“Moss” [Short Story, Part One: Dreaming of Death]

green grass
Photo by Fabian Wiktor

After a long lull due to life’s circumstances, I’m back with a brand new story. I had a breast cancer scare that all but sucked the life out of me for a short while, but its given me the gift of greater depth and humility, and I pray it radiates out from within myself and transfers into my stories.

I’m going to try something new with this new story. I’ve written it in such a way that it’ll have a few parts, which when completed will make up a novella that I hope to print, publish, and sell.

For now though, in continuing with my website’s intended purpose, I will be publishing the parts for my readers for free, as they are written.

I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.

Thank you for your continued support.

All the love in the world,

Shelly

“Moss”

**Written for adults. Strong language and possibly triggering topics.**

Written by Shelly Moore

[Part One: “Dreaming of Death”]

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to act upon an impulsive thought without hesitation or any concern for the outcome. When driving from New England to the Midwest, there is a particular bridge which crosses the mighty Hudson River that I’ve often fantasized driving my car off of. I’ve considered whether my little car would even have enough velocity to crash through the barrier, and if so, if time would slow while we (my car and I) free-fell one hundred and fifty feet, give or take a dozen or so, before slamming into the water’s surface as if it were a concrete roadway. I’ve wondered more times than I’d care to admit if the impact alone would be sufficient to remove my soul from its diseased meat prison, or if I’d get to experience the icy water filling my vehicle’s cabin, chilling my feet, legs, torso, and then face before finally sinking to the bottom. 

A handful of miles or so from my home there’s a beautifully constructed man-made dam that I’ve often visited on days when my mind is full and my spirit is dull. I sit upon its ledge overlooking the spilling falls far beneath me, and I consider jumping into its chaotic rhythm. I curiously consider if the fall would break the fragile vertebrae in my neck, or if the tumultuous current would batter, bruise, and tear at my ivory flesh before I lose consciousness.

It is my belief that every soul on this planet has thoughts that arise similar to my own, although they most certainly vary circumstantially. For example, I’ll bet you’ve considered what it’d be like to yank the wheel of your vehicle while driving along the highway, or perhaps you’ve considered jumping from the viewing platform of your city’s tallest building. Maybe you’ve watched a news program or listened to a crime podcast in which a man bound another man with ropes and cinder blocks and tossed him off a pier, and you wondered what it might be like to die such an awful, albeit exciting, death.

We are curious by nature as sentient beings and the fact is death may be the one topic that all of humanity shares a common interest in. We both fear and revere it, as if it were equally as hallowed, enigmatic, and sacrosanct as the post-pubescent female body is to a ten-year-old boy.

Here in America we love to hide that which we do not fully understand. “Out of sight, out of mind,” is likely one of the most common adages you’ll hear used commonly from the west coast to the east, meaning if you cover something with a blanket, it simply ceases to exist. Poof! Magic. When children are asleep in their beds and awake to the sight of dark shadows crawling out of their closets and creeping along their walls, they reflexively pull the blankets over their heads as if a thin cotton barrier will protect them from harm.

Even a few forty-somethings that I know still admit to keeping their feet covered at night for fear of something grabbing their toes, although they’ll giggle as they speak the words, considering their foolish derivation: a seemingly nonsense childhood fear which has carried over into adulthood and simply become a part of their nightly routine. 

I once had a black and grey kitten named, “Sugarplum,” that would attack any unsheathed feet in the middle of the night. One could surmise, as I absolutely did, that she had to have been working alongside the dark shadows at night to feed on the energy produced by my fears. It’s the only possible explanation.

I once watched a disgraced, coward of a man place a capsule of cyanide into his mouth after having being read a guilty verdict in court for the crimes he had committed. Movies will have you believe a cyanide poisoned death is quick and fairly painless; a bit of frothing from the mouth, eyeballs widened with shock, a few body tremors, followed by a slump and hard thud when your lifeless body hits the floor. The theatrics of it all lasting ten seconds, maximum. While the truth of it is, it all depends on the correct dosage, or so the internet has informed me. I can assure you of all the clever, creative ways to free my soul from its burdened jail cell, cyanide would never even make my top ten list. I would not wish to die with froth hanging from my lips as if I were a rabid dog.

