He’d turned away when the patio door opened. I can’t see his face, but I can hear him sobbing, and I can see his shoulders hitch. He’s holding the shovel in front of him, as if hiding it, like I’m not supposed to know he has it.
“Ty, man, you all right?”
When he doesn’t answer or even acknowledge my presence, I walk up to him and place my hand on his shoulder. He jumps, startled, as if he hadn’t been expecting it. His shoulders continue to hitch, and now that I’m closer to him and the mound of dirt, I smell it. Not the early autumn air or the grass mowed two days earlier, but something under all of those smells. Something that just doesn’t smell right.
“Tyler,” I say, and force him to turn around. He does so stubbornly, his face lowered. “What’s wrong?”
He slowly looks up at me, blinks. Says nothing. Then his mouth opens and he whispers a single word. A name. “Laddie.”
Laddie. Ty’s dog. Our parents brought the collie puppy home when Tyler was just two years old. Ty and Laddie grew up together, did everything together. They were close. Best friends.
Ty’s eyes shift back down to the mound of dirt, and I look down there too. I remember what I first thought.
“What about him?”
Again, a whisper: “He’s … dead.”
My hand is still on my brother’s shoulder, and it’s unintentional, I swear, but it squeezes when he speaks those two words. His shoulder stiffens and his face screws up in silent pain.
“Dead?” I ask, releasing my grip. “How?”
“I … I need your help, Josh.”
“What happened to Laddie?”
“There’s something in the woods,” Ty says, his voice small and weak.
“And it killed Laddie?”
He shakes his head. “No. I did.”
At that moment I tell myself I’m dreaming. This is just some fucked up dream, that’s all. In real life, Ty would never do anything to harm Laddie. He didn’t even punish him when the dog bit him last year for trying to take away his chew-toy; Ty only hugged him and told him it was okay, he wouldn’t like people taking away his chew-toy either.
But I know I’m not dreaming, so I ask, “But … why?”
“Because—” His eyes shift back up to meet mine. He clears his throat. “Because he was different.”
I notice something then I wish I didn’t. There’s more than just dirt on Tyler’s T-shirt. Something that looks like dried mud.
Ty shakes his head, stares back down at the dirt mound. “I can’t tell you,” he whispers. He sniffs and for the first time wipes the tears from his eyes. “But I can show you.”