The Dog-God and Me
My brother Pete, who’s a ghost by the way, warned me about the people at no.22, The Smiths, but I really didn’t pay much attention.
“They worship a dog-god” he told me. “Down in the basement. They’ve got an altar and a statue and every month they sacrifice a puppy to this god of theirs.”
I’d always thought that the people at no.22 were weird anyway so I wasn’t that surprised. And I thought that maybe Pete was exaggerating, you know trying to show off a bit. Although I have to admit we do have an awful lot of missing dogs in this town. Still, I didn’t think too much about it, after all I had too many other things to worry about, like my girlfriend Kristin for a start. It was coming up to our first year going together and I wanted to get her something special, something that would show that I’d thought about it this time. When it was our sixth month anniversary I’d given Kristin a bunch of flowers from our garden. Pretty soppy I know but I’d forgotten all about it and mum said flowers always went down well so I grabbed some from the front yard before I met Kristin at the mall. I’d forgotten about her hayfever though. She was sick for a week, eyes swollen, nose running. I was an “official arsehole” for a good month after that, so I wanted to make this present special. I would have asked my best friend JC for help but he’d been shipped off to the city, some boarding school for smart kids.
And JC was a “smart” kid. Couldn’t fight too well, couldn’t kick a ball more than three feet, could barely run ten metres without collapsing, (well not unless a murderer was chasing him but that’s a different story) but he was a top class brainiac. I missed him sometimes, especially times like this, but I decided I’d work this one out myself. I wasn’t even going to ask Pete for help.
Although in the end it was Pete that gave me the idea. You see I first told Kristin about Pete because she believed in ghosts, she was always reading ghost stories and weird books and I knew she would believe me when I told her about Pete. And she did, without even blinking. “Your brother’s a ghost?” she said. “And you see him all the time?”
“Yeah, he’s my guardian angel type thing.” I didn’t know how else to explain it.
“Well, can I meet him?” was all she said and then she wrote down my address on a piece of paper and went back to her book! When I was little and told mum and dad about Pete they just said it was a bad dream and to stop being silly. My sister Kate just told me I was getting weirder and to leave her alone. Even JC had doubts. He just agreed with me because he thought I was having some sort of emotional breakdown. Boy, was he surprised when he finally met Pete.
Anyway, Kristin has always believed in ghosts and goblins and magic so I thought I’d find her something nice along those lines. You know like a brooch or a necklace or something with a stone or a symbol or something on it. And something under ten bucks, that was all I had.
I got lucky. I went down to the Sunday markets at the drive in and there was this old lady there selling junk. You know the sort of stuff, a teapot shaped like a koala, old pewter mugs, someone else’s golf trophies, teaspoons and old brooches, that sort of stuff. I was just picking through all the old jewellery and coins when I saw the necklace. It was a dirty silver colour with this big black spider pendant hanging on it. The spider had some weird scribbling on its back, looked kind of Egyptian I guess but I wasn’t really up on that sort of stuff. Anyway it sort of jumped out at me. As soon as I saw it I just thought, “Kristin.” That was it. The old duck gave it to me for five bucks. I wrapped it in some tissue paper I found in the back of one of the kitchen drawers and hid it under my bed in a shoebox. I didn’t know it then but The Smiths and I were about to get very well acquainted.
Kristin was rapt when I gave her the necklace. She thought I’d forgotten all about our anniversary, as if I could with the subtle reminders from her and Suzi. Suzi is Pete’s girlfriend. She’s a ghost too. Her and Kristin have become good friends. They both thought it was beautiful.
Pete thought I was being a wuss. “Goin’ soft on me Billy?”
“You’re just jealous because I thought of it all by myself. Didn’t need your help.”
“Hah, as if I care about girlie bloody jewellery.” Pete did his disappearing act then, always a sure sign that things weren’t going his way. That was the problem with having a ghost as a brother. You could never win an argument with him. He’d just vanish into thin air if he didn’t like the direction the fight was taking.
