Born Again

The enclosed story is basically true. As Pappy Yokum used to say, "mainly it were so."

         Parkersburg, West Virginia, is not the kind of town in which strange things happen, let alone

mysterious and perhaps miraculous ones. It is a large town, or small city, rather flat, rather drab, along the Ohio River, and is full of mainly solid-citizen types, whose worst fault is a tendency to get drunk on weekends.

        But the routine and the expected are not so much states of affairs, as states of mind. To those who know, nothing happens. And the danger of this is that you might miss a singularity. Unknowing, not knowing, is the default state of the mind.

* * * *

        That morning I approached the gray-green animal shelter in Parkersburg, where I work, and for some reason stood a moment and watched its tin roof shimmering in the sun. I lingered a moment longer perhaps because of the nature of my job— putting dogs down. In other words, killing them. Since I had been there a sufficient time to learn the ropes, it fell to me to do this job, one which nobody wanted. I was the designated executioner.

        Inside, I couldn’t focus on much of anything but the dancing dust motes in the air. Denial, probably, because I knew what I had to do today.

        Roy was a St Bernard. But not a big cuddly shaggy St Bernard. Actually, he was about as cuddly as a wounded tiger. He had been brought into the shelter by three— three —veteran dog-handlers, each holding a choke-pole whose roped end was wrapped tightly around Roy’s throat. It was the choke-poles that kept the handlers a safe distance from the dog. Roy was a snarling, growling, and would-be biting mass of meanness.

        No thought, of course, was given to putting Roy up for adoption. In fact, he was scheduled for execution that evening. And, of course, I was the sad sack expected to administer the fatal dose. The thought of what I had to do had me nauseated with fright. Sure, he would be muzzled, but he was still 150 pounds of raging canine, seething with resentment and anger.

        Lucky for me, Cleo stayed to help. Cleo is small and trim, but hard as nails and as taut as a stay-rope. She’s the one who got Roy into position. What I had to do was raise his left foreleg and inject a needle into his heart. Then, adios, Roy. With Cleo womanfully holding him— from behind —I was left to cope with the business end of the dog, a snarling mouth with shiny white teeth. The muzzle was the lifesaver. I mean that literally.

        As I got his leg up, something in me changed. Well, it usually did at this point.. I became conscious of the traffic outside, the occasional honk. I looked at Cleo, who stared blankly back. I looked at Roy, who seemed to be filled with curiosity, as I pushed the long needle into his chest, then into his heart, a procedure I had done many times before with lethal effect. This time, to be sure, I had added an extra dose of the killing chemical brew.

        Then I got the shock of my young life. Instead of keeling over, as they all did, Roy, after a dose large enough to kill an animal twice his size, lurched backward, knocking Cleo down, then careened into me, bowling me over like a tenpin. Then he broke away and took off across the concrete floor, nails clicking as he ran.

        I looked at Cleo. She looked at me, then the dog. Then it dawned on us. The room was only about fifty feet long. Our wonder at the miracle that had just occurred was dwarfed by the terror we both felt as we saw that Roy wan turning around and coming back. Oh, God!

        Cleo jumped up on a chair, the only thing she could think to do. She was more clear-headed than me. I was frozen in terror and couldn’t more. And here came Roy! Hot dog! But he paid me no mind, but just scooted on by me. Now, I was more nonplussed than ever. What the hell was he doing? And why? And, above all, how? It was like seeing a corpse running the dash.

        Fortunately, the shot must have at least tired Roy, for after a couple of apparently joyous jaunts up and down the room, he decided to take it easy. He lay down.

        Cleo and looked at each other, then at Roy. Cleo was the first to speak. “We have to do it all over again.”

        I hung my head and nodded. The prospect was daunting.

* * * *

        Anyway, we had to do it. So, as Cleo watched, I prepared twice the amount of the lethal chemical concoction. Cleo, using a choke-pole, managed to get Roy into an upright position, though I had to help by cruelly holding food up—food which he couldn’t eat because of his muzzle. This time, when I raised his leg, I felt for a moment that I couldn’t do it. I was about to hand the needle to Cleo, and just abandon ship. But then, I thought, it’ll only take a second, one jab. So I gave him another shot under the leg, right into the heart. I pressed the needle home and prayed.

        Everything was strange that day, including Roy’s reaction to this second massive shot. First, he looked at Cleo, then he looked at me. But at least, after he looked at me, his eyes got woozy, and slowly but surely he keeled over and hit the floor with a satisfying thump.

        Cleo and I looked at each other. There was a slight smile on her face, and I think on mine. Not a smile of triumph, but of relief. We’d finally done it, thought it had taken a dose designed for a horse. We put Roy’s body in a large contractor’s trash bag, hauled him out into the weed-strewn yard for pickup, and left for the evening.

* * * *

        The next day, I came to work humming a tune. I think it was “How Much is that Doggie in the Window?” Why such a silly song? I guess because it was light-hearted and would tend to cover up the dire events of the day before.

        As usual, I was the first one in, so unlocked the gate in the cyclone fence. After that, everything was a blur. As I reshut the gate, I was conscious of a large animal bounding toward me. I turned in time for it to jump up on me and knock me to the ground. For a moment, I thought it was Roy, and I said the fastest Act of Contrition on record.

        But then I felt an inrush of sanity and, even stretched on the ground, realized it could not be Roy for two very good reasons:

               1) Roy was deader than dead.

