Ezra Titus

1966 – 2009

DOGS

From: Ezra Titus

Date: September 29, 2006 2:32:56 AM EDT

To: Libby Titus

Subject: Dogs

 

I want “Dogs” published, even if I don’t get any money for it.  I’ve found all these writers guides with the addresses of publishers who want short stories.  I’m going to send out 25 copies within the next week.  I bet someone will publish it.  I don’t know if you’ve read that one.  (Don’t worry – you’re not in it at all.)  It’s about that time Abel killed Lynn when they were living at Barry’s when I was fifteen.  It’s also about Barry, and it’s also about my dogs, and me, but that’s all.  I wish I’d shown everyone this story – or, I wish everyone had known this story.  This one, unlike most of the others, is absolutely true, though that may be hard for you to believe if you read it.  If people had known this, they would have understood me better.  – Just felt like telling you.  I’m thinking a lot tonight.  That’s why I’m still awake.  I’m also working on a cool new story – “Bible Bomb.”  (You’ll see when it’s done.)  That one’s funny, but it’s also got a great premise.  It’ll be done in a couple of weeks.  Love,

 

Ezra

 

Dogs

By – Ezra Titus

 

I was fifteen, and it was summer vacation. It should have been a good time. I’d even taken Melinda Jackson out for ice cream, and she was legendary in school; She was the most beautiful girl in Somerville, Massachusetts. I lived there, with my father, in a house on the mountain. There were gypsy moth caterpillars that summer, and the caterpillars had eaten every tree in the valley. It looked like the entire forest had died. I’d been told that caves near my house had been used by Indians, and sometimes, I looked for them with my dogs, Wotan and Turkina.

 

As it grew hot, my father became more isolated and eccentric than ever. He stayed upstairs in his room, smoking pot and typing hundreds of annoying letters to various, US Government agencies and celebrities. He said they all conspired to insult him and torment him telepathically. At the time, I honestly didn’t know what to make of it. I didn’t understand that people could hallucinate without psychedelic drugs. In hindsight, it seems unequivocally clear that my father was a schizophrenic, but at fifteen, I couldn’t truly grasp and apply that word. Then again, maybe I just didn’t want to know.

 

When my father went out, I’d go into his room. There were dozens of letters from the CIA strewn all over the floor among ashes and old, rotting plates of food. I was fascinated. How often does one see a letter from the CIA? They had the eagle in the circle on the letterhead and everything. I picked one up and read it. It went something like this:

 

Dear Mr. Titus,

This is the eighth time I have written you concerning your allegations that the Central Intelligence Agency is cooperating with the Dalai Lama in an effort to control your mind telepathically. I can assure you that the Central Intelligence Agency has never, and will never collaborate with the Dalai Lama or any other person, government or entity in order to telepathically control your mind, or anyone else’s. The CIA exists for the protection and benefit of the American people. Therefore, to expend time and resources in order to, as you put it, “torment” you, would be counter to our interests. It is my sincere hope that this letter will make further correspondence unnecessary. Sincerely,

(Some poor guy at the CIA who answers letters like this all day long)

 

Reading that letter didn’t help me to understand that my father was sick, but I could see that he was preoccupied. I realized that for all intents and purposes, I was raising myself. My father kept the freezer full of food that I could cook for myself in the microwave. On the table in the living room, there was always about a quarter pound of pot, from which I was allowed to take as much as I wanted. I took enough for my head, and some more to sell for extra money.

 

My father had started me off smoking pot when I was eleven. He gave me a joint and said, “Try this.” After I smoked that joint, I asked my father, “Can I have three more?” He said yes, and so began a habit I’d struggle with for decades afterwards.

 

That summer of my fifteenth birthday, my father had also introduced me to a girl, Charlene, who turned me on to acid for the first time, and guided me through my first trip. Being ‘guided through it’ included having sex with her, which I believe my father arranged. After I got back from Charlene’s house, and before I could say a word, my father told me that when he’d been my age, his father had brought him to a French prostitute. He told me that fathers traditionally did this for their sons in Europe. It bothered me that what I thought had been real, was in fact, only a purchased simulation. I didn’t say anything.

 

Then, my father told me that agents of the CIA were hiding in the woods, watching us. I didn’t know what to say, and my father walked upstairs to begin typing a letter to the Dalai Lama. I’d seen some of those letters, calling the Dalai Lama a “pig fucker,” and worse. I didn’t understand it. I just thought he was “acting weird.”

