My mother watches my kids, Thomas, 4 and Rose, 6, while I work. She lives only 5 minutes away, and my kids have a close bond with her and my dad. She determined after a few years of me shuttling back and forth to daycare that she would rather retire and make them her full time job. When my parents go out of town, we take their dog, Mia. She is a long-haired dachshund, black with brown paws, that my mom found on the side of the highway as a puppy. Although she always professed she didn’t like small dogs, she was mourning the loss of our black lab only a few months prior, and she brought Mia home to fill the void. She always said she was meant to find her.
The thing you have to understand about this dog is that while she is 100% submissive to my parents, siblings, and my family, she is extremely protective of all of us. She sits next to doors, waiting for my kids to enter the house first, and patiently waits for her turn to have dinner (next to Tommy’s chair, of course, in case he drops something). In contrast, when my husband’s father plays with them, tickling and throwing them in the air, we have to crate her because she thinks that he is attacking them. Just about anything in her yard prompts a vicious response, and, typical for dachshunds, she doesn’t seem to know or care that she is sometimes smaller than the object of her aggression. There is no doubt in my mind that she would attack a bear before letting it get near “her kids”. She seems happy knowing her place at the bottom of the pack – she is well fed, a little lazy, and her favorite position is draped across my daughter’s stomach, napping while Rose watches TV.
You may wonder why I’m bothering to tell you all of this, but it’s important. I don’t know how my mom saw a tiny black furry thing on the side of the highway, or why she stopped to check it out. I don’t know why they decided not to bring her to the beach with them this weekend as they normally would, only that they asked if we could take her. I do know that we spoil her and even though she sleeps in a crate at home, we let her sleep with the kids when she is here. Thank God we do.
It was around 3 AM when I woke up and padded to the bathroom, hoping that I wasn’t heading into a bout of insomnia. Usually, before going back to my room I’ll pop into the kids’ rooms, turn them right side up, fix thrown around blankets, things like that. My house is small – a ranch just big enough for all of us. The bathroom is across the hall from my son’s room, next to his room is ours, with my daughter’s across from that. The first thing that I noticed through the sleepy haze was that my son’s window shade was blowing gently. We had closed all of the windows earlier to turn on the air conditioner, but I thought to myself he must have opened it. All of our windows have safety features – two plastic pieces that we can pop out on the upper frame that only allow the window to open 3 inches. It stops curious children from falling out, and anyone from breaking in. I always keep these engaged on the kids’ windows.
My son was sprawled sideways, his head resting on the bumper of his bed with one foot on his pillow and the other propped up on the windowsill. His stuffed tiger was tucked in one arm, his blanket in the other. Dinosaurs, and other toys were strewn all over his bed, evidence that he had not gone right to sleep that night. I paused for a moment to watch him sleep in his ridiculous way before fixing everything. They only stay little for a minute, you know.
As I watched him sleep, the shade over the window slowly moved. I should have moved more quickly, I know, but in the middle of the night, when your brain is half asleep, reaction times aren’t quite up to par. Honestly, my first thought was that I must be asleep, having a nightmare. As I stood there in growing horror, a long, pale limb reached under the shade toward him. An arm - extremely thin, with long fingers, but not quite human. It was too long to be human. It grazed his stomach, still pudgy with the remnants of toddlerhood, and slowly started to wrap around one little leg. It was at this point that I snapped out of my stupor – nightmare or not, nothing was going to pull my baby out of his bed.
Before I made it to the bed, though, a little black form came tearing from Rose’s room across the hall. With a snarl bigger than her size, Mia latched onto the arm that held Tommy’s leg and fiercely shook her head, tearing into the white flesh. With a noise somewhere between a screech and a scream, the creature outside the window yanked its arm back outside. Mia followed the retreating appendage, scrabbling at the windowsill as if trying to dig through it, jamming her head through the little gap. Luckily she couldn’t fit; it was a six foot drop on the other side. Barking and snarling like a dog possessed, she tried to reach whatever it was on the other side. As I gathered my son into my arms, terrified and screaming for my husband, I tried to pull her back into the room.
