Part 21

I had to rescue the dog, or at least try. Sure, he appeared to be down a leg and a tail and he had a sizeable chunk missing from his side and I wasn’t sure how I was going to carry him back up to the surface, but, damn it, no Lovecraftian eyeball pyramid is going to eat my dog without a fight. And since the dog seemed too oblivious to put up one himself, it was on me.

I flung myself at the eyeball pyramid.

And it promptly caught me in its tentacles, rubbed me against its eyeballs, which all felt like warm, pulsing olives, and then ate off my arm. I screamed, but I have to be honest, it didn’t hurt as much as I expected. You see dudes getting eaten by things in the movies—alligators, sharks, aliens—and you have to figure that’s a ten on the pain scale, right? But this was more like a two, like that pain you feel when you cut yourself shaving, but you don’t notice it until later and then only because it kind of burns. But then, when you see the blood, oops. It hurts.

So, I guess, if you have to die by getting eaten to death, you want to get eaten by an eyeball pyramid, because it doesn’t hurt that much. I resigned myself to my fate.

But, of course, Pumpkin did not come all this way to resign herself to shit. She leaped into the air and grabbed one of the tentacles. When another came toward her, she swatted at it. She dug her claws into the closest eyeballs and, when the pyramid let out a roar, she arched her back and seemed to shed enough fur for a billion cats.

The fur floated everywhere! It settled on the pyramid of eyeballs in a thick layer and each time the pyramid tried to open any eyeball, cat fur settled right onto the eye. Each tentacle, therefore, had to busy itself trying to pluck fur out of a thousand eyeballs.

The pyramid let out such a cry of despair I almost felt bad for it. But, this meant that it dropped me and the dog. We both slid across the floor toward an exit.

“Pumpkin!” I called. “Here, kitty, kitty!” And she did come with us, as we slid away on what I can only assume was a slick trail of eyeball juice, but, of course, she acted like she was too cool to really be associated with us in anyway.

Part 20

I keep trying to decide where the place with the thing with too many eyeballs was, what real thing you could recognize it was the back side of, but it seemed to be at an intersection of Whites Creek Pike and Clarksville Pike and, in real life, those roads don’t ever run into each other. Plus, there’s no cave and to get to the thing with too many eyeballs, you have to go into a cave there at the intersection, lower yourself down one slippery step at a time.

“I’m going to twist my ankle and not be able to get back up,” I told the cat. She was unmoved. She scampered on ahead and I followed, using my phone as a flashlight as we walked along in the wet dark.

This is the point where, if this were an H.P. Lovecraft story, there’d be something weird, but also kind of hard to be afraid of—like an alien elbow or a whole town full of your cousins, but they have frog eyes, or sleeping squid-headed gods. You know how it is. And this story is the same way. I turned the corner into a deep chamber and there was a gelatinous pyramid of eyeballs. At the bottom of the pyramid was a whole row of mouths all opening their red, lacquered lips. Tentacles—because why bring up Lovecraft if there’s not going to be tentacles—sprouted out from the top. Each eye blinked open and shut at its own rate, so the whole thing had the air of a Christmas tree on a bad circuit, lights flashing, but not quite at the right time.

Each eye was more disgusting than the last. Not in some gross medical-trauma-porn way, but just in that it seemed likely that the thing could squirt four or five eyeballs right in your mouth or something. I don’t know how I sensed that the pyramid might be a malicious eyeball flinger, but there was no doubt.

I wanted to turn back. But, as I crept around the side of the pyramid, a thousand tiny eyes and a few of the big ones all on me, tongues flickering in my general direction, I saw the dog. Rufus. My idiot.

He was wrapped in this tentacle horror’s tentacles and it was, with some of its mouths, eating him. He seemed oblivious. He was grinning and enjoying the head-scratches only a thousand tentacles can provide.

“Oh, shit,” I said and, though I cannot be sure, I swear Squeaky, still by my side, may have said, “Oh, shit,” as well.

Part 19

I was really low leaving the faerie king. I had directions to this place with too many eyeballs written on my arm and a nagging feeling that Rufus would have been eating whatever he found the whole time he was here—let’s be honest, who among us doesn’t think he snacked on baby mastodon poop?—so I might not be able to get him back even if I did find him. And, even if I did find him and get him back, just how in the holy hell was I supposed to find my way back to my house?