I do not intend to off myself, however, although the beginning of this story is sure to have lead you to that very conclusion. I am simply a realist with an insatiably curious mind in regard to just about anything and everything morbid or even faintly morose. In fact, the stigma that surrounds such topics is what draws me to them; not death itself. Why have we, as boundless human beings, placed such a heavy stigma around topics that have been around since we have? Surely, we must have discovered some evidence somewhere along this earthly timeline to lay our fears to rest and put our minds at ease, especially when it comes to something so endearingly natural. Death, you see, is as natural as birth, yet we continue to revere and celebrate birth and run away from, or even chastise those who are drawn to the subject of death. That’s how it is here in America, anyway.

Most other cultures celebrate death as they do birth. Many Cambodian Buddhists believe so firmly in reincarnation that they view it as paramount, or of utmost importance, to have a monk present during the death process in order to prepare the soul for its departure and subsequent passage into the afterlife and reincarnation. They don’t do funeral homes; the body stays in his or her home and is washed and dressed by family members and prayed over by monks for three days (Interestingly enough, sources say it used to be seven days, but “modern pressure” has sped the process up. We are a culture of instant gratification, after all.), after which a funeral and cremation will take place. The ashes of the deceased are then brought to a local Buddhist temple to assist the soul in its journey toward reincarnation.

You may have heard of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, or “Bardo Thodol.” I, myself, have read it twice, and look forward to reading it at least a half dozen more times in order to fully understand its teachings. The text is intended to guide one through the experiences that the consciousness, or soul, has after death, in what Tibetans call the bardo, which is the interval between death and the soul’s next rebirth.

If you type, “NDE” (near death experience) into your internet’s search browser you’ll pull up millions of first-hand accounts from people who have reportedly left their bodies and then returned to continue their life. People can be quick to dismiss such accounts as brain synapses firing at the moment of death, but accounts of people being medically dead for a half hour, yet miraculously reviving and being able to speak of conversations being held by loved ones miles away during the time they were reportedly deceased, down to the very smallest of detail, are much more difficult to dismiss.

Here in good ol’ Amurica, we like to dismiss and make fun of anything we don’t completely understand. We like to think we’re smarter than scientists because our gut says what he’s sayin’ is absolutely absurd.

I do love my country, but I hate lumping myself in with this group. There are a good chunk of us here in America that still believe in science, and still believe in keeping an open mind for discovery of brand new things.

I’ve tried to confirm this via Google, but have had no luck so this could be complete and total utter bullshit, but I’ll share it anyway because it’s interesting and considerably relevant. I was once told that when English ships first reached the shores of what are now known as the America’s, the natives believed them to be oddly shaped clouds. They ran back to their villages telling of these odd clouds, and many more hurriedly made their way to the coast to behold such a sight. They had never seen ships so grandiose, so their minds were only able to interpret what their eyes were seeing as odd clouds.

If you’ve ever watched a single episode of that show that everyone knows about aliens from ancient times, a few of their stories akin to this tale from the Native Americans. Ancient civilizations telling of giant serpents in the sky and other seemingly ridiculously tales. I’m not here to discredit them, by any means. These people clearly saw something, it’s just that they didn’t yet have the knowledge or understanding to be able to translate what it was they had witnessed; so they used what knowledge they had available at the time to convey it.

You might be thinking at this point, what on earth does this have to do with death? Well, it has everything to do with death. NDE survivors often struggle for adequate words to describe their experiences. They often talk about things such as timelessness in this other place, which is a concept we honestly cannot possibly grasp here in our own because time is the basis from which we all live our lives. We live by the sun’s rise and fall. We work five-day workdays, and live for the two-day weekends. We set a ten-minute timer while our pasta cooks so that we don’t overcook it. We know when a New Year has come when the clock strikes midnight on the three hundred and sixty fifth day of the calendar year. We know we’ve aged another year when our specific date of birth comes back around again and again, until the day we die.

