(Content Warning: Graphic Violence, Blood, Language.)
“Everything is changing.”
Flora heard Mark’s sarcastic remark as she slid beneath the covers. After fifty-five years of marriage, she was used to his unique brand of derogatory, self-chastising humor. She could see him staring in the bathroom mirror combing through his wispy hair with a look of disdain plastered on his wrinkly face.
She looked around the bedroom and took notice of the many pictures from their shared life filled with love and happiness but was reminded about all the trials and tribulations they had gone through. Their beautiful children had grown into adults and had families of their own, so yes, things had indeed changed but not in the way Mark was implying.
“What’s wrong, sweetie?” she asked, not ready to hear his answer.
Mark poked his head out from the bathroom and growled, “Everything’s wrong! Just look at my hair!”
“Yes…” Flora mumbled with a dash of sarcasm of her own. “It looks like it’s all there.”
“Really? You didn’t notice that the last of my black hair is gone?”
Flora gave him a warm smile and said, “I never paid attention to that. Seeing you every day I don’t tend to notice those little changes.”
“Well, I noticed,” he said, taking his place next to her in bed. “Life can be so cruel sometimes.”
She placed her left hand on his right leg and rubbed it softly. “It’s called aging gracefully. We all go through it and besides, I think you look simply dashing with silver hair.”
Mark rolled his eyes as he often did when he was aggravated. It’s hard to accept the inevitable fate of mortality. In a moment of clarity, his life flashed before his eyes. Forty-five years working as a criminal lawyer seemed like a flash in the pan. Watching his two sons and daughter grow up before his eyes were now just fond memories.
Flora’s soft touch brought him back to reality. “Hmph… You’re supposed to say that. We’re married after all.”
“I don’t say nice things because I’m your wife,” Flora insisted. “I say them because I love you.”
Mark curled his lips into a soft accepting smile. “You’re right. You’re always right.”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” urged Flora. “Life’s about changes and sometimes it’s hard to adjust.”
He knew deep down that she pinpointed the problem like a precision laser locking onto its intended target. It was one of the many things Mark loved about her. After all those years, there was still love in his heart.
“I have an idea if you’re open to it,” Flora beamed.
“What is it?”
“I think you should get a hobby!”
“A hobby? What do you mean, like collecting baseball cards or something?”
A small chuckle escaped Flora’s lips. “No, nothing like that! What I mean is something to keep you busy. Ever since you retired all you do is mope around the house and complain about the neighborhood kids.”
Mark sat up straight and widened his eyes. “Well, someone has to keep an eye on those damn hooligans. They spray paint everything here in Oak Street, and I’ll be damned if I let them deface our property! The whole damn town looks like a colorful canvas and it makes me want to puke!”
Flora’s comforting rub turned into a slap. “See what I mean? You get so riled up. I think a good hobby would do you good!”
“I guess I could give it a try,” Mark sighed. “Maybe I’ll try puzzles or something.”
“That’s the spirit!” crooned Flora. “We have a whole closet full of them.”
Mark rolled his eyes once more, reached over to the nightstand, and switched the lamp off. “Sweet dreams darlin’,” he whispered.
“Goodnight,” gushed Flora.
She knew and understood where Mark was coming from. He was right that life can sometimes be a cruel joke giving us a taste of blissful youth and then letting that sweet candy rot before our eyes. You can’t change what is. Flora knew that more than most. She just hoped her beloved husband wasn’t going through another mid-life crisis. The first two nearly destroyed their marriage and she didn’t know if she could handle another one…
The next morning Flora awoke to the smell of scrambled eggs and bacon. This caught her by surprise because Mark never cooked, and she wondered if Sallie, their daughter, had come to visit. She was always a great cook. Alas, it was a fool’s joke because when she entered the kitchen, Mark was busy wisping up the eggs and flipping the salty meat in a separate frying pan. The table was full of various puzzle pieces scattered about and she wondered if there was any room left to eat.
“What’s going here?” she asked.
Mark quickly turned with a smile and said, “I made breakfast!”
Flora thinned her lips into a straight line and retorted, “I see that, but in all our years you have never cooked me a meal.”
“I know that,” Mark groaned, shaking his head. “But you’re the one who told me to get a hobby, so I got up early, started on a puzzle, and decided I would try my hand at cooking. Now, why don’t you have a seat and enjoy this for a change?”
“Alright,” she said, taking a seat at the cluttered table. “I must admit that this is a nice surprise!”
Mark grabbed a plate and filled it with a good-sized portion of eggs and a few slices of bacon. He handed it to Flora and said, “Dig in before it gets cold. I’ll get you a glass of orange juice.”
Flora smiled as she dipped her nose down to the plate and breathed in the heavenly aroma. She was careful not to let her long white hair touch the food. It was one of her pet peeves. If she found a hair (no matter if it was hers or not) there was no way that meal was going into her stomach.
