Chapter 4: The Dog of Christmas Future
Jake jolted awake and sat up in his bed. The room was pitch black and his heart was pounding through his chest. He looked around the room under the faint light and felt a presence. But he could see nothing. He wiped his brow with the back of his hand and realized he’d been perspiring profusely. Was there somebody in the room with him? Was the next visitor here already? He didn’t know.
The bright red numbers on the clock read 3:53 am. His memory of the previous canine visits was still fresh in his mind. But he felt as if he’d recently dreamed something horrible subsequent to those visits. But he could not remember what it was.
Stepping out of bed, Jake felt his way down the dark hallway and used the bathroom. A few minutes later he reentered his room and decided to look out the window before climbing back into bed. He left the window closed this time, but looked down to where the strange dog had looked up at him just moments earlier. He half expected to see her there again, looking up inquisitively. Cocking her head left and right to his calls. But the grounds were clear. There was no dog. And thankfully, no cart-pulling Calvin standing by either.
Jake went back to bed and pulled the covers over his head. So much had happened in one night; he wasn’t sure what to think of it all. He seriously began to consider the possibility that he might be losing his mind. Is this how it starts? He asked himself. Talking dogs, carriages in my backyard, and black face paint?
He decided to put it out of his mind and get some rest. His head hurt, he was sad, and more tired than ever. Jake closed his eyes and began to drift off.
And then he felt it. The floor beneath him was moving. Vibrating. It felt like a minor earthquake. And then it was over. He looked at the clock to mark the time. 4:00 am on the nose. A moment later the rumbling came back. A second wave, he thought to himself. Or an early aftershock. But something wasn’t right. Jake began to have this strong feeling of impending doom.
There it was again. But this time the rumbling increased in volume and ended in a muffled bark.
Now Jake was horrified. There was a dog in his room. He was sure of it. And he couldn’t even see it. This time, he was too afraid to reach out for his phone light. Or even his lamp. Instead he pulled the thick blankets and comforter high over his head, providing at least the illusion of protection from whatever was waiting for him in the room.
The rumble, growl, and bark again. Then a high pitched double cry/bark that was so different from the growls that it almost sounded like it came from another dog.
“Oh please God,” Jake whispered. “Please don’t let this new dog hurt …”
Jake sensed movement in the room, and felt a puff of air hit him gently in the face. A second later, another. Then another. He heard panting and absolutely knew there was a dog in the room now. But why hadn’t it spoken to him like the others?
Timidly, Jake spoke out first. “I assume you must be the next dog ghost? Right?”
There was no response.
“Hello?” Jake called. “Who are you? Why don’t you show yourself?”
Jake felt his whole body tremble. The fear he felt now surpassed anything experienced during the night thus far. This dog, which he had not even seen yet, was frightening. It wouldn’t even speak to him. Yet it had a commanding presence he could literally feel in the air.
He decided to risk a peek out of the blankets. Just as he pulled them down, he felt an animal lunge on top of him. Jake screamed in horror. The dog, after hopping up on the bed, simply continued walking across Jake’s body without a sound. It continued onto the other side of the bed, then jumped down onto the floor again, landing with a loud boom.
Jake could take it no longer. He reached over, hands trembling, and switched on the lamp. His horror was increased when he noticed the lamp light no longer gave soft white glow it had always given. It now emitted a dim red glow, making him wonder who had switched the bulb. But no one switched the bulb. In fact, much of the light was coming from around the lamp, not inside the bulb itself. This made no sense to Jake, but it was true nonetheless. For whatever reason, he was literally seeing red.
Jake now finally saw the dog who had been circling him and striking fear into his heart by its mere presence. And seeing this dog did absolutely nothing to allay those fears. There, standing directly at the foot of his bed, was a large black dog with ears pointing straight up to the sky. Like the previous visitor, this dog’s face was so dark as to render it impossible to determine just where the dog was looking.
But this time it was even worse. The entire dog was black from head to tail, making it look like one black shadow. It appeared as if someone had taken a bucket full of that black face paint and saturated this dog with it. It reminded him of a German Shepherd, but too dark. Are there black Shepherd dogs? Jake wondered to himself.
Morpheus. Ghost of Christmas Future.
