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Short Story

June 21st, 2010 (10:03 pm)

current mood: artistic
current music: "Memories"--Within Temptation

Title: Lucy at the School with Dead Things
Word Count: 2,118
Beta: This story has had around 40-something editors by now--the great folks in Phantom Fiction, my Creative Writing class from junior year, and assorted friends and family members. Thank you all for reading and providing feedback.
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Lucy has begun to find some very strange things in her neighborhood--namely, some interesting squirrel bodies and a dog that doesn't quite belong.

It seemed like any other fall day in Texas as Lucy strolled along the street, just barely keeping her grey weimaraner Lexi under control. A cool breeze swept across them, blowing Lucy’s dark bushy hair about her face and causing the multitude of surrounding pine trees to sway gently. She waved congenially to an old man with grayed hair and an uncertain step walking towards his car, but continued to let her mind wander, giggling quietly at the thought of a particularly funny fan comic she had read earlier, locked away in her parents’ bedroom while her baby sister banged on the door and screamed to be let in. Dog-walking and visits to friends were her only means of escape from her four siblings and she cherished them greatly.
Eventually, though, she completed the circle around her neighborhood and decided to go to the elementary school across the street where both of her oldest siblings were enrolled. The campus was deserted, school having been released for a short Thanksgiving break a day or two earlier. Lucy walked slowly, relishing the silence she couldn’t find anywhere else, desperate to prolong it. The vacation was welcomed, as she was able to be freed not just from her siblings, but from the insanity that was inherent in attending a brand new high school with thousands of students. She had made the change from a small private school in seventh grade, but her incredibly shy personality still hindered social progress.
She came to the playground and tied Lexi at the pole of the swing-set before sitting on one of the plastic seats herself. Pulling her bright red Fullmetal Alchemist coat tighter around her, Lucy glanced at the assortment of play equipment. Brightly-colored plastics and metal bars sat innocently, waiting for a child to help them fulfill their respective purposes, unassuming and friendly. But at that moment, Lexi barked and gave a high-pitched whine, which would not have been unusual for the typically hyper dog if not accompanied by an attempt to cover her snout with her paws.
“Aw, what’s wrong, Lexi?” Lucy crooned, crouching next to her beloved pet.
The dog simply barked, and seeing nothing wrong with her, Lucy began to untie the leash. Straightening up to leave, she examined her surroundings one last time. The swings were normal, the slide was normal, the monkey bars were normal, but the merry-go-round was not. Lucy went to it cautiously, wondering if it could be the source of Lexi’s anxiety. Laying on the cold metal platform was a dead squirrel, its neck oozing blood from two small puncture marks. Its fur was a matted mess, limbs frozen in an unnatural pattern that seemed to suggest a frenzied attempt at escape, its mouth open in a final screech of terror and desperation. She stared at it in surprise, but broke her gaze and turned away quickly, walking home in the most casual way she could manage.
She returned to the usual chaos that was her family’s small house. As she opened the front door, her youngest sister, Sadie, ran up the stairs and grasped her leg in a hug. “Hey, monkey,” Lucy greeted the grinning child and carefully made her way downstairs to put Lexi in the backyard. Just as she came back indoors, she heard her mother’s voice calling from upstairs, and dashed up to find her in the kitchen with the other two girls, shoving her staple gun into her purse.
“I have a street date tonight,” she explained, referring to a particular part of her job with Warner Electric Atlantic. “I need you to help Daddy with dinner and do something about that squirrel on the deck.”
“Squirrel?” Lucy said, bewildered.
“Yes, a squirrel got onto the deck and your dog must have killed it because it’s not moving. I don’t know how long it’s been there, but I want it gone before your sisters see it.” With that, she rushed down the stairs, calling good-byes to the house in general.
Lucy left the kitchen, working her way through the piles of laundry that were eternally scattered throughout the house. She went to her brother Paul’s room and, not finding him playing his video games, knew just where he must be. Sure enough, she found him in their parents’ bedroom, while her father and two baby sisters watched The Justice League on TV in the living room. Knowing arguments were pointless, she deftly lifted Paul from the chair in font of the computer and carried him out of the room, laughing as he screamed in protest. She had long since learned how to handle his autism. Locking the door, Lucy settled herself at the computer and closed the browser window displaying CartoonNetwork.com in favor of the email program she shared with her parents. Near the top of the inbox was a message from a friend of hers about the recent death of her boyfriend’s dog, to which Lucy quickly typed a response along the lines of “Poor puppy!” before returning to the internet to read fanfiction.
She quickly lost track of time, absorbed in the fan-created problems of Edward, Alphonse, and the other members of the Fullmetal Alchemist cast, and jumped both visibly and audibly when her oldest sister Julia called her. She ignored it at first, but as the cries became more and more persistent, she abandoned her post and went back upstairs. She glanced at her parents’ Beatles memorabilia on the mantle and Blue Meanie figurine grinned down at her while the band stared ahead indifferently from the various photographs. She found Julia standing just inside the door that lead out to the deck, and immediately knew what had happened. “You were supposed to get rid of that squirrel,” her sister said, “and now there’s two. I’m telling Mom you were on the computer.”
“No you’re not,” said Lucy, “Go watch Justice League with Daddy and the babies.”
“You’re not the boss of me!” Julia proclaimed proudly, and stomped off to the bedroom she shared with Abbey, the older of the “babies.”
Lucy sighed and went out on the deck to decide what to do with the squirrels. The corpses of the unfortunate creatures bore great similarity to the one she had found at the playground, suggesting that they had met the same end. She quickly retrieved two plastic bags from under the sink, stuck one hand into each and picked up the squirrels, turning the bags inside-out to avoid touching them. Not knowing what else to do with them, she then turned around, went downstairs and out into the garage where the curbside trash can was kept. As she flicked on the light, Lucy caught a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye. Shaking slightly, she thrust the squirrels into the trash can and wheeled about quickly, but saw nothing. No menacing, glowing eyes leered back at her, no drooling, growling beast attacked. Nothing. Hesitantly she turned to go back inside as something brushed her leg. Lucy swung around in an attempt to catch it, but lost her balance and fell onto a box of stickers promoting bands distributed by the company her mother worked for.
Something did creep out of a corner then, but it wasn’t menacing, glowing, or growling. It was drooling, which was no surprise as dogs are known to drool profusely. A Scottish terrier approached her cautiously, no doubt confused by her strange behavior. Unable to resist her fondness for dogs, Lucy stroked its back gently, her fingers brushing something sticky. As she pulled her hand back she found her fingertips covered in blood and, nudging the dog to one side, discovered the large hole in its stomach.

