(Condensed version. Collection of Short Stories: Love Is All Around)
Ten-year-old Matthew buried his dog of three years near a short mango sampling. His father convinced him that his pet Lanky would help the tree grow strong and bear abundant fruits when the right time came.
“Are you sure, Dad?” he asked teary-eyed, too sad to eat, to the point he skipped two meals just to stay guard near his dog’s burial ground. “He was the best friend I ever had.”
His father nodded solemnly, knowing his son would get over the feeling after a few weeks.
– 0 –
Fifteen years had passed, ten years of education, five years working overseas, two years travelling locally, Matthew came back to his family’s ancestral home. The visit was his first in a very long time.
If he recalled correctly, the sampling where he buried his pet was now fifteen years old. It dwarfed all the trees in the surrounding area.
“We can hear barking at night near that tree,” a low-accented voice interrupted his musings.
“Uncle Rey, I did not hear you come,” Matthew said, surprised that his presence was quickly detected by one of his relatives.
“I saw you arrived. I wanted to call you but it seems you wish to visit your tree first.”
“You mentioned barking. What’s that all about? I am well aware that dogs here are unleashed and free to roam even at night.”
“Come, let’s get closer and I’ll show you something.”
They followed the small pathway that cut through tall grasses, leading to a clearing. The shade of the mango tree almost cleaned a huge circle of growth under it, where the sun’s rays rarely penetrated.
“What do you see?” his uncle asked while pointing to the lower portion of the huge trunk.
“Looks like a dog’s face,” he observed. ‘Don’t tell me this is what you suspect barking at night?”
His uncle smiled, trying not to force him to believe.
“Do you see any specific feature you might remember from your past?”
Scrutinizing Nature’s sculpture much closer, he gasped. “It can’t be!”
“Now you remember. Do you think I am just imagining things?”
Matthew stared at the image, recalling what his father told him back then.
“You see, when the barking begins, dogs in the vicinity would converge on this spot. They’ll howl alternately, often times giving us the creeps. Rural folks still believe in supernatural phenomena, how dogs are supposedly seeing spirits roaming.”
“I am still a believer” Matthew agreed. “But, I always had Lanky protecting me during those times,” he added, reliving his fondness for old pet.
“Anyway, we got used to it,” his uncle laughed. “Besides, no burglar dared walk this area at night. Ever.”
“Is that so?”
“Even if burglars are not afraid of dogs, I believe they are more scared of ghosts.”
Matthew touched the trunk as if the image was real, patting it on the head.
“Thank you, Lanky! You always know how to protect us, your family.”