(What If? Exercise: Read the description here.)

I remember it was a chilly night in midwinter. A cold breeze was wafting through the peaceful suburban street, gently swaying the leaves of the trees and the petals of the flowers on the front lawn that I always tried to keep so immaculate. The chill of the breeze did little to decrease the elevated temperature of my face, however, as I sat leaning against the wall of my house, clutching my right wrist and panting heavily from the rush of adrenalin to which I had been subjected not two hours ago. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to find myself aged twenty years and still looking back on those two hours as the worst of my life…

The street was empty at this hour; none of our neighbors bothered to spend winter evenings outside when such time could be better spent sitting by a warm fire or beneath a cozy blanket while the TV blared favorite prime-time shows. The only living soul in sight to witness my growing anxiety was a silver mackerel tabby sitting on a pile of boxes by the fence before me. Her hazel eyes reflected the moonlight in the eeriest manner, giving the illusion that I was being watched by some kind of condescending animal spirit. But I saw right through her disguise.

“Stupid cat”, I cursed unforgivingly, glaring right back into those brilliant eyes. “Why, Luna? You knew that dog was trouble! You remember what happened last year!”

Our next-door neighbor lived alone in his large, excessively rectangular house. The only other inhabitant of that property was his enormous Rottweiler, a real monster of a dog, who had been appropriately named Everest. Our neighbor had adopted him to keep as a watchdog and guard dog against the thieves who had somehow managed to break into his house twice. However, the Rottweiler had proven to be more of a threat to the neighbors than to potential burglars, and proof of this could be found in the form of signed compression bandage strips in my sister’s bedroom.

As sweet and intriguingly eccentric as our neighbor was, he also happened to be a bit forgetful, a flaw that had proven unfortunate for my little sister’s left leg. One day, Everest’s owner forgot the back gate open, and the dog had seized the opportunity to escape and come bounding into our yard in pursuit of his worst enemy: the little cat who insisted on provoking him from the distant fence every chance she got. The second Luna spotted him, she made a mad dash across the yard for the kitchen door, the dog only a few bounds behind her. My sisters and I stepped out the back door at the exact moment a bristly flash of silver darted past us into the safety of our house. Two of us managed to leap aside just in time to avoid the large black blur now hurtling toward us. My youngest sister was not so lucky. In his mad pursuit of our cat, Everest clipped my sister with such force that he effectively knocked her over like a ragdoll. The impact with the hard floor and the subsequent tumble she took off the back porch were enough to scrape and sprain her leg so badly that she would need cast-like bandaging for the next three weeks.

What saved our neighbor from serious trouble – and his dog from possible impoundment – was the fact that neither our cat nor her owners had suffered any severe damage from that incident. To be perfectly honest, I suspect that even if she had emerged from that event with a broken leg, my spotlight-seeking baby sister would have optimistically milked it for all the attention it was worth from her family and friends. In the end, her sprained ankle sufficed for obtaining plenty of attention and bandage signatures at school; our neighbor agreed to foot the bill for her treatment; and my parents agreed to forget the incident, so long as our neighbor made sure to install a new lock on his gate and double-check it every time he left the house. Everyone was at peace. Everyone but me.

In truth, I had never quite gotten past the events of that day. The Rottweiler on the other side of the fence had always seemed like a threat to me, regardless of the fact that he had never shown any direct aggression toward his human neighbors. My greatest fears regarding that dog were always for the health of my family and the life of my cat, and the chase incident had intensified those fears by at least a power of three. I knew our neighbor had no clue how to train a guard dog himself; Heaven forbid his clumsiness should cost something much worse than a sprained muscle next time. After several weeks of watching Everest grow even larger and more menacing by the day, however, I decided there wouldn’t be a chance for a next time, not if I could help it.

At some point during my winter break, my opportunity to act finally came. Our neighbor was out of town for the month, and he had left the responsibility of feeding his dog to the gardener who tended to his lawn every day. This was an ideal set-up for my intentions, as the blame for the dog’s mysterious disappearance could have easily been lain on the gardener’s negligence regarding the back gate after all was said and done. Now was the time to execute the plan I had been working on for several days, a plan that, if successful, would remove that “bear-dog” from our lives for good.

