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Dog Diaries

Cujo... Re-Lived!

by Merle Doughten

The sound that reached my ears as I stood just outside the bedroom door en route to the bathroom in the pitch-black darkness almost made me lose what I was heading to the bathroom to take care of! The hairs on the back of my neck and along my arms jumped to sudden electric attention as my sleep-blurred mind suddenly went from fuzzy to razor sharp in less then a second. The sound that came from somewhere underneath me at the bottom of the steps had a deep, gravelly, inhuman nature to it. Not only that, it sounded mean and huge! Almost like that of a large grizzly bear who awoke after a long winter hibernation and found someone had destroyed its den. For that one moment in time a picture flashed into my mind of some evil beast with horns and a fire-breathing mouth open wide and full of razor sharp, bloodstained teeth. It was taking the stairs in a single bound to rip my throat out as I stood there motionless, paralyzed by fear. Suddenly, there it was again louder and much closer. Not wanting to, but not able to stop myself, I glanced quickly down the stairs just as a flash of white caught my widening eyes!

Being a huge fan of the horror/fiction writer, Stephen King, my imagination can occasionally get the best of me. Especially when I’m awakened in the middle of the night because of some noise. On more than one occasion, I have scared the dickens out of myself after reading a couple chapters of one of his books during the evening, going to bed and being awakened in the middle of the night by a scratching sound. Every time it has happened, it has been because of this tall Japanese cedar tree outside the bedroom rubbing its branches in the wind along the gutters. Heart pounding like a jackhammer in my chest as I lie there in bed, I totally convince myself that some vampire or other undead has decided to rise from the pages of the paperback I had been enjoying to make me its next meal or victim. After a moment or two of stark terror, I realize what it is and go back to a restless sleep after a few hours. The difference this time was the noise was not coming from outside, it was coming from downstairs, and it definitely didn’t sound like a branch rubbing anything I have ever heard!

I have been a Stephen King fan since I first read “Carrie” in high school many moons ago. I love going back and re-reading his books, some of them repeatedly. It seems as if every time I sit and read one, I pick up more little tidbits that I had totally missed during the previous reading. I know he is classified as a horror writer, but I personally feel his best writing has nothing to do with the gore he describes in his stories and tales. Yes, he can be pretty graphic, but it is his descriptions of the daily American lifestyles, especially in the small town setting so many of his stories take place, that is so dead on. Some of the towns and places he describes in his home state of Maine are totally fictional, but I would bet half my salary that people go looking for those towns thinking they are as real as New York City. Many of his characters are people you have met in your lifetime, without the horror aspect though.

Last November I found a book (not written by Stephen King) that tried to tie all of his books, novellas, and short stories together. Each story was written and interlocked with other stories, some overlapping by simple geography, some by the characters, while others by the plot. In others, the connection went much deeper. Reading this book made me want to go back even more and re-read the older material to see if I could also see the connections.

Starting off with “Carrie” and “Salem’s Lot," both of which scared the beejesus out of me, I began reading “Cujo." For those of you that read King's books, this is his first book that didn’t have any supernatural entities or powers involved. It is a book about a family pet St. Bernard, Cujo, who is bitten by a rabid bat while chasing a rabbit into a hole. Old Cujo was a big cuddly fellow that, as rabies slowly take over his body, light and sound become irritating to him and he ends up becoming mean because of it. The fellow who owned Cujo was a auto mechanic and not a very nice fellow. In the course of the story, we get to follow as Cujo descends into Hell for him as his senses heighten to the point where he must eliminate what causes him pain. His owner happens to be one of those things.

Shortly after Cujo’s owner's death, a lady and her young son bring their car to be fixed but instead came across this big, once-cuddly St. Bernard in all of his enormous wrath. Just like in any of the horror movies where you want to scream at the screen, “WATCH OUT THE KILLER IS BEHIND THE DOOR YOU IDIOT," this story is the same. As you read this story, you want to somehow warn the mother and her son of the walking horror that was once a St. Bernard. But you can’t, and it wouldn’t be a horror story if the car they had drove up in, just started right up instead of stalling. They could just drive off and escape to live happily ever after. No, instead the car dies right out in the middle of the yard during the brutal heat of a steamy summer day. Add in the fact that the big once-cuddly Cujo has gone totally insane from the rabies and is now stalking them. To add a little to the drama, there is no shade or water near the car. Those of you that have seen the movie, read the book, it is so much better, even though the ending is much sadder.