 

Over the next few weeks, my father pulled away, into even more complete isolation. In his place, he started leaving relatively large amounts of money on the table for me. It was as though he knew he’d abandoned me, and he was paying me to endure it. So, I had what I needed, materially, as well as what I wanted, medicinally. Still, I was not making all the right choices for myself in the complete absence of another human being’s non-LSD related guidance. So, I turned to my German Shepherd, Wotan, and his wife of less certain descent, Turkina, as the two beings who interacted with me at home.

 

We often played “golf-dog,” a game I invented in which, after allowing the dogs to ‘mark’ it with their saliva, I’d hit a golf ball deep into the woods that went on for miles in every direction around our house. They never failed to find the ball. I considered them my equals, and shared boxes of microwaved, frozen chicken with them. If these dogs were going to be the closest things I had to parents, they deserved to eat what I ate. It was around that time that I noticed Turkina was pregnant. They were smart dogs. I think they understood every word I said. Once, my father said, “You love those dogs more than you love any person.” I didn’t say so, but he was right.

 

When I would take too much acid or methadrine, they would whine and lick my face with great concern. That would break me out of whatever horrible drug experience I was embroiled in. When I was too strung out, begging God to let me sleep, I’d take the dogs walking in the woods, and I’d come back to life. I always brought the rifle my father had given me on my birthday. I shot at pine cones and mushrooms (often while on mushrooms). For me, home was the most dangerous place I could be. Taking Melinda Jackson out for ice cream was the only ‘normal’ thing I did.

 

I couldn’t invite Melinda, or anyone else over to my house. It was disgusting, never having been cleaned in years. I tried to clean, but one day, when I was mopping the kitchen floor, my father threw a plate of food onto the floor, where it shattered. He said, “I don’t care if we live in a big pile of shit.” I ignored him and kept cleaning. He started to mock me, saying, “Oh look at him – always busy cleaning.” Then, he emptied the garbage onto the floor and said, “Tee hee hee.” I gave up trying to clean. Melinda Jackson wouldn’t be coming over. Moreover, I’d have to hide my family life from her, and every other girl I talked to. – Everything was fine, I’d tell them if they asked. My dad just didn’t let me have guests.

 

I started using drugs to get through times when I felt bad, like, whenever I was home. My body was stuck there, but my mind was getting away. The more I took, the less I wanted to leave. Even Melinda Jackson couldn’t get me out of the house. I didn’t want her to see me like that. Even on those rare occasions when I was sober, my eyes looked sad. I didn’t want to explain it to anyone. I didn’t want help. I could stay there, in the place madness called home, as long as I kept my mind veiled with toxins. I couldn’t find one I didn’t like. I drank a lot by then too.

 

I let my hair grow, and went wild with my dogs. One day, while running with the dogs through the woods, I found the caves I’d heard about. Without a gun, I’d have been too frightened to go in, but I clicked off the safety and walked inside. If anyone had ever lived there, no trace of them remained. There were no drawings on the walls of the caves; no fireplace betrayed the presence of humans. But, near the entrance to the cave, Wotan was digging for something. As I watched him working ferociously with his forelegs, I noticed something flicker in the dirt he’d kicked out behind him. I put the gun over my shoulder and sifted through the newly excavated earth. I felt something smooth in my hand, and as I let the dirt fall away, it was revealed; A grinning, silver skull stared back at me. I was elated. No doubt, this was some sort of ancient, Indian artifact. I kept looking at it and rolling it around in my hand as I walked back toward the house. I imagined it would be worth a fortune, and I praised the dog for finding treasure.

 

When I got back to the house, I was dismayed to find a strange motor-home parked in the driveway. My father often allowed the out-of-luck to live on our property. This time, he’d agreed to let an acid-dealing hippy, Aphik, and his girlfriend Naomi live in our driveway. I knew this guy, Aphik, from town, and he was a rat. His soul was bad. Something blackened had seeped into it through the holes in his aura. I wanted the two of them gone, immediately, but said nothing to my father, as I rarely said anything to him. Usually I didn’t mind these guests. Most of them were struggling musicians my father had somehow run into in town. They were, in general, polite, and sometimes even fun to hang out with. But there was something about Aphik that I didn’t trust.

 

He was thin. He had long, straight blonde hair that had never been washed. He had drugged, sky blue eyes with constricted pupils, and a goatee. He carried a long knife, attached to his belt. My father introduced me to them, and silently retreated to his room, leaving me to deal with these people alone. I was angry. My life had been strange enough before they arrived. Somehow, simply seeing that Winnebago in the driveway, I knew something bad was going to happen. Wotan didn’t like it either. The first time Aphik tried to pet him, the dog bit his hand. That shocked me, because Wotan had never bitten anyone before. I didn’t like Aphik, and that’s why I didn’t yell at Wotan for biting him. He appeared to be enraged when I simply held the dog back by his collar and said, “Sorry.” However, Aphik said nothing, and walked slowly back to his motor-home. Wotan knew Aphik was no good. He could smell it.

