“Someone lost his mind in there,” I tell my dog Tonya as we walk up the sidewalk to the abandoned Pizza Hut. I want to see inside.

Tonya yips at me as we approach the building then cocks her head low the way she does when she’s nervous about something.

“It’s ok,” I tell her, but I can feel it, too. The air turns heavy as we walk past a shrine for the people who died that September night. I realize that today is September and a chill skitters over me. Tonya gets one, too, for when I look down at her, the hair on the scruff of her neck bristles like a mane.

Since Tonya can’t read, I wonder how she knows. Then, I remember her nose.

Tonya’s nose can smell anything, even anthills, which she always skirts. Not like my mom’s mutts or my sister’s Great Pyrenees, who all trample through the mounds then howl like Tarzan when they get bit by the fiery beasts.

Tonya’s nose can smell coyotes, and when one is around, she hops from foot to foot, a move danced at no other time and for no other beast. When bobcats are around, she growls into her front paws.

When snakes are around, she stops dead in her tracks and tucks in her chin, as if she’s protecting her jugular.

And when alpacas are nearby, she smiles. She loves alpacas, and when we find them, she’ll gaze into their curious faces for several minutes. Then she’ll look back at me and smile. Then she’ll stare at them some more. Then swipe a smile. She will repeat this for many hours if I let her.

Sometimes, I do.

When humans are close, her eyes narrow like a gunslinger’s. She’s cautious with humans. Doesn’t trust them.

She shouldn’t.

Walking past the cardstock faces of the victims, Tonya starts growling. It’s not so much a growl as it is a low-pitched hum floating in air bubbles. I’ve never heard this sound before, and I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t her reaction to carnage. Though the massacre was two years ago, is it possible that she can still smell the blood?

The Pizza Hut has been abandoned since the night a man walked into it and opened fire, but I get a sense I’m not alone. “Is someone watching us, girl?” I ask Tonya as I check over both shoulders.

A truck pulling a horse trailer drives by blasting Merle Haggard’s Rainbow Stew, an odd but appropriate nod from the universe.

Eatin’ rainbow stew with a silver spoon underneath a sky of blue…

So the song goes, and in that moment I hope that there is a heaven for these people, though I know in my heart that there isn’t.

I peer inside the dirty window. It’s just as it should be. Booths along the walls. Ovens in the back. A counter. A clock. A jukebox.

I wonder what was playing that night. What song the universe picked for their dying. I hope it was something good. Like Dylan or Willie or Bach. Probably not Bach in this small town, but I note how wonderful that would be. To die while a perfect Bach invention plays in the background. Simple. Pure. A clean death.

No. There was nothing clean about these deaths. No Bach for the slain here. Theirs was messy and brutal and wild.

Beatles, Helter Skelter.

I notice the skeleton of an umbrella in the corner. “It must have been raining that night,” I say to Tonya. She blinks at me with her caramel coated eyes, then scoots closer to me.

I scan the room for blood, but there isn’t any. No signs of a struggle. Nothing to indicate the brutality of that night.

Tonya barks, and I turn around.

“Can I hh-help you?” he asks with his dentures so loose they jiggle his words.

“No thanks,” I say. “Just walking my girl.”

“Mm-hmm,” he replies.

I turn to leave, but in the corner of my eye I catch another glimpse of that night. Inside, behind the counter, a single ticket hangs from the heat lamps. The last order of that night.

“Bet it was pepperoni,” I say louder than I mean to, forgetting we’re not alone.

The man with the floppy teeth lights a candle at the shrine. I pray he doesn’t hear me, then turn to head home.

“Sausage,” I hear from behind me.

I turn.

The old man’s face is soft, not full of misery and despair like I expect. It’s a face that has seen much heartache yet has chosen not to be heartbroken.

“It was sausage and onions,” he says without a smile.

“Oh,” I reply, embarrassed he heard me. “Sorry for your loss,” I add. What else is there to say?

He nods, then returns to his praying, so I head off with Tonya. We cross the busy highway that cuts the town in half. On the other side, Tonya gets tangled in her leash, so I stop to adjust it. When I reach down, she barks in my face.

“What’s up, girl?” I ask then glance across the street. Tonya barks again. I scan the highway but I don’t see the old man.

A chill rushes over me, making me sneeze. He was there wasn’t he?

Tonya nuzzles her nose into the palm of my hand the way she does when I’m crying 

“It’s ok, girl. I’m not crying.” I reassure her with a pat on the head.

Then I see him. The old man. He’s leaning against the ivy covered brick wall on the west side of the Pizza Hut. For a minute I wonder if he’s having a heart attack, for he has hand clenched to his heart. Then, I realize he’s crying.

Tonya nuzzles my hand again, so I stroke her head. “I know, girl.”

For a minute I watch the old man, suspended in indecision. I want to comfort him. I want to run over and tell him that things will be ok. That time heals everything. All those bullshit clichés we cling to during hard times.

Instead, I turn away.

I don’t feel like lying today.


