Hellhounds (Freaky Jules #3) Excerpt

 

Freaky Jules

Hellhounds

 

 

 

 

“I may be a lot of things,” I said, pacing the floor of my kitchen, highly agitated, “but I am not A DOG CATCHER!”

I felt a tirade coming on, and considering how weird my life was, I thought I was entitled to an occasional violent outbreak. It was understandable—at least, to me. Still I always did my best to fight back the anger, which, at times, became quite a battle. Sometimes I won, and sometimes I lost. Right now I felt the hot red haze in my head starting to fade; it turned into something blue, something solid and shot through with cool reason.

“Look,” I said, calmer, but still pacing the floor. “I’m just not a dog person, all right. How could I be? I barely relate to human beings. Dogs?—to me, they’re just smelly, drooling things. They’re big furry cockroaches. So, really, I don’t think I would be much help with your problem. You understand, right?”

“But you promised,” Jerry insisted.

“Really, take a good look at me. Do I look like a person whose promises are any good?”

“You said you would,” he said. He actually sounded like a whining five-year-old, as though I had guaranteed him cotton candy and a ride on the Ferris wheel, and now I was reneging.

I stopped pacing, and sighed heavily. This was absurd, but this was my life. It was a sunny August day. Little kids were outside running through sprinklers, or playing t-ball, or chasing butterflies. Kids my age were at the beach or water parks, or in the cool basements of their homes making out with boyfriends while their parents were at work. All I wanted to do was eat breakfast, go back up to my room, pull shut the curtains, and enjoy the gloom. For me this passed as entertainment—this was the best I could do. But I couldn’t even do that, because I was having an argument with a ghost.

I looked down at Jerry. He was sitting at the kitchen table. He appeared to have his elbows on the tabletop, and rested his chin in his cupped hands. He still wore the CPD uniform in which he died. The bullet hole in his forehead still seemed to pour out blood, which curved round his eye and ran down side of his face like a gruesome little river. He looked extremely distraught, not because part of his brain was scrambled with blood and hair and oozing from the back of his head, not because he was dead, but because of a dog. It just didn’t make any sense to me.

I shook my head, and sat across the table from him.

“It’s just a dog,” I pointed out.

“He was more than that,” he murmured. “He was all that I had.”

“How was that?” I wondered.

He shrugged his thick shoulders. “Never had much of a family. I was an only child. My parents died pretty young. I never got married, so no kids of my own. All I really had was work. I handled a lot of dogs over the years, and Sarge was the best. He was special. He had something the other dogs didn’t. You could see it in his eyes. We connected somehow. I don’t know, I guess you could say we shared an affinity—we formed a kinship. But you could never understand something like that. You don’t have much feeling for people, so how much could you know about dogs?”

I wanted to say that my attitude had nothing to do with my being a freak; a lot of people, normal people, didn’t care much about dogs. I didn’t want everything to always be about me, and yet, somehow, everything ended up being about me just the same.

“Well, I just don’t see what the problem is, anyway,” I said. “The dog is dying, right?”

“Sarge is going to die soon,” Jerry said. “Any day.”

“It happens, right? It’s sad… I suppose. But it happens. I’m a little unclear what you want me to do, anyway. I can’t make him not die.”

“It’s not that. I just need you to rescue him.”

“Rescue him?” I wondered.

“After he dies,” Jerry said.

“You mean like a doggie ghost rescue?” I wondered.

“Yeah, something like that.” Jerry straightened, leaning back in his seat. “It’s not that big of a deal, really,” he said, as though sensing he was starting to get his way.

But I was suspicious. “So all I would have to do is—what? Be there when he dies and retrieve his spirit.”

“Yeah. Simple, right?”

“Why can’t you do that?” I asked.

“Oh, well…” He paused, pursing his lips, thinking. “I’d have to leave the house for an extended period of time. I’m at my strongest in the house. Outside I’m weak. Outside I can’t even manifest myself. I seriously doubt that I could do what needs to be done.”

I considered everything he had said, and decided that there was definitely something wrong here. I was usually paranoid, sure, but that seemed aside from the point at the moment.

“Okay, what am I missing?” I asked.

