MTO Kim Griffiths

The dog’s fur was the color of cream. What a cutie. He must’ve heard my car idling at the end of his driveway and came to say hello. I snapped a picture. My own dog, Apache, sensed his chance for freedom and bounded out the open car door. I thought he might greet his fellow canine, but Apache sniffed and laid claim to some roadside thistle. I zoomed in for another picture when something struck me. It bit into the flesh of my forehead and knocked me back a step. I followed the thud to my feet and noted a rock that hadn’t been there before.

For a second, pain was my entire world. I pressed my palm into the wound and stumbled, doubled-over.

The scrape of shoes along the dirt brought me out of myself. A little girl had come half the length and was quickly closing the distance. She had one hand cupped and full of what I imagined were rocks. More bizarre, she wore a homespun dress and one of those frilly white hankies on her head. Amish. An Amish girl threw a rock at me. So much for stereotypes.

She cocked her arm to launch another one.

“Hey, knock it off.” I put a protective hand over my head. Lucky too, because her rock caught my pinkie finger. The girl had skills. Suddenly worried for Apache (I worried for him more than for myself, always), I ordered him back into the car and started to back away. “I’m not on your property,” I said.

The closer she got, the uglier she became. At first, I thought she sneered at me. Then I realized it was a cleft lip pulled like a curtain to reveal yellow teeth. Her blocky shoes churned dust in her wake that spiraled around her. From the backyard came the sound of chopping wood and clothes whipped by wind. Scared to turn my back on her, I folded myself back into the driver’s seat. I would’ve driven away, but Apache was romping through the grass.

“Didn’t your parents teach you not to throw stones?”

She threw another. It grazed my ear, sending a sizzle of pain. I heard it plink against the window. Another hit the car door, just below me.

The little cream-colored dog stared, open-mouthed, tongue bouncing. The girl put a hand on his head and scratched his ears. She held herself overly erect and jutted her chin, bouncing the stones in her other hand, threatening me.

“What’s your problem?” I asked.

No answer.

“Cat got your tongue?”

She stuck out her tongue.

That did it. As I popped back out of the car, Rambo flashed in my mind. I mumbled, you drew first blood, kid.

She must have expected her show of force would make me turn tail and drive off. How delicious was the shocked look on her little sunburnt face when I strode her way. Lucky for me, it discombobulated her and stole her aim. She thought I came for the dog and tried to get him to back away. Even when she grabbed his scruff, he wagged his tail and wouldn’t allow himself to be led back toward the house. Just as she let go and made to flee, I grabbed one of her billowy sleeves, eliciting a pained and frustrated garble. I got a better grip and propelled her along the driveway with the adorable little dog following on our heels.

“I think your dog likes me,” I said.

As we neared the house, I saw a man chopping wood, chucking the split logs onto a growing pile. A boy grabbed them one by one and put them on a sled. When the boy saw us coming, he dropped his wood and dashed toward the man. Just like the girl, he seemed incapable of speech because he made no sound but clearly was trying to get the man’s (his father’s?) attention. The cream-colored puppy barked and broke away, racing after Apache who’d decided not to be left in the lurch.

Why didn’t the father turn at the sound? Why did he continue chopping?

I saw what was about to happen and was powerless to stop it.

The father, deaf to our approach, let fly a chunk of wood.

The son, trying to get his father’s attention, ran toward him.

The wood left the father’s grip and was on course to where the boy should’ve been standing. The hunk connected with the little boy’s face at top speed. The impact thrust his head up, swiped his feet out, and dropped the boy flat and unmoving to the ground.

His sister screamed. Pure. Clear. Just like a word.

Apache veered, startled by the skull-wood thunderclap. When the father saw Apache, he straightened in surprise. Then he saw me and his daughter, who’d broken from my grasp and dashed to her brother. The father took in the form of his broken son, the piece of wood he’d flung, and his boy’s blood pooling in the packed dirt.

The girl signed to her father and he pointed at me. When a sense is missing, they say others ramp up to make up the difference. In the father’s eyes, I saw a paragraph of grief and hate. And blame.

I got the hell out of there.

Good dog that Apache was, he followed straight away. Both dogs jumped into the car. The father grabbed a hunk of my hair, and I pulled the door shut on his arm. He held on, so I gunned the gas and dragged him until he dropped away. The gas pedal was to the floor. Once the farm was out of sight, I unclenched my teeth and dropped to a safe speed. The doggies put their heads out the window. Creamy licked the blood on my temple then dipped his head back out, like he couldn’t decide which action was more delightful. My head was on fire where the man had held on for a few paces. Worse, I patted my pocket and had a sinking revelation. I left my phone. I must have dropped it. But if that poor little Amish boy was…was—well, whatever he was, I was better off than him. The father looked like he would’ve killed me. And I had an adorable new friend worth more than any phone. Phones could be replaced. Not so, doggies.

I counted myself lucky until a week later when I received a letter. It was handwritten and had no return address. Even the envelope was strange. It wasn’t like the kind you buy in a store. It was thick paper, folded into the shape of an envelope. There was no letter inside. The envelope itself was where the message was written with what looked like a quill pen:

Whoever takes a human life shall surely be put to death. Whoever takes an animal’s life shall make it good, life for life. If anyone injures his neighbor, as he has done it shall be done to him, fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; whatever injury he has given a person shall be given to him. Whoever kills an animal shall make it good, and whoever kills a person shall be put to death.

What did that mean?

I Googled Amish boy hurt. Nothing. With shaking hands, I typed in: Amish boy dead. And there was a picture of the house. The article said the Amish don’t like their pictures taken. Some even believe you steal their souls when you take a picture. The article said it was a tragic accident. No mention of me. But I knew: the girl was trying to protect her dog. Dog. An eye for an eye. I crouched down and hugged Apache. He was my baby. I gulped because they had my phone. I didn’t keep it password protected. One look in my gallery and there was no doubt how much I loved Apache. Like a son, I loved him. An eye for an eye.

Truth: My sister Kim did snap that lovely picture of a dog in Middle-of-Nowhere, Kansas. She is a true bohemian, traveling where the spirit takes her. She’s lived in the most beautiful places and met many interesting friends. Of me, she requested a horrible ending, but as the story went in the direction of her beloved Apache, I couldn’t do it. Sorry. I mean, I did, but I didn’t, you know? A bad end is coming for the little guy and her, but we don’t actually see it happen. Why do I always go for the pets, you ask? Because they’re innocents. When people want to see how horrible things can get, and I know they have pets, well, it’s like when Stephen King goes for the gross-out. It’s cherry-picking.

I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. – Stephen King

4 thoughts on “MTO Kim Griffiths

  1. This is one of your best Kelly. Violent, gory, terrifying, and darkly humorous. The part where she dragged the dude while driving off was insane. The Southern Gothicesque twist at the end completely absorbed me. For some reason it reminded me of Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor and The Devil all the Time by Donald Ray Pollock. Great stuff.

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