EUPHORIC EXHALE

A place where moments take your breath away

Man’s Best Friend


Breaking news with Jenna Fairbanks: “Two hundred and twenty-three thousand people reported dead around the world. An outbreak affecting the Canine species has created havoc and perilous destruction. An unknown virus is turning these dogs into ferocious wild-like animals. Please put your pets outside and stay indoors while authorities try to de-escalate the situation. We will return with more information on this story.”    

    

Joshua watched the news report closely. At first, he had no choice since the news interrupted one of his teen sitcoms, but now he could not take his eyes away from the screen. The news reporter, again, mentioned the death toll. Josh leaned forward resting his forearms on his thighs. His twelve-year-old sister sat at the kitchen table working on her art project, and his mother went to the market.   

Deciding those figures were wrong, Josh flipped the channel from one station to the next, gripping the remote until his knuckles were white. Each station confirmed the number of gruesome deaths. Anxious, Josh stood and thrust his hand through his hair. He began to pace back and forth.   

“Ashley, where is Snickers?   

“Last I seen he was outside,” she answered without looking up from her work.   

Concerned, Josh walked over to the front window and pushed the orange curtain aside peering through the filth-covered glass; no sign of his mother. He swallowed hard while he gazed out past the gravelled yard, large trees and to the dirt road, which led to their secluded home, hoping to see her car.   

He had to know more. Focused on the Television in front of him, Josh plopped down on the rust colored couch, turning channel after channel. Each reporter stating the same fact, everyone is in danger, lock your doors and windows, and protect yourself with a weapon if you have too.
What in the hell is going on? He thought.
   

He pulled out his cellular phone and dialed his mother’s phone number. “All circuits are busy,” a recorded message said. Suddenly, as if on cue, a thud sounded at the door. He let out an audible sigh and went to open the front door for his mother; no doubt, her hands were full of grocery bags.   

He threw open the door. Startled, Josh froze at the sight of his mother’s body face down and sprawled out on the concrete floor. Her once vivacious figure now draped down the cold steps. Her grocery bag ripped leaving milk, eggs, and fruit scattered on the porch.   

“Mom,” Joshua yelled, opening the screen to grab his mother. When he put one foot out the door, a large seething dog with ferocious, teeth struck out at him; saliva spewed off his tongue. Josh jumped back, quickly retracting his foot.   

“Nice puppy,” he whispered slamming the screen shut. “Mom, can you hear me!” he yelled.   

“What’s going on?” Ashley tried to see around her brother’s muscular frame.
“Ash, go get me the gun in mom’s nightstand.” When she hesitated, Joshua yelled again. She ran up the stairs with tears streaming down her face.   

While Josh waited for her return, the jet-black dog, foaming around the mouth, used his large snout to smell the blood oozing from Angela’s head. Focused and eager, the once docile black lab used its froth-covered tongue to lap up the spilled blood.   

Josh grabbed a large lamp sitting on the end table near the door and pulled it from the plug. Desperate to protect his mother, he opened the door and hurled it at the dog; the canine backed up but stood his ground. Then with beady, glassy eyes, he glared at Josh daring him to do that again.   

“Hurry Ashley,” He yelled from the door.   

Once he had the revolver, he checked the chamber. Four cartridges remained. He cocked it back, and without opening the screen door, fired at the black dog, hitting him in the neck. The dog growled, lurking toward the human flesh he thirsted to taste.   

    

Joshua put his hand back to push his sister away from the door. He cocked the gun again. He fired another shot, hitting the dog in the upper chest. From behind the forest trees, seven more ragged, vicious dogs ascended toward the porch.   

“Ashley, call 911, now.”   

“I’m trying, but it’s saying the circuits are busy.” She frantically cried. She continued to hit the buttons repeatedly begging someone to pick up the phone. She pleaded until her voice suddenly fell quite.    

 Joshua noticed the moment her cries stopped, but he did not glance her way; he was trying to protect his mother. He refused to allow a bunch of foaming-at-the-mouth savages get a hold of her, until Ashley’s mouse-like whimper reached his ears.   

“Josh, oh my God, Josh, help me please.” Her voice trembled.   

 

 

He looked over and saw Snickers standing inside the house, inches from the homemade doggy door built just for him. He growled fierce, saliva white and bubbly mixed with blood dripping from his razor-sharp fangs. His snout wrinkled tight while he made a low, insistent rumbling growl.  

