ball – A Story

this is a creepy little story that has been rattling in my brain for a bit now. this is a VERY rough draft of the story. it needs work. it needs smoothing out. i’ll do those things…eventually. for now i offer this, a creepy tale i call 

BALL

I had a dog.

I loved that dog.

It was a great big Great Dane. Grandma got it for us when my sister went off to college. There was a big gap between she and I so Grams figured that a dog was what the family needed.

What I needed.

And it was always my dog.

Captain was four when we got him and I was eleven.

When I was fourteen, and Keri was twenty-one, mom and dad adopted one last kid.

A baby.

She was a daughter of a friend of the family, someone mom had met in college. 
The woman had lost her husband in a car accident and she was dying from Leukemia so mom and dad had a long talk together, then with my sister and me, and that was how Amelia came to live with us.

She was too young to remember he mom but my mom and dad made sure to get photos, and letters from her, and recordings over her so that when the time came they would tell her about her mother.

That’d be years from now though because she was three when she came to live with us.

She moved into the house in late June and we lost the dog in August.

Things started though in early July.

The third.

Captain was a good dog.

The best dog.

He was a pain in the butt though.

Cleaning up his poo.

Feeding him.

Letting him out at night.

Mom and dad wanted me to learn to be more responsible, and I get that, I got that, but it didn’t make it any less annoying.

He had to go outside every night at three in the morning, like clockwork.

In the summer it was easier because it didn’t matter if I was tired in the day.

 

I had just fallen asleep after staying up late to watch a monster movie when Captain wandered into my bedroom and nudged me to tell me he had to go out. I got up and followed him to the back door, stubbing my toes a half dozen times as I went. The path he took rambled through the house. It wasn’t a direct route. It went from my bedroom, down the hall, left into the living room, through that to the dining room, and then through the kitchen to the backdoor when he could have just gone down the hall and to the kitchen and out. He liked the other route best though. I think it was his way to patrol and show me that we were safe. At the back door I patted him on the head, unlocked the sliding glass door, and let him out into the backyard.

The yard was fenced with three big trees standing guard at the back edge of the property and a small shed dad had built standing in the opposite corner. I turned the backyard light on and then went back inside and sat down at the kitchen table and dropped my head in my hands.

Captain wasn’t always one to stay outside to play but at night he was all in, racing around the yard, rolling around in the wet grass, and generally being a giant goof. As soon as my head hit my hands I fell into darkness and was gone.

I woke some time later and groggily realized that the sun was starting to rise and I was still at the table, the backdoor was still open, and Captain, I quickly saw, was still outside.

I got up and slowly trudged to the door to call him.

He was sitting at the base of the middle tree in the backyard, looking up and panting as if he was excited.

I called him again.

He ignored me.

He must have had something treed.

That was what I figured.

A raccoon or an opossum.

I called a third time and he turned, gave me a goofy grin, then got up and ran to me and kissed my hand as he came inside and went right for his bed.

He was asleep in flash.

Lucky guy.

Dad caught me as I was making my way back to bed and he clapped me on the shoulder and said the one word every kid hates more than any other in the summer – lawn.

I nodded and went into my room to get dressed and ready to mow the lawn.

 

Now, did the lawn NEED to be mowed at 8AM?

No.

But that’s how dad liked things.

Early.

I’d cut the grass, he’d trim the bushes and edging, and mom would ramble out later with the baby to work in a small flower garden we had in the front of the house.

We didn’t have a big lawn but with an old-fashioned push mower with no motor it tended to take a while.

Oh, and did I mention dad didn’t believe in music during yard work?

Yeah, there was that.

He felt it was a distraction.

From what he wouldn’t say.

So, I went out, opened the shed, pulled out the mower, and got to mowing.

Dad would holler out to me from time to time to make sure I didn’t have headphones on. It was a dick move but that was dad. He wasn’t mean but he was strict, and he liked his rules. When he called out to me he never really had anything to say, just would yell – How’s it going out there? – or something else.

It was dumb.

But it was what it was.

Still and all though, the mind drifts as you do something repetitive.

It just does.

I didn’t notice anything in the grass when I ran it over.

Dad called out to me then hurried out to see why I had stopped.

Maybe he was worried about me, I would like to think he was, but odds were that he was worried about the mower.

I pulled the mower backwards and saw a dark red ball.

Weird.

I bent down to grab it and as soon as my hand touched it I felt how wet it was.

I looked at my hand and saw it was red.

Crap.

I had run over an animal.

My stomach dropped.

Dad came up to me and saw my hand and grabbed it to see where I had cut myself. I told him I hadn’t, that the red came from the ball. He looked down at it then dropped to his knees. He grabbed it, grimacing as he did, and dropped it again.

