“EYES BRIGHT DEAD” by ANDREW NOVAK

The small brown dog drags itself across the dirt floor, sniffing upward at the wet basement air.

“Here, Scobie,” Lee says, bending down to pour water from a plastic pitcher into a ceramic cereal bowl. “Here you go.”

The dog inches forward on his belly. He sniffs at the water, laps it up with his tongue.

Lee pats the top of the dog’s head.

“Good. Good boy.”

The room grows slightly darker. Lee turns to the small window on the uppermost part of the opposite wall. Two small faces peer in. Boys. Neighbors.

“No,” Lee says. He scoops the small brown dog into his lap, cradles it against his paunch, strokes its back with yellow-stained fingers.

The dog sniffs at Lee’s face and licks his chin.

“It’s okay, Scobie,” Lee says, squeezing his eyes shut. “They won’t hurt you. Won’t take you.”

Lee looks again to the window. The faces have disappeared. Grey light pours in.

#

Lee stands in his kitchen, pacing, puffing on a cigarette. He runs his hand through grey curls atop his head. He stops and stamps his foot on the floor, repeatedly.

“Dammit,” he says. “Fuck.”

He takes a long drag on his cigarette.

“Goddamn son of a bitch,” he mutters.

His hands shake. He ashes the cigarette into a cereal bowl on the kitchen counter.

He breathes with a heaving chest.

He opens the fridge. He withdraws a jar of grape jelly.

#

Lee cries in his bed as the sun lowers in the window. He doesn’t know why. Short breaths, panicked. The bed frame creaks as he rolls back and forth gasping for air.

#

Scobie’s yelps wake Lee in the middle of the night.

Lee rolls out of his bed and walks across cold, uneven floorboards to the kitchen. He opens the fridge, removes two hotdogs from a plastic package slick with congealed grease.

“Scobie-Dooby-Doo,” Lee says, half-singing.

He closes the fridge. He flips a light switch and descends into the basement. The wooden stairs creak under Lee’s weight. The sound of panting travels up the stairs.

“Scobie-Dooby-Doo,” Lee says.

Scobie rests on his stomach just in front of the bottom step, his back legs outstretched. Lee lowers himself and extends the hotdogs.

Scobie sniffs at the air. His pale eyes dart around. He bites at the hotdogs.

“Good Scobie,” Lee says, rubbing the top of the dog’s head.

Lee’s lips curl up. A yellow smile.

He looks to the window. Pitch black. He recalls the faces from earlier, the boys.

He closes his eyes. Swallows. Opens them.

Again there is a face in the window, this one the color of scabbed blood. Wrinkled and leathery. Mouth wide and sneering, exposing pointed teeth. It’s a face Lee has seen before. The face stares toward Lee with eyes bright dead. It nods.

Lee’s body goes cold. He trembles, shakes all over. He crouches.

“Scobie,” he whispers. “Come on. Come up with me. I’ll carry you.”

The dog chews a last shred of hotdog meat. Lee grabs the dog’s middle and scoops him into his arms. Scobie growls but does not resist. Lee lifts the dog, cradles him just above his distended stomach, quietly humming. He turns and ascends the stairs without looking back.

#

“Here’s a treat for you, buddy. I know it’s too hot for you up here, but the basement—it isn’t good right now.”

Lee holds another hotdog in front of Scobie’s face. The dog eats it in a single bite.

“Okay, you can sleep in my floor tonight.”

#

Scobie’s breathing is loud and raspy. Lee cannot sleep.

He looks repeatedly to the window near his bed, expecting to see the face again. He trembles and sweats in anticipation.

After a few hours he reaches for his cigarettes on the windowsill. He draws one out, places it into his mouth. Lights it. He sits up and occasionally ashes the cigarette into a cereal bowl on the floor, near his bed, next to Scobie.

Lee remembers an old cartoon from his childhood, one he’d watched with his sister. It was about a tiny elephant roaming around a big city. People were startled by the elephant. But a drunk man saw it and wasn’t surprised.

“You’re late,” the drunk man had said to the tiny elephant, slurring his words, pointing at his wristwatch.

Lee laughs to himself thinking about this. He laughs out loud.

He slaps his free hand over his mouth and shakes his head.

Can’t wake Scobie, he thinks, still smiling about the tiny elephant.

#

Scobie whimpers, and Lee wakes to a sunlit room. He rolls over to see Scobie wagging his tail.

“You wait here,” he says. “I’ll get your breakfast and some papers for going bathroom in here.”

He pats the dog on the head and swings his legs off the mattress.

Lee exits the room, ambles down the hall, bare feet slapping cold floor.

Scobie belly crawls after him, but gives up after struggling to move only a few feet. The dog pants.

In the kitchen Lee opens the fridge and grabs two hotdogs. He places them in the pocket of his sweatpants. He closes the fridge, turns and heads into the basement.

Lee steps over dirt and small rocks. He bends down for Scobie’s water bowl.

The basement grows slightly darker.

Lee closes his eyes.

“No,” he whispers.

He looks to the window. Two or three pairs of legs. Dark pants. Shoes, glimmering black.

Lee snatches the bowl and moves up the stairs on his toes, spilling the leftover water onto his sweatpants and t-shirt.

#

Lee sets the bowl in front of Scobie on the floor of his bedroom.

“Fresh water, buddy. Nice and cold,” he says.

Scobie pulls himself to the lip of the bowl and sniffs the water before lapping it up.