I walked along feeling sorry for myself when I felt something brush against my leg. I looked down, fully expecting it to be something unrecognizable—a parrot with the body of Hulk Hogan, a centipede with Hot Wheel cars instead of legs, an open wound that could quote Shakespeare, a piece of cake that looked like a dachshund, a foot carrying an umbrella, Shoeless Joe Jackson, but with shoes—but it was Pumpkin. Just regular Pumpkin, who must have come looking for me because Bart never remembers to feed her breakfast.

I explained to her my whole situation and showed her the directions on my arm. I waiting for her to say something or to sprout wings or anything that would suggest that she’d been changed by her time here on the back side of reality, but she just blinked up at me and walked beside me, occasionally darting between my legs to rub up against my other ankle, which caused me to almost trip, repeatedly, but, again, this was her usual behavior.

So, I went on and she came with me.

Part 18

I was in the far field now, the houses along Lloyd still recognizable, but the great trees in the distance were unfamiliar. I saw ahead of me a great structure, like a stained glass window, narrow and rainbow colored, shimmering. I didn’t know how to understand it. It jutted at such a strange angle out of the tall grass, and it seemed to move in the breeze. Just as I was right about on top of it, a man stood up.

Oh, a wing! A great, dragonfly wing. And this was the King of the Faeries.

“You’re Rufus’s friend!” we both said at the same time. We laugh and said, “yes,” and then laughed again.

“Have you seen him?” I asked.

“Last Sunday, when we played cribbage,” he said.

“Oh, well, damn it. See, he’s here and—”

“Here? But this is a terribly dangerous place for an unaccompanied dog. You know what happens to anyone who eats in faerie-land.”

“They’re stuck here forever?”

He scrunched up his face like he was about to tell me something true, but then thought better of it.

“Not exactly. But it’s still best to not eat anything here.”

“Okay, but it’s Rufus we’re talking about.”

“True, true.”

“I just want to get him home. Do you have any idea where he could be?”

The King of the Nashville Faeries made a circle in the grass as he walked and thought.

“He will, of course, be in the last place you look.”

“Well, obviously. I’ll stop looking once I find him.”

“So, the question is, where are you least likely to look? And that will be the last place you look.”

I sighed. “Well, I’m not really that familiar with your world, so I don’t know where I wouldn’t look.”

“What don’t you like?”

“I kind of find eyeballs gross and too many of things gross, like, if there’s a place where something has too many eyeballs, I would avoi—”

“There is such a place!”

“Oh Christ.”

Part 17

When I got across the river, I was faced with an odd sight.

Ahead of me, maybe fifty feet in the distance, was my house. There was the garage and the rose we transplanted, and I could even see my neighbor sitting on his back porch, drinking a beer. I looked behind me and there was the rest of my back yard. I was home.

Except not.

As close as I was, I found that I could not walk toward the house. I didn’t see a barrier but, as soon as I hit it, I could feel it, soft, with a lot of give, but not enough to actually let me into my back yard. I was still not in ordinary reality, but at least I could see I was very close. I felt around for the barrier and proceeded as if I were in a maze, keeping my right hand on the invisible wall between myself and my world, I proceeded to follow the wall, as it were, hoping that it would, eventually, bring me to a door or something. I despaired of ever finding the dog and seeing the house made me so homesick I could barely stand it.

Surely Bart would understand about me losing the dog once he’d heard the strange lengths I went to find Rufus.

I walked around my yard, following the unseen labyrinth, through gardens that didn’t exist on my side of the barrier, past thickets of trees too old and dense for my world. Eventually, I heard a great grunting and snorting noise and, as I walked back toward the old cow pasture, I came upon a great mastodon and her calf. The mother seemed agitated and I noticed that the baby’s head was wet.

The mother looked me straight in the face, her great eyes blinking slowly, as if she were examining my very soul. I didn’t know if I should be frightened or not. I had no idea if she was real or if I even was. Her giant eyelashes swept down and then back up and I found myself mesmerized by the slow, rhythmic movement. “Oh, mama,” I said. “Why is your baby’s head wet?”

I was overwhelmed by déjà vu. Was it not this very summer when I rested my face on Rufus’s head and, finding it damp, asked Bart why the dog’s head was wet? And had not Bart answered me that, when Rufus and Monty go to the park, one of the other of them eventually gets peed on? Why? Bart couldn’t explain it. It’s just a weird thing the dogs do at the park together. And here was this baby mastodon, large, but not that much larger than the dog. Small enough that I could imagine the two of the wandering through the field together. I could also imagine the baby mastodon putting his head down to see something more closely or to rest a moment with his new friend, and, then, yuck. Rufus had been by here, and recently enough that the baby was still wet.

