Love and Tears-Best Friends Forever

Submitted into Contest #143 in response to: Write a story involving a friendship between two different species. ... view prompt

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Fiction Horror Speculative

 Toby Anderson's world shattered the day his lifelong companion died. Losing Champ, his Golden Retriever, wasn't the first death the 8-year-old had experienced. He had lost other pets, small animals; a pair of mice, a guinea pig, and even a chicken. Although he still missed them, the pain of their passing was nothing compared to the loss of his dog.

He sat at the kitchen table, staring into his bowl, stirring soggy cereal in slow circles. Toby hadn't taken a bite, nauseated by the milk's natural smell. A dry Cocoa Puff hit him in the forehead. It stung. He ignored it, continuing to gaze into his bowl. Several more pieces of hard cereal pelted his face. He scowled and blew out a deep breath, refusing to lose his temper.

Toby glared at Kylie, his twin sister, as she scooped the last bite of Cocoa Puffs into her big mouth, lifted the bowl and slurped the chocolaty milk like a pig, She didn't look at him, pretending nothing had happened and she was still dad's perfect little Princess. When she finished, she set the container on the table and, after making sure their mother was busy with the dishes and not paying attention to them, made a mocking pouty face at Toby.

"Is the poor widow baby still cwying over his dumb doggy?"

"He wasn't dumb," Toby said between clenched teeth. "Smarter than you."

Kylie sniggered, then glanced sideways at their mother, who still had her back to them. His sister turned, focusing on Toby's dull blue eyes. "It was a retriever that couldn't retrieve. Sounds dumb to me."

"Champ wasn't an it! He was my best friend! And he could so retrieve. He was great at playing fetch. Just because he didn't want to carry disgusting dead things in his mouth, didn't make him dumb. Champ wasn't a hunting dog."

Kylie shook her head, "It was supposed to be."

Toby bit his lower lip so he wouldn't cry. His eyes watered.

"You're not going to have another meltdown are you?"

Toby's breath hitched and his lower lip trembled, but he didn't cry.

"You're dumb too. That smelly thing has been dead for almost a month and you're still bawling about it. You're the only one who even liked that stupid dog. Dad hated him and so did I." Kylie watched Toby's expression crumble. "You gonna why about that too baby?"

Toby felt his face grow hot, and he knew it had turned deep red. He balled his hands into fists, his nails digging into his flesh. He left his fists hidden on his lap. Toby wanted to jump across the table and punch Kylie in her stupid face. He didn't. He knew she would get into trouble for being mean to him, like she always did. And sure enough...

"Knock it off, Kylie Marie Anderson! I'm sick of you teasing your brother! Do it again and you'll be grounded for a year!" Mom didn't turn around or stop washing dishes.

Kylie scrunched up her face and stuck her tongue out at Toby. He resisted the urge to do the same to her. Dad would never allow Kylie to be grounded just for teasing him. She was daddy's girl, and everyone knew it.

"Get that tongue back in your head. Missy!"

The expression on Kylie's face almost made Toby laugh out loud. His sister tilted her head to the side, squinted, and looked behind her. Their mother faced them, drying her hands on a dish towel. Toby guessed Kylie had looked for the eyes in the back of mom's head. The thought made him giggle, careful not to laugh out loud or he would also get into trouble.

"Are you two finished with your breakfast? Bring me the dishes if you are."

Kylie gave Toby the crooked, snotty smile he hated. She picked up her bowl and spoon, pasted on an angelic expression, and headed for their mom. She said something to Kylie as she took the dishes. Toby smiled when Kylie's careful demeanor wilted. She turned around and left the kitchen without looking at him.

"Toby, are you finished?" his mom asked in a gentle tone.

"I... um... I,"

"It's OK, honey." She kneeled and held out her arms. Toby raced into her embrace, his face clenched and his mouth quivering as he fought the tears trying to spill from his eyes. He rested his cheek on her shoulder.

"Why does Kylie hate me? What did I ever do to her?"

"Don't pay attention to anything your dad or sister say. You're not a baby. Champion was the best dog anyone could ever have. He lived up to his name every day. I know it's hard losing someone you love. I've lost pets too. You grieve as long as you need to. Kylie was jealous of your friendship with Champ, and still is. That's why she says such hurtful things. Kylie doesn't hate you. She doesn't have the same kind of relationship with her cat, but she would feel just as sad if she lost Sassy."

Aware that his routine for the past three weeks made her sad, Toby gave her a little fake smile. She gave him one back.

"We can buy you a puppy, another Golden if that's what you want. He or she won't take Champ's place, but it will help lessen the emptiness you're feeling."

His chest swelled, knowing that she meant well and only wanted to ease his pain. It wasn't her fault he was still sad.

"Not yet. My heart hurts too much. It feels like it's busted into a million pieces. A puppy can't fix that. I want Champ back, but I know that's impossible. Besides, dad doesn't want another dog, unless he can take it hunting."

"Leave your dad to me."

Toby sighed, "I'll think about it, Okay?"

She kissed his forehead, "Okay. You can go outside for a little while. Give me your dishes and promise to stay out of the woods. "

 "I will, I promise. I'll just stay in the backyard."

