It was a wonderfully crisp mid-winter afternoon. The North Country was in the midst of a cold snap. Pencil thin branches stood out serenely against an atmosphere that seemed to stretch forever. I marveled at the alacrity of it all, gazing out of the salt-stained windshield with the heater at full blast.
“We need to find another back road,” My friend, Danni, beside me whined.
“Yeah I know,” I spoke placidly, even though I shared her impatience, for they had grown few and far between. Our mission had been to find some place with much less traffic.
“Holy shit!” I screamed moments later and slammed on the brakes, shattering my reverie. “Did you see that?” Tires skidded on the winter-slick highway as I popped it into reverse and swiftly backed up to the brown and yellow sign. “It’s Hooper Dooper Road!”
“What?! Are you serious?”
“Yeah man, yeah, Hooper Dooper Road, I’ve only come across that very sign once. There are pictures of us dangling from it like bunch of idiot tourists. Man, it was great,” I sat silent for a second reminiscing. “Hooper Dooper Road, I can’t believe we’ve found it. Dude, this road is amazing… though I’ve never been on it.” The answer was obvious. “We’re going,” my grin widened. “You know what we’re gunna do? We’re going find out why this road is called Hooper Dooper Road.”
We took the old Oldsmobile far that day, delving further in the back woods, the place that I had grown up in, and hardly dared to tread. Up and down ice-covered hills we went, deep into the forest. There were the occasional snowmobiles but for the most part it was a canopy of bare tree branches and a pristine white road beneath. A fenced-in aluminum trailer was the last sign of life we saw until we found the end of the road. “Dude, did you see all those dogs?” Danni and I did a double take.
“Yeah man, looked like fucking dog farm. There must have been like, what, twenty of them.”
“Creepy,” we both shuddered, not daring to think about the owner.
Up the road about a mile, I finally found the answer. “Hooper Dooper Lodge,” I remarked reading the wooden sign tucked beside a pine tree. I craned my neck for a better view of the actual building, the infamous lodge and perhaps the butt of some local joke, and that’s when it happened.
“Jesus Christ! Jess! Look out!” She shouted.
I spun foreword just in time to see the road end. “Snow plow turn around,” I spoke grimly, as the front end of my car was embedded in a snow bank. “I should have known it was there. We’ve come across them all day… Sorry about that,” I spoke nonchalantly, shrugged, and tried to pass it off as I put the car back in reverse. Nothing happened, I laid on the gas and the tires spun. “No.”
“We’re stuck” She spoke shortly.
“Yeah I know.” I tried again, foreword and reverse, rocking the car gas and brake. We didn’t move an inch. “No.” Glumly, I looked back toward the direction of Hopper Dooper Lodge. “I see how it is,” I murmured, drawing a grave conclusion. “That’s why, their whole game is to lure you with the uncanny name and then- then they kill you. Once you nail the damn snow bank.” I had given up hope. My fingers slid limply off the steering wheel and settled numbly in my lap, I bowed my head in defeat. “Any minute now they will come, the Hooper Dooper Death Cult… What do we do?” I looked bleakly to the co-pilot, not really wanting to die.
“Well, we’re going to finish this, smoke a cigarette, turn off the car, and we walk.” She said handing me the pipe after looking like she wanted to kill me for a couple of minutes.
I thanked her. Danni, the great and eminent sage; she was the voice of hope and wisdom even though I knew we were doomed..
I watched longingly walking backwards as the car disappeared over the crest of the hill, leaving us alone and vulnerable in the white wide world. The farther we walked, the more painfully clear it all became. It was very cold outside. Teeth chattering and muscles clenched we fought for footing on the icy slope. With stiff jeans and snot clinging inside my nose, I had flashbacks of the countless winter mornings I spent waiting for the school bus.
“Jesus fucking-woo-” She let out a cry and slid a bit behind me.
We stopped for a moment, three quarters of the way down, hearing a glimmer of hope. It was getting louder. The walk wasn’t so bad; I began to relax. Someone was coming to help us.
“A little cold to be walking,” The man on the snowmobile stated the obvious as he drew his sled up beside us.
“Yeah, because she put the car in a snow bank.”
“At the end of the road,” I added, “Can you help us get it out?”
“Sorry can’t,” he said shortly and our hopes were dashed as he sat back down. “No cell phone, no rope.” He turned the machine back on. “There’s a trailer down the road a mile, ask them,” was the last thing we heard as he rode out of sight.
“A trailer down the road.” She repeated angrily.
“A mile.” We didn’t know the road was so long.
“Asshole!” We shouted after him.
“Chow dogs.” We stood outside the front yard, trying to count them. Big poofy ones, little poofy ones, and medium sized as well. There were dogs of different colors playing and yipping in cages, on chains, and runners.
What kind of person owns all these animals, one could only imagine, “You go,” Danni stated.
“I’m not going in there,” she said with her feet resolutely planted at the foot of the driveway.
“What-?” She shoved me a little ahead, Danni that bitch.
I looked back at her one last time and stomached the growing lump of fear and resigned to my fate, after all, she didn’t plant the car in the snow bank. She didn’t grow up in this godforsaken wilderness. “Okay,” I turned and took a step foreword. Three more was all I could manage. “Hey dogs- puppies-” I spoke through gritted teeth, forcing a smile as they all stopped and stared. They all closed in.
“Danni, Danni, I can’t do it.” I turned to face her, “there’s too many of them.” My feet were frozen as I met her growing look of shock and knew that it could only mean one thing: My back was turned to something scary.
He stood in the doorway with greasy long salt and pepper hair, a hard face and wearing a pink wife-beater. “What do you want,” he spoke harshly.
“I- we, my car is stuck in a snow bank- we can’t get it out ourselves.” I nervously spat, looking as pathetic as I possibly could. “It’s stuck.”
