The Dog In The Furnace

I can't take full credit for this story. It was related to me by my Grandmother on my Dad's side. This was at an early age, and suffice to say it had quite an… effect on me.

For years, I was more afraid of fire than you'd normally expect. To this day I won't go near a furnace.

Have you ever seen one of those "creepy Eastern-European Grandmas" in a movie or on television? The over-the-top character with a thick accent and strange demeanor… played for laughs or horror?

Yeah, Grandma was the living, breathing embodiment of that treasured cliché.

She was the type to give you stale candies and ice-box-flavored cakes while my parents were around. Then, when I was left alone in her care, the niceties came to a sudden halt.

Her old cottage was more of a relic than she was, and if it weren't for the constant fear of getting on her bad side, the house would've scared me more than anything. It sighed and whined when the winds kicked up, the pipes occasionally banged like frantic Morse code, and a horrible rotten egg smell always came up through the heating vents. When the heat was working at all, that is.

When I was little and knew nothing of the world, I was "You leetle stupid-ass". After a bit of schooling and life lessons learned, I was "You leetle wise-ass". I suppose I was at that age when you feel like you're starting to figure the world out… when she decided to prove that wasn't true.

"Come. Sit on here." Grandma snapped, lightly kicking an ottoman toward me.

I'd been telling her all about what I learned in Science class that day. Something about germs or viruses and how they'd some day become immune to antibiotics. I'm sure I was probably rambling… at least in her estimation.

I sat where I was told.

Disobeying Grandma, especially out of sight of my parents, was not a good idea.

"Let me tell you something about Science. It is a bunch of men, dressing in funny coats, looking very close at very small things. So close, they look, that they think this is all there is. Just tiny specks."

Grandma adjusted her shawl and pointed a crooked, yellow-nailed finger in my face.

"Not everything that exists is made from their tiny dust."

Later on in life, I'd learn through other family members that Grandma took a dim view toward science in general. It related to the Nazis… their experiments… but try as I might, no one seemed to have the full story.

If I had known the question, I could've asked her directly when she was still around.

"Let me tell you a story," Grandma said, leaning back once again as if she were about to nod off. "I will swear to you that it is true. Then we will see what you think of your classes and text books."

As she spoke, my mind was on other things. Kid stuff. I wanted to go outside and play, or to just watch cartoons. I didn't want another lecture from the old woman, and I was sure this would be no different than her other boring stories about respecting elders and being happy to have a pot to piss in.

Or rather, "a pot for the piss" as she'd put it.

Once she got into it, however, the tale had my full attention.

As she told it, her Father… my Great-Grandfather… was a gambler and a drunk. Her words, not mine. He had become notorious throughout their small town in the old world. That was part of the reason he moved his family here when she was a little girl.

She didn't really know much about her Dad, other than the cruel rumors and taunting that followed her wherever she'd go. He was apparently the sort of fellow who spent little time at home with the family during the day, and would stumble home half-dead after midnight.

Grandma spoke of one night in particular, when her Father came home even later than usual. There was a scuffle outside, which drew Grandma and Great-Grandma from their beds.

There came a loud groan from the back stairs.

Looking out a window, the two women saw Great-Granddad struggling with a stranger. The stranger wore black, tattered clothing spattered with crimson, and his skin seemed as dark as night.

The stranger seemed to be trying to break into the house, and… whether he was being protective or he was just drunk enough to want a fight… Great-Granddad grappled with the stranger and eventually got the better of him.

A few sharp blows with a stone, and the stranger was no longer a threat. The family buried the body and never spoke of it again, save for one fleeting moment years later when Great-Grandma told their daughter it had been Satan himself come to ravage them.

This is around the point where I actually started fully listening, by the way.

Other than that brief bout of heroism, the only thing the old man did for his wife and child would be an occasional trip to the cellar in order to stoke the furnace. Even then, it was probably more for his own comfort than theirs.

It was in that cellar that Great-Granddad finally saw his luck turn around.

"Ah, my friend!" called a voice in the dim light of the furnace, "It has taken me a long time to find you!"

The man slowly approached the source of the friendly words. The furnace.

"Please, I ask you to open this door that we might have words." chuckled the voice.

He swung the furnace door open quickly, retracting his hand from the heat and whatever strange spirit might be within.

"I want no trouble!" the man warned, "My family sleeps, and so shall I if you'll allow me to depart…"

"How can you say such a thing?" the voice came again, almost tauntingly pleasant, "I am a gracious guest in your home. I can do you no harm!"

Great-Granddad looked into the heat of the furnace, through the flames, and fixed his gaze on a pair of dark eyes just beyond. Soon, the eyes came forward and a face was revealed.

