The dog barked persistently. It was the third night this week. Not one to complain, she hadn’t said anything to the neighbors. They were nice enough people, Bill and Marjorie Miller. But that dog!
Turning over for the umpteenth time, she tried to push the sound of his incessant barking from her mind. If she didn’t get some sleep soon, she’d be worthless at work tomorrow. No wait, make that today. “Ugh! 1:00 a.m.!” she thought.
Diving under the pillow and pulling it snugly against her ears, she tried desperately to block the intrusive noise. Trying to focus on anything but the dog, Sara thought about the last time she saw Daniel. They had ended their Saturday together with a walk through the park on that windswept September afternoon. The wind through the trees had dropped leaves on them that swirled and played like orange and red butterflies, swirling and flitting in every direction. Gradually, she began to drift away, melding with her blankets and relaxing her grip on the pillow.
Yap! Yap-yap! Yap-yap-yap! There it was again! That damn Cocker Spaniel was at it again! Well, this was enough. Tomorrow she’d march right over and explain to Bill and Marj that something had to be done. She couldn’t live like this! One night was a pain, two nights seriously annoying, but three? Three nights was more than any neighbor could reasonably be expected to bear. They would have to do something about ole Sparky or she’d have to take matters into her own hands. She wasn’t the type to call the police over a nuisance such as this but she would if she had to.
Yap! Yap-yap! Grrr-rrr. Wonderful, now it was growling, too. She was not going to look out the window. The dog would be standing in the backyard, facing her bedroom window, barking his fool head off. Talking to him, pleading with him, hollering through the open window to be quiet hadn’t worked. She’d tried everything. Just one more night she told herself and she’d go see his owners.
The dog quieted for a bit. “Maybe he’s found his bone. Perhaps he’d developed laryngitis! Wouldn’t that be the cat’s meow,”she thought, laughing at the Freudian pun she’d made. Just as she refluffed her pillow and scrunched down into her covers, it started again. Yap! Yap-yap! Yap-yap-yap! Grrr-rrrr. That was enough! She flung the covers back and bounding out of bed, strode purposefully toward the window. Throwing the curtains aside with enraged abandon she leaned out the window and yelled “Sparky! SHUT THE HELL UP!” The dog looked at her, cocking his little black head to one side as if to say “what did I do?” and sat down. A low, rumbling growl escaped his throat and he bared his teeth at her. She stared at him, willing him with every inch of her being to be quiet before pulling her head in and turning around.
Just as she started to ease her head back in the window, she felt a sudden jerk around her neck. Something, hands maybe, had her by the throat. Squeezing…tighter and tighter. She wanted to scream but she couldn’t take a breath. Her hands clawed wildly at whatever had a grip on her tender throat but she couldn’t loosen it. Her legs went out from under her and she kicked and jerked as the pressure on her neck made the blood in her head pound ferociously. Gurgling noises came from her throat and somewhere in the distance she could still hear the dog barking. As her fingers pried at the hands around her windpipe, nails snapping off like toothpicks in a chainsaw, her vision grew dimmer. Her strength failed her and everything faded away.
The morning brought a flurry of activity as police cordoned off the street. Yellow crime scene tape stretched around the two houses and the buildings were literally crawling with crime scene investigators gathering evidence.
There were broken shards of glass next to the back door of the Miller’s house where a technician was tediously collecting the fragments. Two of the EMT’s, dressed in scrubs, came out the back door with a gurney. There was a body on it covered by a sheet. Neighbors surmised from the size of the body it had to be Mrs. Miller.
On the sidewalk in front of Sara’s home, several neighbors had gathered and police detectives were taking their statements. Mrs. Mercer, the retired postmaster who lived across the street for 37 years was speaking to Detective Wilkerson.
“Yes, the dog had been barking. He’d been barking for the last few nights,” she told the detective.
“Did you speak to the Millers about it or report it?” he asked her.
“No. No, I didn’t. It didn’t bother me all that much and I didn’t want to cause trouble for them,” she said.
He could see she was visibly shaken by the events. Three people brutally murdered across the street from her home. She had lived alone for the last six years. It must be terrifying for her, he thought to himself as scribbled in his notepad.
“Did you notice anyone in the neighborhood recently? Anyone who seemed out of place?” he probed again.
“No, but I keep pretty much to myself.” She hesitated before asking, “Do you have a suspect, officer?” Her voice revealed that she was desperate to know this murderer was within the authorities grasp.
“We have some clues but nothing definite. It seems whoever committed this crime had been watching the Millers’ house for several days before he decided to make his move. There’s a collection of cigarette butts and what might be a candy wrapper just below the woman’s bedroom room, next to the bushes. Seems that’s where he waited before deciding to, well….anyway,” Wilkerson’s voice trailed off.
“We think she must’ve surprised him and he killed her before breaking into the Miller’s home,” he finished. “I’ll try to hurry but this may take a while. Just a few more questions,” he said, shifting his weight and stance.
As he fidgeted on the sidewalk, jotting madly in his notebook, he shifted just enough that she could see into the Millers’ yard. There, hanging from the swing set, tangled in the chains of the swing, was the Millers’ dog, Sparky. And hanging like an oversized rag doll from the bedroom window was Sara. They had covered her with a sheet too but the technician’s hadn’t finished their investigation. So there she hung, like a sack of dirty laundry, waiting, cast to the side and forgotten about. The horror of it hit her.
If only she’d complained about the dog. If only someone had. In the distance, a dog began barking.