Short Story
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                    Stray Dog
                                            By Philip Roberts

Its scraggly muzzle rose from the pile of garbage it had been eating from.  
Roger froze in mid-step, his eyes fixed on the mangy animal.  He had never
held any great love for dogs, and this was the first time he’d ever seen a
stray.  In his neighborhood filled with well-manicured lawns and garages
packed with minivans and SUVs, Roger never expected to see a stray animal,
especially not one as almost rabid looking as the dog in front of him.

In all honesty, Roger thought that the stark contrast between the dog and the
neighborhood was what attracted him to it the most.  He had never had any
interest in owning a dog, but as he stared at the dog’s small wagging tail,
taking it home was the first idea that popped into his head.

“Hello boy,” Roger said in a gentle voice as he walked closer to the dog.  He
stood right outside of a house that belonged to the Williams family: a retired
surgeon and his wife who both would’ve certainly wrinkled their noses and
taken a broom to the dog to get it off their property as soon as possible.

The dog approached Roger, tale still wagging cheerily.  That’s why a half-
hour later Roger found himself the owner of a dog.  He didn’t know enough
about animals to determine the breed.  The dog had brown, mud colored fur
and couldn’t weigh more than fifteen pounds, if that it looked so starved.  He
estimated that the dog was about three feet long and two feet tall.  One thing
he did know for certain was that the dog was female.

He named her Herbert.

Because Roger lived alone he didn’t have to worry about someone objecting
to his new companion.  Had his now ex-fiancé gone through with the marriage
and moved into the house Roger had bought for the two of them—a house,
Roger might add, that she had picked out, in a neighborhood, Roger might
also add, that he had no interest in living in—then things might’ve been
different and Roger would’ve simply passed by the dog, offering it only a
small, amused glance.  Of course, had Roger not wanted to get a small bit of
revenge on his new neighbors by walking his new dog for all to see, the mutt
would’ve been out of a home.  At least someone benefited from the whole
fiasco with his ex.

Roger supplied Herbert with some left over chicken, which she wolfed down.  
He watched the news that night with Herbert by his side.  The company was
nice, and when Roger turned off the lights, his new dog at the foot of the bed,
Roger felt good—really good—for the first time in a month.

Three hours later Roger awoke to the sound of a crash.  His head shot up
from the pillow and he looked groggily around the room.

“Where’s Herbert?” Roger said to himself, which prompted the thought, who’s
Herbert, before his mind reminded him about the dog.  As soon as Herbert
was remembered most of the tension left Roger’s mind.  The source of the
crash was obvious.  All he needed to know now was what had crashed over.

It was really his own fault, Roger thought to himself as he walked down the
stairs wearing boxers and a t-shirt.  After all, did he really expect a stray
animal to behave during its first night spent in a new home?  Roger just
hoped that the damage wasn’t too severe.  He prepared himself for the worst.

He didn’t prepare himself enough.

Roger froze right inside the kitchen door.  He surveyed the damage with a
look of disbelief.  Most likely the crash he had heard was when the
refrigerator had been knocked over.  How Herbert had managed to push over
the fridge was a good question, but only one among many.  The kitchen table
and chairs were overturned, cabinets above the sink open and ransacked,
the empty boxes of food discarded on the floor.  Herbert had cleared out all
the food in the kitchen from what Roger could tell.

Something rattled further in the kitchen.  Roger heard paws shuffling across
the floor but didn’t see any movement.  He stepped through the destruction
towards his pantry door.  The door was open just a little from when Herbert
had walked through it.  Roger didn’t bother to wonder how Herbert had
opened the pantry door that had been left firmly closed.

Roger paused in front of the door and listened to the wet slurping on the
other side.  A shaky hand reached out and pushed the door inward.

When he first saw Herbert standing in the middle of the pantry, head lowered
to the ground, a wave of relief ran through Roger.  And then Herbert turned
her head to look at him.  Herbert’s face drove away all thought and left Roger
awestruck.  Herbert quickly lost interest in Roger and returned to her meal.

The best description Roger could give is that the skin had peeled back from
Herbert’s face.  Skin and fur was replaced with slick, strong muscles.  The
eyes had decreased into narrow strips, and Roger thought that maybe there
weren’t any eyes, the slits meant for something else.

