The boy was eight years old. Tall and long-limbed, with a wild mop of dark hair and a swath of freckles across his tanned face. He kneeled in the darkness… listening.
He had waited late into the night… waiting for his parents to fall asleep, so he could sneak out of the house. There was something that had to be done. Vengeance.
Earlier that day, he had been playful and easygoing as any other boy… running to-and-fro with the other children of his neighborhood, in one manner of play or another. Until a beast shattered this facade of innocence.
Kids called him “the Beast” but he was only a dog, some bastard mixture of a Rhodesian Ridgeback and mutt – the result of a show-dog escaping from her pen during an estrus period and being impregnated before being found again.
The Beast was massive and terrifying to the children, who were quick to invent all sorts of tall-tales about him. The only credible one being that he was used in dog-fighting, which was rather commonplace in South Florida during the early 1980s.
Some of the old folks on the block cautioned that it was only a matter of time before: “that damned thing killed some poor kid” and then they would all be sorry. The boy always heard this and wondered why, if the creature were truly so much a threat, no one did anything?
When the monster attacked and rent the flesh of his younger brother, the boy became enraged at this failure to act… he swore to himself that he would avenge his brother`s suffering and take the life of this vile animal.
It was not justice that moved the boy`s passions but sheer revenge. His brother had been riding his bike along the sidewalk when the bastard hound had attacked him – knocking his lithe frame to the ground and mauling him. Were it not for the providence of a passing motorist, the dog would have killed.
Squatting in the shadows, having snuck out his bedroom window, the boy waited for his eyes to acclimate to the darkness… and then he silently crept towards where the beast awaited him. In his hand was his father`s long razor-sharp hunting knife.
The animal was asleep in a shadowy corner of the neighbor`s yard; the boy`s steps matched the rhythm of the animal`s rising chest.
He hesitated. He doubted himself.
For a moment, he even began to feel a little foolish. It was just an animal, and a particularly bestial one at that – hardly capable of thoughts of spite or malevolence. The boy thought he might well have been angry at the ground for smacking him in the face whenever he tripped and fell… but there was something more, he felt, that the dog represented. Something beyond him.
He knew his father would think him foolish for asking about such things… but he thought that something far beyond a mere dumb animal was behind his brother`s wounds. Something that must feel reprisal from somewhere… though he could not articulate these things, he felt them with depth of passion that left his conscience in flames. So he continued onward.
The boy reached down and picked up a broken rock of asphalt, lifting it to his ear and down again in the same way a Pitcher would throw out a runner trying to steal a base. The rock caught the dog in the hindquarter near his gnarled tail, and he awoke with an angry yelp that smoothed into a low growl when he saw the boy.
As in a dream, time slowed and the boy`s limbs were heavy with terror… the animal arose in an easy and eager manner, the boy had seen his own dog show a similar posture whenever he spied a cat creeping across the yard.
One slow backwards step, a slower quarter-turn, and then the wind was roaring in his ears. He ran across the street into a wooded area that ran the length of the nearby marshes. While he did not look back, the sound of the dog`s claws on the asphalt told him that time was short.
Reaching where the land met the mire, he stopped and turned around – his left hand was out to his side and open, his right hand was close to his leg with the blade pointing downward. It took a long time for the creature to reach the boy; it took the rest of his life.
Anticipating a forward leap towards his face, similar to what had knocked his brother off of his bicycle; the boy caught the animal`s neck with his left hand and sliced him through the soft flesh of the lower abdomen.
The momentum knocked the boy to the ground, with the animal on top of him – but wounded, in confusion and pain, the dog yelped and flailed about… blood pouring profusely down his legs.
In a savage movement, the boy leapt towards the dog and brought his knife down upon the base of his neck… killing him almost instantly. The roaring in his ears quieted and there was only silence.
The boy had suffered a few minor scrapes on his legs from the brambles of the wood and the dog`s teeth snared his left hand and arm slightly. The force of the killing blow broke the blade of the knife and the boy`s forearm was gashed, but it was only a superficial wound and would heal easily. The boy thought it a pittance in exchange for the creature`s life.
He dragged the dog`s body into the swamp and left him for the alligators, the swamp would also conceal the broken remnant of his father`s knife. Returning home in a daze, he rinsed off with the garden hose and buried his bloodstained shorts in the garbage.
No one ever learned the truth of that night. The neighbors raised a minor commotion about it, putting up signs and knocking on doors, but eventually surrendered to the mystery and the matter was forgotten by everyone except for the boy…
…he carries the memory of that beast with him always. An animal lost his life, but a child lost something far more precious.