The first short story that I ever got published

First I recognise the door. There is no difference between this door and any of the others set into the dull grey stone building. As high as I can see, none of the floors have any windows. The stone is far older than I remember it being from the night before. There is a bronze plaque on the door, but its engraving has been rubbed out. I can’t recall if I’ve ever read the sign, or know what it means. Now it’s a mute symbol, as closed as the door I must go through.
 A dog guards the door. No matter which direction I come from, the dog always sits on the top step and will not let me pass. The dog is brown-black streaked, with a blank head and those eyes. I cannot turn away. I need to get inside. I’m not sure why the dog just sits there, watching me. Maybe it is devoted to the postman, though I never see anyone go in or out, and the door has no letterbox. Maybe the dog’s master is a bastard and makes it sit there in all weathers? Sometimes I am convinced the dog is a stray, guarding only against me. After all these years I still can’t decide whether it is a he or a she. The door is always closed. And believe me, I’ve tried knocking.

Every day I come here. By now I’ve tried everything to gain access, but nothing seems to work. The dog attacks me whenever I get too close to the door. I’ve tried to appease it, reason with it. Fought it, kicked it, been bitten a few times. Once I even begged on all fours. I throw things for it to fetch, but it will not move from the steps. Many times I offer food, or a bone to chew -it likes me to do that.

I remember the night I came round with an axe and hit the dog right between the eyes. Unable to move the carcass, I let it bleed in a heap all over the steps. The door was locked anyway. There are even scratches where I attacked the door with the axe, but to no avail. I went home with my tail between my legs. The dog’s blood was on my hands, and I carried the axe on my shoulder. All the way down the hill, beneath the rubber-stamp stars I said out loud, “I killed the dog,” but it was there the next day.

Now I approach in the damp wet morning. Old newspapers are strewn in front of the steps. Some pages are stuck together with what looks like glue or honey. I go straight up to the dog, tired and empty-handed. There are muddy footprints on the steps, but they could well be mine. Do other people come here? I kneel before the dog, stroke its rough belly. I curse the stubborn mutt. Flattery gets me nowhere. The dog growls whenever I look at the door, so I play with it instead, wrestling on the steps.

After a while the dog sits back and snarls, so I put my hand towards its mouth, pulling away whenever it tries to bite. The dog backs into the door; I hear it open but look instead into the dog’s mouth, fixing on the teeth rather than the eyes. Near the back of the dog’s mouth, I can see something stuck between its teeth.

I put out my hand. The dog drools but does not bite as I reach in, right into the mouth as far as I can. I pick out what’s there, between the back teeth. With my wet hand now closed, I pull it out into the open.

I get up and walk away.

James Garside is an independent journalist and writer. You can join him on Patreon and chat with him on Twitter.

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