Very Good Dog
A. S. MacKenzie
I am waiting for My Person.
Like a good dog.
Because above all else, I am a very good dog.
I waited for My Person at the foot of their bed. It’d been so long since I’d seen and smelled them that I almost didn’t recognize them. But then I caught it: the unmistakable aroma of their hair. I’ll never forget that scent. They used to lay their head down on my chest and I’d smell their hair and lick their head. They’d giggle and tell me to stop, but they never pulled away.
I miss those days. Days from a long time ago. We were both different then. They were a small person; a child I think they were called. Sometimes they were called other names too, but I called them Mine. They gave me my name too. I don’t remember what my name was before, but Mine called me Joe. I don’t know what it meant but people would laugh when Mine would tell them my name. We were inseparable. I loved Mine with all my heart, and I believed they loved me too. Beautiful days of running, playing, chasing, sniffling, licking, eating, and sleeping. I hoped they’d never end.
But they did.
I don’t recall exactly when things started to change for Mine. But, when they did, it changed everything. Mine was bigger than they used to be while I was slower than I used to be. They’d yell my name with growing impatience and I’d try to go faster, I really did. I wanted to be faster, stronger, more energetic. But I couldn’t. My legs hurt and my back was sore.
I do remember the first time I was slapped on my head. I don’t know what happened, but I remember the day. Mine and I were walking in the street near our home. There was no talking, laughing, or giggling. Mine liked to be quiet with me now. Just quiet. I didn’t like it, but we were together so I was okay with that. We were not far from home when they yanked so hard on my leash it hurt my neck and told me to sit. I obliged. They waved and said hi to someone I didn’t know. Someone who smelled like trouble. They came over and I didn’t like how Mine was acting around them. I thought for sure this other person was trouble so I let out one of my best growls and a short bark; the kind that lets everyone know I am here to protect My Person.
To my surprise, Mine didn’t like this. They yelled at me, tugged my collar, and smacked my head. It stung and I was so confused. Mine should know I was only trying to protect them. The other person laughed. Not in the good way that I liked, but in a way that made me dislike them even more.
Not long after this, we stopped going for walks. I didn’t complain because I was hurting so much now, but I was sad that Mine didn’t seem to want to be with me anymore. They were with the person from the street a lot, then with a different person, and pretty soon it was just one different person after another. They didn’t laugh anymore. They didn’t play or have fun. Mine was always in the room we used to share and it smelled really bad when the other people would come over. I tried to go inside sometimes, but there were too many dangers. I wanted to tell Mine to be careful, but they seemed to like the sharp things, and the hot things that looked like fire. Mine would hold the fire things up to their face or hold something over fire too. Whenever I would try to get them to be careful, Mine would yell and hit me. He’d hit my head or my hip and push me away. Sometimes, he’d not call me Joe and instead used other words I didn’t understand but sounded angry. Then, with the sharp things that smelled like blood and death in their arm, they’d go to sleep and not wake up for a while.
The ones who were older than My Person, the parents I think they’re called, didn’t seem to pay attention to anything Mine did anymore. One who looked a little like Mine was not home much, and when they were, they were loud and angry and smelled like dead fish. They’d yell at me and Mine all the time and throw things at us. Then one day they didn’t come home. The other one always seemed to be sleeping or crying after that. They spent a lot of time on the couch and when I’d try to come over to give them comfort, they’d yell at me and push me away.
Before the time I left my home for good, Mine didn’t speak to me or even look at me.
I don’t know what happened to them after I left. I hurt real bad one day, then I didn’t. I don’t remember leaving, but I must have. I do remember Mine yelling at me to go to the backyard, that he was tired of me. They were carrying something heavy and pointed for me to look away. Soon, I was in a place with lots of other dogs who were happy to see me. We all smelled good, and none of us hurt anymore. It was bright and soft and comfortable. We didn’t see any people, but we heard voices tell some of us that it was time to escort our person. That it was up to us to make sure our person made it to their Room. We had a job to do and we would be especially good at it. Then a dog would go out of a door that appeared and not come back. I think I was there a long time, but it didn’t feel like it.
Once I heard the voices, I understood what I was to do. They told me that I was to go see My Person soon because it was almost their time to go somewhere else. It was my job to help lead them to whichever door opened. When they can finally see me (because they can’t see me until the right time) there will be two doors that show up. A bright one that looks like where I was with all the other dogs, or a dark one that I was not to follow them into. They made sure to tell me a lot of times that it was not a place for dogs. If that door opened, I had to help get My Person in there, no matter what. It was my job to do this, and then I’d get to go through the bright door after I finished.
It made sense to me, and even though Mine wasn’t the same when I left them as when I first loved them, they were still My Person. I would do whatever I needed to do for Mine.
