really should be going–”
“Here she comes!” The black holes that passed for Fifi’s eyes hurtled toward Brian, and he felt a rough tongue licking his wrinkled cheek. Trying not to gag, he pushed himself away from the little monster as the guests exclaimed, “Aww!”
Fucking pet owners, thought Brian, and made his getaway.
As they were sipping iced tea on the porch the next day, Brian said to Archie, “Get out your new-fangled telephone gadget thing.”
“It’s called a phone,” his son replied. “Why?”
“See how long it takes from one dog-walker to the next.”
“I’m telling you, those rabid beasts are taking over the world.”
“Dogs aren’t beasts. They’re vaccinated against rabies.”
“You don’t know that,” Brian snapped sharply.
Crunching ice, Archie murmured, “You’re right. I don’t know that.”
“Honestly, the depths people sink to for their dogs,” said Brian, shaking his head. “Human dignity died the day people started scooping dog shit. Like Karen Henderson. What a dolt, chasing after that vile Fifi all night. Absolutely revolting.”
"I bet you ten dollars Fifi’s not as bad as you make out."
"She's a bloodthirsty monster. But deal. I'll use the money to buy Rosé for the next party you force me to go to.”
“Look–” Archie gestured subtly “–here comes the dolt herself. And she’s bringing Fifi!”
Brian muttered a string of curses as Karen and Fifi approached them. Karen didn’t even get the chance to say ‘hi’ before Fifi started pawing, scratching, and yelping at Brian. Then she started humping him. As he scooted away, more panicked than he would have liked, he thought, it’s like I admitted to cheating. First, she hits me, and after we’ve fought, she goes straight for sex.
Red in the face, Karen apologized profusely and dragged her pet away. Archie pulled out his wallet as Brian composed himself.
“Fork it over,” he grunted.
Handing his father a ten, Archie said, “She really is terrible.”
Brian pocketed the bill with a shaky grin. “Horrible.”
Unfortunately, that was not the last of Fifi. The Hendersons fenced in their yard so Fifi could quote “frolic” outside whenever she wished, and Fifi was always outside. She barked constantly. This is unacceptable, thought Brian as he munched on Ghirardelli chocolate and glared at the little menace, white curls bouncing and snout covered in slobber as she yapped away. Maybe it was time to take action.
The morning after Brian’s failed attempt at kidnapping Fifi, Karen Henderson came knocking. Archie had gone back to New York, so sadly, Brian had to peel himself off the La-Z-Boy and greet her.
Flicking her amber hair, Karen began, “Someone tried to break into our house last night. He didn’t steal anything, but we were wondering if you knew anything about it.”
“Nope.” He smiled as sincerely as he could, even though his heart rate was spiking. Shoot. Should have taken my aspirin before this.
“We looked at the video footage–” Shit! They have cameras? “–and saw a squat man in black sweatpants.” Squat? Really? I may be old, but I’m not squat. “Are you sure you didn’t see anyone that fits that description?”
“Oh. Well, I hope it doesn’t happen again. I’m so worried about our safety now, especially with little Fifi in the house.”
“I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Is there anything else, or…” Leave, you odious woman.
“I mean, I just didn’t think that this was the type of neighborhood where crime happens.”
“It really isn’t.”
“And also, who wears sweats during a robbery?” Don’t you insult my sweats.
“Who does he think he is, Tom Cruise?” Excuse me? “Anyway, thanks for your help, Brian. It’s so great knowing that we have nice neighbors like you.”
“Yeah. Anytime.” Not.
Karen left soon after, but Brian’s hatred of Fifi did not. If anything, he despised the little beast even more. It was time to up the game. And soon, the perfect opportunity arose: the Hendersons were going out of town to visit friends. Would Brian mind looking after Fifi for a few days? Of course not! What are neighbors for–if not to rid the world of nasties like Fifi? Brian thought.
