Fred Unleashed

The evening’s cold took a nibble as they left her son’s dojo. Jan could feel her stomach begin to flutter as Sellers and Margaret said goodbye to The Dad, and piled into her rig.

“Peace out till Monday, Pa,” and all that.

Jan got in, shivered. She started the engine and turned on the heat.

“Ah Mom,” Margaret proclaimed, riding shotgun, “the air’s still cold.”

“You’re right. Sorry.” Jan turned off the heat and backed out.

“Don’t worry about me,” Sellers chimed from the backseat. “I’m still warm from my battles.” He held up his dukes. “Sparring yo. ‘I lost a sai!’”

Jan urged the brakes. “Want me to go back? You lost a what? A sign?”

’But I can get it back! I can get it back!’”

Margaret shook her head. “It’s from the Ninja Turtles movie, Mom. Proceed. He’s just being a dork.”

“Should’ve known,” Jan said.

“Sorry Ma,” Sellers offered. “Raphael just takes over sometimes. I summon him. Can’t help it. But especially when I’ve just kicked the potatoes out of Tyler. Hie-Roocken!”

Jan and Margaret exchanged an arched eyebrow. Margaret put it to words: “That must have happened when I was in the bathroom, ‘cause…” (Tyler was a hot shot who had kicked everyone’s ass tonight, Sellers included.)

“You mean when you had to take a wicked dump?” Sellers asked.

“Come on now,” Jan said. “Don’t start the dump-talk this early please.”

They pulled off past town, where an overhang deepened the night’s flavor.

“Are we taking the 174?” Margaret asked.

“Yeah,” said Jan. “I thought it would be a cute change of pace. Maybe we’ll see some nice Christmas lights on our way.”

“Cute, eh?”

“Christmas lights in this hood?” Sellers asked. “You’re thinking of Halloween. As in their year-round vibe.” He looked out the window to wonder what was hidden in the thick, dark woods.

“Yeah well, funny, Sells.” She had their attention. She looked at him in the rearview. “Have you been learning any ninja stuff in your karate class?”

“I mean, sure I guess. It’s Taekwondo.”

“I don’t mean fighting. I mean, the art of invisibility.”

Sellers rolled his eyes. “Pff. Oh I’ve been learning it, sure. But not in there. I’ve been learning myself—teaching myself. Practicing. I’m like the wind, Mother Dearest. A ghost. Just flitting around the house.”

“It’s true, Mom. He flits,” Margaret said. “He’s been really creepy.”

“Oh, I’ve seen it,” Jan said. She looked over at Margaret. “Are you—are you, uh, ninja-like in any way yourself?”

“Interesting questions here, Mom. But I’ll play along. I don’t practice fighting like a ninja. I’m more like a mental warrior.”

“Seriously, Mom,” Sellers said. “She’s way smarter than both of us. She could plan a stealth assassination and no one would even know she’d done it till the smoke cleared. But by then she’d be gone. Only rotting corpses in her wake.”

“Aww, thanks, Smellers,” Margaret said.

“Okay,” Jan said. “Here’s the deal. There’s a reason we’ve gone this way. We’re going to take back what’s ours.” The kids held their breath, curious and suspended. “You guys miss Fred?” Margaret and Sellers both let out an agreeing breath. Jan continued, “What do you think about getting our dog back?”

It began as a murmur, pulsing until it popped into a raucous swarm of smiley words.


“At Cooper’s?”

“Oh, we got this.”




Jan reeled them in. “Okay, here’s the deal. I still talk to Cooper’s mom, as you know, but she told me they leave Fred outside sometimes at night. A little bit late. Until they all go to bed, that asshole. That’s all I know. He might be bringing him in earlier now that it’s almost Christmas. Although I think it’s still pretty warm down there.”

