New house, new dog, but what evils could lurk inside of both?!
My Dog, Doug by David O'Hanlon
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“Daddy, I want this puppy,” Abby’s tiny voice replayed in Barry’s head as he wiped the dog shit off of his barefoot. Lindsey found the Armant on Craigslist. Normally, they were extremely hard to find outside of their native Egypt, not to mention expensive. Smart, protective, and loyal—they were the perfect breed for just about any family. He wasn’t a very large dog, less than two feet at his scraggly shoulders, nor did he look like he ate a lot. Plus he was free, which sealed the deal. The lady had told them that Doug needed more attention than she could provide, which wouldn’t be an issue with Abby. Why anyone would name a dog Doug, however, was beyond Barry’s understanding. Still, Abby and Lindsey thought it was adorable. So, Doug the Dog joined the family with an excited wag of his curly tail and a more excited screech from Abby.
The Warner’s had just bought a new home. It was much larger than they needed, but the location was isolated and it had been priced to sell. That was always a plus for the frugal Barry Warner. The fourth bedroom was an extra, so Barry had made it into a playroom for his daughter—who promptly rechristened it the set of the Abby and Doug Tea Time Review. Every afternoon, they sat at the pretty, pink picnic table in front of a live studio audience of stuffed animals while Abby talked about the cartoons that her and Doug had been watching. Doug’s role consisted of sitting on the bench and fighting the urge to lick his own ass. Barry credited the dog for being such a good sport. Every once in a while, the dog would even offer a yip of agreement to Abby’s seven-year-old opinions on the geopolitical climate of Oz and other fantasy worlds. They had been in the house a week when the noises started—scratching in the walls that immediately sent Barry’s horror writer brain into action. You can’t write scary stories without believing, on some base level, that it could actually happen. Barry was a practical man, so he immediately got out his EVP recorder and began to scan the house. Obviously, there was something strange going on. He didn’t pick up anything out of the ordinary, though. Lindsey told him it was probably nothing. By the second week, they began to find things out of place or just missing altogether. Still, Lindsey insisted that they were simply being forgetful or Abby was moving them in an attempt to be funny. Who wouldn’t find disappearing house keys humorous, after all? And the attic door opening on its own? Well that was just a real gasser. Lindsey swore it was a breeze blowing in from some bad seal or something, but Barry had written this novel twice and knew the skeptic was always wrong. The strangeness continued over the next three weeks and Barry was thoroughly convinced that there was a ghost in their new home. It seemed Doug thought so, as well. Barry had been woken up at three one morning by a low, long, growl emanating from the playroom. Barry crept down the hall armed with a less-than-intimidating participation trophy from a Halloween writing contest. He found Doug standing on the picnic table, ears pricked up, and teeth bared. He was staring at the ceiling growling continuously. “Doug,” Barry whispered. The dog didn’t respond. More growling at the ceiling, but nothing else. Barry stepped further into the room and said the dog’s name again. He noticed the time on the Disney clock. It’s just a coincidence, he tried to convince himself. It’s definitely not a demon. Still, he cocked back the little trophy unsure if he would be better striking with the faux-marble base or the bedazzled jack-o-lantern topper. Barry reached for a play broom propped up on the Little Tykes kitchen and bumped the spot on the ceiling Doug appeared to be staring at. Barry jumped as things in the ceiling ran in different directions to get away from his thumping. In the dead of