A supernatural tale of a dog and her young master, one that highlights how lucky humankind is to have canine good boys and good girls in their lives…
by: Skye Crump
Elijah’s Iron Man pajamas were wrinkled, and his dark hair was a disheveled atop his head. A bright smile lit his face as he ran as fast as his legs could carry him down the hallway. When he rounded the corner, he slid on the hardwood floor and let out a whoop, barely catching himself in time to avoid falling. It didn’t matter, he continued down the hall with a single-minded focus. He opened his parent’s bedroom door with a mischievous gleam in his eyes and crept towards their bed.
Just at the edge, he pounced on his mother. To his surprise, she remained unmoved. As soon as he opened his mouth to let out a scream, he was picked up from behind.
Elijah shrieked in his father’s arms, “You tricked me!”
Ben Miller set his son on his feet with a smirk. He thought about how many times he nearly had a heart attack when Elijah jumped on him like that. He had to admit, it felt good to be on the other side of the situation.
“We didn’t trick you,” Ben denied, straight-faced. “What do you think Mom?”
Kianna Miller was no longer under the covers. She sat up in bed, the corner of her mouth quirked up. This whole thing was her idea, the trap had worked perfectly.
“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Kianna said.
Elijah gasped, but his mother could tell he was fighting a smile. “You pretended to be asleep. That’s not nice!” He stomped his foot to emphasize the point.
“Some would say jumping on me isn’t nice.” She grinned at his antics. “What if you broke something?”
“I wouldn’t break something,” Elijah looked even more indignant. “I’m only little!”
Ben laughed, “You are only little.”
Elijah shot his mother a smug grin, causing her to snort. He was tired of this game now. It was Christmas. There were presents to open!
“Come on, Mommy!” Elijah reached to tug on his mother’s arm. “It’s Christmas, let’s go!”
Kianna let herself be pulled out of bed. She grabbed the robe hanging on the bedpost and followed her son’s eager steps.
The smell of pine permeated the living room. A lush tree sat in the corner with small, twinkling lights wrapped around it in reds and greens. A golden star sat on top, the tip almost touched the ceiling. There were ornaments of all different shapes and sizes decorating the branches. The blue tree skirt underneath it was covered in presents from family and friends. Santa’s gifts, however, sat near the fireplace.
The peaceful atmosphere was ruined by Elijah barreling into the room. He made a beeline for the fireplace and jumped to yank his stocking off its hook. It slipped from his fingers, sending candy sprawling across the floor.
While his son dug into the candy, Ben quietly inched his way to the office door. Once he was there, he glanced at his wife with a smile. Ben turned the handle at Kianna’s encouraging thumbs-up, and a fluffy St. Bernard puppy ran into the room, yipping excitedly. She was reddish-brown with sporadic white patches and dark masks over her eyes.
For a moment, Elijah’s face washed blank in surprise. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. His whole body froze, and then a toothy grin grew on his face. He had begged all year for a dog but hadn’t expected to actually get one.
“Waffle!” Elijah scrambled to his feet to chase his new puppy.
“Waffle?” Ben repeated with a laugh.
Kianna shrugged in a what-can-you-do manner, “I guess that’s her name now.”
Five years passed more rapidly than anyone expected them to, with Elijah and Waffle growing closer the older they became. It was a bright afternoon in late spring, and the sky was a cloudless blue. Elijah was only allowed an hour of video games a day, and on Saturdays, he usually used that hour immediately after breakfast. Kianna ushered Elijah and Waffle out the door when he was finished that morning and told them to stay where she could see. A lazy wind brushed against the grass and rustled Waffle’s long fur. It carried the potent scent of her boy. The taste of it lingered on her tongue. The dog’s dark eyes followed him around the yard, even as she settled on the ground to catch her breath. Waffle was a good girl, she knew that because her humans always told her so. Good girls watched after young humans and made sure they were safe.
Elijah kicked a bright orange ball sending it sailing across the yard. “Get it, Waffle!”
Waffle fell onto her side, panting happily.
Elijah tried again, pointing sternly. “Get the ball.”
Waffle wagged her tail. She knew what he wanted but didn’t move to obey.
“Fine, I’ll get it myself.” Elijah walked a few steps and stopped to look to see if Waffle had moved. “Come on. You’re really not gonna get it?”
Elijah huffed and kept walking. Waffle can’t be that tired, he thought.
