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To go back and read part 1, click HERE.
To go back and read part 2, click HERE.
END OF THE ROPE – part 3 – by Scott Cahan …
Erin pushed the door closed and was immediately overwhelmed by the bright sun that engulfed her. She closed her eyes and stood still on the cement stone in front of the shelter door. She tried to take a moment and prepare herself mentally, but she couldn’t hold her breath any longer. She exhaled and then allowed the outside air to invade her lungs. The air seemed thicker and it smelled a little unusual, but she hoped the difference was normal for a person that had been breathing recycled air for 7 weeks and then suddenly switched to fresh air.
She felt fine, she thought to herself. Erin breathed some more and opened her eyes. She looked up into the blue sky and smiled. Her eyes got wide with excitement and she said out loud, “I’m OK!” The idea was still sinking in when she felt something brush against her ankle. She looked down and saw the rope, still pulled tight, leading to the front door of the shelter. The site of the rope brought Erin back to reality. She turned around quickly to see where the other end of the rope went. It wasn’t the tragic scene she had expected. The rope stretched across her back yard for another 30 feet and disappeared behind a group of three scraggily bushes in the middle of the yard. The bushes were the centerpiece of a failed attempt at landscaping that her Dad had tried a couple of years earlier. They were 4 to 5 feet tall and surrounded by a circular area where flowers had once been planted. Now, the area around the half-dead bushes was a mixture of old mulch, dirt and tall weeds.
Erin was relieved that she had, so far, not seen her dog’s dead body on the ground. But then she began to wonder why there weren’t any rotting corpses of dogs anywhere in the yard. “Maybe they all hid behind a bush or a fence or whatever as they were dying.” She thought.
She reached down and carefully picked up the rope. It slid across her fingers as she slowly walked toward the bushes. The backyard was very spacious, measuring almost ¾ of an acre. It was surrounded by a dirty wood planked fence of vertical boards on three sides, with the back of their ranch style house bordering the fourth side. The ground was covered mostly by brownish grass and weeds, with many dirt patches scattered throughout the yard. The only trees were four maples, scattered along the back side of the yard, just in front of the fence. The trees and bushes were unusually bare for early September.
The only sounds Erin heard as she followed the rope slowly were the faint sounds of the brittle brown grass crumbling beneath her sneakers as she took each careful step. There was no breeze blowing, no birds in the sky, no squirrels scampering up trees, no insects crawling along the ground. The yard was silent and still.
She came within a few feet of the bush that was hiding the end of the rope and took a deep breath, preparing herself for the worst. She took another step and leaned forward to see around the corner. There she found the end of the rope but no Prince. The rope was still looped on the end like Arthur had tied it, but the rope circled a wood plank that must have fallen off of their fence. Trying to make sense of what she was seeing, Erin kneeled down and picked up the board in her hands. As she felt the board’s weight and looked at its 6 foot length for clues of why it was there and not Prince, she suddenly felt dizzy. She dropped the board and sat down to steady herself. Then she began to cough. At first it felt like any other cough, but soon the coughs got harder and she started heaving as if she couldn’t catch her breath between the coughs. She turned over onto her knees so that she was facing the ground. Her lungs felt empty of air. She forced herself to inhale but immediately coughed it all out again. She collapsed. Lying in the dirt and grass with her face turned sideways, Erin struggled desperately to bring air back into her lungs. One last cough exploded from her mouth followed by a stinging sensation in her chest. Her body tightened from the pain and then everything went black.
Erin slowly opened her eyes. The brown grass was an inch in front of her face, with her backyard far in the background. She’d lost all track of time. Her only clue was the long shadows that stretched across the yard telling her that the sun would go down soon. Her next sensation was that her face was wet. Something cold and wet hit her cheek. She rolled her body over to see what it was. Looking up she saw long black and brown hair, big brown eyes and a long slobbering tongue hanging over her. “Prince!” Erin shrieked with joy. She sat up and wrapped her arms around her dog. She loosened her hold and leaned back to look at him. “You look great. Oh, my sweet Prince.” she said, running her fingers through his fur to make sure he was real. “You’re fine … and I’m fine! Ha ha, we can breathe!”