  “Did you hit something?”

 

I shook my head.

He looked back down and picked it up again and then tilted his head as he looked at the mower. He grabbed hold of something beneath the mower, which was off now, and pulled and out came a long piece of something that was also red and also attached to the ball. He pulled until all of it was out and then looked at the ball. I walked up to him and knelt and it was gross and creepy, the ball, but it wasn’t something dead. It was fabric. Fabric someone had rolled up and dipped in paint or something.

Dad dropped it back onto the ground and wiped his hands on the grass.

 

  “Get some gloves on and throw this thing in the trash, will ya? Then just finish things up and we’ll call it a day for the yard work. We can finish it tomorrow.”

 

I nodded and watched him walk back towards the house, his eyes on his hands. He looked over his shoulder once, back towards the ball, and then went inside. For my part I did as he asked and got some gloves, got the trash can we put outside trash in, and I threw the ball away. After that I finished mowing and put the mower away and went inside to clean up.

 

We ended up going to the beach that day and left Captain inside the house with the air conditioning. Dad was strange all day. Distant. Distracted. I caught him looking at his hands and rubbing them on a towel one time as if something was on him. A chill ran down me and I thought of that ball of material we found and the rest of the day wasn’t as fun anymore. That night we had burgers on the grill and mom played with the baby and dad seemed to have forgotten whatever was bothering him earlier and was laughing and even I got out of my funk as I was playing with Captain. It was strange though, every time he got near the trees at the back of the yard he’d whine a little, look up, and I’d have to call him to get him to look away from the trees and back to where the stick was I was throwing.

Strange.

 

That night I beat Captain to the punch, getting up in the middle of the night to pee and deciding to check on him when I was done. I saw him sitting alert by the back door and figured he had to go out so I opened the door for him. He looked up at me for a moment, almost, I dunno, asking permission maybe, and I patted him on the head and he slowly made his way outside. I closed the door because it had gotten chilly out and figured he’d want to play a little and I went and sat on the couch and promptly fell asleep.

I woke to Captain’s whining and got up groggily and went to the door. It was nearly dawn again and when I let him in he raced past me and right to my room, where he slid under my bed.

I followed him and laughed as I saw him go under the bed but when I got down to look at him I saw he was shaking.

He was scared.

Maybe he wanted permission to go out at all.

Maybe he wanted permission to stay in.  

 

I didn’t get back to sleep and when mom and dad called me down for breakfast I didn’t come. After a few minutes dad came up looking for me, concerned. He could tell by the look on my face that something was bothering me and he sat down on the side of the bed and patted my leg.

 

 “What is it, buddy? And hey, where…oh, what the heck is Captain doing under your bed?”

 

I told him what had happened the night before, and then the other night, the one that lead to us finding the ball of fabric. Dad was silent for a minute then patted me on the head.

 

 “Let me take a look back there and see if anyone has been fooling around with anything and I tell you what, for the next few nights if the big guy wants to go out then you wake me and I’ll take him, OK?”

 

I smiled and felt like a weight had been lifted. I got up and followed dad out to breakfast and Captain was hot on my heels, sidling up next to me as we made our way into the kitchen.

 

Dad spent a good part of the afternoon out by the back of the yard, looking around the fence, then around the shed, and finally he got a ladder out and looked up in the trees. He was up in the one closest to the back of the yard and came down after a few minutes, something held in his left hand as he descended the ladder. He stuffed something into the pocket of his pants as he pulled the ladder down, eyes up on the tree the whole time. Afterward he wouldn’t answer any questions when I asked him what he’d found, just saying that it was nothing and to make sure to wake him if the dog wanted to go out. Later that night, as I was heading to bed I heard him speaking to mom in a hushed tone and only caught the words ‘another one’ but didn’t know what he meant.

I popped my head into the baby’s room to check on her then headed to bed where Captain already was waiting for me, hiding under the bed.

And we slept.

 

I woke late and got up to pee and found Captain sitting at the door again, staring into the darkness. Dad had turned the backyard light on so I stood beside Cap and patted him on the head as we both looked out. He started whining and I strained to see something but couldn’t. I checked to make sure the door was locked, hurried off to pee, and then went right back to bed and found Cap laying on my bed waiting for me. He hadn’t done that since he was a puppy.