“I see the dragon egg,” Elijah said in a deep voice, with his eyes locked on the orange ball. He slowed his steps. “The mama dragon hid in the tall grass while she went hunting.” He puffed up his chest and zigzagged. “Hunters and warriors from all across the land have been searching for it. It’s the last one, Waffle!” She let out a soft woof at the sound of her name. “But they didn’t find it, did they? We’ll raise it as our own! We’ll ride it and teach it tricks. We’re the best dragon tamers in the world!”
Elijah kicked the ball again and it went flying through the air. “Oh no! The mama dragon saw us, we have to hurry!”
He jumped, as if over an obstacle, and held out an arm holding his invisible sword. The game came to a stop when he saw the “dragon egg” land in the road. He kicked it too far.
“Crap,” Elijah glanced to the window to make sure his mother wasn’t looking. She’d get mad if she saw him in the street. He had no choice, though. It was his favorite ball. He’d be quick. Mom would never know.
The second he stepped onto the street, Waffle shot up and bolted to her boy. She could hear the car approaching — a large, fast-moving metal monster — but she didn’t think Elijah could. Danger! Protect! She barked attempting to get him to stop, but it didn’t work. She came to a halt at the edge of the road. Her barks grew more hysterical when she saw the car and her boy collide. When Elijah hit the pavement, the wind carried the tangy smell of blood to her.
A male human stepped out of the car, crying. Waffle paid him no mind. She was hyper-focused on the body of her boy. Something was happening. She could feel the air around him grow thicker. A moment later, an apparition of him rose, translucent and gleaming. It was his spirit. Waffle didn’t know how she knew, she could just feel it in her bones. Many things worked that way for her.
Elijah groaned as he sat up, rubbing his head in confusion. Why did I fall? What happened? He grabbed the ball and tucked it under his arm. Waffle stopped barking when he made his way over to her.
“Sorry, girl,” Elijah said, patting her on the head. “Didn’t mean to scare you. I must’ve tripped or something.”
Waffle instinctively knew where he had to go, where she had to take him, but how would she get him to follow? Just as Elijah started toward the house, she grabbed the ball with her teeth and took off toward the tree line. That’ll work. The ball wasn’t really in his arms anyway. Waffle knew that, but her boy didn’t.
“Stop!” Elijah lunged, but she sidestepped to avoid capture. “Waffle, bring it back!”
Waffle barrelled into the nearby forest and as soon as Elijah passed the tree line branches thickened and intertwined, nearly blocking out the sun. Elijah didn’t notice, but his semi transparent form solidified again.
Elijah had explored this forest with his father more times than he could count, yet nothing looked familiar. The tree trunks had doubled in size, and moss smothered everything in sight. If that wasn’t bad enough, shadows were moving on their own — slithering like snakes on the ground. That can’t be real, he thought. He hit his head too hard, that’s all. Elijah blinked rapidly, hoping it would clear his vision and return things to the way they were supposed to be. No such luck.
Elijah whipped around to face the way he’d come, and the color drained from his face. There was nothing but an endless forest before him. Where was the yard? He trembled, and his eyes misted over with tears. Even though he was nine and a half now, and only babies had accidents, he was so scared he felt like he might pee himself.
“Mom!” Elijah knew his mother had to have heard Waffle barking. She’d probably be outside looking for him. She’ll know what to do. “Mama, help!”
Waffle sensed her boy’s fear and nuzzled into his side to comfort him. Elijah lurched forward to hug her tightly. His knees gave out as he buried his face in her soft fur.
“I wanna go home,” he said with a sniffle.
Elijah’s never regretted anything more in his life than going into the road for that stupid ball. All for nothing, too, because Waffle didn’t have it anymore. It disappeared with whatever magic transformed the forest.
Elijah stood and swiped at his runny nose with the back of his hand. “Waffle, find home.”
Waffle cocked her head to the side. Home. She knew that word. Why was he saying it?
“Go home,” Elijah demanded, pointing in a random direction. Elijah’s father had taught her that phrase years ago. Waffle can find home from anywhere in the whole town. She’ll be able to lead them out of here, he was sure of it.
Waffle wagged her tail and pounded the damp ground with her front paws excitedly. Yes! She’ll get her boy to safety and go home.
A swell of relief, mixed with overwhelming gratitude toward his canine best friend, alleviated some of Elijah’s crushing fear. Waffle bounded ahead eagerly and Elijah gritted his teeth and followed. He felt uneasy as he stepped over roots and ducked under branches. Elijah glanced nervously around, his skin crawled. There was something in him, he didn’t know what or why, but something told him there was danger lurking. It wasn’t a bear or a wolf watching from the trees, but a real monster. Waffle growled at the shadows if they squirmed too close, which told Elijah she felt it also.
