by Gail Farrelly
This story was previously published in the Yonkers Tribune.
Note from the author: Like all fairy tales, this one DOES have a happy ending, despite how things may appear at the beginning of the story. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Once upon a time…
There was a pudgy sheriff shivering in the cold as he looked out over a frozen lake. He pulled his black wool cap further down on his head and was thinking that he should have been home in bed. It was, after all, three o’clock in the morning—the morning of Valentine’s Day. But he just couldn’t sleep. Not with the memory of what had happened at that lake the night before.
He thought back to the midnight call last night that an idiotic driver, accompanied by a dog, was speeding around the frozen lake in a pick-up truck. The sheriff and his assistant had rushed off, hoping that they wouldn’t have to use the wetsuits and emergency gear they brought with them. The caller had reported that he could no longer see the tail lights of the pickup truck and feared the truck might have fallen through the ice.
The sheriff closed his eyes for a moment, and there it was again. A set of glassy doggie eyes in a mound of tan fur floating in the icy water in the cab of an old pickup truck, a truck partially submerged in one of the few melting spots in the deepest part of the lake. No sign of a driver. But when the sheriff had peered in through the open window and saw that the mound of fur included three legs and a stump, he figured that he was looking at Spirit, an adorable Cocker Spaniel that belonged to Johnny Anderson, a twenty-something guy who ran a little auto shop just outside of town.
The sheriff hadn’t had much time to react to the sad find. Within a minute or two the truck shuddered and sunk deeper into the lake. It probably would stay there, he figured, until the spring thaw. It just wasn’t worth it in this weather to risk a life bringing to the surface something that contained no life.
Twenty-four hours later, the sheriff still found the whole thing hard to swallow. Leaving a defenseless dog to die while saving yourself seemed unbelievable. Johnny loved that little dog and the two were really close, a family of two. The sheriff knew that, two years before, Johnny had rescued the injured dog, who had been tied to the railroad tracks by a group of drunken teenagers who thought it was fun to torture a poor defenseless stray.
Johnny had gotten the hapless doggie off the tracks and had seen him through an extended stay at the local animal hospital. One of Spirit’s legs was amputated, but he quickly learned to walk again (though with a peculiar gait) with many hours of physical therapy and much love from Johnny, his savior and adopted dad.
Johnny was no angel. He had had a few run-ins with the law over the years. But nothing that serious. When the sheriff had spoken to him early that morning, he was unrepentant. He didn’t even seem that upset. He said, “Look sheriff, I’m sorry, ok? I tried to get Spirit to come with me, but he kept wiggling away. I had no choice. It was him or me.”
When the sheriff had left Johnny’s house, he was thinking that at least now he wouldn’t have to deal with the complaint Old Man Jackson had made a few days ago against Spirit. Jackson (the pest, he was always complaining about one thing or another) said that the dog had followed him down the street and attempted to bite him “for no reason at all.” The sheriff seriously doubted the allegation but promised to investigate. In truth, there were probably dozens of animals as well as people in the town eager to take a bite out of Jackson, but the sheriff kept his opinion to himself. Anyway, it was a moot point now.
Back to the present. The sheriff was about to head for home when suddenly he heard it. That little “yip, yip, yip,” so characteristic of Spirit. Now he was definitely losing it, the sheriff thought. He looked out at the spot in the lake that had swallowed up the doomed pickup truck. Not a ripple.
Then he heard the “yip, yip, yip” again and realized that it seemed to be coming from a little rundown shack on the bank of the lake down aways to his left. As he headed down there, he heard the barking a third time. When he reached his destination, he went round back and settled himself at a tiny, narrow, grimy window to peek in.
Eureka! There he saw Spirit in the flesh, earnestly listening to a mea culpa from an exhausted-looking Johnny Anderson, “I’m so sorry I had to put you through this, boy. I know it was no picnic for you being left here. See, I knew that Old Man Jackson wouldn’t stop hounding us to the ends of the earth until he got you into trouble but good. He has contacts all over the country. His grandson was one of the teenagers who served a few months in jail for torturing you, and he wants to get even. No other choice but for you to play dead and for us to blow this town.”
The sheriff could see that Spirit wasn’t holding a grudge as he joyfully licked his master’s face and greedily devoured the dog biscuits Johnny produced from his pocket.
Johnny continued, “Oh, good news. Y’know that $8.99 stuffed Cocker Spaniel we picked up at Walmart? The one you were so jealous of? Gone! He’s sleeping with the fishes.” Johnny stopped to take a deep breath, then said, “We were lucky. It all worked out pretty much as I had planned. Guess the sheriff leaned into the truck just long enough to see THE BODY but not long enough to retrieve it. I dunno. Could be his leaning may have been just enough to send the truck down, down, down. Who knows?” He stopped to laugh, then added, “Whatever. A perfect ending for us.”
The sheriff muttered gruffly to himself, “Happy Valentine’s Day.” Then he sighed. He had been had. And it had never felt better.
He was smiling as he headed for home. And hopefully some sleep.
Johnny, the dog, the sheriff. They all lived happily ever after…
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