  

  

Josh froze trying to pull his thoughts together. He threw his open hands in the air to get his dog’s attention. “Snickers, go outside, right now.” He demanded.   

The dog stepped forward. His yellow pupils, floating in a pool of red, narrowed in on Ashley. Pink mixture of saliva and blood dripped from his fangs onto the linoleum floor.   

Ashley stopped crying, fearing even the slightest noise would instigate the dog. Overwhelming fear caused her to step back toward her brother. With each step she took, Snickers took a step towards her.   

Josh cocked the gun. He did not want to shoot their once loveable pet, but he would. Josh stepped toward his younger sister. Heart racing, mind twirling, he wanted to save the animal. However, when he saw a Pit Bull extend its head through the swinging doggy door with the same foaming mouth and razor-sharp teeth, he panicked. “Ashley, run!” He yelled.   

Ashley ran past her brother, tripped over a kitchen chair and slid across the slick floor. Snickers vaulted through the air toward his would-be victim. The bullet landed between Snickers eyes causing him to hit the ground hard, whimpering for seconds before he took his last breath. Ashley crawled to the sofa chair and curled up with her legs pulled into her chest. She buried her head, crying out for her mother.   

Josh ran into the kitchen, kicked the Pit Bull in the head, and flipped the kitchen table to block the small cut out-door. When he ran back to the front screen his mother’s body was no longer there.   

Frantic, he threw open the screen door and in two long strides stopped at the end of the porch. Seven dogs greeted him with demon growls and hostile barks, each ready to attack.   

One foot behind the other, he slowly moved back toward the front door, panic lodged in his throat while the acids in his stomach churned. He caught movement from the corner of his eye and quickly glanced toward that direction. Four burly hounds had dragged his mother’s lifeless body through the dirt and into the forest leaving a trail of blood in their wake.   

The thud of his heart pounded loud in his ears. He ran back in the house and slammed the door behind him, barking dogs clawing at the screen. Stunned, his back slid down the door and he cried into his hands.   

“No, no, no.” he cried. He could not stop thinking about the dogs dragging his mother into the woods. He had failed her.
   

Only seconds to sob, he stood wiping the tears from his distraught face. He had to try the phone again, and again the circuits were busy. He threw the phone against the wall and screamed out in a miserable, heart-wrenching scream, his deep voice echoing through the house. He noticed his baby sister curled up on the chair shaking; her head pressed into her hands. He went to her.   

“We are going to get out of here. I won’t let anything happen to you, I promise.”   

“How can we leave? They took mommy and now we are alone.”   

“I know,” he walked into the kitchen, kicking Snicker’s body out of his way, and handed her a large, sharp knife he picked up off the kitchen counter. “You are going to have to protect yourself if something happens to me, okay?”   

She nodded, reluctantly taking the large blade. When Josh put out his arms to her, she leaned in against his chest, desperate for his protection.   

“These dogs are smart. They set this up so they could distract me, and take mom’s body.” He whispered to himself.   

A loud crash shook the windows and walls in the living room. Both Josh and Ashley jumped. The thud hit again. A window cracked. Ashley screamed. Joshua pulled her away from the windows and stood in the middle of the room.   

“What are you doing?” She screamed, “Leave us alone!”   

Josh walked over to a window. He pushed the curtain aside, at the same time a large dog threw its body in the air, and head-butted the glass. A center crack began to branch out. “Bastards” Josh yelled.   

He grabbed his sister’s arm. “They are going to find a way into the house. Go upstairs Ash and hide in your room.”   

“No, what about you?”
“I will be right behind you.” He shoved her toward the stairs.   

Ashley jumped over Snickers. She cried hysterically while she did as her brother instructed. With the knife in hand, she ran up the stairs toward her bedroom.   

Josh grabbed two bottles of rubbing alcohol from the downstairs bathroom. He searched the kitchen for a lighter then poured the flammable liquid on the ground from the front door to the top of the stairs saturating the carpet.   

The glass window in the living room shattered. He saw a dog fly through the open window and land with force against the wall. Another dog followed. The bloodthirsty hounds stood dazed, searching with their beady eyes, the entire lower level of the house.   

 Josh, like a mouse, moved swiftly up the stairs. He grabbed two more bottles of rubbing alcohol and poured the liquid into a bucket he found under the bathroom sink. He crouched down at the top of the stairs with a lit lighter in one hand, a bucket of the liquid and an aerosol can next to him. Sweat beads formed on his forehead. His labored breath echoed in his ears. He held his breath. He could hear the thud of yet another dog make a way into their home; each with a distinctive, psychotic, hungry growl.   