When she regained consciousness, Lucy was lying on her bed. She slid out from under the blanket and groggily wandered out of her room and into the kitchen, where her family sat around the table eating pizza. “She’s alive!” her father exclaimed in his usual silly manner, and the others all looked up at her.
“What happened?” she said, extremely confused.
“I found you in the garage when I came home,” said her mother. “Daddy and I carried you to bed.”
“What about the dog?”
Everyone looked at each other in turn until her mother said slowly, “What dog?”
“The dog that was in the garage with me,” said Lucy as if she were explaining that the sun was going to rise in the morning.
“There was no dog,” said her father. “Maybe you had a dream about one.”
All Lucy said was, “Hmm.” She sat down at the table to eat, but as she reached for a plate, she saw that small amounts of blood were still on her fingers. She went to the sink to wash them as if nothing had happened while her mother continued talking to her.
“You have got to get your dog trained,” she said. “I found another dead squirrel in the backyard and if this keeps up, we might have to get rid of her.”
Lucy froze momentarily as the words sunk in. “But Lexi’s not doing it,” she protested. “It’s that other dog, the one that was in the garage.”
“Lucy, there was no other dog!” her mother insisted. “Quit telling stories and eat your dinner!”
“It’s not a story!” Lucy said, her voice beginning to rise. “There was a little Scottish terrier in the garage and he had a hole in his stomach. He’s the one killing the squirrels.”
“If her had a hole in his stomach he’d be dead,” said her mother. “Sit down and—Lucy!”
Lucy darted downstairs to the computer, ignoring her parents’ demands to return to the table. She locked the door behind her and, glancing outside quickly, sat down in the computer chair to do research.
A few hours later she slipped out the back door and made for the broken plank in the fence as quietly as possible. Pushing it aside, she started to slide through, but stopped when Lexi whined pitifully. Lucy sighed, returned to the house, and leashed her dog, and together they escaped the backyard. Once outside, Lucy broke into a run, Lexi joining her happily, oblivious to what was happening. When they reached the entrance to the neighborhood, they came to a dead stop and stared at the empty school across the street as the leopard painted on the sign snarled at them like it did to everyone else. Lucy took a deep breath, hardly ready for what she knew she had to do.
Her research had pointed towards a vampire, and recalling the stiff, cold bodies of the squirrels, she could easily believe it. Never a believer before, or indeed even interested in the supernatural, she was now forced to have faith in that which seemed ludicrous in every way. Ludicrous, until she visualized that first squirrel she had found, its neck covered in fresh blood, body forever posed in the position it had taken just before death as it scrambled and struggled to escape its attacker, mouth open in a final screech of terror and desperation.
Knowing that she would lose what determination she had if she continued to linger on the unfortunate animal, Lucy took a step forward, body quivering. She took another, and another, until she found herself at the playground and let Lexi off her leash. The dog regarded her mistress curiously for a moment, surprised by the sudden freedom, but quickly regained her usual demeanor and began running laps around the schoolyard, stub of a tail shaking the entire back half of her body as it wagged vigorously. Meanwhile, Lucy returned to the merry-go-round and found the small rodent just as she had left it, forever frozen in that position of terror.
Soon, there was a rustling in the bushes on the edge of the playground and Lexi began barking madly, just as she had done on the previous visit. Lucy looked in the direction of the rustling to see the familiar Scottish terrier emerge innocently as if it were any ordinary dog, and in some respects it was. She felt a degree of pity for the poor creature as it approached her slowly. It had probably once belonged to someone who loved it dearly. It was through no fault of its own that this dog had no desire to remain as it was. It was now close enough to touch, and with that thought, Lucy drove a small but sturdy piece of tree branch into its chest as the dog gently licked her other hand.