Leftovers Ch. 06byLatrani©
I sipped from my first Thermos, deliberately turned away from my "passenger". Instead I watched the sparkles of ice crystals outside. The wind blew them in ghostly curtains across the lot, occasionally showering the bus with them. Warm broth filled my senses, infusing my stomach with a natural heat that was a pleasant counterpoint to Black Dog's bite. I picked up a rose petal from the floor and sniffed it. The monster grinned; I could see his teeth reflected in the faint glare of the window.
He knows he's won. He's just waiting for you to turn yourself over and make it official.
"Come here often?" I asked the windshield, and took another sip.
"Every chance I get, Jackie Dukes," came the answer from over my shoulder. "I wouldn't miss seeing you for the world."
Another sip. "Jackie's enough, isn't it? We're kinda informal now, I think." I paused, almost glanced back. "So your friends call you Black Dog. How many names do you have?"
I could hear his leather sliding forward on the seat. "All kinds of names, little Jackie. Black Dog, Kelpie..."
"Dubh CuMannain," I interjected in a quiet tone, imitating the tone I had heard in the dream. Doov coo. So soft.
He paused, perhaps just a little surprised. "Good, little Miss Jackie... Padfoot, Trash Hound... all depends on who's doing the talking." I felt him lean forward. "Which one do you like?"
I waited a few seconds. "Mostly I just call you 'Bastard'," I finally told him with a hint of a smile.
"Is that the one that makes you warm inside? Or do they all make you warm now?"
I didn't answer, which was answer enough, really. I turned away and took another pull from my Thermos. I was having trouble feeling the heat of the broth, next to the fiery lines that traced from my heart into my neck and belly.
Suddenly I felt his breath on my ear, his whispers. "You have no idea how hard it was to wait for you, watch you, smell you and make myself stay away. I needed to just give in for a moment, to slip up and taste the back of your neck, just once." His breath moved down, as far down as my collar would allow. I stared at the windshield. I couldn't seem to see his reflection in it. The nape of my neck was shrieking in terror or anticipation.
"But I couldn't waste you. Most people run, even if they don't want to. The fear breaks through their need. You didn't run. You walked toward me, Jacqueline Dukes." His hand was touching my ponytail now, petting it, not quite curling up in it. "So here we are, and I can smell how ready you are."
I dropped the empty Thermos to one side, onto the black bag in which the other one sat. "You said that some people are smart enough to want to get out of this world," I murmured to the thing over my shoulder. "Why are you still around?"
A second's pause. "I don't get to leave." Another pause. "But I'm not one of those people, little Jackie. You are."
I stood and turned to face him. The Dog looked as if he should be drooling. I could smell his heat and mine, and the dampness seeping out of both of us. I felt as flush as he looked. Our blood was so close to the surface that I thought I could even smell it. (You will soon enough, Jackie Baby. Count on it.) "All I needed was to get out of this place, Dog, not this world." My voice grew a bit firmer. "Like you said, I'm not dead yet. There's no reason for me to get that way."
"Insurance, little Jackie," he replied, reaching up to stroke my cheek. I had no room to escape his hand. "I don't want to see you like that. Stay here long enough and you'll shrivel. Don't you know that?" He cupped my chin, and I could taste my own warm breath mixing with the earthy scent of his palm. "I've seen it before, let a ripe, wonderful creature go while I found lesser fare. They always faded and died, always, even if they kept walking around. Neither of us wants that, do we?"
"I'm not one of them, Black Dog. Not anymore." My voice was miles away from steady, but I knew then that I was telling the truth.
"Let me be the judge of that," he said, and leaned down towards me, his teeth sharper than they had been a moment before.
The fear broke through the need for me, then. I planted my feet and drove the heel of my palm up into the Dog's chin. His teeth snapped together loudly, and he swayed for a second. I brought my other hand up and struck his nose with a clipped yell as he recovered, and his eyes showed white even though I failed to break anything.
I jumped for the door. He caught my coat.
Black Dog tugged hard and spun me past him, and I ended up in the aisle instead of on the steps. He let go and grinned at me. I tried to flash him a sarcastic smile in return, but only managed a small whimper. I started to reach for the small of my back, but he darted forward and grabbed me again.
