Stay Dead

One night a funny thing happened.

I was sleeping on the floor. Master and Twink were on the sofa. Something landed on my nose. I woke. I sneezed.

Powder was falling on my head. 

Then the sky fell in.

The ceiling above me crumbled like wet chalk. I was frightened and tried to bark, but only squeaked, like always. Twinkle stirred, but Master was awake in an instant, eyes popping. 

I shook the dust off my coat and looked up. There was a damp patch on the ceiling and a fresh hole. I was scared in case it was my fault. I didn’t want to be a bad girl.

Soon Twinkle was awake as well. Master was angry for a moment, but then he settled down again.

They stroked my head. “Good girl,” they said, and laughed. That was the last good time I remember.

Twinkle and Master had a fight after that. They had been bringing strangers into the house. I could smell tension. They started barking so I went under the table until it was over.  Twinkle showed his teeth and snarled, then the door slammed and he was gone.

He was so angry he didn’t say goodbye.

Was I a bad girl? I wonder where Twink is? Maybe he’ll come back one day? I hope so.

Master hasn’t been the same since.

***

There are two of us in this pack. Me, who is called Bleep, and Master. There was a cat too, called Dee-Dee, but she comes and goes.

She’s not my family, like Master. 

I am black and white. I like to run and dig in the garden. There are all kinds of secrets in it; little bones and things.

I don’t see well in my left eye. Sometimes I’m not sure what I’m looking at.

Master is kindly. He runs his hands through my fur when he is feeling calm. When he says: “good girl” and I feel a hot flush roll over me like a wave of warm water. I love him so much.

Master and I am the same. We are both quiet and like to sit still and watch people carefully. Master called me Bleep because of the noise I make. I can’t bark. I try, but all that ever comes out is a squeak from the back of my throat.

I don’t think Master minds. He doesn’t like it when people make noise. 

 ***

Today Master did something I don’t understand.

It was a sunny day, but he closed all the blinds and wandered around, pale and bald-bodied, sipping that brown liquid with the nasty smell. He doesn’t usually drink that till later. 

He went to his bedroom and I crept after him. I watched him through the doorway. He sat on his bed. There was a glass opposite, and there was a naked Master inside it. I don’t trust the glass, because when I look I see another dog and it makes my head hurt. 

Master was putting a colour on his mouth with a brush, and the Master in the glass was doing the same. Soon they both had a blue mouth. Then Master picked up a shaker, and shook white power on himself. It fell all over his body. It smelled cloying. Reminded me of how I looked, when the ceiling fell on me.

After Master was completely white he lay back, rigid, on the bed. His face was blank, his mouth slack. He stared at the glass and lay still for a long time.

I could smell the mating smell on him. His pisser grew big and went all stiff. He moved it up and down, faster, faster, faster, until he gasped and it spat out mess. It went all over the bed. It smelled of salt and sweat. Master wiped his hands on the sheets and began to cry – making little sounds, like me. 

What was Master doing? What’s wrong with Master?

***

I remember when Twinkle and Master fetched me from the shop where I was born. I was only little, but it was cramped in that cage. Horrible metal bars. Lots of other dogs there. They could all bark. Not me. 

When the door opened and people came in, new smells would flood the room. The others would bark to get noticed. If you were lucky, you’d get someone’s attention and be adopted.

When Master came with Twinkle, the other puppies barked. I strained and strained and strained, but all I could manage was a little “Yip!” 

But when Master heard me his eyes flashed and he looked right at me and smiled. He picked me up and held me and said: “good girl” and I felt so happy I thought I would burst.

After that day in the shop, I had a pack, and no more cages.

But our pack has been going wrong since Twink left. Master drinks the bad drink more and more. He goes out at night, sometimes for ages, and when he comes home he brings back guests and never has time for me. 

The guests never stay long. I think this is what makes Master upset. Is he looking for Twinkle?

***

Master was out for a long time tonight. When he came home there was a stranger with him. Sometimes Master brings them home to mate with. It was a boy – loud and clumsy. Was he going to join our pack? 

They sat on the sofa and had nice noises on the noise-making machine. They were drinking great gulps of the brown drink, but the boy spilled it on the floor. He got on his knees and stroked me, but he was too rough and his breath smelled of bad drink.

