Have you ever been chased by a guard dog on the way home from school? Then this story is for you. After a teenage girl is attacked by a dog, it turns up mysteriously dead and she thinks her troubles are over…or are they? Read by actor, magician author and musician Rob Zabrecky (Strange Angel, Possum Dixon, author Strange Cures).
As the doctor unwrapped Tessa’s right index finger, she felt hope give way to despair. It was a full inch shorter than her other fingers. Dr. Abramson saw her dismay and tried to sound compassionate. “I’m sorry,” she said, “there was just too much damage to save the whole finger.” Knowing it was stupid even as the words came out of her mouth, Tessa asked, “And it won’t grow back?” Tessa’s mom put a sympathetic hand on her back. “I’m afraid not,” said Dr. Abramson. “But at least the other injuries from the attack were minor and shouldn’t leave any scars.” The attack… “I hate that dog,” Tessa whispered. “So do I, honey,” Mom said. “Now let’s go home.” Tessa saw the dog every morning on her way to Alexander Hamilton High. His name was Bruno, and he was a huge German Shepherd owned by a thirtysomething muscleman with a shaven head and a lot of tattoos that Tessa thought were probably gang signs. His house was right in the narrowest part of the street, between her home and her school. It was only three blocks to her school, but since the attack Tessa’s mom had driven her every day. Usually Bruno was kept in his fenced-in front yard. Tessa still passed that yard on the far side of the street; anyone who had the audacity of walking on the public sidewalk in front of Bruno’s yard was subjected to a heart-stopping display of vicious barking as the dog hurled his bulk against the fence over and over. Bruno’s owner had acquired him two years ago; Tessa had walked by him almost every day since, so she’d gotten used to the uproar. Even walking on the far side of the street drove the dog to hysterics. But a week ago, Tessa had been passing the house on her way to school in the morning when she hadn’t heard anything…at least not at first. She’d actually slowed down, sensing that something was wrong. Suddenly Bruno had charged her from behind a nearby parked car, still trailing a length of chain that had somehow snapped. Tessa had run, but Bruno was faster; he’d leapt onto her from behind. Fortunately her backpack had shielded her from the worst of it, but when she’d instinctively held up a hand, Bruno had bitten off part of the index finger. Just then she’d heard shouting and Bruno’s owner had run up, grabbing the chain and pulling the dog away. As Tessa sat up, covered in bruises and blood, she’d seen the man walking away, dragging Bruno. “Your dog just attacked me!” she yelled after him. “You shouldn’t be walking in this neighborhood,” the man shouted back without even turning. Tessa had limped back home. Fortunately her mom hadn’t left for work yet, so she called in and then rushed Tessa to the hospital. They’d cleaned the wounds, given Tessa as much comfort as a bureaucracy was allowed to, handed over the large bill, and sent them home. Tessa had wanted to be a pianist. She was good; she played in all the school shows. Her mother had hopes that her musical skills would land her a scholarship; Tessa wanted to play in an all-girl rock band. Now she couldn’t reach the most important keys. The doctors said that she should be able to re-learn how to play, but Tessa had her doubts. The entire balance of her hand had been changed. Bruno had taken more – much more – than just part of her finger. Of course Mom had gone ballistic on the owner, screaming at him through the fence around the yard, but he hadn’t come out. She started looking for an attorney. Two days after the doctor had unwrapped her mutilated finger, Tessa heard at school that Bruno was found dead in the yard. At first she didn’t believe it…but when she walked home from school that afternoon, there was no frantic barking, no thuds as the fence shook. It was true – Bruno was gone. Tessa wondered if her Mom had done it. Or maybe it was Derren at school, who liked her and was the one who’d told her about Bruno. Heck, it was likeliest to have been one of the neighbors; she wasn’t the only kid Bruno had ever attacked. The next morning Tessa awoke to a gray, cold, early winter day. She put on a heavy sweater, scarf, and mittens that she also liked because they hid her gnawed finger. It wasn’t raining, but a heavy mist hung low over everything. She could barely see fifty feet in front of her. As she approached Bruno’s yard she started to cross the street – then caught herself. If Bruno’s really gone, I don’t have to…if he’s gone. She forced herself to stay on this side, trembling as she approached the beginning of the chain-link fence. There was no sign of Bruno. It’s true – he’s gone. Tessa was just feeling some weight lift from her when she heard it: paws running on grass, and a frantic barking that sounded like it came from the far end of a long tunnel. Skin crawling, she tried to peer through the mist. He’s not dead. But something was wrong; there was no sign of Bruno, even through the haze. And the sound…it wasn’t right. A word popped into Tessa’s head: Ghost. She knew then: the dog had died, but its fury hadn’t. It would patrol this yard, maybe forever. Realizing that, she felt pity for the animal. “I’m sorry,” she whispered through the fence, before adding, “but you can’t hurt me anymore.” The barking stopped. Tessa continued onto school, knowing that she’d never have to walk on the far side of the street again.