We wrestled for a second, neither able to get a solid grip in the folds of our coats. I yelled, managing to cry out, "Get away!" and he let go. I lost my balance and tumbled into a seat, smacking my head against the side window. I scooted backwards, trapped.
Standing above me, Black Dog cracked his neck and grinned. "Just like a lady to change her mind, as they say. Don't worry, little Jackie. I know what you really mean." He set his hands on the seatbacks to either side of me, and leaned in to sniff. His head was above and between my raised knees. His gaze moved down to roam over my hips, my crotch. "Soft as silk." He set a knee on the seat and slid closer. His eyes were yellow.
I tugged my coat out of the way and reached back with my left hand as the Black Dog hovered over me. "I guess you don't watch a lot of television?" I asked between gulps of air. He paused, suddenly suspicious.
The grin almost left his face when I produced the revolver. It was carefully coated in five layers of plastic wrap. "A tiger won't eat what it can't smell," I told him. I tensed my wrists and tugged back on the trigger at a range of less than two feet.
The pain in my hands and arms was awful, but nothing compared to the sound. The explosion shook the bus, lifted Black Dog up and back, shattered a window behind him, and tore at my hypersensitive eardrums worse than the recoil tore at my hands. I dropped the revolver, clutched my head, and shrieked. I couldn't even hear my own cries. The smell of burning plastic entered my nostrils, along with cooked flesh and new blood. My hands and face were covered in crimson splatter. I rubbed my eyelids and looked up through the pain that was still shaking my skull. A red cloud coated the ceiling and opposite wall. A haze of smoke curled up from the revolver on the seat, where the wrapping had peeled back. And Black Dog was trying to get up.
"Oh, good goddamn you!" I yelled, though I couldn't hear it. "No you don't!" I snatched up the weapon, far too large for my frame, and braced against the side of the bus behind me as he halfway regained his feet. I fired again, only able to feel the shot this time. Black Dog's collarbone exploded. He spun and fell into the aisle. My arms shook with the recoil, and my already injured wrists went numb. The revolver fell back to the seat. And the heat came to me.
It soaked into my hands and arms and shoulder, licked up through my neck and behind my ears. The heat made everything better. I fell back into the seat and moaned while it worked and stroked my flesh. My hearing returned with a noticeable pop, and I crossed my arms, kneaded my shoulders.
You're right, Dog. I did like pulling that trigger. Liked it a lot.
* * *
I wasn't sure how long I sat there. I didn't move again until the Dog's foot twitched. I drew in a great, gasping breath, then leapt up and over him without looking down. My bag still sat beside the driver's seat. I snatched it up and hopped nimbly over Black Dog. My other hand found my revolver, and only then did I dare to look at him.
Black Dog was moving slightly. He lay on his belly, giving me a clear view of the exit wounds. I expected to be sick, but my stomach was calmer than the rest of me. His duster was splayed open, and I could see long chains through the new holes in the leather. Under those were gaping miscolored craters in his flesh. The rounds had seemingly peeled away pounds of tissue on their way out. His body was a sticky ruin.
I straddled him and slid down to my knees, pinning his hips. My pants legs were instantly soaked in gore, but I ignored it. "You messed up big time, Dog," I said, switching the revolver from hand to hand as I pulled off my coat. "You gave me those dreams. They gave me ideas." I pulled the second Thermos from my bag and worked to unscrew it one-handed. "I didn't have any idea what I was going to do, until I found out that you don't care for seawater.
"Now, I don't have any of that," I continued as he began to squirm a bit, regaining his strength. "But I'm willing to bet that a sensitive, gentle guy like you won't like my substitute." And I began to pour the Thermos of salt onto the hole in the middle of his back. Black Dog had mostly bled out, and there was little to protect his raw flesh from the shower of white crystals.
Black Dog bucked and howled. I dropped the Thermos and threw myself forward onto him, put him in the best chokehold I could muster while he twisted under me. Yeah, Jackie Baby, the Big Bad Doog doesn't like that at all. I had kept a grip on my revolver, and when Black Dog tried to turn over, I jammed the barrel directly into the wound in his back.