Then Master and the boy went into his room and closed the door. I lay down and slept. 

***

I stirred at dawn. I could hear something from the bedroom. It was like a wagging tail: Thump thump thump. 

It sounded like they were doing tricks. Beg. Roll over. Play dead. 

The thumping stopped. The door opened. Master stepped over me and rushed to the kitchen. I looked through the doorway. I saw boy’s bare legs on the floor. 

Master came back with a bucket of water. He shut the door and locked it. 

I heard gurgling and then silence. I didn’t understand, so I went back to sleep. 

***

The next day I could smell Master’s fear. He was panting and pacing back and forth. 

I needed to pee so I pawed at the glass doors and he opened them. It was early, and frost had turned the grass crisp. I piddled and went back inside. The boy had come downstairs to lie on the sofa, naked and pasty, except for a collar around his neck. Master had given him a lead. Was he part of our pack now?

The boy was very still, and his arms and legs and head had gone floppy. He looked like Master looked when he’d been touching himself. Master must have told him to Play dead. That’s a trick. When Master says that, it means you have to freeze up and not move until he says: “Well Done.”

Master was closing all the blinds and curtains. I gave the boy a sniff. Bad smell from his nethers; he’d pooped indoors. Only bad dogs poop indoors. Bad boy.

Suddenly Master ushered me into the garden, and closed the door behind me. 

***

I was outside for a long time before Master let me back in.

Now the boy was on the floor, with a sheet covering him and his feet sticking out. Was he sleeping? No snores. It was a funny sort of trick.

I looked at Master. He was sitting on the sofa, watching the picture box. There was a drink on the table and some leftover dinner. Master picked up the plate and put it on the floor for me. I ate it all up and licked the plate clean. He stroked me and I felt calm because he was calm. Things had gone back to normal.

I saw with my good eye that he was holding the boy’s collar, turning it over and over in his hands.

***

The next day the boy was gone. I looked everywhere for him. Where did he go? 

Master kept me in the garden all day. I could hear machines whirring and grinding, and when Master came out he was messy and smelled of food. I wanted some, and whined. He let me indoors, opened a can, and tipped it into my bowl. I ate, but I could smell another food smell in the house. Something else. Something fresh. 

Master began drinking the brown drink again. He had a lot this time, and fell asleep quickly. I waited and got up to track the food smell. I went to the kitchen first, because that’s where food normally is, but the smell wasn’t coming from there. 

It was coming from his room.

I followed the scent leaking out from under the wooden floor. I scratched at the planks, digging my claws into the grain, but I couldn’t get it.

Master has never buried his food before. It must be very tasty if he wants it hidden. Maybe the boy gave the food to him before he disappeared? 

***

The food smell turned bad. It’s been a long time since the boy came back with Master.

Haven’t been any others guests with this stench in the house. I can’t ignore it. Master has gotten used to it. He has been leaving his stains all over the place.

He must be in season. 

***

Master spent the day in the garden with me. I wanted to play ball games, but he was building a fire. 

He hunched over the pile of paper and wood in our yard, fiddling with matches. The flames grew and grew, and soon great bright tongues were licking the rubbish, turning it to ashes. Master heaped the fire with rubber wheels and the air filled with an acrid smell. 

He went into the house and came back with bulging plastic bags. He dropped them on the fire and watched them sizzle, waiting until the fire had burnt itself to the ground. Then he smashed up the little pieces left over with a spade, raked up the ashes, and swept them into the blackened earth. 

***

Master is in heat again. There are more strangers coming after dark. 

I smell arousal sloughing off Master when he brings them home. Are they looking for a pack of their own?

They drink the brown liquid and then go upstairs. Master mounts them and they mate. Master hardly ever mates with females; mostly males. But Master is the pack leader, so he has to assert dominance. Humping puts them in their place. 

I always hope one stays and joins our pack, so Master will stop crying.

But they never do.

***

Today I cheered Master up.

I found him in his bedroom, staring at something I couldn’t see with a leash in his hand. He slipped it over his neck. Why? He’d never had a leash and collar before. What was going on? I was so confused I felt dizzy. 

