Wednesday, September 21, 2011



Rough Patches


Al Bruno III

The following story was originally published by Eden Studios

Something stirred beneath four and a half feet of mud and snow. A rage so profound that even the February cold couldn't dim it. Instinctively, she began to claw her way to the light. It was almost like being born again.

Of all her littermates, she had been the strongest, the strongest of six. First to find the teat, first to open her eyes, first to notice the tall, pink figures that loomed over her mother's pen. Sometimes they would pick her up, their hands soft and subtle, and murmur and coo and tickle. It felt so good she couldn't help wagging her tail; she would lap greedily at faces and fingertips.

In the darkness of her shallow grave, she felt a pang of remorse at the loss of her mother and her brothers and sisters. Even now, she could still remember her mother's scent, the sound of her breathing, the pattern of the spots on her fur. So like hers.

Back then, eating to her heart's content and playing with her littermates had been her whole world. Occasionally, they would leave the pen to run through the tall grass, but always under the supervision of one of the Tall Ones. Of course, in those days, she'd paid no mind to their maze of fences and gates. She had been too busy exploring the sights and scents. She had been so very content then.

That contentment had ended when the other Tall Ones came to take her away. At first they had intrigued her, with their strange new smells and constant attention. She had particularly enjoyed playing with their child, chasing and being chased. He was so soft and pink and when she licked his face he would make a sound that was not quite like squeal and not quite like a growl. When they had put the collar around her neck, she thought nothing of it. She had thought it was another toy like the ball or the stick.

As the sun had set, she found herself bundled into a cage -- its bottom was lined with newspapers and a strange-smelling blanket. Before she could even utter a yelp of protest, she had found herself in their car. A long sickening ride later, she had found herself at her new home.

Thoughts of that place stirred her further. Rage goaded her, drove her to begin digging. Dirt and snow filled her mouth, choking her howls. The earth clung to her greedily, sucked at her. She was so tired, she just wanted to lie there and let go -- but she couldn't. They had taken so much from her. In the end, they had taken everything.

Despite her initial fears, she had adapted to her new life quickly. The Tall Ones fit into roles just like her own kind did. The male was called "Dad" or sometimes "Danny", a female was called "Ma" or "Shirl" and their child, "Billy". Everything had many names, even her, sometimes she was "Puppy" or "Doggie" but mostly she was "Patches". It had felt good to have a name, felt good to belong.

For a time, she knew nothing but joy. There were always treats and pettings to be had. She would lie on Dad's feet as he started mesmerized into his box of colored lights. Sometimes she would play in the yard, running from one end of the fenced perimeter to the other and chasing the occasional squirrel. She had accompanied Mom on her walks, enjoying the feel of the wind and the thick soup of odors it brought to her nose. She would play with the boy until they were both exhausted and then at night she would sleep under his bed.

But sometimes there had been pain. When she had messed on the floor, or chewed on the carpet, the male or the female would rain blows down upon her.

"No! Bad! Bad! Bad! Bad dog!" they would cry.

As the summers passed, she got better and better at following their strange rituals but some of the rituals still didn't make sense. Sometimes they had fed her from the table, other times they had swatted at her for begging. Sometimes they allowed her lie on the soft couch, other times they had yelled when they found her resting there. Sometimes Mom hit Dad, sometimes Dad hit Mom, and they both hit Billy.

It was for Billy that she'd damned herself. Dad had been in the throws of his strange madness; the madness that always seemed to be brought on by the strange smelling water he drank. The boy had tried to run when Dad turned on him. He'd almost made it too. He was young and strong, just on the cusp of his adolescence, but he'd stumbled and fallen. His father was on him, lifting him up by the throat, shaking him like prey.

The boy had been like a brother to her. He had always fed and watered her. Patches had reacted the only way she knew how -- she had growled a challenge. She had bared her teeth and readied herself. A warning nip, she had been sure that was all she would need.