There are things that exist elsewhere that we simply cannot yet wrap our minds around, but we can try, and that’s the best we can do for now.

Once our time expires and our souls finally get to pop out of our bodies like a soda cap releasing a lifetime’s worth of pent up carbonated pressure, the shell we leave behind performs a number of wonderfully grotesque party tricks. The body may release stool from the rectum, urine from the bladder, and saliva from the mouth. Self-digestion begins just minutes after death, but we stop that process with a technique called embalming we developed thousands of years ago to prohibit the “grotesque” from being within eyesight.

We generally don’t like to see these grotesque but entirely natural processes, as apparently, they’re just far too much for our fragile minds to handle (nor do we wish to soil the cherished memory of a loved one with the image of their half-decomposed, shitting, pissing, drooling body burned into our minds forever), so we brush it all under the rug by stuffing our those we love inside an ornate and incredibly expensive box, digging a hole taller than your Uncle Steve in the ground, throwing said body-filled box inside, and covering it with concrete to prohibit possible zombie uprisings (because zombies are grotesque, and we don’t like grotesque things, especially grotesque things that chase us and want to eat our brains). Rest assured, that’s not all, folks! We then bury our loved ones under soil, top the freshly agitated earth with grown grass so that it appears the ground had never been broken, adorn it with a fancy headstone containing a clever quote, and don’t forget a vase of flowers – all to make it aesthetically pleasing.

We like things pretty.

We want to memorialize their existence by spending thousands of dollars on items we bury deep within the earth forever, which only hinder the natural processes of decay and decomposition. Processes in which we quite literally are designed for (hence the very definition of “natural”)  in order to fully complete the circle of life and nourish the soil and all of its creepy-crawly inhabitants, which then provide enrichment for the soil, which in turn gives life to the trees, who then oxygenate all living beings that walk, crawl, hop, slither, and grow on its surface as well as providing lumber to build the very homes we live in and the tables in which we dine on the very plants and animals which require the sustenance we are denying them by “protecting” the empty bodies of our dead, or perhaps protecting only our own minds, from the pervasive and grotesque thought of larvae eating away at Grandma June’s wrinkled and age-worn skin.

Read that again and feel the exasperation of its author.

To speak of death is taboo. To speak of self-harming thoughts such as the ones I’ve mentioned before my exasperated run-on proclamation, which are as common as falling snow on a New England winter’s day, mind you, is also considered taboo.

Your friends will worry about your mental health. Your family will subconsciously outcast you for falling outside the lines of societal normality, even in the twenty-first century, and even though they, themselves, have such thoughts. How absurd. 

Out of sight, out of mind.

We can discuss what the birth process is like to a new mother who is already half-scared out of her mind. We can tell her all our horror stories; things we’ve experienced first-hand and things we’ve only heard from a friend about a friend of a friend who’s friend once said another friend had a friend who experienced it. We can tell her there’s a very real possibility she may rip from vagina to asshole in the process, but if she’s lucky the doctor will grab a pair of vagina scissors and cut her so she’ll heal better. They’ve even given it a pleasing name so we don’t have to call it vag-slicing. Episiotomy. We’ll tell her while laughing as if we’ve told the world’s most humorous joke about shitting on the table in front of all the cute doctors and agitated nurses, because it’s nothing to worry about, or so we’ll assure her. We’ll calm her nerves by telling her how it’ll all be a thing of the past, just a darn good story to tell for years to come, after all is said and done and the wee bairn is born healthy and happy (can newborns even be happy? What sadness do they have to compare it to?), and the new mother is hovering over the toilet seat with a squirt bottle and a diaper of her own while agonizing over trying to take her first shit since leaving the hospital.

We’ve normalized all of that. 

We are women, after all. Considered the lesser sex for thousands of years, and even still by some cultures.

I call bullshit.