night, the tiny claws scratching the crawlspace echoed around him. Barry patted the dog with a sweaty palm and went back to bed, but not to sleep. That would take a while. It’s definitely not a demon, Barry. He reassured himself. Shit. Please don’t be a demon. Once the sun came up and some Lucky Charms went down, he was ready to do some investigating. “Doug, find the rats.” He pointed at the ceiling with a thumb. Doug, climbed into the chair next to him and waited for his cereal. Barry looked down at his bowl, spooned out the last couple of marshmallows and slid the soggy leftovers to the dog. “Don’t get used to it. I’m only doing it because you’re my canary today.” Once Doug was done eating, Barry grabbed a box of Milk Bones and headed for the basement door. Doug whimpered and looked towards the ceiling. He ran upstairs and Barry followed after him. Maybe the rats are isolated upstairs. Or maybe the ghosts live in the basement. He wasn’t sure which idea he would prefer. The spry young dog made it up the stairs long before he did and he watched as Doug ran over to Abby in the playroom and gave her sloppy kisses. Abby gave him a hug and told him she loved him, after which the dog trotted back to the door, looked up at Barry, and gave a sharp bark before embarking back down the stairs. He wanted to kiss his human goodbye before we face certain death. Barry wiped a manly tear from his cheek. The basement stairs creaked as Doug and Barry inched down them. The dog was alert, Barry was spooked. His bladder quivered with each groaning step. The basement was well lit and spacious, the exact opposite of what every horror movie, ever, had prepared him for. He waved his EVP recorder around the room. Nothing. Doug stopped suddenly and began sniffing the air. He cocked his head sideways and then walked cautiously to the old work bench on the far side of the basement. Barry watched as Doug worked his head underneath the bench and came back over. Doug dropped the dead rat at Barry’s feet. Its head and one of its legs were missing, but it was most definitely a rat. “Damn it, Doug.” Barry kicked the rat. “Lindsey was right. I’ll never hear the end of this. We better find the rest of them.” He was sure there had to be more of them after the noise they made the night before. He inspected the baseboards for any holes they could be using to get around. It occurred to him, that he didn’t actually know what a rat’s hole looked like. He doubted that it would be the neat little archway of the cartoons. He heard the scratching again. An unseen rat ran overhead. Then another. Then a small group. A frantic burst of barking sent him into the air and knocked ten years off of his life. Doug was going ballistic. The Armant snapped at the air, snarling and barking, as he bounced around. The scratching in the ceiling grew louder and spread across a wider area than before. There were a lot of rats up there and they were all moving at once—moving towards him. The antique, asbestos ceiling tiles broke under their weight and dozens of rats poured from the ceiling. They swarmed around Barry’s ankles and crawled across his feet. He went Michael Flatley on their asses and started stomping out a jig in an attempt to kill the vermin before they could escape. He slipped on one’s rupturing carcass and almost fell into the sea of rodents. Doug ran the direction the rats had come from, hitting the wall full force. The rodents scurried away from Barry in too many directions for him to keep track of, but the dog was focused solely on the wall. Barry screamed shrilly and slapped the beasts away as he struggled upright. He shook and checked to make sure none were clinging to him before joining Doug by the wall. He beat his fist against it to see if there were any more rats hiding. But there was no scratching or fleeing this time. No, there were no sounds of frightened rats. This time, something knocked back. Barry and Doug exchanged concerned glances and then both ran for the stairs.
