I hadn’t been down this road for a long while.
It’s quiet here, and I like that.
When I came around the bend, there he was, sitting on the side of the road; sitting very still. At first, I wasn’t sure why he was there, and then I noticed the large stick lying on the ground in front of him. I’ve seen this kind of behaviour before.
Hell, I’ve behaved like this before, but usually, there is a human involved, and usually they have thrown the stick, and the dog retrieves it and places it at the feet of its owner.
It’s a game and a damn good one.
When I was younger, I could keep it up for what seemed like hours.
Dogs aren’t good at ‘the passage of time’, so it may have been shorter than hours, but it seemed that way to me at the time. I love games, especially when humans are involved.
My theory was valid, but with one exception; there wasn’t a human in sight. I hadn’t seen one on my walk, and I had walked a long way.
I carefully approached him, making sure not to make eye contact; this was no time for a punch up.
I sniffed him, and he sniffed me back. I could tell that he had not eaten in a long time. His fur was in excellent condition, and his eyes were clear [I took a quick peek], but his breath said that his tummy was empty and had been that way for several days. He must have been in a bit of pain, but he was doing a good job of not showing it.
The words of my mother were ringing in my ears, “never show weakness, always look like you know what is going on, and give the impression that you are smart and strong, that way they will want you in the pack”. She never explained who ‘they’ were, but I listened, and I remembered. I think that this bloke’s mother must have told him the same stuff.
After a little while, I got a conversation going, and it turned out that his owner had driven him out here a few days ago, and they had been playing his favourite game, ‘fetch the stick’ when his owner said ‘wait here’. He then got back into his car and drove away.
This big black, faithful dog had been waiting here ever since.
I’ve been around a bit, and I was pretty sure that I knew what had happened.
I asked a few more questions.
“Has your family added a new small human recently? It smells like powder and milk, and it makes a lot of noises?” The big black dog said that they had, and he wanted to know how I knew. I pretended that I could smell the little human on him, but I couldn’t. I’ll bet that they put this big black dog outside and never let him guard the little human.
“Did the male and female human argue a lot and use your name?” Apparently they had, and he didn’t know what he had done wrong.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him what had happened so I told him to wait there and I would go and get him something to eat.
“I might not be here when you get back if my master comes back and collects me.” The big black dog’s voice did not sound very confident.
“Don’t worry about it. If you are not here when I get back I’ll eat the food myself.” This seemed to make sense to the big fella, so I headed back down the road. It was going to take a long time for me to find food and bring it back to him, but I knew he would be waiting when I got back.
Getting food wasn’t going to be a problem, but working out what I was going to do with this big dumb dog was going to require a bit of thought.
I got a couple of friends to help me distract the butcher so I could sneak in the back door and steal some chops. The bulldog and the Jack Russell from Scotia Street were only too happy to help out. They don’t like our butcher any more than I do.
I’m not very big, so I could only carry two chops, and that was never going to be enough to feed this big black hungry dog, but it was going to have to do for the moment.
On the way back, I hatched a plan.
Old Mrs McKenzie needed a dog to look after her since Bruiser got hit by that bus.
Bruiser was a good dog, and Mrs McKenzie was very lonely since he had died. She wouldn’t take another dog into her house because she was so sad about Bruiser, but I had a feeling that I could talk her into it. Now, all I had to do was talk the big black dog into following me back to her house. It was not going to be easy; he was not going to leave unless I could come up with an excellent reason. He wasn’t very bright, but he was very loyal. His owner was never coming back, but he would sit there and starve to death waiting for him.
It made me very mad.
The big black dog was very happy to see me or was it the chops I was carrying? Either way, the food got him to trust me.
It was starting to get late so I had to work fast.
While he was still eating, I told him that his owner had left word that he had been delayed and that he should follow me to Mrs McKenzie’s house and wait there.
The story was a bit too long, and he looked very confused, but I needed to keep all the detail, so I just went over it all again and tried to sound like it was all an adventure.
I must have been very convincing because he seemed to like the idea.
I suggested that we get some water at the stream that was close by because I was thirsty after all that walking and I was a bit concerned about the stamina of this big black dog after sitting out in the open for so long without food.
I need not have worried because we trotted along together and he ambled because I have very short legs.
When we got to Mrs McKenzie’s house, it was still light, and I scratched on the back door. It took her a while to open the door, but when she did, she recognised me.
“Hello, Rufus. I haven’t seen you for such a long time. I’ll bet you are missing Bruiser too, aren’t you boy?” She was right, I did miss Bruiser, but life goes on until it doesn’t.
“Who have you got with you there Rufus? What a beautiful big black dog you are.”
The big black dog licked her on the hand because he believed that she was a friend of his master so she must be a good person.
Mrs McKenzie looked to see if the big black dog had a name tag, but his owner had removed his collar before driving away.
“You look hungry, big fella. Would you like something to eat? I was just making my supper. You are welcome to join me. You too Rufus, if you like.”
I wasn’t going to say no because all the dogs in the neighbourhood know that Mrs McKenzie is an excellent cook.
Mrs McKenzie was trying to decide what to do with the big black dog, but I knew that there was an excellent chance that she would not turn the big black dog into the pound.