“Which way, mama?” I asked, but she just snorted. I kept my hand on that weird barrier and set back to walking.

Part 16

Andrew Jackson, or the bird of him, set me on firm ground and pointed me toward a faint light.

“Just head toward that, Miss Betsy,” he said and I admit, the way he said “Miss Betsy” made me understand something about Rachel that I hadn’t previously. It was an understanding one carried for the rest of her life deep in her core. No, lower. A little lower. Right there.

Hee.

Anyway, I walked toward the light, which, though it seemed impossibly far away, ended up being rather close and small. It was, upon further examination, a tiny campfire surrounded by dejected fleas. Some of them were tossing protest signs onto the minute flames. One of the signs said, “Baths are for Commies and Bad Dogs.” Another said, “Take Back the TV Remote.”

Damn it. These were Rufus’s fleas.

“Why aren’t you guys with the dog?” I asked.

They rolled their eyes and pointed beyond the fire. Though it was still dark, I could just make out water ahead—a river.

“Did he swim across?” I asked. They nodded.

I’ll spare you the details of what I saw on that shore. But I will say this: as much as I hate fleas, something about seeing thousands of their corpses washed up on the river bank made me sad.

Still, I waded into the river and, when it got deep enough, swam across, after my stupid dog.

Part 15

Even in the thick fog, the tear was sharp and easy to make out. I approached it cautiously, calling for Rufus the whole while, hoping he might just reemerge.

Of course, he didn’t.

I stuck my head in the tear in reality and felt the by-now-familiar breeze. I looked down, but I didn’t see any bottom. I honestly didn’t see anything at all. Below was as black and empty as above.

I stepped in anyway. It felt like I imagine stepping through a slightly-electrically charged rain shower would feel, or like walking through static. For a second, I felt I was standing on something. I turned back and saw my own back yard, hazy through the fog but familiar, and then like the cartoon character who realizes too late that solid ground is an illusion, I fell.

Down, through the blackness, down through the never-ending slightly cool breeze, down through silence like the grave. I fell so long that I ceased to be afraid of falling. It was obvious to me at that point where Rufus was—somewhere beneath me, falling as well. Possibly we would just slide down the backside of reality forever, until we starved and death ended our travels.

Hours went by and still I fell. I passed the time wishing I had left a note for Bart, wishing I had told him I loved him, and then reassuring myself that a brother never doubts a sister’s love. I felt sorry for myself that I would never see my niece grow up. I felt deeply ashamed at what I was certainly about to put my parents through.

They would give me a Christian funeral. I hoped my friends would have sense enough to read Whitman in my honor later.

I cried, too, in part, just to give myself a noise to hear. But eventually, I grew tired of the sound of my voice and I fell silently.

That’s when I realized I heard something, a faint whooshing sound. I strained to see if I could hear it better and in front of me, as if someone had turned on a light switch, was Abraham Lincoln, illuminated with his own inner glow.

No, not quite Abraham Lincoln. It was the head of the Great Emancipator, but his body was absent. In its place was the body of a vulture. He regarded me with some interest.

“President Lincoln?” I asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.

“Are you falling, too?”

“My dear, I fly on the wings of liberty!” He responded, giving his great wings a slow, majestic flap, which caused him to bob up out of my line of sight for a second.

“Is there firm ground somewhere?”

“Of course, my dear,” he said. I wondered how he put on his hat with wingtips instead of hands.

“Could you fly me to it?”

The great man wrinkled his brow and pondered my question. Then he frowned.

“No,” he said, but mostly to himself. “I don’t think I can handle the burden of another woman.”

“But Mr. Lincoln…” I objected. It was too late. He had already flown off.

Various other presidents came to check me out—Hayes, Garfield, Teddy Roosevelt, Johnson, both Adamses. None of them would help. But then Jefferson came by and who ever knew him to pass up a chance to get his hands on a woman?

“Mr. Jefferson!” I cried out, but even he ignored my plight.

I continued to fall until finally, the scraggliest, most broken buzzard you’ve ever seen made its way over to me. The head on the bare neck of that great bird was a scowling madman with a shock of white hair that was all cowlick.

“Ma’am, I heard you could use some help.”

“Andrew Jackson! Yes, thank God. Please. Help.” Because say what you want about Andrew Jackson, he’s not going to leave a fat woman in distress. He grabbed hold of me with his giant talons and began to carry me off. I cried out in relief. “Why wouldn’t anyone else help me?” I asked.

“Ma’am, I believe they mostly feel that the modern world has become strange and unsympathetic to them. They shy away.”

