57 - Full Circle

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"How much for that stuffed dog?"

The auctioneer felt an odd chill, a feeling of deep discomfort, but he tried to push it away. He must be imagining it, he thought. Just an odd spook, a hold-over from what he knew about the house.

It was a spooky line of work, auctioning off the belongings of the dead.

"He's for sale, right?" The man asked again, more insistent.

"Yes..." the auctioneer hesitated, wanting almost to say 'no,' but he couldn't bring his mouth to form the words. It was ridiculous. There was no reason to fear a taxidermied dog. The sooner he got rid of it, and the rest of this junk, the sooner his job here would be over. The sooner he could get out of this creepy house and the memories it contained. "Make an offer, I guess. Nobody seems quite able to appraise him. I guess he just deserves to go home with the right kind of buyer."

The man brushed his fingers against the dog's downturned snout. It had been a handsome dog once, fine-boned and with soft, glossy black fur that feathered at the ears and legs. The kind of dog you would see in a painting in an old nobleman's house. It sat, reclining on its haunches, a certain easy confidence in its pose. It had been expertly preserved; it barely showed signs of age, no worn-away patches of fur, not a fake tooth out of place in its open-mouthed smile.

Just one strange irregularity, a faint brownish staining on the teeth and edges of the maw - but a flaw easily overlooked, considering the quality of the mount.

"It's a weird thing to find at an estate sale. Who owned this place, anyway?"

"A younger couple," the auctioneer said, brow furrowing. Again, an unpleasant memory tugged at the back of his mind, but he pushed it away. His job was to be an auctioneer, not a teller of ghost stories -- but it sure seemed like he was doing a lot of the latter this year. Something about this whole exchange felt eerily familiar, and it gave him the willies.  "I think they had a kid."

"Young folks, huh? That's unusual What happened to them?"

"You didn't hear the story?"

"No." The man didn't look up; he seemed entranced by the dog, his fingertips working over the soft bristles of fur along the back of its neck. "I just moved here. What's the story?"

"Folks who lived here...now, I don't know the details, exactly. But a lady got into it with her ex, I guess, and both of them died. Murder-suicide, is what the press said." He hesitated, his gaze traveling down to the dog as well. "It's the weirdest damn thing, though, because they found her body burned up out in the desert. Guess the guy must have dumped her out there and come back here for his kid. Killed himself right in the living room, or something like that."

"Shit. That's awful."

A grisly story, and one that might turn away buyers. But, then, sometimes people liked it that way. Sometimes you'd get a real freak on your hands, the kind who gravitated toward a taxidermied dog in a house full of valuable antiques. Sometimes folks ate that stuff up.

"Yeah."

"Did he get the kid?"

The auctioneer shook his head. "Nope. Only bit of good news to come out of it, I guess. The lady had a wife, I guess — I know, how modern, right? — who used to run this antique shop down on 24th Street. Story goes she took the kid and ran just before everything went down. Must've known something was going to happen, I guess. Like I said, I don't know the details. All's I know is she grabbed that kid and got the hell out of dodge. Called me up on a favor to run the sale, said she didn't want anything to do with it. Can't say I blame her, really, all things considered."

"Wow. What a world we live in, huh?" The man reached into his pocket, pulling out his wallet. "Well, I'll take this old boy off your hands, at least. My son's going to love him." He chuckled. "He's always begging me to get him a dog. Wait til he gets a load of this." 

Money exchanged hands, and the auctioneer watched as the man carefully lifted the hound, cradling it as though it were still alive. As they departed, crossing the sitting room and striding toward the door, he could have sworn that the dog's eyes shifted, just slightly, in its fine-boned skull, following him with its gaze. 

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