You Can’t Go Out For A Cigarette In Space

You Can’t Go Out For A Cigarette In Space

By Justin H.K.

I. Awake

The man woke up to a gentle vibration from below, and a strange hissing from above. The sterile looking, clear top to his medical sarcophagus broke into two as he was slowly lifted from below. A heady mix of invigorating scents were pumped into the room from unseen vents. The man rubbed his eyes and pushed himself upwards with the palms of his hands. He felt surprisingly strong. He imagined he was waking from quite a long sleep, but he wasn’t sure. On a table he found a pair of red shoes, clean white undergarments, a blue jumpsuit, an ID lanyard for Eric Matthews, and an espresso machine spilling the final drops into a small white coffee cup. Eric took a long drink from the cup, stretched, and got dressed. The doors opened before him with a now familiar hissing and Eric left the room, rubbing his eyes once again with his free hand. 

Eric remembered why he was here for the most part, but he didn’t remember much of how he had gotten here. He wasn’t surprised, he worked for a space pioneering company and this was a perfectly reasonable place for him to be, but he couldn’t recall the exact circumstances that had led him to standing on this very spaceship right now. 

Eric headed up to the bridge, stopping in a small kitchen on the way for another cup of coffee, and making a brief search for his #1 Dad mug ( but figuring he hadn’t been allowed to bring it after seeing a shelf full of identical white mugs). He was greeted by a startlingly warm computer voice that reminded him vaguely of the third grade science teacher that he had harbored a small crush on. There were gigantic electronic displays lining the middle third of the half-moon shaped room. Most simulated a view outside the ship, which was found to bring great peace to pilots of the pioneer spacecraft, but did very little in aiding practical navigation. Instead, most critical information was found nearer the center of the room where a very large, plain flat screen monitor was crowded by instrument panels and auxiliary consoles. Eric wandered toward the main console and finding no suitable place to put his coffee cup, set it on an auxiliary console he remembered to be less than critical. 

He found the spaceship was headed to an uninhabited planet in the Omicron Cluster. He searched for records of other ships headed to the same planet, as it was typical for the company to send a dozen or so colony ships at a time, but was unable to find anything. This made Eric incredibly anxious, but he couldn’t quite place what brought him this dread. He felt sick. Eric rushed to the nearest lavatory and nearly smashed his head in an urgent dive to expel his vomit into the waiting toilet. 

II. Empty

Eric was slowly beginning to remember more. For example, Eric now remembered how easy it was to succumb to awakening indigestion. It was always recommended employees eat a plain ration within thirty minutes of waking for a shift. Instead, Eric had numerous cups of espresso. He hoped his overconsumption of caffeine was also the source of the previous unexplained dread. Eric got up, and drank water from the sink. He knew Edie would be giving him hell if he was home. He opened the cupboard below the sink and grabbed a new toothbrush. 

As he cleansed his mouth of coffee breath and vomit he noticed there was already a toothbrush in the holder on the sink. Odd. He hadn’t found any records from the last shift in the briefing on the main console, so he supposed it wasn’t surprising that they weren’t great cleaners either. He tossed the old toothbrush, and then the one he just used because, well, vomit. He was finally starting to feel hungry, but more than anything, he really wanted a cigarette. He tried to quit a few times, but he still had a hidden stash he’d go out and smoke those nights he couldn’t sleep. He’d just go out and chain smoke while staring at the stars, never ending up sleeping. Eric went into the kitchen and prepared two plain rations.

