by Eric Massey

There once was a little dog.  His name was Rex.  He lived in a small house in a small town.  He didn’t know what the town was called because, well, he was a dog.  He lived with a man.  Rex did not know the man’s real name.  The man referred to himself only as “the master” so that was the name Rex thought to call him.  The man was middle-aged, bald, and grotesquely fat.  He was a mean, nasty, unkempt man with a violent temper.   He would often beat Rex for no reason at all, at least none that Rex could comprehend.  Rex was so terrified of the “master” he would often have nightmares in which the fat man would chase him endlessly down a dark never-ending corridor.  He would wake up in the middle of the night frightened and shivering in his cage.  Oh, the cage—yes, that was the place Rex called home.

Rex lived for all practical purposes in the small metal crate.  It was indeed very small for him now.  When he was a little puppy, it was not so bad, but now he could barely move.  He was ten now.  He was a very old dog indeed and much bigger than before.  He had to lie on his side and curl into a tiny ball to sleep.  He couldn’t stand or even stretch in the little cage.  The only time he had any relief was when the man would let him go out to go to the bathroom.  The man would take the leash from the wall.  He was never nice or gentle when he did it.  He would grab Rex by the hair on his head, yank him out, and quickly hook the leash to his collar.  Oh yes, Rex had a collar.  A beautiful collar, at least when it was new.  A bright blue collar with eight diamonds inlaid on it, a collar fit for a king.  When Rex was a puppy he was so proud of his collar, but time had worn out the collar.  The bright blue had faded, the stitching had come loose, and the diamonds had fallen out.  The worst part, however, was how small the collar had become, or more correctly, how big Rex had become.  He was surely a puppy no longer.  He was as tall as the master when he stood on his hind legs.  Of course, the man did not like it when he stood like that; the man had a weapon for such a time.  He called it the whip.  “Do you want the whip, beast?  Do ya?” he would scream at Rex and crack the whip down on his head.  Rex would yelp and fling himself back into the cage.  It was too small, but it was safe.  When he was in the cage the man rarely spoke to him, only when Rex needed food or to go outside to the bathroom.  The bathroom, that’s what the man called it; for Rex it was the only time out of the cage, the only time in the yard, the only time he experienced freedom.  It was during this time of freedom that his life changed forever.

The master came home promptly at 5:15 p.m.  Rex knew he was home because he could hear the car and its unmistakable low rumble as it pulled up the hill into the garage.  Rex was excited as usual.  He couldn’t help it, even though the master was cruel; at least Rex knew he could get out of the cage.  He had to go outside badly.  He had a bowl full of water in the morning but by now it was empty.  It was just enough to quench his thirst, but also enough to fill his bladder.  He could hear the man shut the car door.  Rex was shaking he was so excited.  He couldn’t stop writhing around in the cage.  He constantly banged against the sides of the cage, but, confined as he was, he couldn’t help but make a lot of noise.  He tried to calm himself but found himself more frantic than before.  He had to go outside.  NOW.  He could hear the key in the door.  Oh, he could not stand it any longer.  He started to bark “Ruff, ruff,” quiet at first.  He tried to stop but to no avail.  “Ruff, ruff, ruff!”  Rex barked louder.  The key rattled in the door.  “Ruff, ruff!”  He barked louder still.  He lost all control.  He flung himself against the cage.  “Ruff, ruff, ruff, ruff, ruff.”  Rex barked louder than ever before.  The door flew open and in clambered the man.  “Shut up, you beast!  Shut up, you mongrel!” he bellowed, foam flying from his mouth.  His huge girth pushed through the door as he burst into the room.  “Shut up!” he yelled as he kicked at the cage.  He had a bag in his hand.  “Hold on, you puke!”  The man glowered as he passed Rex in his cage.  He continued on into the kitchen.

Rex squirmed in his cage.  He had to go outside.  NOW, please, NOW.  He could only whimper as he waited for the man.  He could hear the man in the kitchen.  He was opening the food box.  Rex was trying to be patient, trying to wait, but it was too late.  Rex did not need to go outside any longer.  He wet the cage.  His urine ran along the bottom across the papers and into the corner.  “Oh, no,” Rex thought.  He knew what was coming next.  The master would be more than angry, he would be . . . terrifying.  He would be the man in his nightmares.  Rex could only stare at the kitchen door.  He was not excited anymore.  Now he was frightened.  He hunched back against the back wall of the cage.  As far from the door as he could get, he whimpered quietly, waiting for the master.

The door finally opened.  Rex closed his eyes.  “What?  What have you done, you stupid dog?” the master screamed at him.  He stood over the cage and glowered down at Rex.  “You couldn’t wait five minutes, you lousy mutt?”  The man turned and grabbed the leash . . . and the whip.  Rex shivered.  The hulking master threw open the door to the cage.  Down came the whip.  “Smack-crack!”  The whip made a sickening noise as it hit poor Rex.  He cried out in pain.  “Crack” came the whip again.  “Stupid dog, I’ll show you!”  The man slobbered the words.  “Crack!”  Down came the whip again.  Rex screamed out in pain.  “Shut your yap!”  The man let Rex loose.  Rex fell prone to the floor.  He dared not move.  He just whimpered.  “That’s better,” fumed the man.  He attached the leash to Rex’s too-small collar and jerked him roughly up.  “Now, we will go outside and you can do your business right, mutt!”