I was home alone that night; my family had left in the late afternoon to have dinner at our friends’ house, while I feigned a bad headache as an excuse to stay home. By 6 P.M. that evening, the sun had already disappeared behind the horizon, and the neighborhood was just beginning to glow with the artificial illumination of streetlights and household lamps. I pulled on my maroon winter jacket, grabbed the bag of supplies I had put together the night before, and headed out the back door toward our neighbor’s yard, using the spare key he had given us for emergencies to bypass the gate.

Everest was next to his doghouse, just as I knew he would be. I also knew he wouldn’t attack me on sight; as a necessary precaution, the professional dog trainer from whom the Rottweiler had been adopted had insisted on bringing him to the neighborhood himself and personally training him not to attack the neighbors. Even in the dim glow of the house’s outdoor wall light, the dog recognized me immediately, and therefore didn’t bother barking in alarm. That’s why I like large dogs; unlike smaller breeds, they usually tend to bark only in the face of a real threat, not at every living soul that passes by. Our Labrador was like that…

It was in that moment that I began to compare the dog I once owned to the dog I was facing now. Our chocolate Labrador was the sweetest, most gentle creature I had ever known, from the day we adopted her right up to the day she passed away of a heart condition. In a way, our neighbor’s Rottweiler wasn’t much different. He didn’t mean to come off as a monster dog. He wasn’t some savage beast that thrived on the taste of innocent victims’ flesh and blood. He was just a big klutz of an animal, dangerous more for his large body mass than for his powerful jaws. Chasing our cat, knocking people over, destroying neighbor property – all the damage he had caused in the past was really just the playful behavior of a grossly oversized puppy. The way I saw it, taking this dog away from an owner who couldn’t raise him properly would be nothing short of doing him a favor.

“Come on, boy”, I whispered as I extracted a leash and muzzle from the bag I’d brought with me. “We’re going for a walk.”

Five minutes later, I was leading the muzzled Rottweiler across my own yard toward the woods behind our house, the leash in my right hand, the bag and a lit flashlight in my left. If I could just lead him far enough into the seclusion of the trees, we would come to a path leading downhill, where I could then leave him to find his own way to a new home, most likely the neighborhood down the slope where the smell of barbecued meat was ever-present. The path wasn’t too far away, and I was careful to leave the back gate unlocked and wide open. Everyone would simply think Everest had run away of his own accord, never to return to his home street, and no one would be the wiser. It was a perfect plan, and best of all, it didn’t require any physical harm to the dog.

That’s the thing about perfect plans: they’re only ever perfect in theory, because in practice, there’s always that one variable that wasn’t accounted for. In my case, that variable was Luna.

When the dog and I were about halfway across the yard, something suddenly caught my attention: a small pair of eyes glinting in the moonlight straight ahead. My heart stopped the instant I saw those eyes, for I knew exactly to whom they belonged. What was she doing out here? I was so sure I had left her upstairs in my bedroom. Could I have forgotten my window open? Everest must have spotted the cat at the same moment I did, because we both froze at the same time. That’s when everything went wrong.

Without warning, the Rottweiler suddenly lunged forth with what could easily have been the force of a small automobile. The leash was ripped out of my grasp before I had time to react, and the next thing I knew, I was lying facedown on the moist grass of my yard, a throbbing pain in my right wrist. Looking up, I noticed the torn remains of the old leather muzzle that once belonged to my Labrador now lying a few feet away from me. This could only mean one thing: Everest was on the loose, and this time, he was out to kill.

The shrill cry of a cat in distress pierced the still night air. Luna turned and scampered around the side of the house as fast as she could, her Rottweiler pursuer disappearing around the same corner mere seconds after she did. My heart now pounding fiercely with pure terror, I sprang to my feet and hurried to follow the running animals. All the sympathy I had felt earlier for the dog had vanished; he had reverted to his monstrous persona. My humane plan was ruined, replaced with a single thought now racing fervently through my mind: protect Luna at all costs.

Little Luna was only a kitten when we first found her outside our house and adopted her. For the two years that followed, her size increased little, but her growing affection for us was more than enough to compensate for it. I myself had grown especially attached to the tabby; being extremely shy by nature, I felt much more comfortable with an animal companion than with a human one. Luna had become my best friend, and now she was in danger. I couldn’t let that monster dog catch her and rip her apart. How could I live with myself if he did?