III. Duties

After eating, Eric started to work on the daily checklist he found on the main console. He grabbed the janitorial cart from the main supply closet and began to clean any dirty spots he saw (and there were a frustrating amount, the last shift was a slob) while doing a survey of the BOA (Bridge Operating Area). He was disappointed, but not surprised, to find out all of the auxiliary wings were closed off at his clearance level. He honestly didn’t remember his title, but his quickly remembered acquisition of the janitorial cart led him to believe he wasn’t near the top of the totem pole. The work was satisfying, but menial, and Eric found some old Motown records in the digital archive to play on the PA system. Eric hummed along, occasionally singing an off-key note or two when he remembered the words. Every once in a while, as he swept, he would spin elegantly with the broom, imagining himself dancing with Edie in the kitchen. Unfortunately, in no time at all, the BOA was spotless and Eric headed to the main recreation area, sighing melodramatically as he flopped onto a stiff blue couch. 

IV. Boredom

Eric spent a few hours on the couch flipping through the large archive of television shows. He found a couple of decent cooking shows, but the verve in them dissipated after a quick look inside the pantry of the ship kitchen. After that he watched a bit of some old hockey and boxing matches, but found himself unable to commit to anything for longer than fifteen minutes or so. Deciding he’d probably been sitting around too long anyways, Eric put some old rock music onto the PA and started to jog around the BOA, occasionally shadow boxing to the more motivational choruses, until he exhausted himself. He was able to bypass the screen in the shower so he could watch certain “documentary films.” He found one with a brunette that reminded him of Edie, and lonely and bored, had a private moment with himself in the shower before rinsing off the sweat, the sleep, and the sadness. 

Eric was in a paradoxical state of exhaustion and anxiety that drove him to spend an hour in his bed, determined to sleep, before rising and making his way to the kitchen, naked save a blanket. He knew he wouldn’t be able to find anything too potent, but located some light beer in the reserve pantry and began to drink with determination. After chugging a few over the kitchen sink, he threw some beers into the refrigerator and bundled the rest with him in his blanket. He made his way to the bridge, and sat down on a stiff swivel chair, tossing his feet with abandon onto the main console. Unsure what else to do, he drank, and stared at the simulated stars.

V. Dreaming/Sleepless

There was a knock at the door. The doors were automatic. Eric felt weightless. Eric drifted over to the door. He forgot his blanket. No one was at the door. The door stayed open as Eric walked away. Eric went down the hallway instinctively. The hallways twisted as Eric walked. Eric walked to the room where he woke up. He heard a familiar hissing sound and the top of the medical sarcophagus split in two. Someone pushed themselves upwards with the palms of their hands and waved. They stood up. They wore red shoes and a blue jumpsuit. The name tag was blank. They had a face, but Eric couldn’t see it.

“I feel overdressed,” said an atonal voice. It reverberated through the room. The ceilings were much higher than Eric remembered. The figure took off their face. It looked like Eric. It looked like Edie. It took off its shoes, and unzipped its jumpsuit while walking towards Eric. It took Eric’s hand, and he followed it, entranced, and aroused. The door to the auxiliary wing opened. Inside there was a bright light. Eric followed it into the light, where they embraced. What happened was warm, and thoughtless. It slipped from his memory before it had even happened. 

He lay naked next to himself. He closed his eyes.

“Here, I know you’ve got a hidden pack.” Said Edie, leaning over to Eric and kissing him softly. She handed him a pack of cigarettes. Eric began to put on the red pair of shoes.

“Where are you going?” It said in Eric’s voice.

“To smoke.” Asserted Eric.

“You can’t go out for a cigarette in space.” it sneered atonally.

Eric woke up sweaty, and sticky from the night before. What a strange dream, he thought. Eric began to lift himself from the chair to find a pack of cigarettes in his left hand.