“I guess you can stay with me for a while. I’ll ask around and see if anyone has lost a beautiful big black dog. Someone is sure to claim you.”
Not bloody likely.
I told the big black dog that his job was to look after Mrs McKenzie until his owner came back for him. I told him that he was to protect her just like he would protect his owner.
He seemed to understand, and he was happy to have someone to look out for.
They would make a good team, and now it was time for me to head for home. I would probably be in a bit of trouble for getting home so late, but it would be worth it.
I saved someone today.
That does not happen every day.
This story is now part of SLIGHTLY SPOOKY STORIES.
I know — it’s been done a thousand times, and I know you are getting ready to turn away but wait.
Just give me a couple of minutes to explain.
This isn’t just another half-baked science fiction story, this really happened, and it happened to me.
To start with, there is a reason why there are so many stories going around about shrinking people, and there have even been a few movies on the subject — Rachel Welch was in one if I remember rightly. People are fascinated by the idea of really tiny people.
Sorry, I got a little sidetracked there — back to my story.
I was just another poorly paid research scientist working for one of those faceless, almost nameless U.S. corporations. They set up labs here in the 1950s when there was a considerable disparity between the value of our dollar and theirs — in other words, we were cheaper.
All that changed a few years back when the then President of the US, George W Bush did what no other President had done in the past — he didn’t defend the US dollar when it came under attack — he let it slide. He saw it as a quick fix for an economy in trouble — a cheap devaluation. Consequently, our dollar rose sharply in value.
Which is vaguely interesting, I guess, except that now our ageing laboratory and research complex is bleeding money — we aren’t cheap anymore.
The bosses told us point-blank —— “come up with something spectacular or face closure.”
I can’t afford to be out of a job, even a crummy job like this one is better than no job at all.
There is nothing like a little Armageddon-encouragement to get the juices flowing.
They wanted spectacular — I’ll give it to them.
I’d had the formulae worked out for some time, but I’d shelved the project partly because I didn’t want to be laughed at and partly because of the impracticality of human testing.
If it came down to it, I was, and still am, opposed to animal testing. I once sent an anonymous letter to the head of our complex, suggesting that I would find a way to turn him inside out if we ever resorted to that sordid business. He must have thought that I sounded crazy enough to do it because the idea stopped appearing on agenda sheets.
As I said, I was pretty sure that the formulae would work, so I advertised for test subjects. To my amazement the top brass let me. I guess they wanted to keep their lousy jobs as well.
I placed the ads and thought that would be the end of it — but no. We got a whole bunch of replies. At first, I thought they might be cranks, but when we arranged interviews, they all turned up with one exception, and even he rang in and apologised.
We ended up with a canteen full of prospective test subjects and, thanks to a microphone and portable Amp’ from a musician in Accounts, I addressed the assembled multitude.
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. We have gathered you here today to say that the murderer is in this room.”
Well, I thought it was funny, but all I got was blank stares.
“Sorry about that, just a bit of scientist humour.”
Still no smiles.
“We’ve got a right bunch here”, I whispered to my colleague, but he looked at me blankly as well. He later told me that he was trying to work out the joke.
I need a holiday.
“Before we go any further, I feel that I should make it quite clear that what you are signing up for is incredibly dangerous and will most likely result in your death. If you sign up, you are signing away the right for your relatives to sue us for your death, so all you will get is the $50 a day and a sandwich from the canteen, most likely ham and cheese, but there is always the possibility of ham and tomato.”
Dead silence. I even thought I heard a cricket.
“I said you could, and probably will die from the effects of these tests.”
A bloke up the back put his hand up and asked, “Exactly how many sandwiches do we get and are we paid at the end of the day, in cash, assuming we survive.”
A chorus of voices reiterated this bloke’s questions and added a few extras like, “Is a drink included with the sandwiches?” and, “Do we get a T-Shirt with I survived the mad-scientists’ experiments, assuming we do survive.”
This question got a lot of support, so I said, “Yes”. And they said, “Yes, to which bits?” To which I said, “Yes to all of it.”
What did I care?
Most of them were probably not going to survive, and the rest of them were going to be very tiny indeed. I could hand paint them if necessary. The whole thing was insane, and now the insanity had been lifted to a whole new level.
I could have been a doctor or a dentist like my mother wanted, but no, I had to ‘follow my dream’ and become a research scientist.
I’m going to shrink the buggery out of these people and save all our jobs.
Fast forward a couple of months and what should have been a celebration turns into a wake.
We successfully shrunk a whole bunch of people, and we were particularly successful with the women.
We were about to market the idea to a company that supplies secretaries all over the world when a bunch of five-star-US generals turned up. They told us that because the parent company was incorporated in the US, they were confiscating our research under the provisions of the Patriot Act.
So, we are out of a job, and the Yanks get to shrink anyone they like.
Bloody unfair if you ask me, but they did say that they would keep the canteen open while they packed up all our research and this means that we can eat all the sandwiches we want — for the rest of the week.
I have no idea what they are going to do with all the leftover ‘tiny little people’ that we had collected, and frankly, I don’t care.
I don’t work here anymore.
Oh, and by the way, no animals were hurt during the telling of this story, and no one got turned inside out, but a lot of sandwiches didn’t make it.