The Old Ones – A Story

6 Mar

So today I think we’re going to do something different. We’ll have blog outside. Well, not exactly. Today I let you read some of my fiction, just to prove to those of you who only know me through this site that I do, in fact, have a soul. Brief background info on said fiction:

I rarely do writing contests anymore because the registration fees (generally around $40) make a profound dent in my discretionary (coke and hookers) fund. One contest I do like is something called NYC Midnight, which has a unique take on storytelling. The idea is that you get one week to write a story, but that story must conform to certain specifications: a genre, a subject and a character. For instance, this year one of the 25 heats had this: Genre: horror, Subject: GPS, Character: fashion model. (That fashion model is very lucky that I wasn’t assigned this. Squish!!)

Those who finish high enough in this round go onto the next which is write a story in five days. The final round is write one in a day. I made it there a couple of years ago. This year I plan on winning, you know, cuz I’m totally awesome.

So I had to write something in the suspense genre, with the subject being: drinking water, and a character of a dog walker. The story had to be under 2,500 words. What follows is that story exactly as I submitted it this past Saturday. It is not perfect by any means. In fact, it is far from perfect. But it’s what I came up with in a week, so cut me some slack.  Also, note to people who know more about animals than I do: sorry, and please don’t kibitz. Thanks and enjoy!

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The Old Ones

Ralph had heard the sounds before. They came from the things Linda put in her ears. Sometimes the same sounds came out of Linda’s mouth too, but the only one that Ralph recognized was “love.” Aaron and Betty told him that they loved him all the time. Ralph thought it must be a good word. But they were still children, and he figured it was only a child’s word and that they’d grow out of it once they got big.

Linda was again doing the thing where she pumped her arms up and down, moved her legs faster than normal, and breathed in and out with a powerful force. She must be sad because when Linda was sad she would walk like this and listen to the sounds that had the word “love” in it.

The fast walk was okay for Clover and Tugboat, who were young and spry and so beautiful with their yellow coats, but Ralph got tired too quickly nowadays. Now Clover and Tuggy were bouncing along with sprightly abandon. Ralph tried to keep pace, but was ten feet behind Linda, and his leash dug sharply into his neck. Linda didn’t notice, of course. She never noticed things when she walked fast.

They were taking the route Linda liked when she walked fast: through the park, past where the children came to play, then back to Clover and Tuggy’s house and finally Ralph’s where Aaron and Betty would just be waking up.

Ralph remembered the park from when he was young. He used to enjoy going there with Master George before he met Mistress Emily. Then he came here with both of them together, enjoying being around two people who smelled so very happy. Then Aaron and Betty came, and they went to the park as four instead of two. But over the past few years they found less and less time to take Ralph out. So they got Linda to do it. Linda was nice to Ralph, but she smelled sad more often than not.

Of late, George was out of the house for days on end. When that occurred Emily would cry after putting the children to bed. Sometimes Ralph would sit at her feet during these moments. He thought that this was why he was alive: to sit with sad people. It always seemed to help.

Linda stopped at one of the old stone water fountains. She bent down and glugged the water loudly. Slurp Slurp Slurp. The sound made Ralph thirsty. He was always thirsty now that he was old. But did anyone seem to notice? Nope. He glanced at Clover and Tugboat who both sat seemingly sated with life. Pretty panting princesses. Ralph wheezed and scratched at his always itchy butt with his leg. He wished he were home. The three of them had already made business, so why couldn’t he just go home, sleep some more, and eat some of the miserable food they had started to give him. Then he’d let Betty and Aaron put their hands all over him.

Ralph took a look at Clover and Tugboat who were sniffing the air with a mild curiosity. Ralph took a deep gulp of air. His nose wasn’t as strong as it once was, but his memory was as sharp as ever. Over the years, he had cataloged several dozen odors and what they meant. There was the salty stink of fear. He remembered that one from when he was young and still good looking. Some people had been afraid of him back then, even though he never had a mean bone in his body. There was another slightly salty smell that Ralph thought of as sad, because over the years there was more and more of it in the house. Then there was the musky smell of when George and Emily made grunting noises from behind their door. That was something Ralph thought he should know more about than he did.