Ashley’s whimpers echoed in his ears. He waited patiently. When he saw the first paw, he held his breath and backed up. Determined to fry as many dogs at one time, he stood still. The first dog’s teeth were visible as he turned the corner. Josh heard himself swallow.   

The leader of the pack proceeded cautiously. Growling as he moved like molasses up each step, calculating his attack. Josh could see smaller beasts try to get past the leader. The leader growled back, and his followers whimpered down the stairs.   

Josh inhaled deeply. He kneeled, now head to head with the virus-infected canine. He could smell its rancid breath. Simultaneously he threw the bucket of alcohol and touched the lighter to the ground. Like a fuse, the carpet lit a trail toward the soaked dogs and set them ablaze. Grabbing the aerosol can and holding the lighter up while he sprayed gave him a better chance of succeeding.   

Balls of fire stampeded over each other to get away from the blaze that they now wore in place of their fur coats. Unexpectedly, the fire grabbed onto the walls faster than Josh thought it would. Josh ran into the bedroom with Ashley and slammed the door.   

She hugged him tight; her swollen face distraught from tears. She glanced down at the warm feeling under her feet. “Now what do we do?”
    

“We may have to jump.”
   

“But there are more outside. They will get us,” she cried. “Please, let’s find another way.”   

Josh knew the only other way would be to stay in the house and hope that someone saw the smoke as a signal. He looked into his sisters fearful eyes. He could not bear to see her physically hurt. He pulled out his cell phone and tried to call the police again. The circuits remained busy.   

He wrote a note stating they were on the second floor in the bathroom and taped it to the window. Pulling Ashley in to the bathroom, he wet a bunch of towels, and they both got into the tub. The crackling sounds of the house were loud and echoed in their ears. Ashley cried in her brothers arms. He prayed.   

Minutes felt like hours. Men in firefighter uniforms made their way to the bathroom, pulling Josh and Ashley from the tub. They whisked them out to the waiting ambulance. Josh could see the ground littered with dead dogs and the police in full armor holding weapons at their side. He managed to mumble, “My mom is in the woods.” He was not sure if the firefighter heard him, but that was the last thing he remembered.

***

Joshua’s eyes fluttered open. He looked around the hospital room. His sister lay in the bed next to his. The television was low, but he could hear the news cast reporting victory around the world. When the nurse walked in to check his vitals, he grabbed her arm. With a rugged, low voice, he asked “Is it over, is the virus gone?”
  

 

“Yes, they think they’ve found a cure. Now you need your rest.” She said patting his arm.   

He smiled, closing his eyes. It was warm breath brushing his face that made him throw his eyes open. His body jerked back startled by his mother leaning over his bed.   

“Mom, you’re alive?” he asked, brown eyes floating in a puddle of tears.   

“Well it’s good to see you too, Joshy.” She said smiling as she ran her hand through his wavy, brown hair.   

“But, you’re – you’re dead. I saw them drag you into the forest.” He shivered.   

“Son, are you okay?”   

Josh looked over at his sister’s bed. It was empty. “Where is Ash? She was right there a few minutes ago.” He said pointing at the empty bed.
“Ashley is at home, son,” she whispered. “Nurse, we need you in here, something is still wrong with Josh.”
   

When he looked back at the television, people were jumping up and down. The reporter said that people were celebrating in the streets over America’s win to China in the Olympics. Josh closed his eyes. Something was wrong. He decided if he could close his eyes for a few moments and gather his thoughts, then all of this would make sense. He opened his eyes again, this time his mother and nurse loomed over him.   

“The medication may not be working.” The nurse told Angela.   

“But, he finally started making sense yesterday. I thought the medication helped with that,” She whispered back to the nurse. “I was hoping to take him home today.”   

“Yes, but he’s still seeing and hearing things. I am sorry Ms. Slate; your son will have to remain here for observation a few more days. We don’t want to take any chances.” The nurse said putting her clipboard down on the table next to his bed.   

Josh looked over at the papers clipped to the board. At the top was the words “Turner Psychiatric hospital.”   

“Mom, what is going on? Please, tell me. Something is going to happen to you and Ashley, please,” he begged his mother.   

Angela’s face twisted from utter disappointment. She gave the nurse an understanding nod. She kissed Joshua’s forehead. “He’s doing it again, making up stories about things that he thinks will happen.” She sighed.   

