I have set myself a rule to complete and publish a short story by the 16th of every month. Normally I agonize over these for a good two weeks, but this month I got distracted by a larger project, and other writing projects, and life– and I started writing this one an hour ago. So it may not be my best work, or hold to my theme, but I’m fairly pleased with myself anyway!
Mrs. McHenry preferred to believe that small white dogs were sold in shop windows, and so that is what she saw when she walked past the pet shop. She also had, it must be said, very, very bad eyesight.
With a little gasp she stopped and peered in at it, readjusting her glasses on her nose to better see the bright happy eyes, the sleek white fur, the pink tongue lolling out of its mouth. It put a paw on the window, as if in greeting. Mrs. McHenry hurried into the pet store, the bell jingling.
If she had paused in her rush to look around her she might have had more questions about the nature of the pets being sold. There was a large stack of feed bags labeled GRYFFIN FEED: PURE GRADE. Some of the lizards in the amphibian section glowed like hot coals. Some of the birds had multiple heads. A store employee came forward and Mrs. McHenry sped over to the window cage. “Sir,” she said in her reedy little old lady voice, “I’d like this puppy, please.”
The young man looked disconcerted. “Uh, ma’am, that’s not…”
But Mrs. McHenry was twittering on, her cheeks pink with excitement. “My husband never liked dogs, but I always wanted one and I have been so lonely since my son moved to Atlanta—he got a better job down there, and it’s such a good thing for him, but I never see him anymore, you see—and this little guy—” She paused and looked down as the creature in the cage nosed her hand gently. “Oh…he’s not quite as small as I had thought…Oh well. Is he one of those Great Pyrnees pups? I heard they get quite large.” She pulled out her wallet. “I have a nice place for him to stay, and I actually have a food bowl and everything already, I picked them up at a yard sale ages ago hoping I would get a dog but it never happened—”
She continued talking through the entire transaction, the mute employee operating in stunned silence. Finally, leash in hand, Mrs. McHenry beamed at him. “Thank you so much, young man. I do get so lonely. I’m sure this fellow will be such a help. I’ve already picked out a name can you believe it? I think I’m going to call him Alexander.”
She and her new pet walked out of the store. The employee turned wide eyes on the only other occupant of the store—a tall bearded gentleman wearing robes, a pointed hat and a nametag that read: “Larry.”
“Did that really just happen?”
The bearded gentleman narrowed his eyes at the retreating figure and the large white animal beside her. “Funny enough, I know that woman. She’s my neighbor, and you know, I think it might just be beneficial for her to have one of those.”
Alexander settled in quite nicely with Mrs. McHenry. She was disconcerted when she found him with his head stuck in the refrigerator, eating the ground beef she’d been thawing, but she supposed a large dog like him would need more protein than she initially expected, so she began buying him meat from the deli.
A week after Alexander had moved in, Mrs. McHenry woke up with bright eyes and pink cheeks. “Alex,” she said to her pet over her bowl of oatmeal that morning, “today you get to meet Steve. He’s been the nicest young man, really takes care of me since Daniel—that’s my son—went down to Atlanta. He cleans, he brings me flowers, he runs out and gets things for me at the store; I just write him a check when he gets back.”
She beamed at the white head regarding her over the top of the table. “I’ve never met someone so selfless.” She looked at her cereal and then back to her pet with a conspiratorial air “Honestly—and I hope you won’t tell Dan this because he just wouldn’t understand—I’ve written him into my will. My husband left me quite a bit you know, and I hardly use it and I already put a lot for Daniel and, well, Steve’s been so nice to me…I was going to tell him today.” She leaned over and whispered, “You won’t tell, will you? It’s going to be my nice little surprise!”
Alexander snorted. He almost sounded skeptical, Mrs. McHenry thought, feeling hurt. But of course, he doesn’t understand; he’s only a dog.
Steve appeared dutifully at ten o’clock, bearing flowers and a smile so wide and shiny it might have been painted on. “Mrs. McHenry!” He exclaimed, hugging her gingerly, “It’s been so long!”
“Oh you sweet boy,” she giggled, patting him on the arm, “It’s only been a week!”