A loud crash sounding from around the side of the house sent a horrible chill down my spine. I turned the corner to see Everest now inside our garden shed, sprawled among a mess of overturned gardening tools. Luna was inside the shed as well, leaping toward an open window on the opposite wall from the door. She was still in the dog’s reach, and I knew that if he managed to jump up and grab his prey, he wouldn’t let go until she was dead. I had to act fast if I was going to save her.

Quickly as I could, I ran to the open shed and grabbed the first tool in sight: a large shovel. Everest, distracted by the escaping cat, did not notice me poising myself behind him as he rose to his feet. Just as he made a lunge for Luna, I swung the shovel down to hit him square in the face. It wasn’t enough to knock him out, but the blow was sufficient to daze the animal just long enough for me to scurry out of the shed and bolt the door shut before he turned on me. I dropped the shovel on the ground, then hurried to the other side of the shed to peer through the window. Through all the commotion, Luna had successfully escaped and disappeared into the night. I was alone with the enraged Rottweiler now. Pretty soon, I would just be alone.

I looked down at the ground by my feet to find an intriguing item: a plastic container of antifreeze, which we used for the lawn mower. In that terrifying moment, I knew what had to be done. I had made an enemy of this dog, and now there was no turning back.

I ran into my house through the door leading into the kitchen, where I hurriedly grabbed a couple of hot dogs from my own dinner to bring back with me to the shed. Everest was still growling and angrily pawing at the shed door when I returned. I opened the container beside the wall, carefully dipped the hot dogs in the coolant, and tossed them through the open window. It didn’t take long for the dog to take the bait; antifreeze has a sweet scent that tends to attract hungry animals, particularly unsuspecting house pets.

But the antifreeze alone wouldn’t be enough. If this dog had to meet his fate by my hands, it wouldn’t be a slow painful death from kidney and liver failure over the course of a few days. No, the death had to be quick and as merciful as possible; if there was one thing I wouldn’t stand for, it was subjecting an animal to unnecessary suffering.

Thirty minutes after consuming the poison-soaked hot dogs, Everest was rendered partially disabled, no longer capable of standing properly. He barely reacted when the door finally opened again and I stepped inside, and he didn’t bat an eye as he watched me slowly remove a pair of recently sharpened pruning shears from a hook on the wall. I attached the leash I’d recovered from the yard to the seemingly drunken Rottweiler’s collar, then proceeded to lead him outside into a small patch of the woods. Ten minutes and several stumbles later, the dog was lying in a hole I had dug for him in the cold soil over the last half-hour. Now for the hardest part…

I laid my flashlight on the ground and stepped into the shallow pit, pruning shears in hand. I knelt beside Everest just as he closed his eyes and drifted off into an intoxicated slumber. For some reason, I felt compelled to gently stroke the dog’s head, possibly as a last gesture of compassion and reassurance. His fur was coarse, but with a silky touch to it. I then took a deep breath, and slowly brought the shears to the unconscious Rottweiler’s chest.

“I’m sorry”, I whispered, and with that, I closed my teary eyes and plunged the blades directly into Everest’s heart.

By the end of that eventful night’s episode, the dog’s body was completely buried, the mess in the garden shed had been straightened out, and I was leaning against the wall of my house, cursing at the silver tabby who apparently had decided to show up unexpectedly twice in the same night. I had never meant to hurt anyone, and I wasn’t prepared to forgive my cat for her unanticipated interference any time soon.

“The things I do for you, Luna…”

The mackerel tabby took this moment to leap down from her box perch and slowly walk over to me. Once by my side, she lightly sniffed the droplet bloodstains blending into the folds of my maroon jacket, then crawled into my lap and proceeded to gently lick my injured wrist. At this, I couldn’t help but breathe a heavy sigh; Luna always seemed to know exactly how to express her feelings. While staring straight ahead through the gaps of the fence before me into the darkness of the night, I subconsciously began to stroke my cat’s silver fur as I softly whispered in response to her affectionate gesture…

“You’re welcome.”

This is the first short story I wrote for my online UCBX creative writing course. The prompt was taken from the book What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers (the first book I reviewed from my Writer’s Toolkit), specifically Exercise 71: “Kill The Dog”. The exercise is to write a story in which you, the narrator, find yourself in a situation where you must kill the neighbor’s dog, the objective being to practice writing “raw” fiction so as to become “comfortable with the uncomfortable”. I hope you enjoy what I’ve written. Thanks for reading!

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