It didn’t take Roger long to realize that the changes hadn’t ended.  Herbert’s
size was starting to increase, but the skin wasn’t.  The furry flesh split away to
reveal more slimy muscles.  Two bony arms grew from Herbert’s back.  They
almost looked like human arms, but at the tip, rather than fingers, Roger saw
three fleshy mounds.  The new arms groped blindly for boxes on the upper

Roger had seen far more than enough, not that he knew what to do.  The first
order of business was obvious: get away from Herbert, or what was left of
Herbert.  While the pantry didn’t have a lock, at the very least, Roger wanted
to close the door. When he reached out and grabbed the knob, Herbert

The word growl was the best word Roger could come up with to describe what
he heard.  By no means did it sound like a dog’s growl, far too high pitched.  It
almost sounded like a bark drawn out into a single, long rumble.  Whatever it
sounded like, it made Roger freeze, his fingers gripping the knob so hard
they had turned white.

Herbert turned her head to face Roger.  Muscles around the mouth pulled
back to reveal large, jagged teeth.  Herbert’s size had almost tripled now, and
if she stood on her hind legs she’d almost be as tall as Roger.

The pantry door slammed shut.  Roger ran through his house.  Behind him
the door burst open in a spray of splintered wood and cracked hard against
the wall.  Roger didn’t even consider running outside.  If he ran outside
Herbert would be on him before he got halfway across the lawn.  Roger knew
where he was going.

Heavy feet thundered behind him.  Roger leapt up the stairs two at a time.  He
didn’t dare waste the time needed to glance back at Herbert, but from the
sound of it, Herbert was now running on two legs.

Roger’s bedroom door did have a lock, which he turned as soon as he
slammed it shut.  His lead was greater than he thought and Herbert didn’t
slam into the bedroom door until after Roger had the shoebox open and his
gun in hand.

His ex had bought the gun, or more accurately, made Roger buy the gun.  
For the first time since the break-up Roger praised her name.

The door didn’t last long under the assault.  After the third blow it broke

Herbert didn’t charge right in.  She lingered in the hall for a few seconds, her
massive form taking up the doorframe.  Roger thought that she knew he had
a weapon.  The pause gave him a chance to take in the new changes.

Herbert did walk on two legs now.  Her entire body was nothing but thick, gray
muscles.  Most of her canine features were gone; her snout shrunken into her
face; the arms that had been on her back now migrated to her sides, paws
melded into her shoulders.  The three lumps of skin on the arms had grown
into full fingers complete with claws on the end of them.

The two of them stared each other down, Roger with the gun held tightly in
his hands, hair matted down with sweat.

Without apparent reason and without warning Herbert charged.  In two quick
steps she closed the distance between them.  As soon as she took her first
step Roger was pulling the trigger.  He knew how to operate the weapon, but
this was the first time he had.  Fear was a good teacher.

All six bullets shot from the barrel and four of them buried into Herbert.  Three
cut into her chest while the fourth got her in the shoulder.  Unfortunately
Herbert’s arm was already swinging before the bullets struck and her arm
clawed Roger across the chest, leaving three deep grooves where blood
bubbled up.

Herbert fell with a yelp as Roger screamed in pain and toppled as well.  With
his teeth gritted against the pain Roger began to load his gun.  Shaky hands
managed to shove two more bullets into the barrel before Herbert began to
stir.  He snapped the chamber closed and aimed his weapon, but it became
obvious that Herbert had no interest in fighting him.

She rose from the floor, panting heavily, some of the changes slowly
beginning to reverse.  Her left arm hung limply at her side as she walked out
of the room.  Blood streamed down her chest and dropped onto the carpet.
She lumbered out of the room without a glance back, and the whole time
Roger had his weapon ready.

He listened to her as she walked down the stairs, and then the house was
silent.  His own warm blood oozed down his chest, which hurt like a bitch, but
Roger would live.  After fifteen minutes he pulled himself up and walked
through his house.  He kept the gun with him up until he stopped in front of
the open backdoor.  A thin line of blood trailed down his back porch and into
the grass.

Roger set the gun down on his kitchen table.  He picked up the phone and
paused for a minute before he finally dialed 911.  He told them an animal had
attacked him and he needed some medical attention, and then hung up and
waited for them.

With one hand holding a washcloth to his wound, Roger picked up one of his
kitchen chairs off the ground and sat in it.

In an odd little way Roger actually missed Herbert, or the Herbert he had seen
digging through the trash.  They hadn’t known each other long, but still,
Roger had enjoyed it while it lasted.  Most likely he would never see her again.

Maybe that was for the best.