Kristin put the necklace on and said, “It’s beautiful Billy, really beautiful. Where did you find it?”
I was trying not to blush, I knew Pete would still be watching.
“I was at the markets, you know, down the drive in and this old duck had it. As soon as I saw it I thought of you.” I hadn’t meant to say that, it just sort of came out. I knew I was blushing then.
Suzie and Kristin started giggling together. “Well, I’m glad you did, I love it.”
I blushed even more. “That’s okay, I guess it makes up for the flowers hey?”
More giggles. “Yes, Billy Walshe, it certainly does make up for the flowers.”
I liked it when she said my name. It made me feel important, like I was somebody special. Of course breaking records for running was good too but this was a different kind of thing. I felt like I meant something to her. That felt good. I wanted somebody to need me. Mum and dad barely noticed me except when it was convenient. Pete just said I was getting soft but I noticed he spent as much time with Suzie as he could too. I guess we had the same sort of loneliness, the same gaps to fill. His was harder though. Being a ghost sort of limits your social contacts.
That night I got to third base. It was hard to sleep afterwards. The next day the neighbours from no.22 came to see me.
If I’d paid more attention when Pete was telling me about the altar and the dog-god I might have kept out of trouble. And if Pete hadn’t been jealous when I gave Kristin the necklace he might have kept me out of trouble too. The writing on the pendant, the weird scrawl, it was the same as the emblem painted on the altar. And The Smiths wanted that pendant. They wanted that pendant bad. I mean real bad. To them it was an ancient artefact, a message from their god and I was the blasphemer, whatever the hell that meant, who had taken what was rightfully theirs. I tried to explain that I’d bought it, it was mine but they were not listening. How come adults never listen to kids?
They always ask you a question like “Why did you do that for?!” but they never wait for the answer. The Smiths were just the same. Weird religion or not they were just like all the other adults. “Why have you taken what is ours boy? Who sent you devil spawn? This blasphemy cannot go unpunished you know.” But they don’t wait for answers, don’t want to know why, so why do they ask in the first place. Why not just send us to our rooms until we’re old enough to work, that’s all they want from us anyway. At least that’s what my dad always threatens me with when I bring my report cards home. Anyway The Smiths cursed me for all eternity, which Pete reckons is a bloody long time and then went back to no.22 to look in their crystal ball or shake the bones or whatever it is dog-god people do to curse you. I went back inside where my sister Katie just looked at me. “You get weirder all the time Billy.”
As if it was my fault our neighbours are nutters.
Mum just said, “I don’t want you talking to those people Bill they’re not like us.”
No shit I thought but I said, “Yes mum.”
I didn’t tell Kristin about it. I didn’t want her to worry and besides, that necklace had got me further than I’d ever been. I wasn’t about to give it up.
Wednesday night I thought I heard a noise outside. Dad was asleep on the couch after a hard day at the racetrack, no point in trying to wake him, and mum had gone down the club to play the pokies so I went out to look. There was a dead pup on our lawn. Pete was standing there looking at it. He didn’t look happy.
“I think our neighbours are a bit pissed at you Billy.”
I recognised the puppy. I’d seen it only yesterday in the pet shop window.
“What do I do now Pete? Ring the cops?”
He looked at me. “Do you think they’d believe you? My neighbours kill puppies on an altar and worship some weird Egyptian god. They’d tell you to stop reading Paul Jennings and get back on the track.”
I didn’t know who Paul Jennings was but I got his drift. “Ok, so what do I do?”
“We fight back Billy boy. No one messes with my little brother except me.”
I kept telling him that technically I was no longer the little brother but he still thought of me that way. There was a smile on his face now. “Let’s see how The Smiths cope with a ghost in their church.”
