The pure breeds dominated the side of the schoolyard the bleachers were on. On the top of the stack of six long benches, a large Pitbull terrier sat with his buddies. Fat Freddy, a Bassett hound, said to the pit, “Hey Conan, get a loada the new pup? He’s so mutt I’m gonna call him Heinz…hiyuck hiyuck!”
Frenchie La Pooch, a black French Bulldog, elbowed Fat Freddy in his jiggling girth and said, “That’s such an old one dude! Give it up.”
They looked over at Conan because he remained silent, which was so unlike him. Without a word, Conan got up. He was Fat Freddy’s size but all brindle coated muscle. Pointy ears erect, he lumbered down two benches and sat next to Dionne, a pretty Jack Russell terrier in a pale green dress. She was chatting with a bouncy-coated apricot poodle.
Conan said, “Hey Dionne. Can I walk you home from school today?”
Dionne’s lip curled. She said, “I’d rather eat peas out of a litterbox.”
Conan looked confused. He wasn’t the biggest pup in the school, but he was the strongest. Also, the meanest. Being confused made him feel stupid.
Three shih tzu sisters in matching pink dresses giggled and whispered from the bottom bench. The one with grey ears gave him googly eyes. He ignored her; she was always available. He looked up at his friends. They were staring at him, waiting for his next move.
Conan decided to do the new mutt a favor and let him know who the alpha dog of the school was. That would make him feel better.
The pup sat alone under a majestic maple tree in the front yard, halfway between the bleachers and the cafeteria windows. He was reading a textbook.
“What a nerd!” scoffed Conan as he sauntered over. He strode like a body builder pumping iron in a gym.
The studying pup ignored Conan’s approach. Conan glanced at the bleachers to make sure the pure breeds were watching his display of authority. They were. The mixed breeds avoided the bleacher side of the yard, but a few peeked out the cafeteria windows. A tiny chihuahua-fox terrier mix shivered uncontrollably and peed a couple of drops.
“Hey mutt! I’m the boss dog here, got it?!” He knocked the heavy textbook into the dirt.
The little pup flinched but stood and looked up at the pit anyways. “Okay by me. I’ll do my best to stay out of your way.”
Conan’s eye narrowed. “You tryin ta be funny?”
The scruffy grey pup said, “No.”
Not knowing what else do, Conan shoved the little pup to the ground, then stomped away, feeling he’d made his point.
The little dog got up, brushed himself off and picked up his book. A fluffy white mutt his size had materialized next to him as if beamed down from the Enterprise.
“Hey. You stood up to Conan. Cool. Maybe stupid. But cool. I’m Airy. Short for Aristotle, talk about a nerd name huh?” Airy was a poowawa, by the look of him. He had one caramel colored ear and wore thick rimmed glasses. He also carried a book. “Whatchoo readin?”
“Math. Pretty dorky right? I’m Reese. This is my first day.”
Airy laughed and showed Reese his own textbook, it was a biology book. “That bully is Conan.”
“He’s a pitbully. A stereotype.”
“Ha ha! Right you are!”
The bell rang then.
Reese said, “Wanna come over after school? Since it’s my first day, my mom said she’d make special treats. Puffed liver are her specialty.”
Airy said, “Sure! Meet here after last bell?”
At three o’clock the new friends met at the maple tree. They walked towards the road.
Airy and Reese jumped a foot in the air. It was Dionne, lovely as ever with her big chocolate eyes and enchanting chestnut spots. “Can I walk with you? We’re headed the same way.”
“Uh, uh, uh…” said Airy.
Reese noodged him in the arm to unstick a skipping record.
Airy snapped back to life, “Of course!”
The three dogs walked. They talked about math, and biology, and horror movies. After six blocks, Dionne said, “This is my street! See you dawgs tomorrow!” She loped down the street, graceful as a gazelle.
Reese said, “She likes you.”
Airy shrugged, “Aww I dunno…she’s never spoken to me before.”
“Well, why didn’t you ever talk to her?”
“She’s a pure breed!”