For centuries women have died before, during, and shortly after childbirth. Childbirth is a natural process, but also an incredibly taxing, and yes, a deadly one. Women do not simply “shit the brat” and then move directly to blissful motherhood, even now in the twenty-first century, although that’s how we’d like to paint that particular portrait.

With credit due to modern medicine, far more women are living comfortably through the experience of childbirth and well beyond. Babies that are born months prematurely can now be hooked up to tubes and kept safely tucked away in an incubator until their fragile bodies have fully formed and they are strong enough to join the world. 

Women and children are still losing their lives every day throughout the world during childbirth, as much as we’d like to push that statistic out of sight and out of mind to keep things pretty.

When I was just twenty-one years old I nearly lost my own battle during childbirth. I would not be here, nor would my daughter, if it weren’t for modern medicine.

That was the first time I cheated death.

The second was when I nearly bled to death in the bread aisle of a grocery store. My daughter was twelve, my son was seven, and as I shopped I fainted due to blood loss. It was simply my monthly period, my menstrual cycle, which I had been telling doctors for years seemed abnormal. Finally, after having caused a scene and being rushed by ambulance to our local hospital, someone decided they’d take a look. An emergency hysterectomy saved my life. 

The third was about a year ago while hiking through one of my favorite forests. I was alone, as I generally am, and a beautiful German Shepherd came running toward me with its leash dragging behind him, clearly having pulled from his owner’s grasp. At first, he seemed quite friendly and I had no worry in mind, but when the hackles on his back stood and he bared his teeth at just ten yards from me, I knew I was in deep trouble. Panic-stricken, I yelled out for its owner and quickly veered off the beaten trail toward a tree I thought I might be able to climb in time. The beast grabbed the thick flesh of my outer left thigh in his teeth as if it were trained to do so, and the pain that shot through my body was agonizing. I hardly recognized the visceral screams escaping my own body as I tried desperately to use my hands to pry the dogs clamped jaws from my leg as it bit down again and again.

His owner, a middle-aged man in grey sweats with earbuds in his ears jogged casually up to me and called for his dog as if he mistakenly thought I was giving the dog love instead of trying with everything I am to keep him away from my femoral artery.

“Pooky, come!” the man’s smile faded as his pace slowed. My eyes, filled with tears and fear, caught his own and only then did he realize the severity of the situation. He plucked the earbuds from his ears and grabbed the dog by its collar as he yanked him away from me. The man’s gaze fell to the sight of my pants, torn and soaked with blood, and the first thing he thought to say was, “My Pooky didn’t do this! He’s friendly! Just wants to be everyone’s friend! What happened, did you fall from this tree? We’re you attacked by a mountain lion?”

“No, you fucking prick! Your dog attacked me!”

I normally wouldn’t have used such language on a stranger, but I was clearly in shock, and the very fact that his first words to me were denying the damage his dog had just caused me brought the sailor right out of me. He, himself, had just seconds earlier yanked his dog by the collar to release his clamped jaws from my flesh and yet he still had the audacity to proclaim his animal as innocent.

“No, no. My Pooky wouldn’t do that. I have grandkids. He’s gentle as a lamb,” he shouted at me defensively. 

“Call an ambulance!” a woman shouted as she approached from behind the man. 

The man attempted to take his dog and leave, but another man, who had been with the woman who called for an ambulance, stopped him by blocking the path until emergency services had arrived.

Forty-three stitches and a heaping dose of antibiotics and pain-killers later, animal control confiscated the dog and had him put down. 

Nearly every single day since that event transpired I’ve received a hateful email or ten from Pooky’s owner, a flaming bag of animal excrement on my doorstep, my tires have been slashed thrice, and my mailbox was filled with eight dead rats once, which was his most creative endeavor yet, I’ll say. My son found the rats and subsequently ran into the house screaming, as any child would. To this day, he refuses to go near the mailbox.

“You murdered my dog. He was like my child. He would never hurt a soul. You lied and it cost an innocent life. You’ll burn in hell,” is pretty much the extent of every hateful message I’ve received from him.

