Eric Neher

The May Selected Writer is Eric Neher

Please feel free to email Eric at: ericneher3@gmail.com


by Eric Neher

The thought of living without her was something that Karl tried to avoid. But the fading black around her eyes soon spread its way down to her sagging lips and her once bright and attentive gaze was now clouded, leaving a dull confusion that was painful to watch. Dixie the Great Dane was coming to the end of her life and soon he would have to make a choice.

For Karl, that choice ranked up there with treason. He looked down to where she now lay in the corner of the bedroom, her thinning body curled up on the softest large pillow that his wife Tara could find at The Pet Store. He watched helplessly as Dixie trembled in her restless sleep. What was she dreaming about? Better days no doubt.

Perhaps she was reliving the time that he had taken her to the lake with his son Steve. Steve had only been ten at the time and Dixie had just reached her second year; one hundred pounds and still acted like a pup. Karl had taken the boy down to the bank with his little Spider-Man fishing pole, the dog following close behind. They had waited until later in the day before going due to the sudden spring storm that had blown through the night before, causing flash floods throughout half of the state. 

“Are you sure it’s safe?” Tara asked.

“Of course it is,” said Karl. “We’re not going into the water.”

How wrong he had been. They had reached the bank and Karl seized Steve by the shoulder. It wasn’t because the boy had done anything wrong; it was because of the sudden fear that had gripped him. The normally placid lake raged with whirlpool-like currents as incoming tides slammed against their spinning walls. Dixie had let out a nervous growl, letting her so-called master know that this was a bad idea and Karl had to agree.

“Let’s come back another day,” he said and began to turn the boy around. It was then that muddy the red dirt of the bank collapsed sending Karl, Steve, and Dixie plummeting into the churning tempest.

Karl tried to maintain his grip on the boy’s shoulder but the current was too strong. Steve was pulled out by the rolling water, his screams choked by the flood. Dixie let out an angry bark while looking at Karl, and to this day he would swear that her eyes held nothing but cold contempt.

Karl watched as the Great Dane fought her way through the wake and dipped underneath. Within seconds the dog broke the surface with the collar of Steve’s windbreaker clamped securely in her mouth. The boy’s eyes were opened wide and he had one arm draped over Dixie’s back.
Steve stepped further into the tide grabbing the boy and the dog and pulled them both towards the jagged remains of the bank.

They had made their way halfway back to the car when Karl suddenly felt his body begin to shake. He dropped the fishing gear just as his knees unhinged.

“Dad,” said Steve. “Are you okay”

“I’m fine,” he said.

Of course, he wasn’t really. If his wife hadn’t talked him into rescuing a six-month-old puppy from a friend who had been forced to move he would have lost his son that day. He looked over at the soaking wet Great Dane, her face held a disgusted look of wisdom that far surpassed her two years.

“Who wants McDonald’s?” he said. 

“Mom says you’re not supposed to eat that anymore, Dad,” said Steve. Sudden laughter exploded out of Karl and he reached for the boy pulling him close.

“I think we’ve earned it,” he said, he then looked over at Dixie. “I know she has.”


A wave of sadness washed over him as the memory concluded. There at his feet was that very hero. Only now the once-powerful body that had gone on to reach one hundred and thirty-five pounds had withered away like a thrown-out paper in the sun.

Her stone-like bones had gone brittle, her joints cracking each time she dared to stand up which was now happening less and less. Her pain was infectious. Karl knew that she was suffering and knew what he was supposed to do but still, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. Perhaps it was his own selfishness or maybe it was knowing that for the rest of his life he would be forced to carry the image of her drooping face as she released her final breath. That thought alone terrified him.

And what would she want? Would she gladly let him help her into the hatchback if she knew it was to be her final ride? Would her last thought towards him be one of gratitude or treachery?

“She’s suffering,” Tara said a couple of nights before and indeed she had appeared not just to be suffering but bordering on dementia. They had been woken by Dixie’s growl, only it wasn’t really a growl, more like an anguished moan. Karl sat up, switched on his reading lamp and what he saw was startling. Dixie was standing just off of her pillow, her long grey face pointed towards a shadowy corner of the room. Suddenly she let out a spine-tingling bark that caused the nearby window to rattle. 

“What is she barking at?” said Tara, and Karl noticed that she had pulled the blanket up to her chin and it did seem as though the room had become colder.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe she had a dream.”

Or maybe she was sensing that her time was close and she refused to go without a fight, attacking her own death much in the same way that she had attacked the raging currents that had almost taken Steve.

Dixie stood there for a moment longer with the hair on her back bristling then slowly turned and limped over to Karl’s side of the bed. She stretched her neck out and gave him a quick sniff.

“It’s okay,” he said rubbing the top of her head. Dixie nudged Karl’s arm and looked back towards the corner. He followed her gaze and his hand froze. For a moment he saw a shape melded in the dark like a shadow hidden in a cave. It was there for only a second and then disappeared.