VI. Auxilary

Eric showered quickly, staring at the pack of cigarettes on the sink as he washed himself off. He dried quickly and got dressed while still slightly damp. He broke off the leg of the nightstand by his bed and brought it with him as he walked carefully over to the room where he woke. As he approached he could see a bright light shining from the open door of the auxiliary wing . Eric slowly walked through the door, the leg of the nightstand held high. Eric stood near the entrance to the auxiliary section for a moment, afraid to move on while blinded by the intense lighting. He brought up his other hand to shield his eyes, and slowly made out a wall full of sterile medical ephemera and large clear glass vats. On the other side of the room was a medical sarcophagus similar to the one he had woken from, a large computer console, and a separate console attached to a giant steel device which thrummed and poured out heat and foul odor. As Eric approached the consoles flickered on. Eric looked to the screen attached to the large device. It said “Shift End Clone Disposal Incinerator” followed by a user ID and password prompt. On the floor next to the console were a pair of red shoes and a discarded blue jumpsuit. Eric looked closer at the nametag on the jumpsuit. It said “Edie,”  but it was clear someone had used a marker to simply add some lines to the original name, “Eric.” Eric felt dread. He felt sick. He threw up unto the red shoes, and wiped his mouth off with his sleeve. He looked over to the main console. It said “Clone Programming Console” followed by a user ID and password prompt. On a sticky note next the main console was written 

“User ID: EverythingIsEric

Password: YoureAllAlone”

Eric tried to throw up again, but he was empty. 

“Alert! Critical Navigational Error.” said Edie from the bridge. 

Eric stared at the note for a while, especially conscious of his breathing. Sometimes it said something else. Sometimes it did not.

“Alert! Critical Navigational Error.”

Eric ran to the bridge. He could see, simulated among the stars, was movement. Jagged little things. Eric approached the main console. It had already found the solution, it just needed authorization. 

Eric walked back to the room with the bright lights. He opened the hatch to the incinerator and lit a cigarette. 

SCAM LIKELY

Audio version

SCAM LIKELY

A flash fiction thriller by Justin H.K.

August 1st, Morning

Arthur wakes to a digitized version of the melody to “Banana Phone”. He looks at the phone, and seeing it display “SCAM LIKELY” in large font, he silences the phone and flops back onto the bed, his shaggy dark brown hair twisting awkwardly toward his bedside table. Vbbt. Vbbt. Arthur groggily pushes himself back-up and checks the phone again. It seems the spam caller left a voicemail. He pushes play. A cold machine voice says:

“Hello, we are looking to reach Arthur William Cottfield. We would like to speak to you about refinancing your high interest loan. Please call 1-800-686-6462 during the hours of 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. Monday through Saturday.”

Arthur rubs his eyes and deletes the voicemail. His full name. These robocallers were getting desperate.

August 2nd, Morning

While Arthur is making his morning coffee and browsing the news a notification at the top of his phone displays a call. “SCAM LIKELY” it says in large font. Was this the same number as yesterday? Arthur swipes away the notification. A new notification pops up at the top of his phone. “New Voicemail”. Again? Arthur presses play on the voicemail. A cold machine voice says:

“Hello, we are looking to reach Arthur William Cottfield of 4015 West Maple Grove Road, Fairfield Ohio. We would like to speak to you about refinancing your high interest loan. Please call 1-800-686-6462 during the hours of 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. Monday through Saturday.”

Arthur takes a long sip from his coffee cup. He really needed to work on securing his private data, these robocallers were getting way too specific.

August 3rd, Morning.

Arthur dries off his hair, spits into the sink, and picks up his phone to check his notifications. “SCAM LIKELY”. Third day in a row. He would’ve picked up and given them a piece of his mind this time. He goes to his voicemails and presses play. A cold machine voice says:

“Hello, we are looking to reach Arthur William Cottfield of 4015 West Maple Grove Road, Fairfield Ohio. We would like to speak to you about refinancing your high interest loan. Please call 1-800-686-6462 during the hours of 8 A.M. to 6 P.M. Monday through Saturday. As we have been unable to successfully reach you we will try reaching you at your workplace Swanson Logistics with the phone number 1-800-457-2572.”

What the fuck. These places were getting desperate, and seriously creepy. Arthur blocked the number. Probably should have done that day one. This is what happens when people call in the morning. It’s called basic human decency. Oh well, he doubted they would actually call him at work.