“Well,” said Margaret, “it’s been getting colder even down in the valley.” She let that thought fade. Jan and Sellers watched her gears turn. Then, “What time is it? Okay, Law & Order is on, so he’s only on tall boy number three or so.” Jan had always marveled at what her daughter would notice and remember. Margaret continued, “Hm. He’d probably have Stupid Demi the Hell Child go out and get Fred before he goes to bed. If Demi is in the living room watching TV with him and not plotting evil in her room. Which is a 50/50 shot. Or maybe 70/30. Hm. Either way, if Fred is inside he’s asleep in the living room next to the woodstove. He’ll have a direct view out the window that looks onto the patio where Sellers used to ride on his skateboard.”

“Mmhm,” both Jan and Sellers offered.

Margaret continued. “So if he’s in there—in the house—we’ll have Sellers ninja down. And—”

Jan stepped in. “He can hide behind the rose garden I had built next to the doughboy just before I left. It looks right into the living room.” Then, as an afterthought, “Which was why I’d built it there, so I could garden until I knew Coop’s was passed out on the un-love seat or in bed.”

“Good idea, Mom,” Margaret said. “Fred will start barking immediately whether he’s inside or out, which is fine, so long as—“ She looked back at Sellers. “—you stay out of sight for Cooper.”

“Roger that, sister,” Sellers said. “I had long ago mastered remaining hidden at this crib. Speaking of which, it’s easier to creep when there’s a train going by. It makes everyone’s attention all spazzy.”

They drove for a few breaths, each slipping through a watershed of emotions. Then Jan finally said, “I knew I had the right crew for this. Let’s go unleash Fred, kiddos.”

They strode through the arched corridor of a winter forest until they got to the freeway, and the third exit thereafter led them up a hill, across a set of railroad tracks. They were all three silent as they passed the house, each studying the eyes of their enemy. They couldn’t tell if Fred was outside, as his chain rested in the tree’s dark side.

Sellers said quietly, “Let me off at the dirt road that runs right before the school. I’ll ninja down and report back.”

“There’s a dirt road?” said Jan. “Oh I see it.”

“I used to come back from up there after skating the school. Just ‘cause people never expected me to come home that way, so I could make it far before anyone noticed.”

“I saw you slither down from there a couple times,” said Margaret. “It was really funny. But you were also creepily good at it.”

“Thanks.” Sellers opened the door and said in a T2 impression, “I’ll be back. I’ll give you guys the scoop and we’ll go from there.”

Jan said, “What if Fred is outside and he starts barking at you?”

“I’ll unchain him and we’ll run back up here. To freedom.”

“And what if he’s inside?” Her kids were quiet, so Jan said, “I guess we’ll just go from there.”

Margaret said, “We’ll keep watch and… wait. Go up a little ways.” They came to an opening in the bushes. “I remember seeing Demi cruise through here on her way home, the little freak. You can see every light in the house from up there. We’ll keep watch. Sellers, watch our headlights. We’ll flash them once if Demi goes to her room. Twice if Cooper goes to his. If you see no flashes, they’re both probably still in front of the tube. Be on guard and wait for a train. They come every 15 minutes or so, so one should be due.”

“Roger that,” Sellers said.

“What have we been practicing, Sellers?” Jan asked as he opened his door and put one foot out.

“Confirmation, Mom,” he replied. Then he looked at Margaret and said, “I’ll hug the bushes and stay up on the hill until a train comes. Then I’ll await your headlight signal.”

Margaret nodded her head once and Sellers ducked off into the night.

He skimmed and shimmied down the hill to the bordering bushes. Margaret looked deep and whispered, “Oh shoot, did you see that?”

“Demi just went to her room.”

“Yep. But the TV’s still flickering.”

As she flashed her headlights once, Jan said, “I also saw that the pick-up was outside the barn. So Cooper probably went hunting with his litter of idiot friends today, especially since the season ends at the end of the month. And he’s able to take Fridays off this time of year because it’s so slow until the New Year. Point being, either way he’s doing bottle-lifts and is probably five sheets to the wind already.”

“Oh right. True that,” Margaret said. “This could be easier than we thought.”

They held their breath and watched, both startled by a train whistle in the distance.