Okay, enough of the Stephen King love fest but to make you understand how terrified I was the other night, I had to explain that little background. So here I was, standing at the top of the stairs in the pitch-black darkness in the middle of the night and hearing a sound so utterly terrifying that I froze dead in my tracks, hoping I wasn’t going to be dead in my tracks! Fresh thoughts of Cujo flashed through my head. I knew without any doubt in my mind, right then and there, Cujo was at the bottom of the steps. It was him. Cujo, growling his evil death growl. If I made a single sound, he would know I was at the top of the steps and come to rip me to shreds. I just knew it. There was another shuffling sound as the giant claws scratched the hard wood floors below, coming closer to the steps. My heart, which had a minute before enjoyed the restful peace of sleep before my bladder woke me up to send me on this fateful journey, was revved up and ready to blow out of my chest. The hairs on my neck and arms continued standing at attention as a chill rolled slowly up my spine.

Then, just as suddenly another noise reached me that slammed me out of the Stephen King-inspired nightmare and back into the reality that I was standing in the hallway having to go really badly. A very familiar whimper rose from the blackened depths of downstairs where four furry friends of mine sleep at night, someone else had to go too! I let out my breath in a long steady rush of air, which I had not even realized I had been holding the entire time. A flash of white at the bottom of the stairs, followed by another whimper confirmed my newfound rational thinking. Mack also had to pee!

I whispered to him to hush as I hurried to the bathroom for myself. Hearing my voice only made the largest member of the Herd dance more and not very quietly at that. By the time I got downstairs, Mack was dancing in giant looping circles, Allie was play-bowing and stretching, and Jack was doing a little, “Hey, I’m up so let's play” dance. Gracie was the only one who remained motionless as she sprawled out in the round dog bed. She did open her eyes slightly as I shepherded the others outside to take care of their business, because you know divas need all the beauty sleep they can get!

Ten minutes later with happy, empty-bladder dogs settling down for the rest of the night, I headed up the steps that only a short time earlier someone would have had to use a red hot iron to get me to venture down. Settling back under the warm protective covers of the comforter, I drifted off to sleep forgetting all about the excitement that one little growl caused, until later in the day when Andrea and I were on the phone talking. She asked how I had slept, and I told her about Mack’s growl. I related to her how it had totally freaked me out until he whimpered to go outside. I did leave out the part of me reading “Cujo” this past week that probably helped put my imagination in overdrive.

She laughed and said earlier in the week when she got home from work, instead of going right into the house like normal to be mugged by the crazy greeting we get from the Herd, she walked around to the front door to get the mail. Evidently, Mack could see her shape pass the small frosted windows we have on either side of the door and began growling at her. She said if she didn’t know any better, she would of thought some mean, terrible, ferocious dog (like Cujo!) was going to come right through the door. I can’t imagine what our mailman thinks!

It is funny for those of you that have had the pleasure of meeting big Mack, for his size, you know he would never hurt anyone intentionally. It is just not in his personality. He might knock you over once he gets to know you, but this boy has more chicken in his blood than Foghorn Leghorn. He would rather hide than meet anyone, although in the last six months he has done much better about hiding. To hear him growl that night while I was not totally awake was truly unworldly. I know my imagination was in high gear that night, but to hear it, I don’t think anyone would have ever expected it to be Mack.

Now since that night, I have heard him growl a few more times during the daytime, mostly at noises outside that Emmy usually hears first, and she starts huffing and puffing over. It is almost too funny to see him get worked up enough to growl at something. We don’t wish to discourage him, figuring if someone ever does decide to break into our home, they will hear that deep, evil-sounding growl and maybe think that Cujo lives here!

Greyhounds aren't just dogs, they are a way of life!