I live alone. Well, not entirely alone. It’s always been me and my dog, Julie.
Julie is a good dog. She came into my life about seven years ago, when my mom’s neighbor’s Jack Russell had a litter of puppies. I had been visiting home during an extended winter break, since I was still in college at the time. Mrs. Harris, my mom’s longtime neighbor, invited us over one day to meet the newborns.
Mom had been joking all month, long before I had even packed, about how I was going to be returning home with a little one. And damn if she wasn’t right. Walking in to Mrs. Harris’ large kitchen, we were greeted to the small yips and squeaks. They were all absolutely adorable. There were six puppies in total: five boys and one girl. Three of them had been sleeping in a pile in the corner of the makeshift den, created by a three-foot high foldable gate placed in a circle on the floor, and lined with paper and an old blanket. Two were wrestling, and one was pawing at the gate.
Mrs. Harris chuckled as she scooped up the one trying to escape, and placed her on the floor in front of us, “this little rascal here is an adventurer! She’s not content hanging out with her brothers, no way. She always wants to be out and about!” We watched the puppy clumsily walk around the room, poking her nose into every nook and cranny. She eventually tried to stick her head into an empty paper bag, which promptly fell, and she ran away as if the devil himself was after her. I laughed and picked her up. She was so small, and felt so fragile in my hand. I hugged her to my chest and the warm scent of puppy drifted up to me. My heart panged with instant love. I looked up at the two women. Mrs. Harris was watching me with a raised eyebrow and a crooked half-smile, while my mom smugly smiled at me, her knowing face a perfect visualization of the phrase “I told you so.”
Julie came back to my apartment with me after break was over. When I opened the door to the place, I was hit with something almost like embarrassment. It was a small two bedroom I shared with one of the other seniors in my program, and two twenty year old guys do not make the most puppy-friendly home. I put Julie in her crate and spent the next hour trying to clean up as many beer cans and pizza boxes as I could. Mom had taken me shopping for all of Julie’s necessities, so I made a space on the kitchen floor for her new dog bowls, and gave her bed a prime spot under one of the oversized living room windows, so she could look outside.
By the time my roommate arrived home from Iceland, or wherever he was from, the apartment was as puppy-friendly as I could muster. I remember he looked at Julie on the floor wrestling with a stuffed toy much too large for her, looked at the cleaned apartment, then looked at me, shrugged, and went into his room.
Since then, Julie and I have been inseparable. As I mentioned before, we now live alone, just the two of us. Or at least, it was just the two of us. It’s mostly her apartment, but I get the bed and the bathroom, and she’ll usually share the couch with me. It’s amazing how such a small dog can have such a big personality.
Our apartment is all hardwood floors, which is a nightmare with a hyperactive Jack Russell Terrier. Between the scratch marks her nails leave, which I know my landlord is going to flip about the moment we decide to move, to the constant clicking of her nails as she trots around the place at all hours of the day and night, it’s a headache. I tried carpets, but Julie made it clear she did not approve by peeing on every single one of them until no amount of high-powered dog-urine-specific cleaner could make my apartment smell less like piss. I try to keep the situation under control by clipping her nails every week, an activity we both despise, and I take her on long walks every night as well as most mornings. I even pay one of the student’s at the college nearby to come and go running with her a few times a week. She’s a fit, well-exercised Jack, but she and my hardwood floors are still arch nemesis.
I’m sure dog nails is an issue non-dog owners probably never think about, or understand. It’s not really that big of a deal, it’s just that taking care of them and the damage they can cause is a part of my life. Honestly, I never really thought that much about it until a few days ago.
It was early in the morning on Saturday, much too early for our morning walk, yet I could hear Julie getting restless. This happens every weekend morning. She’s used to my work schedule, so when I’m usually getting up to get ready for work, she starts to get antsy. I ignore her and sleep another two hours, then I get up and we do our usual weekend morning things: maybe walk to the bagel place down the street, or go for a jog, visit the beach, etc.
So it wasn’t surprising when I was woken up by that familiar clicking around the apartment. I slowly blinked my eyes opened, and grabbed my cell phone from the night stand. 6:08 AM. I groaned and rolled over. I listened to the clicks, following Julie with my ears from the living room to the kitchen, her nails clicking on the tiles and the sound echoing through the otherwise silent apartment. The door to the backyard is in the kitchen, so I figured she had to pee.
My brain slowly began to process something that was out of place: if I was listening to Julie’s nails click against the kitchen tiles, then what was the furry mass I could feel against my leg? I reached my hand down and rested it against the familiar back. I felt Julie adjust, scooting closer to me for morning cuddles. I turned on the light and looked at her. She sleepily looked back at me.