Barry went to the basement later in the day to clean up his kills before they started stinking. He rushed to dispose of them before Lindsey got home from work—partially to spare her from the gruesome bag of squished rats, but mostly to avoid admitting he was wrong. Unfortunately, she pulled in right as he dumped them in the big green can. Apparently, ghosts weren’t as scary as rats. As soon as Barry recounted the day’s adventure, she ran to their room and packed a suitcase for her and Abby. Barry and Doug would be left to handle the raging rodent problem. He tried to tell her about the strange knocking and how he thought that was a sure sign of a ghost. “It’s a sure sign of a big damn rat, Barry!” She shoved the clothes into the bag haphazardly. And that was the end of the discussion. If your wife says the house isn’t haunted, then the damn house isn’t haunted. That’s the way it works. Barry sighed in defeat and helped her pack. They left that night to stay with family in Rogers, away from rabies-infected vermin. Barry sat on the couch and opened a can of Arkansas Red. He turned on the EVP recorder just to be sure as he opened his laptop. “Tomorrow we have to find an exterminator, Doug. Tonight though, tonight we are kings!” The 69 Eyes began playing through the laptop speakers while Barry ordered a pizza. “Would you like breadsticks or cheesy bread?” Doug cocked his head and groaned. “Right, stupid question.” Six sticks of cheesy bread and one slice of Meat Cravers later, the dog was lying on its back half asleep and gassy as hell. Barry was trying to enjoy a Hammer films marathon, but the scariest thing in the room was the dog’s farting. The next morning, Barry stepped into the pile of dog poo by the front door. The squishy warmth between his toes, reminded him of his horrible decision-making the night before and he made a mental note not to feed the damn thing pizza ever again. He cleaned up the mess and started looking for an exterminator. Every job can be done three ways. Fast, correct, and cheap… but you can only get two at a time. He checked the Google reviews and found one that said “Cheap, same day service.” Yahtzee. We have a winner. He dialed the number while munching on a piece of the leftover pizza. He had time to kill, so he decided to get some writing done and sat down at his desk. He was halfway into his second paragraph when Doug nudged his leg. The dog held the TV remote from the playroom in his mouth. “Abby’s not home, you don’t have to watch cartoons today.” Doug whined in response. “What? You want to watch cartoons?” Doug’s tail wagged viciously. “Right. Of course you do. Come on, then.” Barry went into the playroom and turned on the TV and started whatever movie was in the DVD player. Doug hopped into one of the miniature papasan chairs and waited for the show to start. Barry sighed and retreated to the office where he managed an entire page before Doug was whimpering next to him again. “Not now, Doug.” He gave the dog a gentle push with his foot. The doggie door was unlocked so the dog could let himself outside and there was a bowl full of food. He wanted for nothing. Doug gave a small bark, spun in a circle, and ran to the office door. Barry grunted and turned back to the computer screen. He started rolling sideways slowly. Barry wasn’t sure how to process the sight of the small dog dragging the office chair. Barry got up and Doug ran out of the room. Barry followed him and found him sitting on the bench of the pink picnic table. Doug looked at Barry, then the TV, then Barry again. “Really? You want me to watch cartoons with you?” A single bark and some frantic tail wagging answered the question. “Can you understand me?” Another single bark. “You’re shitting me, right?” Two barks. Barry twisted his mustache around his finger, looked at Doug for a long minute, and then decided that this was the official limit for crazy in one week. “I’m going back to work now and I’m going to pretend this conversation never happened.” He had just sat down when the banging on the door made him jump back out of it. All he wanted to do was finish one damn chapter, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. He looked out of the window and saw a PT Cruiser painted to look like a rat in his driveway. It even had a tail bolted onto the hatch. “Cheap and tasteful, I see.” Barry stomped down stairs and opened the door. The man in the brown coveralls was some horrific hybrid of John Goodman and an outhouse. He spat a glob of tobacco into Lindsey’s potted fern, narrowly missing Barry’s zombie garden gnomes. Barry squinted at the name stitched over the man’s breast in bright yellow. Looking back at the man, Barry was certain it was neither a typo nor a nickname—the exterminator’s birth certificate definitely said ‘Ham’ as well. “What’s bugging you?” he asked with a brown-toothed grin. “Get it? Bugging you.” “You’re a rodent exterminator, so