Prince barked twice and bounced on all fours with excitement.
Through joyful tears, Erin said, “I had a feeling you were alive. I didn’t know how, but I just knew I’d see you again.”
Prince barked one more time and then took the sleeve of Erin’s sweatshirt in his mouth and started to tug at her to come toward him.
Laughing, Erin said, “What is it boy?
Prince continued to pull as Erin stood up and allowed him to pull her a few feet, in the opposite direction from the shelter. “Don’t worry.” She said, “I’ll come with you. Where are we going?”
A “BOOM BOOM BOOM” sound from behind her caught Erin’s attention. She stopped and turned to see that the sound was coming from the shelter. The light was getting dimmer making it harder to see. She said to Prince, “Hold on, I need to see what that is.” Pulling her sleeve from between Prince’s teeth, Erin walked a few feet closer to the shelter and saw the source of the noise. There in the small square window of the outer door she could see Arthur’s face peering out at her. His hands and face were pressed up against the cloudy glass. Desperation was in his eyes, looking directly at Erin.
She suddenly felt a tinge of compassion for the man who she’d spent the past 7 weeks with. His mouth was moving and the faint sound of his voice reached Erin. She was too far away to hear what he was saying so she started to walk closer. Prince barked once behind her. Erin, looked back and said, “It’s ok Prince. I just need to hear what he’s saying.”
Erin got to within 6 feet of the shelter and stopped to listen. She heard Arthur saying, “Come back inside. You can breathe inside and outside now.”
Pressed up against the small window, Arthur looked pathetic and weak. Erin began to feel sorry for the man and it confused her. She looked back at Prince who hadn’t followed her, and was still standing by the bushes. Then she looked back at her Uncle. She heard him shouting, “I can’t make any more serum. I ran out of some chemicals I need. I’m stuck in here. Don’t leave me Erin!”
Erin was not a cruel person. In fact, her Sunday School teacher at church had once commented that Erin had the gift of mercy. She felt the pain of others and had compassion for them. At this moment she felt like her compassionate heart would be ripped in two. She was being pulled from both sides, between Arthur and Prince. She couldn’t leave her Uncle to die alone in that shelter. Yet, the thought of spending another minute with him without Prince was unthinkable.
Then a solution came to her and for a moment she felt the weight lifted off of her. She turned around and said, “Prince, come here.”
Prince seemed hesitant at first, but then trotted toward Erin and stopped a few feet from her.
Erin extended her hand to Prince and said “Come with me sweetie. Let’s go inside and see Uncle Arthur.”
Prince stood motionless, looking at Erin.
She leaned over to put her hand on the back of his head, saying, “It’s OK Prince. We’ll be able to come out and play anytime we want.”
Prince stepped back once to avoid her hand and then shook his head from side to side as if he was saying, “No”.
Erin froze, considering what she’d just seen. “It looked like you just shook your head “no”.” She chuckled to herself and said, “That’s silly.” She reached out for Prince again.
Once again, Prince backed up and shook his head “no”.
“Why are you shaking your head like that?”
Prince sat up straight and tall and barked three times. Then as if in unison, six other dogs stepped out from behind various hiding places throughout the yard; some from behind bushes, one from behind a storage shed, one came from behind the fence and two came from the trees at the far end of the yard. As soon as they all stepped out they began to walk or run toward Prince, depending on how far they had to go. Within seconds, all six dogs were sitting in a straight line, just behind Prince, facing Erin.
Erin smiled as she beheld the row of dogs that she recognized instantly as Arthur’s experiment dogs. They were all mutts ranging from medium size to large. She said their names, “Hi number One, two, three, four, five, and six. You’re all still here. And you all look like you’re doing fine too. It’s amazing. The serum really works.”