I could still hear the clicking in the kitchen. Maybe it was something blowing in a breeze? But I had heard the clicks travel all across the apartment. Nervously, I got up from the bed, and Julie followed. I slowly walked down the hall. The clicking had stopped, now replaced with the sound of Julie’s nails right next to me. We entered the small kitchen, and there waiting by the back door, was Julie.
I looked down at Julie beside me, and then back towards the Julie at the door. Could another Jack Russell somehow have gotten into my apartment during the night? But then, why hadn’t Julie freaked out? She hates other dogs. I stepped close to examine the other dog, and sure enough she looked exactly like my Julie. I examined the one beside me again, thinking maybe she was the imposter, but they were absolutely identical. They both even had the same collar, with the engraved dog bone tag that said “Julie” with my name and telephone number. I stood in absolute shock, my body stiff with confusion and horror.
The Julie by the door whined at me, and forgetting the bizarre situation for a moment, I went and opened the back door for her. She went outside, the Julie from the bed following. I watched as the two Julies did their usual things. One went and peed on one of the bushes while the other began to sniff around the little fence I built last year specifically to keep her out of my compost. I stared in amazement as the two Julies acted exactly like Julie. I let them explore the yard for a few more minutes, then whistled to signify that Julie needed to come back inside. They both ran towards me, and into the house. I closed the door and turned to two happy Jack Russells, excitedly waiting for treats.
I didn’t know what to do. I called my mom and tried to explain the situation, but she congratulated me on adopting another dog. After hanging up with her, I tried to call my best friend Jared, but he didn’t answer, so I sent him a picture of the two Julies. I thought about calling the cops, but that seemed a bit extreme. I considered bringing one of the dogs to the pound as a lost dog, but which one was mine and which one was lost?
Unsure what to do next, I did the only thing I could think of: I got the extra leash out of the closet, and took the Julies on a walk.
Jared finally called me later that day. “Hey man, sorry I missed you earlier. What’s that photo you sent me? Some sort of new doubling filter? Do we now do filters? Show me how to do that flower crown one Steph always does online, and I’ll send you a great pic of my dick.”
“No man, that isn’t a filter. There are two Julies.”
I waited for the smartass remark, but all he could muster was a “what?”
“I woke up this morning, and there were two Julies.”
“Umm… Did you take something last night?”
I groaned, “dude, just come over, ok?”
Half an hour later, Jared was sitting on the floor, mouth agape, a rope toy in each hand, playing tug with both Julies. “Maybe someone’s fucking with you?”
“You mean, someone found a Jack Russell identical to the one I own, bought it, trained her to act exactly like my Julie, bought an identical collar and tag, wore them out a little so they didn’t look brand new, then somehow snuck in here in the middle of the night to drop her off and leave? All to just fuck with me?”
Jared shrugged. “Do you have a better explanation?”
I fell onto the couch, exasperated. Jared stood, “I think you could use a beer.” I silently agreed as he left towards the kitchen.
“Holy fucktarts!” Jared screamed. I jumped up and followed him.
“What is it?” I asked, as I entered, but I stopped short. He didn’t have to answer. Another Julie was sitting on the tile floor.
Jared and I finished off the beer I had in the fridge, and eventually turned to the bottle of tequila under my sink, trying to wash out the weird and figure out what the hell could be happening to me and my dog. We passed out at about 4:00 AM, Jared on the couch and me in my bed, fully clothed.
“What the fuck!?” Jared’s voice woke me a few hours later. I ran out of the room to see him throw one of the dogs from the couch. Julie hit the wall with a loud cry.
“Dude, what the hell are you doing?” I yelled as I ran to her. She got up, dazed but unharmed.
“She was attacking me! Look!” He pulled his shirt down to reveal a fresh bite wound on his chest.
“Jesus!” I yelled. I looked down at the Julie, who had joined her sisters in the dog bed in the corner. “Fuck man, I’m sorry. Here let’s clean you up.” I applied some ointment on the mark in the bathroom, and bandaged it up as he told me what happened.
“I felt her on top of me, nothing out of the ordinary, so I started petting her and she fucking, she fucking bit me!” Jared said, his voice filled with venom. “Fuck man, you need to get rid of these hell beasts.”
“I can’t! You know that Jared. One of them is my Julie and I can’t get rid of her!”
“Well, figure out which one is her, and fast man. ‘Cause fuck those things.” He grabbed his shit and left, slamming the door behind him.
I woke up the next morning, my head pounding. It wasn’t the first Sunday I woke up feeling like this, but it was the first Sunday I woke up with three Jack Russells in my bed, their heavy breathing combining together into a cacophony of dog snores.
Jared called me a little after two in the afternoon. He sounded less sore than he had when he left. “So…” he started, hesitantly, “any more Julies since last night?”
“Nope.” I answered, “looks like we’ve still got just the three.”