no. Not at all, in fact.” Barry stared blankly at the neanderthal. “Well… rats.” Ham fake laughed at his own pun. “Not even a chuckle, huh? Damn. I worked hard on that setup too. Look, I get paid twelve shitty bucks an hour to crawl my big ass around in spaces sized for midget turds while handling chemicals that’ll probably have me growing tumors in my eyeballs. I suck at this people greeting stuff, but I’m mighty good at waffle-stomping cute and cuddly rodents. So, what do you want me to kill?” “Now we’re getting somewhere.” Barry smiled. “Rats, lots and lots of rats. They’re in the walls and ceilings. About forty of them fell through in the basement, but we’ve heard them upstairs too.” “Awesome. Rats are easy.” Ham slapped Barry’s shoulder. “I’ll start by putting bait stations and—” Barry cut him off. “Do you know how to write a novel?” The exterminator thought about it. “Don’t reckon I do.” “Do you want to learn?” Ham gave an honest shrug. “Not particularly.” “Well, I don’t want to learn how to kill rats. I do, however, want to write a novel. So, you kill the rats, I’ll write the book, and when you’re done I’ll write you a check for an hour longer than you actually worked, so you can go grab a beer or something.” “Hell, that sounds like a mighty good deal.” Ham rubbed his double set of chins thoughtfully. “You know, my boss makes me use this really shitty poison. It only kills the weak ones, that way you think you’re getting your money’s worth, but still have to call us out for a second visit. But if you were to make it two extra hours, and pay that bit in cash, I’d go ahead and use the good stuff now.” “You have a deal, good sir. Now go make things dead, please.” Barry went back to his office and found Doug sitting in the rolling chair with a can of beer in his mouth. He let the slobbery can roll across the desk when Barry walked in and then picked up his ball from the seat of the chair. “You’re trying to bribe me into playing ball?” A single bark. “No, Doug. We’re not playing ball. Go watch cartoons and lick yourself. I would if I could, but I keep falling off the damn couch. Revel in my envy of your flexibility and let me get some work done. Please?” Two barks. Barry grabbed Doug’s collar and tugged until he got out of the chair. He picked up the beer, flopped down in the seat, and thumped the top a couple of times before opening it. “This is a really cool trick, though. Tell you what, when I finish this chapter we’ll play a little catch.” Doug skulked out of the room without a sound and returned to the playroom. Barry continued working on his chapter. The hero had just found the zombie whorehouse and he needed to keep the image alive—well, undead—while he completed the scene. He heard a crash down the hall and let his head fall on the desk. The solid mahogany hit back and he immediately regretted the decision. If Doug was tearing things up, he was going to get dropped in a wok before the night was through. In the playroom, he found the dog. Only Doug, didn’t look quite like Doug. The tan and black fur ball rolled around on the floor whimpering. Barry felt the sudden tinge of guilt. The previous owner said the dog was needy, but he never thought it would drop dead from lack of attention. Doug’s collar snapped off as his neck bulged and pulsated and then he went suddenly still. Barry stepped closer to check on him. Doug’s front leg reached out from his body and Barry stopped in his tracks. The toes had extended into nubby little fingers. He looked over the dog’s body and realized that wasn’t the only change. He looked stockier. And his hind legs looked… wrong. Slowly, the dog got up and stood on his back feet—his only feet. The bipedal Doug looked at Barry and then lifted a tea cup from the picnic table. He took a sip of the make-believe beverage with his brand-new pinky in the air. “Oh shit.” Barry eased the door closed and backed out into the hallway. The door knob turned and Doug stood there for a long moment. He raised his furry doggy hand and wiggled his fingers. Barry ran for the stairs, taking them two at a time. That is until he missed a step and took the last six at once. He met the hardwood floor with a thud. He tilted his head back and saw Doug bouncing down the stairs as best as his restructured legs would allow. Barry got up, felt the pops and aches from the fall, and limped to the kitchen. He threw open the basement door to get the exterminator, but stopped on the steps. Doug ran into his back and they teetered for a moment. Both of them stood there, staring down into the basement. Ham was nowhere to be seen… and neither was the floor. Instead there was just a tide of writhing black fur as thousands of rats tried to move around one another. Doug and Barry exchanged looks, decided that the basement was officially off limits and promptly headed back into the kitchen. Doug shut the door, which was somehow more disturbing