“Did you see that?”

Tara still lay with the blanket pressed against her chin, her body now shivering.

“What?” she said. Karl wasn’t sure how to answer.

The darkness in the corner seemed to have suddenly brightened as if a curtain had been lifted.
Tara’s shaking had begun to slow, and he could feel the room becoming warmer.

“It was nothing,” he said, finally. Dixie lumbered her way back over to her pillow and plopped down with a whine.

“My God,” said Tara. “It’s after three.” She then fluffed her pillow and rolled over to where her back faced him. Karl reached over and shut the lamp off.

He lay there wrapped in the remaining night unable to go back to sleep, his heart pounding away in his chest. The shade in the corner had unsettled him, although he wasn’t sure why. At this hour you were apt to see all kinds of things that weren’t really there. But still, something had certainly brought Dixie to her feet and had made the room feel like a freezer.


Steve had left home six months earlier for the University of Arts and Sciences but still managed to call a couple of times a week. He always asked questions: How were they doing? Did mom still enjoy her painting class? Was dad remembering to take his heart medicine? But his questions always ended with Dixie. And why shouldn’t they? For Steve, Dixie was like a saint.

By the time the phone rang the next morning, Karl had already decided to forgo his morning walk. He had been doing that a lot lately. Mostly because it just wasn’t the same without Dixie thundering out in front of him, plus, after the events from the night before, he didn’t have the energy.

“Hello, there, Stranger,” he said.

“Dad,” said Steve, his voice sounding shaky.

“What’s wrong?” said Karl.

“Nothing. I just wanted to check-in. Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” he said. “Just a little tired. We had a crazy night.”

“Was it Dixie? Is she alright?”

Karl glanced down at the Dane on the pillow and felt his stomach tighten. The dog was wasting away. The skin covering her hips was parchment-thin. Her ribs crafted themselves clearly through the dull hair on her sides, slowly rising and falling with each breath she struggled to take. A sigh escaped out of Karl before he could stop it.

“What is it, Dad?”

Karl forced himself to take a deep breath and tried to stop the handset from trembling in his white-knuckled grip.

“Steve,” he said. “We’re going to have to put Dixie down.”

He had forbidden himself from thinking those words much less speaking them for so long that once they were out it was as if he was admitting to a crime. The dog was dying and after only ten years of life. For Great Dane’s, it was about as long as one could expect; just long enough for her to become entrenched in love and irreplaceable. Around the same age, actually, that Steve would have been had she not been there to save him.

Karl tried to say something more but found that he was now choking on the overwhelming grief. Thankfully Steve spoke for him.

“I know, Dad. I’ll be there tomorrow.” With that, the line went dead.

Karl hung the phone up and sank down beside Dixie. He placed his head on her debilitated chest and listened to the storm raging in her lungs. She slowly lifted her head and looked at him, her milky eyes struggling to focus as his own eyes welled up with tears.

There was no one home. No one to hear the unstoppable sobs bursting through the otherwise quiet room. This would be her last day. Tomorrow he and the boy she had saved would take her to the clinic and release her from the pain. And he would be there with her until the end, holding her as the last breath escaped. He owed her that and so much more. 


That evening Karl and Tara ate their dinner in silence. Dixie was given a freshly cooked pork chop but only sniffed at it. After dinner, Tara sat with the dog, scratching her ears and rubbing her under the chin. Dixie had always liked that but tonight it was as if her body had gone numb. Tara leaned over to where her mouth was just inches away from Dixie’s ear.

“You’ll never know how grateful I am,” she whispered, and then stood up wiping the tears off of her cheek and made her way into the bathroom.

Karl watched her from the bed and remained quiet. He looked over at the clock. It read 9:45 PM. He had called and set the appointment earlier that day for eleven tomorrow. Steve would be home by nine and together they would load her into the back of the car and take her on her final trip.

He hardly noticed Tara climbing into bed beside him; barely felt her arm reaching around his shoulders. She pulled him over to where his head was resting on her lap, her fingers combing through his thinning hair.

“We need to try and sleep,” she said.

“I know,” he said, but the thought of closing his eyes and slipping into the time warp of unconsciousness terrified him. This was their last night with Dixie. There would never be another and he wanted it to last for as long as he could.

He lay there with his head resting on his wife’s lap gazing at the dog. From outside a sudden gust of wind slapped at the walls of the house. Perhaps a storm was coming, he really didn’t know. He hadn’t watched the news in days, nor did he care. Let it rain, hell let it pour for that matter, maybe the storm would keep him up.

It did indeed storm but only briefly and by the time the first thunder crashed Karl had been asleep for over an hour.


The shade in the corner was shifting, rolling like a surf being pulled by a lunar tug. The shadow seemed to pour out of the joining walls slowly streaming its way over to where the Great Dane lay oblivious. It was then that Karl saw it for what it really was: Death.