The man had dropped Billy and rounded on her with a kick. The kick had caught her in the belly, knocking the breath from her. She had wobbled on her legs trying to recapture the boldness she'd felt just moments ago. He had came at her with his fists, dazzling her with the ferocity of his blows. For the first time in her life, Patches had thought that she might die.

"Fucking dog! Growl at me you cocksucker?"

"Dad! Leave her alone Dad!"

The darkness that had claimed her then was much like the darkness she found herself in now. Except that then she'd woken to find herself in the basement, locked into the barred cage they'd brought her here in. Through a fog of pain she had waited.

Time had crawled past. The cage had soon become too small for her -- she couldn't stand or turn around, she could only lie there and wait. There had been a window in the basement. She had watched the grass flutter in the breeze and had wondered when they would come for her.

Then the final day had come. Pressure had begun to build in her bladder. She knew better than to lose control in the house. She had to get outside. She had to let them know. There was a special whine she had used for just this occasion.

The whine had brought Dad storming down the steps. He had bellowed and kicked the side of the crate again and again, terrifying her.

"Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! Do you hear me? Shut up!"

When he had exhausted himself, he had stumbled back up the stairs and slammed the basement door shut.

A day had passed. Patches had soiled herself three times before Billy and Mom came down to get her. They had cleaned her, cooed softly to her and fed her some of their food. When they took her outside, Billy had wept to see her limp.

After a few hours of bliss, they had brought her back down to the basement and put her back into her cage. Thankfully, they had cleaned it first.

That became the pattern of her life. All day and all night locked into that tiny box. A few hours of freedom in the afternoon was all she had left. Every night, it seemed the shouting and thudding upstairs became louder.

If she made even the slightest noise, Dad would come down to shout and beat her. She could sense that he was trying to break something within her; the part of himself that was already broken.

Time had passed so slowly in the cage, it was maddening. Occasionally, she had gnawed at the edges of her prison, hoping to free herself. She had gnawed at the cold, reflective lattice until her mouth tasted of blood but the door never loosened and the walls never gave away. On warm days, Billy would take her for short walks, sometimes she would hope that they weren't coming back -- that they would just keep walking and walking forever.

As the days wore into weeks, she had found her periods of freedom growing shorter. Billy had been there less and less and Mom had begun to carry the smell of the strange water on her was well. The boy had become a man, and had begun to walk and sound like his father. A swagger had appeared in his step that somehow made Patches nervous.

With her time in the yard growing less and less, she had become more frantic to enjoy it. She would race wildly in circles; she would entice Mom or Billy to play with her. They rarely did.

As the fall had become the winter, they had begun to forget to let her out. As hours had become days, she had began soiling her cage and herself again. When Mom had found her in this state she would groan and called her a "Bad dog." Which didn't seem fair.

When Billy had found her he would whisper "Damnit Patches" and call for Mom. If Dad found her, he would yell and let her out just so he could shove her nose in the mess she'd made.

Finally, she had began to cower at the sound of someone treading down the basement steps. She had cowered and shook when a hand was raised to her. When Dad saw her do this, he had made a noise that was not quite a bark and not quite a growl.

"Not feelin' so tough now, are you?"

With those words, Patches had found her exile lifted, to a point. She was only confined to the accursed cage at night but she had remained in the basement. Billy's visits had dwindled further and further. Sometimes they had forgotten to feed her, sometimes they didn't change her water. When she had cried or barked out of need or loneliness, they had banged on the floor and shouted at her.

The first few inches of the grave had already begun to ice over. It cracked in protest as her nose broke the surface of the grave. A savage wind blew litter and shell casings back and forth. She saw the moon through a veil of dirt and struggled to reach it.

The miserable routine her life had settled into ended when Patches found herself unable to hold down food. At first her vomitings had been rewarded with beatings and scoldings. Even Billy was striking her now, "Stupid dog! What the fuck is wrong with you?" His condemnation had made her want to die.

The more she had tried to eat, the sicker she became. Patches had heard them shouting above her.

" . . . damn dog is sick."

"Maybe if you stopped hitting it."