               2) This dog was friendly. I came to that conclusion after he
                    licked my face clean.

        I must have been having some form of déja vu. But before I had much of a chance to meditate on my predicament, I heard the gate opening—I had only latched it. From my vantage point, I swiveled my head and beheld Cleo. I guess by this point she must have concluded that my life was not in danger. But she did have a puzzled look on her face.

        She pointed to the massive form now lying on top of me. “That’s not—“

        At this point the dog bounded off me and with two lopes and a leap flattened Cleo. She too was having her face cleaned. I jumped up and tried to pull the dog off her. Cleo, who is strong, helped by pushing him away.

        Once we had done this, we had a moment to think. To observe and to think. The dog, sure enough was a shaggy, massive St Bernard. And it had Roy’s markings. But coincidences happen. Somebody had come in during the night and deposited Roy’s twin. The good twin.

        As I remember, it occurred to us at the same time to go back and check the large bag in which we had deposited Roy’s remains. When we got there, we saw, but still had trouble believing. The bag was ripped into pieces. We looked at each other and simultaneously said “Holy shit!”

        As we did, we noticed that Roy (at this moment I grudgingly began to accept the impossible truth) had followed us, and now rubbed against our legs. Not only that, but he looked up at each one of us in turn. I’m not sure that dogs can smile, as some people claim, but the look Roy gave us was the closest thing I’ve ever seen to one. Then he grabbed a piece of the sack and gave it a toss in the air. The smile was still there. I interpreted it to mean, “Death has no terrors for the stout-hearted.”

* * * *

        As the others came in, various theories began to develop. I hadn’t used enough of the lethal cocktail. Or I had made a mistake and substituted some more benign chemical. Cleo and I first tried to tell them exactly how much chemical we had used, and yes, it was the lethal one. Then we realized that our story was not being accepted. So we quit trying. It was easier to believe that we had screwed up than that the impossible had happened. What had happened is that we had done for Roy’s heart, but somehow had not gotten to the center of his being.

        At least, the subject of trying to “put down” Roy never came up again. Either people sensed enough the situation to realize that this was no ordinary dog, or else Roy’s charm had won friends and influenced people. So he was allowed to stay around the establishment, with me taking him for a walk a couple of times a day.

        Two days after “the incident” I was at my desk in the large running space. I had apparently been just staring at Roy, who was lying down about twenty feet away looking back at me. I became aware that Cleo was beside me. She said, “You see it too, don’t you?” At first, I didn’t know what she saw talking about, then I was embarrassed. For I did see something, something surrounding Roy, a kind of glimmering emanation. I gave a shy grin and shrugged.

        “It’s called an aura,” she said.

        I nodded. I had heard of auras, but always thought of it as some New Age kind of nonsense. I knew there were people who claimed to photograph your aura. I had about as much faith in them as I did in séances. And all the auras I heard about were supposed to be around people, not dogs. But then I discovered that auras are composed of quarks. Not surprising, I guess, since everything is.

        In any case, Cleo and I compared notes. The aura we both saw was a shimmery green in color. And we didn’t see it all the time. Not in direct sunlight, for example. It almost seemed as if the lighting had be just right, kind of like twilight. The kind of evening when you might hear vibrating lutes among the waltzing shadows. No one else gave any evidence of seeing it. No one spent time just staring at Roy, as Cleo and I did. Staring at a grinning dog.

        Another phenomenon we noted was the behavior of Roy around us. If we spent time studying him, he spent just as much time studying us out of his green glow. When I was working at my desk, for example, I would look up and find his eyes focused on me, with a kind of— so I felt— probing look. When I noticed him looking, he didn’t look away right away, but let his eyes dwell on mine for a few more seconds before he looked away. Cleo said she had noted the same behavior with her.

* * * *

        And then it happened. A couple came in looking for a dog for their eight-year-old son, who fortunately wasn’t there. For some reason, they settled on Roy, who had been given the run of the premises. I guess I had stopped thinking of Roy as adoptable, and just regarded him as part of the establishment. That’s why I was kind of shocked when the couple asked about Roy.

        Anyway, I made an immediate decision. Roy was not up for adoption. My first reason was a sensible one. There was always the possibility that Roy would revert, and pose a danger to the child. My second reason was closer to the gut. I suddenly realized that I wanted Roy for myself. I certainly wasn’t going to let anyone else adopt him. So I told the couple that the dog was already spoken for.

        And so it was that Roy became a resident in my small blue-green rancher, a couple of miles from the shelter. I continued to work there, but absolutely refused to do any more lethal injections. After some arguing, the boss acquiesced.

        Once in a while, Cleo will stop in for dinner and a drink. The three of us sit there, casting our minds back to that wondrous morning when we realized that Ray was not only alive, but filled with life—new life.

        “What happens now?” she asked.

        I shrugged. “I keep Roy—till death us do part.”

        “A marriage made in heaven?”

        I nodded. “Maybe.”

        The three of us have experienced something we cannot communicate. It’s not like there’s a parallel universe or anything like that. But in this universe, there’s things like flashing quarks, black holes and anti-matter. Amid this scintillating stew of appearances in our evanescent existence, what’s a little random rebirth?

John and Marilyn Green live on the Gulf Coast of Florida, where they enjoy reading, writing, boating, biking, and swimming. John's stories and novellas have appeared in Espresso Fiction, Mississippi Crow, DemonMinds, Art Times Journal, Evernight Publishing, and Calliope.

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