“Well, I guess three Julies isn’t the worst thing ever. Just make sure they don’t become more violent man, that was fucked up what happened last night. And let me know if anymore of those things pop up. Three is plenty.”
Nothing too interesting happened Sunday, other than the obvious three identical dogs situation. There wasn’t really much I could do, so I walked them as I would normally the original. I fed them, cleaned up Saturday’s beer cans, and watched some much needed television as a mental cleanse.
I woke up on Monday morning at 7:30 AM. I groaned as I looked at the clock. I had somehow slept through not only my first alarm, but also my “just in case” alarm set for 6:45. I quickly took a shower, let the dogs out to do their business, and ran out to catch the 8:15 AM bus. I felt bad for not giving Julie her normal morning walk around the block, but it happens once in awhile.
I came home at around 5:45 PM. At first, I thought I had been robbed. Everything I owned was either broken, on the floor, or, more often, both. The couch had been torn apart, stuffing throw about wildly. Even my blankets and pillows were chewed and shredded. The three Julies greeted me as if nothing was out of the ordinary, but all I could do was stand there in a dumb stupor. I felt small paws on my legs as the dogs began to feel neglected, and looked down to the same sweet joyous face I usually came home too, just multiplied by three.
I clenched my teeth and walked to the back door to let them out. I had wanted to take them to the beach before dinner, but it looked like now I had to clean up. I quickly took some photos of the damage and sent them to Jared. An hour later, he showed up at the door with a twelve pack and a broom.
Jared wasn’t really what you’d call a put-together guy. He probably drank a little too much, and stayed out a little too late, but he was good people. He worked the day shift at a bar downtown for not a whole lot of money, but he could afford rent and beer, and was happy. My mom even liked him the few times I brought him home with me for a weekend. He was my best friend. Day or night, no matter the issue, I knew he’d be there for me.
We put the apartment as back together as we could and ordered pizza. As we drank some beers and ate, Jared eyed the three terriers with suspicion, before finally turning to me.
“Fuck man, you need to figure this out. Why don’t we mark them or something, so you can tell them apart, and then once we figure out which two are the demons, you can like… “ He trailed off as he stared at me, unable to finish the sentence. I sighed. He was right.
“Oh shit, I know what we can do!” I said, jumping from the couch and running into the bedroom. I opened the closet door and began rummaging in some of the old boxes on the floor. Somewhere in there, I knew I had an box of shit my exes have left behind. One of them, Lilly, had been an artist, and I was pretty sure she left behind some of her stuff.
“Aha!” I exclaimed, as I grabbed three tubes of acrylic paint, and ran back into the living room. Jared and I rounded up the terriers, and with my finger I marked each one right above the shoulder blades where I would normally apply tick medicine. I explained to Jared it was so they couldn’t lick it. Once we were done, I stepped back to admire our work. In front of us were three Julies: one was marked blue, one yellow, and one red. I beamed with pride at our ingenuity. It was a pretty good idea, especially considering two drunk guys came up with it.
“Now we can try to catch the mischievous ones in the act and then…” I trailed off for a moment, much like Jared had before “and then we’ll figure out the next step when we get to it.”
Jared nodded in agreement. “I think you should call out of work tomorrow, spend the day getting to the bottom of this.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right.”
“Great!” Jared smiled broadly, “then I think it’s tequila time!” He got up and went into the kitchen while I wrote my boss a quick email explaining that I was still up with a nasty case of food poisoning and didn’t think I’d make it in.
At about 2:00 or 3:00 AM, Jared passed out on the couch, and I went into my bedroom.
I woke up a few hours later to whining. My head was still foggy with alcohol, but I could hear it clearly from somewhere deep in the apartment. I walked out and followed the noise to the kitchen, where the three Julies were all whining at the back door. I opened it and they ran out. Since I had a few minutes before they’d finish their business, I went about pouring myself a water and taking some advil.
I was interrupted by screaming from outside accompanied by barks and growls. Not a human scream, but an animal scream.
I started towards the door. My heart pounding as I imagined the two imposter Julies attacking the real one, the one I couldn’t yet identify. As I lunged for the door in my inebriated state, I tripped on a dog bone and fell, hitting my nose and chin hard on the floor. My mouth filled with the warm bitter taste of my blood as I swore, kicking the bone under the fridge. I could feel my knee sting with a cut, as well as the dull ache of bruises that would form overnight on my arms and hip.
Pushing myself off of the floor, I could hear the noise outside stop. “Oh fuck, no no no” I said as I pushed the door opened, and stepped into the backyard.
The circle of light from the outside bulb only stretched a few feet from the door. I squinted against the darkness, and saw in the middle of the yard, a few feet from the end of the light, the three Julies standing together. In between them lay a brown mass. I limped over to them, my face and chest still covered in blood, but the flow from my nose slowing dramatically.