“But you helped me,” I said.

“To me, the world seems little changed in that regard. I don’t hold it against the current crop.” We flew on. “If you don’t mind me asking, miss, why are you here?”

“I’ve lost my dog.”

He seemed to be relieved that my answer was so simple.

“Big and yellow? Likes to chase rabbits?”

“That’s him.”

“I can point you in the right direction.”

Part 14

I can’t say how I knew the dog had gone through the tear. I just knew. The second I saw the patch was off the tear, I knew the dog had gone in there. Worse than that, I knew I’d have to go after him.

Part 13

At the end of September, Bart decided he was going to go visit some friends. Alone. Without the dog. He was serious about it. For the dog’s own safety, Bart confiscated Rufus’s car keys. I knew a week with just me and the dog was going to be somewhat brutal, since I simply could not walk the dog as long as Bart can walk the dog in the mornings and still function at my job without napping.

But I thought we’d worked out a system. I walked him in the morning for my usual length of time and then I came home and walked him in the evenings until I was exhausted. He pretended to be mollified.

He also spent much of the evenings sleeping right by the back door, so that, should Bart arrive home, he’d be right there to greet him. Sometimes, he even looked askance at me, like maybe I’d done something to run Bart off.

One day it was so ridiculous with Rufus moping around and sighing deeply and looking longingly at the back door like that was the direction salvation was coming from, that I called Bart and let him Facetime with Rufus. But this didn’t actually seem to help. It just made Rufus more convinced that Bart was somewhere without him.

The next morning, I woke up and I knew something wasn’t right. The house felt empty. I tried to remain calm. I went to the bathroom, put on my glasses, and poked my head into each room. The further I got through the house, the surer I was that Rufus wasn’t there.

Now the panic set in. My heart was racing. I felt too hot but with a cold sickness in the pit of my stomach. Damn it, damn it, damn it. I can’t lose another dog. Not yet.

I threw on my overalls and a t-shirt, slipped into my shoes and headed out the back door, which was, yes, god damn it, open. Who taught him how to open doors? Who thought that was a good idea?

It was foggy out and I could see only as far as the shed.

“Rufus!” I called. “RoooOOOOOoooofussssss!” But, in the mist, it didn’t carry. The sound seemed to go no farther than I could see. I kept calling, though, stumbling across the driveway, tripping as I made my way into the yard. I squinted but there was no sign of him.

I couldn’t even begin to imagine what I was going to say to Bart. Fuck me. How could I have been so careless?

The trees loomed out of the mist ahead of me and I had some thought that, maybe, he’d just already gone on our walk. If I could get to the treeline, I could make my way toward Lloyd and see if he was up on the road. I kept calling for him.

The backyard seemed to stretch on forever, though, and I stopped, suddenly afraid I was going to fall into the creek. I stepped back, in a direction I knew was safe, and my footstep made a weird noise—too big, too crunchy.

I looked down.

I was standing on the duct tape patch.

The tear in reality was uncovered.

Part 12

The dog has been having a visitor. Mrs. Jordan, who goes to the Jehovah’s Witness Hall around back and who supports Thelma Harper for state senate and who has some pamphlets on breast-feeding she just had to share, has been coming over in the afternoons, knocking on the front door, and waiting for Rufus to let her in. She’s our across-the-street neighbor’s grandmother.

She makes herself a cup of tea—which is how we first discovered we were having a visitor: tea was missing—and sits at the end of the couch, her enormous purse resting on her lap. At some point, after she’s gone through her whole spiel, whatever it’s about on that particular day, Rufus leaps up on the couch next to her, puts his paw on her arm and she places her hand over his paw. She then proceeds to cry.

After a few minutes, the dog will press his head against her head and she’ll pet his neck until she’s soothed.

We don’t know what she cries about. We only know it’s her who’s been drinking our tea because Bart set up a camera to see what was happening here during the day.

“You want me to try to get some sound on this?” Bart asked me, as we watched the video together. “I know some guys who could mic the couch.”

But even watching her feels like an invasion of her privacy, even though she’s sitting in our house, with our dog, as of yet having never met us.

She gets something from Rufus that just feels like it would be cruel to take away from her.

And it’s hard not to imagine ourselves in similar circumstances—in need of kindness and with few options for where to get it.

Part 11

I woke up one night in a flat-out panic, heart racing, breath uncatchable, because it dawned on me that the ghost of Sadie must be what had torn reality out there in the back yard. I threw my overalls on over my pajamas, and stumbled through the dark, across the uneven ground, to the far back yard and the duct-taped patch. I peeled the tape back and put my head in the tear. It was cold and a slight, clammy breeze blew from beneath me.