I’ve volunteered at the local animal shelter for twenty hours a week for the last fifteen years, on top of my regular job and being a single mother. I have three dogs, two cats, a guinea pig, and two ferrets; all rescues from the shelters I’ve volunteered at. I pray for the souls of roadkill I pass, sometimes even pulling over to the side of the road to move their battered bodies into the woods. I feed the birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other woodland creatures that visit my yard from the abutting woods. I love animals far more than I’ll ever love humans, but this man has no idea who I am as a person or how I’d never in a million years lie about his dog attacking me.

I’ve tried to tell him. Countless times I’ve replied to his emails trying to explain to him how I’d gladly give my own life before ever sentencing a dog to death, whether it’s tasted human fresh and has been deemed a danger to society, or not.

When the animal control officer called me a week later to tell me the dog had been euthanized while my wounds were still tender and fresh, while the stitches still protruded from my skin and ached unbearably as I stood; I wept. I cried so hard my chest heaved and snot fell freely from my nose. I cried massive, ugly, regretful sobs for this animal losing his life. In that moment, I wanted to reach out to his owner and hold him tightly in my arms, cry with him, and tell him how deeply sorry I was for his loss. I wanted to curse at the animal control officer for telling me this news as if it were meant to appease me and somehow ease my pain. She was only doing her job, however, and I had to remind myself of that before losing my shit on her.

I do not know why Pooky decided I was a threat that day in those woods. I’ve replayed the situation in my mind a half billion times, at least, in hopes of discovering what it was that might have triggered such a response from the poor beast. I was walking along the path quietly, taking photos of flowers, streams, and trees I found to be pretty. I had not startled him, or come upon him in a threatening manner. In fact, I’m quite sure he was at ease and simply running toward me to greet me with tongue out and tail wagging, but a switch flipped in his mind and he attacked without any provocation.

My mother held me in her arms that day and for several days after, and assured me it was not my fault. She said, “If ever there was a human on this earth who radiated with love for this earth and all beings who inhabit it; whether human, plant, or animal, it’s you, Josie. If that dog attacked you I can say with certainty that it had nothing to do with you.”

Her words were kind, as always, but did little to ease my pain, both physical and psychological.

The German Shepherd had sunk its teeth into my flesh a total of nineteen times. Some were surface level abrasions that amounted to no more than scratches, while others were deep, cutting into muscle and causing irreparable damage to nerves. 

I still walk with a faint limp, and running is simply out of the question. Due to the nerve damage, there are days and nights when the pain is so severe the wounds feel as fresh as the day they were created. 

I never developed a fear for dogs, however, which somehow surprises some of my friends and colleagues. I explain to them that just like humans, there’s a bad apple in every bunch. At first, I’d go on and on explaining every seemingly minute detail of the circumstances of that day, and how it was a true mystery as to why the canine turned the way he did, but after a while I learned to read my audience, and realized they were likely tired of hearing my broken-record of a story. I had shared and shared in the hopes that someone could point out something I had missed, but I began to realize that some may think I was retelling the story to fish for sympathy, so I stopped.

I work from home four days a week, and generally try to make it into the office at least once a week, more so for appearances sake. With the Covid pandemic happening around the same time the dog bite happened, the timing worked in my favor.

A fundraiser was set up in my name by a couple of close friends, which raised enough money to pay off my extensive medical bills with about three thousand left over. I wrote a check and mailed it to the address in which Pooky’s owner resided (taken from one of his love letters he had mailed me), but it was returned to me with a note wrapped around it which simply said, “Fuck. You.”

I’ve never been great at accepting hate from anyone, especially when I felt I didn’t deserve it, but this had taken a rather hefty toll on me. More often than not, I found myself considering the tall bridge that crosses the Hudson, or the pretty dam a few miles down the road, but of course I cannot speak of such things out loud for fear of judgement.

It’s just a dog bite.

Move on with life, already.

Ignore that guy, he doesn’t even know you, what clout should you give his opinion?

