“The Watch Dog” is about Garrett “Rett” Baker, a man who alienated himself from everyone who loved him. He screwed his life up and is forced to return to his small hometown outside Nashville, TN to face his family and people he hurt. He winds up living in his Grandmother’s old house and it isn’t long before he finds himself awoken every night by the ghost of his childhood dog who seems to be trying to lead him somewhere…
Garrett woke up alone. He offered for Tamra Jean to stay, but she wouldn’t. He was surprised. He figured she would be the type of girl to get attached—especially to him. If he were completely honest with himself, part of him wished she did stay. He didn’t want to be alone, especially come three-fifteen-am.
The train whistle blew, but Garrett decided he wasn’t going to chase after it. He was going to ignore it and try to sleep through it. He lies there, however, staring at the ceiling, listening.
The clanking of the freight train chugging along the old tracks made his chest pound. For a moment, he imagined himself chasing the train. In the next moment, he imagined himself jumping in front of the train.
Wouldn’t it be easier on everyone that way? He thought.
His mother wouldn’t have to worry about him any longer. His brother didn’t have to deal with him. Tamra Jean could have a tragic love story—the kind she always read in middle school. Pastor Philip could give the sermon at his funeral, explaining what a sad and wrong path Garrett Baker took. Philip would encourage everyone to pray for his soul burning in hell.
Mostly, the vision was a selfish one, though. Garrett didn’t want to fight through life any longer. He didn’t want to worry how he would get money or about doing the right or wrong thing. He didn’t want to hurt or be afraid or judged. He wanted it all to end.
He wondered how he would do it, if he were going to do it. He thought about the truck in his driveway. Carbon monoxide poisoning seemed painless.
Maybe his mother would have wished she junked the truck years ago then.
As Garrett felt like he might actually go through with ending his life, he heard the distinct howl. It was Brownie’s howl, he was sure of it now. Brownie rarely barked, but when she wanted to play she would howl and wag her tail so frantically, her whole behind would sway along with it. The sound would start off low and increasingly get louder until it was a full blown wolf’s howl. Garrett used to mimic her sounds back to her, which only caused her to get more excited before she’d take off running and he would chase her.
She was summoning him out of the house at three-fifteen-am—she’d been doing it since he moved in. He didn’t know why or how it was even possible. They never chased the train together at this hour when she was alive. It was always the four o’clock train before dinner. Maybe Brownie’s spirit was changing the routine so the locals wouldn’t think he had gone crazy, he thought.
“But you are crazy, Rett,” he grumbled to himself before throwing back the covers.
He peeked out the window and didn’t see anything.
“You’re going to have to do better than a howl in the night, girl,” he sighed, about to get back into bed.
Just as he pulled the comforter back, he could hear a chain rattling downstairs. It was eerie. Scratching at the door followed a moment later. Garrett was afraid to move. Why though? If it were Brownie making all of this noise, she would never try to hurt him. Or would she? Maybe she was angry with him for how he ruined his life. Maybe she was mad he left Cayuga in the first place. Or what if it wasn’t Brownie? What if it was some other ghost?
Garrett cursed himself.
“You don’t believe in ghosts, ass!”
At least he didn’t think he did. He wasn’t even sure if he believed in God anymore, even though he sometimes still found himself praying at night.
Garrett’s curiosity and boredom alone gave him the courage to get out of bed. He threw on some sweats, boots and a fleece jacket. The temperature actually dropped last night, finally showing real signs of winter in Tennessee.
The rattling chain sounded like it was being dragged along the floor at the foot of the stairs. As he slowly approached the top step, he could see the silver metal lying at the landing of the staircase. The house was silent.
“Brownie?” He called, turning on the light before heading down the stairs, again, slowly.
“Come here, girl.”
He whistled and suddenly, the howling started up again. Garrett hurried down the rest of the steps and darted at the front door, unlocking it and swinging it open. There she was, sitting on the porch, with her tail wagging. Her brown coat was like rustic wood with white paws. Granny Kate always used to say it looked like Brownie was wearing shoes due to the contrast of the white and brown fur.
Garrett almost wept at the mere sight of her. Gone was his fear. Gone was his logic. All he could see was Brownie—the one unconditional comfort from childhood. He ran to her, hoping she wouldn’t disappear if he got too close. Before he could wrap his arms around her, Brownie stood up and ran down the steps.
“No!” Garrett yelled. “Brownie…” he huffed, his voice slightly hoarse.
She stopped and turned, letting out a small howl before running toward the tracks. She wanted Garrett to follow her and he obliged.