August 3rd, Afternoon.

Arthur is digging into his pad-thai when the office assistant Mary knocks on his door.

“Come in!” Arthur says with a mouth full of food. Arthur chews quickly and wipes his mouth with a cheap brown napkin.

“So, not a big deal, but, uh, I got a really weird call asking for you. They just asked if they were speaking to Arthur William Cottfield. I said no, and they hung up, or it hung up I guess.”

“Especially persistent spam.” Arthur reassures Mary, putting his hand up defensively. “They’ve called me three days in a row.”

“Why didn’t you block the number?”

“It was early, don’t razz me. Seriously weird, knew my address and everything.”

“Damn. Robocalls are getting aggressive. See, this is why I only communicate by text now.”

August 3rd, Night.

As Arthur is enjoying his dinner and watching “The Office” his phone rings. Rings rings, like a regular phone. He had changed all of his ringtones to the melody from the song “Banana Phone”. He grabs his phone and sees in large font the words “SCAM LIKELY” followed by the number 1-800-686-6462. How the fuck? Arthur picks up the phone.

“Who the fuck is this, and how the hell did you get past the block?”

“Hello, we are looking to reach Arthur William Cottfield of 4015 West Maple Grove Road, Fairfield Ohio. We would like to speak to you about refinancing your high interest loan.”

“Well you fucking can’t, why do you keep calling me!”

“Is this Arthur William Cottfield? The Arthur William Cottfield who attended a Cleveland Indians game with his father who was sick with cancer of the liver? The Arthur William Cottfield who had impure thoughts about his cousin Jessica Sadie Cottfield while swimming in Lake Michigan in July? The Arthur William Cottfield who wrote mathematical formulas down on an index card and used it to defraud academic institutions while taking the ACT? The Arthur William Cottfield who attended a very important meeting on the train crossing at East Elm Road at midnight August 3rd 2013? Can you confirm you are that Arthur William Cottfield?”

Arthur stares angrily at his phone. His eyes began to water. “Who the fu… What do y..” Arthur takes a deep breath. “Yes I can confirm I am Arthur William Cottfield.”

“We would like to speak to you about refinancing your high interest loan.” Arthur looks at his phone again. The number has changed. 666 it says. The voice deepens to a cold, human monotone. “Hi Artie. It’s me. Bad news. I’ve decided to come calling a little early. Before you complain, it says I can do this, you really should read the fine print of anything you sign in blood. I’ve got great lawyers down here. Hugs and kisses Artie, see ya’ soon.”

Arthur tries to put down the phone, but he can not.

END

FIDO

FIDO: A short horror thriller by Justin H.K.

1.

“There’s a traffic jam on I-75 near 10 mile, so reroute if yo …”

Michael switched the radio over to a classic rock radio station and turned it down.

He turned to his son, Willy, smiled a bit to one side, and said nervously “So Willy, you excited?”

Willy, looking out the window mostly fusing different anime and comic book characters together to try and come up with the most powerful, took a moment to properly hear his father, and so hesitated before answering “Yeah.. well, yeah of course.?”

“Good, good just remember..”

“It’s a big responsibility, yeah I know.” Michael smiled at his son awkwardly, and patted his curly brown hair. He then turned the radio up, and sang quietly and a little off-key to himself the rest of the way to the shelter.

Willy wore red sneakers and his favorite busy comic book t-shirt, the same thing he wore when picking out the dog. Usually when he wore his favorite shirt, Willy felt powerful, but Willy didn’t like the way the shelter felt today. He couldn’t quite place it, but it wasn’t the same as when they had picked out a dog two weeks before. 

Michael opened the door for his son, and had to mutter a quiet “You’re welcome” before Willy replied

“Thanks dad… sorry” Michael smiled dispassionately and walked up to the service desk where a young woman with an asymmetrical black haircut greeted him cheerfully.