Master took a deep breath, stood up, and climbed onto a stool. The smell of his terror frightened me, because I didn’t know what it meant. I could feel panic overwhelming me, so I went: 

“YIP!”

When I made my little noise he jumped, as though waking from a bad dream. He sat down and his eyes went all wet. I came to him and put my head in his lap. He petted me for a long time, and murmured: “Good girl. Good dog.”

I swelled with pride as he held me close. I felt so much love for my Master. What was I without my him? Nothing. He rescued me from the cages and gave me his friendship. He was in pain. I could sense it. I had to help him.

Eventually Master stood up and stretched. He slipped the loop of rope into his pocket, and took me out for walkies. When we came back we had dinner, and then he went back on the prowl for a new mate.

For some reason, he took his leash along with him. 

***

We’ve had even more guests at our house. So many scents. They’re always in a hurry to leave. Maybe they don’t like dogs. 

Some mate with Master, others just sleep next to him. But some vanish, and then Master sends me out into the garden to play the next morning I don’t know what he gets up to inside, but it takes a long time. I don’t like being left out. I try to bark to let him know I want to join in, but when I open my mouth I just squeak.

But Master seems happier. He’s washing himself again. When Twink still lived with us, he’d bathe three times a day. I don’t like baths so I don’t go near the tub. But I can hear him splashing about sometimes. 

***

Last night Master had a party. I’ve never seen the house so packed!

There were four males all arranged in a circle in the living room, and another in the bedroom. Master was pleased to have such well-behaved guests. He likes it when people do as they’re told. That’s why he’s the alpha.

The guests lay on the sofa and chairs, slumped and slouching, their mouths hanging open. They smelled of the badness under the floorboards. I was nervous, so I looked at Master to see how I should react. He had a big grin on his face. He was looking at his friends like they were a big platter of ribs.

I didn’t know what these funny people were up to, but Master didn’t mind, so neither should I. Maybe these friends would never leave us. My tail wagged.

Master sat on the sofa drinking from a foamy can, watching the flashing box with his arm draped around one guest. Occasionally, he would lean over and plant his mouth on their cheek. 

I had an itch behind my shoulders that I needed scratching. I went over to one of the silent ones: a young male with scraggly hair. Master had found him outside our house two days ago and let him stay over. Yesterday he’d come back and had dinner with us. Now he was here on the sofa, not moving. 

He’d been more lively then. Now he was still. His hand was outstretched, as if he was saying “come closer.” I licked it. 

He was cold. 

I decided I didn’t like him after all. He smelled of the bad food smell. Master was wrestling with his friend, so he didn’t notice me. 

I looked at the cold boy. A fly landed on his face and crawled right into his open mouth. 

That boy is very good at playing dead.

***

The next day the guests all went away. They must have been tired of having to do play dead for so long. 

***

Today a terrible thing happened. 

Master was out when I heard voices. I thought Master had brought back new guests early for a change, so I left my ball and went to say hello. 

Two strangers were climbing in through the window. A burly male with grey hair, and a shorter one with missing teeth. The old one had a metal stick, which he pried the window open with.

I waited for Master to come in with them. But he didn’t come. 

When I realised Master wasn’t with them I had shakes all over. I was so scared I felt like fleas were crawling on my skin.

If Master wasn’t with them, that meant they were trespassing on our territory!

They lumbered around, picking up Master’s things and putting them in a big bag. They were going to take them away! I wanted Master to come home soon and chase these Bad Men off. 

I had to make them leave. Even if I was frightened, even if I was hurt: I had to defend our territory. I had never wanted to bark so badly.

But all that came out was: “YIP! YIP! YIP!” 

Too shrill. They turned around. They looked startled at first, but then they just chuckled, so I did something I’ve never done before.

I growled.

I bared my teeth at the Bad Men and made a low rumbling noise in the back of my throat. I snapped my jaws. A Bad Man came over to me. I kept growling to keep him away, but his big fat arms encircled me. I yelped as he lifted me up. I wriggled and kicked and squirmed, but he was strong and held me firm. He took me into the bathroom. I kept struggling. He was going to give me a bath! I hate baths. 