 

Nightmares chased me through my dreams that night and I woke tired and listless. Cap was the same way and when I let him out to go to the bathroom he wouldn’t go near the back of the yard. I walked back there and looked around and at first found nothing until I came back up to the house and that was when I saw it, next to the patio and the backdoor. Another red ball. I looked around for mom or dad and not seeing them I picked it up, frowning that it was still damp, and unraveled it slowly. More cloth, though I wasn’t sure what it was from. The ball wasn’t large but it seemed as if the layers of soaked red cloth would never end until I knew I had gotten to the center when I pricked my thumb on something. I dropped the cloth and the last bit unraveled, revealing several small red pieces of something. They looked like toothpicks but when I picked one up it felt smooth and hard. I rubbed at it and when I saw that it was yellowish beneath the red I dropped it, thinking suddenly of the documentaries mom and dad made me watch about archeology and bones. The things in the cloth looked like little shards of bone and if Cap had gotten this ball, gotten and bitten into it…

I heard dad and swept the mess up in my hand and got up and threw it into the trash. Later that afternoon I caught dad while mom was out in the front yard with the baby and told him what I had found and showed it to him in the trash. He got quiet and rubbed his chin.

 

 “Someone is playing a cruel game with us, kiddo. A dangerous game.”

 

 “What do you mean?” I asked.

 

 “Someone wants to hurt Cap. I found the same sort of things in the other balls I found. I saved one of those balls. I am going to call the police and speak to them. Until they can get out here you keep Cap on a leash and you don’t let him out of your sight and you stay close to the house and away from the back there. Got me?” He was serious so I nodded and headed back in to the house. Cap was under my bed and I got under there with him and we lay like that for a while.

Until mom came looking for me.

 

 “Honey, get dressed, your dad’s had an accident.”

 

Dad had been up in the trees again, looking for something, he told my mom. She had been back there with him, holding the ladder but thought she heard me calling for her so she left him to check and as soon as she got into the house she heard my dad cry out and when she turned he was in a heap at the bottom of the ladder, his arm twisted at a wrong angle and several deep scratches along his face. He was dazed but mom got him up and into the car, that was when she came for me and Amelia. She called our next door neighbor, and elderly woman and told her what had happened and she promised to look in on Cap to see how he was doing in case we were gone for a while.

 

We were gone for seven hours.

There’d been a boating accident nearby and the hospital was a mess. Dad’s arm was busted in two places and he had a concussion but the doctor said he was lucky it wasn’t worse. When asked about the scratches he said dad wasn’t sure how it had happened. The doctor told us that it must have been from the tree, though he didn’t seem sure about this. When they wheeled dad back in he looked drugged but as soon as mom and the baby left the area he was in the ER to speak to a nurse about when he’d be let go he pulled me close and whispered to me –

 

 “I caught it up there. I caught it. Christ. Jesus Christ, son. It’s…it’s…Captain. Where’s Captain?”

 

Mom returned and dad let got of me and was out in an instant, stoned on pain medication that was dripping into him drop by drop. Dad was hurting, it was clear, but it was Cap I was thinking of, my big, sweet boy.

 

It was after ten at night when mom called the neighbor woman. The old lady had been asleep and the phone woke her but yeah, she said, old Cap is fine. Just fine. It had been such a nice day that she thought he’d like spending some time outside so she’d let him out at five and he was still out there. She’d forgotten all about him but hadn’t even heard him barking. Mom asked her to go check on him and the woman insisted he was fine, just fine. She had even hooked him to the cable we had out there for him when he’d been a puppy. The woman, sweet as she usually was, had no interest in going out at ‘this hour’ but mom insisted, so the lady walked over to the house, muttering to mom the entire time about how she shouldn’t have to do this, and she looked through the fence and said Cap was lying by the ladder, back by the trees in the back of the house and that…and she went quiet. Mom asked her what she was going to say and the woman told her that there was a large puddle underneath Captain, as if he was lying in a puddle. Mom got quiet then and told the woman goodbye and hung up.

I saw from the look on her face what I had been horrified about all these days.

I knew my dog was dead.

 

Mom called the police and they met us at the house when we returned with dad. The police pulled mom aside when we got there and I saw her start crying. There were two police cars and the officer from the second car was next door speaking to that woman. Neighbors were at their doors, in their yards, at the road, speaking to one another asking what was going on. Dad was still heavily sedated and in the passenger seat while I had been in the back with Amelia. Mom had told me to stay put but as soon as everyone’s attention was away from me I slipped out of the car and towards the back of the house. I went through the lady’s yard to the back and dropped to my knees and looked through the gaps in the fence. Cap was there, lying motionless, sprawled out and long cold. His head was mostly gone, but there was no blood. Not even beneath him, like the woman had said. It was just him. I reached through the gap and grabbed his paw and held it and cried quietly until my mom and an officer ushered me away.