The odor right now was like smelling himself, but a bad version of himself. No, not bad so much as mean. He knew that deep within himself was a meanness, an anger and viciousness. But those things had been whittled away, not just through his own lifetime, but through the lifetimes of those who had come before.

The other two dogs now smelled the fear themselves as they made slight whimpering sounds. Ralph turned to see where the smell was coming from. On one side of the path were large trees where they liked to make business. On the other side was the place where Aaron and Emily used to come to smile and laugh. On the edge of the grass was the fountain where Linda went slurp slurp slurp. Then she lifted her head up, smiled and went “Ahhhh.”

The creature landed square on Linda’s chest, and she fell to the ground. The little things that were stuck in her ears flew out, and Ralph heard the strange sounds spew forth.

Linda put her arms up to shield herself from the beast’s teeth. She began to scream one sound over and over again. Then she just screamed other sounds that were not the same.

The leashes slipped out of her hand. Clover and Tugboat quickly ran off. Ralph gave them a look and a growl. But he didn’t move. He didn’t know why he didn’t move. All of him told him to go, to flee. But he didn’t.

Ralph turned towards the thing on top of Linda, opened his mouth, leapt and found the creature’s throat. What came out tasted good, so much better than the new food Emily was giving him now that he was old and fat and useless. Ralph ripped at the thing’s throat, shaking his head left and right to better peel off the skin and expose the raw inside.

Finally, the animal on top of Linda stopped moving, and she pushed it off. Ralph looked at her and tried with his eyes to get her to stand up. But she didn’t move, and Ralph knew it was because she was afraid. Sometimes people got that way: they had so much fear inside of themselves that they didn’t know what to do with it, whether to run or to fight or to give up and die.

Ralph stared at her, but she didn’t look at him. Then he followed her eyes.

There were three of them. Just as big as the first one. He felt himself stupid. He had known that these things never hunted alone, but he just forgot about it like he forgot so many things nowadays.

And with that thought he remembered something else: hunting. He knew what hunting was though he had never done it himself. But hunting was inside of him alongside the meanness. These beasts were hunters. That was their purpose, while Ralph’s was to sit at Emily’s feet.

They looked very much like him: long and sleek, with tails and tall ears. But they were nothing like him, he could smell that. They were single-minded and cruel.

They growled at him, and Ralph began growling right back at them. He also found himself—through no conscious thought—standing between the beasts and Linda. They came closer, one flanking his right, one his left. The one in the middle stared straight at Ralph with black eyes. Its long tongue drooped out of its mouth. Ralph smelled squirrel and rat on its breath. Another thing he then remembered: leader.

The three things moved towards Ralph and Linda. Ralph backed up and knocked into Linda, who had still not gotten up.

Ralph turned his neck, opened his mouth, and barked at the stupid scared woman.

Suddenly she was on her feet.

Ralph turned back to the attackers just as the one on the right jumped at him. Its teeth sank into Ralph’s front right leg. He felt skin break, and then the long pincers sank into his muscles. Ralph howled, sad and plaintive.

Then the one on the left tried to bite into his other front leg. But Ralph was quicker, and snapped at the creature. He got onto the thing’s ear and pulled back. The ear ripped clean off. The creature jumped back in pain and shock.

Ralph shook his right leg, trying to get the other one to unclench. Ralph snapped at it, but the severed ear was wedged in his teeth, and he couldn’t chomp down properly.

Then he felt stupid again at his forgetting. Where was the third one? The leader? Ralph couldn’t see it. Stupid, stupid Ralph. Old, stupid, useless, slow, couldn’t eat his chow, sometimes made business in the food room, old and stupid and pathetic Ralph.

Turning his neck as far as it would go he saw it. Linda was slowly backing up, and the leader was following her at the same pace. Ralph barked at it, but it didn’t turn. He could smell the fear oozing out of Linda and the hunger coming from the pack’s leader.

