King – Maggie Siebert
July 25, 2020
The dog had been acting sick all morning. He woke up to her whining and scooting her ass around the floor, leaving big streaks of diarrhea across the carpet. The smell jostled him out of a dream about having to go back and Billy Madison his way through school again in order to obtain his college degree because technically he never completed a few electives and shouldn’t have even had a high school diploma. He gagged so hard a thick gob of sour mucus tumbled out of his mouth and plopped against his pillow. He was an hour and a half late for work cleaning it all up, and vowed to take the dog to the vet the second his shift ended.
He worked hard all day to make up for being late, but he was already on thin ice with his supervisor and couldn’t help but feel that he was on his way to getting fired. At the end of his lunch break, he was asked to clean the men’s bathroom, an activity always reserved for the nighttime cleaning crew. He did it, even though he was technically handling biohazardous material and that definitely was not in his job description.
“They’re making you clean the stalls?” one of his coworkers asked, draining himself at a urinal.
“They must be pissed,” his coworker said, zipping himself up and walking out of the bathroom without washing his hands, a notable wet spot on the crotch of his khakis. The guy smelled like college football practice.
He scrubbed more coagulated scum off the rim of the bowl. Little grey pieces stuck to the bristles of the toilet brush. There was not enough toilet cleaner, so he sprayed Windex and wiped the seat with a paper towel.
By the time his shift ended it was dark. He counted down the register and was already on his way out the back door with a cigarette in his mouth when his supervisor approached him.
“Coming in on time tomorrow, right.” his supervisor said without asking.
“Yeah. I’m really sorry, it won’t happen again.”
His supervisor grunted.
“On time tomorrow.”
“Yeah, on time.”
When he escaped to his car he sat in silence for a moment, then punched the steering wheel as hard as he could four times. He grasped his hair with both hands and squeezed, making a sound like “rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” while rocking back and forth. He stopped and sat in silence before starting the car and driving home. He left the radio off.
When he got home he knew something had gone bad. The feeling was all wrong. He spent a lot of time thinking about and trying to perfect the feeling in his apartment, and he could definitely sense that the feeling was compromised.
He called the dog’s name and didn’t hear anything. He flicked the overhead light switch but the bulb didn’t sputter to life like usual. He called her name again, a little less sure. He thought about turning around, getting back in his car and calling someone but told himself he was being ridiculous. He had talked about this with his psychiatrist, about escalating before it was really necessary. He shook his head, made a “brrr” sound and stepped further inside.
There was no shit on the floor, at least in the living room or kitchen. As he approached the hallway leading to his bedroom, though, he noticed what looked like a thick layer of dust coating the carpet, paneling and even the doorknobs. He knelt down and wiped his finger across the floor, gathering some of it. It felt like bread mold, and left an oily residue.
Covering his nose and mouth with his shirt collar, he grasped the handle of his bedroom door. Before turning it, he stopped and called out his dog’s name again. In response he could faintly hear what sounded like several men softly moaning, close to the ground, perhaps right by his feet. This was alarming, and he again mulled sprinting out the front door and phoning his friend with a gun, or perhaps the police, or the military. But his fear for his dog, who he loved very much, overwhelmed him, and so he twisted the knob and pushed the door open.
The air in the bedroom swirled with the same dust in the hallway. Here, though, it was thicker, resembling pollen or dandelion seeds. On the floor lay a shuddering, wet, copper-smelling mass that he soon understood to be his dog.
What was less clear is where the other dogs came from. It was as if six or seven dogs were forced together. A giant, central mound of flesh was specked with matted fur of several different colors and lengths. From this sprouted at least two dozen legs, many broken and bent in opposing directions. Tails wrapped around each other in a gnarled ball. The heads, some aged beyond belief, each let out the same human-sounding moan he heard in the hallway. His dog’s head lay at the front of the mound, or whatever direction was facing him. It wheezed and took a deep breath before unleashing a sound that made him wet himself.
He watched its belly (bellies?) rise and fall in ragged fits and starts. Frozen in the bedroom doorway, he recalled memories with the dog that was now several dogs. Images of picking her up from the pound after his landlady finally approved the request and milked another $150 out of him for a pet deposit; of getting baked and throwing a wet tennis ball down the hallway for her to fetch over and over again while marathoning Seinfeld; of the time she got out while he was on vacation and his friend Bryan was supposed to be feeding her and he found her on the porch waiting for him when he got back; of her saddened face when he left this morning.
Not knowing what else to do, he called her name. The other dog heads snarled and howled at him but her ears perked up. She opened her mouth and hacked, and a mist of spores wafted toward him. He watched a clump of matted tails thump against the floor. Looking in her eyes, he thought of his job and how much he hated it. He thought of how every day he woke up and the only thing he gave a shit about was his dog and sometimes Bryan, even though pretty much all they did was take turns playing his PS4 because he only had one controller. He thought about having to call 911 and see them take his dog away and how she was only six which is not that old in dog years.
He thought about sleeping alone and how quiet it would be.
He closed his eyes and breathed in deep. And not too long after, he and his dog were closer than ever.