She knelt down in front of Prince and said, “They can come too Prince. Let’s all go see Arthur.”
Prince shook his head “no” again, then took Erin’s sleeve in his teeth and started to pull her away from the shelter. The other dogs also stood and began walking away from the shelter. Erin let herself be pulled a few steps before she jerked her sleeve away and said, “Stop Prince! This is scaring me. And why do you keep shaking your head like that? You’re acting like you’re understanding me!”
Prince sat down directly in front of Erin so that his brown eyes were looking directly into hers, then he nodded his head up and down.
Erin was stunned, “You really do understand me?”
Prince nodded “yes” again.
The moment was interrupted by the pounding sound coming from the shelter. Arthur was beating on the door and yelling, “Don’t leave me Erin!”
She looked at her Uncle then back at Prince and said, “Prince, if you can really understand me, and I know you can’t because that would be just plain dumb. But if you could then you’d know … I can’t just leave him here.”
Erin knelt down on one knee, looking into the loving eyes of her dog. She was about to speak but was interrupted again by the desperate voice of her Uncle, demanding her attention, yelling as loud as he could raise his voice from behind the shelter door, “He’s just a stupid dog Erin! Leave him out there and come to me! I’m ordering you Erin. Come back in here right now!”
Her uncle’s words were like a knife through her heart. Tears fell from her eyes as Erin struggled to know what to do. His words only reminded her of how much she hated him, yet the idea of choosing a dog over the only human left in her life seemed ridiculous.
She looked at Prince’s face, where she had always found comfort and joy, for an answer. What she saw wasn’t what she expected. Prince’s mouth started to open slowly and close slowly with his lower jaw moving slightly from side to side. Strange howling sounds were coming from his mouth. At first, Erin thought he was in pain, but then as the sounds went on and were becoming shorter and more defined, she realized it wasn’t a bad thing. She waited a few more seconds to see what Prince was doing. Finally, the sounds began to sound familiar. Erin listened more intently, trying to make sense of the sounds. He was making the same sequences over and over, only each time, the sequence sounded more and more familiar to Erin. And then, it connected. She heard a familiar pattern in Prince’s noises. She heard words, coming from Prince, “I yyyam youurrrr ……. p…p…prince ……. ch…charmmmminnnnng.”
Erin reacted by crying and laughing at the same time. She put her hand over her mouth and looked at Prince with wide eyes. She took down her hand and said, “Yes, yes you are. You’re my Prince Charming.” She leaned forward and hugged Prince. The two stayed locked together for 30 seconds before Erin whispered in Prince’s ear, “Let’s go.”
48 hours later, Erin returned to her backyard, with Prince and the other dogs close by her side. She pulled behind her a wooden cart on 4 wheels that she found at one of the empty neighborhood houses. She remembered seeing the neighbor using it for hauling things around his property. The cart was piled high with canned goods of all kinds and a case of bottled water.
She rolled the cart up close to the bomb shelter and parked it. Then she untied the rope from the fence plank and tied it to the long handle on the front of the cart. She placed a folded, hand written note written on a single sheet of white paper in-between two cans. Next, she knocked hard on the door 7 times. After that, she tugged on the rope a few times to make sure he would know to pull it in. Then Erin, Prince, and the other dogs turned and walked away. They had no plans of ever returning.
The note on the basket read;
“Uncle Arthur. I’ve brought you some food and water to help you stay alive a few months longer. I am not a heartless killer, just a girl who would rather spend her final days with someone who loves me rather than someone who wants to own me. Maybe you will eventually be able to breathe the air and come out of the shelter. If that happens, please do not try to find me. I have my friends now. I don’t need you. I hope you will find peace with God and find some way to be happy. Goodbye.
p.s. It was the “stupid dog” that talked me into bringing you food and writing this letter.”
(Note: All three parts of this story are the sole property of Scott Cahan. It is unlawful to reprint all or some of this story without express permission of the author, Scott Cahan.)