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When she isn't making movies or music, DUCKY WILSON serves as a spy for the Bokonon Underground Army, living by the foma that makes her brave and kind and healthy and happy. Her poetry has been published in several literary magazines, none of which you've ever read, and her nonfiction work can be read exclusively on The Nervous Breakdown. Currently, she is in development on her next film, an offbeat musical about misfits looking to belong.

One response to “The Pizza Hut Massacre”

  1. ducky says:

    Comment by Zara Potts
    2009-10-05 21:18:07
    Oh my.

    What a great piece of writing. Touching and with a lovely heart. The details are so chilling. The last order will stay with me awhile.

    Meantime, you’ve got a great dog there in Tonya. I love that she smiles at alpaca’s. I have a friend who keeps horses and she told me that when she takes her stallion out for a ride, if they happen to see a miniature horse, the stallion freaks out. She said he looks at her, like ‘What the fuck is that thing???’

    Animals. They’re the best.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 05:29:08
    Tonya is my girl. She always surprises me with her dog wisdom. So much smarter than I.
    When I tell people she smiles, no one believes me, but she really does. Her mouth curls up and everything. So cute.

    I’m with your friend’s stallion re: those mini horses: what the fuck ARE those things?

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Zara
    2009-10-06 10:57:05
    I believe you. My dog smiles too. It’s wierd to see her tiny bottom teeth. But super cute.

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    Comment by Simon Smithson
    2009-10-06 12:33:07
    There’s a guy over here who walks the suburbs with an alpaca in tow. Seriously, it makes everyone so happy to see an alpace. I was at coffee once and he was set up on the other side of the street. I spent ten minutes watching people walk past, do a double take, then go running back to play with it.

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 19:41:13
    They are pure joy. I love their faces.

    Reply here

    Comment by Litsa Dremousis
    2009-10-05 21:47:10
    Ducky, this is achingly sad and poignant. Tonya is a deeply sentient creature and while the old man broke my heart, I think you were right not to lie to him.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 05:30:23
    She really is. I call her an empath. She can sense just about anything.
    Seeing a man cry just breaks me up, but an old man, just tore me to shreds. I cried when I got home. In the middle of washing dishes.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by David S. Wills
    2009-10-06 02:06:58
    Chilling. The remnants of these events are so disturbing.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 05:32:07
    Smalltown America is in some deep shit. Unfortunately, this has happened in too many towns.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Irene Zion
    2009-10-06 03:36:31
    Really well done.
    I wish I didn’t know the last pizza order, though.
    Makes it way too real after all this time.
    You want to forget stuff like this.
    Now the sausage and onion pizza.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 05:33:19
    Weird thing is now I always want a sausage and onion pizza when I get pizza. I creep myself out sometimes. What is that?

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Irene Zion
    2009-10-06 09:26:00
    Maybe you’re just creepy.
    Not that that’s a bad thing.

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    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 11:19:33
    It’s possible.

    Reply here

    Comment by Don Mitchell
    2009-10-06 04:46:30
    I liked this one a lot, Ducky.

    I don’t have a dog (though I have had them). What constantly amazes and pleases me is how a dog is a senses-amplifier for a human, as you describe. The combination of human perception and dog perception is spectacular, provided the human knows how to read the dog’s behavior.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 05:36:51
    There’s been some studies on dogs and their impact on human evolution. Some animal behaviorists theorize that the reason the neanderthal man/woman didn’t make it is because he/she didn’t have the aid of the dog. Conversely, homo sapians utilized the skills of the dog and hence, humans. I buy it. Makes total sense to me.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Aaron Dietz
    2009-10-06 06:24:59
    Interesting, and totally believable. I’m pretty confident that dogs (and other animals, too) are much more intelligent than most humans give them credit for.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Don Mitchell
    2009-10-06 06:28:56
    The Neanderthal thing was probably more complex than that, but all hypotheses that I’m aware of begin with the notion that anatomically modern Homo sapiens (us) was all-around better in (speaking very broadly) intellectual tasks. If dogs had anything to do with it, it would be that we could “read” them, and the others could not.

    There was a study a few years ago that demonstrated that dogs are superior to chimpanzees when it comes to reading human gestures/postures and the meanings associated with those gestures. Chimps are awfully smart, but dogs understand us very well — and why not? Twenty or thirty thousand years of co-evolution is a lot.

    I’ll say again how much I liked your description of your dog’s behavior, and how you have learned to interpret it, and how you worked that into your piece.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 11:22:12
    The Mongolians believe that dogs are humans in waiting, that they’re the closest to us. I think there’s something beautiful about that.

    Sometimes I want to believe in reincarnation.

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    Reply here

    Comment by James Michael Blaine
    2009-10-06 05:57:15
    Strong Ducky Strong.

    You’ll always catch me with those sorts of titles and
    words against bullshit cliches.

    They say time heals all wounds but mostly time just passes.
    I dont recall who said that but its true.

    Mostly we use cliches to make ourselves feel better.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 11:24:28
    Indeed. Time may help us forget, but that isn’t the same thing as healing.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by oksana marafioti
    2009-10-06 06:34:32
    This is very different from what you usually post, but just as beautiful.

