ON IMPULSE • by Rita A. Popp

Gina knew trouble when she saw it: A black Lab mix nearly full grown and as unmanageable as her mop of blonde curls. But Lucifer was moments away from being put down at the pound where Gina volunteered. Against all better reason, she adopted him.

Lucifer was a massive powerhouse, Gina a petite featherweight. Match made in hell sprang to mind as she leashed him for their first evening walk.

In the summer heat, the dog dragged Gina like a novice water skier in the wake of speedboat. When Lucifer met strangers, he surged forward, planted his front paws on their chests, and licked the shock right off their faces.

That had to stop, so a few blocks from her apartment, Gina managed to get Lucifer to head down an alley. High walls separated the houses, but the area seemed safe to walk since the back gates had latches, not locks.

As Lucifer stopped to lift a leg, Gina, averting her gaze to give him privacy, saw a knothole in a wooden gate and couldn’t resist peeking through it. On a backyard patio, a seriously gorgeous guy stood by a table that held a pitcher and two tall glasses. A carroty redhead sat in a recliner facing the house, so only the back of her head and a bit of turquoise dress showed. Gorgeous Guy said something too low for Gina to hear, shrugged, filled a glass, took a couple quick swallows.

His movements were stiff, self-conscious. They’ve had a fight. He wants to patch things up. But her? Nope.

Suddenly, the guy banged down his glass, turned his back to the woman, squared his shoulders. The redhead must have said something hurtful, Gina guessed.

Lucifer, ready to resume his walk, nearly jerked Gina’s arm off. She yelled “Whoa” and jogged behind the dog, hoping the couple hadn’t heard.

The next evening was so hot Gina wanted to skip Lucifer’s outing, but she caved after he put his head in her lap and first one paw, then the other, on her knees. He led her along scorching sidewalks, turned without prompting at the previously explored alley. As they passed the gate with the knothole, Gina heard an angry male voice.

“Lucifer, stop!” she whispered. For once, he obeyed.

Fixing her right eye on the knothole, Gina saw Gorgeous Guy on the patio, pacing. He pressed his fingers to his ears, shouted, “Enough! Enough! Enough!”

The carrot-haired woman, in the recliner facing the house,  didn’t seem to react. Lucifer gave Gina a hard nudge so she bumped the gate, rattling it. The guy glanced toward them as Gina hissed, “Go!” Lucifer set off at full throttle.

Later, while the pup gulped chow in Gina’s kitchenette, she replayed the patio scene. Why had Gorgeous Guy shouted “Enough!” over and over? Why didn’t Carrot Hair speak up?

The next evening, Lucifer, leash in mouth, met Gina at the front door. They raced as a team to the alley, stopped on a dime at the familiar gate. When Gina gazed through the knothole, she was disappointed; the patio was empty. She was about to turn away when the sliding glass doors opened. Gorgeous Guy emerged carrying Carrot Hair, whose face was turned toward his chest. Carefully, he set her in the recliner, arranged her turquoise bathrobe. She’s an invalid, poor thing.

Gina felt guilty about watching but couldn’t stop. The table was set as before with a pitcher and glasses. Again, the guy offered the woman a drink, she declined, he poured for himself and drank. He slammed down his empty glass, paced and shouted, “Enough! Enough! Enough!” Then he grabbed hold of the woman’s throat and throttled her.

A shocked Gina pushed open the gate and yelled, “Get him, Lucifer!” The dog dashed to the patio, knocked the guy down, and slurped his face. Gina sped to the woman’s side, stared into glassy green eyes.

The guy was buried under Lucifer. “Get your dog off me!”

Gina touched the lifeless face. It was smooth but hard, like bone china. The body in the bathrobe felt rag-doll limp. “She’s not real.”

“The mannequin? Of course not.” He pushed at Lucifer and sat up, eyeing Gina warily. “She’s a stand-in until the girl playing the role gets back from her vacation.”

“You’re an actor?”

“Just community theater.” He grinned, displaying a pair of attractive dimples. “You believed I was choking the life out of her?”

“Gosh yes. Why do you do it?”

“She’s an insufferable woman. Fakes being an invalid and drives her husband over the edge. You’ll have to come see the play.”

He patted Lucifer’s head. “It’s okay to get up, right? I’m Jason, by the way.”

“Gina.”

Her palm tingled as they shook hands.