It was a black dog… black as the coal it resided in. The large, wild look of the beast made it impossible to tell what breed it could have been, if it were any specific breed at all.

"A dog!" the man shouted before covering his mouth in horror. "A dog… in the furnace…" he repeated quietly.

"The best friend to a man!" the Dog nodded.

"Devil!" the man whispered, "Demon! Hell's child! I bid you leave in the name of our Lord, God!"

The dog laughed, though it came across as more of a choking bark.

"My friend, please. I am not this Devil of which you speak. I am just a messenger, come with good news. You are chosen for a great reward!"

"A reward? From the likes of you?"

"Please, what is wrong with me? I would be interested to know."

"You are an unkind thing! You are unnatural… an abomination!"

"In this, we are truly brothers."

The burning hound seemed to think this a reasonable response, though the man didn't see it the same way. With his face turned to the creature, Great-Granddad backed toward the cellar steps.

"I will have no more of this. I will bring a bucket of water and that will be the end of you!"

The dog spat fire at the man… or at least that was how it appeared in the moment. What at first seemed to be a tiny, white-hot ball of flame quickly cooled to a glittering hue and clattered to the stone floor.

It was a silver coin.

Great-Granddad stopped, the coin nestled between his shoes as it cooled.

"What sort of trick is this?" He asked, staring down in confusion.

"It is no trick. It is your reward." the dog answered.

With that vague explanation out of the way, the dog heaved sickly. A small pile of silver coins rolled from its pointed snout and came to rest on the burning coals before him.



"Here. These are for you. You have fallen on hard times through no fault of your own. A man cannot be blamed for a few bad wagers, eh?"

Wary, yet intrigued, the man slowly approached the furnace once more. After a prolonged silence, the pale-faced, sweating man spoke.

"So let me have them."

The dog laughed again.

"You must take them! Scoop your payment from the flames, and you may keep it all. Consider this proof of your courage!"

The man worked the sleeve of his long-johns over his hand and made a quick, half-hearted grasping motion toward the coins. He was concerned not only about the flames, but also the toothy jaws within.

"I'm sure you can do better than that." the dog shook his head, "Look, you have not a single coin!"

With a deep breath and a furrowing of the brow, Great-Granddad made a final swoop with his hand, gathering coins and coals alike before dropping them quickly to the floor.

"There's a good man!" the dog cheered.

Great-Granddad let out a shriek and blew on his hand. He'd been burned, but not enough to make it permanent. As soon as the pain gave way to numbness and itching, the man was on his knees, counting the spoils of his latest gamble.

He wasn't wealthy, now… but the amount was enough to take care of all the debts he'd managed to rack up in the time since he'd left his older debts behind.

"There's enough here to pay off everyone!" he grinned, but only briefly, "Though there will be nothing left afterward…"

"Oh?" the dog tilted its head, "That is quite an odd coincidence!"

With that, the dog receded back into the flames and disappeared. Great-Granddad closed the furnace once more, and hid the coins when they were cool to the touch.

In the following days, he settled a few debts. However, some were left unpaid. It stood to reason, at least in his mind, that if he re-invested some of his unexpected windfall, there might then be a profit that could be kept.

Unfortunately, this was not meant to be. The money was soon lost. The debts that had gone unpaid began to double and re-double… and the last few games of chance had left him with new debts on top of it all.

It seemed as if the family would once again have to pick up and move under the cover of darkness.

"Dog!" Great-Granddad would call into the furnace, "Dog, I wish to speak with you again, my great friend!"

The few times he was caught doing this, he would simply chase Grandma away and warn her not to come back under penalty of a whipping. Still, she would listen at the door.

"My friend! My dog! Hello? Is the fire not hot enough for your liking? … Perhaps Is it too hot?"

The obsession grew with each unsuccessful attempt at reaching his mysterious benefactor.

Finally, one of Great-Granddad's "creditors" came to the house. He wasn't at home, so the creditor felt it was a good idea to grope his wife and threaten to take their daughter as payment.

Great-Grandpa was understandably furious.

"Dog! I demand you return!" he screamed into the flames that night.

"You make demands?!" a familiar voice echoed back.

The man flung himself at the furnace, falling before it like a witness before Christ. He stared into the fire as the dog's face once again emerged from within.

"Dog! You must give me more silver. You did not give me enough!"

"Oh…" the dog raised its eyes toward the roof of its metal chamber and rolled them to the side. "THAT was the problem, was it?"

"Yes! I miscounted! There was not enough to pay off my debts, you see. Now a man threatens my wife and child!"

"I see."

"So…? Where is my money?"

"I will give you no more coins." the dog snapped, looking down its black, cracked nose.

Great-Granddad rose to his feet at once, and slammed the furnace door.

"DEVIL!" he screamed, "Burn in your Hell forever, then! I do not need your help!!"

