The Ghost of Jake
By J.A. Homer
Tears ran down Jo's cheek as they lowered the tiny casket into the ground. Her husband, Reed, placed a comforting arm around his grieving wife and drew their son, William, close with his other arm.
At the tender age of eight years old, Jake's passing was unexpected and obviously tragic. A few days after his eighth birthday, Jake started to demonstrate odd behavior. His typically joyous, slightly obsessive compulsive personality seemed to change overnight. Jo found her youngest lying on the couch with a pitiful expression on his face. She picked him up and set Jake on her lap, pushing the hair out of his eyes. He sat in silence staring at Jo with his big, hot chocolate colored eyes. Jake started to shake as if he was having a seizure and Jo could feel his heart racing. She carried him into her bedroom where she wrapped him in a baby blanket and called out to her husband.
“There is something wrong with Jake,” Jo exclaimed, “I think he is having a seizure.”
Jo stared at the clock on the wall in the waiting room while Reed paced through the rows of empty chairs. It had been over three hours since admitting Jake before a Nurse finally entered the room with news on his condition.
“Your Jake's family I presume,” the Nurse said, “I have some bad news for you. Jake has an autoimmune disorder that is quickly attacking his major organs. Doctor Lithest believes that Jake only as a few more hours to live. I'm so sorry. The Doctor will be in shortly to explain more.”
Pastor Abbot finished reading the eulogy as they lowered the tiny casket into the ground. The small crowd of mourners, consisting of close family, began the short walk across the cemetery to their respective cars. Jo stayed behind to speak with Pastor Abbot.
“Thank you, Pastor, for agreeing to say a few words on Jake's behalf,” Jo said, “I know this was an unusual situation for you.”
“My purpose in life is to help others,” Pastor Abbot said, “If I have the opportunity to bring some sort of comfort at your family's time of need, I will always be there.”
“I know this wasn't easy for you considering your recent loss. If there is anything I can do to help you, just ask.”
“The loss of my little Muffin was hard, but with life comes death. We have to try and remember all of the good times and try to better ourselves with the knowledge we gained from our loved ones.” Pastor Abbot paused a moment before asking Jo a question. “Reed told me that Jake was wrapped in a baby blanket before being laid to rest. I don't want you to misinterpret this question as insulting, but what was the significance of wrapping him in a baby blanket?”
Jo smiled as she tried to hold back her tears. “At six weeks old, Jake would cry night and day. Reed and I would hold him for hours trying to calm him down. Nothing seemed to work.” Jo wiped her eyes before continuing. “One night, Jake's crying was uncontrollable. I picked him up and he was as cold as ice. I held him to my chest and told Reed to get a blanket. To my surprise, Reed came back with my baby blanket. I wrapped Jake in it and his crying stopped immediately. From that point on Jake wouldn't sleep without the blanket. ”
“So,” Pastor Abbot cleared his throat, “the blanket brought comfort in life as it will in death.”
“Exactly". As Jake got older he developed a fear of thunderstorms. The only thing that would calm him down was the baby blanket. It was just one of those psychosomatic things that little ones seem to gravitate towards.”
“I hope that my sermon has helped you begin the healing process,” Pastor Abbot said, “And thank you for humoring my question about the blanket.”
“Thank you again for your service, Pastor Abbot, Jake was a special part in our lives. We raised him from a puppy and he grew in to man's best friend. He will forever be missed.”
The first week after Jake's death was hard. The house seemed darker without his positive presence roaming from room to room. Even Jasmine and Jasper, Jo's other two shih tzus, seemed to be effected. The sound of his nails clicking on the hardwood floor as he ran down the hallway every time someone rang the doorbell still echoed throughout the house. The patter of his footsteps trotting up the carpeted staircase as somebody entered the home was silenced. For one week the darkness occupied the household until the UPS man made his scheduled delivery.
Every Tuesday was receiving day for Jo's photography studio. The sound of the doorbell ringing at exactly noon was nothing new. She didn't pay attention to the fact that all three dogs approached the door with mal intent. Jo, out of pure repetition, wrangle the three dogs back as she opened the door to receive her weekly set of photos. With the dogs calmed down she signed her weekly paper work and accepted her deliveries. She closed the door and realized that she saw three dogs. She turned around without hast to see her other two dogs, Jasmine and Jasper. She shrugged off the sighting and sat down at the dining room table to sort through her packages.