His mother’s phone rang. When she saw it was Ashley, she picked it up before the second ring. “No honey, I am at the hospital, but I will do some grocery shopping on my way home. I didn’t see Snickers when I left today, but I am sure he is outside. I will be home in an hour or two. I love you too.” She hung up her cell phone and left with the nurse.   

“No, Mom, something is going to happen. Please come back.” He yelled from the hospital room.   

Seconds after his mother left the television caught his attention.   

Breaking news: This just in, there appears to be an airborne virus attacking dogs. They are becoming aggressive and violent. Some have attacked their owners and strangers on the street. We have never seen anything like this. Please cautiously go about your day watching for any canine that might be foaming at the mouth or showing any aggressive behavior   

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June 29, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | 2 Comments

Enveloped in Warmth


 

  Enveloped in warmth 

from golden rays bursting down 

Wet sand strokes my toes 

  

Haiku is a form of poetry that only uses three lines. The first line has five (5) syllables, the second line seven (7) syllables, and the third line has five (5) syllables.  Haiku doesn’t rhyme. A Haiku must “paint” a mental image in the reader’s mind 

June 9, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Final Stretch


 

   

     I’m not sure when the changes happened. They were subtle in the making and with each new wrinkle or extra pound I gained, somehow I forced myself not to notice. Until this morning, I removed my clothing to prepare for my shower and caught a glimpse of myself in my full-length mirror. I sobbed inwardly at my physical changes, once a vivacious girl, now a mature “older” woman.   
 

   

  

     At the market, a young man handed me a flyer advertising a charity marathon in our small town. I took the paper, folded it up, and stuffed it in my purse. Maybe it is time for me to do something for myself. After all, my children are adults with families of their own and, my husband’s personal hobbies demand most of his time.     

     I called a family meeting to share my enthusiasm. I did not expect their reaction.     

     “Mom, maybe you should do something more your speed, like learn to knit or take a cooking class.” My thirty-seven year old son casually mentioned.     

     Tears welled up in my eyes faster than I could will them away.  Then, like so often, I lifted my chin and smiled at my family. I set my bruised feelings aside and put on a confident front that made everyone feel at ease again.     

     In the morning, before the sun touched the horizon, my alarm clock rang. Tempted to press the snooze button and cuddle with my husband of forty years, I found a hidden inner strength to pull myself out of bed. I threw on my sweats and stepped outside on our porch, stretching my achy muscles. With a flashlight in hand, I started my slow jog through the forest path that backed up to our home. I had made it five minutes into the forest before I turned around, gasping for air on my way back. I crawled back into bed, discouraged but not defeated.     

     Each day grew easier. I no longer used my alarm clock to get up and instead let my body naturally wake me at the right time. And each day I ran further than the day before. My muscles felt stronger, my body looked sleeker, and my mind clearer. I was changing.     

     The night before the big event, I called my children to remind them to arrive early. Both my son and daughter apologized for not being able to make it. I understood. However, when my husband told me he would not attend for fear of watching me hurt myself, I felt deflated. I put on my running gear, kissed his forehead, and drove myself to the race site, hiding my disappointment.     

     The rising sun’s rays burned the early morning chill. I paid my fee, pinned my number on my shirt, and began to stretch. Although my body felt ready my spirit was broken. I’ve always supported my children and their dreams and I’ve never faltered in supporting my husband, yet today, I was alone.     

     The gunshot echoed in the sky. The agile youth took off like flying bullets while we older folks choked on their kicked up dust. I did not move. I stood there, in running pose, wondering if I could handle the rough terrain of the forest. Then, like a movie in the park, my strengths flashed before me. I survived childbirth; terrible twos, teenagers, broken hearts and watching my children leave the nest. I made a penny stretch into a dollar and catered to my husband for forty years. I rejoiced in births and faced mortality through deaths. I was ready.     

     The forest lit up beneath the sun’s gallant rays, inviting me to the challenge. I took off in flight, feeling the sun’s rays give me the strength to persevere. With each completed mile, my legs grew heavier, and my breathing labored. I refused to stop.     

     In the last turn, tears streaming down my face, I could see the finish line. I was almost there, personal triumph sweeter than my body’s pain. A man on the sidelines, jumping up and down, holding a sign with my name, distracted my focus. Through my perspiration and tear-blurred eyes, I realized it was my husband, children and grandchildren cheering for me.  I wanted to run to them but instead they ran to me, pride shinning in their loving eyes. In the final stretch, together, as a family, we crossed the finish line.   

    

June 6, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 3 Comments