On particularly difficult nights, I double-dose on my prescribed sleeping medication and doze off to a sometimes better, sometimes far worse, land. My dreams, regardless of whether I’m medicated or not, have always been incredibly vivid and realistic. Oftentimes I awake and need a moment to determine whether what I had just experienced was reality or “just” a dream.

I often dream of Death. She comes to me in various forms but always whispers the same message.

“I came for ye as your daughter cried,

First as ye were supposed to have died,

The second came as your body bled out,

But ye escaped my grip with help, no doubt.

Third time ye escaped an innocent beast,

Tricked by He to upon you feast.

The fourth time ye will not escape,

Fear not, my love, for this is your fate.”

The dreams come nightly, sometimes multiple times a night. She always appears in a female form, whether it be human or creature. I’ve seen her speak these words to me through both the lips of a child and through the bared teeth of a hungry wolf. She’s spoken them to me while appearing as my own mother and again in the same dream as my own father. I’ve heard her whisper these words to me as I sat beside a babbling brook and again through the roar of a mighty waterfall.

The voice is always pleasant, calming even. Soothing in such a way that no music, friendship, nor mother’s embrace can touch. I do not wake with fear present in my heart nor my mind. I do not fear her, ever, and in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Her presence is natural and calming. Soothing to a degree that I’ve never experienced during my years on this earth.

I find myself craving the dreams in which she comes to me. I do not fear Mistress Death, I only fear the pain that may accompany death. As human beings, we are born with the innate desire to control our life and all of its circumstances. We believe ourselves to be truly free of will, and therefore completely capable of choosing the best life for ourselves, and along with that comes (subconsciously, perhaps) believing we can choose the best, least-painful death for ourselves as well.

Before the attack, I ran eight to ten miles a day. I ate only fresh fruits and vegetables, sparingly choosing grass fed, organic meats of the highest quality when my body craved them. I didn’t drink alcohol or do drugs; I didn’t smoke, I wasn’t promiscuous, and I had an entire kitchen cabinet full of whole food based supplements and vitamins I’d take religiously because I believed we control our own fate, and with cancer being the singular cause of fatality in my family’s history, I did everything in my power to make sure my demise would not be a slow, agonizing one.

The attention with which I gave my health and fitness was admittedly borderline obsessive, and completely controlled my life. If I awoke one morning to discover a newly formed pimple on my face, I’d fast for a week in order to cleanse my body of whatever toxin had caused the ugly malformation.

It was never that I was obsessed with my own self-image; it was always an obsession with controlling my fate.

Since the attack, that life seems like a distant memory. I smoke pot regularly. Most days it’s the first thing I do when my eyes open in the morning. I keep my glass pipe and stash box beside me on my nightstand so it’s there when I need it. I like to keep a consistent high throughout the day, start to finish, with a hefty dose – a bowl or two – before bed to ensure adequate sleep. Recreational marijuana was legalized in my state in 2016, but it wouldn’t matter because I also have a medical card given to me by my pain management doctor due to the nerve damage sustained in the attack.

At one point, I began to wonder if my dreams of Death visiting were marijuana-induced, so I quit cold-turkey for a solid month to test the theory. I also stopped taking my sleep medication. The dreams only amplified so much so that by the time the fourth week arrived I had moments where I thought I was hallucinating hearing Death’s voice in waking life through the rustling of leaves in the wind and in the birdsong that echoed in the forest canopy above me as I walked my dogs.

This morning I left at 8:03 am to head to my favorite hiking trail. Sufficiently stoned, kids at school, and dressed warmly for the chilled autumn air, I let my dogs out of the back of my little black car and held tightly to their leashes as they feverishly sniffed the leaves, earth, and piss from other dogs who had visited this same location.

I never hiked alone anymore, not since the attack. I bring my three boys with me everywhere I go. It’s not that I robbed them of the joy of hikes through my favorite forests before, I just took turns between walking with them and then without. I valued my alone time in the trees. Solitude amongst the trees and streams is the equivalent of holy sanctuary for me. When you have three excited dogs pulling your arms in three directions at once, it robs you a bit of the experience.

