The Occurrence On Christmas Eve
A story about dogs, wishes and useless traditions.
So, there we are, at the in-laws, holiday attire on, ready to greet baby Jesus. I’m drinking all the Goldschlager, frankincense and merlot; the edibles were downed hours ago. Lethargy from the Christmas Eve gormandizing has me glued to the warmth of the hearth, but I know what I saw. I saw the dog disappear.
And it was because little what’s-his-name was spinning that thing, that cheap toy every kid gets at some point at a Christmas Eve party. You know, it is a gyro-something, it has metal rings on a post you are supposed to spin. It is the toy given to keep kiddos busy for 20 minutes while the adults ‘step outside’. But this isn’t about adults, this is about kids, and dogs, and bad gifts and useless traditions.
As per tradition, Dolly got a
new collar and tag.
“Isn’t is adorable?” Lydia said stepping back to present Dolly. “I got it on sale, Small Business Saturday.”
“It is a waste, Mom,” Anne chided. “The one you got her last year is perfectly fine.”
“It’s tradition,” Lydia said defiant. “Besides, it was made by local craftsmen.”
“Craftspeople,” Tess corrected her mother.
“Local craftspeople,” Lydia said through a fake smile.
“Yeah,” her husband Bernard agreed. “Assembled in US with foreign made parts.”
“You said it,” Jeff chimed in, “Always verify your materials.”
“You are one to talk,” Anne glowered, “You didn’t ‘verify your materials’ last night with the fish sticks.”
“They were fine,” Jeff grinned at his girl. “The boys ate them, didn’t they?” Tess broke the brief standoff by obliging her mother.
“I saw those at Cedar Chest,” Tess says eyeing Dolly’s collar. “So cool, mom. The Martins gave one to Tucker for the 8th night of Hanukkah.” Tess inspected the collar and got a welcome lick from Dolly.
“Mom, how much did you pay for that?” Anne set a familiar smile on her mother.
“Oh, who remembers,” Lydia shrugged. “Look at Dolly’s happy face, it was worth it.” After a moment Lydia smiles proudly at her girls and heads back to the TV room.
“Worth every penny,” I yelled to Lydia hoping to win some points. I felt the weighty piece on the dog’s collar. It was a pewter looking hunk of metal in the shape of Massachusetts. A slight relief of the topography of the state was prominent. Nice, solid, but no big deal.
“We doing this?” Anne says coming back from the hall with her coat on.
“Yes, ma’am!” Jeff smiles and tosses her the lighter. The rest of the adults muster energy to pull on boots and patronize the smoking porch, but I didn’t step outside. Because I had already stepped outside. Twice. And the edibles I mentioned. But I don’t want you focusing on that. Focus on the fact that the place was quieting down, and I was jonesin’ to stare at the fire and lose myself in its crackling light.
The only other person in the living room was nephew Randy trying to spin his new toy. “You are never going to figure that out,” I said blankly, stretching out by the fireplace using Dolly for a pillow.
“Just because you can’t do it doesn’t mean I can’t,” Randy said without pulling his eyes off the toy. I was adding another log to the fire when the kid figured the thing out.
“Yesss!” he hissed, raising both arms in victory. Tess had shown him the basics, but he finally got the real threading and, BAM, the thing spun for a solid minute, maybe two. Gyroscope! That’s the name. Had to give it to the runt, he nailed it.
“You just wasted your Christmas wish,” I smirked as I got comfy by the flames. “Everybody gets one, and you spent yours on a spinning top,” Randy ignores me for a moment then asks a question.
“What do you think Dolly’s Christmas wish is?” Randy speaks without taking his eyes off the spinning rings of metal.
“Not a new collar,” I mutter as we stare at the gyroscope.
“Probably lots of balls to chase,” nephew offers.
“And oodles of shoes to chew,” I say hoping to end the conversation. Watching the spinning metal hoops, I was just about to snooze when a high-pitched tinnitus creeps into my ears. It starts small, then rises to a brutal crescendo and, Bang! My head hit the floor. The dog was nowhere to be seen. Not like it left, like its gone. Like it no longer exists (here anyway).
