enlightened age of ours, concepts like good and evil are often painted as outmoded, archaic even.
According to modern thought, people (animals too, obviously) are simply products of their environment and no more responsible for their actions than a twig in a stream.
But I know better. Some things are just born bad.
About ten years ago, we had a German shepherd named Duchess that had a litter of puppies - 7 in all. Six looked like any other shepherd you've ever seen, the seventh was a snowy white. Not a true albino, just white-furred with a black nose and blue eyes.
There was never any doubt about which one we were keeping out of that litter. We named her Princess.
Before the end of six months, any plans we had about giving away or selling the others became a moot point, as all of the others were dead. We'd just find them at a rate of about one a month, not mangled or anything, just dead as if they'd died in their sleep. At first, we thought maybe their mother, it being her first litter and all, was accidentally crushing or smothering them.
Later, we had no doubt as to what had killed them.
Within a year, she came to dominate her mother, her father (tough old alpha that he was), and to a degree, us too. Her parents shied away from her. When it we put out their food, she ate till her heart's content, unchallenged by the other two. Once I tried to shoo her away and let the other two eat. She snarled at me, baring those perfect white fangs to her incongruously black gums and loosing a growl so deep that I felt it in my guts more than heard it.
After that, I left her alone too.
I've often wondered if the parents of serial killers know they have a monster in the making. I mean, sure, some of them are to blame for how their kids turn out, products of fucked up households with systematic abuse of all possible flavors, but then there are the ones that seem to be true aberrations. It's those families I'm curious about. Do they smile and laugh and pretend that everything's fine?
I know that we sure did. We downplayed the weirdness around Princess, tried to rationalize her behavior, the bizarre things she'd do, like killing rabbits and leaving them hung up in the bushes behind our house.
"Some dogs do that to show they love you, cats too," my father would say. "To them, it's just bringing you food."
To me, it looked like she was taunting us. Just like the puppies years earlier, not one of those rabbits ever had a mark on it.
Princess, just like her mom and dad, was well looked after and never hurt for a meal, so it wasn't as if she were hunting for food. Her innumerable kills were always untouched. No, the only thing I ever saw her eat was a kitten.
We had some feral cats in the woods around our house and one momma cat had a litter in our tool shed. "Feral" really is stretching it; most of them were tame enough to be petted, this momma being among them. I returned home from school one day and headed around back to look in on them.
The door to the shed was open and inside I found Princess, her jaws pink from her feast. As she devoured that last kitten, her beautiful blue eyes never left mine.
The momma we found displayed on what I'd come to think of as the "rabbit bush."
The tipping point came that same year when we found her sire dead. He was the best dog we'd ever had, that we ever will have. We woke one Saturday morning to find him in the back yard lying dead without a mark like so many rabbits before him. I can count the number of times I ever saw my father cry on one hand. That was one of them.
That was also when we found out how she killed so cleanly: she strangled her prey. Like a jaguar. The fur at her father's neck was still wet with her saliva.
We spent that morning burying that good old faithful dog, and then he sent me and my mom away on some pretense. No words were spoken, but there was no doubt about what he intended to do.
I'm sure that there are some of you reading this that will find the notion of putting an animal down to be abominable, but what other options did he have, really? Take her to an animal shelter? Give her to some other family? Who could do that and go to sleep with a clear conscience?
As it turned out, we weren't getting any sleep that night regardless of our decision.
We spent that afternoon at my uncle's house. Once when I came in from playing to get a glass of water, I overheard my mom telling my uncle that she sometimes wondered if the dog was possessed or something. I'd sometimes wondered the same thing. Later that evening not long before sunset, we got a call from dad. Apparently, the deed was done.
By the time we arrived home, he'd already washed up and changed clothes, but there was little he could have done to hide his wounds, even less to hide the haunted look in his eyes. Both his arms and one leg were bandaged and that was bad enough, but what's stuck with me all these years later was just how terrified he looked. It wasn't until I'd actually been through combat that I recognized that expression - it's how men look after they've stared death straight in the face.
My father never talked about it, but he'd drafted a friend from up the street to come help, and it's from him that I get this part of the story.
Princess was many things - bloodthirsty and evil chief among them - but stupid wasn't among them. In that, if nothing else, she took after her father. Her dad, Rocky, was famous for letting himself into the house if it was storming out. He'd figured out how to paw open the sliding glass door out to the patio. What was really astounding is that he also had the presence of mind to close it behind him.
Not being stupid, she knew something was up and made herself scarce, disappearing into the woods. Dad, not wanting to put this off and being in full-on revenge mode, called his friend from down the road and filled him in, so off on the hunt the two of them went.
In his own words, "She was laying for us."
If it sounds absurd to say that Princess lay in ambush, then I've failed at conveying just how wrong everything about her truly was. She led them on a chase through those woods, barking whenever it seemed the stupid humans had lost her again. Then she laid up beneath an overhang on the creek bank just where the path crossed it and waited.
She was on my father the instant he stepped down into the creek, grabbing his leg and making him fall headfirst into the water. Then she went straight for his throat. My dad had already lost his rifle at that point and he grabbed her with both hands to try to fend her off, wrestling with 115 pounds of teeth, claws, and muscle in a foot and a half of water, Princess savaging his arms all the while.