He gave me an innocent look, but didn’t respond. I wished I could read his mind, but I could never read the minds of spirits.

“It sounds simple,” I said, more to myself than to him.

“It is,” he assured me, and then added solemnly, “In all the years since your family moved into my house, have I ever asked anything of you?”

“No,” I had to admit. “And it’s not your house anymore, by the way. The dead can’t hold deeds.”

“It still feels like home to me,” he said, “and you’re like the daughter I never had.”

Now I knew something was wrong. Seriously, who in their right mind would ever think of me as the daughter they never had?

“Jerry, you’re full of shit,” I said.

“What? Jules, this is not big deal for you. I’m just asking you a small favor.”

“Yeah, but what aren’t you telling me?”

He sighed. “Look, it’s simple,” he said. “All you have to do is be nearby when Sarge dies. You make contact with his spirit, you protect him, and you bring him back here. That’s all.”

“Ah-hah!” I jumped all over that one. “You want me to bring him back here.”

“Yeah, what did you think? I want you to grab his spirit and drop it over at Animal Control?”

“So he’ll be here, in the house, with you?”

“Yeah, that’s the idea,” he said, as though this was perfectly reasonable.

It took me a moment to realize that, really, there wasn’t anything wrong with this. Sure, there would be another spirit in the house, but it would only be a dog.

“Well, I guess that would be okay,” I said, grudgingly, still feeling that somehow I was being tricked. “It’s a ghost dog, right? There’s no chance he’ll poop and pee all over the place.”

“He won’t actually haunt you, either,” Jerry added. “He’s very well behaved. Most of the time, you wouldn’t even know he’s here.”

“I suppose I could live with that. What’s a little more weirdness in my life?”

“Then you’ll do it?” he asked.

But he seemed too eager. I noticed the way he was leaning forward in his seat, like a businessman about to seal a deal that would net him a load of cash. Again, I wondered if I was missing something. I ran through everything in my head, and finally it hit me.

“Wait a second. Wait just a second,” I said. “Protect him from what?”

“What?” Jerry said, playing dumb.

“You said you said you needed me to contact his spirit, and protect him. Protect him against what?”

Jerry stared at me for a moment, and then he seemed to sag in his chair.

“Well…” he murmured, but didn’t go on.

“Against what?” I demanded, starting to lose my temper again. I hated the idea of a deceptive spirit—if you can’t trust a spirit, especially a spirit who in life had been a cop, who can you trust? “Jerry?”

“Okay, there might be a tiny problem,” he confessed, holding up his hand, with thumb and index finger almost touching. I would have believed the problem might indeed be tiny, if it weren’t for the grimace on his face.

“Jerry, I have my own problems.”

“Oh, I know, I know,” he said. “And I really wouldn’t want to pile my problem on yours. But Sarge means a lot to me, and you’re the only… uhm…” He struggled for the right word.

“Freak?” I suggested.

“I wouldn’t have said freak. I meant, you’re the only—special person I know. You’re the only one I know who can do what needs to be done—”

“Lucky me. So protect him from what?” I asked.

But Jerry was going on. “You see the future. You can read peoples’ thoughts—”

“Protect him from what, Jerry?” I squeezed in, though he wasn’t listening a bit.

“—You move things around with your mind—”

“Jerry.”

“—You can control the weather, for crying out loud,” he finally finished, having run out of steam. He looked at me with baleful eyes for a moment, and then mumbled, “This won’t be something you can’t do.”

I was baffled. I’d first encountered Jerry when we moved into the house, seven years ago, when I was ten years old. He’d never been troublesome. For the most part, he kept to himself. He never made the walls creak, or caused things to fall off shelves, or rattled windows. He never actually haunted the house, but I sensed that might change.

I studied him closely. He seemed unsettled, lost in a cloud of desperation.

“If I can’t do this,” I asked, “you’re going to be miserable, aren’t you?”

“I wouldn’t want to be miserable, but yeah, I’d be pretty miserable,” he said.

Which meant he would make my life even more miserable than it already was. As much as I hated the idea, I guessed I would have to become—on top of everything else—a dogcatcher, a dead dogcatcher.

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