Almost as if in response, this black shadow dog came around to the side of the bed and hopped up with only its front paws. Jake recoiled in terror, over to the other side of his bed. This only angered the dog, who now growled even louder while staring Jake in the face. It was literally the most frightening thing Jake had ever seen in his life. Having a strange dog chase you in your room is terrifying. Even more so when the dog is black and the only light by which to see it is blood red.
Next, the dog proceeded to use its paws to pull the the covers off the bed. It looked like the dog was swimming freestyle, one paw up in the air while the other moved the covers a few inches off the bed. Then the next paw slammed down, digging nails into the fabric, while the other was raised poised to strike. Jake moved so far to the other side of the bed that he fell off, landing hard on the wooden floor.
With the bed now completely stripped, and Jake floundering helplessly on the floor, the dog moved to his side and stood above him on the floor. Jake began to stand up to run out of the room, but the dog latched onto his ankle with his powerful jaws and Jake fell again. Now on hands and knees, Jake was in full panic mode, crawling desperately towards the door and freedom. It was still ajar and he could see the narrow opening just in front of him.
And he came so close, too.
Jake crawled on and had his head and arms out of the room and on the hallway carpet. Then he felt his whole body being pulled swiftly back into the room by those same jaws. He could tell this dog was both strong and smart, for it was exerting just enough jaw pressure on his right ankle as to pull him back without any real pain.
Jake was now so scared that when he tried to scream, no sound came out. He had literally lost his breath and was paralyzed by fear. But it was just as well. He wasn’t going anywhere. If that odd dog of Christmas Present was right, this one was probably not alive. And it could “pass through things” as she had said. There was no telling what else it could do.
Jake decided to lay quietly and accept his fate, whatever it was.
The dog seemed to sense this and appeared satisfied. And stopped growling. And released Jake’s leg. Finally. Then it moved with all fours over to the door, never once taking its piercing eyes off Jake. The dog brushed hard against it, causing it to slam shut. Jake noticed the dog’s ears flip back quickly at the loud sound of the door closing. But those ears immediately resumed their northerly pitch.
Now the dog paced around Jake while wagging its tail. Again and again, circling and re-circling its prey. Glancing into Jakes eyes each time he passed by. Jake now realized the wind he had felt in his face earlier was this dog’s tail, which was thick enough to resemble a squirrel’s tail. Only longer.
Jake started to sit up, but the dog immediately growled and rested a paw on Jake’s back. He collapsed back onto the floor, feeling his jaw click as it hit. Jake winced in pain. The dog held its paw there until Jake was perfectly still. “Oh so you want me to stay down? Is that it?” Jake asked.
The dog did not answer but went back to circling. How long this went on, Jake could not say. But eventually, the dog sat directly in front of him. Jake sensed it was okay to move now. He slowly sat up, looking into the dogs eyes. The dog again growled and Jake quickly looked away. The growling stopped.
“Okay okay okay!” He said. “What do you want me to do? I assume you’re the last visitor dog. Am I right?”
The dog did not answer, but also did not growl. Jake learned that as long as he did not look into this dog’s eyes, he was fine. He also noticed that it wore a blue collar with metal tag dangling underneath it. The collar was identical to the one worn by the Dog of Christmas Past, the Retriever. The one that glowed when he touched it and took him off to those emotion-laden corn fields.
Jake was hesitant to touch this dog. Not only out of fear, but because he did not want to go on another journey. Wherever this dog wanted to take him, Jake knew it could not end well. Looking again at the familiar blue collar, he noticed the metal tag had a single word on it. He slowly inched forward so he could see the inscription, which was difficult in the dim red glow.
The tag was blue but the inscription a bright silver. The dog sat proudly and tilted its head back ever so slightly, indicating Jake was welcome to read the tag.
Jake read it aloud. “Morpheus?” Is that your name?”
Morpheus opened his mouth slightly and let his tongue roll out just a tad. His teeth showed a little and he began panting lightly. It looked like the dog version of a satisfied smile.
“Morpheus? Really? Like as in, the Greek mythology god of dreams?” Jake knew his Greek mythology. And seeing a dog named after dreams caused him to consider once more that this was all, indeed, just a very bad dream.
