Old Dogs



Old Dogs

New Tricks


A street sign in Athens.  The only relevance this
picture has to this story is that it is vaguely creepy
looking.  Also, I took this while driving, so I almost
ended up dead.



Things That Go
Bump in the
Night, Besides
the Eight Dogs.

The last house I lived in was supposed to be haunted.  (Insert Twilight Zone
song here: Dee-dee-dee-dee, dee-dee-dee-dee!)  Now, I love ghost stories,
books, the nighttime tours in historic cities, the whole thing, so I probably gave
the haunted house story a lot more credence than it deserved.  Every time I lost
my car keys or the remote, I’d get all, “Well, I know you took it, so what did you
do with it?” to the empty rooms.  Naturally, I would not admit that I can lose my
car keys or my remote control perfectly well by myself, even without
supernatural interference.  But sometimes, I did believe it, late at night, when I
would by lying in the bed with the dogs, and one of them would start that low,
scary growl deep in his throat, and would stare at the wall, looking at something
I couldn’t see, I would start feeling the hairs rising on the back of my neck and
on my arms, and I would think, with complete and clear conviction, there is
something in here with us.  There was no physical evidence, of course, and no
one else saw or heard a damn thing, so I figured I was trying too hard, or being
a general nutcase.  Whichever.

But there were a few little things that can’t be chalked up to my eagerness for
some sort of haunting. (And who, speaking of which, wants a haunting, besides
my dumb ass? What the hell is the matter with me?  I would think most people,
when asked “haunted or not haunted?” when buying their homes, would opt for
the latter.  Anyway.)  For example, the dogs would always stay in the bedroom
when I wasn’t home, my method for limiting (or at least centralizing)  their
destruction of my house.  They’d always hear me pulling up the driveway, which
was their cue to start barking hysterically, and by the time I’d open the bedroom
door, their yelping had reached fever pitch and they would be jumping all over
each other, positively desperate to be FREED! from the ROOM! and LET!
OUTSIDE! unless it was RAINING! in which case they would run right back to the
bedroom and hop back in their warm little beds, and then just pee on the legs of
the desk when I wasn’t looking.  But I digress.

Anyway, their attention was generally focused on the back door.  The bedroom
door would open, and there I would be, doing the high-pitched “hello little
babies!” voice reserved for these homecomings, and the dogs would be all,
“move over, bitch!” and would barrel past me into the kitchen, and straight to
the back door, where their whining and yelping would climax into a crescendo of
hysteria that probably led the neighbors to believe I was poking each of them in
the eye with safety pins, until I finally opened the door and they were rewarded

But sometimes, they would vary their routine.  Sometimes, I would open the
door, and they would barrel by, but would then continue barreling right past the
back door, and would instead focus all of their collective sixty pounds of
attention at the farthest corner of the dining room.  They HATED that corner.  
Hated. It.  They would growl, they would snap, and little ridges of brown hairs
would spike up along their spines, and they would NOT leave the corner until I
had physically removed them, one by one, and placed them in the yard, at
which point their little minds would completely forget about the evil in the corner,
and would instead focus on more pressing matters, namely whether they could
all pee on Pugsley and get away with it, or whether this would lead to everybody
getting a B-A-T-H.

I thought their concern with the corner was just the product of a little too much
forward mobility.  Doxie brakes are not the most accurate.  They cannot stop on
a dime.  I figured they’d skidded past the door, faced overwhelming confusion at
finding themselves in the dining room, and had reacted negatively at the corner
as a result:  “Hey! WALL! What are you DOING here? Where is DOOR?”

So I didn’t think much of it.  But then, sometimes, late at night, I’d be sitting at
the dining room table, poring over law school crap, and they would do the same
thing.  They’d be perfectly calm in the other room, watching TV, talking on the
phone, surreptitiously peeing on the legs of the desk, whatever, and then, out
of the damn blue,  they’d come barreling in, barking wildly at the corner.  Once I
got them calmed down, they’d stand at the threshold of the dining room and just
cry.  Like, “Come on, mom, come on out of there, please, please, please, there’
s something in the corner and you won’t let us bark at it, now come on.  Hey!
Why don’t you come see what we did to your desk? Okay?”

Or we’d be sleeping, and all of a sudden, they’d all fly out of bed, run to the
dining room, and start with the corner barking.  It was odd, and it was a little
freaky, but it was also so inconsistent–like they’d spend three days going to the
corner to register their complaints, and then they’d completely forget about it for
two months–that it didn’t really bother me.  

The one day, I was outside smoking a cigarette, when my incredibly-ancient-
and probably-dead-now-(sorry, next-of-kin!)-next-door-neighbor, Mrs.
Antiquated, came wandering over.  Mrs. Antiquated was–and I am so not
making this up–ninety four, and she still mowed her own yard, drove herself
around, and got right snippy when you offered to help her with anything.   
Basically, I stayed out of Mrs. Antiquated’s way, except for when I realized that I
hadn’t seen her in a few days, at which point I would casually wander over to
her house and listen for the sounds of someone inside, and when I didn’t hear
anything, sort of sniff around the doorways to make sure she wasn’t, um,
rotting.  (No, I didn’t really...wait, yeah, I did.  I totally did and I am a sick, twisted
person, but she was NINETY-FOUR, people.)

So Mrs. Antiquated came over, and we made small talk, which usually went
something like this:

Mrs. A:                What the hell is the matter with your dogs?
Me:                      I’m sorry, are they bothering you?
Mrs. A:                What?
Me (louder):        Is the barking bothering you?
Mrs. A:                What?
Me (yelling):        IS. THE BARKING. BOTHERING. YOU.
Mrs. A:                No, I can’t hear a damn thing.
Me:                     Oh.
Mrs. A:                I mean, what’s the matter with them? Especially
                          that spotted one.  He’s ugly as sin.

Somewhere in the midst of one such conversation, Mrs. A started reminiscing
about her past neighbors, none of whom she’d much liked.  She had lived in her
house since it had been built in the mid 1950's, and she remembered,
apparently, everything that had happened since then.  There were the hippie
girls, and the guy with the three-foot iguana, and the family with the son who
was, she confided, a little “slow.”  And while I was nodding and hoping that the
guy with the iguana hadn’t accidentally, say, forgotten the iguana when he
moved, she smacked me across the face with, “But of course    it’s haunted by
that crazy boy who set the place on fire.”

Pardon? I managed to ask, and she happily told me about the lovesick good-fer-
nothing who had fallen in love with the daughter who lived in the house, except
the daughter didn’t have much use for him, so he’d exacted his revenge by
setting the house on fire in the middle of the night, and had shot himself in the
yard after doing so.  Fortunately for the girl and her family, no one was home
except for the dog, and Mrs. A had herself called the fire department, and they’
d rescued the animal with great fanfare.  The house was only partly destroyed;
the arsonist, however, having taken a bullet to the head, had died almost

I knew what Mrs. A was saying contained at least a grain of truth.  The attic to
the house was filled with black soot, and the chimney was still charred in certain
places.  And when we were digging up the flower beds, we had found inches
and inches of ash.  But I wasn’t convinced until Mrs. A pointed a yellow, crooked
finger at one corner of the house.  The same corner where the dogs had
barked.  The corner they hated and feared, the corner that made their hair
bristle up their little backs.  “Happened right there,” she said.  “He set the fire
right there, and died a few feet away.  Right about where you and I are