Before he left, his mom put a hand on his shoulder. "Just a moment, you almost forgot something." She went to the bottom cupboard that contained Champ's remaining food, took out a box of biscuits, and handed Toby two treats.

"Just in case Champ's little friend shows up."

Toby kissed her on the cheek and took the biscuits, stuffing them in his pants pocket.

He raced to the back door, and as his hand touched the knob, his mother said, "Boots and coat, it's chilly. Snow is coming."

Toby grabbed his jacket from the mudroom and pulled it on. He slid his bare feet into his play shoes and headed out the door.

After fifteen loyal years, Champ was laid to rest, three weeks ago. He was seven when Toby and Kylie were born. The Golden Retriever and the boy had been inseparable from the moment they met.

Champ's empty doghouse stood on the other side of the yard, a stark reminder that his pal was no longer around.

Toby crawled inside the large doghouse, inhaled the doggy smell, curled into the fetal position on Champs soft bed, and cried himself to sleep.

 A series of short, high-pitched barks woke him. Toby recognized the sound. Todd, the little red fox, had come to play with Champ. Todd didn't know Champ was gone and still came for him every day.

Toby crawled out of the doghouse towards the wild, but friendly, animal. "Hey there little guy, Champ isn't here, but I'll play with you."

Todd looked at him for a moment, backing up.

"I'm not going to hurt you. Champ was my friend, too. I can be your friend now," Toby said in a soft, calm voice. He dug out one of the biscuits in his pocket, broke it in half, tossed a piece to the little fox. Todd paused, sniffed the familiar treat, and devoured it. He looked at Toby, wanting more.

When Todd had eaten all the biscuits, he ran around the yard in excited circles, stopping only to pick up Champ's tennis ball, throw it in the air and chase it. The little red fox darted towards Toby, dropping the ball in front of him and ran away. Toby picked it up and tossed it. To his delight, Todd chased it and brought it back. They played fetch for nearly twenty minutes, until another, bigger, fox came to the edge of the yard and yipped at Todd. The boy guessed Todd's mother called him home.

Todd issued two high-pitched barks at Toby before bolting into the woods. Forgetting his promise to his mother, Toby chased his new friend.

Toby raced after Todd, not realizing how far from the house or how deep into the woods he had gotten. He stopped, gaping at the towering trees surrounding him. His eyes widened; his pulse pounded in his neck. He was lost and didn't know what to do. The sky turned pink. That meant snow, and he wasn't dressed for it. He had put himself in danger and would be in big trouble when he got back to his mom.

He saw a large hole in a nearby tree trunk, so he scrunched himself into the hollow, wondering when mom would realize he was not in the backyard. The rough bark bit into his back through his spring jacket. He squeezed his arms around his knees; huddled into the hole as far as he could and burst into tears. The freezing mist smacked his face. Shivering from the sudden drop in temperature, he watched quarter sized white flakes fall from the sky. His breath plumed before him. His fingers and toes grew stiff from the freezing air.

sleepiness overcame him. Unable to keep his eyes open, Toby yawned. He couldn't stop shaking. He rested his right cheek on his knees and closed his eyes, wondering if he would ever see his mom again.

A familiar nudging on his arm made him lift his head. Adoring brown eyes locked on his.

"Champ! You're here! You came back for me!" Toby wrapped his arms around the neck of his beloved Golden. Toby nuzzled his face into the soft fur of Champ's thick neck.

Champ wiggled his entire body with his tail whipping side to side like a windshield wiper.

Toby knew Champ shouldn't be here. His cherished dog was dead. Toby didn't know what was happening, but he wasn't going to question it. Champ was with him, and that's all that mattered.

Toby looked up as a gray mist floated up from the ground. Everything below the haze disappeared. The creepy trees looked like skeletons climbing through the fog, their pointed limbs clawing at the pink sky. Toby forgot about Todd. He just wanted to go home.

Contact with Champ's sturdy, fluffy body sent waves of warmth through Toby. "Can you take me home? I was chasing Todd, and I got lost. I'm sure mom is worried about me."

Champ issued a bark and continued to wiggle. He licked Toby's cold face, then turned away from him, taking several steps forward. Turning his head to glance at the boy, Champ barked and darted ahead. Toby ran through the fog unable to see, stumbling through undergrowth, to keep up with his faithful pal.

 Something growled in the distance. Toby could barely see his dog through the gray haze. Toby looked around them, but saw only the top half of looming trees. Champ stopped, resting his side against Toby's leg. The boy put his hand on the dog's shoulders and felt his raised hackles. Champ answered the growl with one of his own. He stood in front of Toby, putting himself between the boy and whatever danger lay ahead. Toby wanted to run, but didn't know where the fierce animal lurked. The roaring and growls seem to come from everywhere at once.

A hideous bearlike creature with fiery red eyes, sharp dripping fangs, and long deadly claws that looked like knives, crashed through the trees, standing higher than the mist and heading straight for Toby. It looked like nothing he had ever seen. He knew what bears looked like. This was a monster. The stench of rotten eggs filled the air, causing to be to gag.