Morpheus flicked his ears back momentarily at the sound of his own name. Then flipped them right back up again and continued to look at Jake. The silence was unnerving. And even though this dog was no longer growling or grabbing Jake’s ankle with his huge jaws, he could not help but feel like something bad was about to happen.
“What do we do now, Morpheus? Show me the way.” Jake was resigned to his fate.
At this, Morpheus leaned his head a little towards Jake, placing his collar almost right on his nose. Jake took this as a sign he should grab it so he did. Immediately, just as before, the collar came to life in his hands. The blue brightened and became electric-looking. Like neon. The room was now a mix of red and blue, and instead of looking beautiful Jake thought it looked like something out of a horror movie. But he didn’t have to look at it for long. For the room melted away once more and Jake found he was in familiar surroundings no longer.
Instead, he was suddenly right in the middle of what looked like a large school gymnasium. There were light brown wooden plank floors, basketball boundary lines painted on the the flooring, and two basketball nets rotated up and out of the way. But this gymnasium was clearly not being used for sports today. Instead, it was lined with rows of cots and many people milling about. The people came in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Some were with families, some without. Some looked a little on the rough side. Others completely docile.
Jake noticed no one could see him, so he relaxed a little and moved about, trying to make sense of the scene. On one side of the large room was a long counter with large bowls of food on it. There were about a dozen people lined up scooping and serving food along one side, and an even longer line of people queued up to receive it on the other. It dawned on Jake that he must be standing in a homeless shelter.
Morpheus weaved in an out of the lines of cots, casting an occasional glance back at Jake to make sure he was still following. Even under the bright light of this room, Morpheus appeared as a dark, shadowy dog. Together they finally reached the other side of the room where all the food was lined up. Jake saw an enormous platter of sliced turkey meat. It looked good and plentiful.
What he witnessed next surprised him beyond belief.
Morpheus walked alongside the long counter of food, trotting quietly (even though no one could see him either). He looked so light on his feet. His tail hair was soft and bushy and flowed nicely when he walked. Just as Jake was admiring Morpheus’ gait, he saw the dog stop right in front of the turkey platter, hop up about two feet on his hind legs, turn his head slightly at an angle, and grab a big chunk of meat off the plate for himself. This he carried off to a corner and devoured with great pleasure.
Jake’s jaw nearly hit the floor. Was this frightening dog here to scare him, help him, or just steal turkey from the homeless? He walked over to Morpheus, who was finished by now, and spoke aloud: “Hey! Are you even allowed to do that?”
Morpheus’ ears went way back and stayed that way for a few seconds. He clearly looked ashamed. But he recovered a moment later. After all, he was on a mission. And Shepherds on both sides of the Rainbow Bridge take their missions more seriously than any other breed. So with turkey crumbs on his black lips, Morpheus continued to lead Jake to another part of the room.
There, in a corner, sat a man wearing a brown knit cap. Next to him was a woman with a wool hood pulled over her head. Even though they were indoors, it was difficult to keep a room this size warm. The man and woman said nothing, but sat together looking despondent. The woman leaned over and rested her head on the man’s shoulders. Neither looked happy but both looked familiar. Jake’s heart skipped a beat when he realized he was looking at little Diana’s mom and dad. Only this time, they looked much older. How many years had passed? Jake wondered. He thought they looked horribly ragged.
His thoughts were interrupted as a man brought two plates of food over to them. Morpheus was nearby, and licked his teeth as he saw the food given over to Diana’s parents. But he restrained himself this time.
“I’m so sorry for your loss,” the man said as he handed the plates over to the couple.
Through tears, Diana’s mother responded, “Thank you.”
Jake felt nauseous now. He turned to his silent companion. “What is he talking about? Sorry for what loss?”
Morpheus made a snorting sound as he exhaled. Like he was about to bark but stopped before it was fully developed.
The dad spoke next, “I know it won’t bring her back, but I hope justice is done with that bully.”
The food server nodded in agreement. Then searched for the right words. “Yes. Yes I understand,” he said. “And something more needs to be done in our schools. This kind of thing is happening too often.”
Jake was feeling so sick now he almost ran to the bathroom. But he didn’t know where the bathroom was, so he stood easy and continued to listen.
The mother struggled for words through a shaky voice as she fought back tears. “When a girl takes her own life, it’s gone way too far. And not enough people speak up to stop it.”