“We’re here to finalize an adoption for a dog, the name is Michael Gardener”

The young woman whose name-tag said “Staci” typed a few things into the computer behind the desk.

“Yep, you’re right here.” Staci said, seeming a bit strained. “So you guys didn’t do anything wrong or anything, but there’s been a few, umm, issues with the adoption. So, do you want the good news or the bad news first?” Staci smiled a bit to one side and chewed the inside of her lip.

“Good news!” Willy said before his father could interrupt. Michael simply nodded, then re-adjusted his black framed glasses. 

“We have a dog you can take home today…” Staci said, seeming unsure.

“I know, that is why we’re here” Michael interrupted, clearly annoyed.

“I now realize i shouldn’t have done that whole good news bad news thing, umm, well, ok so…”

“You keep saying bad news.”

“Right, ok, so the dog you were supposed to adopt died this morning.” Staci blurted, then continued breathlessly ” We tried to call but you didn’t pick up… anyway, err … but we’ve got a dog of similar size who was  supposed to get adopted like a week ago, and we can’t get a hold of those guys, so..” 

“This is a lot.” Michael said.

“I know”

“Can we meet him?” Willy interjected shyly.

“Of course!” Said Staci, sensing an out. Willy looked at Michael, and he again nodded and adjusted his glasses. 

Willy stared at the dog. It was of medium size, with short, deep black fur. He grabbed a treat from the dispenser on the wall and held it out in his hand. The dog got up slowly, and loped towards Willy. Willy heard a soft rattling and saw the dog had on a red collar with a bronze tag that simply said “FIDO”. Then Willy looked at the dog’s eyes. They looked almost human. Blue eyes, with flecks of soft hazel.

“Oh hey, seems like he likes you, and hey, blue eyes like you buddy huh? Seems like a good sign to me.” Michael said reassuringly. Willy simply nodded nervously. FIDO walked up to Willy, then sat down and looked up at him, cocking his head to the side. Willy hesitated, then stuck his hand out a little further. FIDO delicately took the treat from Willy’s hand, sat down, and began to chew thoughtfully. Willy had decided that he did not like this dog. He did not want this dog, but he did want a dog, and he thought it would make his father happy.

2.

Willy had sort of hoped whatever dog he got would sleep in the bed with him, but he wasn’t so sure about FIDO. He knew he was too old for stuffed animals, but it would be nice to have something warm and soft at night. He hadn’t felt particularly safe since his mom left. He didn’t like the idea of things just going away like that. FIDO was weird. Really weird, but Willy didn’t think he would leave. He seemed so lazy. Willy liked that about him, he supposed, but he could never tell when FIDO was there. He was so quiet. He never barked, and he would often simply turn around and find him there, acting as if he had been there for hours. Didn’t bark. Didn’t play fetch. Didn’t chase cats. Didn’t climb on the furniture. Didn’t seem like much of a dog. 

“Willy, you need to take the dog out before school.” Michael shouted from downstairs. Willy didn’t want to get out of bed. The door opened. 

“Get up before your dog shits everywhere. it’s like 7:30!” Said his teenage sister in ripped jeans and a baggy sweater after rudely barging in. 

“Dad said you’re not supposed to cuss at me!” Willy replied. Jess gave Willy the middle finger and began to walk back down the hall. She fell while turning and knocked a painting off of the wall. Willy held back a laugh as Jess regained her balance, and swore at FIDO, curled and still as stone on the floor. 

“Stupid dog” Jess mutterred as she headed down the stairs, leaving the painting on the floor. Willy scratched FIDO behind his ears and he leaned into his hand. He then rose and followed Willy down the stairs, tail wagging softly. 

“Take the dog outside and have him do his business before breakfast gets cold!” Michael shouted before Willy could fully make his way down the stairs. 

“Ok.” Willy muttered, just loud enough for his father to hear. He opened the front door and motioned for FIDO to go out. FIDO didn’t go until Willy stepped outside first. 