Elijah swore the trees were closing in on them the further they ventured. The branches moved even though there was no wind. His shirt had ripped in several places where they tried to grab him. He knew it sounded crazy. Trees weren’t alive, and they didn’t claw at people. Shadows also didn’t follow you like he could swear these were.
An exposed root he attempted to step over arched and curled around his ankle. Elijah kicked frantically to get free, but the more he struggled, the tighter it held. He screamed when his foot was yanked from underneath him, pain flared up his leg. The shadows thickened and formed what appeared to be a bottomless pit on the ground ahead of him. Elijah was being pulled toward the darkness, but Waffle’s teeth immediately closed around the root. She dug her claws into the ground and shook her head as she pulled with all her might.
It was the most horrifying game of tug-of-war Elijah had ever experienced.
The root eventually unraveled and slunk away. Waffle shifted to hover over the petrified child, nosing at his face. His eyes were wild with panic, and he shot backward out of reflex, hands and feet scrambling over the rough ground. His ankle protested the quick movements, but he ignored it.
“Go away!” Elijah screamed at the evil forest. A sharp rock stabbed his bottom, but he kept scooting anyway. When he hit a tree, he flinched and jerked away from it. “Leave. Me. Alone!”
Waffle began to whine. She lowered her head and tucked her tail between her legs. Her boy’s terror was thick in the air. Elijah should never smell like that. She got him away from the monster. Why was he still scared? Waffle was a good girl. She protected him. It’s okay now.
She slunk forward, making sure to keep herself as small as possible. Elijah focused her approach and froze. Waffle laid down and inched her way until her head was in his lap. His fingers wove into her fur. As he took deep breaths and held her close, the bitter smell of his terror faded.
Elijah never really paid attention to how big Waffle was before. She was his best friend, and that’s how she looked, nothing more to it. Now, however, he studied her huge frame. The trees and shadows wanted to swallow him up, but Waffle wouldn’t let them. She was too strong.
“You saved me,” Elijah said in awe. “You won’t let the monsters get me, will you, girl?”
Waffle nuzzled her head into his stomach. It was more than a gesture of affection, it marked him further with her scent. That’ll let others know that this boy was hers.
The pair rose to their feet to continue their journey. Elijah made sure to keep a firm grip on Waffle this time so he didn’t fall behind. He didn’t know how much time passed. It felt like forever. All the trees looked the same, no matter how far they went. It’s like they were on a treadmill, going and going but getting nowhere.
“What’s that?” Elijah asked hopefully.
In a forest of endless shadows, suddenly, there was light. Waffle picked up the pace, and Elijah followed suit. A feeling of relief began to grow inside of him each step they took. It started as a tingle in his fingers and toes. Warmth spread through him, washing away every fear and worry until there was only peace left.
The trees gave way to a beautiful meadow with rolling hills and flowers of every color as far as the eye could see. Sunlight soaked into his skin, as warm and comforting as a hug. A gust of wind encircled Elijah, coaxing him to take a few steps. He glanced back at Waffle, beaming in utter delight.
That was the last time she ever saw him, for he was gone between one blink and the next. She heard his laughter in the wind and howled back. The forest shifted around her, tree trunks thinned, branches untwined to reveal the sky, and moss melted away. Once it was back to normal, Waffle trotted back the way she came.
She’d miss her boy.
When Waffle returned home, there was a large crowd surrounding where Elijah was hit. Police cars and an ambulance blocked the road off. Neighbors were in the surrounding yards, their faces mixtures of curiosity and horror. The smell of grief was thick in the air.
Waffle made her way over to her two remaining humans. She tried to comfort them by rubbing her face into their legs with a low whine, but they didn’t respond. Their boy was okay now. Waffle made sure he was safe. Couldn’t they feel it, like she could?
Kianna’s face was buried in her husband’s chest, and sobs wracked her body. It felt as though her whole life had turned upside down, and only Elijah could stop the utter devastation spreading through her. She wanted him to get up and yell, “I’m okay!” Like he always did when he was a toddler and tripped over his own feet. How could her little boy be gone?
Ben held her close as he started blankly into space. A void has opened up inside of him —an emptiness devoid of any emotion. His knuckles were red where he punched the driver in the face, and broke his nose, but it didn’t bring his boy back. Nothing would.
Skye Crump is a student at Kennesaw State University expecting to graduate in 2022 with a major in Journalism and a minor in Professional Writing. She loves writing fiction and is working toward a career in editing.