The man led Rex by the leash to the back door.  Rex was hurt and in pain, but he still had hope because the yard was just beyond the back door and the yard was temporary freedom and the possibility of more.  Rex began to formulate a plan in his head, a plan for escape from his cage, from his master, from this place, a plan for freedom.

The man opened the door to the back yard.  The sun was suspended in the sky high above Rex as he walked out into the back yard.  The light beamed down on his back.

He felt warm and alive.  The cage was too small, too confining and too dead, he needed the outside.  He needed his freedom.  His freedom was limited, however, to the fifty by fifty-foot back yard.  His freedom and interaction with other dogs was limited by the eight-foot-tall privacy fence around the entire perimeter.  This was the problem with his escape plan.  He had a plan, but everything would have to work perfectly.

The grass felt dry and parched under his feet.  The ground was hard but it felt wonderful, much better than the cold metal.  The master was stern and heavy-handed with Rex as usual, but Rex knew the routine.  He knew what the master would do in a situation like this.  He would not leave the cage a mess.  He would bring it outside to clean it with the water hose.  Rex hated and loved the water hose.  He liked the water but hated getting a bath.  It was often awkward and usually painful, as he would get hit by the master many times.

His mind was wandering.  The master would clean the cage.  Yes, but what would he do with Rex?  If Rex would behave, he might tie Rex up to the clothes line.  This was his best hope.  Tie me to the clothes line.  The shed by the back corner was the only way over the fence.  If the master were distracted for long enough, just maybe he might be able to climb over the fence.  “But what would I do if I got out?” he thought.  He had never met another dog or another person other than the master.  He had never been anywhere.  The thought made Rex pause for a moment.

“What are you doing, dog?” the man growled.  The master pulled the leash taut.  Rex immediately pressed up against the master’s leg.  He rubbed and fawned on the man. 

He was trying his best to appease him.

“Dog, you done pissed me off!”  The man rudely punched him in the head and shoved him abruptly away, but he did not use the whip.  Rex continued to show the man affection.  “Damn you, stop it!” the man cursed under his breath, but he didn’t hit Rex this time.  “Dog, I’m gonna tie you up to this pole and you better act right, you hear?”  The man leaned in close with the whip in his hand.  He took the leash and tied the lead end around the metal clothes line pole.  Rex nodded and smiled inside.  This was it, this was his chance.  “I’m gonna get the cage out here and clean it . . . then you.”  The man smirked when he said it.  “Behave!” he yelled back as he walked toward the house.

Rex knew his time was short.  It was now or never.  He bent over to the leash and began to gnaw on it.  The leash was old just like his collar.  It was tough, though.  This was taking longer than he thought.  The master was inside.  Rex could hear him cursing as he tried to get the cage up and out the door.  Rex was panicking.  He kept gnawing.  Gnawing.  His jaw grew tired.  The man was almost to the door.  The man backed out the door very slowly, his huge rear end leading the way.  He was dragging the cage out the door.  Rex stopped chewing and quickly lay down on the leash.  The man stopped and turned and stared at Rex.  Rex looked dully back as if disinterested.  The man continued his work.  Rex waited.  The master, sweating and cursing, finally got the cage outside to the water hose.  He turned again to stare at Rex.  Rex just closed his eyes.  “I’m gonna get some soap, dog, then I’m gonna clean this cage, then you.”  He smirked a wicked grin; he knew Rex did not like baths.  He turned back and entered the house.  Rex immediately began chewing again.

Almost there.  Almost.  One last nylon thread.  Free.  The leash broke from the pole.  Rex sprang to his feet and ran across the yard to the shed.  It was taller than he thought.  He ran up to its side and jumped up on the fence and tried to jump to the back of the shed.  He slipped off the shed and fell to the ground.  He was up instantly and jumped again.  This time he made it up on the roof top.

“Dog!  What the hell!” the master bellowed from across the yard.  “Stop!”  The master started running as quickly as his great girth would allow.  Rex froze for an instant; he couldn’t move.  He saw the master and something compelled him to stop, a deep desire to please the master; somewhere in his heart he wanted to stay.  The master trundled closer.  Rex snapped out of his trance.  He shook his head and turned to jump the fence.  “Ya-a-h!”  The scream was higher and louder than any scream Rex had ever heard.  He stood paralyzed face to face with another human.  A female human.  A woman, he thought they were called.  She was several feet away on the other side of the fence, a place Rex had only dreamed about.  Her high, shrill scream only started again.  Seeing a big, shaggy dog on the roof of the shed must have been too much for the woman.  She, too, was paralyzed, seemingly unable to move, just like Rex.

“Dog, damn you, dog!”  It was the master’s booming voice.  Rex turned just in time to see the master hit his leg with the whip.  He fell forward against the fence.  The woman screamed again and ran towards her house.  The master, cursing, yanked his leg and pulled Rex down from the roof of the shed.  Smack onto the ground Rex landed on his head.  It almost knocked him out.  It might have been better for him had it been so.  It would have spared him the beating to follow.