So I bit him.

I’ve never bitten any person before, but this man was a Bad Man, and I didn’t want a bath, so I bit him. Hard.

He cried out and dropped me and kicked at my snout. It really hurt. The Bad Man looked like he wanted to hit me again, but then the other called. He shut the door. I scratched at it, but it wouldn’t open. 

I was stuck. My nose hurt. I had failed Master. 

After a long time the door opened. I thought it was one of the Bad Men come to hurt me, so I prepared to bite them again. But it was only Master. I thought he would be angry, but he knelt down and cuddled me. 

We went into the living room together. The bad men had taken most of Master’s things away, and they’d left all my toys behind.

I’d have traded all of my toys, even my best ball, for them to leave Master’s things alone. 

Master went straight to his room and I followed. He sat on the floor, at the same spot where I could smell the bad food smells, and slid a knife from the kitchen between the floorboards. He wiggled the metal and lifted one up. I was shocked. I didn’t know anyone could dig up the floor. Master is clever. 

Then I saw what was in there.

It was one of Master’s friends hiding in the hole, very still. The nasty smell was coming off him. Master didn’t look surprised to find him there. He let a long breath out, then put the boards back to cover his friend up again. 

I was glad Master wasn’t angry, but I’d been too timid. Next time I will bark, and be brave.

***

We have had to give up our old territory thanks to the Bad Men.

Master packed up what we had left and we moved to a different house. Before we moved, Master lit another bonfire: the biggest yet. He heaped it with tyres, and all the neighbourhood children gathered around to watch the blaze.

Our new home is much smaller, and there is no garden. It is white and pale blue outside. Other people live in the same building with us, three females and a male. Master and I stay in the top floor, in the attic. 

To get there, we climb up three shabby flights of unlit stairs. There are only three rooms: a greasy kitchen, a grotty bedroom, and a tiny bathroom with a small toilet for Master. The bedroom has a bed in it, two wardrobes, a chest of drawers, two chairs, and a dull old carpet. The ceiling is slanted and sometimes Master bumps his head on it. It’s very stuffy on a hot day, and there are only three squat windows for me to look out of. 

The only good thing about this poky, dank place is that it is close to a big park down the road. There are lots of interesting smells there, but I still miss our garden.

It’s just as well Master doesn’t have many things left. I don’t think he could squeeze his old life into this place. I wonder where his friends will stay now?

***

Tonight Master came home with another guest. It was late when they thumped up the stairs and clattered through the door. He was young, with clear skin and shining teeth. I sniffed him. He smelled of hyacinths – like the kind that grow in the park. When he came into the room, it was like his nice scent blew away the stench that had collected in the corners of the attic.

Master started pouring drinks. The young man sat down carefully, as if he was afraid the chair might be scalding hot. He looked at me and smiled.

Master and the man talked for a while. Master was taking sips of the brown liquid. He gave some to the quiet man. The man wanted to look like he liked it, but I could tell he didn’t. They sat very close to each other, and Master started stroking the man’s leg. 

I padded over and put my head between them. The man give me a scratch.  His hands were gentle. They played music for a long time, and Master talked a lot. But the man kept yawning and his eyelids drooped while he ran his fingers smoothly down my back. The man didn’t look like he wanted to stay, but he was very tired, and Master was smiling so much. I wanted him to stay too. He was nice, like Twinkle. 

Master’s new bed is too small to share, so Master fetched a padded bag for the man to sleep in. The man stripped off and climbed inside. It looked snug. Master climbed into his bed. I lay down next to my new friend.

He looked like a great big maggot lying in the bag; just like the ones I’d found under Master’s bed, burrowing into the grey meat, tunnelling away from the light. 

***

In the dark, I felt a presence by me. A shape mounted my new friend’s sleeping bag; straddling him with two hairy legs. It had its hands around his neck. The Bad Men had come back! I had to bite the shape and defend the pack.

But then I heard a voice whisper: “Stay.” 

I couldn’t disobey Master’s voice. I kept still.

