"Altenmoor, Where the Dogs Dance" by Mort Castle
Issue #10 / September 2014
Illustrated by Heidi Unkefer
KINDLE EDITION ($0.99)
MORT CASTLE is a horror author and writing teacher who has published over 500 short stories. Twice a winner of the Black Quill Award and the Bram Stoker Award, Castle edited On Writing Horror, the primary reference work for writers of dark fiction. He lives near Chicago with Jane, his wife of 40 years.
"One day in spring, when the boy came home from school, he did not find Rusty in the backyard, on the screened-in porch, or anywhere downstairs in the house. He knew Rusty could not be up with Grandpa. Last winter, when the weather had gone so cold, Rusty’s back legs had gone cold, too, so cold he could no longer climb the stairs.
The boy’s mother took him into the kitchen and tried to explain, though he hadn’t asked her. “Rusty’s gone, Marky.”
He hated being called “Marky,” but she was his mom, so what could he do? Dad called him “Mark,” and sometimes “Son,” and that was better but it still wasn’t right.
Grandpa knew and always called him “Boy.” He felt like a “boy,” not “Mark,” or “Son,” or (phoo!) “Marky!” Once in a while he wondered if that would change when he got older.
Mom said Rusty was very old. In a dog way, Rusty was more than a hundred. She said Rusty had had a very good life because everyone loved him a lot, and now Rusty’s life was over.
The way Mom talked made the boy think she was trying not to frighten him. Then she hugged him so hard all his air rushed out and he thought Mom was trying not to be frightened, too.
But the boy didn’t understand, so he said, “I’ll go see Grandpa.” Grandpa knew how to talk about things so the boy understood because Grandpa was very smart. He was so smart that long ago, when he could still see, Grandpa even used to write books.
“He’ll like that,” Mom said. “Go see him.”
Upstairs at the end of the hall, across from his own room, the boy knocked on Grandpa’s door. He waited one-two-three, then heard Grandpa say, “Enter.” Grandpa always made him wait one-two-three, never one, or one-two, or one-two-three-four.
Grandpa sat in a straight-backed chair by the window. Grandpa didn’t have a rocking chair and the boy knew why because once Grandpa had told him. “Old people are supposed to sit in rockers. Seldom in life have I done the ‘supposed to’s.’”