" . . . please no fighting just once . . . "

"Don't fuckin' talk to me that way! Besides, maybe if you took it out for a walk, got it some fresh air."

" . . . that would be nice. We could all take it out for a walk together . . . "

"Dad, if I weren't so busy with -- "

"Only thing you're busy with is playing with your dick in your room!"

" . . . there was blood in her vomit this time. She's wasting away . . . "

"Fuck you!"

"What did you say to me? You little shit!"

" . . . we have to do something . . . "

That night Billy had come down into the basement. Patches had wagged her tail when he collared and leashed her. There was something about his scent and posture that felt wrong to her, but still she had hoped against hope that this walk would be the one that never ended.

She had lead him up the basement stairs, past Mom sleeping on the couch and out the door only to find Dad waiting there for her. He had reeked of his foul water and he had carried a long dark stick in his hands. She had never seen anything like it before. Billy had led her into the thin forest behind their home; Dad had fallen into line behind them. They had spoken uneasily.

"Do we have to do this?"

"You gonna be a pussy all you life?"

"Can't we just take her to the vet?"

"You got two grand to waste, you fuckin' dumbass? It's just a fuckin' dog for Christ sa kes."

The recent snowfall had made the woods had take on an almost mystical aspect, she had shivered with delight at the way the snow felt under her feet. The moon had seemed to follow them, its light filtering through the trees. The cold had blunted the scents in the air but what she could smell was intriguing enough. There had been something strange in the air that night, the sickly-sweet odor of meat gone to rot. It had been strong and thick; the wind had carried it over her in waves. Something was coming, she had realized, something different and strange. She had been tempted to loose a howl of greetin g but then had thought better of it.

When they had arrived some distance from the house they had stopped. Her senses were driving her mad. Couldn't they tell? Couldn't they taste it in the air?

"You gonna do it or do I have to?"

"I can't."

"Tits on a bull that's all you are boy."

With a long, shuddering sigh, Billy had unhooked the leash and stepped back behind his father. She had wagged her tail uncertainly. Swaying slightly, Dad had hefted the stra nge stick, propping the thicker end against his shoulder, and pointing the other, smaller end at her. She had cocked her head with curiosity.

There had been a sound like a crack of thunder. Pain had lanced though her side, knocking her off her feet. Hot warmth had spread across her fur. She had looked desperately to Billy but he only watched from his father's shadow as she had struggled to move, floundering painfully in the snow.

"Jesus Dad she's still moving!"

"Shut the fuck up will you? I'm trying to aim!"

Through her torment, she had realized that they were doing this to her somehow. Her first thought had been, What did I do? What have I done wrong?

Another flash of lightning, another bolt of pain, this time right below her throat. Blood had gurgled up into her mouth, choking her. Coldness had swept up over her, robbing her of everything but a sudden blossoming rage.

How dare they? How dare they when she'd given so much? She had gnashed her teeth, dark spittle spraying onto the snow. The moon had loomed over her, a silent witness. She had made a vow to it, a vow and a curse.

"There, that's done it. Go back to the garage, get a shovel."

"But she's not -- "

"She will be. Now get a fucking shovel before I put you in the Goddamn grave with her."

The rage had remained even after she died, even after they had buried her in a hastily dug grave. It had gnawed at her. Somehow, it had spurred her lifeless limbs to action.

With a grunt, she tore herself from the grave, her grimy, bloody tongue lolled from her gaping jaws. An army of foul-smelling shapes surrounded her, passed by her on every side. They groaned as they hobbled, moving with one mind, with one purpose towards unsuspecting civilization. A curious sense of belonging washed over her, she knew she was welcome in their ranks. She knew that there would be no beatings or cages for her now. And meat, there would always be warm, pulsing meat to sate the hunger that clouded her thoughts. Cities of meat. A world of meat. All she had to do was join the shambling mass.

But not yet.

Entrails dangling beneath her, the dog named Patches began to make her way home. The moon seemed to shimmer with approval.

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