THE DOG SITTER • by Jay Tyler

Alice May greeted her friends on the porch of Castle Rock, a sprawling Virginia estate. Zoe, the taller of the two, held a pizza box, and Anna clutched a paper bag that clinked when the girls unloaded onto the kitchen island. Anna retrieved three bottles of soda. Zoe tossed the paper plates like frisbees to each girl. 

 They chitchatted about boys before hearing the jingle of Sir Charles’ collar as he limped into the kitchen.

“It’s time for his dinner and meds,” Alice said. 

Alice poured kibble into his bowl, and kissed the top of Sir Charles’s head. She scratched him around the ears. He stopped eating and groaned. 

“We have a special connection,” Alice said. 

Zoe and Anna broke into a giggle. 

“It’s a little weird, I know,” Alice said, standing. 

“A little?” Zoe said. 

“It’s sweet,” Anna said, and knelt down to give Sir Charles a pet. 

“She talks to him like he’s a person,” Alice explained. 

A silence hung in the air. 

“When are you gonna show us?” Zoe asked. 

“I wish I hadn’t told you,” Alice said. 

“We have to see this,” Zoe said. “I’m not leaving here until I do.”

Alice placated Zoe with assurances they’d go down to the basement, but not yet. They finished their pizza and watched a DVD on an old Zenith television. 

When the western sky turned pink and orange from the setting sun, Anna noticed headlights pointed at the house. 

“Who’s that?” she asked. The girls huddled around the window of the parlor.

“That’s Leeroy,” Alice said, pointing to the old Chevy truck that had stopped on the drive.

“The farm manager. He’ll leave soon.”

“Weird,” Zoe said. She smiled at Alice. 

“Is it time for Sir Charles to go meet his friends?” Zoe chided. 

“No,” Alice snapped. “He can’t come.” 

A red rug extended below their feet in the basement and a sputnik lamp hung just above them. The room was dusty, and felt like it had not been visited in some time. 

The main attraction, though, was a horizontal window into another room on the far side of the basement. 

“Have you tried the door?” Anna asked.

“Locked,” said Alice.

A settee was opposite the window, with two cushioned chairs angled toward it, providing a direct sightline through the horizontal custom pane.

Alice flipped on the lights. From the left side of the rectangular window, on a thick wooden shelf, were seven stuffed dogs, all roughly the same size. The first four, left to right, were Jack Russell Terriers. The last three were Cockapoos that closely resembled Sir Charles. Their little paws were affixed to small wooden stands. The lighting shone down on them as though they were pieces of art on display.  

“Gnarly,” Zoe said. She put her hand up to the window and Alice stopped her. 

“Don’t touch,” she said. 

“They have nameplates,” Zoe said, pointing into the room.

On each dog’s stand, was a brass plate with an inscription of the dog’s name, date of brith, and date of death. Situated on the shelf farthest right in the room was an empty stand with an inscribed nameplate.

“Whoa!” said Zoe. “That’s Sir Charles’s stand.” She turned to Anna and motioned for her to come forward. “You gotta see this.”

Anna didn’t move. 

“I don’t like it,” she said.

“Come on,” Zoe pleaded. 

“I wanna go home,” Anna said, taking a step back. 

Zoe pleaded. Tears welled up in Anna’s eyes. 

“It’s creepy. I’m leaving now,” she said. Zoe relented and trudged up the stairs behind Anna.

Alice started to walk them out, but the stuffed dogs held her attention. Their eyes were black as onyx. They stared, not through the window into the sitting area, but at something just above the window. She craned her neck up and saw the bottom of another wooden shelf, a twin to the one supporting the dogs. 

Then she heard the slow thump, thump, thump of footsteps above her. 

First, she thought of Zoe, but as she listened, she realized someone much larger was moving around upstairs. She sprinted up the basement steps, and found the door locked. 

She went downstairs and looked for a tool to pry open the door, or even… She paused at the thought. 

Defend myself. 

The steps down into the basement were enclosed, and there was a storage closet underneath. Alice opened the door and turned on the light. 

She spotted a wooden chest and opened it. Inside was a scrapbook with a key taped to the inside cover. The scrapbook contained clippings of old missing persons stories from the town paper. A local girl had gone missing every ten to fifteen years since the eighties, and authorities were at a loss.  

She gave the closet one last glance. 

The key unlocked the display room. On the shelf above the window, opposite each dog, were the mounted heads of seven young women and girls. Each stuffed dog had a stuffed person, and they gazed back at the other with reverence. Alice studied the mounts with sick fascination until she came to the one closest to the door. A mounting plate was vacant on the wall across from Sir Charles’s stand.

She heard the door click shut and turned. 

“She calls them her children,” Leeroy said with a voice so low that it tingled Alice’s diaphragm. “You’re special,” he said.

Alice’s chest heaved. She tried to dart around him but he blocked her. She shoved and clawed, but he was far too strong.

Anna and Zoe’s bodies were discovered the next day in Anna’s overturned hatchback.

The brake lines had been cut.

Alice’s body was never found. She was missing for five years until the owner’s death when Castle Rock was sold at auction, and the basement discovered. Leeroy was arrested and confessed to aiding in the killings. 

Alice watched over Sir Charles that whole time.

Jay Tyler is an attorney in central Virginia. He’s been writing for over ten years, and his fiction has appeared in Aethlon: The Journal of Sports Literature and Electric Spec.

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