Randy didn’t see, he was watching the gyro spin. None of the family was in there, they were in the TV room, or puffing out on the porch. I ask Randy where the dog went, but he is no help. He thought it was with me, cus it should have been. I try to pretend it is just the booze, but something wasn’t sitting right. You know when you have one of those feelings? Kind of like deja’vu, maybe it is deja’vu, but it feels real-like it is happening now. Like something is out of sorts and only you can see it, but it takes the balance out of the place?
I muse over it for a time and then decide to go prove to myself the dog is alive. I check her bowl, nothing. I check under the table, nothing. I check the bathroom and her favorite spot behind the recliner. I check her crate and the basement. I do a sweep upstairs by the time the goofs have finished on the porch but still no sign of dog life. Bleary eyed they ask why I’m mussing around.
“Have you seen Dolly?” I ask my wife.
“Nope,” Tess says with a wide smile.
“Maybe she snuck out,” Jeff offers through his reddened eyes.
“Who’s out,” Lydia asks coming around the corner.
“Dolly,” Jeff informs.
“Who let her out?” All movement stops, Lydia doesn’t like errant dogs or those who allow it. She can smell the porch activities on the quartet, the cannabinoidic air they hold on their coats betrays them. I revel in the fact that my coat is not on, nor my boots; a rare moment of innocence.
“She’ll come to the door when she wants in,” Anne waves off her mother while removing her boots. “We watching this movie or what?”
We started the Christmas classic and made it to the part where the in-laws arrive in their Winnebago, no Dolly. After a while, the nieces and nephews went off to dance with sugar plums, still no dog. We finished the movie, most of us were finished, too, still no doggy at the door. I didn’t want to be the last one up, so Tess and I leave the remote to Jeff. The last thing I do on Christmas Eve is wish that Dolly will miraculously be by the tree when we come down for presents.
We wake. Christmas came but no Dolly. Lydia was tense through the gifting. She eased a bit when she saw her new boots, but her mind was on her pooch. Text threads turned to message boards, “Marie Martin said Tucker is missing, too.” Tess confides softly. Soon the local socials were blowing up with the conversation of lost dogs. I was relieved it wasn’t just us. I wasn’t insane! But the dogs, so sad, half a dozen in the friend set alone. News broadcasts were saying as many as 200 area dogs had been reported missing.
Then the rumors start - hoodlums bent on mischief, neighboring town retribution, mass animal sacrifice. FB threads try to assemble search teams but when we collect, the emotions are high and the lot of us were rife with suspicion. Threats escalate, there are numerous fights and a few arrests. Christmas Day ends with an exhausted town filled with angst and longing for their dogs. Tears stream, dishes are put off till tmrw.
I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t. What could have I said that would put Lydia at ease? ‘Don’t worry, Dolly’s not dead. She just vanished.’ I couldn’t bring myself to say that, so I didn’t say anything. I just watched in silence as Lydia scanned posts and looked longingly at old pictures. We all went to bed early. For some reason I could not imagine the dog was dead. The whole situation was too weird, too easy to poke holes in. I have never believed that time heals all wounds, but I fell asleep hoping for my mother-in-law’s sake it was true. My dreams swirled between barking Christmas carols and visions of puppies pig piling atop me. I was wrested from peaceful slumber by yelling downstairs.
“They found dogs!” Lydia shouted as she threw open the door to the guest room. “Tess, get dressed, we have to go to Pittsfield!” Tess rolled back over, so I was left to investigate Lydia’s claims. I slogged my way to the kitchen where the news broadcast was announcing the recent findings.
“‘When the store reopened on December 26th, the employees of Pet Supply Warehouse in Pittsfield found more than voice messages at the counter!’” I could not believe what I was hearing. “I come up to the door, and I could hear a ruckus,” said Ryler Haney, assistant manager of the store. “Must have been 200 dogs They had done a real number wall, tore through to the laundromat and the shoe store.”
I had to see this mess in person. Within 10 minutes we had left the house twice, once with snacks and once with the 5-year old’s snuggle buddy.
"This must be some cruel joke. Make us howl about our own dogs!” Lydia was brusque as we made our way.
