Ethan told stories. Not lies really, but strange stories about things that could only be seen just as your eye blinked.
He was only ten, too young to know about such things. But when he said, “Guess what I saw,” everybody listened. Even sometimes teachers in his classes.
“Guess what I saw,” he said one morning at recess. “What?” we all chimed. He waited a few seconds as we gathered in a tight circle around him. His voice always changed as he began to tell us, getting deeper and slower, and older and bigger.
“In the woods next to the playground,” Frank began, “I saw a big dog.”
“Aw, so what,” said a new boy, “it’s probably just a stray.” But we told him to be quiet and listen, because we knew there was more to come.
“The dog’s shoulder,” Ethan said, “was as high as mine, and his head was even bigger than mine. His fur was thick and black, and when the sun shined it shimmered dark blue. His breath sounded like a file scraping down his throat.”
“Weren’t you scared?” somebody asked.
“At first, sure,” Ethan said, “but he only looked at me with his head tilted sideways, as if wondering about me.
“Then he padded over to me and leaned in, pushing me into a patch of alders. He kept pushing me through brush and brambles until we came to a trail, all overgrown and mossy. I could see the prints of paws and deer hooves.
“The bushes and trees blocked the sun, and all I saw clearly was his eyes, black spots with white fringes. He took a few steps back and looked at me. I had a weird feeling he wanted me to follow him, and an even weirder feeling that I should.
“We walked a long way. and crossed two streams that aren’t in our woods. and then scrambled down into a deep hollow. But not a hollow like tree roots make when they rip out of the soil. Deeper, and when I jumped into it my head was below the ground.
“The dog began scraping a corner of the pit with its paws until I could just see the top of a small chest. The lid was tarnished silver or maybe lead. He looked at me, then at the chest, then back at me.
“I knelt down and tried to pull the chest out of its hole, but it was too heavy. Then I pulled on the lid to see if it was locked. The lid creaked and flopped open.”
“What was inside?” somebody asked.
“It was hard to see in the darkness,” Ethan said. “I felt around inside and started pulling things out. There was a little, leather-bound book, and a lot of coins, and a tiny oval picture frame— “
“Whose picture was it?”
“I couldn’t tell, and I didn’t know what to do. The chest was too heavy to take, but I didn’t want to leave it either. Just then the dog growled, and I got scared. So, I grabbed something out of the chest and slammed down the lid.”
“What else did the dog do?”
“Nothing. But I jumped out of the pit and ran off. The dog didn’t follow me, and I haven’t seen it again.
“I stumbled back down the trial and guessed where I’d broken through the underbrush. It took me two hours to wander out of the woods, all scratched up.”
Frank held up his arms to show us the scratch trails. There were scratches on his face as well.
“Go back and get the chest.”
“I tried. Twice. That’s when I got more of these scratches. But I couldn’t find where I left the path, and when I went back into the woods I just got lost.”
“The new boy laughed. “I don’t believe this story.”
“Ethan smiled sadly. “I almost can’t believe it myself. All I have is this.”
He reached in his pocket, took out a small oval and showed us all. The frame was tarnished black silver, the picture a faded gray image of a young woman, her hair in a severe bun, holding a black dog as large as herself.
“I still don’t believe it,” the new boy said.
Just then a teacher came up to us. “We’re going inside, children. A neighbor reported a large black dog is prowling around, and we want to be safe.”
Ed Ahern resumed writing after forty odd years in foreign intelligence and international sales. He’s had four hundred stories and poems published so far, and six books. Ed works the other side of writing at Bewildering Stories, where he sits on the review board and manages a posse of nine review editors. He’s also lead editor at The Scribes Micro Fiction magazine.