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TODAY

Monday, July 23

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Detour

"...and in tonight's headlines, a tragic dog attack on the Northwest Side kills three teenagers..."

"Pick a new name," D says, like it's the prerequisite to initiation. S spit out her usual response, "Why?" framed by the field house arches like giant question marks.

"Because you can't use your Christian name, it'd be sacrilegious," said D. S glared, frowning fat lips, and squinting blue eyes. Me just stood there, wondering if the passing headlights belonged to anyone's mom, not wanting to get caught giving up her soul on a school night.

V whined from behind a pillar, twisting and untwisting her double-jointed legs like she always did when she was nervous. First position, second position, backward position, and return, looking down at her feet, "Hey I can go almost all the way around now."

"Pick a name," D had picked a new victim.

"I'm a Jew, I don't have a Christian name," V sweetly explained.

He started the incantation anyway, standing on one foot, left hand on his head, right hand holding the toe of one airborne sneaker. He mumbled and bumbled a lot of nonsense words, grating phlegm noises coming from his throat and honking goose sounds coming from his nose. Me's elevens stood on end and her nostrils tingled, the spell weaving magic in the air despite the distracting sounds of the expressway nearby, despite the honking cars and grunting city buses farting exhaust into the cool October dusk.

"Me," said Me. "I'm nothing so it can't be sacrilegious to keep my own name."

S leaned against a pillar and picked at the crumbling mortar between the bricks, she was still pouting. Her Quinceanera was coming up soon, so if she dedicated her soul to the devil now she would have to try and get it back before then. She was deep in thought.

"Beelzebub" D intoned, "will be my new–"

"Loser! You're a joke" S tossed over her shoulder, already three paces past the black iron park gates, dust from the dried out dirt path coating her sandaled toes. "Movin' on," and she cocked her pointed black hat, swiping at the green face paint under her eyes.

~*~

Jack paced, scraping his wounded body with each pass of the black iron fence that barred his escape. He'd been rolling in shit and filth since yesterday's fight on the South Side, and now he was pissed off. He pressed his forehead against the bars, staring out at a parade of passing children while he gnawed on an apple one of them had pelted him with. Their high-pitched happy shrieks pricked at his clipped ears. His tail twitched. All he had to do now was wait. Master would come down soon enough with his bucket of kibble and a strong leash to clip on the barbed collar around his neck. Jack had no sense of time but he possessed a sense of association. Unfortunately, everything was associated with threat; even the creaking footsteps on the wooden stairs that signaled Master's arrival.

Thump! Thump! Thump! A boot beat open the warped old door barely hinged to its crooked frame. Jacks eyes lolled upwards, his stubby tail erect.

"Goddammit Jack!" the familiar voice was full of whisky and phlegm. "Shitting all over the fuckin' place!" Master barked as he approached, an electric prod in one hand, and the leash in the other. One zap and Jack slumped into the dirt while Master snapped on the leash and hooked it to the D ring screwed into an old pine stump. "This here is one fucked up old fighting dog." Master turned to the large man hovering nervously in the doorway. "Used to win every match, but now he's no better than a warm up round."

"He ever bred?" the stranger asked.

"Too mean, killed the first bitch we gave 'im, haven't tried since."

"Well, he looks like a good piece of meat, we'll try it again and if it don't work out, we'll just put 'im down."

"Nah, if he kills that bitch, I'll put him in for a last fight, let him die with honor."

"Alright, I'll give you half the stud fee, but if he takes her out I ain't gonna give you nothing more. He does his part right, I'll split the sales with you and that's it. I get one good dog out of him, it's mine."

"You get two good dogs out of him, and the second one's mine. I'll handle the sales, make sure I get my fair cut."

Jack was disoriented. He came to surrounded by a latticework of chrome in the rumbling cavern of an old maroon van. It stank like so much dried dog piss, sour beer, and shit. Jack was OK with this. He was not OK with the nauseating list of the chassis and its shot suspension. He felt every bump in the road, every vibration of the engine as it rattled his reinforced cage. When the van finally jerked to a halt, Jack tried to stand as the cage slid a few inches toward the rear doors, grinding chrome on the rusty floor of the van. The driver's side door was pushed open and swung back, following the pull of gravity down the slight incline the van was parked on. The stranger stuck out his hand, stopping the swinging door with a slap against the meat of his palm. The recoil sent shivers through the van, and it tipped and swayed as the big man stepped out. The cage slid into the rear doors with a thud. Jack crouched in anticipation, hind quarters tightly coiled, hot breath pouring steam over the metal of the cage latch and the rear door handle, interlaced like a couple of teeny-boppers' orthodontic braces. The stranger struggled with the rear door handle. Fucker wouldn't budge. Finally he threw a little weight into it, and the latch on Jack's cage snapped open as the stranger pulled open the rusted maroon doors.

~*~

"Faggot!" S was half way across the park when she turned to face her followers. Insults like that always made D feel like people already knew something about him that he didn't. It made him feel like he had something to prove.

"Prude!" he retaliated, shifting the red glitter coated horns on his head.

V giggled, always the spectator egging on the fight. D reached out behind him, expecting to grab hold of a hand or at least one of the girl's illicit bags of candy. He got a handful of blanket instead as it trailed from Me's shoulder, floating on the breeze.