Jo was sorting through the hundreds of photographs when she glanced up and saw that the curtains in front of the picture window were slightly open near the bottom, the same way Jake would disturb them as he stood on his hind legs to look out the window. She choked up a little as she got up to close them. That is the last time I will have to do that, she thought to herself. She sat back down at the table when then doorbell rang again. She watched Jasper and Jasmine run to the door, barking uncontrollably, and smiled at their unruly behavior. She opened the door to find the UPS man with another package and a quick apology. She accepted them both, closed the door, and returned to the table to continue sorting her photos.
As Jo was going through the photos an odd feeling fell over her. Her heart sank and a cold chill ran through her. An unexplainable urge came into her mind to look at the picture window to see if the curtain had moved. She put both palms on the table, closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. When she opened her eyes, Jo tried to look in the direction of the picture window, but her heart wouldn't let her. This is ridiculous, she thought to herself, just look at the damn curtain. She closed her eyes and turned her head towards the picture window. When she opened them her heart sank. The curtains were still closed.
Jo's heart eyes began to fill with tears and her heart started to race again. A little piece of her soul expected the picture window curtains to be askew. In her heart, she was wishing for a small amount of hope that Jake might still be physically with them in some way.
Jo gathered her unorganized pictures and walked to her office. She took three steps and then skipped a half of a step, stumbling, and almost tripping. She regained her balance and sat safely in her office chair. Jo put the palms of her hands to her eyes and began to cry.
Old habits die hard, especially when they are surprising you. For eight years Jo stepped over Jake napping in his usual spot. Three and a half steps from her doorway Jake made his home in the afternoons as she worked editing photographs. In the early afternoon he would be a ball of fur curled up in to a fuzzy semicircle, and in the late afternoon Jake would be stretched out to what seemed to be twice his length.
Strangely enough, Jo missed the occasional slobber filled treat that would somehow find its way under bare toes, or a newly found pile of stool that a scared puppy had left during a violent thunderstorm. A dog's sixth sense can always recognize when their master is unhappy, depressed, or stressed out. The loyalty of a furry family member is uncanny and the comradery of a household consisting of various pets is beyond explainable.
Jasper and Jasmine didn't disappoint her as they approached Jo's bare feet. Her drying eyes and dislocated soul were comforted by the love her remaining dogs displayed. Jasmine and Jasper laid down at Jo's feet and inconspicuously snuggled up to them. Neither dog tried to bite a toe nor did they fight for territory. Each furry family member recognized the loss that was bestowed to them and mourned respectively.
Reed was the first to notice Jasmine and Jasper playing with Jake. The two living dogs ran from the living room, through the kitchen, and back to the living room chasing nothing. The dogs would stop and bite the air for a few seconds and then they would be on the run again. In an instant the two dogs would stop, and start running the opposite way, as if they were being chased. Reed watched the peculiar behavior of the dogs for a few minutes then went back into his office, putting the incident out of his mind.
Two hours later Jo returned home from a photo shoot. She opened the front door and found Jasper and Jasmine barking and wagging their tails in excitement. Jo set her purse and camera on the foyer table and patted each dog on the head. The two dogs calmed down and sniffed the area rug searching for thier spots. Jo watched Jasper sit in front of the television and Jasmine lay down between the sofa and the end table. Jo's eyes sub-consciously focused on the back cushion of the sofa where Jake use to lie. The plush cushion sank for a moment, stabilized, and sank again. Jo let out a quick scream and covered her mouth. Her eyes didn't move from the sofa.
“Reed,” Jo yelled, “Come in here!”
“What’s that,” Reed replied.
“Reed, I would like you too calmly and quietly join me in the living room.”
Reed mumbled something and pushed himself away from his desk. He walked down the long hallway to the living room to see his wife frozen still, staring at the sofa.
“What's wrong,” Reed asked.
“Look,” Jo said, “What is wrong with the back cushion on the sofa.”
“It is sunk in a little. I don't get what the emergency is.”
“That is where Jake use to sit.”
“Maybe he sat there so often that it crushed the foam in the cushion.”
“Call him. Call Jake”.
“What the hell are you talking about, Jo?”
“I dare you, call Jake and see if the sofa cushion puffs up.”
Reed scratched the back of his head and adjusted his glasses before he said, “Are you sure you want me to do this?”
“No. Do it quickly though.”
“Jake, Jake, Jake, come here boy!”
The instant Reed finished his sentence the back sofa cushion filled out and the seat cushion was indented with four sharp impressions. As quickly as they were made they disappeared.
Reed and Jo stared at the sofa for several minutes before Jo broke the silence.