The door opened in the bright place, and I was told to go see My Person because it was time. I walked out of the bright place into a dark place that smelled bad. It smelled like sickness and death and I didn’t like it. In front of me, on a bed with wires and hoses, lay Mine. I didn’t recognize them at first, but then I smelled them. I knew that smell in the bottom of my heart. It was My Person lying there. It was Mine. Wires and tubes were coming out of them and they were asleep. Their bright red hair and smooth face were gone. What little hair they had was white . Their face was wrinkled and creased.
I heard some barking not far away from me. I went around a corner to another spot in the room and there was another person in a bed like Mine, but they were awake and smiling. They were holding the hand of another person who looked like them, and there were other people nearby. They looked sad, but happy. It was confusing. But not nearly as confusing as all the other dogs who were sitting around the bed watching the person.
I don’t know how many there were exactly, but it was so many they lined around the bed and kept going. One of them looked over at me and I knew straight away they were like me. They were all like me. They were there to help their person. They must all have been with this person through their life because every dog looked happy to see them.
I sat and watched them for a while. Pretty soon, the person in the bed went to sleep, and not long after that there were some noises and the people who were standing beside the bed started crying. Another person came in, touched the person on the bed, then said, “It is time.” While they were crying, no one saw that the person in the bed sat up. They saw all the people and smiled, then they saw all the dogs and laughed. The dogs went wild with happiness. They jumped up and wagged their tails and licked the person as they began to stand. The other people didn’t seem to notice them, but I don’t know how. They were so loud and happy!
One by one, the person knelt and pet each of the dogs, saying their names and kissing their heads. When they finished, all the dogs turned to see two doors that appeared in the room. One was bright and felt warm and inviting; the other was cold, dark, and I didn’t want to go anywhere near it, and neither did any other of the dogs. I could see they were unhappy with that door. The bright door opened, and all the dogs ran for it, their person following behind. When they had all gone through the door, it shut and both doors disappeared. I sat watching the people around the bed for a few more minutes, confused as to why they were still there since the person was already gone, then went back to Mine.
I was the only dog here. I realized with a jolt of sadness that My Person must never have had another dog. There were no people around them either. I wondered what had happened to make Mine so alone.
I sat down at the end of the bed and waited. People came to see Mine and I got excited, but they would only stay for a few minutes before they’d leave. They never spoke to Mine. They’d touch their arm or check the wires and tubes. No one else came. I thought about hopping up onto the bed and seeing if Mine wanted some comfort, but I decided they probably wanted to be left alone.
The memory of that first slap on the head came back. I don’t know why they slapped me, but I do know they never seemed to feel bad about it. Maybe that’s what happened to Mine? Maybe they never felt bad about anything.
It was not long before My Person started coughing. Mine coughed hard and it seemed like they would never stop. I watched as they coughed up bad-smelling stuff that fell onto the floor and their bed. Their face would turn bright red as they coughed and then they’d gasp and moan. It was not a good thing to watch and I was beginning to wonder what I was doing there. Did they send me out of the bright place to punish me? Was I a bad dog, again?
The memory of being called a bad dog was still so sharp and painful. I didn’t think I was a bad dog. No, that’s not right. I never thought I was a bad dog. I think Mine got confused and was angry at something else. They took it out on me and that wasn’t good, but it doesn’t mean I was bad. No, I must be here for a reason, and that reason is only for good dogs.
Soon, My Person stopped coughing. Their breathing sounded like the trees used to when the air got cold and the leaves turned crunchy and would fall. At least for a while. Then the leaf sound slowed. It was getting harder to hear when they were breathing. I was starting to lose track, their breaths were so shallow, when the machines beside the bed started making the same noises like the other person’s did. I looked around and saw that the other people who came in before weren’t coming. The machines made loud noises for a long while until finally someone came in. They sighed, touched Mine’s arm, then turned the machine off. It was quiet and they pulled a blanket over Mine’s head. They wrote something on some paper then went back outside. I watched them go then turned back quickly when I heard my name.
I looked and Mine was sitting up on the bed. They saw me and their face was all scrunched up. It took me a moment to realize they were confused, like I would sometimes get, and have to turn my head to try and figure things out.
They got out of the bed and walked over to me. “Joe?” They said. “Is…is that really you?” I let them pet me and I licked their hand. They still seemed confused.
“What’s going on, Joe? Why are you here? You’ve been dead for fifty years. I buried you myself after I took the sledge…” Mine stopped speaking and their eyes got glassy. They stood up, turned, and saw the bed.