Willy sat down on the steps and motioned with his hand for FIDO to go into the yard and go to the bathroom. FIDO loped into the grass and just, stood there, tail wagging softly.

“Stupid dog, go shit.” Willy said, only slightly more confidently than he would talk to his father or sister. FIDO barked once and his tail stopped wagging, but he continued to just, stand there. Willy shrugged, and looked up into the clouds.

Willy wasn’t sure how long it was before his dad opened the door. He got lost like that sometimes.

“What’s taking you so long?” Michael said, placing his hand on Willy’s shoulder. Willy looked up at his father, a bit surprised. “And you were supposed to take him to the back yard.” Michael added.

“Sorry.” Willy said sheepishly.

And he’s supposed to have a leash, Willy…” Michael paused a moment, seeming to stop himself mid thought, reconsidered and said. “Did you clean up at least?”

“Yeah.” Willy lied, pointing vaguely to the metal outdoor garbage bin. He wasn’t even sure FIDO went. FIDO meandered up at this motion. 

“Good boy.” Michael said coldly. “Positive reinforcement is great for a dog, remember that.” he added. Michael and Willy went inside, FIDO following slowly behind. 

3.

As the bell rang Willy felt a sense of dread. Sure, he was excited to go home to his comic books and video games, but he didn’t really like having FIDO around yet. He wondered if all new dog owners felt this way about their pets. It always took Willy a while to get to like new people too, so it didn’t seem crazy to him. As Willy began to gather his belongings and place them into his blue Jan sport backpack a too broad hand swept across the small school desk, pencils and notebooks scattered on the parquet floor. 

The attached ugly face said “You should be more careful Gardener, I almost tripped”. 

“Fuck you Nick” Said Willy quietly, leaning down to grab his things.

“William Gardener you know full well swearing isn’t allowed in my classroom” Said the teacher from behind the desk, having clearly missed the majority of the interaction and still not looking up from grading his papers. Nick smiled broadly at Willy from the door, his buzzed toe-head hair almost shining in the cheap fluorescent lights. 

FIDO was in the car with Michael when he came to pick up Willy from school.

“Figured we could go to the dog park?” Michael said, smiling weakly at his son. 

Willy wanted to go home, but Willy was a child, and children seldom get what they want, so instead he said 

“Sure dad, sounds good” and smiled weakly back at his father.

They pulled up to a fairly large dog park with a scattering of trees, benches, and those weird angular wooden objects Willy had seen on those fancy dog competitions on tv. He thought about FIDO competing, but he didn’t think about it for very long. 

“Go on, play.” Michael said as he closed the gate behind him, seemingly to both Willy and the dog. Willy wasn’t really sure what that meant, but he shrugged and began wandering around the dog park. FIDO followed, then began to sniff around in a strangely organized manner.

“Stupid dog.” Willy muttered. FIDO stopped and barked. “Sorry.” Willy said a bit louder, and FIDO once again began to sniff around. 

Willy started back towards the entrance, assuming his father was still there. However, before he could make it very far he saw a familiar buzzcut, and similarly buzzsaw face that made his heart sink. However, with this uncomfortably large boy was a comically small dog, essentially dragging the terror he knew as Nick “The Dick” Spencer. He couldn’t help himself. He laughed, and loud. It was, he knew, a big mistake.

“Is that you Gardener, I’ll fucking..” Nick “The Dick” paused for an embarrassingly long moment before continuing “…bury you.” Nick started stomping towards Willy, but his dog went in another direction, his leash pulling taut,and began to yip excessively. FIDO began to bark, but unlike Willy had ever heard before, from a dog or…anything. It was an assault, both shrieking and bellowing. Other dogs began to bark. Nick’s tiny terror made an aggressive beeline towards the largest german shepard Willy had ever seen. It noticed the small dog and ran to meet it, violently toppling its petite blond owner and shortly dragging her. It was like a head on collision between a semi-truck and a VW beetle. The small dog flew back, then darted around, but despite its speed the large german shepherd caught the dog in its jaws and began to shake and bite down. The smaller dog was like a stuffed animal, broken at the seams, head pulled off and cast limply aside, but with all the wrong color stuffing coming out. 