“So. She talked to you first then. Doesn’t that make you feel like a dumbass?”
Airy said, “Yeah. Kind of. I just figured she’d diss me.”
Reese said excitedly, “C’mon! There’s my house at the end!”
He stopped walking when he realized Airy was standing stone still with his mouth open. His fur was risen in tufts down his back.
“Dude, you’re catching flies.”
Airy shook his muppetty white fur back into place and said, “That’s The Lost Pets House.”
Reese said, “It’s just a house. Um, my house.”
Airy said, “There was a pet cemetery there, a long time ago, like, maybe 20 years. Human years, so more like, ummmm” He looked up with a paw to his chin, thinking. Then he said, “Like 180 years. Hurricane Henry caused a landslide and the whole property was buried. The landowner sold the valuable land without disclosing the cemetery remains. The new owners built that house. They sold it after six months. It’s been sold and bought again and again with no explanation why.” Airy licked his lips nervously.
“Sheesh. Only dummies like Conan believe in ghosts! C’mon! let’s get some treats!”
Airy guessed that made sense. Plus, he was dying of curiosity.
Inside the turreted two-story house, Reese showed Airy around. Upstairs, he pointed out his dad’s office (nap room), mom’s sewing room, two closets, and a bathroom. Then he said, “My room’s the last one at the end of the hall, it’s the best!”
Before the bedroom door was a third closet door.
Airy said, “What’s in there?”
“I dunno. It’s locked. There’s no keyhole, and it opens from the inside so Dad can’t take off the hinges. He doesn’t want to break it down. Reese shrugged. “We don’t need another closet.”
Reese opened the door to his room, the master bedroom of the house, and Airy gawped in wonder. “Duuude. So cooool!”
It was a huge, airy room with a high, open rafter ceiling, 600 sq ft of floorspace and bookshelves to the ceiling.
Airy stood on the green shag rug in the center and looked around. At last, he said, “My man, you need to have a Halloween party here!”
“Totally! Everyone from school will come. This is The Lost Pet’s House! Mua ha ha ha!”
Halloween was two weeks away.
The weekend before, the two friends had a sleepover. They made decorations for the party. After supper they finished the invitations and retired to Reese’s room for a scary movie on Hulu. They settled on an old but beloved classic- Poltergeist.
Airy fell asleep before the end as usual but woke up later having to pee. A noise arose in the hallway. ‘Scraaaape, thud….Scraaaaape, thud.” He shook his sleep-foggy head and listened. Silence. He must have imagined it. ‘Darn horror movies.’ He thought.
He closed the darkened screen of the laptop. They were rolled in blankets on the floor – campout style. He got up and went to the door. He looked back at the sleeping, softly snoring lump, and changed his mind about waking him. He was a big pup; he could go to the bathroom by himself.
Nothing was in the hallway, and all was dark and quiet. Faint moonlight in a rectangle shape down the hall indicated the bathroom. It was the only open door. He crept as quietly as he could, alert for any sound. In the bathroom he peed, leaving the door open so he could listen for the disturbing noise.
He flushed the toilet. Through the roaring sound of the water swirling, he thought he heard it.
“Scraaaape, thud…Scraaaape, thud.” It was coming towards him from down the hall! Airy imagined a huge mis-shapen figure- a monster- dragging a gnarled appendage behind it. Or a body.
The toilet finished flushing and all was silent again. He stood in the doorway, then peaked around the frame. Nothing there.
All quiet, all dark.
‘No, wait. Not quite dark.’ There was a faint blue light down the hall just before Ernie’s door. It was coming from under the locked door.
He stepped out into the hallway and the light blinked off. He tip-toed to the door. He heard a ‘click’ from the other side. He tried the doorknob. It was as solidly locked as always. He raced to Ernie’s room and closed the door behind him. He lay awake in the dark, shivering like a chihuahua in a snow storm for a long time. He cursed his over-active imagination. A long time later, he slept.
In the morning, he told Reese of the noise and the light, afraid his pal wouldn’t believe him. But Ernie said, “I believe you. You wouldn’t make up stories just to scare me. I wish you’d woken me up.”
