Bailey’s toenails scraped the hardwood as she drew up each paw till she arrived at the boy’s closed door. If it swung open even the slightest, just as there’d be no stopping the light, there was the sense that she’d barge through, but as it were now, closed, she stood outside without motion. Not a tail wag. Not an ear twitch. Not even a head tilt. Somehow oblivious to the rest of the room.
“You can go ahead and try,” Elyse said waiting against the counter on the far side of the room by Margie. She’d put on a pot of coffee for the officer to be polite. “But she’s a bit ornery with newcomers. Harmless, but stubborn.”
“Fair enough.” Jimmy looked around the room for a volunteer. Bedraggled people uncomfortable with even eye contact in the presence of his authority, but only one still awkwardly held a coat, a coat that by coloring and size was not made for a man, even such a scrawny one. “Dane, right?”
“Damion.” It’d been a decade but the physicist still held venom from their second meeting, when Jimmy had also forgotten, and their third, and just about every other time, even days apart. The buddies, the champs, the pals, the sports, the Ds because with his name and in class that was all Jimmy could get right, the vocative case left hanging.
“Sorry, it’s been a minute. Hop to it.”
Jimmy kicked his head toward the other door and Damion wasn’t sure what he meant for a second, then it clicked in that rigorous STEM brain.
Stammering, he asked, “The dog? Me? Why me?”
“C’mon, champ. I’m deputizing you for this. I’ll watch your six.”
After a look around the room, Damion found zero support for his resistance, even though it’d affect his allergies if the dog hadn’t bathed within the last 48 hours and it probably hadn’t and Quinn knew this if she hadn’t forgotten (she had), but without anyone else volunteering, with his lot drawn, he relented. At arm’s length, he tried nudging the dog’s muscular hindquarters with two fingers, careful to avoid potentially poopy areas.
Bailey didn’t move.
So he gave it the whole hand just above the tail and ruffled the fine fur like grating the dog’s spine, but at least it led him toward the collar. He pulled.
Bailey leaned but stayed.
Damion looked to the owners for support: tips, a command, something, but they were both across the room, Elyse watching the coffee and James with his hand on shivering Beagsley’s head, and they each moved as much as their dog--not at all.
“Can we speed this up, D?” Jimmy asked, still near the door so he had a full view of the room and its people during this encounter. “Show him you’re the alpha.”
“Her,” James corrected the police officer.
“Even easier then.”
Damion clenched the collar like he did those pull-up bars every night and just like he’d show anyone that doubted him, he was going to show the dog that nerds could be strong, too. He yanked.
Bailey stumbled and, as quiet as ever, looked at Damion.
Elyse had just shut the cabinets after pulling out the half-gone container of Entenmann's crumb-topped donuts, meant to be tomorrow’s breakfast but readied now, again to be polite toward the officer, but seeing Damion struggle so much, she opened the cabinets once more. “Maybe I can convince her with a treat.”
She pulled cans off the shelves to get to the full box of treats in back and Damion, with all the eyes on him especially Jimmy’s, started feeling pressure. He yanked at the collar again. Then hit the girl, muttering, “Let’s go.”
The dog would not go.
Meanwhile, attention off of her, Margie crept toward the table with the rifle. Jimmy saw her move but gave it a glance and after their eyes met, nothing more.
“I know you’re not used to bedside manner, Damion,” Sunny said, ready to step in if he did it again. “But you really should be gentler with other people’s dogs.”
“It wouldn’t move!” His voice got whiny with a defensive laugh like every other time he got called out.
“That’s not how you treat a dog.”
Jimmy interrupted, “Yes, it is,” and Sunny went quiet. “Maybe not your precious midget corgis, but this dog is a workhorse. It’s been bred for this treatment and they only respond to superior force.”
Even without her special connection to animals, Quinn knew that was a load of-- “Bullshit. It just makes her see you as a threat.”
He kept his eyes fixed on that dog. On Damion. “A threat to be submitted to.”
“You’re whittling away the trust.”
James put the Beags down on the couch. “Maybe I can…”
Bailey looked at him.
“Maybe it’ll be okay to leave her out.”
With a shrug, Jimmy said, “You sure? Okay, Deputy, if you’ll open the door.”
Silence filled the room as everyone waited for Damion to realize he’d been drafted. “Me? Again?” There was a long groan that garnered little sympathy for the monumental task of essentially opening a door. The dog stayed in the way. And as Damion reached for the knob--
The dog flew onto his chest. Damion was pinned, flailing, then limp.
