By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
One of the side effects of having an English degree is that I remember famous works of literature – but only the weird ones. The one I’m remembering lately is extra creepy. It’s a short story told by a narrator who insists he’s just nervous, not crazy. He’s anxious because he killed an old man for a bizarre reason: He couldn’t stand the sight of the old man’s “vulture eye,” – which is a pale blue eye with a cloudy film.
He became so obsessed with the old man’s eye that he’d sneak into his house at night and watch him sleep. Eventually, the old man woke up scared because this weirdo was watching him. Then the watcher heard a loud thumping noise and assumed it was the terrified old man’s heartbeat, so he killed him because he worried that the sound might wake the neighbors.
But it was too late because the neighbors did hear something – the sound of the old man screaming. They called the police to investigate. But the police didn’t find anything because the killer had already hidden the old man’s dismembered body under the floorboards. While the police asked questions, the killer kept hearing the thump-thump-thumping sound of the dead man’s heart beating under the floor, and it drove him even crazier. He assumed the police could hear it, too (they couldn’t), so he confessed to the crime and begged them to rip up the floorboards to make the sound stop.
There’s a reason I keep thinking about Edgar Allan Poe’s story titled “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I’m hearing things, too. And I can’t make it stop. It’s not a thump-thump-thump. It’s a squeak-squeak-squeak.
It started a few months ago after a trip to Target. My teenage daughter and her service dog, Mac, went with me. He was such a good dog during this outing that we walked him through the aisle of dog toys, where he immediately fell in love with a large dog toy shaped like a carrot. He flashed those big brown puppy dog eyes at us, and we were goners. “Just one more dog toy,” we said. “What could it hurt?” We let him pick up the carrot and carry it to the check-out counter.
But later that night, we made a discovery. The carrot squeaks. But it’s not the ordinary squeak of an average dog toy. It’s an ear-splitting, rapid-fire squeak at a pitch that’s likely used in torture chambers. It’s so loud we can’t hear the TV. We can’t hear each other talk. We probably couldn’t even hear a herd of rhinos on our roof.
“Don’t worry,” I told my husband. “It’s a cheap toy. He’ll probably destroy the thing in a day or two.” But he didn’t. Mac loves the carrot. He squeak-squeak-squeaks it about once every second and never tries to disembowel its stuffing like he did to so many other toys.
But I couldn’t stand the incessant squeaking one more minute! So, I stole the carrot when Mac wasn’t looking, and I hid it. (Not under the floorboards.) But Mac is a trained scent dog, so he followed his nose straight to the hiding spot. The second time I stole it, I hid it on a high shelf.
For the past few nights, Mac has roamed the house searching for the toy carrot. He sniffs the air. He knows it’s here somewhere. I try to distract him with the silent tug rope, but he quickly loses interest. He craves the carrot.
And now my cowardly carrot crime is tormenting me. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I think I hear it. But is it the carrot or my guilty conscience?
“Squeak, squeak, squeak. I know what you did.”
“Squeak, squeak, squeak. You’re a heartless monster.”
“Squeak, squeak, squeak. I’m still here, waiting for justice.”
Dear readers, I need your wise counsel. Should I destroy the evidence? Should I buy noise-canceling headphones, confess my crime, and return the toy to its furry owner? Should I sue the manufacturer for making a toy carrot that squeaks with the strength of a million angry door hinges?
If you have answers or tips for how to deactivate an internal squeaker without ripping apart a dog’s beloved carrot, please let me know. In the meantime, I’ll be hiding under the floorboards, telling myself over and over that I’m “just nervous, not crazy.”
Gwen Rockwood is a freelance syndicated columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her book is available on Amazon.