The master whipped him mercilessly.  Over and over again the whip came down.  Time and time again the master beat him.  There would be no end to the beating until the master finally grew weary, until his own muscles became too exhausted from the incessant beating.  Rex cried out until no sound came from his throat.  The master grabbed Rex by the leg and dragged the broken body back into the house.  The cage had been returned to its place just as it was before being cleaned.  The master shoved Rex back into the cage.  Rex offered no protest.  He lay there in his own urine.  No sound or complaint.  He slipped into unconsciousness or sleep or somewhere in between.

A deafening noise woke him from his deep sleep.  It was the sound of thunder only it sounded like it came from inside the house.  There was another loud bang and a flashing, whirling light.  Smoke filled the room, it was coming from all around.  Rex heard shouting.  Faintly he heard the sound of the master yelling, but not at him, at someone else.  Rex heard cursing from the master, then loud, banging sounds.  It was a sound that frightened Rex so much that he shivered and urinated on his papers.  Pow, pow, pow went the sound.  The master let out a blood-curdling yell.  Rex could hear other men in the house shouting.  Rex shivered in his cage, darkness and smoke all around him, with strange men in the house.  The door to his room burst open.  Several men dressed in black clothes and helmets and carrying guns poured into the room.  Rex knew about guns:  The master had some and they were loud.  That must have been the loud banging noise he heard.

“There, there he is, we have him!” one of the men called out.  Another repeated the same words into a black box on his shoulder.  Rex was deeply frightened.  What was happening?  Who were these men?  Rex was overwhelmed.  “We have you.  Hold on,” said one of the men dressed in black.  He opened the cage.  Rex froze, too frightened to move.  “It’s okay, we have you now.  It’s all right.”  The man bent down on one knee and reached out his hand toward Rex.  Rex growled softly.  The man moved his hand closer.  “It’s okay.”  He was very calm.

Rex could hear a lot of confusing noises coming from other rooms in the house.  The man touched Rex.  Rex stiffened.  “It’s okey.  You’re safe now.”  The man’s voice was low, calm, and very soothing.  “Come on, it’s okay.”  He smiled gently.  Rex moved slightly.  The man waited.  Rex moved closer and fell over a little.  He was heavy and sore from his beating.  He fell into the man’s arms.  The man picked him up and carried him outside the house.  He moved past the men in the kitchen, where the smoke was still thick in the air.  Rex was carried past the front door and out of the house into the front yard.  He was immediately blinded by the blue and red lights emanating from several cars and trucks in the road in front of his house.  They seemed to be everywhere, and people seemed to be everywhere.  He never knew there were so many people.  He did not see the master anywhere.  The man carried Rex to a strange-looking bed with wheels and laid him gently down on the bed.  Rex smiled because the bed was soft.  He was so tired that even with all the commotion he knew he could fall asleep.  The man placed his hand on Rex’s head and held him gently but firmly down.  Rex closed his eyes.

Carol Parker was the first one on the scene.  She had gotten the call first and in a matter of two hours had managed to get the proper paperwork and manpower to accomplish her task.  She dreaded the entry into the house because you never knew what you might find.  She had seen many cases of abuse, but she feared the worst.  The police entered the house quickly and overpowered the man inside.  Shots were fired, but fortunately no one was seriously injured.  She paced restlessly outside beyond the roped-off area.  She remained in the safe area until everything was clear, when an officer approached her walking briskly.  “We have him.  He’s over here.  Follow me,” he said.  The officer wove his way through the crowd and led her over to the gurney.  She approached the medic.  “Is he okay?” she said, concern evident in her face.

“Um, he’s okay, he has several broken bones and a lot of bruises and cuts, but he’ll be okay,” the medic said.  Carol stepped to the bed, reached out her hand, and placed it on the little boy’s arm.  There was almost nowhere she could touch him without finding a bruise.  She very gently caressed him.  The little boy opened his eyes.

“Hey,” Carol said quietly.  The boy smiled faintly.

“Son, what’s your name?”  Carol’s voice was soothing and calm.  The little boy tried to answer but nothing came out.

“It’s okay,” she said.  Carol gently straightened out the faded blue collar with the missing diamonds that the medic had handed her.  She wiped the faded dog tag until she could make out the engraved name.  “Is your name Rex?” she whispered.  The little boy smiled and nodded.  Carol wept.


About the Author:

Eric Massey

Eric Massey has been married to his high school sweetheart Heather for over 29 years. He has five children ages 28 to 15 years and one grandchild. Eric graduated from Winthrop University with degrees in Psychology and Music. He also received a B.A. in Biblical Studies from Covington Theological Seminary and an M.A. in Pastoral Counseling from Victory Bible College. He has served for over 20 years as Youth and Worship leader at several Augusta area churches. He recently finished a screen play entitled “Riverbed” a story of failure, loss, and redemption tentatively scheduled for release in late 2019. “The Little Dog” is Eric’s first published short story.