By Rebecca DeMouey
It was a quiet night. The only sound was the jingle of the dog’s collar as he walked around. It was his job to watch for intruders in the night, as he had done forever. It had become habit. Someone comes to the door, the dog barks, the strangers leave. Now the dog waited, although nobody had come to the door for almost a year now. He wondered why there were no visitors, but a dog can only do so much thinking. So, there he waited, continuing the job he had done for years, just hoping for a little excitement again.
There was a reason for the lack of guests. Eight months ago, a warning letter was sent throughout the town, describing a serious threat. In the corner of the letter was a small paw print. Nobody knew when or what was coming, but they fled anyway, desperately attempting to escape the unknown. Everyone left except the dog and his owner. The man could not leave the home he grew up in. That was all that mattered to him. As for the dog, he just wanted to please his owner and remained a vigilant watchdog each night.
The rumored enemies never came. Instead, the town was eradicated of its inhabitants, who never returned. The owner rarely left the house, only to bring back food and supplies when they were needed. However, this day was different. It was still early morning, around 4 a.m. The owner took the excited dog on a leash, and they started down the sidewalk. They reached the local store and stocked up as usual. This time, however, they did not return home. Instead, they began the journey in the other direction to find the missing town.
The air was cold on this December day, and the steady gusts of wind kept the owner shivering. Although he had a coat, the brisk, dry air pierced his face. The dog didn’t mind the cold, as his fluffy coat of long hair blocked most of it out. He trotted contently beside his owner, who was tense. They continued on for a few hours until they reached an old cottage at the end of a street. It was dark and eerie, but the owner didn’t have much of a choice on entering when the dog pulled him to the door. The door was unlocked, and as they stepped inside, the air instantly became more bearable. The dog kept pulling towards a smell, with his nose close to the ground. Then he found it: a little black cat.
Initially, the owner was suspicious. He couldn’t believe a cat had been living alone all this time. However, as he approached the cat, it appeared famished and scrawny, so the answer was apparent. The owner gave the frightened cat some pet food he had packed for his dog on the journey. He then decided to look around the house for any clues. All he found were some pictures and a few black pawprints that lined the floor and the table near the typewriter. The house seemed to belong to an old woman, as the framed pictures dated back to the 1940s. He wondered if the lady had also left because of the warning. Instead of lingering in the strange cottage, the owner took his dog and a little suitcase from a closet to hold the cat, and they were back on the journey.
The three continued down the path toward the unknown destination, and they walked for most of the afternoon. Now, the sky darkened as the sun was almost set. It was getting late, so the owner decided they would need to find a place to stay for the night. Shortly after, they came across a small yellow house that seemed much more inviting than the old cottage earlier.
Inside, the house was dark, but the lightbulbs luckily still worked. There was a faint sound from above, and the man warily checked it out. When he entered the room, there was an old radio playing some music, giving the house a little more warmth. To the owner’s surprise, a little green bird was perched on a branch in a cage across the room. It was watching him as he walked closer.
“Bed-time,” the parrot squawked. It startled the owner, but he oddly found it comforting. It was the first time he had heard a voice in almost a year. The owner found a bed to sleep in, and he allowed his dog to come with him. However, the dog wanted to sleep by the door. He would wait through the night to keep his owner safe, as he had done his whole life.
In the morning, the man found a portable bird cage, and the four of them began the journey once again. Only this time, it was not long before they heard sounds in the distance. It was laughter, children, a school bell. They continued toward the sound and found a class of little children running around a playground.
“Hello,” the owner called, as he waited behind the fence. A teacher turned around and saw the man. She seemed startled, but she approached him anyway.
“Hi,” she replied. “Can I help you with something?”
“What is the name of this town?” the owner replied. “I have been on a long journey from home and I am looking for the town that the people fled to. If you know what I am talking about, will you lead me to the them?”
“I’m sorry, but I cannot help you, sir,” she replied. “You should get going now.” Suddenly, the woman began frantically gathering the children inside as she glanced back at the man.
The owner knew he would have to be stealthy if he wanted to figure out what was going on. He took his three traveling partners and his bags around the fence to the front of the building. It appeared to be housing much more than just school children. He was mistakenly welcomed inside by a small child.
It was not welcoming after that. “Everyone hide!” a man hollered as he saw the owner. In that moment, everyone in the building ran into hiding. This was not just a school. There were families gathered together, with beds and furniture set up around the floor. Then the owner figured it out. This was the place the town had fled to.
“It’s okay,” he said. “I am only looking for my town.” They did not move. Of course they could not trust an intruder, especially in a time like this. The owner began to formulate a plan to convince the people he was not a threat, but then his fate quickly changed. Out from his bag, the parrot began to squawk.
“Hello, hello. Today is Monday,” he said, although it really wasn’t. Everyone remained in hiding, except there was a small voice coming from behind a chair.
“Max?” the voice said. “Is that really you?” A girl stepped out from behind the chair and stood staring at the bird. She instantly lit up in a smile and ran toward her beloved parrot.
“I can’t believe it’s you!” she exclaimed. “I never thought I would see you again.” Then she faced the owner and asked, “Where did you find Max?”
“On my way here, I came across two empty houses,” he answered. “One was your house, the one with Max inside. The other was an old cottage with a little black cat living there.” He expected to see an old lady step forward to claim her kitten, but nobody appeared. Instead, the cat jumped out of the man’s arms and darted toward a thin brown door. It pushed its nose through the opening and raced out. After a moment of silence, a series of meows echoed throughout the building. The man hurried down the hall to find the cat standing on a pile of letters in fine typewriter print. The one on top, however, was familiar. It was the message of the threat to the town from almost a year ago. The owner almost ignored it as he had received plenty of these letters before, but something caught his eye. There was a familiar black pawprint stamped in the corner of the letter, just like the prints found in the cottage with the typewriter and the black cat.
When the owner ran back to the main room, the people were all gone. Confused, he jogged back to the room with the letter, and it was suddenly gone too. All that remained on the desk were pictures of three houses: the owner’s house, the cottage, and the yellow house, each stamped with the same black pawprint. Connecting it all, he realized the cat had been responsible for everything that had happened in the past year. Now the animal was long gone. Perhaps it had moved on to its newest town.