The fog is thicker than usual today, in fact I can hardly see past my muzzle, and the smell of sulphur is almost enough to make me choke as I traverse the empty streets. The red, glistening sores on my legs aren’t doing much better, in fact I think they’ve become worse, but I’ve learnt to live with them. How can you not when you’ve lived here for as long as I have?
My paws make light, scratching noises on the stone-cold tarmac, possibly the only sound to be heard for miles, and I pant with relief when the giant, yellow school bus finally emerges from the mist. My journey is over – I sit down and look at my foggy surroundings, all I have to do is wait, and soon enough my patience is rewarded.
My Master’s steps were short and brisk, but the desperate look on what remained of his face was enough to melt the coldest of hearts. He fell to his charred knees, dropping the knife he always held tightly in his right hand and embraced me, his arms sliding across the calloused skin on my back. He’d obviously had a rough day at school, I could tell by how low the gargled whimpers which bubbled in the back of his ruined throat were, despite the fact that his cries always sounded like harsh, mocking laughter.
I whined and placed one of my paws on his shoulders, one of the blisters on my front legs bursts from the strain. The stinging pain is enough to make me flinch, but I remain still, even managing to wag my naked, bony tail. A sudden, wailing siren erupts from the skies. I bend over and pick up Master’s knife in my mouth, being careful not to crush it with my teeth, and beckon to him with my head. Night time would be upon us soon, and I didn’t want my Master to wander around in the dark when all the more dangerous residents came out from hiding.
The house had already changed by the time we finally got home. The stench of sulphur had intensified, and when coupled with the hair-raising stench of death it became an assault to the sense of smell. Master gave me a chortling sob, his grey feet making hollow clacking noises against the rusted, metal ground, and reached for the flaky door. Another corpse had been added to our garden fence, bound and hung in a leather body bag that hardly prevented the poor soul’s blood from dripping down the wire. I wouldn’t be surprised if that person’s still alive, considering how fresh it smells, but there’s no movement – not even a twitch – and the corpse is as silent as a statue.
The mattress we sleep on is covered in mildew and black mould – it would be the death of any asthmatic person, but then again death by natural means is nigh impossible in this place. Master lies down on the bed first and makes himself as comfortable as he can before I curl up next to him, the mattress sagging as it struggles to support our weight.
I have no intention of sleeping; I must stay alert, for even though we’re all monsters here some are more beastly than others, and will mercilessly slaughter any poor fool who crosses their paths, and for the same fate to befall Master would break what remains of my heart. I am one of the few who resists – most of the other dogs I know go mad when the shift occurs. I’ve even heard stories about how some dogs become so aggressive that parasites from their bodies completely cover their heads like worms – though I’m not sure if that’s true or not.
I remember when things were different – normal, I mean – when the sun shone and the wind didn’t sting your sides with sharp, cold needles of air. Master would come home from school and charge into our back garden, embracing me in a hug that didn’t hurt, and we’d play in the garden until it was time for supper. Those were the best days of our lives, when we didn’t have to worry about anything except what Master’s mother was cooking (Master always fed me stuff from under the table – his father never approved of it).
I should’ve realised sooner what was going to happen to us: Master’s parents always dressed strangely, speaking in strange tongues and burning strange herbs that made me sneeze. It had not occurred to me that all of what they were doing had any relevance to the strange world we now inhabit together. Well Master’s parents aren’t here anymore, they disappeared when we transformed into what we are now, but they abandoned us – and I can never forgive them for what they did.
Master’s breathing is more relaxed now. There’s no school tomorrow, maybe we’ll play in the garden once everything changes back, and at least try to replicate what we’ve lost…
* * *
The smell of sulphur has eased up – but the ash-like snow is still falling and the thickness of the fog hasn’t lessened in the slightest. We couldn’t find my favourite Frisbee so I decided to take Master down to the amusement park by the dock where his parents used to take him every Saturday.
The amusement park is one of the few places that doesn’t change very often when day comes, but it’s also one of the few places where we can share what little happiness we have with others. Some of Master’s classmates were already lining up to go on the merry-go-round and they gargled and waved at us when we drew near. I barked and Master waved back, running towards them with a slight spring in his step and chortling as he spoke to his friends.
There is a sudden, screeching noise as the rusty merry-go-round slowly grinds to a halt, the horses have been tied up in the same way that the bodies on our fence are and their heads twitch and shudder as if they struggle for freedom. Master climbs up onto the one writhing the least and holds the rope keeping the sack tied together like reins. The merry-go-round screeches as it starts up again, the crusted gears whirring and clanking as I watch Master going around and around, the blood-encrusted pole keeping the horse in place lifting him up and down.
His laughter still sounds very mocking, but the joy in his voice is genuine. It was the first time I’d seen him being happy in years.
We had so much fun that day, but a grim reminder of our situation soon made itself known through the caterwauling sirens. One of the officers was patrolling our street when we got home, and thankfully for us he was benign tonight. He lowered the enormous, blood-stained dagger in his hands and acknowledged us by bowing gently, the corners of his pyramid-like head clumsily nudging his apron. I could just make out faint gasps of pain from deep within the triangular helmet.
* * *
The journey to school was monotonous as it always is: making sure Master has everything he needs and escorting him as far as the school bus. The town is just as quiet as it always is, only the sounds of our footsteps keeping the streets from being completely silent. I halt when we reach the bus and bark, looking at Master expectantly.
Master nods, then chortles sadly, his knees buckling in, and kneels down to give me a hug. I whine, it’s time for him to go. I rub my head against his shoulder, licking his neck as I say goodbye, and watch as he breaks away. He waves as he’s swallowed up by the fog, and I stay still for a few minutes before getting up and heading home.
Our lives might not be perfect – and this place is far from paradise – but there’s one thing we have that many others don’t: that thing is each other – and perhaps it’s the only thing giving us that small, shred of hope that things will eventually get better, that we’ll finally be able to return to the heaven we called home.
But until then, I shall remain my Master’s faithful dog, and I will serve my beloved Master until the end of time.