Airy said, “I feel badly that I didn’t, but the noises were there for a bit, then gone, both times. Are you gonna tell your folks about this?”
“No way! I don’t wanna move again! I like it here, despite Spuds and his dumb friends. Besides, if the ghost or whatever it is meant to harm us, it would have done something by now.”
“Well, we sure have the right place for a Halloween Party!”
The next Saturday night, as it was getting dark, Reese finished lighting the candles in the jack-o-lanterns outside. He filled a metal tub with water and placed two dozen green apples in it. He cued up the first of many spooky-themed songs on his iTunes. His computer screen silently displayed ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street.’ He lowered the lights and scattered fifty battery operated candles around the room.
Airy poured sodas and red juices into a punch bowl on the desk. He tasted it. Delicious.
Ernie’s mom was delighted her son had made friends and eagerly offered to make food. There were liver puffs, pigs in blankets, and peanut butter cookies with orange and black frosting. Ernie scattered bowls of Halloween candy all around the room.
Reese wore a white disco suit, fang extensions over his real fangs, and had used his mom’s makeup to whiten his face. He was Disco Dracula. Airy had wrapped himself top to bottom in dirty torn sheets and wore a green bow tie. He wore his glasses over the eyeholes. He was Nerd Mummy.
Dionne showed up early, dressed in a khaki jumpsuit with an African safari hat and fake buck teeth. “I’m an archeologist!” she exclaimed. She told Airy, “I heard you were going as a mummy.” She winked out from thick rimmed glasses.
Ernie’s parents were banished to the living room downstairs. They handed out candy to little trick or treaters and showed the costumed guests the way upstairs to the party.
Next to come were the three snobby girls. They were dressed like the three witches from Eastwick. The shih tzu dressed like the Cher-witch giggled and said, “We just had to see your house! The Lost Pets House. Wooooow!”
Reese said, “Welcome you guys, c’mon in!”
Behind the little witch sisters came a horde of ten more guests.
After an hour or so, the room was packed with costumed young dogs eating and drinking. A German Shepard dressed as a wizard danced with a corgi mix in a skeleton suit. Some pups bobbed for apples, betting Jack Links on the winners. In one corner, an old-fashioned game of pin the tail on the werewolf was in progress, it growled when stuck with a tail. Winners received Amazon gift cards.
As Reese was refilling the punch bowl, the shih tzu dressed as the blond Eastwick-witch said, “I noticed you read a lot.” She giggled. The once annoying sound was suddenly as pretty as bird song. I’m Bitsy but I hate that name, call me Bee.”
“I thought you liked Spuds?” Reese said questioningly.
“Yuck-no! He’s so dumb! Mitzy is the one who has the crush!” Bee shrugged and added, “I only dig smart dogs.”
Reese was surprised. Curiously, he asked her, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Bee said, “Well, an astronaut of course!” Giggles tinkled out her mouth. She added, “Who wouldn’t want that! Don’t laugh!”
He didn’t, instead he asked, “What’s your favorite subject?”
Bee didn’t hesitate, “Science of course, silly.” She giggled. He was beginning to like that giggle a lot.
“What’s your favorite book?” he asked.
“Hey! No fair! My turn now… who’s your favorite philanthropist?”
He was shocked by the depth of her mind. “I never really thought about it before. I would say anyone who supports animal protection organizations…what about you?”
She said, “Elon Musk.”
He realized she wasn’t a fluff-head. She had goals and was actually smart.
The doorbell rang again.
It was nearly midnight. Who would come so late?
After a couple of minutes heavy feet clambered up the stairs.
It was Spuds, Fat Freddy, and Blackie Le Pooch.
Conan was Alex from ‘A Clockwork Orange’, his pals, the Droogs.
Conan said, “Guess our invites must have got lost in the mail or something.”
Airy had come to Reese’s side and said sarcastically, “Yeah, that must have been it.”
Reese said, “We didn’t mean to hurt your feelings…”
Airy snorted and said to Reese, “What feelings?”