Joe came stumbling into the room, reacting both to my screams and the dog barking. I heard Rose start crying across the hall. I abandoned Mia, pulling a thoroughly confused Tommy out of his bed and running to Rose’s room, where I scooped her up, too. I put them both on the floor at the foot of my bed, far from both windows in my room, and made sure both were locked. Joe kept asking what happened and between sobs I explained that there was something outside that tried to take Tommy. He was holding Mia, who was squirming and growling. At first he tried telling me it was just a dream, but it was hard to deny that something real happened. The dog was still barking. She finally tore free from his arms and took off toward the opposite side of the house. Joe told me to stay with the kids and went in the closet safe for his gun. He doesn’t really keep it for home defense as much as for a hobby, being that it takes a minute to get it out, but I was glad he took the minute to take it. He disappeared into hallway and once he was past the faint nightlight in Tommy’s room, he was gone into the dark. The dog was still barking.
Long minutes passed. I could hear Mia run from the front door to the back, then to the window in the kitchen, then to the one by the table. Listening to her path I realized whatever she heard was slowly circling the house. Next the bathroom, then Rose’s room. Finally she ran into our room, and knowing we were close to whatever was outside intensified her aggression. The kids cried and I tried to muffle the sound without smothering them, telling them everything would be fine. Joe stood at the door, pointing the gun at the window that Mia was currently launching herself at. I heard shuffling, scratching, the sound of the screen being pulled out of the window.
“Don’t shoot through the window!” I begged Joe as loudly as I dared, fearing that if the glass was broken it would just come through.
Joe remained silent, motionless, finger on the trigger. We waited for long moments while the creature outside scratched and banged, looking for weakness in the frame. Finally it grew silent outside. Gradually, Mia’s snarls turned to low growls, and Joe relaxed his grip on the gun. The kids’ cries turned to whimpers and I slowly relaxed my death-grip on them. I crept to the window and peeked up under the shade. We live very close to the center of town and to the highway, and as such, even on moonless nights there is a soft glow over the trees from the lights. It’s not great for star-watching, but it is comforting to me that it is never pitch black outside. Except tonight. As I peered out the window I couldn’t help but stand and crane my neck, looking for the lights. The only reason they would be out is a power outage, and we were on the same grid so that couldn’t be it. The highway put out no light as well.
I flipped up the stoppers and cracked the window in the front, putting my ear close to the opening. Joe hissed at me from across the room to close the window and Mia intensified her growl, but didn’t move. Outside was dead silent. We live in a quiet neighborhood; most of our neighbors were the original owners of their homes, built in the ‘60s. Two doors down from us is a five year old that the kids play with regularly, but other than that there aren’t many kids on our block. It was too dark outside, unnaturally dark. I reached in Joe’s bedside drawer for the small flashlight I knew he kept in case of power loss. Keeping the window open only a few inches, I turned on the light and pointed it around. I didn’t see anything besides dark, sleeping houses. My courage growing, I opened the window far enough to point the light down, and since I’ve seen horror movies, up as well (you never know when the monster is actually on the roof, right?). With the dog still beside me, only a low rumbling in her throat, I opened the window just far enough to poke my head out.
Shining the light at my neighbor’s houses, I saw no movement, absolutely nothing. I stayed there until I started to question my own sanity. Maybe it was a prowler after all, and my imagination got the better of me. Maybe it was an animal. Why it would stick around with an angry dog making a ruckus, I have no idea. Honestly, why my neighbors weren’t angrily calling me, or even awake was beyond me. Mia had certainly been loud enough. I was about to pull my head inside the window when a slight movement out of the corner of my eye caught my attention. I shone the flashlight in that direction just in time to see something pale, thin, too tall to be a normal human slip silently around the corner of the house two doors down. The house where my kids’ friend lived. My heart froze and I pulled my head inside, slamming the window shut and grabbing my phone to call 911.
“Call the Wilsons,” I told my husband as I whirled around. They don’t have a dog.