"They killed my dog." A voice, weak and whiny, captures my attention.

I stop along the sidewalk and glance around, my scuffed dress shoes grazing a puddle and my umbrella pulling with the wind. "Who's there?" My voice rings out in the silence of my neighborhood. It fills the empty spaces and rings back to me, sending a chill down my spine. I step over the puddle and begin walking again.

"They killed my dog." A young man, grubby-faced and worn thin, steps from the shadows just in the distance from the streetlight and clutches at a plastic orange shovel. "Sir, they killed my dog. Will you help me bury him?" Rain streaks down his dirty cheeks, leaving trails of white behind on the otherwise browned skin.

I take a step closer and he flinches back. His hands are filthy, caked with mud and bits of fur. Blood is congealed around his cuticles; I notice that his nails are bitten down to the quick. His clothing is smeared with blood and dirt; there are holes in his shirt and his knobby knees knock together below the hem of his shorts.

"Son, isn't it a bit late for you to be out?"

His mouth twists into a grimace. He sinks to the ground and buries his hands in his hair, moaning softly. "They killed my dog, mister. Bam. Dead."

Another quick study shows that clumps of his hair have been ripped out, leaving behind raw patches dotted with scabbed-over sores. What little hair he has left is matted to his head in dirty clumps. Beneath the grime coating his face, I recognize him as one of the neighbor's boys. He rarely came out, unless it was a quick trip to the car before he was whizzed off. I'd heard some of the older women clustered around a mailbox whispering about him, saying words like "schizophrenia" and "dangerous." Pity bubbles up in my gut and I sigh.

"Son, if you'll come along with me, I'll help you bury your dog."

The boy reaches back to grab hold of something. He brings forward a tattered package - a bag of some sort. He cradles it against his chest and coos to it softly, stepping out into the rain. He stumbles along beside me, his filthy feet scraping against the broken pavement from his lack of attention.

"Why don't you step under the umbrella?" I extend my arm a bit, inclining the protection to him. He shakes his head quickly; his bright eyes darting back and forth in his skull. His mouth twists and pulls into grimaces; he clutches at the reeking package and takes a shuddering breath. Every few moments he speaks to himself, mumbling lowly under his breath so I won't hear what he's saying.

We stop in front of my house and I turn to him, pointing a thumb in the direction of my shed. "I'll be right back with a shovel, okay? We'll bury your dog once I get it." I back away from him, watching his malnourished frame glow in the distant lights of the houses surrounding him. Then I turn, casting a longing glance up at my own home.

A man should be able to come home from work and drink a beer on the couch, I think as I dig in my pockets for my keys. He shouldn't have to bury the neighbor kid's fucking dog in the rain after twelve hours of crunching numbers.

My fingers emerge, clutching the keys, and I scramble to find the right one. A quick glance in the backwards direction tells me that the boy is still waiting, watching my every move. The lock clicks after a few tries and the door swings open. I reach an arm around, grab the shovel from its place against the doorframe, and head back for the boy.

We continue down the street until we reach his home. The lights are down and it's silent except for the soft tapping of rain against the metal roof of the car sitting in the drive. Mud squishes around my feet and suctions my shoes into the ground as I follow the boy to his backyard. He's begun a small hole but must have stopped when he found no purchase with the flimsy plastic of the child's shovel. I sigh and hand him the umbrella. Rain instantly soaks my suit jacket and smears the mud coating the shovel along my hands. The boy drops the umbrella and stares at it blankly.

"Hold that, will you?" I snap tiredly, pressing the spade of the shovel into the ground and pressing down into the soft earth with my foot.

"They killed my dog, see? Lookee here." His mouth twists, revealing yellowed teeth. He inclines his head, listening for something. "They killed my dog."

I ignore him and continue on with my work, anxious now to return home. A general sense of unease settles itself in the pit of my stomach. My guts lurches with anxiety, but I keep working. I don't want him to follow me home.

His voice grows frantic. "Mister, they killed my dog. Look at him! Bam! He's dead!"

I dig deeper, struggling to keep mud from pooling in the shallow grave I'd made.

He shoves me, hard. I stumble and slip in the mud. "Mister!" he screams, his voice shrill. "Look at my dog!"

I raise a fist and turn, planning to swing, but the sight of the switchblade clutched in his hand makes me freeze. His head twitches. "Dig."

I take a deep breath and lean down to pick up my shovel before digging again, this time faster. I need to get out of here.

A sharp pain sears through my back and I drop to my knees, down into the four feet of grave I'd managed to dig in such a short time. Something warm and wet trickles down my skin; fear makes the hairs on the nape of my neck stand. I lie face down in the dirt and stare at the muddy wall before me.

Something lands with a heavy plop next to my face. Muddy water and dirt splash into my eyes, staining my picture of the dead dog curled into a heap near my head. Maggots squirm in and out of the eye sockets; the flesh has rotted down to bone in certain areas. The stench of the rotting corpse assaults my senses and I fight the urge to vomit.

I swing once, twice, landing a useless blow to the boy's knee. I can hear him chuckling above me as he raises a foot and crushes one of my fists into the dirt. His jagged toenails scrape along my knuckles.

The boy drops down to his knees and presses his nose against mine. His rancid breath wafts into my face. "See, mister? They killed my dog." He pulls the switchblade from my back in one smooth motion and traces it along the line of my jaw. A scream rushes through my clenched teeth.

"Shh," he whispers, running a hand over the dog's bloody fur. The switchblade is replaced, this time buried in my side and twisted roughly. The edges of my vision grow hazy and turn black. Rain patters softly around my body; the boy lies down in the mud next to me. "They told me to kill him too," he murmurs.

Schizophrenia. I try to focus on the definition of it we'd learned in my high school psychology class, but it's difficult. Schizophrenics often suffer from hallucinations. Without proper medical treatment, they are considered a definite threat not only to those around them but also to themselves. . .

A warm body presses against mine. Dirty fingernails scrabble at my face, reaching for my eyes. Rancid breath reeks into my nostrils and a voice whispers, "they killed my dog." A deep, shuddering sob, and then the switchblade finds purchase in my abdomen.

Author's Note

*scuffs shoe along floor and blushes darkly*

I don't actually know where the idea for this came from. I don't even know if it's decent or scary or whatever it is that readers want to see in a piece of horror/thriller/suspense writing. Crap.

Leave a comment letting me know what you think. Go easy on me, considering the fact that this is the first time I've ever written anything besides romance and slash!

ohsocyanide