The food server nodded and squeezed her hand. Diana’s parents put their heads down again. There was nothing more to say. The man hugged them each tightly, then returned to serving food to the rest.
“No.” Jake turned to Morpheus, as if a dog could undo all of this. “No. I didn’t cause this. There’s no way I caused her to do that. There must have been something else. Someone else!”
Morpheus tucked his tail in shame for Jake. And still said nothing.
“Tell me I didn’t do this!” Jake yelled at Morpheus.
Again receiving nothing from this big black scary dog, Jake gave up. He ran out of the shelter and down the street. He did not know where he was going, but continued to run. Morpheus was beside him in an instant, and deftly moved just in front of him close enough to slow him down without tripping. It worked and Jake found he instinctively slowed down to avoid getting tangled up in the dog’s big Shepherd legs. Once he slowed down a little, Morpheus was encouraged and moved even closer. This had the effect of slowing him down even more.
No way, he’s herding me like cattle, Jake suddenly realized. And now, he simply stopped. Jake stared at the dog, who growled again. Jake remembered about eye contact with this one, and quickly looked away. The growling stopped. Morpheus sat down and turned his head in another direction. Then he raised his right paw at a 90 degree angle and continued to stare forward.
Jake realized he must be pointing at something, so his eyes followed the direction of the pointing paw. What he saw next was a house that was both familiar and completely different. It was all boarded up and had signs posted all over it. Very official looking signs that Jake did not understand. But he knew in an instant it was Diana’s house.
Again looking at Morpheus for guidance, Jake asked: “They lost their house? I hope I didn’t cause that too!”
No growl. No grunt. Jake hoped that was a good sign.
“Is that why they were in the shelter? They have no place else to go?” Jake asked, growing more and more concerned by the minute.
And then he reflected. For the longest time, Jake saw little Diana merely as a person to be toyed with. Breaking her spirits had made him feel powerful. She didn’t put up much resistance, so he didn’t think it could have bothered her too much. Surely he could never have foreseen consequences such as this. Taking her own life? Devastating her parents like that? Over what? Was it really that difficult for her?
I guess it was, he thought. And picking on someone in and after school was easy. But seeing her home, the barren tree, her sad parents, learning of their difficult circumstances up close – this all brought it right home. There was a ripple effect to each insult, each taunt, each physical assault. How he wished he could take it all back. Jake looked down at the sitting Morpheus, who by now had placed his pointing paw back down on the pavement.
“Why don’t you talk? You’re so quiet is scary.”
Morpheus said nothing, but the more time Jake spent with him, the more he felt like he was picking up on impressions from the dog. They were very slight, but present nonetheless. And right now, he sensed Morpheus felt pity for him. Pity and a touch of disgust. This dog was loyal to someone, he could tell. And also a force to be reckoned with.
Morpheus stood up now, and moved closer to Jake. The blue collar around his neck was pulsating blue, beckoning Jake to grab hold of it. One moment it was regular blue nylon, the other it was glowing bright. Jake felt dread as he reached out this time, but grab it he did. And everything went dark.
When the lights came back on, Jake found himself seated in a courtroom. It was packed with people and every bench was filled. He saw two large tables at the front, presumably lawyers sitting at both. There was a lot of commotion and talking. And a few artists drawing pictures of the scene. Jake moved around and looked at everyone up close and saw many familiar faces. But they all looked so different. Older.
Jake saw two police officers standing at the other end near the entrance. One reached down to pet a dog, and Jake realized with surprise that the dog was Morpheus. He was now wearing a black leather wrap with the imprint of a police badge on it. And he looked right at home. Mouth slightly open, smiling the canine smile.
You’ve got to be kidding me, Jake thought. He then realized with both surprise and joy that one woman in the room was his mom. But her face was puffy and her eyes red. She looked very sad. And Jake’s father was nowhere to be seen.
“Mom!” he called out to her. “What are you doing here?” But she could not hear him.
“All RISE,” the bailiff bellowed. The judge entered, long black robes flowing behind him, and sat in a large leather chair. After opening with some fancy legal statements that made no sense to Jake, the judge turned to a group of 12 seated off to the side of the room in a separate area. He asked them if they’d reached a verdict.