“Willy!” Michael put a hand on his son’s shoulder. “ Oh my god… you didn’t… you didn’t see that did you… Willy?” Michael said as his grip on Willy’s shoulder slipped a little. Willy stared at his father blankly for a moment, then turned to FIDO, now lying down in the grass. FIDO got up and yawned, then looked up at Willy with his startlingly human eyes. “We’ve got to go Willy.” Michael said hurriedly. Willy followed him to the car, seemingly lost. FIDO followed behind, tail wagging softly.

4. 

Jess knocked on Willy’s door. He was pretending to, wanted to, read a comic book. Superheroes usually made him feel good, powerful, in control, but he couldn’t focus on fiction when the real was , just so much. 

He sighed, a sigh far too old for him and said. “Yeah.”

Jess came in and said. “Dad wants you to take the dog out.” Jess stopped and got a good look at Willy. He looked limp, slumped, flat. She bunched up the left side of her face, rubbed her temple with her thumb and continued. “Dude, you ok?”

“No.”

“You want to uh, say more than that. I mean dad said something happened at the park, but he didn’t say much.” Then to herself more than to Willy she muttered. “Never seems to, I guess.”

“The dog is…” Willy looked out the door seeing FIDO sitting patiently, head slightly cocked. Willy continued almost out of breath. “Close the door!”

“Dad’s downstairs, he can’t actually hear everything yo…”

“No, the dog!” Willy yelped, rushing to the door, then closing it gently so as not to hit FIDO. He moved to the bed and brushed aside his comic book, sitting next to Jess on his tidily made bed. He then, almost whimpering, said. “The dog is evil!”

“Ok, so, not ok.”

“At the park, FIDO barked really weird, and he made the dogs go crazy. And… and then, Nick “The Dick’s” stupid dog got decrapulatated”

“De-what?” Jess asked, confused.

“It got it’s fucking head bitten off by a monster dog!” Willy shouted, quietly. ‘

“Oh shit!” Jess said, still a little incredulous. 

“And FIDO made it do it!”

“Look…I mean… what the fuck… but … Willy, the dog didn’t do it.” Jess grabbed Willy by the shoulder and tried to smile, then brought him in for an awkward hug. She got up and pushed back her hair, pretending not to wipe away a tear. Then Jess said softly. “I love you, Dad loves you. Even if he doesn’t say it enough. I’ll…” Jess re-situated herself onto the other foot and continued “I’ll take the stupid dog out.”

Jess left and closed the door behind her. Willy tried to cry as well, but found himself too terrified. He locked the door. 

5.

Michael woke Willy up the next morning, wearing a tired smile and a smart gray sweater as he gently shook him awake. “Hey bud, why don’t you and me, uh, take a hike.” Michael laughed to himself a bit at the turn of phrase. “Just you and me.”

“I gotta’ go to school dad.” Willy said, yawning and rubbing his eyes. 

“I know.” Michael replied, a little irritated. “But we could both use the break.” he added more genuinely. 

“Ok.” Willy said, appeased. He yawned again. 

Willy got into the passenger seat and heard his father shout from the house.

“Whatever station you like buddy.” Willy smiled and fiddled with the dial. 

“Huge fire on the corner of Maple and Eaton … Spencer Apartments …tragedy… suspected that the majority of the tenants were killed.” said a crackling, tinny voice on the radio. The smile on Willy’s face turned into terror. He heard the back door open. He looked behind him to see a lump of coal with two shining blue jewels. A black hole with galaxy eyes. Demon. Hellhound. FIDO.