 

We slept at the house with an officer parked out front and a directive not to go outside. The next day more police arrived to check ‘the scene’ as they called it, and Cap, who they had left back there until someone could come to collect him. Dad was more himself and I heard he and mom crying when she told him what had happened. I slept under my bed with the blanket he liked to carry around. All I could think about were those balls that someone was leaving for him. But whatever had happened to him, it was more than him chewing on one of those.

Much more.

 

In the middle of the day the police were done and they sat us all down to speak to us. Interview us, they said. We told them everything we knew, and they nodded and took notes. They pulled out a bag with one of the balls in it and showed us and we nodded that yes, that was what had been left out there. More notes. the officer told us that they believed that someone had slipped Cap a firecracker and that was how he died. It had exploded in his mouth. M80 was what they said it probably was. I didn’t ask why there wasn’t any blood. I didn’t have anything to say at all, to be honest. I just wanted to go back under my bed.


The officer told us that they believed it had been some local kids but they wanted us to keep an eye out and to be careful and that they’d have an officer checking in with us to make sure everything was OK. Dad asked if they had checked the trees. If they had looked up in the trees. The officer seemed confused by the question and told him that no, they hadn’t, and asked if he thought there might be something up there. Dad nodded and the officer called to his partner and they grabbed the ladder and went up to look. Dad had been right. they found several more of those balls inside a big hole high up in the tree at the furthest back part of the yard. Dad nodded.

 

 “Sir, I know this may seem extreme but we might recommend…”

 

 “Already ahead of you, officer. I have the tree removers coming tomorrow. I just wish they’d made it here sooner.”

 

After the police left we all looked out at the back yard and dad closed the blinds to block it out. We’d had enough of back there. The police had Cap cremated for us in case there was anything else done to him. They didn’t find anything on their check of him but we live in a smallish city and this was a horrible crime so, more than anything, I think this was just small town kindness and we appreciated it. I slept with Cap every night for a month. I only let him go when we were about to go into the new school year and dad asked me if I was ready to let him rest.

I was.

I didn’t want to be, but I was.

 

Dad, mom, baby Amelia, and I went out into the front yard and grabbed some flowers then into the backyard to the bushes he loved to hide beneath and we all said a few words. As we were talking I noticed Amelia looking back to where the trees had been. She giggled then toddled over to the bushes that were back there. With the trees gone we were as nervous about the back of the yard but I watched her the entire way. We all said our peace and I and I put the box with Cap in it into a hole behind the bushes. It was a box mom had painted and which we had all put notes in for Cap. I covered the box with dirt and knelt there crying as dad and mom patted my shoulders. Dad called to Amelia but I stood up and told him I’d get her. I walked back towards her and was confused. She was laughing and wiggling and acting as if she was playing with someone. I came up behind her and she never even knew I was there. I scooped her up in my arms and she squealed as I kissed her on the back of her neck. I dropped her back down and she giggled and poked me in the leg then ran off to mom and dad. I looked at the three tree stumps, left until someone could come dig them out, and then the bushes behind them. A long row that ran to both sides of the fence and along to where we had buried Cap. I scanned it, looking to see if there was a rabbit or some other animal she was playing with but saw nothing. I was turning to leave when I noticed something sticking out of the bottom of a bush at the point where the two sides of the fence met. I walked over to it and knelt and saw red mass there. I reached forward towards it and stopped short. It was just like one of the balls. I poked it and it rolled over and it was roughly shaped like a person with a long piece of cloth that lead back into the bushes. I was confused. Cap was dead so what was…then I thought of Amelia back here laughing and dancing.

A doll.

This was supposed to be a doll.

 

My stomach dropped.

 

Oh my god.

 

I reached for it, to grab it to show dad but a long, thin stick emerged from the bushes and went towards the doll. As the stick stretched out one foot, two feet, and more, more, more, I saw an elbow and saw fingers erupt from a balled fist.

An arm.

It was an arm.

Thin, white, and looking like it was more stick than flesh. It reached and grabbed the doll and pulled it slowly back into the bushes and I threw myself backwards on my butt.

I stared at the bushes, in utter shock, uncertain what to do.

From those bushes came a long growl that I realized was someone shushing me.

From the bushes the arm reemerged and a long, pale finger wagged at me as if to say ‘no-no-no’.

 

I was up and running towards the house in a flash and the growl chased after me as I went.

 

Whatever that thing in the bushes was had taken my dog and now, now it wanted Amelia.

I ran to the kitchen and reached into one of the higher cupboards, where I wasn’t supposed to be, and grabbed some lighter fluid and matches.

It had already taken my dog.

It would never take my sister.

Never.

 

…c..

Author: Chris Ringler

Writer, blogger, reviewer, artist, arts and cultural events coordinator, and semi-professional weirdo. Author of a heap of books from horror to fairy tale to kid's.

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