He gestured out the door. “I brought you some groceries again. Remembered what you wanted from last time. And you said some extra ground meat for a new pet? That’s exciting! Where is the little tyke?”
“Alex!” Mrs. McHenry called, looking around the living room. There was no sign of any white animal, dog or otherwise. “Oh, he’ll be around soon, I’m sure. He’s a little shy.”
“Not the guard dog type, huh?” Steve laughed, looking around the little living room with its china cabinets, antique clocks, ceramic figurines and fake flowers. It was not really the kind of place you could imagine inhabited by any pet but a small fluffy dog or perhaps a cat.
“Oh no. He’s so sweet. So friendly.” She got her checkbook out from under her potted geranium. “Now how much do I pay you for the groceries, dear?”
“Two hundred.” Steve said.
She looked up, surprised. “Two hundred? Why did you get me so much, dear? I’m only one little old lady; I don’t eat that much.”
Steve shook his head. “It’s the meat for the dog, honestly. The price of that stuff is insane. They were out of the cheap stuff. Now what do you need me to do around here today, Mrs. McHenry? Anything at all, I am your humble servant!”
That evening, Mrs. McHenry settled into bed with her favorite large print Agatha Christie and a peaceful smile on her face.
“What a lovely day,” she said to Alexander, who was curled up beside her, nearly crowding her out of the bed with his bulk. He flicked an ear towards her. “I just love doing nice things for people.” She continued. “The look on his face when I told him I was settling money on him—he was just overcome, Alex. He is the sweetest boy. Reminds me so much of Daniel…” she trailed off into happy thoughts and then elbowed Alexander abruptly. “And shame on you, you unsociable beast! He wanted to meet you! I can’t imagine where you hid yourself all day! I wanted to show you off!
Alexander rubbed his head against her hand and purred. Mrs. McHenry patted his head and smiled, “Oh, I didn’t mean it Alex…” she paused. “I didn’t know dogs purred.”
Alexander stopped purring and looked innocent. She shrugged and yawned. “I wanted to read, but I’m really so tired out by the excitement. Goodnight, Alex.”
The light clicked off. The room was dark. When Mrs. McHenry’s breathing was soft and slow, Alexander slid off the bed, opened the bedroom door, and vanished into the dark hallway. His tail snaked back into the room and shut the door behind him.
Midnight came and went. One o clock. Two o clock. The old cuckoo clock in the living room cuckoo’d once for the half hour, and the front door handle clicked and turned. A masked figure entered, key in one hand, wearing black clothes. He shut the door softly behind him and turned.
He froze. A white dragon stood on the landing, lit and glowing in the moonlight coming through the window. It was at least seven foot tall, its head brushed the ceiling, membranous wings outspread. It opened its mouth in a hiss.
The intruder backed up against the door, his hands outstretched. “Good…good dragon?” He fished around in his pocket and found a petite little dog bone, clearly prepared for the fluffy puppy he’d expected. He held it out in trembling fingers. “Want a snack?”
The dragon chuckled. And then it breathed fire.
Mrs. McHenry was very surprised when she found Alexander cornering Steve in the entry way. Her surprise only increased when she realized that the reason the smoke detector had gone off was because Steve himself was gently smoking and there were burn marks on the carpet and walls all around him. But after her attempts to call Alexander off failed and Steve began shouting at her, and her neighbors called the police, one thing about that night surprised her more than anything else.
“Yes ma’am,” one the police officers was saying in a patient voice, as blue lights made flashing patterns over her ceramic statuettes. “We found arsenic on him. We think he intended to make it look like you’d died in your sleep. That dragon of yours saved you.”
Mrs. McHenry sat down the cup of tea they’d made her. “My what?”
“Your dragon, ma’am.”
She slowly raised a hand to her mouth and looked down at the large white form crouched beside her chair. “D-dragon? Alexander?”
The policeman nodded, and with a nervous look at Alexander, added, “A fine specimen. Very brave, to protect you like that.”
Alexander looked up at Mrs. McHenry with hopeful eyes.
“Oh my. You saved me?” She slowly lowered her hand and rested it on his head. “Thank you, dear. I guess I didn’t need a dog after all!” She paused, and considered him. “But I might need to get new glasses…”