“And your breakfast, sir,” Lee says, withdrawing a hotdog from his pocket. He sets it on the floor next to Scobie. The dog turns and eats it in a single bite, then returns to the water dish.

“Buddy, I forgot the bathroom papers. Hold on.”

Lee walks to the kitchen.

He stops rigid at the site of two men standing at his back door. They’re peering into his kitchen through the door’s window. Lee swallows and approaches, staring at them, trembling.

The men only stare back. Suits and slick hair. “We’re with the city, Mr. Kerns,” one of them says. “We’d just like to come in and talk to you for a minute.” The voice sounds muffled through the door.

Cold sweat pushes through Lee’s forehead.

“Now?” Lee says.

“If that’s alright. That way we won’t have to get the police involved.”

Lee opens the door. The two men step into the kitchen, passing Lee, glancing around. They look like the same man, Lee thinks. Like twins.

“You live here alone?” one of them asks.

Lee nods.

“Nice place. Must cost you a pretty penny?” The man smiles.

“No,” Lee says. “It’s my sister’s. I’m helping her, to watch the house. She lives in with her husband in—”

“That right?” one of the men asks.

Lee bites his lip. The two men stare at him.

“Can you give us a tour?”

Lee’s hands shake. He stuffs them into his pockets. A hotdog falls to the floor with a wet thud.

“Saving that for later?” one of the men asks.

The men laugh.

Lee picks the hotdog up and places it on the counter.

“So about that tour?” one of the men says. Lee doesn’t know which one.

“I don’t have a lot,” Lee mumbles. “I don’t have a lot to show you here.”

Barking erupts from down the hall, from Lee’s bedroom.

“You have a new dog?”

“No,” Lee says, holding back tears.

“What’s that sound then, Mr. Kerns?”

“The TV, maybe the TV.”

The two men look at each other. Their smiles widen slow like that of the face in the window.

A scraping sound floats in from the hallway. Labored breathing, panting. The two men turn.

Scobie pulls himself around the corner. He yelps when he sees the men.

One of the men laughs.

Then the other.

The men blur as Lee’s eyes grow hot.

“Please,” Lee whispers. “Please.”

The two men walk toward Scobie, their shoes scraping on the wooden floor.

#

Lee watches the men drive off in a white SUV through a window at the front of his house. He rubs his hands together, digs into them with his fingernails, breaking skin. Lee grits his teeth. Blood drips to the floor from his palms.

Lee screams as the van disappears from sight. He screams again and stomps his foot on the floor.

His breaths shorten.

“No no no no no no,” he says, spitting the word. He paces to the kitchen and back. He does it again. And again.

“Motherfucking son of a bitch fuck shit goddamn motherfuckers. Fuck!”

Lee sees the hotdog on the counter. He screams, and tears flood his eyes. He collapses to the floor.

#

At sunset, Lee paces in circles on his porch. He lifts a cigarette to his mouth with a scabbed, stained hand. He talks to himself.

“Bastards, motherfuckers—just like that!” he says, exhaling smoke.

The front door of an adjacent row home opens. A man leans out.

“Hey, what’s going on out here? Quiet down, or I’ll call the police.”

“Fu—fuck you,” Lee says.

“Fuck me?”

“Yeah, fuck you fuck you fuck you. Fuck you.” Lee stomps his foot with the word.

“Okay. I’ll call the cops then.”

“Do it, you fucking shit!”

The man reenters his home, slams his door shut.

Lee screams and jumps up and down on his porch. He begins to cry. He stumbles, rolls his ankle. He falls to the ground, onto his side.

He sobs and shakes.

The streetlights flash on as the sun disappears from the sky.

Lee sees the lights shining through his burning eyes.

He crawls down the steps of his porch, toward the sidewalk, reopening the cuts on his hands.

He mutters to himself, no longer knowing the words leaving his mouth, no longer feeling pain.

He lifts himself to his feet. His sweatpants fall down some. He staggers across the sidewalk to the middle of the road. He sits down on the cracked asphalt. He lays back. He points his face to the charcoal sky and screams, pounding his fists onto the street. A man calls out to him from several houses down.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Lee screams again, his limbs flail.

Another man calls out.

“Hey, get out of the road. I already called the police. You can’t do this.”

Lee lay on his back, hyperventilating.

“Hey, watch it, man! There’s a car coming. Goddammit.”

Lee sees the bright light looming above him. He calms, breathes in. White light washes over his body, covers him. The faint growl of an engine approaches.

Lee waits.

The engine calms and slows to a hum. The car stops, leaving Lee under a blanket of harsh white. Lee sobs quietly.

“Scobie,” he whispers.

The piercing sound of a car horn jolts him. He sits upright.

A new voice, from behind.

“Get out the fucking road. The hell’s wrong with you?”

The light is blinding. It envelopes Lee. He mumbles something to himself, wiping tears from his face with a bloodied hand.

With searing eyes, he turns and looks to his row home.

In the front window there is a face, the color of scabbed blood. Wrinkled and leathery. Massive. The wide mouth sneers, exposing sharp teeth. The face stares at Lee with eyes bright dead.

Again it nods.

 

 

Andrew Novak is a journalist and news editor in Washington, DC. He likes to read. He likes to write. He likes to take pictures with his camera. His fiction has appeared in Shotgun Honey, the Robbed of Sleep anthology series, Out of the Gutter Online, Dark Moon Digest, and Bizarro Central