Ada woke suddenly, and it took her a moment to realize why. An impatient canine whine and the scrabbling sound of paws on the screen door came down the hall. Groaning softly, she pushed herself into a sitting position. Frank snored softly beside where she had lay. She didn't shake him awake or turn on the bedside lamp as her feet skimmed along the icy floorboards in search of her slippers. Taking her robe from the back of the door, she shuffled down the hall.
Buster's whimpering got louder as she neared the front door, rising to a full throated bark as she turned the handle.
"It's two o'clock in the morning young man. What are you doing out of your yard?"
The Jack Russell Terrier stood on his hind legs, placed his front paws on the screen door and cocked his head curiously. He belonged to the family that lived two houses away from Ada and Frank, but had the troublesome habit of digging his way out of their backyard at night and rousing the neighbors until someone let him inside. Early on, he'd learned the Ada was a sympathetic target and now he came to their door almost exclusively.
"Let me get my boots on and I'll take you home." Ava shivered, "Better get a coat too."
Grabbing one of Frank's long parkas, Ada slid on the pair of snow boots and stepped out onto her porch.
"Come on, now. Time for you to go back home."
As they made their way down the street, Ada wished she had stopped to put on gloves and some pants. No one was awake to be scandalized by her being out in her nightgown, but the icy air slipped under the flannel causing her to shiver. Given the hour it was unsurprising that all of the lights in the Nelson's house were off, but Ada tried knocking on the front door anyway. When no one inside seemed to stir, she tried the doorknob. It was a safe enough neighborhood that most folks, Frank and Ada included, didn't feel the need to lock their doors, yet that night the Nelson's apparently had. Puzzled, Ada turned and looked down at the dog.
"Guess you're coming home with me." The terrier stuck his nose against the door and began to whine. "I know you want to go inside, but we can't get in and I can't very well leave you out here to freeze."
She made it back to the sidewalk before Buster turned and, head hanging, followed her back to the house. Ada had never seen him act in such a way. When they got back inside, she took a towel from the bathroom and dried him off, then lifted him onto the bed before lying down herself. The movement of their bodies woke Frank who, with a snort, turned to face her as Buster snuggled between them.
"Oh, Ada. Again?"
"I tried to take him back to the Nelson's but their front door was locked. Strangest thing. Normally I can just let him in"
"Had those friends coming from out of town, didn't they? Maybe they forgot to tell 'em to leave it unlocked. Can't see why they don't just let the dog in before they go to bed."
"Connie told me they want him to sleep outside in a kennel."
"Well he isn't in a kennel now, is he?"
"I'm just telling you what she said." Ada reached out to stroke Buster's head only to find that Frank, for all his blustering, was already scratching the terrier behind his ears. "Just go to sleep. I'll walk him back over in the morning."
Ada woke just after seven, and found herself alone in the bedroom. By the time she'd dressed, the smell of coffee and bacon wafted through the house. She found Frank sitting at the kitchen table reading the newspaper, while one hand alternated between lifting a forkful of eggs to his mouth and offering small pieces of bacon to Buster, who sat beside his chair attentively.
"And you say it's all my fault that he comes here. You spoil him just as much as I do."
"If I don't feed him, he whines. I didn't want him waking you up."
They ate breakfast together and then Ada pulled on her boots again and called Buster over to the kitchen door.
"Time to go home, boy. Say good-bye to Frank." The terrier just looked at her attentively, tail wagging as she attached the leash to his collar and turned to her husband. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
Frank murmured something indecipherable, his eyes still on the newspaper, but waved to indicate that he had heard, and Ada and Buster left the house. The dog trotted in the snow beside her as they made their way back down the icy sidewalk. It was a Sunday and so most families were either still sleeping or just now waking to eat and dress for church. As she approached the Nelson's house, she could see that the lights inside were still off. No puffs of smoke rose from the fireplace.
"It looks like everyone is still sleeping. We'll just have to wake them up won't we?" Ada looked down as the terrier began to strain against his leash, pulling her towards the house. "All right, all right. Slow down now or I'll fall."
She knocked on the front door as she had the night before, and rang the doorbell twice, but still no noise came from inside the house. The curtains were drawn, preventing her from looking inside to see if there was any movement. Growing impatient, she led Buster around the side of the house, sliding between the cars in the driveway, to the back fence. There was a small string that hung between two of the taller boards and Ada tugged on it until the gate swung open. Buster nosed his way into the yard and began to bark.
How heavily could the Nelsons and their friends be sleeping, Ada wondered as she made her way to the sliding glass door that lead to the family dining room? To her relief, it was unlocked and after Buster had done his business in the yard she ushered him into the house.
"Now, you tell your parents they ought to keep you inside when it's cold like this," she bent over to unclip the leash from his collar when something strange caught her eye.
The Nelson's phone was off the hook and dangling next to the floor. Even as far away as she was standing, Ada could hear the angry beeping through the pea green receiver. Moving closer, she realized a hand was next to it, and her heart gave a jump when she came around the end of the kitchen wall and found a collapsed figure in the hallway.
From the knee-length skirt, she could assume it was a woman, but any meaningful details had been obliterated by whatever or whoever had smashed in her face. Ada didn't make it to the sink before her stomach violently rejected the breakfast she'd only just eaten. Her hands were shaking and she turned to flee through the door, when Buster's high pitched yelp reminded her of the pup's presence. Something had clearly gone terribly wrong, and as much as she wanted to hurry back to her house to have Frank summon the police, she couldn't bring herself to leave the terrier behind.
"Buster! Come here, boy," she called.
When he didn't come, she steeled herself and approached the hallway again. She could hear him whining, and continued to call out as she made her way down the hall. Out of the corner of her eye, Ada could see another slumped body as she passed the living room. As much as she wanted to look away, she found her head turning, almost of its own accord. The figure was, mercifully, face down but a dark stain on the surrounding wood floor implied that whoever it was had been as badly injured as the woman lying outside the kitchen.
Buster's whining guided her down the hall to the Nelson's bedroom. She began to push the door open, afraid of what she would find inside and nearly fainted when the terrier brushed against her leg.
"We need to get out of here." When she reached down to pet him, her hands came away wet.
Ada's heart now hammered so loudly in her ears that she could barely hear anything else. As she leaned down to try and grab the dog, her shoulder pushed the door further open. The Nelson's window shades had been opened, illuminating the slaughtered figures who still lay on the bed. Her mind, unable to process anything more, went blank.
Ada stared wide-eyed at the horror, hearing nothing; not the creak of footsteps on the wood behind her, or Buster's alarmed bark, which turned into a low growl. She saw nothing but the horrific butchering before her. Felt nothing until a strong hand clamped down on her shoulder.