 

When Wotan bit Aphik, I’d almost forgotten about the grinning, silver skull I’d found in the cave. I had a locking, wooden box in my room, and after admiring this item once more, I put it in the box, and locked it away. The next day, I had a chance to talk to Naomi.

 

She was a sweet, quiet 21 year old girl. She was tall and beautiful, with soft, black hair and gentle, brown eyes. She spoke very softly and listened with a loving look in her eyes. She picked flowers. She asked me to show her where the stream was and she washed her face there. Naomi asked me if I could shoot an “X” she drew on a piece of cardboard. I shot it through the exact center. She laughed, and held up the target, saying, “Look at that! Right through the middle!” It was an easy shot, really, but I enjoyed having Naomi around. At least she was proud of my marksmanship. Under different circumstances, I would have welcomed her into the house. I couldn’t understand why she’d chosen to spend time with Aphik.

 

I didn’t think they’d stay long, but weeks passed, and by the middle of July, it didn’t seem like Aphik and Naomi were planning on leaving anytime soon. That was around the time they got a dog. It was a Doberman puppy.

 

I went into my father’s room and asked him how long they’d be here. He just looked at me with a terrible gleam in his eyes and said, “Today, a tiny, Buddhist god floated in through the window. He put a crown on my head and said I was a wise man.” First, I started laughing. Maybe all this weird talk about the CIA and the Dalai Lama was a joke, and this was the punch line. But, my father didn’t laugh.

 

That was the moment I first realized it; I walked out of the room, and as soon as my father couldn’t see me, I allowed myself the thought: He was insane. I felt like I was going to faint. How was I going to make it through this? If I needed help in life, who would help me? How could I live this way, getting high all the time to escape, and then rejoin the rest of the world? How could I be so young, and already know that life was going to be almost impossible? I asked myself, “What can you do?” and the answer that came from within almost killed me. I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea, and I’d just have to make it through every day without going crazy myself, whatever it took.

 

I should have spent more time away from the house. I could have been laughing with my friends, and eating ice cream with Melinda Jackson. Unfortunately, the sickness had a gravity all its own. The more time I spent around it, the sicker I felt. I didn’t want anyone to see me. They’d sense what was going on, and they’d avoid me. I just stayed home, and kept myself high and numb.

 

A few weeks later, my father went away for the weekend to visit an old friend in Manhattan. The first night he was gone, Aphik tried to sneak into my room while I was sleeping. The dogs woke me up the instant he approached my bed, barking so loud it hurt my ears. “What the fuck?” I demanded of Aphik, as I jumped up out of bed. He said, “Oh, sorry – sorry man. I didn’t know you were asleep.” Sarcastically and confrontationally, I asked, “Oh really?” Aphik was lying, and when people lie to me, I don’t trust them. I was perturbed, but when Aphik said he had some mushrooms and he didn’t want to do them alone, I got up and dosed with him. I took psychedelic mushrooms with someone I hated, because I was always looking for a way out of that house and out of myself, which made me a slave to every drug.

 

I only took a little, so it was a mild trip. Aphik bored me with his attempts at conversation. I sat at the piano in silence, still annoyed that he’d woken me. I’d taken the mushrooms, but they hadn’t changed my mind about Aphik, and as I contemplated what had happened, I became silently enraged. I began to wonder what ill-intent might have led him to sneak up on me. What if the dogs hadn’t woken me up? I looked at Aphik, with his long knife strapped to his side, and I knew I wasn’t safe.

 

Eventually, Aphik said, “Let me show you something.” He broke an egg and put it in a saucer for Wotan, who began to eat it. Aphik told me to watch, I yawned as rudely as I could. When Wotan finished the egg, Aphik said, “See?” “See what?” I asked, growing more irritated. Aphik looked at me with wide, maniacal eyes and replied, “The dog, and the egg … Do you see what it means?”

 

“Dogs like raw eggs?”

“No man. You’ve gotta see what it means … the dog, and the egg.”

“Whatever,” I replied, “I’m going back to sleep.”