Champ intercepted the huge beast, launching himself at its throat. The thing knocked him away with its massive front paws. The dog flew sideways into a tree, landed on the ground out of sight, and leaped at the bear again in a fluid motion.

Toby flinched when Champ bounced off the tree.

"Don't you hurt my dog you stupid devil bear!" Toby shook his fist at the crazed beast. He grabbed a broken limb he saw sticking out of the fog and held it like a baseball bat. His bravado fizzled when the beast stood on its hind legs, towering as high as the trees. It lumbered toward him and roared.

Champ once again latched onto the monster's throat, dangling in the air while the wicked creature clawed at him. Another bearlike monster appeared behind Champ, swinging its massive paws. The Golden Retriever let go and the second brute hit the first one, instigating a brawl between them.

Champion returned to Toby, and he used his hands to blindly check Champ for injuries. He seemed okay. Nothing appeared cut or broken. Toby hugged the Golden Retriever with all his might.

"You saved me, Boy! You saved me!" Champ washed Toby's face, then assumed the leadership role, guiding his boy from the scary fog shrouded forest into a sun-streaked meadow.

The warm sunshine shone down on them as they romped through the tall grass and bright flowers for what seemed like hours. It was the first time Toby had laughed since Champ died. Toby's pal was excited and as energetic as a puppy.

After a few minutes, Champ barked, letting Toby know it was time to go. They were on a mission. Toby didn't know where they were going, but he trusted his faithful friend.

In the distance, Toby saw glimmering-colored lights spanning across the water. He hurried forward to see what made them.

A beautiful Rainbow Bridge crossed the stream. On the other side, Toby saw his grandparents and Aunt Tilly standing with his pets that had passed on years ago, including Henrietta the chicken. He started to run across the bridge, but Champ grabbed him by his pants and stopped him before he set a foot on the sparkling multicolored passageway.

"No, Champ! Let go!" Toby tried to push the dog away, but he wouldn't budge.

Champ growled and tugged on Toby's pant leg, pulling him in the opposite direction.

Toby scowled at Champ, but followed his lead. They moved from the warm sunshine and headed back into the darkness. Toby cast one last longing look at the Rainbow Bridge.

"I don't like this, Champ! Where are we going? Why didn't we go to Grandma and Grandpa and Aunt Tilly? "

Champ barked at him and nudged Toby forward against his wishes.

They walked for a long time under a dark, moonless sky. Toby grumbled under his breath, but the dog would not be swayed. The forest gave way to a town, where they came to a large parking lot in front of a tall building. Toby didn't know what was inside and he didn't want to find out. He wondered why Champ wanted him to come to this place. He stopped in front of the automatic doors. Looking through the glass, Toby could see inside the building; it was a hospital.

"Why are we here, Champ? I'm already dead. What can they do for me now?"

           Champ nudged him forward, forcing him to go into the building.

The buzz of florescent lighting greeted them when they stepped inside. There were people in the hallway, but they didn't notice the boy and his dog. Champ led Toby to a room enclosed by glass. The lights flickered as the pair walked down the corridor.

"That's me!" Toby shouted when he saw himself on the bed, hooked up to several machines, one of which had a constant, comforting beep, beep, beep. Toby got closer to his body and shivered when he saw his blue tinted skin. He heard a doctor and a nurse talking, saying something about hypothermia. He didn't know what that was, but it sounded bad. The overhead lights and the machines wavered several times.

"Oh wow! I'm not dead!" His happiness faded when it hit him: he couldn't have both Champ and his mom if he was alive. Or dead. Either way, he would lose one of them.

The sound of sobbing caught his attention. Toby walked through the glass wall into a small room filled with comfy chairs and couches. He saw his mom and sister sitting together on a couch crying their hearts out, Kylie's face buried in mom's bosom, with mom's arms wrapped around her daughter. Dad was nowhere to be seen. Toby thought dad might be in the restroom, but knew better. He never even came to the hospital.

Toby wanted to cry, but there were no tears. Champ nudged him toward the bed. Toby understood what Champ wanted and knew he had the most important decision of his life to make: stay with his family or go with his dog. Champ was doing his best to convince Toby to rejoin his parents and sister.

It was an impossible choice. He wanted to be with his mom and Champ, but not his dad.

Toby hugged Champ's neck.

"Thank you for coming back and saving me from the monsters. I love you so much. I won't see you again, but I know you'll be there with me. You're my Guardian Angel. I miss you so much. Goodbye Champ."

Tears stream down Toby's face as he regained consciousness.

April 22, 2022 18:43

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1 comment

Felice Noelle
21:44 May 04, 2022

Tambrey: Hello and welcome from your first Critique Circle Commentator. I am a fairly newbie here at Reedsy, but I can assure you this is a warm, professisional helpful cadre of writers and readers. Read a lot, invite their comments, and learn from those who have gone before us. As your first Critique commentator, I will only give you a like, a comment, and a follow for you to enjoy. I never criticize a new writer; but I will tell you what I liked and related to in your story. Boys and their dogs, what could be more trite, but what c...

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