    I always wonder what possesses people to commit such hideous crimes. My father believes that at those moments, the killers ARE possessed in every sense of the word. It makes sense because it’s hard to believed that a person could just consciously become a monster.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 11:27:30
    Thanks Oksana.

    Some scientists believe that there is a genetic connection, which sucks, because what can you do about genetics? I volunteered at a psych hospital here. Teaching art to the young kids. There was a 5 year old girl there who killed both her parents while they were sleeping. Butcher knife through their hearts. She wasn’t abused. No trauma in her background.

    How can that not be genetic?

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Matt
    2009-10-06 07:13:46
    This gave me chills. Very engaging, very moving essay, Ducky. I especially like the last line. We love to tell ourselves these things, even–especially–when they aren’t the truth.

    Between you and Rich Ferguson, I’m really missing my dog today.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 11:28:25
    I usually opt for silence over lies. Probably explains why I’m a quiet person. (I save my words for my work.)

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 11:28:54
    P.S. I’m still willing to help you kidnap your dog. Just say the word.

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    Reply here

    Comment by JB
    2009-10-06 07:23:13
    Here’s to hoping they raze the building. Back when I was a lad we had something called the Brown’s Chicken Massacre, which went unsolved for a long time. They tried to turn the building into a dry cleaners, then they tore it down. It still haunts everyone, though.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 11:31:48
    It’s pretty fucked up – all the rage that people feel. So often it gets displaced.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by sheree
    2009-10-06 11:28:58
    Animals are way smarter than humans. They know when quakes are coming, storms are brewing, when evil is on the prowl. They know how to find food, water and shelter. I’ve seen wounded animals eat pot plants growing in the wild to help heal stiff joints and minor wounds. I have seen dogs lick anothers wounds to help it heal. Animals are so much more advanced than humans.

    Great post.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 11:35:12
    Thanks. And I’m with you on that assessment. I heard that when the big tsunami hit Thailand, not a single dead animal was found. They all escaped well ahead of time to higher ground. Pretty remarkable.

    This morning, I found Tonya hiding in my closet. A few minutes later, a huge gust of wind blew through bringing an angry storm. My room is surrounded by bay windows. Somehow, she knows the tornado drill, and I swear I never took her to elementary school with me.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Simon Smithson
    2009-10-06 12:34:35
    Man, animals are the best thing in the world when you’re feeling upset. We just got a new cat, and already I’m wondering why it took us so long.

    To join in on the growing chorus, Tonya sounds like a good’un.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-06 19:42:36
    She is.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Lenore
    2009-10-06 20:38:52
    oh my god. that poor man.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by D.R. Haney
    2009-10-07 00:28:23
    I read this yesterday morning, but didn’t have time to leave a comment. It’s very cinematic. And, as others have commented, I love Tonya’s various reactions to animals.

    Have you ever seen a cat do that weird, vibrating lower-jaw thing when watching a bird? It’s hard to describe, but fascinating. I wonder why they do that?

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-07 06:17:59
    Yes! My cat Henry used to do that! So cute. I have a theory that it is anxiety – they want that bird so badly but can’t get it. But I’m no animal behaviorist.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by oksana marafioti
    2009-10-07 18:35:18
    My cat does that too. He also loves to lick underarms and bellybuttons. Also, he drools a lot. I have no idea why.

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    Comment by D.R. Haney
    2009-10-07 18:57:44
    Does your cat drool while staring at birds? If so, it would help to corroborate Duck’s theory, thus making her a de facto animal behaviorist.

    It’s already been established that your cat is a voyeur, Oksana.

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-07 19:25:03
    They sound likes squirrels when they do it.

    Comment by D.R. Haney
    2009-10-07 19:29:54
    And with that, your animal-behaviorist certification is in the mail.

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-08 03:49:30
    Cool. I’ll put it on my wall next to all my useless diplomas.

    Comment by D.R. Haney
    2009-10-08 05:45:57
    I’m glad you commented back, Ducky. I wondered if my last comment had been too light, and so insensitive. I mean, the piece itself is somber, but I personally enjoy light comments after posting a somber piece. It helps to remove the edge.

    Reply here

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-08 17:03:42
    I’m with you. I can find humor in anything.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Erika Rae
    2009-10-08 19:08:35
    I know that heaviness in the air. It’s crushing.

    I am head over heels for your dog. That whole alpaca thing…my dog has that with llamas. She also has different barks for different animals. My fav is her bunny bark – short, high pitched yelps just like she’s heard the rabbits make as she chases them. Amazing.

    Thanks for this.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Kimberly M. Wetherell
    2009-10-10 02:52:52
    Tonya. What a keeper. Does she have a sib yet?

    And those man’s rattly dentures. Perfect. Just perfect.

    Reply to this comment

    Comment by Ducky
    2009-10-10 05:52:05
    No sibling. People with the puppy kept her. Probably for the best.
    Dentures weird me out.

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