They found the bike propped up against the wall, but Allison was gone.
“Dammit, I knew I should have never got her that bike.”
“Dad, it’s not the city anymore. She’ll be okay.”
“I know, it’s just…”
“Yeah, I miss Mom, too.”
Samuel gave his son a side hug. “I love you, Marius.”
“C’mon, Dad. Let’s find her before she stumbles across a backwoods meth lab.”
“Ha, ha.” He watched his son load the bike into the back of the SUV. Hard to believe he’s already a senior.
“We’ll hit all the stores on Main Street before they close. Then head over to the dog park, then—”
“Then we’ll swing by the trailer, then the community pool, then out to the farmhouses on the outskirts. Can I drive?” Marius asked.
“When you get your own car.”
None of the store owners had seen Allison.
“Next stop, the diner,” Samuel said. His son was too busy texting to answer.
“Hey, Rhonda, seen Allison today?” Samuel asked his boss.
“No, hun, not since you all were here for Sunday brunch. She missing again?” Rhonda inched closer. “You just need a good woman to look after you all.”
He could smell peppermint Schnapps on her breath. “We’re doing okay.”
“C’mon, Dad, it’s going to be dark soon.”
“You all just let me know if you need something.” Rhonda patted Marius on the head.
Samuel hustled Marius out the door.
“Seriously, Dad, a head pat? Please tell me you don’t like her.”
“Why not? She’s a good woman.”
“Now I know you’re full of sh*t.”
“Watch your mouth, son.”
Their laughter stopped when they got to the trailer and saw Allison on the steps.
“Oh, no, she’s got Mrs. Wilson’s dog.” Samuel said.
“Daddy, look. I have puppy friend.” Allison stood, the dog struggling to get free.
“Dad, what’s all over her dress?” Marius said.
“Hopefully just mud.”
“It’s all in her hair, too.”
“Sweetie, that puppy is Mrs. Wilson’s.”
“No, daddy. Is mine.” Allison held the dog even tighter.
“Allison, we’re going to get hamburgers at Charley’s. Mrs. Wilson is going to watch the puppy while we eat. Okay?”
Allison smiled crookedly. “Okay, Daddy. Then we go get puppy, if I’m good?”
“I promise.” Samuel gently took the dog from her. “Now, go with Marius. He’s going to get you all cleaned up.”
Samuel carried the dog over to Mrs. Wilson’s trailer and knocked. The tin door squeaked open.
“That girl of yours stole my dog again?” Mrs. Wilson flicked her cigarette into a bush.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m very sorry. Allison doesn’t understand when she does something wrong. And she just loves dogs.” Samuel said, as the dog ran inside.
“So you keep sayin’. Next time, I’m gonna call the police.” Mrs. Wilson slammed the door.
Later that evening, Samuel made sure the childproof locks were set on the front door. At least she couldn’t wander outside at night.
“But what if there’s a fire,” his wife said to him, in his head.
“I tried my best, Janine,” he whispered, as he poured himself some Scotch. After a couple of sips, he took the glass to the desk in his room. He pulled out a glossy pamphlet from the drawer. “I’m so sorry, Allison.” Salty tears mixed in with the whiskey taste in his mouth.
The next morning, Samuel dropped his son off at school.
“Allison not coming to school today?” Marius asked.
“Nope, we’re taking the day off. After yesterday, I’d better keep an eye on her. Figured we’d go get pancakes. Can you get a ride home after band practice?”
“Sure, Jessica’s mom can drop me off.”
“Pancakes?” Allison said from the back seat. “Chocolate chip?”
“You betcha. All the chocolate chips you want.”
After Allison had her fill of pancakes, Samuel drove her to the state psychiatric hospital that Allison’s doctor had recommended.
“Daddy, where are we?”
Samuel unloaded her suitcase. “Sweetie, you’re going to go on a vacation.”
“Are there puppies inside?” Allison asked.
“Let’s go see, shall we?” He held her hand tightly while he led her up to the white building.
He got home well ahead of Marius. There was a dog sitting on the front steps of the trailer porch. At least it’s not Mrs. Wilson’s dog.
“Shoo,” he said, and the dog took off. The trailer was so quiet. He turned on the TV and then took a new bottle of Scotch and a glass from the cabinet. The house was still too quiet. He turned up the TV volume. Some old action movie.
He poured one drink, then another. Then a third. His hands hadn’t stopped shaking, but at least he wasn’t crying anymore. Have to be strong for Marius.
Five o’clock, and the winter darkness started to close in. Someone started yelling in the movie. Then a cacophony of barking dogs erupted from the television. I don’t remember dogs in the movie. How much Scotch did I drink?He shook the bottle. Almost empty.
He squinted at the TV, but the picture was blurry. He turned it off. The yelling stopped but the barking persisted. No, it was more like howling, now. He fumbled with the childproof locks and opened the door. Animals streaked from the small porch into the shadows.
“What the—” He took the flashlight from the shelf by the door and shone it into the darkness. Dogs. Hundreds of dogs. Some even looked like wolves. And they had stopped howling. Instead, they were growling. Growling and snapping as they sprinted forward. Samuel stumbled backwards and fell, dropping the flashlight.
“I’m so sorry, Allison,” he cried as the dogs closed in.
“Hi, Marius.” Allison hugged her brother. “Are we going to go get pancakes?”
“Yes, Allison, pancakes with chocolate chips.”
“Yes, home. But only after we get you a puppy from the shelter.”
“Puppy.” Allison clapped her hands. “I love puppies.” Her smile was no longer crooked.
About the Author
Willow Croft is a freelance writer and editor, who loves nature, stargazing, and action adventure movies. She is the author of the poetry book, Quantum Singularity: A Poetic Voyage through Time and Space. Tweet her at @WillowCroft16.