“I thought you said just you and me!” Willy cried. “Stupid dog.” he added. FIDO barked.

“Jess and I talked.” Michael said tonelessly shutting the back door and getting into the car. “Look, it will be good for all of us.” Michael looked at Willy and smiled a well practiced smile. Willy picked the classic rock station, to appease his father. Michael smiled at that, and patted him on the shoulder. It was a long car ride. 

They pulled into a hiking area after winding through a tight roadway shaded by trees, and dotted with plazas and port-a-potties. Willy could hear gunshots in the distance. It didn’t seem like a very good place to walk a dog.

“Hunting area.” Michael said, smiling weakly. “Don’t worry it’s across the river from us. Besides, it’s beautiful here. Your mom loved it here.” They started along a meandering path into the woods. “She loved you … loves you ok. She’s just, she’s always struggled, Cate, and she just couldn’t handle…” Michael sighed deeply. “It’s better off this way honestly. Just know, um, just know she loves you ok? And I love you Willy.”

“Ok.” Willy said, beginning to cry. Michael knelt and put his hands on Willy’s shoulder, then wiped away a tear. He then embraced his son in a long hug, dropping FIDO’s leash. 

A loud bang ripped passed them into a nearby tree.

“You’re on the wrong side of the river you stupid fucking assho…” Michael yelled, before looking worriedly at his son, searching desperately for any sign of injury.

“I’m ok.” Willy said, sensing his fathers fear. Then Willy’s heart sank. “Oh no … oh no ..” Willy looked around manically. “That’s stupid dog’s gonna …”

Willy ran towards the sound of the gunshot. Towards FIDO, his seeming hellhound protector. Michael began after them as well, but caught himself in the muck before a tree root, falling forward and out of his boot. A yelped “shit” was all Willy could hear as he ran.

Willy arrived panting to where he believed the gunshot to come from, and saw the deep black of FIDO’s fur in the distance. He cut through a low series of bushes and had to pull his feet quickly from the sinking mud. FIDO sat still as stone, staring at a portly man in an orange hunters vest and camo. He smelled like beer and cigarettes. FIDO barked, and the man began to shake, slowly turning his rifle. Twisting his arms to near inhuman positions, he then placed the rifle below his chin. FIDO barked again and a tremendous roar filled the woods as the hunter’s skull exploded into a red cloud of bone, brain, teeth, and tongue. FIDO padded lazily towards Willy, tail wagging softly. Willy screamed. He screamed, and he ran.

6(66).

Willy ran, and he ran.

He ran through the trees.

He ran through the mud (losing his shoes).

He ran through the fields.

He ran with inhuman drive.

He ran until his feet were bloodied. 

He ran farther than the woods made sense to carry him.

He ran until the sun fell before it’s time.

He ran until his feet were stone, and he fell forward into a great circle of grass.

The center of this circle, a great dark mass.

FIDO.

FIDO rose to his hind legs and began to stride towards Willy. He seemed to grow as he walked. To contort, and mutate. He became more human. More demon. More something. He arrived towering before Willy and barked a monstrous bark. A bark that assaulted. That shrieked and bellowed. When FIDO stopped, his jaws began to split and tear, blood and spit cascading down his deep black fur. But his eyes. Those human eyes stayed impossibly in place until the face of a plain, clean shaven man with sharp features, dark hair, and blue eyes could be seen. FIDO then carefully removed the red collar, the bronze nameplate danced strangely in the moonlight, the bold “FIDO” replaced by a familiar name. “WILLY”.  FIDO smiled wickedly and placed his tangled claw upon Willy’s shoulder.

“Woof, woof. I’m just a stupid dog, right Willy?” it said coldly, in a deep, monotone voice. From the trees around the great circle emerged a variety of dogs. They rose to their hind legs, mutating and contorting. Their jaws split to plain, human faces.

“Woof, woof.” they said in eerie unison, in flat, human voices. 

END