Trigger warning: this story contains depictions of bullying, abuse from a foster family, and detailed descriptions of the corpse of an animal.
Timmy hates his new foster parents.
He doesn’t usually like any of his fosters – something about being passed from house to house, neighbourhood to neighbourhood, just rubs him the wrong way. But Mr and Mrs Franklin are, without a doubt, the worst that he’s ever had. Their house smells weird, like dirt, dust and mould. Mr Franklin would smack him upside the head when he tried to go upstairs, and Mrs Franklin tried to feed him a can of sloppy meat entrails for dinner – twice. They speak over his head as though he isn’t there.
The street that they live in is just as bad. Timmy tried to make friends with the other kids that play in the cul-de-sac but they threw rocks at him. He’d been bullied before, but this wasn’t the usual case. They screamed in terror and begged him to stay away. He has never tried to play with them again.
During his time imprisoned at the Franklins’ house, he explores the area alone, taking care to stay away from the sound of children’s laughter in the street.
He sneaks out of the backyard to the woods that spread behind the street. A train track sits hidden in the grass, and he spends hours digging around. He kicks the rocks along his path. He walks along the tracks, balancing on the metal beam with arms out either side. He hasn’t ever seen a train come through here once. He has no reason to worry.
As he walks further into the scrub, the chittering sounds of insects becomes louder. He looks around and sees a swarm of flies gathering by a bush to the side of the tracks. Timmy creeps closer until he smells it. A terrible, awful reek that invades his nostrils. It’s worse than the Franklin’s house. He holds his breath and pulls the collar of his shirt over his nose, trying not to splutter. He rounds the bush, swatting away stray flies with his free hand, and there it is.
A dead dog.
It’s been dead for days, a week, maybe. Green goo leaks out of its mouth as its tongue lolls out. Its eyes are open but are flat and grey. Timmy swallows back vomit. He attempts to inspect it further, but the putrid smell makes his eyes water and blocks his vision. He turns away to escape the cloud of stink.
A high-pitched voice says, ‘Wait! Don’t go!’
Timmy stops in his tracks and turns to look over his shoulder. The dog’s head is raised and blinking its blank, grey eyes at him. A dog, talking! And a dead dog, nonetheless. Timmy’s eyes pop out of his head and his words escape him.
‘So, you’re just going to leave me here? You’re the first person I’ve seen for weeks!’ the dog continues, its voice lilted.
‘Sorry,’ Timmy finds himself saying.
‘Don’t be sorry – just help me out, eh? These darned bugs are making a mess of me!’
Timmy glances around the vicinity. ‘I could…dig you a grave?’
‘That’s more like it!’ the dog says and introduces itself as Spike as Timmy kneels to start digging.
Spike is an Irish setter who was ‘tragically struck down in his prime’. The grey hairs sprinkled through the dog’s fur says differently, but Timmy doesn’t comment. He is too busy trying to push his already stained brown fingers into the hard soil, his fingernails struggling to stay rooted to the nailbeds.
Timmy rakes at the ground with his nails as the dead dog continues to chatter senselessly. He speaks of his days living, his days lying in a ditch in the woods, an itch behind his ear that has been irritating him for the past two days. Timmy has always wondered what animals would say if they could talk. Now he would rather that desire remained unfulfilled.
Eventually, Spike asks, ‘What’s your name, kid?’
‘Timmy? That’s a plain name, isn’t it.’
‘So is Spike.’
The dog barks a crude imitation of a laugh. ‘Ha! You got me there. I like you, kid. Good to know I got at least one friend in the waking world.’
Timmy stops digging as the corners of his mouth curves into a smile. He observes his handiwork. It is barely a hole that he can hide his fist in, let alone bury a dog. ‘Friend?’ he asks tentatively. He has never had a friend before, not in any of the neighbourhoods of the families that he lived with.
‘Sure, a friend!’ Spike’s tail wagged once.
The boy would say more, but a sudden rumble makes him pause. The sound comes closer. A train, he realises. Timmy turns to Spike, stunned. ‘I thought trains didn’t come through here!’
Spike raises his head again and smiles at Timmy, revealing a decaying row of distinctly human teeth. ‘Better get home, then.’
Timmy’s face goes white and he leaps to his feet, sprinting away over the trembling train tracks as fast as his skinny legs can take him. He bursts into the Franklin’s backyard, wrenching open the backdoor. Mr and Mrs Franklin are in the kitchen, watching him as he rushes in with a heaving chest. They don’t say a word, but Mr Franklin tosses something from his plate. It hits Timmy’s shoulder and clatters to the floor. He looks down. A chicken bone, not a piece of meat left on it.
Too shaken to react, Timmy tries to make his way to his bedroom, passing the mirror in the hallway. In the corner of his eye, something makes his body freeze in place. He goes back to the mirror and gapes at himself. Where he used to see a boy, a dog now stands.
A fluffy Irish setter.
Kyrah H is a fourth-year creative writing student of the Wiri and Luritja First Nations. She like to experiment with horror-themed fiction. Expect to see more of her work in ScratchThat, GLASS magazine, and online.
Editors: Jasmine Tait and Eliana Fritz