 

Aphik said, “Hey man! I gave you mushrooms, and now you’re just gonna’ go to sleep, and let me trip alone?” I said, “Yes, that’s exactly what I’m going to do.” Then, Aphik punched Turkina, my smaller dog. She ran away whimpering, and Wotan attacked. He knocked Aphik onto his back and barked wildly in his face, gnashing teeth just centimeters away. While he did, I ran into my room and grabbed my rifle. When I came back, I pushed Wotan off, placed my foot on Aphik’s chest, and jammed the muzzle into his throat. I held him in that position for what seemed a long time, and I didn’t say a word. The rifle was the message, and it was easy to understand.

 

Finally, I stepped back, still pointing the rifle at Aphik’s face. He glared at me, enraged, and said, “Soon, you’re gonna’ understand about the dog and the egg.”

 

Then, he turned cautiously and started walking toward his motor home. Realizing by then that Aphik’s “dog and egg trick” was a stale demonstration of the relationship between the strong and the helpless, I called after him, “I get it. I’m the dog, and you’re the egg you fucking hippy! Come fuck with me now.” Then, I fired a shot above his head. He ran, into the Winnebago. I waited for him to leave. I thought he’d leave my house. I watched out the window. Minutes … Hours – He wasn’t leaving. I stayed up that night, sitting by a window in the dark, with my rifle pointed at Aphik’s motor home. Wotan whined, looking at me with anxiety in his eyes. Turkina, beaten, rested in the corner, dejected. Once in a while, I’d walk over to her and pet her. She was so sad, it made me sad. I had nobody to call. I didn’t know what to do. I had to sleep, so I slept with the gun.

 

The next day, I walked outside while Aphik was chopping wood. He froze and stared at the ground first, then looked up at me, and said, “I’m sorry.” I didn’t say anything.

 

My father came home from Manhattan the next day. I didn’t tell him what had happened. He’d be angry that I shot over Aphik’s head. But, Aphik didn’t tell him either. So, my father went back into his room, to hallucinate, and to blame the government for his hallucinations. His letters were becoming more aggressive. There was a Buddhist monastery five miles away. My father now believed the messages were coming from there. He told me not to speak at all because men were on the roof, listening. I said, “No. No one’s on the roof.” He didn’t hear me.

 

A few days later, Aphik’s Doberman puppy, which was about four months old, walked into my house. Wotan barked at it, and it urinated on the floor. I cleaned it up and told Naomi to try to keep the puppy outside. She smiled with complete understanding. She always looked at me admiringly. I liked that. She said, “I’ll tell Aphik.” I quickly replied, “No. Really it’s no big deal. In fact, don’t even worry about it.” She smiled at me warmly. I wondered how, as his girlfriend, she could fail to see that he was not a good man. He was angry, and though he would not speak to me, he looked as though he had something he wanted to prove. I should have told my father about what had happened. I should have told someone about Aphik, but no one would have believed me.

 

Unfortunately, Naomi did tell Aphik about the puppy incident. I should have known, it would be about the dogs. Aphik beat Naomi out in the motor home all night. I heard it. I know my father heard it. I waited for him to do something, but he just stayed in his room.

 

In the morning, Aphik took the puppy to the town dump, and smashed it in the head with a steel bar, cracking it’s skull open. He left it for dead. A few days later, it found its way back to the house. When it showed up, and Naomi saw its injury, she became hysterical. I heard her and Aphik screaming at each other in the motor-home that night. Turkina, now almost ready to have her puppies, dug her way under the front porch, and for a long time, it seemed she never came out. She knew something bad was coming. I started sliding bowls of food and water under the porch for her.

 

Wotan stopped leaving the house. He stayed with me always. If I went upstairs, he went upstairs. If I took a shower, he bashed against the bathroom door until I’d let him in. Then, he’d stand at the door, staring at it until I was dressed. He would simply not allow me out of his sight. He seemed down, and I was sad because he had always been a ‘goofy,’ happy dog. One night, he woke me from a bad dream. He was crying, and licking my face. I said, “Thanks, Wotan. Sometimes I think you’re smarter than I am.” He didn’t smile, as he usually would have. He just laid there, depressed and anxious. I was concerned, and I wondered how long it had been since he’d slept.

 

Five days later, Larissa Reed and Tara Cassavo were tossing rocks out into the lake. After Larissa tossed one rock, a human hand, bloated to five times its normal size rose up out of the water. Naomi had been killed by a large injection of air, which expanded in her bloodstream causing arteries to burst in her brain.

 

I was selling drugs in town when a friend of my Dad’s pulled up in her car. She told me to get in the car. I said, “I’m a little busy right now.” Still, she insisted that I join her. In the car, she told me that Naomi’s body had been pulled from the lake, and that my Father was in Newburgh, being interrogated as the prime suspect. He was gone, and I didn’t hear anything more for a few days. The motor-home was also gone, and Wotan was back to normal. I stayed alone, with Wotan.