"Stupid!" he chided her. "Can't you afford a real costume?"

Me yanked the corner of fabric out of his hand, fluidly wrapping the blanket tighter around her body. She looked away, never able to defend herself against this sort of comment. He knew that she couldn't. That's why she came to his house to do homework and always stayed for dinner.

V got there first, walking fast since she was always afraid of getting left behind. S rested her back against the mailbox on the corner and adjusted her watch. "Papi's gonna be home soon."

"Cut through bungalow row, it's faster," says Me. "Take the gangway by that one house."

"What, with the dog? All those yuppies got big ass dogs over there." S rolled her eyes.

"Yeah," says V, "but they don't bite. All those dogs go to school, or the people let them in the house."

The girls walked ahead, while D and Me trailed behind, D tugging aggressively at the blanket Me allowed to coquettishly slip down her shoulders. She was disappointed when she couldn't find a cheap trench coat at the thrift store to complete her costume. Her perspective changed when she realized how much fun it was to tease him with the undulating folds of the blanket, revealing then hiding what she was guarding beneath it. The others didn't have a clue, but D was starting to figure it out, as evidenced by a grin so wide his eyeteeth were showing. His movements become more rhythmic, tugging at the blanket as he moved closer to her, and she demurely moved away. Shuffle to, and shuffle fro, they shuffled gently into an overgrown yew hedge, soft needles brushing their cheeks, tickling her through the blanket, abundant bright red berries all around. He pressed, and they slid silently between the trees, her blanket covered back against the razor wire topped chain link fence.

"Slut!" Her invading shadow crowded in as S pushed aside the sheltering yews.

"Busted!" V smirked, hungry to see what she could.

"Fuck off!" and D backed toward them, turning just enough to see a third slinking shadow move over them in the dim alley light.

"He's here!" D cunningly grinned, "Swear allegiance or perish in his wrath!"

"You're such a dork," S showed her irritation.

"Beelzebub!" D picked up the incantation where he had left off.

V hopped on one foot, eager to finish the game before curfew, her bouncing shadow obscuring a low slinking presence curving around the weeds.

"Asshole, let it go already," growled Me, sensitized by unfinished business. She pushed her way out of the yews, rewrapping the cornhusk yellow blanket. D wasn't about to let her leave. His outstretched arm halted her exit, renewing his demand that she pick a name quickly. S's retreating steps ground the broken asphalt.

"Enough bullshit!" S huffed as she pivoted, tossing her bag of candy with a flick of her wrist. She looked away, entranced by a sudden rain of candy. She didn't see the leaping blur of shadow as it snatched the bag out of the air, like a bear trap snatching a piñata. V gasped, ready to scream, her open palms haphazardly collecting what they could when she saw that S no longer stared intently at her watch. Her face pointed skyward, her watch pressed against the fur of her attacker. V took one menacing hop towards the beast hanging from S's neck. It dropped, poised to lunge at the hot liquid running down V's legs.

"Beelzebub!" softly escaped D's lips, his eyes following V's winged golden helmet as it clattered to the ground and rolled away from her gutted form.

The dog crouched, bloody nails gripping at gravel, eye contact made. Fragrant needles turned stinging as D shuffled back towards the safety of the yew's thick feathery shield, but each foot shuffled in a different direction, tripping him up. He could feel Me's breathless panic on the back of his neck the way he usually felt her nasty moods in his gut. The yews resisted his backward approach, while his every movement seemed to draw the dog nearer, a shadow slinking through shadows, no dimness in its gaze. Shuffle to and shuffle fro, the yews gave, and D slipped in, splattered with the dog's foaming spit as it lunged and missed. And there she was, chest pressed against his back, weeping softly like she knew something he didn't. The coarse pilled blanket filled the space between his fingers, like the dog's vengeful growls filled his ears. He pulled gently at first, then persistently, wedging himself between the razor wire topped chain link fence and Me.

"No, no, no," Me whimpered, wrapped too tightly to escape.

"Sacrifice," he said, "it is required."

Me twisted, she turned, but she could not break free, sheltered by yews, blocked by D, and a nasty dog to face. He began the chant again, firmly shoving his offering towards its recipient.

Jack stood poised to strike, head low to the ground as the flailing mass toppled out of the bushes and into his personal space. He leapt back, then lunged forward, irritated by the high pitched wail coming in bursts from the kicking blob at his feet. Jack's teeth caught on the blanket as he shook and tore it apart, his nails gripping the fleshy form beneath him as he slipped and skidded on the shifting cloth that covered it. It was a delightful feeling, even as he was distracted by the sneakers frenetically kicking up dust in the bushes and the rustling of branches. He turned as D emerged, uttering only "Beelze–" before Jack pounced.

Me opened her eyes slowly to the sound of lapping and the vibrations of chain link rattling under the dog's paws. Best to lie still, she knew, wait for the approaching sirens to arrive, or the beast to wander off. She'd already sacrificed enough tonight.

 

About the Author(s)

E.W. Kaul is a writer living in Chicago. She enjoys trick or treating, wandering through dark alleys, and dog walking.

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