Storytime: Other Dogs.

January 6th, 2016

Louise was on her third cigarette of the morning (the first two hadn’t counted) when she realized that the dog hadn’t stopped barking.
This was unusual. Dog (they had let Matthew name the animal, which really should’ve been something that happened next year, or the year after that, or at least once he knew more than sixteen words) had a very rigid and specific routine to his days: wake up, eat, bark for ten minutes at the raccoon family living in the tree in the backyard, wander off and piss somewhere, bark for six minutes, then break for a nap until Louise needed whatever he was sleeping on. He was a floppy sort of creature, but his scheduling was rock-rigid.
She moseyed to the back window – moseying ran on her mother’s side, and she liked to keep her hand in – and peered out.
There was Dog, head down, ass-up, tail whirling in friend-or-fight mode, ears wobbling with the force of each yelp, muzzle furling and unfurling like a ship’s sails in a gale. His face looked like the leftovers from a liposuction, but they’d been assured he’d grow into it.
And there, opposite Dog on the other side of the clothesline, head cocked in the classic pose of vertebrate confusion, stood a thirty-foot-long, two-ton Allosaurus. It looked as confused by him as the crows usually did, only scalier, toothier, and slightly bigger.

The first thing Louise did was go back to her purse and have a fourth smoke. Dog clearly wasn’t in any trouble, and if he was she didn’t think there was much she could do about it. In the meantime, she needed to think. There was obviously some reasonable course of action she could take in these circumstances.
After twelve minutes and four more cigarettes she hadn’t thought of it and kicked the back door open. Both animals flinched, and Dog’s tail started wagging in that sheepish way that sheep could not do yet dogs could.
“In,” she commanded, with a hard jerk of her head. And she was obeyed, although the Allosaurus could only fit its skull and neck into the kitchen. It looked curiously at everything, bobbing its head like a robin and flinching whenever one of the little hornlets on its brows bumped the ceiling. Louise lit her ninth cigarette and watched its nostrils twitch, then it sneezed.
It really was a pretty animal, she thought as she retrieved, wiped off, and relit number nine. Its skin was a hazy brindling of greens and greys, its snout smeared into a softer blur that made her think of (horribly discoloured) coffee and cream mixing.
“I will call you Lout,” she told it. Lout sneezed again, and this time Louise had to change her shirt.
When she came back, Lout wasn’t there and Dog wasn’t there and Dog was barking again. Further investigation found them both on the front lawn. Lout was sniffing the truck and giving her anxious looks.
Louise looked for number ten, realized she was out, and successfully throttled the urge to sigh. Her mother had sighed. Her grandmother had sighed. Sighing wasn’t going any farther in this family, she’d decided.
“Time for a trip then,” she said.
At that moment, Matthew woke up and began to cry.
Louise sighed.

The trip to the store took longer than usual, as expected. Then it took longer than usual longer than usual, which was a bit annoying. Then it got longer still and time began to lose all meaning.
Louise blamed Lout, who was fascinated with garbage cans. Their sight transfixed it, the smell intrigued it, and their texture seemed to hypnotize it. Honking the truck’s horn ceased to deter it after the fifth can, and Louise began to resort to walking up to the Allosaurus and physically whacking it on the side to get its attention. By the end of their street this, too had lost all power, and she gave up and just drove.
“This one’s as bad as you,” she told Matthew. He chuckled.
She sighed again, turned back to the road, and found that it wasn’t there anymore. She was driving along a flat floodplain without a mailbox, garbage can, or road in sight, ferns flying up from under her axles, and a good deal of gratitude for Michael having taken the car into town that particular day rather than the pickup truck.

The gratitude ran out in a mudhole four miles of careful, increasingly aimless driving on. Louise sat on a rock watching the pickup settle by millimeters into a newfound (and surprisingly well-hidden) puddle of mud and lit cigarette after cigarette after cigarette inside her head. Outside her head, she was attaching Matthew’s car seat to her back.
“Doug,” he said from behind her ear.
“Dog,” she told him.
“Doooouggg,” he insisted, the razor edge of the whine filling his little lungs.
“Dog,” she commanded. Then she remembered she’d left Dog back at the house and turned around.
It was Lout, who seemed much larger out here in the middle of the nowhere that had eaten their neighborhood and at least five miles of highway. Its green-grey semistripes fit nicely into the horizon, its back standing brightly against the blue sky and its hazy, lazy white clouds.
It snorfed at her. She glared at it.
“This is your fault, isn’t it.”
Lout made plumbing noises deep inside its chest, then sneezed yet again and chuffed to itself. On an impulse, Louise reached out and patted its nose. It was warm, dry, pebbly. The sort of texture you hoped to find on an elephant, but harder and less wrinkled.
“There, there. Mean ol’ smokes can’t hurt you no more. Because you’ve gone and stranded me while I was trying to get them. Asshole.”
Lout hunkered in front of her, head dipped in deference. Then it spun up and around, sniffed the air, and began to wander off towards the slowly-dipping sun.
Louise felt the metal and plastic of the car seat already beginning to edge its way into her more tender vertebrae, resisted the urge to sigh again, again, and set her jaw in rhythm with her footsteps. Leg length be damned, she wasn’t about to be out-moseyed.