“I don't think Jake is gone.”
Reed continued to stare at the sofa and said nothing.
“That did just happen,” Jo said, “Didn't it?”
Reed adjusted his glasses before saying, “Yes it did. I think we have a ghost.”
Reed walked into the kitchen and grabbed a beer as Jo walked around the sofa, staring at the cushion, and knelt down between the other two dogs. She rubbed Jasmine's belly and patted Jake on the head.
“I want you guys to do something for me,” Jo said as she continued to pet her furry friends, “I want you to go find Jake.”
Jasmine scrambled onto her little black paws while Jasper got up and stood at attention.
Jo put her hands on her thighs and a smile on her face as she said, “Fine 'em. Find 'em! Go find Jake. Find Jake! Where is Jakey at? Go find Jake!”
The two dogs launched off of the area rug and ran around the love seat, scraping and sliding on the hardwood as they darted toward the hallway. The sound of the two small dogs galloping down the hallway resembled stampeding cattle. Jo heard the scraping and sliding sound again as the dogs ran into her office.
Jo walked to the kitchen and asked Reed to follow her. Reed chugged his beer without the can touching his lips and agreed.
Jo led the way with Reed following, his hands on her shoulders. They peeked into her office. Reed's head was peeking in the door way and Jo's below, resembling two characters in a Hanna Barbera cartoon. Jake and Jasmine were lying down on the floor, staring at the spot three and a half steps from the doorway.
“Well,” Reed said as he looked at his watch, “I guess it is about that time. He always liked, uh, likes to lay there in the early afternoon.”
Jo stepped into her office and asked Reed, “What are we going to do?”
“What can we do,” Reed asked as he followed her in, “We could tell him to run towards the light, but she would just knock over the floor lamp again.”
“Seriously,” Jo said as she gave Reed a dirty look, “What do we do?”
“I don't think there is anything we can do. I guess we could call a priest to help Jake on his way, but I think that would be a little ridiculous. What harm could Ghost Jake do? Wear out a sofa cushion from time to time or leave a phantom turd on the stairs? I don't think it will be a big problem.”
“What about the concrete evidence of life after death? Isn't that a big deal?”
“Jo,” Reed paused, “It is a big deal, but I don't think we need to over expose the situation. Not many people are going to believe us if we tell them, and if they do, I don't want a media-circus surrounding our house. I think we need to let Jake try to find his own way. If he was murdered by a crazy neighbor or if he died of rabies then we might have a malicious ghost dog on our hands, but he died peacefully. I don't think Ghost Jake will be too much trouble.”
The next month had its ups and downs regarding Jake. The canine ghost was never malevolent, but occasionally mischievous. Jake's afterlife traits resembled his living lifestyle to a tee. Shoes and socks would come up missing only to be found under the sofa or in a closet. Jake also found the ability to hide other things that he couldn't in his previous life. Car keys were the first to start disappearing and reappearing in strange locations. Jo's earrings that were kept in a locked jewelry box somehow ended up on the mantle above the fireplace. Pillow cases would end up covering cereal boxes in the pantry and the television remote was often found in the freezer. The family got use to the deceased dog's antics and Ghost Jake became the scapegoat for other common mishaps.
Jake's biggest afterlife accomplishment was placing the spare tire from Reed's truck in the center of the living room like a gift to the family. Jo was the first to see it one morning and decided to let Reed take care of it. She stepped over the tire and went to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. Jo reached into the cabinet for a mug and found a squeaky toy in place of her favorite cup. Jo sighed and thought where in the world would that crazy dog put my cup. She looked around the kitchen and went through the cabinets. To no avail, she searched the basket of dog toys and found nothing. Jo abandoned her search and got a smaller mug out of the cabinet as Reed was walking towards the coffee pot.
“I see Ghost Jake has moved on to bigger and better things,” Reed said.
“He has,” replied Jo, “And he hid my coffee mug too.”
“How the hell did he get my spare tire in here?”
“That's the million dollar question isn't it?”
Jo and Reed drank their coffee and read the paper like any other day. When they were done with their breakfast ritual Jo retreated to her office, skipping the third and a half step, and started editing photos while Reed retrieved the spare tire. As he picked it up he noticed it was flat. Reed went to the garage and sighed at the inconvenience as he plugged in his air compressor. Reed mumbled to himself and adjusted his glasses as he filled the tire to thirty-two psi. He threw the fully inflated tire in the back of his Ranger and proceeded to go to work.