The bag was writhing under his grip. I didn’t know what to do. I trembled all over. I’d thought this man was nice, but now Master was fighting him. Master banged his head against the floor and he stopped struggling. Master let go of his neck and stood up. He grabbed the end of the bag and dragged him into the bathroom. I stayed. 

I heard splashing. Master was giving my friend a bath, but he didn’t want one. He was fighting hard. I padded over to watch, my whole body drooping. Master was pushing the man’s face into the bathwater until the gurgling stopped.

Master pulled the man out of the tub; his hair was wet, his eyes closed, and water leaked from out of his mouth. Master sat with his arms around him, getting his breath back, before he hauled him out of the bag and dumped him on the bed. In the gloom I could see his pisser was stiff again. He stared at the man’s body and started rubbing himself. He didn’t notice man’s eyelid twitch.

I was very scared of disobeying, but the man needed help. I could smell his nice smell: Master hadn’t washed that off.  Master was still rubbing. I went over to my friend. I put a paw on his wet leg, still warm. 

I saw my friend’s lips move. He was trying to shape a sound. I jumped onto his lap and his head lolled against the cushion. 

Master barked at me, but I wanted the man to know he could still be in our pack. I put my paws on his broad chest and licked his face to make him live.

My ears pricked up as I heard a little noise. It was very faint, just like mine – a wheeze from the back of his throat.

I licked some more. Another noise. I looked at Master. He’d stopped stroking himself. His face was hollow, and then he was by my side. I jumped off my friend’s lap and Master began rubbing warmth into him with a blanket. He opened his mouth and blew air into him. He puffed and puffed until suddenly my friend’s eyes bulged and he woke with a sound like ripping paper. 

Eventually he stopped shaking. He and Master slept. I stayed awake.

***

Our new friend has decided not to join our pack after all. He left early this morning. He didn’t even stay for breakfast. He patted my nose and took off. Master was sullen all day. 

Our home feels quieter. The bad smells smell stronger. I think it’s Master’s fault he didn’t stay. Master is too rough when he plays. 

*** 

More visitors come and go. There was a big male here two days ago. He disappeared. 

Master is hoarding more meat. The smell is so strong it gnaws at my stomach and makes me lick my chops. Master is very careless about his food. Some is stuffed under the floor, some under the sink, some in bags in the wardrobe, or in suitcases under the bed. 

I chewed through one of the bags, and spoiled flesh spilled out onto the floor. I know it was naughty but I was so hungry.

I ate until I was sick.

***

The air is thick with decay.

Master lights guttered candles and cranks open the windows. But the stink never leaves us. It soaks into his skin and clings to my fur. Flies go round and round in lazy circles, laying eggs, while blind grubs wriggle in their hiding places.

Master is in the bathroom now, dropping wet clods down the toilet. He pulls the lever, and the festering chunks are sucked away in a rush of air and water.

He doesn’t go out much anymore.

***

Master took me out for walkies today. We went to the park. It was good to feel grass under my paws.

When we got home and went through the landing we met one of the females who lives on the second floor. She spoke to Master about something, and kept pointing down her hallway to her own toilet. Her mate was inside pushing the silver handle, trying to make it flush.  

Master’s mouth went thin. He polished his glasses with a hankie and nodded lots, but didn’t look back at her. We went up the stairs to our own floor. Master shut the door and locked it behind him. He wiped his brow and went straight to our toilet. I followed.

He pulled the lever, but nothing happened except a gurgling noise. Master wiped his brow again, pulled the lever again. Nothing. He made a choking sound, and was sick into the sink. 

***

In the evening, after Master had come back from work, we heard a commotion on the landing. Master went down to see what was happening and I followed.

A stranger dressed in overalls was talking to the male and female who live below us. The man smelled of poop and fetid water. There were strange tools dangling from a belt around his middle. 

Master spoke. The other three looked at him and tensed up. The man replied. Master scoffed, and the man flashed his teeth. He held up a bag and showed it to Master. I could see what was inside. 

Bones. 

Master said something and turned away. His back was straight and his head held high as we climbed the stairs. But the moment the door was shut behind us he sank back against the door and put his face into the crook of his arm. His whole body shook from sobbing. 

I licked his cheeks, and he pressed his face into my fur and held me close and moaned until dawn.