He grunted and wheezed as best he could with one lung, and his body shook and quivered under me. I levered back the hammer and tensed against the coming pain; given the angle, I'd break my hand and wrist when I fired. I could tell through my grip that he was already getting stronger, but it was a far, far slower recovery than the first one I had witnessed.
I pulled back on the Doog's neck until he had to lay his palms down and brace against the ground just to breathe. My own breaths came hot and random. I waited, wondering when (if) I should pull the trigger. My face was pressed against his head, our hair melded together, and I noticed that as he recovered some of his strength, Black Dog's breathing was in time with my own. I couldn't help myself. I licked his ear, just once, softly, and then bit it, hard.
His lips were peeled back, and I was sure that he was grinning. I wiggled the revolver a bit. He shook, but it felt as much like a laugh as a shiver of pain. "You bastard," I breathed. "You want to break me out, show me the world just so you can take it away? Fuck you, Dog. You're worse than any of these zombies." I worked the barrel around some more. It felt tighter now.
"I am not one of them," I said stringently. "You knocked me out of one haze and put me into another, but now I'm wide, wide awake. You're the dead one here, Dubh CuMannain. Just a mutt without a cause. No wonder 'Daddy' threw you away." I let my voice drop low. "He should've tied you up in a trash bag first."
Different salt, different wound. Black Dog snarled, and my spine went numb at the sound. I pulled the trigger.
The revolver kicked into my hand and belly, fell out of my dead fingers even as I was shoved back by the recoil. I ended up on my ass, watching the thing in the aisle. The shot didn't slow him down nearly as much as I would have hoped. Black Dog's warm, damp places were spread across the floor, but he wasn't able to cry out for all the damage. Still facing away from me, he rose up onto his knees like a beheaded snake convulsing, and curled up nearly into an upright fetal position. I couldn't get up; the heat from my hand was too intense. I just watched the thing.
Black Dog crossed his arms over his chest, and his torso let out a wet rattle as he tried to breathe. I could see his fingers clutching at his shoulders, and as I watched, they grew longer and sharper (hungrier), digging into his ruined duster. He ripped at the leather, revealing dark fur on his shoulders. The fur stood up straight and swayed, reminding me of seaweed floating underwater. His bare feet twitched and curled in on themselves. I thought they were just dirty at first, until I saw that he had pads instead of soles. And scalpels for nails.
The memory of those nails brought me to my feet, but by the time I had scrambled up, Black Dog was standing as well. The wet rattle faded into a whisper like a cold draft of air, and that then grew into a growl that made my vitals shake. He was bigger than he had been when he first fell, a head taller. I didn't even come close to his shoulder in height anymore. Black Dog tore at his sleeves, and the duster fell away.
Those long chains were there, the same ones I had seen in the dream. His only gift from his father: strong, fine links, carefully arranged and hung inside his coat so that he could always feel them. There were precious few lengths of the stuff left, it seemed. I knew then that he couldn't stand to be parted from them, that even with no one to leash him, he needed to touch them, to feel secure even while he hated being trapped by his unrequited need.
Jesus. Those chains were his Number Ten. The Dog wasn't even as free as I was.
All of him that I could see was coated in black fur now. He was so thin that those once tight-fitting pants hung loosely on his hips despite his extra size. Black Dog shook slightly, and they slid right off. He stepped out of them, revealing a whisper-thin tail that was beginning to puff with fur as it lengthened.
I would have sworn that I stood there for years, but when he looked over his shoulder, I realized that I had wasted the last few seconds that I was likely to have. Black Dog looked over his shoulder at me, his yellow eyes gleaming in the dim bus. He took a deep breath, and steam roiled around his face when he let it out into the harsh, chill air. His face was so dark, invisible against those bright eyes. He was showing his teeth, but he wasn't really grinning, this time.
Black Dog turned to me then, and in that second his face grew thick and long, his head misshapen, his teeth multiplying and expanding. His hands dropped from his shoulders, and I could see that they were as long and deadly as they had felt when he held me that last night, long enough to crawl right up into a person. My eyes moved down over his bristling fur and tightly bound body. The skin of his belly was bare and pitch-black. His stomach muscles were so hard that each one jutted and throbbed. They wavered slightly with each pulse of blood that went through them, as did his manhood.
This time, I did manage a smile. What did it matter? He was going to get me anyway.