Fat Freddy said, “Whatever. Where’s the food?”
Frenchie said, “Bring on da girls!”
Two giggling shih tzu sisters took him by the arms, one on each side. In unison they said, “C’mon Frenchie, let’s play truth or dare.”
Conan said, “That’s a great idea!” He had a wicked look on his blocky face. Reese groaned inside. He could only imagine the embarrassing truths and un-nerving dares. But he was determined to be the cool, calm host and had everyone sit in a circle on the floor.
Airy passed out numbers on papers to the twelve remaining guests. The other dogs had midnight curfews and had gone home. In a jar painted black with a skull, he dropped in the same number of folded papers.
“I’m the biggest. I go first.” Said Conan.
Reese rolled his eyes but didn’t argue over something so trivial. He passed the jar to the Pitbull who then plucked a number. “Number four.”
Airy groaned and lifted a paw with trepidation. “I’ll choose dare.”
Conan thought for a minute then said, “I dare you to walk across that beam.” He pointed up to the twelve-foot ceiling.
Dione said, “Oh come on! He’ll break his neck!”
Airy said to her, “I’ll be fine. No biggee.”
Fat Freddy and Frenchie cleared the bowls of food and drink from the desk and pushed it out from the window, so it was under the beam.
Airy climbed up onto it from the desk. He was very nimble. Halfway across he said, “Piece of cake!”
Conan threw an apple at his head. ‘Bonk!’
Airy’s arms circled crazily for balance. The crowd gasped.
He fell! He thumped to the floor on his side, then rolled over onto his back while rubbing his elbow. “I’m okay. Just bruised.” He said shakily.
“You are such a jerk! Both Reese and Dionne said in unison. Conan guffawed along with his buddies. The shih tzus glared at the mean dogs.
“My turn.” Said Airy, sitting up and scootching back into the circle.
Conan passed the jar to him. It was number two, Dionne’s number.
She said, “Truth.”
Airy didn’t hesitate, he asked her, “Would you like to go to the Christmas Dance with me?”
She didn’t hesitate either, “Yes!” Then she said, “My turn.” She picked number seven. Reese.
Reese said, “Truth.”
Dionne asked him, “Have you seen or heard any ghosts in this house.”
You could have heard a pin drop, no one breathed. Reese said, “No.”
When Reese picked a number he said, “Number eleven.”
It was Conan. He said, “I’ll pick dare.”
Reese looked at Airy. Airy nodded imperceptively. Reese said, “I dare you to walk to the end of the hallway and back. In the dark, no lights.”
Conan laughed, “That’s stupid!”
Mitzy said, “Awww, no fair, he’s getting off too easy---”
Airy shushed her.
Conan got up and sauntered to the door. He opened it and went out into the hallway. Reese closed his bedroom door to immerse the hall in darkness. All twelve dogs put their ears to the door, straining to hear. Footsteps faded to silence. Then out of the silence the footsteps grew louder again. They stopped.
A minute passed. Then five…ten. The pups looked at each other. “He should have been back ages ago.” Said Bee.
“Open the door.” Said Dionne.
Reese opened it a crack and peeked out.
Eerie blue light flooded the hall six feet from his door. The closet door was open. He pushed his door open wider and the closet door slammed shut. “BANG!” The dogs jumped. The girls screamed.
“Was that Conan?” asked Frenchie. All the dogs who’d seen the light shook their heads.
The closet door opened. Only darkness inside. Then a paw thudded to the floor out of the opening, out of the dark. Then another. They were white as fresh snow. The paws scrabbled on the wood floor, leaving Monster-can scratches.
Conan crawled into the hallway. His entire coat was ghost white; he was drooling. He had peed all over his legs.
His buddies got him up on his feet and dragged his limp, panting body into Reese’s room.
“I’m sorry. So sorry. Sorry…” He muttered between shudders.
Monday at school Fat Freddy asked Frenchie, “Where’s Conan?” Frenchie shrugged.
They found him in the library with his nose in a textbook.