Jo was editing a family photo when goosebumps covered her skin and she could hear the faint whining of a dog. Jo called out to Ghost Jake to stop crying. The fact that she was calling out to the ghost of her dog didn't bother her any more than it did when Jake was living. The results usually were the same. Jake would keep crying for a few seconds and he would quit, just like when he was alive. This time was different though. Jake's crying didn't stop, but it intensified. Jo walked out of her office and tried to locate the phantom whining. The cries got louder as she walked down the hallway and past the kitchen. She turned the corner, entering the living room to find that the T.V. was on. Jo watched in awe as she saw a news bulletin reporting a twelve car pile-up on HWY 65 and Division. She sat down on the sofa, as the cushion collapsed behind her, and watched the breaking news.
...A twelve car pile-up recently occurred due to a fire truck turning on its side, crushing two vehicles and totaling ten more. Apparently a high gust of wind combined by operator error contributed to the fatal accident. At least five people have been confirmed dead and dozens more injured.
Jo watched in awe as the major intersection closest to their home resembled a war zone. She picked up her cell phone and called Reed.
“Yellow,” Reed answered.
“Are you alright,” Jo asked, “you're not hurt are you?”
“No not at all. Why would I be?”
“You didn't see the accident on 65?”
“Sure didn't. I am almost downtown. Traffic is moving smoothly. I did have a flat tire though. I picked up a nail or something getting on to 65 and had to change it. Hey, I guess Ghost Jake might have helped me out by delivering my flat spare tire in the middle of the living room. How about that?”
...Breaking News, street level cameras captured the turnover impact of the fire truck...
Jo went silent.
…if you watch the video you can see the fire truck lose control, flip, and crush the two small cars next to it. It appears as if a gust of wind slammed the vehicle on to the shoulder, which gave way to the driver losing complete control. Wait, wait, wait. I am getting conformation of a different camera angle that shows a small black truck barely avoiding disaster...
Jo's heart sank.
...in this video you can see a man changing a flat tire. You can also see the firetruck no more than a half mile behind him starting to swerve. As we watch, you can see the man finish changing the tire and get into his vehicle. Now watch closely as the driver pulls off of the shoulder and on to the highway no more than three seconds before the fire truck would have made impact with the unsuspecting motorist. What an amazing demonstration of pure luck...
“Jo,” Reed asked, “Are you still there?”
“Yeah, I saw the accident on the news. You were...”
“I gotta go,” Reed interrupted, “I am here. Love you.”
When Reed returned home from work, Jo showed him the video of his fortunate and haphazard escape. After they finished, Reed walked in silence to the kitchen and then back into the living room. He placed a doggy treat on Ghost Jake's cushion and whispered, “Good boy”.
The treat disappeared in minutes.
Over the next two weeks Ghost Jake's presence started to diminish. The interactions between Jasmine, Jasper, and Ghost Jake grew less frequent and personal items disappeared less often. The oddest of the odd was the slowly diminishing imprint that Ghost Jake would leave on the back of his favorite sofa cushion. The arrival of the UPS man was still an exciting adventure for all dogs, living and non, but the curtains weren't disturbed as much as they once were. The sounds of a frightened pup during the late evenings began to wane until they were no more.
“I think Ghost Jake has left us,” Jo said, heartbroken again, “I think he is really gone.”
“I think so,” Reed said as he tried to inconspicuously wipe a tear from his eye, “That dog saved my life.”
Reed didn't speak of the accident that could have taken his life. He was always noncommittal and shrugged off questions his friends tended to ask. Jo, who was seeing Reed's emotions about the near fatal accident for the first time, was touched.
“He was a good dog Reed, both in his life and afterlife”. Who knew it would be Jake; the shy and dramatically emotional friend that would touch our lives in this way. Who knew that losing a furry family member for the second time would be harder than the first.”
“No one is going to believe this story,” Reed said, “I don't know if we should even try to explain it.”
“No,” Jo paused and composed herself, “I think this one belongs to us and us alone.”
Six months after Jake's death and one week after Ghost Jake's final appearance, Jo carried a portfolio full of photographs down the long hallway leading to her office. She opened the door and walked in, methodically skipping over the third and a half step. She sat at her computer and started to organize the photos by date when she caught a glimpse of a something out of the corner of her eye. She took a deep breath and swiveled her office chair ninety degrees to her right. What Jo saw brought her to tears instantly. On the floor three and a half steps from the doorway was the baby blanket and her favorite coffee mug that read, Dogs leave paw prints forever on your heart.