Rushing to pull off the dog, what Quinn saw dripping from its teeth made her recoil away but she’d already gotten too close and Bailey lashed out at her, too. In a few breaths, both were dead, chunks of their necks missing, and the dog returned to its post.
Rosie pulled herself under the blanket. James and Elyse and even Jimmy didn’t react but like maybe they weren’t shocked. Only Sunny tried to move till Margie yelled not to.
“There’s no helping them now, and look at it,” Margie said, calmer in the excitement than she’d been before. Bailey had returned to her spot outside the boy’s door with bodies on either side of her. “It’s not attacking anyone. It’s defending. Against a threat.” Her eyes traced from Damion to Jimmy.
Elyse put the box of dog treats down. “You should leave.”
Jimmy slung off his bag. “I don’t think Hush.Ca would appreciate leaving its experiments on the loose.”
The two residents of the cabin clenched.
He continued, pulling out a metal container covered in hazardous warning stickers, “When the Gunny reported this, I honestly didn’t know why I had to be so prepared for two brainiacs but I brought the gun. I brought the acid. Do you want me to use it?”
There was only silence from either end of the room and from the closed door with the dog in front. The little noise filling the cabin was from the main party twisting their necks and their coat collars rubbing up.
Jimmy pulled out a radio.
But before he could contact the Gunny, James dove on him. That canister went for a roll along the hardwood and the two wrestled on the ground till a crack of fire shot from the wall. Margie held the rifle. Jimmy threw off James’s body, the head torn open.
Turning toward Elyse, Margie said, “I might be out of bullets but I can swing this thing like hell still so don’t move.”
Elyse put the dog treats down.
Sunny had been watching the dog during the scuffle, but it too stayed still. “What’s behind the door?” she mumbled to herself.
But this was the victory for tonight. It wasn’t perfect or pretty, but it was what they got. They’d won. They had the evil doctor cornered and Jimmy had all the answers. He’d protect them.
“I don’t like this.”
Everyone, even Rose peeking out from her blankets, looked at Margie.
“Why?” Sunny asked.
Elyse, still as that statue dog, had her eyes on Damion and Quinn. It wasn’t regret in her eyes.
The plastic casing around the radio had dented but it worked fine. Jimmy called into the receiver, “Gunny, you up? Whoever’s monitoring this channel, put me on with the Gunny. We found your defectors and their little dog, too.”
“You should leave,” Elyse said.
The room’s attention turned toward the doctor now, but Rose, from under her blanket, followed her gaze to the bodies.
Jimmy shook off the doctor’s warning. “We’re not going anywhere till the Gunny gets here.”
Then the radio kicked on. “Good work, Jimmy. If it starts moving, use the acid.”
“The dog seems like he’ll behave for now.”
“Not the dog, Jimmy.”
Elyse said again, “You should leave.”
“The bodies, Jimmy. If they…”
He let the radio clatter onto the table as he fumbled for the acid. Damion and Quinn were on their feet. He began unscrewing the lid but those corpses were quick and they were on him and like the radio, the acid canister went tumbling.
The drip from the dog’s fangs were not the blood of its victims, but the same black goo that had infected Tony.
Margie grabbed Sunny to pull her toward the front door, hoping Rose would rise to the occasion and do the same for Beagsley but the couch occupants only jumped as the boy’s door creaked open, and hand on the knob, Margie wasn’t going back for them.
The cold air hit the fleeing women. Margie closed her eyes. She was without a coat but the warmth of adrenaline would get her down this mountain; it had to.
But as she rushed out blind, she ran into two bodies under the lit porch lamps.
Malia and Glenn had returned from the cars.
“We have to go,” Sunny said, pushing her brother and lover the other way but they pushed back in unison. They pushed Sunny and Margie back into the cabin with equal strength though Glenn was a foot taller and a hundred pounds heavier than his partner. Their eyes were the same, glazed over, deadened.
“Glenn, stop!” Sunny didn’t know. She didn’t know her brother wasn’t inside there. This was her first encounter and in that moment, she couldn’t reconcile what was happening.
But Margie could. Finally, after everything tonight, the fight in Margie died.
Damion and Quinn were at the dog’s side, and with their prisoners, Mal and Glenn marched that way too. The light of the main room did nothing to penetrate the blackness beyond the door but before the veil, Margie saw death and she saw what was after.
At the counter, Elyse had a cup of coffee like she was fueling up for work and with a sip, she said, “Sorry.”