Garrett ran; his breath showing in the cold air as he did so. His construction boots, clunking against the gravel road near the tracks, was drowned out by the sound of the train going by. He could barely see Brownie running in front of him, but Garrett still followed.
Something inside of him felt alive as he ran. He felt like a young boy again seeking a thrill; looking to have fun; looking to escape. He used to dream about hitching a ride on one of the trains—just him and Brownie. They would go off to some place in the country where horses ran free.
Garrett had almost forgotten that was what he dreamed of back then—farms and taking care of animals. He didn’t think about money or power or girls yet. He just wanted to be free and safe.
Before he realized it, Garrett had chased Brownie to the train tunnel. He stopped short and wondered where she went. He glanced around, but he didn’t see Brownie anywhere. It was as if she disappeared into thin air.
Garrett was gasping from exertion and shock. He put his hands on his knees and tried to catch his breath. It was still dark out and Garrett began to walk back. He was angry with Brownie for leading him outside in the middle of the night—and angry with himself for being dumb enough to follow her. He wondered if he was hallucinating.
About halfway back, Garrett heard someone else’s footsteps on the gravel. The noise wasn’t as loud as his boots, but he could still hear it now in the silence of the early morning.
He turned around and there stood a dog. For a moment, Garrett was sure it was Brownie. She had the same coloring and was the same size. He breathed her name out, but he realized the dog wasn’t Brownie. This dog did not have white on its paws and it was not a girl.
Garrett stepped closer and the dog backed away. It was then he could see the dog was practically a puppy still. There was a collar around his neck with a silver tag that Garrett wanted to get to. He couldn’t bear the thought of leaving this dog on the tracks, afraid of a train hitting him.
“It’s okay, boy,” he said, approaching the dog once more.
The dog cried as he backed away again. Garrett knelt down, held his hand out and whistled. The dog’s tail wagged and he took a step forward.
“I won’t hurt you.”
The dog hung his head down, but still kept his eyes on Garrett, looking sad as he walked to him. He sniffed the hand extended to him and licked it briefly before curling his body into Garrett, allowing him to pet him.
“Where’s your home, huh? Did your family give up on you, too?” Garrett asked.
The dog was now jumping on him, loving the attention he was getting from Garrett’s fingers through his fur. Garrett reached over and looked at the tag on the dog’s collar.
“Cash?” Garrett read the name on the tag aloud.
The dog’s tail wagged harder at hearing his name.
“Typical for Tennessee, huh boy?” He chuckled. “I guess it is a pretty cool name.”
He scratched behind Cash’s ear and the dog panted. Garrett thought to keep the dog for himself. Maybe Cash is whom Brownie was leading him to. She wanted him to have a new dog. Then Garrett thought about the address on the tag. Some family could be missing Cash. Some little boy, who depended on Cash, like Garrett had depended on Brownie, could be devastated.
“Come on, let’s get you back home.”
Garrett began pulling the dog back toward the house by the collar. The sky was now cerulean rather than midnight blue. Every once in a while, Cash would tug Garrett back—almost as if he didn’t trust him completely. I don’t blame you, Garrett thought.
Once back at the house, Garrett checked the time and it was just past five-am. He wondered if he should return Cash at this hour or wait until later in the morning. Garrett let go of Cash’s collar and he didn’t try to run. He let out a small cry and nudged Garrett’s hand, as if to let him know he was finally trusted. Garrett began petting him with a firm hand, to which Cash responded by leaning his body against Garrett’s legs. Cash looked up at Garrett with his big brown eyes. They were so much like Brownie’s.
Suddenly, Garrett was angry that whomever Cash belonged to would be as careless to let him out in the middle of the night unattended. He didn’t care about waking the owner up now. Garrett went into the house and got the keys to the truck. He picked Cash up and put him in the passenger seat before going around the other side.
The engine of the truck startled Cash for a moment, his ears rising. Garrett scratched behind the dog’s left ear to comfort him. He turned the radio on as he drove, and all he could find was country or blue grass, and then there was the Christian station. Garrett sighed and settled on 107.5 The River, which played Top 40 radio, as he pulled out of the driveway. The station finished playing the latest Katy Perry song before going to a commercial. And Garrett began his search again, not all that happy hearing pop music to begin with—he imagined Tamra Jean enjoying a song like that. Growing up, she was always into what Garrett referred to as “teenybopper crap”.