Turning back to his more immediate concern, Ralph opened his mouth and spat out the piece of dead ear, then snapped at the scruff of the thing that had his leg. When he did so, it released its grip on Ralph’s foreleg. The pain exploded up into his body. Ralph had never experienced anything like it. It emphasized all the other afflictions that he had, over the last couple of years, gotten used to: the aches in his joints, the stiffness in the muscles of his abdomen, the occasional burning when he made business.

Ralph noticed these pains but didn’t care. He clamped down hard on the animal’s neck. Warmth flowed into his mouth and slopped down his cheek. He lifted its body with his teeth and tossed it aside. It rolled over, then lay back on its haunches. Like the one without an ear, this one was not dead. But neither was it coming for him anymore.

Ralph tuned back to where Linda and the leader had been. Gone. How could they be gone so quickly? Ralph sniffed the air and began to follow what he found there. He moved slowly, however, having no ability to put any weight on his mangled leg. Each time he tried, that part of his body sagged to the ground and a fresh sharpness of pain soared upwards, from leg to body to head.

But he didn’t care. For the first time in years Ralph felt alive, felt real, a part of the world that existed outside of children and bedrooms, leashes and walkers, outside of prescribed times to eat and proscribed places to make business.

He followed his nose to the area where children normally played. Linda had climbed on top of an assemblage of hard pipes. The leader leapt at her from below, but she was too high for him.

Apparently, the leader could be stupid too. He had forgotten about Ralph. Everyone forgets about Ralph. That’s what happens when you get old and useless: the people who once relied on you begin to take you for granted. They slam doors on you. Sometimes they forget to take you out to make business so you have to do it inside, and then they yell at you like it was your own fault. No matter. He knew they still loved him, whatever that word meant.

Ralph stood a few feet away from the leader and readied himself to leap. And when he did, when he pushed off, teeth barred, snout stained with blood, eyes that came from an ancient family but were tamed and loved by a new one, Ralph knew that he had made a final fatal mistake.

His leg, just barely supporting him as he pulled his way over, now failed him completely. He felt the tendons ripping, the bones collapsing, and the muscles giving way. When he looked up he saw the leader slowly walking over to him.

It looked down at Ralph with eyes that said: You were once part of us. Together we hunted in the wilderness. We were the old ones. We were family. But you let them take that away from you. And so I put you out of your misery.

First it laid into Ralph’s already injured leg. Ralph howled as much as he could, but there was not much strength left even for that action.

Then the beast bit at Ralph’s middle. Then it scratched at his backside. Then his mouth was on his left foreleg. His stomach. His scruff. No one bite or scratch did much damage, but together they turned him into a patchwork of bloody divots and dents.

Ralph tried to fight it off, but the thing was too quick for him. A nip here, a nibble there, a swipe with a paw. Why did it do it like this? Why could it not just go for the throat, clamp down and rip? Must it be so cruel? Ralph’s mind went to Aaron and Betty. Beautiful Aaron and Betty. They would pet him and tell him they loved them. And he would lick their hands and their faces, and in his own way he was telling them the same thing. He would never hurt them, even though inside of him was a part that desperately wanted to.

As the leader continued his attack, Ralph felt less sorry for himself and more for his tormenter, for a life that was built around inflicting pain and death.

It looked down on Ralph, and Ralph smelled his own flesh and blood on the beast’s breath. He thought the smell of him was old and worn out, but maybe not quite completely useless.

The creature looked down on Ralph and barked at him. Get up, it seemed to say. Get up and fight. But Ralph had no fight left in him, only a rickety breath that tasted of blood.

And then the leader was gone. It flew a few feet away and hit a tree trunk. It howled in surprise and anger. But before it could get up, two maelstroms of gold came at the thing, one from the right, one from the left.

At first, through the blood dripping into his eyes, Ralph thought these creatures to be the leader’s pack mates: the one with the torn ear and the one who had killed Ralph’s leg. But like so many other things of late, Ralph was wrong.

Their coats getting a bit less golden as the blood flew from their prey, Clover and Tugboat ripped at the killer’s throat and stomach with a ferocity Ralph had only seen in his dreams of past lives.

After they were through with him, Clover and Tugboat came over to Ralph and licked his wounds as he fell asleep.

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