Lucifer thumped his tail.

“Gina, may I offer you a glass of iced tea? There’s plenty. My co-star never touches the stuff.”


Rita A. Popp’s flash fiction has been published online in Mysterical-E and Postcard Shorts and has received three honorable mentions in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine’s “Mysterious Photograph” contests. A short story of hers is forthcoming in a 2017 Sisters in Crime/Guppy anthology. She has drafted her first mystery novel and is plotting a second. Both are set in New Mexico, where she lives with her husband, two Golden Retrievers, and two dozen goldfish.


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Rate this story:
 average 3.5 stars • 45 reader(s) rated this

Every Day Fiction

  • Regrettably I found this story to be much about nothing.

    The naming of the dog “Lucifer” was a distraction as I kept waiting for it to have significance in the story.

    The story easily could have been told without having to revisit the scene of the “crime” two more times.

    I didn’t find a lot of creativity in the story or the writing. I’m left with the taste of a “shaggy dog story” in my mouth without the humor.

  • Sarah Crysl Akhtar

    Frothy bubbles don’t, actually, rise by themselves; humorous writing demands a precise chemistry that creates the illusion of effortlessness.
    This needed to sparkle. It didn’t. Two stars.

  • I did find the name of the dog a bit of a distraction, but there was a complete narrative arc making it a complete story which I find rare in flash fiction. I see several things that I would have done differently, but what writer doesn’t.

  • Paul A. Freeman

    This type of story (cute dog, cute guy, insecure woman, promise of romance) gets eaten up by the womags. Not sure the EDF audience will be as appreciative. That said, the story engaged me, even though I was rooting for a morbid conclusion.

    • Carl Steiger

      I just did a brief search and all I found for “womag” is the World of Marble and Granite. I’m guessing that it’s actually an abbreviation for “women’s magazine” (?). The first thing I envisioned reading your comment was a monster that eats up cute dogs, cute guys and insecure women.

      • Paul A. Freeman

        If you check ‘womagwriter’s Blog’ you’ll get a list (on the right if you scroll down a wee bit) of all the women’s magazines that print fiction, with their guidelines.

  • Jim

    This story pleased and surprised me precisely because it isn’t pretentiously dark. I think there is room for skillfully narrated fiction with a sense of play, and fiction that also plays with and against genre, and this story accomplishes all of this quite well.
    I particularly enjoyed that the narrative was driven by the dog’s restless and unpredictable energy. I think that’s why the story carried me along–the spare and energetic narrative voice felt fresh, to me.
    I’d like to see what this author does next.

  • S Conroy

    The second time she didn’t react, I thought it was heading in a ‘Psycho’ direction, so the light ending was a surprise. I’ve nothing against lightness, but think it still needed a bit of something more.

  • Linda writer.

    What female hasn’t eavesdropped on a relationship conversation? This story makes for a light hearted coffee break read. Lucifer was an odd choice for the dog ‘s name, but maybe it was to mislead intentionally. I can see Lucifer and is owner as great partners in sleuthing adventures to come.

  • Judy

    I really enjoyed the “things-aren’t-what-they-seem” approach to this story. Lucifer is not evil, Gorgeous Guy is not a murderer, and Gina is literally and figuratively dragged into awkward misperception of events . We have all been there. The story had my attention from the very beginning and the climax made me smile. Now, for that iced tea!

    • S Conroy

      I think the icing on the tea might have been if Gorgeous Guy wasn’t quite so gorgeous after all, maybe even ended up being a bit of a stalker. But that’s a cynical view of the world infiltrating my personal tastes in literature.

  • SueAnn Porter

    I enjoyed the story but would name the dog Frankie instead.

  • Amy Sisson

    I enjoyed the author’s economy and pacing, and found this to be an enjoyable story. I love that Gina averts her gaze to give Lucifer privacy while doing his business. It’s irrational — why would an animal need privacy? — but I do the exact same thing! 🙂

  • Sam Rapine

    Not bad. I wasn’t sure where it was headed, and was pleasantly surprised by both being surprised (always nice when somebody turns out to not be a corpse) and reading an unusually benign ending. Something struck me off about the progression of the tone, though–seems like we started with a story very focused on an excitably stubborn dog and ended with a story where Gina falls for Dreamy Norman Bates. Nevertheless, it was a fun ride. Keep it up!