Something bad had happened. Not just to us, but to everyone, to everything. Everything had gone wrong.

***

The wait for Master to come home was the longest of my life. I wanted to run away and find Twink.

Footsteps on the stairs. Voices. The door opened and Master stepped through with three strangers – large males with thick necks and flared nostrils. Master’s shoulders were slumped.

I jumped up to greet him but he drifted past me. Master sat on the couch and the men stood. They spoke in low tones. The bad smell was crawling up their noses. I could see that their eyes were watering. Master didn’t even blink. I couldn’t smell any fear on him. Too tired.

The leader of the strangers cleared his throat, and asked a question. Master answered. There was a long silence. The three men stared at him. Master stared right back. The two betas had their arms folded. The alpha rubbed his neck.

Then, Master ran his tongue over chapped lips and said: “Come here.” He was so calm it was like he was speaking in his sleep. He shuffled over to the bedroom.

Two of the strangers followed, but one stayed, grimacing. His hands were behind his back but I could see them bunching into fists.

These strangers were not friendly. They were enemies, and Master had let them into our lair.

Master opened his wardrobe and the foul waft enveloped the room. One of the strangers flinched. The other clapped his hands over his face. Their leader didn’t react at all. He just kept watching Master, and Master kept watching him. 

A beta male peeked in the bag and gagged. I saw a lump of sinew in there. The other man went to the stove, where a pot had been boiling. He took off the lid, peeked in, and screamed when he saw what was inside it. 

The two betas put their hands on Master’s shoulder. They began to push him towards the door. Master started mumbling, but they spoke over him. Master cried out, his voice shrill like ripping metal. They dragged him to the door.  They were taking him away from me! Taking my Master, my friend, my family, away from me-

BLEEP!” barked Master.

I lunged, but was tugged back when the stranger grabbed my collar. Master looked at me as they took him away and I remembered him-

-taking me home in his coat pocket-

-feeding me scraps from the kitchen table-

-holding me tight and telling me I was a good girl, good girl, good girl-

I opened my jaws and snarled from the pit of my guts. My bark came at last; full-throated and raw. I thrashed in the arms of the strangers as they tore Master away from me.

-Don’t take him. He’s sad. He’s lonely. He’s all I have. I love him. Let us be. Please- 

They ushered him down the stairs, and then he was gone. 

 ***

They drove me in a van to a cold grey building and locked me in a room with bars. It reminds me of the pet shop. I have come so far, gone through so much, all to end up in the same place I started in. 

Now I am a dog without a pack. I am less than nothing. I feel so sad that I want to sleep the moment I wake.

They took Master away for along time, but later I heard footsteps and smelled his scent. They locked him in the room next to mine. I cried and cried and cried for him.

But he didn’t answer back. 

 ***

No sign of Master. It has been days since we were caught. Maybe they have hurt him? Why else wouldn’t he have seen me yet? 

When you hurt people too much, then they play dead for real. All those strangers in our house. They must have been dead. I think Master stopped them. 

Master, you were supposed to protect me. I was supposed to protect you. We should have died with each other. 

 ***

A week without Master. Was I a bad dog? Why couldn’t they let us be together? Master can’t be on his own. He’s so lonely without me. So terribly lonely. 

I think of Twinkle and Master, and me all covered in grey powder while they sat and laughed. 

I don’t know what will happen to Master, or to me. But I can wait. I am loyal.

 ***

A week without Master. Was I a bad dog?

I have been taken to a white room with bright lights by people I do not know. The smells here are unfamiliar; they sting my nose. A woman with plastic hands lays me down on a bed.

I am very tired now. Why couldn’t they let us be together? Master can’t be on his own. He’s so lonely without me. So terribly lonely.

“Good girl Bleep,” says a female.

Soft fingers stroking my ears. I am not as scared as I used to be. The female jabs me with a long pin. I yelp as the needle pierces me, and then the fog comes. I close my eyes.

It’s alright now, because I know that Master will still love me, like he loved all those strangers.

He only ever wanted company.

Published by itshendo

Callum Henderson is a carbon-based life form who graduated with a degree in Journalism and Creative Writing from the University of Strathclyde in 2016.

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