than the rat orgy in the basement. Barry huffed with his hands on his knees. Doug stepped forward, standing eye-to-eye with the author. Barry gave the dog a quick kick in the balls and bolted away while he yelped behind him. Barry hobbled back upstairs with Doug the dog-boy in pursuit. He screamed for the exterminator, but got no response. Doug growled behind him and Barry ducked into his bedroom, slamming the door. Doug tried the knob, but it wouldn’t turn. “Ha! You can’t pick locks can you, Doug?” Barry yelled through the door. He leaned against the door and tried to process everything. An excited panting echoed his own heaving breathes. It was then, that he remembered the bathroom that connected their room to Abby’s. “Oh, you got to be kidding me.” He turned around in time to see Doug launch himself through the air. The door shattered into splinters as the dog collided with him. Barry laid in the hall, sucking air with a Doug sitting on his chest. Barry swatted the dog off him and tried to get up only to feel Doug’s teeth latch onto his ankle. Barry swung his leg like an extra in a ninja flick and bounced Doug off the drywall. Doug, the malevolent size of a toddler, threw a punch straight into Barry’s groin. The author collapsed and hit the dog with a piece of the broken door. They both groaned on the plush carpet, trying to catch their breath. Whatever was about to happen, however, was interrupted by the attic door swinging down. The oversized exterminator did a funny little roll down the narrow steps and face-planted. Ham scrambled to his feet, jumped over Doug and Barry, and ran away with a final scream of “Brownies!” He moved quickly for a man his size—too quickly as he hit the stairs faster than he meant and went toppling down. Doug and Barry got up and walked to the top of the stair case. At the bottom, the exterminator was still in the wreckage of a curio cabinet. His neck was bent at an unnatural angle and with a halo of broken action figures around his leaking skull. “I didn’t think anything else would surprise me today, but here we are.” Barry twisted his mustache. “My insurance is going to go through the roof.” Doug gave a bark of agreement. “What do you think he meant when he said—” “Knock, knock,” a raspy voice said behind them. Doug and his human turned around hesitantly. Twelve tiny men, about a foot tall, with sharp teeth, and clothes made from rat hides were standing with spears and swords made of broken glass. “Brownies.” Barry sighed. “I guess that means Lindsey was right. It’s not ghosts.” Doug barked once. “Well Doug, what do you say?” Barry looked down at Doug. The shape-shifting pooch laced his furry fingers together and popped his knuckles. Barry rolled his shoulders. “Let’s kick some brownie ass.” One bark.
As it turned out, cleaning dog crap wasn’t nearly as much work as getting brownie stains out of the cream-colored carpet. The ambulance had taken away the exterminator’s body and his boss promised a ten percent discount on any future service for the inconvenience of his worker dying in Barry’s home. Barry negotiated it up to fifteen. Lindsey and Abby would stay the weekend at her parent’s house while the poison worked on the rats. Which meant there was only one thing left for Barry to do. The sauce sizzled as Barry tossed the meat and vegetables in the wok. The damn dog had done a number on him and he had taped ice packs onto the various bruises. An imported bottle of Irish whiskey and fistful of ibuprofen were helping with any remaining pain. He spooned the stir fry over the noodles, grabbed a beer from the fridge, and went to the living room. He pushed play and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter started up on the big screen. Doug took the beer from Barry and cracked the top open. His mouth wasn’t designed for cans, so he poured it into a bowl on the coffee table and lapped it up. Barry took a bite of his stir fry and offered the plate to Doug who gave a low growl. “Oh, don’t be like that. You haven’t even tried it. It’s actually pretty good. And we have to do something about the rats, so eat up. Tomorrow we’ll try smoking some.” Doug took a tentative bite of the rat chow mein and proceeded to pig out once it met his discerning approval. “I hope you know, you’re going back to doggy Doug when the girls get home.” Doug let out a quick bark of agreement before holding the plate out for seconds. “You’ve got hands now, go get your own.” Barry put his feet up on the table and sipped his whiskey. Doug was certainly a handful, but it wasn’t all bad. The shape-shifter would make a great assistant and he liked all the classic horror films—he even gave Galaxy of Terror two freaky thumbs up. Having a dog-monster might actually be pretty awesome. Time would tell. Barry would work on the new book tomorrow. Tonight, him and Doug were kings again. The End
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