HCE received a lot of high-quality submissions for The Brutal Issue – sadly, too many to fit inside the magazine! So we offered some of our shortlisted contributors the chance to be published on our website.
Keep an eye on our social media for more great writing like this, in the run up to the release of The Brutal Issue…
The Devil You Know
Judith Glass Collins
The dog barks and sprints downstairs. In a haze of sleep, I try to discern what kind of bark. Coyotes? Does Dandy have to pee? Silence. I nod off, back to my recurring dream. Standing in shattered glass. Utterly helpless.
Dandy barks again. And again. And again. Did my husband come home early? Why would the dog bark at him? Did I lock the back door?
I put on my bathrobe, turn on all the lights upstairs. Probably an animal in the woods. The barking grows hysterical. A metallic taste floods my mouth. I’ve bitten my lip. Hard. I move to the stairs, and rushing, trip, tumbling down, falling to my knees. A man screams, “Shut up!” And then a whack, followed by a yelp. My dog. Shit. The house falls silent. Suddenly a stumbling, a banging of flesh and bone against wood. “Fuck Fuck Fuck!” The voice. Familiar. Drunk.
I push myself up from the floor. My heart is beating fast and my stomach like ice, but I must find my dog. Why can’t I move faster? I did forget to lock the back door.
There he is. My nephew. Banging his head against the kitchen door frame, blood streaking down his face. My heart plummets to my feet. I whisper, “Why aren’t you in the hospital?”
“You fucking cunt – leaving me in that place like I’m a piece of shit. Is that what you think I am? A piece of shit? My mother always warned me you were a cunt.”
Sweat trickles down my back. I walk backwards. “Where is my dog?”
“Your dog? He was my dog before you took him away from me. Bitch, Bitch. Nothing’s mine. It’s all shit. I killed the goddamn dog like I’m gonna kill you.”
I lunge toward the telephone in the kitchen. He pushes me onto my back. The sour smell of stale whiskey. His body covers me, presses me against the tile floor. His face a mask, blocking out air, light.
“How should I kill you, huh? Bury you alive in the backyard with your dog. Bury you like you tried to bury me?”
I try to breathe. I try to recognize the kid I once knew. The floppy-haired kid with the toothy smile, teaching the dog to play Frisbee. Both of them flying in the wind. Before the booze, the accident, the death of his girlfriend. I try to squirm away; he just holds me, his body rigid. He clutches my face with his hands, demands, “Why? Why?”
His head falls upon my chest. I feel a softening, a getting tired. “What happened? Why did you run away?” I say. Suspect he’s been drinking for days.
His face crumples into itself. He begins to sob. “I didn’t mean to run away. I thought she was passed out. Just passed out.”
He’s gone back in time. He’s back on the side of the road. Driving drunk, driving without a license, the car smashed against a guardrail. His Jillian pressed lifeless against the dashboard. Her opened eyes staring at nothing, as if caught in a daydream. He heard the sirens. He ran.
I try to pull myself out from under him and he begs, “No, don’t leave, let me stay. I didn’t really kill the dog. ”
“I know, I know.”
“I put him outside,” he said. The one thing he couldn’t say was I’m sorry. He never said that.
I see Dandy’s long face like a lighthouse beacon, come into the light from the porch window. He’d been scratching at the door. Why did I leave the light on?
“Let me let the dog in. It’s cold.”
He allows me up. My knee pulses as I limp to the door. “Okay, boy.”
Dandy bounds into the room, all forgetfulness, forgiveness. He licks the blood off our intruder’s face. The squall over, my nephew is passed out. The boy man, sprawled onto his back. Looks like he’s sleeping. Looks like he’s at peace.
I pick up the phone and call the sheriff.
JUDITH GLASS COLLINS was recently a finalist for New Millennium Writings 42nd Flash Fiction Competition. She is the winner of several playwright competitions, including the 5-time winner of Port Townsend’s One-Act Play Competition, Baltimore Playwright’s Festival, and KNOCK Magazine’s International Play Contest, sponsored by Antioch College and Freehold Theatre in Seattle. Judith has been published by Next Stage Press, KNOCK, Columbia Pacific Review, and Journal of Poetry Therapy. Her full-length play, Tribe, was selected as a semi-finalist for The Bridge Initiative Women’s Playwright’s Festival in Arizona. The Island Theatre on Bainbridge Island, WA, has produced two of Judith’s short plays: iChat and Of Poisoned Pens and Palates. The role of flash fiction writer came to Judith through her early years as an actor, her more recent work as a drama therapist and psychodramatist, and her doctoral studies in clinical psychology.