The man stormed once more toward the cellar steps, full of rage and disappointment. It wasn't until he was half-way up the creaking, wooden staircase that he heard a metallic clatter.

"Here." came a muffled voice within the furnace, "I will give you this because I fear for your women. It is not because I believed your lies."

Great-Grandfather rushed to the small door once more and flung it open. The dog was gone again, and in his place there rested a long, jagged dagger.

"What?" the man yelled, his voice rattling the bolts of this metal cage, "How am I to pay my debts with…"

Staring at that gleaming blade, the answer to his problem became very clear.


With his bare hands, Great-Grandfather dug the dagger out of the fire and once again dropped his reward to the floor where it might cool.

Within weeks, a great burden seemed to be lifted from the man's shoulders. It wasn't until a month had passed that the body of his creditor… the one who had molested his wife… was found down-river.

He'd obviously been robbed and run through several times… with a very unique blade.

"It looks as if God has smiled on us." Great-Granddad explained to his family, "God… or dog!"

He laughed heartily, though the joke made sense only to him.

The man finally paid off all of his debts with some currency he'd "somehow" recently come across. This time there was a bit left over, as well. At first there were promises of new clothes, new shoes, and perhaps even an ice box. Soon enough, though, it was all gambled away once more.

It seemed as if things were back to the way they had always been. The man disappeared all day, and stumbled home drunk every night. He barely kept the family fed and stayed one step ahead of the tax man. It wasn't the life he would have chosen, but at least he was alive to see it.

Then came an unexpected knock at the door.

Great-Grandfather was in the cellar again, stoking the fire that had mysteriously bore such helpful fruit. He heard a commotion upstairs, and the sound of raised voices.

"The Police." he heard amid the chatter, followed quickly by "Murder".

He listened at the stairs, careful not to reveal himself as Great-Grandma tried to turn the officers away.

"We traced the knife back to a museum robbery, Ma'am." the authoritative voice rumbled, "Some coins were also taken in that same robbery, and we know for a fact your Husband has been using those coins in local establishments."

Frantic, the man at first hid himself under the stairs, then abandoned the spot and quietly made his way to the furnace.

"Dog!" he quietly demanded, "Dog, what have you done to me?! You fool, you've cursed us all!"

Unlike the man's last string of attempts, the voice answered immediately.

"Have I?" it queried, "That's a shame. It wasn't my intention at all."

"Damn you! Help me out of this! Give me money to bribe them, or a weapon to kill them! Give me something. Anything!"

"I have nothing more to give you." the dog whined apologetically, "I'm afraid it's gone too far by this point. You may as well throw yourself on their mercy."

"No!" Great-Granddad struck the searing furnace with his fist, "This is all your fault, now you will make amends!!"

"Oh…" the dog lowered its head sadly, "I suppose you're right, after all. Had I known I would cause such trouble, I never would have found you. Perhaps I can change that."

"Yes! You must do something." the man pleaded, his anger replaced by terror, "You are capable of great things, I know it! You can make it so none of this happened, can't you?"

"You mean…"

"Yes! Yes! I want to undo it. I want to go back and do things differently! I want to go back!!"

The furnace door creaked open, slowly, of its own volition. Inside, the dog could not be seen.



"Come to me. On my back you shall ride. Together we shall traverse the thread of time. I will bend this thread and make a loop that shall carry you to safety."

The dog was silent for a moment, then spoke again, its voice shaking the foundation.


As the Police pounded on the cellar door and demanded he come out, Great-Grandfather leapt into the furnace with a horrific shriek.

He was never found…

So yes. That was the sort of thing I could expect out of my own Grandmother, and it scarred me for life. Nearly a decade later, a Thanksgiving Turkey caught fire in my Mom's oven and I ran out of the house, screaming.

When I was a teenager, right before Grandma passed away, I stood at her bedside in the Hospice and asked her if she could please take back what she had told me.

"I cannot," she said in a weak voice, "I am not a liar."

I insisted, careful to keep from agitating her. I noted the fact that she couldn't possibly know all of the details she told me since she hadn't BEEN there for most of them. That was a clear flaw in her story, right?


"The dog." she cleared her throat, nearly choking, "It told me. It tried to get me in there… in the furnace… my entire life, it kept coming back."

Not long after, she was gone.

I was in the room when the nurses came rushing in. Grandma was choking loud enough to wake the entire building. They fussed over her and rushed around, putting on a good show, but everyone knew what was coming.

I was the last one out of the room after the family paid their respects.

I was the only one who saw Grandma's mouth drop open, and I was the only one who saw what she had been choking on.

Gathering all of my courage, I plucked the silver coin from her tongue.

It dropped the floor as soon as I felt my fingers burning.

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