The Julies didn’t move as I approached them, their eyes never leaving the mass. I knelt down, and pulled my phone out of my back pocket, turning on the light to get a better look. The clones of my dog, and my dog – whichever one she was – were all staring at a dead rabbit. Not just a dead rabbit, though. A mutilated rabbit. It’s throat had been pulled out, and was lying in front of it on the ground, a gaping hole left between the thing’s head and it’s shoulders. One of its legs was completely detached as well, and pieces of its back and stomach had been pulled apart.
Bile tickled the back of my throat and I turned away, the grotesque image seared into my brain. I shone my phone’s light at each Julie in turn. They all had blood around their mouths and necks. I recoiled and jogged, as well as I could, back to the house.
Julie and I had gone hunting a few times together, turkeys mostly, and I had never seen her display such anger and violence towards another animal before. My stomach lurched as I thought about it. How could all three be covered in blood? Maybe the two duplicates could have done this, but never the sweet dog I raised as a puppy.
I found some old gardening gloves and a shovel and transferred the semi-dismembered rabbit into a plastic bag and into the trash outside. I then hosed off the Julies, something none of them were too thrilled about, but I didn’t want them in my house covered in blood.
About an hour and a half after I had first been awoken, I walked back towards my bedroom, utterly exhausted. I looked down at Jared on the couch. He was sleeping on his side, snoring heavily, the mostly empty tequila bottle dangling from his hand. He was so out, he hadn’t moved an inch during that whole commotion. I laid back down on my bed, my stomach turning with nausea and my head spinning, and closed my eyes.
Sun streamed through my eyelids, and I forced them open. I looked at my phone, it was almost noon. I stretched, and wondered if Jared would be up and would want to go grab some breakfast at the diner or something. I pushed the tattered blanket off of me, and stood stiffly. Passing the couch on my way to the bathroom, I could tell Jared still hadn’t budged. I took a piss, then walked back. I shook him. The tequila bottle still in his hand fell to the floor.
“Dude, wake up.” I shook him again, harder this time. Jared’s shoulder slid from beneath him and gravity forced him onto his back.
I think I might have screamed, but I honestly don’t remember. Jared’s dead eyes stared up at me in horror, bulging from their sockets. Much like the rabbit, his throat had been torn out. He wouldn’t have been able to scream. He probably couldn’t figure out what was happening to him before he was already dead. His lips had been chewed off of his face, his tongue lolling out of the wide hole, purple and swollen with the loss of circulation.
My eyes trailed down from the grotesque image of my best friend’s face to his chest. His shirt was ripped where the Julies had torn with their teeth and claws at his flesh, exposing muscle, organs, and in some places even bone. His entrails lay in a heap on the floor, half eaten.
I wretched behind the couch. I wiped my mouth and my hand came away red from the wetness of my tears mixing with the blood from my hurt nose. I heard the clicking of tiny toenails behind me and I turned to see the three dogs, coming towards me. Their paint marks had been washed away last night when I hosed them off, and all three were covered head to toe in blood. I knelt before them, openly weeping. It was a foolish plan, to paint them and see which ones were the hell beasts and which one was my Julie. As all three Jack Russells came to me, one nuzzling my hand as another curled next to my leg, the third resting her front paws on my thighs so she could lick the tears and blood from my cheek, I finally realized my Julie was gone. I don’t know if she was replaced by these three, or if she became one of them, but these dogs were all I had now.
After the shock faded, I dulled my senses with a few shots of tequila, pulled out the gardening gloves I had used for the rabbit, and cleaned up Jared’s body, wrapping him in some blankets. I hosed off the dogs, and cleaned the couch as thoroughly as I could.
I know you’re probably judging me for not calling the police, but I love Julie. If you’ve ever owned a dog, you should understand. I can’t let them kill her, any of them, for killing Jared. Julie is my dog, and she’s my responsibility.
At about midnight, I grabbed my shovel and went out into my backyard. Luckily, I live in the suburbs. My yard is pretty large and surrounded with trees, so I wasn’t too worried about someone seeing me. Still, I wore all black and left all the lights off. I went into the fenced in compost area, and dug a hole for Jared. It took hours, but once I finished, I dragged him outside, and buried him.
Once the deed was done, I took a shower. I didn’t even touch the knob for cold water, but instead let the hot water scald me as I scrubbed myself raw. The feeling of dirtiness was seeped deep into my skin. I scrubbed until my flesh was blistering and peeling in the steamy shower before I gave up, dried myself off, and went into the living room.
I smiled down at the Julies as they wrestled on the couch. You would never be able to tell they were evil. They rolled around, growling playfully as they nipped at each others legs.
They looked so normal. All four of them.