One person stood up and confirmed that they had. This gentleman then read off Jake’s name and said they, they jury, had found him guilty of 2nd Degree Manslaughter. The man continued, “…and we hereby sentence the accused to 15 years in prison.”
“So ordered,” the judge declared. Then slammed his gavel down hard. This sound was loud and it echoed in Jake’s head for a time. Jake heard his mother cry out, at which point he ran up to the police dog Morpheus and begged him. Begged and pleaded for him to change this.
“You can stop this. Stop it! Do something. This can’t happen. I’m too young to go to jail. What did I do? I’m not that violent! I only slap people around once in a while. What did I do to earn this?”
Jake grabbed the blue collar again, and it lit up instantly. “Take me out here!”
And it was done. The courtroom vanished, piece by piece, until Jake found he was alone with Morpheus in the middle of a dark field. It was chilly and foggy, making it difficult to see what was around them in any direction.
“What’s going to happen here?” Jake asked. “Haven’t we seen enough?”
Morpheus was even more frightening in this environment. Black dog standing, staring, on a cold foggy evening. Staring right at Jake, who had no idea what was coming next. He decided to appeal to whatever mercy this Shepherd might show him.
“I’m sorry, okay? I’m sorry I’ve been so cruel to people. I didn’t know. I swear I didn’t know. I didn’t think about it like that. Just let me go back home now. Please.”
Morpheus simply looked down at the ground and began moving his paws rapidly. He was digging and digging hard. One paw after the other dug in, big clumps of dirt flying behind him. The dog worked tirelessly and endlessly, scraping the earth away and gradually making a very large hole. Morpheus became less and less visible as he stepped down into the ever-expanding hole he dug. First his head, then his whole body.
“What are you digging for at a time like this?” Jake asked. “Did you lose a bone or something?”
Morpheus was barely visible now. The hole was extremely large, and now so deep that to get out, the dog had to make several attempts. At last Morpheus was able to jump up and out. His nose and paws were completely covered with dirt. But he looked happy with himself.
“Great. Now what do you want to do with that?” Jake asked sarcastically.
Morpheus responded by growling and barking. Only this time, he bore his big canine teeth as well. And simultaneously began circling and herding Jake.
“What? No no! Stop. I was only joking.”
Morpheus continued to circle. Growling and now nipping at Jake’s clothing, grabbing the cloth but just missing the skin. Each time he did this, Jake cried out in fear. He now got a good look at those sharp teeth and greatly feared what it would feel like if they sunk into his flesh.
He seemed scary before. But now he seemed vicious.
Morpheus’ circling became tighter and tighter, slowly moving Jake closer to the circle. He thought about jumping over it to the other side, but cast a glance down into the pit, and noticed it was far, far deeper than he realized. In fact, it was so deep it appeared endless. Fixated on this strange , dark abyss, Jake lost his balance and fell partway into the pit. His fall was caused by Morpheus, who was so close that Jake grabbed hold of the blue collar without even thinking about it.
The collar – and Morpheus’ neck muscles – were now the only things keeping him from tumbling deep down to an unknown fate. Jake was beyond panicked. He screamed at Morpheus. “Help me up! Pull!”
Morpheus did not pull.
Jake screamed at the collar. “Light up! Light up! Take me to another place!”
But the collar did not light.
In desperation Jake cried out, “bring the other dogs back! I want Calvin’s cart!”
But the other dogs did not come. No, not even Calvin and the magnificent cart.
“I want to look for tennis balls with that retriever!”
But no retrievers could hear his pleas.
Jake’s eyes burned as dirt fell into them. In utter and complete frustration, he tried to pull Morpheus down with him by the collar. But the Shepherd was too strong for him.
And then, for the first and only time, Morpheus broke the silence. In a voice that penetrated Jake to the core, a message laden with a warning was delivered. And left an indelible mark on Jake’s soul forever more.
Never forget the third lesson.
“What? Anything! What is it?”
Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.
And with that, Morpheus opened his jaw wide and shot his head down to Jake’s wrist – the only thing holding him up – to deliver the fatal bite that would cause him to lose his grip. And tumble down into the dark pit of unhappiness that Jake had crafted for himself.
Jake screamed and cried and begged for mercy as he tried his best to cling to Morpheus’ life-saving blue collar.