I felt the doors before seeing them. The warmth and the cold competing for space. Turning, I saw the bright door on one side and the dark door on the other. I glanced back to My Person, who was still looking at the bed. I wondered if they could see the doors too. The bright door stayed shut, but the dark door swung violently open. The cold that came out of it made my fur shiver. I took a step away. I could tell that everything through that door was dead and cold. It was no place for me, but I remembered that I had to get My Person into it. I don’t know why, but I knew I was supposed to.
Turning to My Person, I licked their hand. They shouted, “Stop that!” and quickly pulled their hand up with the back of it facing me. Like they did that first time, and every other time after it. Mine froze when they saw the doors.
“What is this? What’s going on?”
I heard the same voices that spoke to me before, telling me to get My Person inside the door. It was my job and I needed to do it.
I went behind Mine and nudged their legs with my head. They responded by smacking my head and trying to kick me. I don’t know what happened to the person I used to love, but this wasn’t them anymore. This wasn’t the Mine I remembered. My Person was gone and I didn’t like this person. This Person was bad.
I jumped up and pushed my front legs into their back. They fell down on all fours with a yelp. They turned their head towards me, their eyes wide with fear, that changed to anger. I watched their lip curl into a snarl.
I remembered then that I knew how to do that, too.
Baring all my teeth, I let out my best growl and a bark.
Unlike that time on the street, this time they didn’t yell at me or swat my head. This time, I could smell the fear on them. It was a harsh, sharp scent that hurt my nose and I didn’t want it near me anymore.
I took two steps forward, keeping my teeth shown and my growl extra loud.
“Joe!” they yelped, falling onto their back legs and trying to scoot themselves away. “Joe, no! Bad dog! Don’t!” They raised their hands up, not to strike me, but to keep me from biting them. I nearly stopped at the thought that they were afraid of me.
Leaping forward I grabbed This Person’s ankle in my teeth and bit down hard. They screamed and tried to pull away and kicked with their other foot at my face. I knew if I let go they would get away and I wouldn’t get to go through the bright door. I held on tight and started pulling. I pulled them to the dark door. The cold from there was almost too much for me. I could feel it in the pit of my stomach. It was definitely no place for a dog.
This Person screamed and kicked, but I held on. They tried to grab the edge of the bed to pull themselves away but I just bit down harder and used all my strength to keep them heading to the door. Inch by inch I managed to pull them towards the door despite their struggling. It was when I felt my tail nearly cross over the threshold that I heard the same voices tell me not to cross. I stopped, let go of their ankle, and ran around behind them. They were still shrieking as they grabbed at the ankle I had bitten. There was no red that came out like before, but the torn, furless skin was hard for them to hold and put back together. They yelled horrible words at me and I pushed my head against their back, towards the door. Somehow, I had more strength than I’d ever had before and it let me really push them. They tried to hold themselves back by pushing on the ground, but I kept them moving forward. I had to bite their hand and their ear when they tried to turn around and hurt me. I didn’t like doing it but I knew it had to be done.
When the person’s foot barely crossed the threshold of the dark door, everything inside changed. The darkness inside the door seemed to come to life like the wriggly worms I used to see outside after it rained. But these worms were all black and they wrapped themselves around My Person’s foot. Their screaming got louder as the worms pulled them through the door. I didn’t have to push anymore and I felt them move ahead. The person turned around and tried to grab my legs but I bit their hands as hard as I could to keep them away. I knew they were supposed to be going in there and I wasn’t going to get in the way.
As the person I used to call Mine went through the door, the dark worms wrapped all the way around them. They screamed and the worms went in their mouth, covered their nose and eyes and pulled them the rest of the way inside. Maybe the worms had teeth or were sharp, because wherever they touched the skin, it ripped open like it did when I bit them. It didn’t take long for the person to be torn a lot. It was worse than when Mine stepped on glass one time, glass that I told him to watch out for. They got mad at me when I tried to help stop the red from leaking out of them. Even that tearing of their skin, which was the most I’d ever seen, was not as much as this. It was like their whole body had stepped on or rolled in glass.
The last I saw of the person was their white hair as it disappeared into the dark, and a moment after that the scent of it was gone, too. The dark door slammed shut and disappeared. The bright door opened and the voice inside said I was a good dog and to come in.
I smiled, wagged my tail, and went through the door.
I was indeed a very good dog.
A. S. MacKenzie
A. S. MacKenzie is an Atlanta based author who loves all things books, movies, games, and comics. He lives with his wife, spoiled dogs, and an unhealthy obsession with building things. He can be found building worlds in books, building plastic models, or building with wood. Check out his website at asmackenzie.com for ways to join his newsletter and read free stories. Also, he’s been known to frequent Twitter (@a_s_mackenzie) to say something vaguely interesting and Instagram (a.s.mackenzie) for food, travel, and random pics.