A shudder rippled through him as the moving darkness continued towards the dog, snaking its way around Tara’s ottoman and creeping ever closer to Dixie. The dog was either too far gone to see what was happening or didn’t care. 

Karl tried to cry out, tried to warn her but found that he couldn’t speak. He watched in frozen terror as the shroud reached for her, latching on to her like a demonic leach, pulling itself over the dog’s body until Dixie disappeared under its fold. The soulless cloud paused, hovering over the Great Dane for a moment but then began to move again, its shifting bulk rolling off of the motionless dog and slithering its way towards the bed.

It was a nightmare. It had to be and yet…       


Karl’s eyes shot open, his chest sending out waves of pain. He tried to call out but couldn’t find any air. It was as if something was sitting on him, crushing his lungs. Barbs of fire raced down his left arm. He tried to reach for Tara sleeping at his side but his body refused to work; nothing seemed to work and then he saw it.

Death was there. It hung above him like an ancient web. He could feel an icy breeze caressing his face as a thin tendril broke away from the mass and reached out for him. An image of Dixie’s covered body flashed in his mind, sending a wave of panic and again he tried to scream but the invisible boulder now resting on his chest wouldn’t allow it.

A finger stretched out from the undulating mass, first gliding over his sweat-soaked face, then brushing against his trembling lips down passed the hollow of his shoulder and coming to a stop on the left side of his chest. The pain that had been coming through in waves switched to a solid wall. From the corner of his eye, he could see the shroud expanding, molding itself over his right side, slowly consuming him much like it had done to Dixie in his dream. Only he was now sure that what he had witnessed was no dream, more like a prelude.

Death continued to mount him, constricting his body like some undead python. The coldness of its touch causing both numbness and despair. An image of Tara fought its way through his clouded mind, of how just hours from now she would awake to find her husband dead at her side. Death could care less and continued its absorption until the low light of the room began to fade, becoming opaque like a vision through a waterfall and with it went the pain until only a dull throb remained.

A sudden roar echoed in his skull, causing the eater to pause. Mark felt the shroud jerk, could feel its claw-like grasp beginning to slip as it struggled to dig deeper and deeper into his dying body. Another tug pulled at the shroud and Karl felt its hold fail. The pain was back like an avalanche but at least he could now breathe.

He turned his head and gasped. A shadow stood within the shadow, its massive body leaping forward swiping at the dodging mist with a pair of powerful claw covered fists, only they weren’t fists, they were paws.

It was Dixie and yet it wasn’t, at least not as she was near the end. Her body held the same vibrancy of her youth; of her one hundred and thirty-five-pound prime. Her massive teeth were now clamped down pulling at the cloud as if ripping a sheet, dragging it back towards the corner.

A sudden anguished cry split the air and still the Great Dane held with her growls filtering through her clenched jaw. Death continued to struggle, trying to free itself, throwing ghostly finger-like daggers at the dog but she would not let go and soon she had it close to the corner from which it came.

It was then that Mark saw the void within the darkness. A black hole of nothingness that filled the driven edge and he knew what was about to happen, somehow he knew and he was helpless to stop it because it was already too late. There on the pillow lay Dixie, her body motionless. Death had come for her but it didn’t want to stop with her and that was something that his dog couldn’t allow.

He watched as Dixie gave one last jerk throwing herself and the shroud into the darkness. The chasm stood for a moment longer and then it was gone.


The room was as quiet as a tomb, and in some ways it was. The body of Dixie lay just ten feet away still curled up on the giant pillow. The pain in his chest was gone but the threat was very much still there and he would heed its warning. Death had been robbed of a prize and he was sure that it wouldn’t forget.

The first yellow-orange beams began to crack over the horizon and he watched as the rays filtered through the window, crawling their way across the floor and smiled as they seemed to pause on Dixie. She had fought until the end and beyond. Allowing her just past middle-aged father to live and he wouldn’t forget, nor would he continue on as he had.

He would wait another hour and then wake up Tara and tell her the bad news. They would then wait for Steve to arrive and after the crying had stopped would take Dixie out into the back to be buried. But he wouldn’t allow them to go far.

Death was a sneaky villain, always watching and waiting. A spy who thrives off of blunders and weakness. Karl had been full of blunders, one of those being convinced that his own weaknesses were nothing more than a temporary fancy that he could stop at any time. He had been lucky; lucky to have a second chance when so many others didn’t and lucky that his wife had talked him into rescuing a six-month-old puppy all those years ago.

Eric Neher is an award-winning author who lives in Newcastle Oklahoma with his wife Tammy (The Traveling Nurse). He is a continuing contributor to Uniqelahoma Magazine, as well as having numerous short and flash fiction stories published. A graduate of MNTC’s diverse and various creative writing programs, he is constantly on the lookout for better ways to hone his craft.

His works include: Permian Remorse, The Bane of Dave, Fractured Frame, The Cycle, A Haunted Cemetery, Horrific Separation and The Race for Acromis.