“Sadie?” I asked. I listened but there was no noise coming from the void. I strained to see what, if anything, might be moving back there, behind the scenes, but it was just darkness and quiet and cold. As far as I could tell, the only thing over there was that slight breeze.

I put the tape back into place.

Part 10

I never feel Sadie’s presence in the yard. Never hear her moving around in the house at night. Never feel the weight of her at the foot of the bed.

It’s such a great relief to me. My last fear, when it came to that old dog, was that I would not let her completely go. Even though I know I met Death in Her great hall and handed Sadie’s leash to Her and let them both turn from me and walk away, I have always feared succumbing to the temptation to say “Here, girl,” one last time, just to see if she’d still come.

But it is an emptiness that having another dog doesn’t fill. I’m not haunted by Sadie, but I am sometimes haunted by her absence.

Part 9

A while back we got a little tear in reality out in the back yard. I noticed it when I was walking Rufus one morning. Back beyond the fire pit, right before the creek, there was just a little spot of nothing about a foot off the ground, maybe six inches wide, and it extended up to about shoulder height. My best guess, judging by the ragged edges of the tear, was that someone was cutting through the back yard and reality got caught on their sleeve somehow and, when they kept going, it went with them.

“Hey, Bart,” I said when we got back to the house. “Did you see that tear in reality out in the back yard?”

“Really?” He got up from the couch and came to look out the kitchen window. “No. I don’t see it.”

“Go out back and look.”

He went out, looked, and came back in.

“Yep, that’s a tear. Weird that it looks fine from the other side.”

“Did you stick your hand in it?”

“Of course,” he said, rolling his eyes at me. “I’m not chicken, unlike you.”

“What did it feel like?”

“A little cold, but in this weather? That feels nice. Nothing strange.”

“What should we do?”

“Fuck if I know.”

So, for a while, we just left it. I’d go out for my morning walk and kind of peek into the hole without getting too close and everything seemed okay. Nothing appeared to be being sucked into it or spewed out of it, which seems to me to be the biggest risks of having a tear in reality in your back yard.

But then, of course, the dumbass cats started clawing at it. Is there a thing in the history of the universe with a rough texture like, say, the frayed edges of a tear in reality that a cat won’t fuck with? So, the tear was getting progressively bigger.

“You’ve got to block that up,” I said to Bart. “The cats are going to get in there and who knows if they’ll be able to get out.”

“Yeah, I’ll get to it,” he said. And he did stack some boxes in front of the tear, which worked for a while, but cardboard vs. the rain and the cats? The barricade wasn’t super-effective after a while.

I took some duct tape to it and that worked, but I swear, sometimes when I walked by, I could see the duct tape blockade moving slowly in and out, as if it were the diaphragm of some large, invisible thing, sleeping out there in the yard.

Part 8

The dog thinks the world of Bart. He follows my brother everywhere. He bought a Trans-Am just so when Bart went to the store, he could follow him. Or so Bart says. I think it also has to do with the fact that Bart never has sense enough to come home. This way, Bart and Rufus can go places together and when Rufus gets tired or bored, he just hops in his Trans-Am and hits the road.

I’m dying to ride in the Trans-Am, but, as far as I can tell, no people are allowed in it. Not even Bart. Sure, you’ll see the cats in there sometimes and, if Bart doesn’t get up in the morning to walk them, Rufus will sometimes swing by Monty’s house and get him. But never any people.

You can always tell if you see Rufus’s car around town, because he never, ever rolls the windows up and there’s a gross line of drool going all down the side of the car.

He gets pulled over all the time, as you can imagine. I mean, every other day, he just full-on stops in the middle of Briley Parkway to bark at cows. And once, he drove through a farmer’s fence and scared the guy’s goats so bad that they all got up on the roof of his house and, to this day, refuse to come down.

But every time the cops pull Rufus over, it’s always the same thing—he’s driving without a license, but a dog can’t get a license in Tennessee, so what’s he supposed to do? The car’s properly registered and that’s the important thing. He’s got himself about 11,000 hours of community service already, but he got them to let him pick up garbage from the side of the road, so that’s like motherfucking Christmas for him every day. Easy work and they cover lunch.

The only thing I don’t really understand is how he’s paying his lawyer. He doesn’t seem to work. So, I guess the lawyer has taken him on pro bono.

Get it?

Pro bone-o? A dog’s lawyer?