Mark handed Flora the glass of juice and sat down beside her. He gently moved the jigsaw pieces to the center of the table, so they had room to eat and waited for her to take the first bite.
She wasn’t sure about this. It smelled good and all, but how would it taste?
As Flora stabbed the fluffy eggs with her fork, Mark noticed her hands shaking a bit. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” she uttered. “I’m just not used to this sort of thing. It has me on edge.”
“Oh… It’s fine. I promise. Just take a bite already!”
She opened her mouth and tasted the eggs. Immediately her taste buds became inflamed. Too much pepper. She quickly grabbed a slice of bacon hoping that the salty taste would help, but it only made it worse because Mark had doused that with a mountain of pepper as well. The only thing left was to drink the orange juice. That came from a carton, so she knew it was good. Nope.
“Do you like it?” Mark asked. “I added some extra sugar to the juice because I always thought it was too bitter for my tastes.”
Flora jerked her head back and swallowed deeply. “Umm… It’s very good, sweetheart. Thank you so much!”
“It’s no problem, but I don’t think cooking is my thing, dear. It’s just too much work for an old man like me, so enjoy this while you can.”
She puckered her lips and thought it best to change the subject. “How are you doing with the puzzle?”
“Ha!” Mark laughed. “It’s a wonderful chaos of uncertainty. I don’t how or why anyone would want to get into these things!”
“Hmmm…” Flora grumbled. “Well, there are other things you could get into. Did you check the paper? Sometimes there are hobby conventions or opportunities that you didn’t think of.”
“I’ll take a look,” he said grabbing the morning edition. “You know what our problem is? We’ve become a bunch of empty nesters since our kids left. Maybe there’s something in here we can both do!”
Flora nodded her head and quickly dumped her food in the nearby trashcan while Mark was occupied. She didn’t want to tell him that his cooking sucked. Sometimes you just need to tell a little white lie. He wasn’t going to cook again, so there was no need to tell him the truth.
Out of the blue, Flora’s thoughts were interrupted by Mark’s trumpeting voice. “By-golly, there’s a great deal on a guard dog here!”
“A guard dog?” Flora repeated, not realizing that she spoke this aloud.
“Yes,” he affirmed. “Only fifty bucks! That’s one hell of a deal!”
“What kind of dog is it?”
“Well, I don’t know exactly, the ad doesn’t say. There’s just an address here. I say we go check it out. We could use a good guard dog especially since this neighborhood is going to hell.”
Flora didn’t say a word. She just nodded her head and decided to give it a chance. What’s the worse that could happen?
That afternoon Mark and Flora jumped into their black Jeep Wrangler and were greeted by a few kids across the street. They held up their spray cans and nodded their heads. Mark had his own way of saying hello. He raised his middle finger and showed them who was number one to which Flora quickly slapped his hand away.
As they pulled out of the driveway, Mark rolled his window down and shouted, “Stay off my property, you hooligans!”
“Mark!” Flora snapped. “Be nice to those kids. They don’t deserve to be treated like that.”
“Well, this used to be such a nice suburban neighborhood before those damn kids ruined it. Those kids are trouble makers and I don’t know about you, but I’ll feel much safer with a tough guard dog watching over us. Besides, you’re the one who wanted me to do something in life, so this is my way of doing that!”
Flora was silent for most of the trip, but they did find the address listed in the paper. The drive led them to the outskirts of the town which was nothing more than a rural community surrounded by wilderness. It was a far cry from their busy neighborhood on Oak Street.
They pulled onto a back road which led them to their destination. There was a brown double-wide trailer with a hefty garage in the back. Flora folded her arms as they made their way through the junk-filled yard.
“Howdy!” a strange voice called out. “Are you two here for the dog?”
“Indeed, we are,” hollered Mark.
“She’s right back here. Come take a gander!”
Mark led Flora around the trailer and the first thing they saw was a big black Tibetan Mastiff with light brown paws chained to a single metal stake anchored in the ground.
Mark knelt down much to Flora’s apprehension and spoke in a soft voice, “Hi girl. Aren’t you just the cutest thing ever?!”
“She is a bute’, but don’t let that fool ya none!”
They saw an old ragged man step out from the garage wearing blue overalls with a stained baseball cap. His left hand was missing and was freshly wrapped in a white bandage that was blotted red at the stump.
“Hi there,” Mark greeted. Not one to hold back, he uttered, “What happened to your hand?”
The man held up his stump and smiled revealing a few missing teeth. “Oh, this? Nothing to worry yourselves with. Just an accident down at the mill is all.”
Flora scrunched her lips and tugged on Mark’s arm. She didn’t feel comfortable being in the man’s presence and wanted to leave.