“One minute,” He left and shut the door behind him.
“Oh my god.” I screwed up my face and bolted to the end of the driveway. “What do we do? Do we run? There has to be another house. Someone else…” The sad truth was there were no one to speak of, as scary as seemed; he was our last chance for survival. The highway was still miles away.
He emerged a couple minutes later; the only thing that changed was the fact that he now carried a shovel. We’re going to die, the old fear returned. Hit over the head, and once were dead we’ll be chopped to bits; and fed to chow dogs. How befitting, I thought. They looked hungry and out for blood. I didn’t want to be dog food.
“The car is at the end of the road, all the way at the end.” Danni took over and I nodded, cringing and trying not to cry.
“One minute” he gruffly said again and left.
“Oh god,” I breathed a bit easier. Moments passed and Danni giggled, I followed her gaze to the right of us where two black chows boffed in the middle of the road. Going at it like we’ve never seen before. “Dude, that’s sick,” I laughed.
“We can’t laugh, try not to laugh.” She couldn’t help it either. “Straight face,” They rolled around in the snow and mounted each other again. “We have to be serious, our lives are at stake.”
“Serious,” I repeated but couldn’t hold it in.
“Oh shit man, they’re humping like crazy.”
“Straight face… seriousness” I repeated and geeked out. The smile slipped as soon as The Hooper Dooper Dog Man returned with the shovel. This time he was dressed in a snowsuit. He disappeared around back and we heard an engine start. A car pulled up from the other side of the trailer. “Get in,” he called to the dogs and then to us.
“Okay,” we obliged for there wasn’t much of a choice.
Danni rode shotgun and I graciously accepted the back. After all, I wasn’t the one in the front end with the murderous man. I glanced back to see my traveling companions and my face fell, for seated beside me was that very pair of fluffy black horny dogs. “Oh help me,” I said breathlessly and turned to my friend. Something passed between our eyes, a combination of pity and the grim yet hopeful realization that we weren’t going to die alone. You’re a good friend, we both spoke soundlessly.
I averted my gaze only to lock eyes with my furry neighbor, had it been staring at me for the entire time? I tried to communicate telepathically with the animal, trying to convince it that I wasn’t very tasty. It was clear that the beast was hungry. At the end of the road The Dog Man would retrieve his shovel from the trunk, make us get out and one by one, and smash our heads in with the shovel. I tried not to think of it as his car rounded the hill. The Hooper Dooper Lodge drew closer. He’d drag our lifeless bodies by the ankles, leaving a trail of blood and bits of brain behind. Chow dogs chewing at Danni’s scarves, trying to get a bigger piece. “Hey!” he’d reprimand them, “these are mine.” With his hands full, he’d kick open the lodge door, “Look what I brought, boys!” Dragging our bodies, he would regale his freakish companions.
We passed the lodge and I heaved a sigh of relief for there was my car, my lovely piece of shit hopelessly stuck car. We came to a stop and not a moment too soon. I was pressed against the door as far as I could go, still staring into the dog’s looming eyes. It’s tongue, black as death, dangled from an open mouth. The creature breathed in my face. I know where that mouth has been, I communicated and commanded it to back off. It wasn’t working. He brought the car to a stop behind mine, took the keys out and popped the trunk. “Looks like we gotta get out of the car.” I spoke to the back of Danni’s head with my cheek pressed against the glass. Her dreadlocks nodded. There was clanking from behind, as the dog man retrieved the shovel. This is it, I thought morosely. Have a good dinner, I told the dogs. It seemed a far better fate than what the Hooper Dooper Death Cult may have in mind. Once we made it outside, there was nowhere to go. Even if we were lucky enough to escape, we were still miles away from civilization. The asshole on the snowmobile was long gone and no one would think to look for us on the Hooper Dooper Road. I always seemed to get myself into these kinds of messes, I thought morosely, but this time I severely outdid myself. I wanted to apologize to Danni, for getting her killed and all. “Ready?” I whispered instead. “One –two-”
Danni booked. I followed suit but the handle only jiggled- my the door was stuck. Or worse locked- it was then my very brief moment of panic gave way to great humiliation. I must have hit it while trying to avoid the bloodthirsty and sexed up dog. I undid the lock and got out to stretch, grateful to get out of the car. I turned around just in time to see The Dog Man raise his shovel.
“Holy, holy, holy, shit” My teeth chattered, knuckles were turning white as I gripped the steering wheel. “Cold car.” My body shook. More than an hour’s worth of cold Canadian air had settled in there. The heater hadn’t even kicked in yet. The air was full of perfume and cigarette smoke. All of it didn’t matter though, my Oldsmobile was moving. It didn’t take him very long to dig us out at all. Danni and I thanked The Dog Man profusely and offered him cigarettes for his troubles, but he declined.
Back down the hill we rolled, past the sled tracks a thought had occurred to me, “I can’t believe you did that.”
“Push me like that, you made me go up to that guy’s house. You could have gotten me killed.”
Danni shrugged, “It’s survival man, I was gunna run while the dogs were eating you.”
“Well thanks.” We were once again blasted with the hot heater air.
“No problem.” She passed me a cigarette. It was about that time when all conversation stopped, as well as the car. We braked at an all too familiar scene as the dogs I had gotten to know so well rolled across the road.
“Fucking chow dogs,” I muttered and it was then that I started to laugh hysterically. “Fucking chow dogs!”
“Oh dude,” she snorted, “those dogs- that guy-Hooper-Hooper Dooper-dude”
“Wow-wow,” I coughed, it was too much. We turned a corner and the highway drew into view, my eyes watered and so did my nose as it unfroze, and it hurt to breathe. I laughed so hard I almost drove off the road, but didn’t.