 

A State Trooper pulled into the driveway one day while I was sitting on the porch with the dogs. He held up my black and blue sleeping bag and asked if it was mine. “Yes,” I said. Naomi had been wrapped in my sleeping bag before she was thrown into the lake. The trooper said my father might not be home for a while, and asked if I was all right alone. I was better off than I’d been in months, and the cop left. Strangely, I didn’t think much about what had happened, or what was happening. I was just happy that Aphik was gone, and so were my dogs. I wondered what would happen to me if my father were convicted of murder.

 

Turkina had fourteen puppies. Their appearances betrayed Wotan as the father.

 

Soon after that, Aphik confessed. He had given Naomi heroin, and after she fell asleep, he’d injected a large syringe full of air into a vein in her leg. Then, he wrapped her in my sleeping bag. He drove her body to the lake, weighed it down by tying stones to it, and took a row boat, left there by people who lived nearby, out into the middle of the water. There, he dumped her body.

 

In prison, Aphik tried to kill himself by climbing the bars and jumping off, to land on his head. He failed. It came to be known that two of Naomi’s Brothers were state troopers, and that after a few months, Aphik had died in prison under “uncertain circumstances.” The entire sequence of events changed an amazing number of lives.

 

After he was aggressively questioned as a murder suspect for three days, my Father’s paranoia regarding the government blossomed like a tumor. He believed the meltdown at Chernobyl was a message to him, specifically. He thought the government was somehow threatening him through the New York Times crossword puzzle. He started talking to me more often, and the things he said disturbed me. Once, I asked him if there was anything I could do to make him feel better, and he said, “Kill the President.” When I said no, he screamed at me, and I’ll never forget it, shrieked in that maniacal timbre: “How can you say no when your poor father is suffering?!?” He insulted me often, screaming that I had blue eyes and light hair, unlike either of my parents, because I practiced witch craft. I knew I couldn’t stay there with him much longer.

 

That was only the beginning of what became many very difficult years, and those years are still the years I live in. My Father only gets worse as time passes. His life is consumed by a delusional construct that ever plagues his thoughts and words. He was a good person. In fact, I thought he was a genius, but as the disease progressed, the father I knew slowly began to disappear, and he was replaced by a screaming madman. I often thought cancer would have been preferable to schizophrenia, because at least with cancer, you die. Instead, he goes on and on, becoming sicker, year after year. It has been, and will continue to be, a long decay.

 

I moved out my dad’s house on my 18th birthday. I had to leave Wotan and Turkina behind. My father gave Turkina and the puppies away without telling me. I looked, but couldn’t find her. I screamed at my father for having done it. He just giggled, and I began to feel less sympathy for him. I wished he would die. Alone with my screaming father, Wotan refused to eat. He ran away often, looking for me at the places we’d gone to together. My father found him once at the veterinarian’s office, once at the field where I used to take him to play “Tennis Dog,” and sometimes, further away. Within eight months, he died of loneliness. I keep his picture on my nightstand, along with Turkina’s, and every night, I tell them how sorry I am. I miss walking in the woods with my dogs. But, those days are long past, and I’ve been partially dead inside, ever since Wotan died. I hope Turkina lived. I don’t know.

 

To this day, I visit that lake where Naomi’s body was found. The fact that Naomi’s corpse was found there doesn’t frighten me. I feel it’s a beautiful place to think about her and to remember her. Sometimes, I swear I can feel her spirit there, and it’s warm. I also believe Wotan can now have what he always wanted, which was to be with me always. When I am there, I can almost see him running by the lake, knowing a full truth I cannot yet know. In fact, I took my girlfriend there to smoke a joint once. Stricken by the beauty of that place, she said, “thank you for taking me to such a beautiful place.” I have never told her, or anyone else what happened there.

 

Eventually, my father was brought to trial by the Department of State for threatening the President. He paid a fine, and then moved to Monaco, where he lives today. He continues to harass the government via airmail.

 

Except for getting angry about the Doberman puppy, which, to this day, I believe led directly to Naomi’s death, and except for leaving Wotan to die after he saved my life, I don’t think I’ve ever done anything terribly wrong. This is to say that what I did to Aphik was correct. Sometimes, to fight the devil, you have to be a bit of a devil yourself. If you can’t win, you may choose to die. However, when you do have a choice, be the dog, not the egg.

 

The End

 

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