Pete’s been a ghost for a long time now and he’s learnt a few tricks along the way. He doesn’t really have a physical presence but with concentration he can enter objects, make things move, like books, comics, dead puppies. The Smiths had a big surprise that weekend when they held their monthly service. Trouble was they blamed my purchase of the sacred pendant for the moving puppy and its apparent return from the dead. I had upset the cosmic forces or something like that. They were soon back on the doorstep cursing my ancestors and my family. I told them they were too late we’d been cursed by everyone else in the town already and with a lot more skill. Having a guardian angel watching over you tends to give you a smart mouth.
Mr. Smith looked down at me. “Son, we are not joking. You will rue the day you crossed our path. Mark my words, you will be sorry.”
I didn’t like the way he said that. It wasn’t like dad. There was no screaming, no spittle, just a quiet voice, a tone that suggested he did mean every word. He turned and walked down the path, his family close behind. The girl turned and looked at me. There was nothing there, her face was blank. If I wasn’t scared before I was now.
I had to tell Kristin. The Smiths didn’t know she had the pendant yet but if they found out I didn’t want to think about what they might do.
She took it well all things considered.
“What?! They kill dogs, they want the pendant and you didn’t tell me?!”
She hadn’t yelled like this since the flowers. “Billy Walshe you are a drop kick.”
She suddenly burst into laughter. “A ghost for a brother, a murderer next door, a weird cult down the road, dead dogs on the lawn! It’s never dull with you around is it?”
I had to smile myself then. She was right, nothing ever went smoothly.
Pete and Suzie appeared.
“So you’ve told her then? Good, it’s time to get serious with these loonies.”
Pete had been doing some thinking. “We’re going to make The Smiths wish they’d never crossed our paths.”
He sounded confident. But then he’d sounded just as confident a few days ago on the front lawn. I wasn’t too sure now about pushing The Smiths any further.
“I don’t know Pete, these guys are scary.”
“What, and we’re not?”
I didn’t want to tell him but Suzie and he just looked like a couple of kids right now. They weren’t that scary. Then they showed me their new trick. I wet myself. I would have been embarrassed if Kristin hadn’t wet herself too. The Smiths were in for a surprise.
Mr. Smith cornered me the next day as I was coming home from school.
There was no one around. I could have run, I needed the practise anyway but I knew Pete wasn’t far away. “Mr. Smith, how are you today?”
“Devil spawn, where is the sacred pendant? What have you done with it?”
“Pendant? Pendant? Oh, you mean that crappy necklace? Aah, I threw it in the bin, it was shit.” Cocky as hell with a ghost around. Well, I hoped he was around.
“Blasphemer!! You will die for this child!”
He was shaking and his face was red. He looked like dad after a weekend at the pub. I ducked as he swung at me, just like I did with dad. Pete appeared behind him.
“Excuse me sir, is there a problem?”
Mr. Smith turned and stared. “Who are you child? This is no business of yours.”
Pete shook his head. “Oh but it is. You see this is my little brother. No one messes with him but me.” Pete started glowing red and then his mouth stretched wide open and his tongue flickered out like a snake. It rolled forward and passed right through Mr. Smith’s chest. He flicked it back into his mouth and licked his lips. “Mm, I do love the taste of fresh heart, can I have yours?”
Mr. Smith wet himself.
Two days later mum came in to my room to ask if I knew anything about the neighbours at no.22 suddenly moving out. Apparently they’d left most of their belongings behind and the landlord had said something about the basement being covered in blood and strange symbols. He found some animal bones in the yard too.
“I knew they weren’t nice people Billy. You really should be careful about who you make friends with.”
Then she told me to clean my room up and went back to watch Oprah. Pete stepped out of the wardrobe. He was grinning. “You really should be careful about who you make friends with Billy.”
“Yeah I should. I think I’ll start with ghosts.”
He laughed and vanished. He was off to see Suzie. I rang Kristin and told her next year I was just going to take her out to tea. Then I went out to watch Oprah with mum.
They were doing a show on guardian angels.
I kept laughing and mum sent me back to my room to clean up. Parents don’t have a sense of humour I’ve decided. Maybe one day I’ll tell her again about Pete. Maybe.