“You think this was a prank?” I pulled onto the highway amidst the grey slush.
“What else could it be?” Lydia was responding to various texts and social posts while also doing her part in the phone tree. I could only think of the spinning gyroscope for the duration of the 90-minute trip through the Berkshires
The scene at the Pets Supply Warehouse was a zoo. Hundreds of worried owners craning their necks to spy their best friend. Police officers sorting the ordeal were pleasant enough, especially considering the hours of barking they had to endure. Their system to match the dogs and owners was a mystery, but it began with a mandatory three-hour waiting period. I figure they had no real way of confirming ownership so if you stuck around that long, you could take home a pet. Lydia showed photos and vet records to speed the process, but no dice. While we waited, I chatted up one of the officers.
“Any working theories?” I opened my Tupperware of Christmas cookies, and the woman gave me a side eye. She was not playing, but the wafting spice of ginger molasses was enough for an adjacent patrolman to jump in.
“Yeah,” he grabbed a fistful of cookies, “Two,” The officer set them on the check-out counter they had commandeered.
“Unofficial,” said the woman with a leer.
“Of course,” I winked. He did not wink back.
“Lead theory is, this was a Grinch style-plan to steal Christmas, but the perpetrator had a change of heart,” He leaned back and let the sugar sprinkles dapple his navy-blue uniform.
“A bit on the nose,” I said, but oddly relieved. Perhaps I did drink too much on Christmas Eve. “What is the second theory?” Both officers shared a moments glance, then the woman spoke.
“Magnets,” she said coldly.
“Magnets?” I clarified.
“Magnets,” the man confirmed.
“What do you mean exactly? How are magnets in involved?”
“Don't know that,” the officer said sipping his coffee. “But we know every one of the dogs here had a tag comprised of the same metal. What affects metal? Magnets.” He nodded to his counterpart, and she nodded back.
“And electricity,” she said. I nodded.
“And heat,” I offer.
“Hmmnn?” he protested but his counterpart cut him off.
“All kinds of things affect metal, I've been telling you that,” She flicked her arm, “Heat, electricity, magnets…”
“And other phenomena,” I said. The officer shook her head vigorously.
“I've been trying to tell him that!” she griped. “Something else had to be acting on it,” I nodded and thought only of the gyroscope. I left a few more cookies on the check out, exited the convo, and immediately start texting texted my pals; Rasheed, who works the register at Cedar Chest, and Nick who runs IT for UMASS.
Rasheed said he could not give me details, but knows for certain Cedar Chest sold at least 2,000 pewter tags, it was a doorbuster. So much so, they pressed the local sculptor for an additional rush order late in the season. Rasheed could not account for the total gyroscopes sales but confirmed they were available on their shelves-not to mention a bazillion retail outlets. As amazing as this intel was, it wasn't until Nick at the university dropped some knowledge that my understanding coalesced.
A few years back when they were renovating the Isenberg buildings, Nick had been called in to ascertain the server needs. Not only had he been granted full access to the schools entire research data, he'd built a backdoor to keep an eye on things. He noted a few pages I should look at and emailed them to me; this is what low-lifes are for!
Since the 50's the university had been conducted various tests on non-physical phenomena. Everything from ESP, auras, the brown note, etc. According to the research, gyroscopes are known to create energy fields. Looping metals, spinning shapes, circles circling; I could not follow all the research but those were the important parts. Dogs are known to be beings of positivity, always wishing for the utmost.
With some digging Rasheed discovered the ‘local craftspeople’ sourced their metals from steel forged in Mozambique. Somehow through the spinning of the gyroscope, connected with the dangling metal of the dog collar, the frequency of the dog’s heart is able to be heard. In turn the energy sustained with the spinning is enough to transport that frequency, and whatever happens to embody it.
Near as I can tell, this is the truth. And it never would have happened without the Cedar Chest selling crap for no reason other than to sell it, or Lydia excited to buy said crap. Then again, without these silly traditions Dolly never would have seen her wish come true. Perhaps those gifts aren't as useless as I thought. I wonder what Dolly will wish for next year…
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