“Look-et-im go,” Jan said. She could see the pants of Sellers’s ghee beneath his black hoodie, flowing down behind the pool and migrating to her rose bed. The train’s ruckus matured. “He’s fast,” Jan said.

“Totally,” Margaret said, thinking of when she threw the shoehorn at him at their dad’s house.

Sellers meanwhile could hear the familiar racket of Fred co-mingling with the train and saw that he was chained to the tree out front. Sellers darted forward and had just brushed a hand upon his dear friend’s head when he heard foot-stomps clambering through the kitchen. Sellers darted up onto the porch, knowing that his steps were smothered in both the train’s chatter and Cooper’s drunkenness. He slid backstage as the screen door’s howl preluded a bang against the house. He listened to Cooper unchain Fred amongst slobbered vulgarities. Sellers looked out at the night sky. He was almost able to hear his own mind rushing from one lobe to the next to find an answer.

When he could hear the springs of Cooper’s side of the love seat voice their burden, he padded back down the steps and over behind Jan’s rose garden. His thoughts were pushed aside as Fred’s muffled woofs emanated from the living room window. Peeking out, Sellers could see him leaping and barking against the glass. He knew Fred was speaking Dog for, “Dude! Sellers! WTF?! Let’s kick it! I miss you, yo! This slug of a man never pretends my ears are motorcycle handlebars nor does he put his raggedy-ass flannels on me!” And on and on. Regardless, Sellers figured all that was left to do at this point really was… well, he imagined, go back to the car. How could they get Fred if he was inside? Unless they waited until Cooper was asleep, then he could creep into the house so he could go through the basement to the trap door in the hallway. He’d done that before. But the door hinges were loud.

As he turned to head back up, he saw his mom, and his startled leap was almost perfectly synched to one of Fred’s inside the house.

“Hi, Raphael,” she said. Fred could see her too, Jan and Sellers could hear it in his voice. Jan looked past Sellers to the house, at Fred blabbering against the window. She held her voice steady as she whispered, “I suppose it just wasn’t meant to be.” She turned to the hill. “Come on. Next time I talk to Cooper, I’ll see if…” she let it drift, because they’d both already seen that episode, and it sucked. Fred was too damn good of a hunting dog for Cooper to let him go. But more than that, he was just too hard to talk to about anything. It was why she had left in the first place, and that sore was too fresh to reopen.

Jan looked at Fred and held up a hand the way she used to when she was about to throw him a scrap or a ball, or blow weed in his face when the kids weren’t there. They turned and crept back to the bushes and up the hill to the car. They both tried not to be too loud as they sniffed back snotty tears. As they neared the top, they could hear Cooper starting to yell at Fred to shut the hell up! Margaret breathed out as she saw them coming back up, her head deflating.

“That was still kinda fun,” Sellers whispered as he got back in the car. “And good covert practice. Am I using that word right?”

“I think so,” Jan said quietly.

Margaret slid back over into shotgun and they headed back down the dirt road to find somewhere to turn around. By the time they were heading back toward the road they could no longer hear Fred barking.

“You know guys, some things just happen for a reason. It doesn’t always seem fair, I know, but…” They crested a small mound and were met with another.

…atop which they saw Fred, posed in their headlights. He wasn’t barking, just staring at them as Jan, Margaret and Sellers let out a hushed eruption.

“Fred! Come here! Shhhh. Come here! Shhhhh.”

Fred grinned as he bounded toward them. Sellers opened the back door and Fred leapt in, suffocating him with kisses before leaning up to Jan and Margaret. They all three blanketed their favorite dog in cuddles that felt endless.

They drove out to the highway, each snickering as they passed back by Cooper’s to see the man standing on his porch in wobbled perplexity. They made their way to Jan’s house in Pine Grove to show Fred his new home. Jan kept saying, “Pardon my French, but some shit is just meant to be.”

A few weeks later, when they went back to get Jan’s last load of things, they all tried not to overdo their sorrow nor snicker when Cooper told them that Fred was missing.