Danielle Berger lay awake in bed and waited. For the last two nights she was taunted by crawling noises and the sound of sneezing. Trauma does funny things to people. She convinced herself it was simply her imagination, the swelling of fears that surfaced from the loss of her son two years ago. It wasn't the first time her subsequent paranoia had blurred reality. It was something she and her doctor were working on.
"Keep it together, Danielle," she said, letting the sound of her own voice reassure her. "It's just your imagination."
But the sounds persisted. The thought of something or someone in her home, at night, drew up the fears of that fateful evening: the sound of the door to her home turning, the glass shattering in the kitchen, the awful shot that took her teenage son when he tried to protect her. Danielle ordered the image of her son in a pool of blood from her mind with a shriek as she shot up in her bed. Her heart racing, she was breathless but she had no tears left to cry. "God, please make it stop," she gasped. "Isn't it enough that my son is gone but I have to be tormented like this?"
Danielle looked at the medicine bottle of sleeping pills on the nightstand and grimaced. There was no way she would be able get up in the morning and this was the third job she'd had in six months. She couldn't afford to lose this one.
"Achoo," she heard it again. The sneeze was followed immediately by what sounded like a dog's whine.
Then a thought occurred to her. If what she heard was real, could it mean she was getting better?
With that hope, Danielle nimbly crept out of bed and put her ear to the cold wood floor. It was a very old home and there were tunnels under the house that led to a dirt basement below. Danielle sighed and rolled her eyes. No woman likes to go down to a dark basement at night but she would have to do it. She had to know. Maybe a pregnant dog was trapped and needed some help. The thought of new born puppies stretched a smile on her gaunt face as she reached for a flashlight in the hall.
The flashlight illuminated silvery wisps of abandoned spider webs as she slowly descended the steps. She held her breath. There in the corner of the basement she saw a dog's head upon the dirt floor but to her shock he was draped across a pair of small legs. The red Labrador lifted its head and whined but the legs he guarded didn't move.
Danielle froze. Suddenly she heard a sneeze and the legs moved. Without thinking if it was real or not she ran to their side. It was a boy about age ten or twelve. He was filthy, disoriented and breathing shallow breaths. His head was badly bruised. The dog looked up and licked her hand as she knelt by their side. She noticed a set of medical tags around his neck and ran back into the house.
First responders lit up the scene on her front yard. All she could do was watch them work on the child and manage the dog that refused to leave his side.
"You saved this little boy's life ma'am," said a burly paramedic. "I don't know if you read his tags but this boy's an epileptic. He probably would have died if you hadn't found him."
"Please," she grabbed his arm, "have his family contact me."
"You can follow us if you like," he suggested.
"No," she said, shuddering at the remembrance of her last trip to the ER two years ago. "I can't."
A week later, she learned Toby Michaels had wandered away from his school. His service dog, Shadow, stayed with him but could not lead Toby back home. After what they assumed had been a severe seizure, he found his way, weary and disoriented under her house. The dog never left his side and though exhausted and dangerously dehydrated, both were doing fine. Danielle sobbed on the other line with Mrs. Michaels, who insisted she meet Toby.
"You'll never how grateful I am," cried Mrs. Michaels.
Danielle thought of the ache in her heart for own son and smiled, knowing Toby's mother would never experience the horror she had.
"I do know. Believe me, I do."
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