“Come here.”

Randy’s deep, rough voice demanded immediate submission. The dish Lilly had been washing slipped out of her hand and floated down into the soapy water. Turning, she faced her husband and pressed her wet hands onto her belly.

She knew what was coming. When she’d married him two years ago, he’d been a little rough around the edges, but promised he’d never hurt her. She’d thought she could change him, make him gentler, make him into a good man through her love and attention.

What a fool she’d been.

“You’ve been feeding a stray, haven’t you. Feeding him behind my back. I saw the bowl outside.”

Lilly tried to swallow her fear. She’d forgotten to pick up the bowl. “He’s a nice dog. Has the name Jackson on his collar. I’m trying to find the owner–”

The back of his hand struck her face with hard and swift authority. Her body hit the counter and then the floor. Her cheek throbbed, but it was the sharp pain shooting through her womb that made her cry out.

He’d promised to never hurt the baby and hadn’t hit her there in the seven months she’d been pregnant. Lilly stared up at him through pained tears. “I’m sorry. I’ll stop feeding him.”

Randy stuck his chin out toward her stomach. “The kid’s fine. Get up.” He headed toward the front door, then stopped. “I ever catch you spending my money on a stray, you’ll find out what sorry really means.” The door slammed behind him.

With soft sobs, Lilly reached up to grasp the counter and got to her feet. The pain was dissipating. Maybe she’d strained a muscle. Even so, she should see a doctor. But Randy might not allow that. He was the king of tightwads, a hoarder of cash. He’d just said the baby was fine, and Randy believed every word he said as soon as the words left his lips.

“Your money,” she murmured, looking out the window at him driving his battered pickup down the dirt driveway. The man thousands of dollars tucked in cans and plastic bags, all buried around within fifty yards of the trailer. She’d secretly watched him dig holes at night and bury the cash, and pretended she believed him when he said they had no money to spare. She had no idea where the money came from and didn’t dare ask him.

One day she’d dig it all up and run away, and then divorce him. But she knew he’d make good on his promise to come after her and kill her for leaving him.

A soft whine sounded at the door. Lilly gave a rare smile. They had no cell service, only a landline. Randy didn’t want her to have friends, and he never let her be alone with her two siblings on their rare visits lest she give a hint of the abuse she suffered. They thought that despite living in a dilapidated trailer on an remote lot surrounded by woods, she was happy and loved.

She hadn’t seen her family in months. They didn’t even know she was pregnant. Randy had successfully isolated her to the point where he could have her under his complete control.

But Lilly had Jackson. She went out onto the cracked cement porch and lowered herself to her knees, and the mutt moved into her open arms and licked her bruised cheek. She hugged him, then reached into her pocket for the small plastic bag of leftover hamburger. The dog ate out of her hand with polite delicacy although his ribs showed against his filthy black and brown fur.

She’d first seen the dog sniffing around the yard, and Randy had thrown rocks at him. But the dog had come back several times, looking more emaciated as the weeks passed, and Lily had snuck food and water to him. One day, he got close enough that she could pet him, and she found his tag. Jackson. No owner information. She’d taken a risk and called the local animal shelter, and was informed that no one had reported a missing dog with that name.

To Lilly, the dog was hers.

“Jackson,” she said, scratching him behind his ears. “You are a good boy, aren’t you.”

Jackson wagged his tail and looked at her with intelligent amber eyes.

The roar of a motor up the driveway had Lilly on her feet, heart racing. Randy should not be back from his road crew job so soon. Maybe he’d been fired. “Go,” she said to Jackson. “Don’t let him see you here.”

Jackson stayed put. His ears flicked toward her and then to the sound of Randy’s truck.

“Go!” Lilly pushed him away.

The dog trotted out to the corner of the trailer, pressed his ears to his head, and stared toward the driveway. A low growl emitted from his chest.

“Oh God.” Lilly peeked around the corner and saw fury darken Randy’s face as he left the truck, his gaze going from the dog to her.

“I’m gone for five minutes and look what you do.”

Lilly raced back onto the porch and fumbled for the door handle. There was nowhere she could hide, but maybe Randy would follow her inside and leave the dog alone. She made it to the kitchen. The sound of Randy’s boots pounded the dirt. Then came a dog’s savage snarl and her husband’s yell of pain.

Randy escaped inside, his eyes wide and crazy, lips in a pained grimace. Blood soaked through his gray shirt sleeve. Lilly backed toward the stove.

“I’m going to kill that dog.” He reached above the refrigerator for his shotgun.

“No!” Lilly tried to grab his arm and he shook her off. With a sob, she followed him outside.

Jackson stood panting and growling. Randy cocked the gun, lifted it to his shoulder, and aimed.

“No, Randy, please,” Lilly begged. “Don’t.”

Randy paused, eyes narrowed. He lowered the gun. “I’m not going to waste a bullet on him. He’ll die too fast.”

He swung the shotgun around and grasped the barrel, then brought the stock down onto the dog’s back. Jackson yelped and whimpered but stood his ground. Lilly tried again to grab Randy’s arm and he pushed her down onto the concrete. Jackson made a snarling leap toward Randy, but Randy brought the gun down again, and again. The barrel glistened with sweat from his hands. The dog’s legs collapsed. Lilly lay on her side, reaching toward Jackson. Fresh pain speared her womb.

“Fucking dog! I’ll teach you to come onto my property.” Randy fumbled with the barrel and lifted the butt of the gun to strike the dog again.

A shot rang out. Randy jerked backwards against the side of the trailer and then slumped down onto his face. The spent shotgun clattered to the ground beside him. Lilly screamed as blood spread beneath him and into the cracks in the old concrete.

Whining, Jackson crawled to Lilly and lay his head on her belly.

Four months later

Lilly carried her baby girl to the car and carefully tucked her into the car seat. Born seven weeks premature, little Sara was healthy enough now to travel. They would spend some time with Lilly’s siblings and then buy a place in a nice neighborhood, a place with a big yard and a white picket fence.

Lilly opened the hatch and turned back toward the trailer. “Time to go, Jackson!” Smiling, she watched the dog do a hop-limp to the car, his best attempt at a run since his back and hip still gave him trouble from his injuries despite the veterinarian’s best efforts. Lilly helped him into the car and gave him a hug.

She spared a final glance at the trailer, the dirt driveway, and the dozens of holes she’d dug all over the yard. She had her family, freedom, and money, all because of a mutt named Jackson.

Lilly started the car and drove away without looking back.

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, dialogue, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to a person, living or deceased, events, or locations is purely coincidental.

The idea for this story came from a writing contest I entered that had to involve a mutt and a house on an isolated property. I’d recently read news about a man who shot himself while hitting his dog with a rifle, and put the story together. Nothing like a little retribution, eh?