Come on. It’s a little funny.

Part 7

Bart knows everyone in town. Not even kidding. One time I was at a purportedly haunted house with a medium of some repute. She was asking “Who are you? What do you want?” and nothing, for like twenty minutes. And then, just as we were about to leave the basement, we heard a voice, clear as day, coming from the far, empty corner.

“Wait one moment, kind madam. You, there, with the curly hair. Are you, perchance, Bartholomew Phillips’s sister?”

I looked around, but there appeared to be no one else who fit the bill.

“Yes.”

“Lovely man. We went fishing together some time ago and it was quite enjoyable.”

Later, I asked, “You know a ghost?”

“If you say so. I don’t get into people’s business like you do.”

Part 6

Hobs also suffers from a cat-name problem. He’s “Hobs” because he’s orange and Bart grew up on Calvin and Hobbes. He’s “Hobs” instead of “Hobbes” because the cute chick behind the desk at the vet’s office when Bart first got him put “Hobs” down—I guess we can say with certainty that she was neither a comics fan nor a philosopher—and it stuck.

I usually call him “old man” because he acts like it, always wandering around the house or back yard muttering about how inadequate kids today are. He means us.

He’s a better hunter than Squeaky. She’s never brought down a rabbit or a bird. But he didn’t catch the dragon, now did he? And I’ll tell you why, just so you understand something about him. He could have caught that dragon the second it came down the ridge, before it burned its second house down. But no one asked him, so fuck them. He’s loyal to the people he’s chosen to be loyal to—even if he thinks we’re idiots—but he’s not sticking his neck out for people he doesn’t know who won’t come over and do a little ass-kissing in order to get his help.

Don’t think of him as some kind of aged Mafioso. Think of him as the world-weary gun-slinger. He’s got skills to handle dangerous situations, but he’s not just going to use them on anyone.

I walk most mornings, out to the far back of our yard, then along the fence-line to the AT&T yard and then up on Lloyd. I’m usually gone about a half an hour. The walk is strange in one small way—no matter how far down Lloyd I go before I turn around, the walk takes a half an hour. I could get out on Lloyd, go maybe ten feet, realize it’s raining too heavily for me, turn back around, come home and I’ve been gone a half an hour. Or it’s a beautiful, cool morning with the fog just rising up out of the trees in the hills, the stars winking out as the pink of dawn hits the sky, and I decide I’m going to the school and back. Still a half an hour. How? I can’t explain.

At the end of my walk, no matter how far I’ve gone, by the time I get back across the AT&T yard, Hobs is waiting for me. He comes out of the blackberry bramble just as I’m wondering if the orange cat is going to be waiting for me today. Then he rubs up against my ankles, meows in a friendly, happy manner, and walks back to the house with me.

He seems always pleasantly surprised to see me, like he’s expecting that one day he might come out to walk me home and I’m not going to make it to meet him.

Part 5

You should take your time naming a cat. We called Pumpkin “Pumpkin” because she came to us on Thanksgiving, a traditional time of pumpkin pie. I think I told you all how this happened. We used to keep the dog food out in the garage and we noticed that something had been getting into it. We assumed raccoons.

So, right before Thanksgiving, we brought the food into the house. Thanksgiving Eve I’m standing in my kitchen doing dishes and I hear the most ungodly pissed-off meowing from the garage. It was the cat who would eventually come to be known as Pumpkin, a scrawny mess, angry that we had stolen her food supply.

Pumpkin is a stupid name for her, though. It’s the wrong name. Her name is so obviously Squeaky that no one even uses her “real” name. She’s either “new kitty” or “Squeaky.” And that’s it.

Well, until this summer.

I’m sure you all heard about the “arsons” we had up here in Whites Creek and Joelton. Unsolved, they said. Bullshit. Of course it was a dragon. But you never heard that because the police didn’t want to admit that they spent a month trying to kill that thing without any success.

So, you never heard how it all ended either. And I’m not sure myself how she did it, but it was Squeaky. I was sitting here late one night watching TV and there was a big thud that shook the whole house. I assumed it was an accident out on the highway so I ran to the dining room window. Nothing. Traffic was passing normally.

And then I heard Squeaky, singing away as she does when she’s got something she’s proud of.

I open the front door and there, on the porch, is Squeaky, sitting next to the carcass of a small dragon. Okay, come on. It’s a cat. Let’s just be honest. The bottom half of the carcass of a small dragon.

“Look at you, Dragonslayer,” I said and that’s stuck as a second name for her.