Brody, my sixty-pound lab mix desired desperately to play in the water of the stream fifty yards to our south. Eljay, my sixteen-pound terrier mix wanted to run off into the trees and live amongst them like the wild soul he is. Paul, my eighty-pound mastiff mix, was a bit older and wiser than his younger brothers, and really just wanted to find the nearest sunny spot and snooze for the next hour.

“Brody! Quit pulling the damn leash!” I shouted at him. Ten months of puppy school and I swear the instructor only passed us because Brody was such a distraction in class. She wanted us out of her hair, for sure. Brody hadn’t learned a damned thing  other than coming when his name was called, and every once in a great while he’d sit for a treat.

Eljay started barking, as was his custom when I yelled at his brother, as if he was taking my side and yelling at him also. 

“Eljay, shush,” I said to him. “Such a Mama’s boy.”

We began our walk down toward the stream so that Brody could get his swim in and hopefully tire himself out so the walk could be better enjoyed by not only myself, but the other two dogs as well. We walked – well, Brody pulled with every pound of his body weight – along the trail until we reached the water’s edge, and Brody jumped in happily, splashing and drinking the cool, clear water. Eljay loves the water, but only as long as it’s no deeper than knee-deep (which would be about ankle deep for a human), and he happily pounces and prances around the water’s edge alongside his brother, while Paul, whom I affectionately refer to as my old man, found himself an adequate sun spot to lay in while his rambunctious brothers burned some energy off.

I had never leashed Paul until after the attack. Brody and Eljay were a bit more unpredictable, not with people, but with scents and their excitement possibly stealing their attention and getting them lost or hit by a car, but Paul was never one I needed to worry about. He was always right by my side, no matter what the distraction. A gentle giant by nature, he had been my guardian and protector for the last eleven years. I’ve often wondered since the attack how my boys would have responded to the German Shepherd that day. I wonder if my precious little Eljay would have become a snack for the angry beast, or if my nothing-but-pure-joy-at-all-times Brody would have mistaken him for a friend and been wounded or worse. I’ve never seen my beloved Paul show his teeth in anger or even hint at aggression, but I just somehow knew deep in my bones that he would have protected me that day without hesitation. My elderly, lazy, gray-whiskered knight-in-stinky-shining-armor.

I reached over and stroked his fur, and he rolled onto his back to give me his belly. I wrapped the other two leashes around my right ankle, and laid down beside this massive fur ball that I loved as deeply as I have ever loved anyone. 

Apparently, Brody read this an open invitation for snuggles, so he jumped out of the stream and on top of Paul and myself, sufficiently soaking us both to the bone in the process. 

Eljay barked from the stream’s edge with his little behind in the air, tail pointed to the heavens, and chest to the rock, not quite ready to quit his water play.

“You are such a turd, Brody!” I laughed as I pushed him away and back toward the stream. As I sat upright, Brody joined his little brother in the stream once again.

As we neared the parking lot after our swim and five-mile hike, all three dogs panted and I assured them we’d be at the car soon, where I could grab their bowls and fill them with the water bottle I had brought. We turned a corner and my car was within eyeshot, and all three boys became noticeably excited, so I picked up the pace and we jogged to close the remaining distance.

I didn’t see it until we were only six feet or so from my vehicle.

The parking lot was empty, except for my little car, which now had the words MURDERER, DOG KILLER, and STUPID CUNT written repeatedly on my hood, doors, and trunk with white spray paint.

Tears formed in my eyes before I could even finish reading the hate that had been ruthlessly sprayed onto my vehicle. I felt my chest cave and my breath stop, and I knew a panic attack was moments away from occurring. I sat on the curb beside my car, put my head between my bent knees, and breathed deeply as I struggled for my phone in my pocket and dialed the police.

He had followed me here.

(This concludes Part One of “Moss” written by Shelly Moore.

Please subscribe and stay tuned for the conclusion!)

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