The air was softer than it should’ve been. Warmer, stuffier. Packed with humidity. And bugs. Louise knew bugs, but these were positively homicidal, and built like trucks. Matthew complained until she pulled his hoodie over his eyes, then he complained about the dark. Then he realized that darkness meant he was asleep, and became so. She really hoped he didn’t catch on to that trick for a while yet.
Lout was still in front of her, just barely. Its strides may have exceeded hers several times over, but every few dozen of them it would smell something, or see something, or hear something, or just feel itchy, and would stop to investigate the universe at large. It would blink very slowly at those times, as if worried it’d miss something.
Well, enough was enough. It was getting late, she’d been moseying for miles, and the car seat had already carved through four vertebrae and was gathering itself for an assault on her spinal cord. She broke into a jog, came up to Lout’s hip, whacked it until it lowered its head to her, then whacked that too.
“SIT,” she sat, patting the ground.
Lout rumbled in ambiguous confusion. She stamped on its toe and it nearly fell over, then crouched, wurbling.
“Good doug,” she said, swinging a leg over its back. “Dog. Whatever.” Lout’s spine was bony and uncomfortable, but manageable, although she suspected her opinion would’ve been radically different if she’d been a guy.
They moved faster now – a kick in the ribs providing protest and speed whenever a different piece of the world caught Lout’s eye – but the sun was already sliding into a set, and she knew three things all at once: that Michael would get home before they would; that they might not get home at all; and that she seriously doubted she would be getting another cigarette any time soon.
“Shit,” she said.
“Siht,” agreed Matthew.
“And NOW you start listening to me.”
“Yes. You are, a little.” Her fingers twitched, her fingers drummed, and it took her a moment to realize that the lurch in her stomach was a lurch period: Lout had stopped.

They were standing on a slight ridge, a bump in the landscape’s long, dry carpeting, surrounded by encouragingly green plants. Below them, the confused and bumbled remains of something between a dozen creeks or one river sluggishly argued over who had whose banks. The water was soft, brown, and slurping, moving side-to-side as much as forward, which was to say, not at all. A floodpond.
Lout sniffed the air one more time, then began to walk into it.

By the time Louise could’ve protested, the Allosaurus was up to its knees and still striding along in a relaxed way, so she stopped worrying. By the time the water – which could just as easily have been described as clay – was slapping at her heels, Lout was snorkelling along with its nose sticking out at full speed, still entirely unconcerned about being mired in a sinkhole that by all rights should be strangling it by now. The only moment she felt nervous was when the nose vanished, but she followed almost immediately, so it wasn’t for long.

The clay was soft and cool and damp. It filled them all up. She could hear Matthew gurgling and babbling happily, then he began to snore.
She could understand the urge; this was the calmest she’d felt all day. Like a whole-body hug with a sunshade. Lout was underneath her, breathing deeply and slowly, at rest. They weren’t moving now, they were resting. The world was over top of them and it was doing the moving now, slipping and packing under the restless feet of animals, claws and toes and hooves. She knew from the weight they must be dinosaurs too, and she tried to look down at Lout, but found herself unsuccessful. Her head was being held in place, gently but firmly, by an entire continent.
Lout stirred a little, but quietly, easily, nothing of its old twitchiness and compulsive curiosity to its movements.
And then, slowly, steadily, as gentle as her trying to get out of Matthew’s room come bedtime, they tilted up. And up. And up and up and up and up and up and

Sod busted around Louise’s head, and somewhere between one blink and the last she was standing in a chilly woodland, still decorated with scraps of leftover winter snow. She coughed, and the air that sat in her lungs tasted fiercer and thinner, sharp and with just a hint of automotive.
Wherever they’d been, there they weren’t.
She turned her head to check on Matthew and nearly stumbled; her foot was caught in a pit. Tug, tug, tug, yank, and out it came, dirt clods trailing, along with a few specks and cracks of rock and fragments of something else, dark and glossy and smooth.
It took her a little while to dig up any other traces, but when they came, they were hard to mistake. She recognized those stubby little hornlets, even polished down to the bone by one hundred and forty million years and more.
Louise rested there on her haunches, listening to Matthew snoring, and for the first time in what felt like forever, she really, really, really wanted a cigarette.
Then she said “SHIT” as loud as she could and thumped the skull with her palm.
For a second it hurt like bejeezus, then Lout was there, softer and warmer against her skin, and blinking at her in its confused way.
“Siht?” asked Matthew.
“Shit,” she corrected him. “And YOU. You aren’t going anywhere, you listening? Don’t think you can do that and then go home like nothing’s happened. You just cost me my truck, my afternoon, and six hours without a nicotine twinge. You’re not sitting there in the dirt, buddy. You don’t get to rest there and watch me pretend this was a one-time-thing. You’re not getting taken to a museum for a nap. You’re taking ME home. And you’re doing it now.”
Lout twisted itself around and shook the dirt off its snout. Its skin was there again, the greens and the greys, clashing a little against the darker shades of the forest. It looked at her in confusion. Big eyes. Big brown, stupid eyes. Like a puppy.
She smacked it.

Michael came home late, tired, and hungry. He hadn’t had a good day, and that wasn’t very unusual.
But he had an evening that made up for that.

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