Part 4

Rufus has the worst fleas. We bathe him. We dose him with Frontline every month and still, he is flea-riddled. And they’re nervy. Last month they went on strike for better working conditions. Seems I had created an unsafe workspace for them with all the flooding and the poisoning and their boss expected them to pay for their own safety equipment.

Well, why should I give a shit if my dog’s fleas go on strike? Sounds like Heaven. They refuse to do flea-things to my dog and I don’t have to think about how much money I’m spending on failing to eradicate them. Strike away, fleas.

My enthusiasm was ill-thought-out. Because, of course, they don’t need all 8,452 fleas on the picket-line at any given moment. Twenty of them would take their signs and follow behind the dog chanting their slogans and the rest of them would crowd onto the couch to watch TV. You think, well, how hard can it be to take a remote from a bunch of fleas? But then, you reach over for it and they swarm all over your hand, down in between your fingers and up your arm. It’s just so gross.

Lesley was all, “Just get some diatomaceous earth and sprinkle it on the couch. That’ll fix them.”

Oh, sure, for regular fleas. One day I sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the couch, the next day UPS shows up with 8,452 very tiny boxes. Inside each one? Protective suits. Worse? They bought those suits on Amazon using my account. Each order had its own shipping fee, so they drained my bank account. Why does Amazon even sell protective suits to fleas? I tried to get answers, but all Amazon would tell me is that they don’t pass judgments on their customers. Eventually, I got the bank to handle it—since the fleas stole my identity and bank information in order to place the order. But I know for a fact that not one of those fuckers got anything more than a slap on the wrist.

So, it ends up being me who has to go back to their boss and try to negotiate some kind of settlement, because I just can’t have all these fleas loitering on my couch. You can’t even imagine the difficulty of this. I had to sneak up on Rufus when he was asleep and then dig around in his fur to try to find the flea management that was still on the job and then talk to them softly enough that Rufus wouldn’t wake up. Otherwise, he’d put his head on my lap and insist on scratches or think we were about to go out and start hopping around. And to hear a flea, you basically have to let it crawl in your ear and then shout to you the things it wants you to know. Your ear never feels clean afterward.

But we make the negotiations happen. And I agree to issue general warnings before we bathe the dog. In return, they agree to cease trying to unionize the cats’ fleas. Soon enough, I can sit on my own couch and watch my own TV. But my dog still has fleas. What can you do?

Part 3

The other day, Bart came home from the park with the dog.

“He’s got something in his mouth,” Bart explained as he rummaged through the fridge, trying to find anything that Rufus would rather have than whatever disgusting, most likely dead thing he was sucking on at the moment. Half a pizza. That would do it.

Out of the dog’s mouth plopped a wet, bedraggled mess. It looked like a pile of leaves with a large set of dragonfly wings jutting out at unnatural angles. The whole clump was about the size of a tennis ball. Bart poked at it and it flopped over. I bent down to get a better look.

It was a small man. With wings. A faerie.

“Bart, it’s a person!” I could see the tiny man’s chest rising and falling. I put my finger on his forehead and, while he appeared to be warm, I had no way of knowing if he was feverish or if faeries just ran hot.

“Mister, are you okay?” I said, trying to gently jostle him.

“No, don’t do that,” Bart said. “Haven’t you had any kind of first-aid training? Don’t move the injured.”

“Well, then, what do we do? We can’t exactly call an ambulance.” By now, the dog was back in the kitchen, sniffing around the man. “Don’t put that thing back in your mouth, Rufus!”

The little man sputtered and opened one large, brown eye, and then the other.

“Thank you, kind sir,” he said to Rufus. “If you hadn’t carried me off, that raccoon would have certainly eaten me.”

“Oh, good boy,” I said to Rufus.

“I am the king of Nashville’s hidden realm,” the small man said.

“Cool,” Bart said. But I was more skeptical. I could say I was queen of Nashville but what did that prove?

“For saving me, I will grant you one wish.”

“To win the lottery,” Bart said, without hesitation and before I had a chance to say ‘a book contract.’ Rufus barked.

And just like that, the faerie king was gone and the bottom drawer in our pantry was filled with rawhide bones and, no matter how many we took out, the supply never dwindled.

Part 2

We have a saying around the house when it comes to Rufus—“All heart, no brains.” He’s not exactly inherently dumb. But it does seems as if no one ever asked anything of him or expected anything from him before he came to live with us. It’s almost as if he did nothing until he came here and now, everything that happens that he gets to participate in is awesome.