Garrett found a classic rock station, which was still heavily influenced by country music. He was singing along to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” as he pulled onto the gravel road leading up to the address on Cash’s collar. 2301 Norway Hill. The house was about a mile away from the tracks. There was a beat up Toyota Camry in the carport. The small house was in worse condition than the car. Shutters were practically falling off the windows. The green paint on the house was chipping as well.
Cash’s tail was wagging as Garrett turned the engine off.
“Are you happy to be home?”
Cash responded by putting his paw on Garrett’s arm. He got out of the car and decided to leave Cash there for the moment. He wanted to make sure he was doing a good deed by bringing him home. He felt protective of this dog he just met. He felt like he cared about another living creature more than he has in an incredibly long time. It was a bizarre feeling—caring so much. He feared the dog was being mistreated, with that fear came pain. With that pain came memories of his own pain, his fear of being mistreated—his fear of his mother and brother being mistreated.
Garrett rang the doorbell, opened the screen door and waited. He didn’t hear any sound coming from inside the house. He waited about a minute before ringing the bell repeatedly until he just held the button down. It wasn’t before long that a light turned on and he heard movement from inside.
The front door swung open and Cori Davis stood there. Her red hair was a mess. She was barefoot with flannel pajama bottoms on and a long sleeved Henley shirt. She looked furious—with good reason. All she knew was some mad man was ringing her doorbell at five in the morning. Seeing Garrett Baker standing on her doorstep through the peephole didn’t help her agitated state.
“I’m calling the cops, Rett,” she said with a hand on her hip.
Her heart-shaped face had no make-up on unlike when Garrett saw her on stage at Legend’s. She looked younger now, almost like she did back in high school. Something was different though. He couldn’t quite place what it was.
“Do you think I’d come out here in the middle of the night to ding-dong ditch you?” Garrett rolled his eyes.
“It’s even worse. You didn’t ditch. You’re still here.”
Garrett ignored her comment.
“I didn’t know you lived here. I found your dog,” he motioned to the truck.
Cori gasped, “What? Where?”
“By the train tracks.”
“Oh God,” Cori put her hand to her forehead.
“How did he get out?”
Cori sighed and disappeared back into the house. Garrett stood there unsure of what to do. A moment later, Cori reappeared and let out an exasperated sigh.
“The back door was open. There is a hole in the fence…”
“You don’t check the doors before bed?” Garrett asked.
She didn’t like how he was looking at her, as if she were stupid.
“My son…” she muttered. “He must have left the door open.”
“Son?” Garrett was surprised.
“He’s seven. I should have checked…” she shook her head, angry with herself.
Garrett saw something on her face. Worry, mostly.
“I hope I didn’t wake him.”
“He’s a pretty sound sleeper,” she shrugged.
“Apologize to your husband for me.”
“I don’t have a husband. Lyric’s father left when he was a baby.”
“Lyric?” Garrett raised his eyebrows.
“My son?” Cori reminded him, knowing he was going to make fun of the name.
“Cool name,” he said, surprising her.
“Thank you for bringing Cash back.”
“You’re welcome,” Garrett said, looking into her blue eyes.
He could see she hated having to thank him for anything. She pushed past him, about to walk down the porch steps.
“I’ll get him. You have no shoes on,” Garrett stopped her before jogging down the steps and over to his truck. He opened the door and pulled Cash out. The dog trotted toward Cori.
“Get in the house,” she said sternly while pointing to the doorway.
Cash hung his head down and headed into the house. Cori looked at Garrett from the porch as he stood by the truck. She crossed her arms over her chest, feeling the cold of the early morning air.
“I guess I’ll see ya around,” he said, running his boots over the gravel.
“Right,” she laughed. “Maybe Sunday at church.”
She was being funny. She knew he wouldn’t be at church.
“Right,” Garrett nodded before walking over to the driver’s side of the truck.
He looked back up at the porch. Cori still stood there, protective of her home, as if she thought Garrett would destroy it. He knew she had every right to feel that way.
It was then he realized what was different about Cori Davis, standing in the moonlight. She was stronger than Garrett. She knew all he saw her as was a fat girl, and she didn’t care anymore. He could see what she thought of him now. He was a loser to her, and she had always seen him that way.
For some reason, that bothered him suddenly. He wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was because everyone in town always loved Cori and hated him.
Just as Cori was about to turn away, Garrett called out to her. She turned and he shoved his hands in his pockets.
“Do you still sing at church?”
“Yeah, except now, I don’t get heckled by this jackass named Rett,” she said.
He had to laugh. Another new thing about Cori Davis—she had a lot more sass than she used to.
“Good night, Cori.”
“Night, jackass,” she said, turning around and walking into the house.