At some point, he managed to work his legs up between him and the dog and kick her away from him, providing his friend with a clean shot, which he took, catching Princess through the chest. He put a second round through her head point blank. He then helped my dad back home and to the emergency room, telling him he'd go back to see after Princess once they got home.
"She can rot where she is," was all my dad had to say on that subject.
After they got back from the hospital, our neighbor went back on his ATV to pick up Princess for burial. He was a dog lover like us and it just didn't seem right to him to leave her. If he'd spent as much time tiptoeing around as we had, he might have felt differently.
"She flat wasn't there," he said. "No blood trail. Nothin." He also said that after he'd been there poking around for a few minutes, he noticed something else strange - no birds. It was dead quiet the way the woods sometimes get right before a bad storm blows in. Wisely, he got right the hell out of there.
There was a storm coming, all right.
That night, Duchess came pawing at the back door wanting in, something she'd never once done in all the time she'd been with us, and I had a dream.
In it, I was playing football in the back yard with some buddies and ran over to where a bad throw had landed near Rocky's grave. As I reached for it, Princess's head shoved up out of the ground to grab my hand. I woke up with a jolt and was promptly scared out of roughly ten more years of life by the silhouette of a German shepherd in the hallway.
It was Duchess, of course. She was sitting in the hallway whining and wagging her tail nervously. She was looking back toward the front of the house. I walked over to her and placed my hand on her big doggy head and said, "What is it, girl?"
That's when I heard the distinctive sound of claws on glass. Something was pawing at the patio door.
Thoroughly terrified, I grabbed Duchess by the collar and dragged her along with me to my parents' room, shutting the door behind me. I was 14, I was terrified, but even in that terror retreating to my parents' room wasn't just for the security of mommy and daddy. That's where the guns were.
I woke them up and told them what I'd heard.
"Oh sweet Jesus," my mother said. Dad got up and locked the bedroom door and said, "Y'all lock yourselves in the bathroom."
I heard the patio door slide open. If any of the rest of us had any doubts about what had just come into the house, Duchess sure didn't. The only thing she'd ever feared in this world was her own pup. A deep rumble of a growl vibrated in the floor beneath our bare feet and Duchess's bladder let go as if on cue. Mine wasn't far from doing the same.
What followed was a 6 hour exercise in pure terror, punctuated by snarling attacks on the bedroom door, crashes through the rest of the house as Princess found more things to break, whispered prayers from my mother, and litanies of curses from my father as another of his attempted forays out of the bedroom were thwarted.
We were without a phone. The one on my parents' nightstand was dead. We'd later find the phone line to have been ripped out at the main box. My mom suggested that we try to make it to the car and above and beyond everything else, it was my father's response to that idea that really scared me. Of the three of us, he was supposed to be the rational thinker, but what we got instead was:
"Honey, I think that's what it wants us to do."
As the world through the windows turned from black to grey, a quiet fell over the house. Mom and I watched through the windows, craning our heads in an attempt to get an eye on the patio door, but try as we might, the best we could manage was a view of most of the patio - more than enough concealment for a dog to slink in or out, even a big one like Princess.
After an hour of silence, my dad quietly opened the bedroom door. I remember thinking what a useless gesture any attempt at stealth was. Dog senses are so much more acute than ours that he might as well have fired a twenty-one gun salute. Dad stopped in the hallway an shooed me back to the bedroom. "Don't come out until I say, OK?" Carefully, he made his way through the house to the patio door. We heard him shut it before he shouted back to us to stay in the bedroom till he told us to come out.
Through the door, I could hear him moving around and what seemed to be him dropping things into a garbage bag. After about thirty minutes, he gave us the all clear.
What greeted us was a disaster - ripped up cushions and pillows, destroyed furniture, shredded papers and books all over the floor, but most terrible were the smears of gore all over everything. My mother wondered aloud at what she'd drug into the house. Grim-faced, my father did not answer. He simply turned and headed out the back to bury Rocky for a second time.
We cleaned up as best we could while dad drove down to our neighbor's house to make all the appropriate calls. After all these years. I still wonder what portion of home owner's insurance covers "attack by undead demon ghost dog".
Unspoken, we all wondered what the night would bring.
As it turned out, we never got a repeat, but Duchess never left the house again.
Time rolled on.
Occasionally, we'd find a new "present" on the rabbit bush. Just a friendly reminder, another token of Princess's abiding "love."
About two years into college, my dad called to tell me that our neighbor had passed. "Heart attack in his sleep, the coroner says," said my dad, but what we were both thinking was "Not a mark."
There are plenty of nights where I wonder what the last thing was to pass before that old bachelor's eyes. I can guarantee you it stared right back. I've seen firsthand how it feeds.
Not long after that, my folks put the house up for sale. I sort of acted as go-between on that deal. About a week after the new owners moved in, I received a call from the man of the house. He wanted to know if we'd left any pets behind when we moved. Already fearing the answer, I asked him why he asked.
"Oh, me and the kids keep seeing this white shepherd in the woods. Pretty!"
-Credited to Anonymous