Take, for instance, his favorite pastime—eating out of the garbage. He’ll go right into the garbage and bring out whatever he wants to eat and come sit next to me on the couch with it.

“No, Rufus,” I’ll say, taking the gross bit of garbage from him. “Bad dog.”

Then he looks around, like “Where? I want to see a bad dog. Where’s a bad dog?” It simply doesn’t dawn on him that I could mean him. After all, he’s having a wonderful time with people he likes.

And he loves my dad, like a total puppy. My dad comes to visit and Rufus is all “I should sit in your lap,” even though Rufus is at least a hundred pounds and my dad doesn’t have a lap that will fit him. One time, my dad was like “Damn it, dog! How would you like it if I sat in your lap?” And the dog got so excited. If he’d had a lap, he would have let my dad sit in it all day long.

But we have to keep our eye on my dad when he’s here, because Rufus has this friend, Monty, who’s a black lab mix. Monty’s favorite thing when he comes to our house to visit—aside from barking at the cats—is to rummage through the house and find all of Rufus’s toys. He brings the all into the living room, sets them on Rufus’s dog bed, and then climbs on top of them, like Smaug on his pile of gold. So, every fucking time my dad is here and Monty comes over, at least once Monty picks up my dad, brings him over to Rufus’s bed, and climbs up on him in order to claim him for himself.

And my dad is stuck there until someone comes to rescue him. And Monty and Rufus seem to think this is hilarious. Though, sometimes, they fight about it, too.

My Powers are Unlimited!!!

Well, not unlimited, but I have a treat for you, dear Tiny Cat Pants, readers, all 10 of you who are still around. Oh Halloween, here on this very blog, we’re going to go back to Allendale. I have a PDF from which I am, apparently, making a “chapbook” (like a poet!). But how would you get a chapbook if you wanted to read the improved story? You don’t even necessarily live here!

And that’s when my recently acquired ability to upload a PDF to this very blog comes in handy.

“Allendale” will be the Halloween night story!

All Heart, No Brains, part 1

Rufus came with paperwork—a couple of pages of vet records that showed what shots he’d had and that he was born on September 11, 2010, which seems improbable, weighed 98 lbs., again, improbable, and was a “yellow Lab mix var. bunyon.” Well, when two out of three things on a dog’s records are false, who thinks anything of the third thing?

But we’d been home with him for about a month when we got a phone call from a Minnesota area code.

“Ms. Phillips? This is Arthur Gunderson. I think I owe you some money.”

“Um, really?”

“I’ve been trying to track down the family who bought Rufus and that appears to be you.”

“Oh, we didn’t buy Rufus. He was a rescue.”

“Goodness,” Mr. Gunderson got very quiet. “Was he abused?”

“Not as far as we can tell. He seems very inexperienced with regular life, but he’s not shy of people or aggressive or anything. He’s a real sweetheart.”

“Well, now I just feel terrible. I suspect that the reason I’m calling you may be the reason he was abandoned by his original owner. I own Rufus’s father and my son owns Rufus’s mother. We’re part of a small group of enthusiasts who are working to revitalize this line. My son sold the litter Rufus was a part of those many years ago and I was supposed to receive the runt. The dogs take some time to grow full size and it is obvious now that my dog is full-size. I’ve contacted the owners of all of Rufus’s littermates and they’re also full-size, which means that you must have it. Rufus is the runt.”

“The runt?” I tried to interrupt.

“My son and I feel that it’s unethical to have sold Rufus for full price when he’ll never be full-sized. But poor Rufus. Clearly, when he remained so small, his original buyer abandoned him.”

“Small?! Wait. Time out. Rufus is huge. Other lab owners stop us at the park and ask us what kind of dog he is. How big are these other dogs?”

“Can he still fit in your house?”

“Um, yes…”

“Yep, definitely the runt.”

The Ghost Dog Cat

Last night, I heard Sadie in the den, growling at something. This scared the shit out of me, as you might imagine. But I was determined to face the ghost dog myself because I have had some bouts of insanity recently and I just could not bear the idea of having to go wake the Butcher up to investigate the ghost of a dog I love. I mean, it’s not like, in death, she’s finally going to rip my throat out or something, even though, in life, she could never work up the ambition.

So, I went into the den, where the noise was ongoing and loud and I flipped on the light and the orange cat looked over at me like “What? Someone‘s got to growl at things out the window.”

Yes, it was him, doing his best impersonation of the dog. I didn’t see what he was growling at out the window, but I bet, whatever it was, it thought the cat was weird as fuck, all growling like a dog.

Cats. I just don’t know.