Friday, October 21, 2011

A Difficult Journey (yeah, unfinished...)

By Vincent Cleaver

The little girl woke up in a strange place. She was wearing her Sunday best and her hair was done up, and she could not remember how any of this had come to be... likewise, there were three dogs curled up to her, keeping her warm and safe. She thought about that, 'three dogs warm and safe,' and that was when she became aware that the strange place was bleak and cold.
A distant warm and golden light cast long shadows here, and the shadows were strange, empty deeps that seemed to stare back into her. The littlest of her three protectors, a Welsh Corgi like the Queen of England's, growled at the inquisitive darkness, and then barked orders. The tall sight hound, an Afghan Wolfhound with the long ears obeyed, jumping up to stand his ground between her and a particularly deep shadow, and that did not seem strange to her at all, somehow. The Corgi and the Basset Hound, together, got her up and moving towards the light.
The Afghan Wolfhound barked a warning. Cold dark things came boiling out of the shadows, and a sharp filament of that emptiness slashed at him, and he yelped. The Basset gave tongue, deep but with all the majesty of a lion, and charged. An epic battle was joined, flickering darkness versus tooth and claw. Bright red blood was spilled, and darkness dissipated like the fog, until at last the Basset Hound fell crumpled at her feet, and the sight hound stood, whining piteously, its right hind leg in tatters. The Basset reached up a weary head and licked the wound, which seemed to flow, smooth away. The Basset sighed and lay still, and then seemed to grow smaller.
The little girl found that she was looking down at an origami dog lying at her feet. There was something which she could almost remember about that... and then the memory was gone. The Corgi and the Afghan had each taken a hand, soft-mouthed, and tugged at her, to turn her away. But she pulled a hand free, reached down and picked up the scraps of the Basset, to carry away.
"As a good troop ought..." Again, it almost seemed that she caught at a memory, a man's voice telling her something important; something vital. She tried hard to remember, scrunching up her face in concentration-
"Well, aren't we adorable?" A voice said, from a tall dark man standing beside the path ahead of them. The dog’s whines and she hurried, but could not resist looking over. Somehow she knew that she should not have done that.
"Who are you?" She did know she shouldn't speak to strangers, either. But she was all alone out here, except for the two remaining dogs, which bristled. The afghan stepped between her and the man.
He was tall and dark, pale-skinned with black hair and the blackest eyes she had ever seen. He smiled and the perfect white teeth seemed sharp, somehow.
"I'm a friend of your father's... he sent me to help you-"
The afghan began to bark wildly and lunged at the man. But the Corgi barked another order and he stopped, growling and very tense, muscles all aquiver.
"That's a mean dog you got there, Missy."
The little girl shook her head, but she shushed the Afghan. "Bad dog!"
The Afghan turned back to her, hurt and ashamed to be a 'bad dog'. The Corgi yipped accusingly. And the Tall Dark Man smiled.
"There would seem to be some question as to who's in charge here."
'Missy' decided that she didn't like a smile very much at all.
"I am, sir. I know that much. My Dad-" she remembered her Dad then, all together and the Tall Dark Man frowned. "My Dad says that I'm responsible to any dogs I find, and they are responsible to me! We made them, and they are ours, and we are theirs..."
"Where is this paragon of," he seemed about to say something else, "Man, hmm?"
The little girl felt her certainty slipping away again. "I... I'm going on ahead, to see my grand pop. He said, he said..."
"He and Mom, and grand mom, all the rest, will be along. That I'm just going on ahead is all!"
 "Don't count on that, kid," the man said with and edginess. The Corgi crept up to stand with the Afghan. "Hell, most of 'em lose their way before they even get this far, and most of the rest give up in the sight of-" he could not say the word, seemed almost to strangle on the word unsaid. It left a bad taste in his mouth and he spit.
"This road is paved with despair."
The Little girl marched forward, and the dark man flinched. He recovered and sneered.
"Give it up; there's nothing special-"
The Afghan lunged at him, barking wildly, and something very strange happened- golden light shined from his jaws, and where it touched the man, he winced. Burns welled up and he back-handed the dog from an impossible distance. His reach was just suddenly that much greater. The Afghan rolled with the blow and bit the hand. The man roared like some maddened bull and seemed to melt into a jagged shape, all horns and spikes and razor-sharp edges.  The dogs seemed to change, too. Their hackles were up, but the fur glowed with a lustrous truth, as if they were not just two dogs, but the very idea of two dogs; as if they were God's Dogs.
"Stop!" The girl shouted, and for a wonder all three did. The thing which was not a mad blinked at her.
"You let the Darkness into you, didn't you?"
"Don't be such a chi-"
"Don't lie! You gave up! Blame nobody else but yourself!"
The thing cocked its' head sideways. "I take it back. You're a tough little cookie, aren't you? Hard-baked all the way through..."
 (I need to wrap this up, get her to that golden light on the horizon)
Back in the world of the living, a man lay face resting in his arms, asleep at the table. his good suit jacket was draped on the back of his chair and his long white sleeves were rolled up. His hands were rough and scarred, a workman's hands, and they held the last of the paper dogs which he'd been making. The other two were on the table, along with a memorial card for the little girl. The three origami dogs were a tall sight hound with long ears hanging down, a short, barrel-chested hound with a large muzzle and a prominent tail, and the one in his hands was another short dog with pointed ears, a Welsh Corgi.
The man slept peacefully, with a smile on his face. His wife came in and kissed him on the cheek without waking him. She sat down at the table, touched the face of the girl, and the paper dogs, each in turn, and she fell asleep by him, her hand over his and the Corgi.

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