He tried not to doze as Karen rattled off her instructions. “Okay, so I’ll bring over her tub of toys–” Tub? “–along with her water and food bowls. You have to change her water out every two hours–” Every two hours? “–and feed her three-fifths cup of food–” Three-fifths?! “–at seven AM and seven PM. Actually, she’s so well trained that she can even eat at your table!” Can she piss in the toilet too? “It would be great if you could walk her at eight AM, one PM, and six PM.” Apparently not. “She’s so used to routine, you see.” You don’t say. “You should walk her at least a mile–” Sure! What’s another broken knee? “–and if it gets nippy, don’t forget to put on her little Gucci sweater.” Oh, lord. “I’ll give you a printout of all that info for reference.” Then why did you give me a ten-minute lecture, professor?
As soon as the Hendersons pulled out of their driveway, Brian grinned at Fifi, who gazed up at him with dark, watery eyes. “Ready to go for a ride, you malicious creature?”
The ride to Stone Mountain National Park took two hours. Brian wasn’t much of a hiker, but Fifi could barely keep up as he trekked. Fueled by his loathing for Fifi, he kept going, even as she tugged at her leash and maintained a steady stream of barking.
Finally, Brian made it to the top, unable to gulp in air fast enough. Once he didn’t feel like he was suffocating, he carefully picked his way to the edge of the mountain, making sure no one else was around.
“Goodbye, Fifi,” Brian said, eyes glinting. Then he held the dog over the cliff, like Rafiki holding up Simba. Brian could have even sworn he could hear “Circle of Life” playing in the background.
Unaware that she was at death’s doorstep, Fifi wiggled her paws and cocked her head. For once, she was quiet.
Brian got ready to relax his grip. But as he looked deeper into Fifi’s black-hole eyes, he stopped seeing evil and started seeing Helen. Helen as she lay in her hospital bed, saliva dripping from her mouth, helpless as she was consumed by rabies. Rabies from a dog bite from a toy poodle who looked just like Fifi.
Fifi blinked at Brian. You know you can’t do it, whispered his conscience.
Brian clutched Fifi to his chest and crawled away from the edge. He leaned against a nearby pine tree, years' worth of tears bursting from his eyes. Fifi nuzzled Brian. He hugged her until the tears ceased. And then he hiked back down to his car.
“I can’t believe you tried to kill a dog. Twice, ” Archie said after Brian recounted the story on the phone.
“I should have gone through with it. God, she’s so annoying. I bet you can hear her barking right now.”
“It wouldn't have made up for Mom.”
“I know that now.”
“Just try not to kill any more dogs, okay?”
“I still have the chloroform, so…”
“You know, you could have just gotten noise-canceling headphones.”
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This was a great read. I really loved your crotchety old man, he was a very vivid character. His internal dialogue was so good, I loved it when the neighbour was describing the burglar and Brian’s inner voice was offended. I also like the contrast between father and son, yet the we’re both on the same wavelength regarding the dog. Favourite lines -“But being a die-hard fan of Mission Impossible, he wasn’t about to pass up the chance to imitate Tom Cruise.” Haha imagining the 69 year old man, a bit portly, with a dodgy knee doing his bes...
Thank you for commenting! It was a fun write.
Heh, so just the title (dark) and the tags (funny!?) are already a rollercoaster, and that first sentence is a great start :) You sell us so well on "crotchety old man" that I didn't see the reveal happening, even though we had a couple clues, and it recast a lot of the story in a different light. It's a story of mourning, of old wounds being reopened. Fifi is a reminder of the worst event in his life, and of the unfairness of the world. But of course, that's not actually Fifi's fault. I suspect he became a social shut-in after his wif...
The first line is probably my favorite part of this story. It just came to me, out of the blue, like most good lines do. I am not really a dog person, and a similar thing happened to me with the dog kissing, so I put a lot of personal (albeit exaggerated) sentiments into this story. I didn't even think about that irony, but you're right: his grief/anger kept him shut in, but now he's forced to go out and come to terms with Helen's death, although how justified he is by taking it out on the dog is debatable. BTW, thank you so much for re...