Noticing this, the old man turned up the charm. “How rude of me… My name is Henry, and this here is my good girl,” he said reaching down to pet the Mastiff with his right hand.
“If you don’t mind me asking, why are you getting rid of this beautiful girl?” Mark asked with a smile.
“Well, I gotta be honest with you nice folks. She’s a good girl, but she eats like a horse! She’s eating me out of house and home, and while she’s a good guard dog, I just can’t afford to keep her any longer.”
Mark shook his head. “That’s a shame! Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yep, I’m sure. And hell… You two seem like a nice fit, so I tell ya what… You can have her for free as long as you take good care of her.”
Mark’s eyes popped open and he looked at Flora who was slowly shaking her head. She didn’t want to be rude, but the whole thing seemed wrong to her.
“That sure is a nice offer,” Mark yelped. “What’s her name?”
Henry smiled and admitted, “She don’t have one. I’ve just been calling her good girl. She seems to like it.”
Mark knelt down and babbled, “Well, good girl… How would like to come home with us?”
The dog spun around and let loose a happy squeal and much to Flora’s disdain, Mark now had a new dog.
On the way home, they picked up a thirty-pound bag of dog food, and much to their surprise the animal slept the whole time in the back seat. She was a big dog that was for sure. She took up the whole backside, so Mark had to place the dog food on the top hatch.
Over the next few days, Flora was amazed at how well the dog behaved. She was indeed a good guard dog. Anytime one of the kids walked by the house, that sweet dog turned into a raging monster and wouldn’t stop barking until everything was clear. Henry was right about her eating habits. She had gone through two bags of food already and Mark had to go to the market to pick a few more bags.
“Are you sure you’ll be alright with her until I get back?”
“Yes dear,” Flora said. “It’s not like the dog is going to eat me while your gone, right?”
“Ha, ha, ha, that’s so funny, dear!” Mark laughed. “I’ll be right back. I can’t believe she eats so much, but at least we’re not alone in the house anymore!”
“I guess you have a point,” Flora replied. “Hurry back, I love you.”
“I love you too, dear.”
It took Mark about thirty minutes to go into town for the food and when he returned everything was quiet. He didn’t see Flora or the dog anywhere.
Maybe they went to the bedroom for a nap…
Upon entering the bedroom door, the first thing Mark noticed was the squishy carpet beneath his shoes. His eyes roamed the room as horror shook his very soul. Blood was splattered along the walls and laying on the bed was Flora’s mutilated corpse. The dog indeed feasted on her flesh. Mark’s hands were trembling, and he ran into his office and grabbed a shotgun from the gun cabinet. He loaded a few shells into the barrel and began his search for the animal who killed his wife. He was in shock at what had happened and wanted to grieve for Flora, but he knew there would be plenty of time for that later. For now, the good girl had to die.
He stumbled throughout the entire house until he found the Mastiff. He was glad that they hadn’t given her an official name yet because when you give an animal a name that’s when you start to get attached to it. Any feeling of love was long gone now. Flora was gone, and Mark had to make it right.
A loud noise echoed from behind the bathroom door just across from where Flora was eaten alive and Mark held the gun ready to fire. He closed the bedroom door, so the animal had no room to escape. His heart was beating a mile a minute and sweat dripped from his wrinkly forehead. This was it. Now or never. Justice for his beloved wife.
At that moment the bathroom door swung open, and the beast lunged toward Mark. He closed his eyes, fell backward, and pulled the trigger. Luckily for the good girl, he was a terrible shot. The pellets grazed the side of her face exposing the bone from her jawline to her orbital socket.
“Nooo! What did you do to my beautiful dog?!”
Just then Henry stepped out of the bathroom with a look of horror etched upon his brow. Mark opened his eyes and saw the animal squirming in the corner. His eyes then rolled toward Henry.
What the hell was going on?
How did he get into my home?!
“What is this? What the fuck are you doing in my house and what did you do to my wife?!”
Henry just smiled showing those rotten teeth and said, “I told you she was a hungry dog. After this good girl ate my wife and kids, I thought about shooting her myself, but she took my hand. I knew right there and then, that she needed food that I couldn’t provide. Once a dog gets a taste for human flesh, that’s all they ever want. Nothing else will do, so I took out that ad in the paper to lure in some fresh meat. Ha, ha, ha, and you folks were the first takers!”
“What the fuck! You’re crazy!” Mark yelled.
His cries were cut short though because the Mastiff was already on all-fours snarling like a feral beast. She lunged once more and ripped flesh from bone which added a new layer a red to the blood-soaked room. Mark was eaten alive while Henry watched with a wicked grin.
“Sorry, but I’m not sorry,” Henry exclaimed as they left the house. “After all, my good girl needs to eat!”