Ken was what you’d call a dognapper. He’d make his living by stealing people’s dogs from their backyards, wait for reward signs to be posted, return the dog for the reward and be acclaimed a hero for finding their little mutts! He’d been dognapping for a few years now and wondered how long he could keep it up before his run ended.
Despite what he did for a living, Ken actually hated dogs. He’d keep them in their cages without food or water. He figured why should he buy dog food if they were just going to be gone within a few days? The animals would grow thin in their cages and he didn’t care. Malnourishment was just something the family would blame on the dog. If the dog hadn’t run away in the first place, it wouldn’t be starving. Although the dogs hadn’t run away.
Most of the time, Ken would snatch dogs up from dog parks or just from people’s backyards. Some people would let their dogs into the backyard, then take their eyes off them for a while, giving him the perfect chance to snatch the mutts up and wait to claim his reward. Other times he’d go to dog parks, where dogs roamed around without leashes. He’d see which dogs came to the park and what their owners looked like. Then he’d watch the owners to see how much attention they were paying to man’s best friend. If they were on their phones or talking to another dog mom or dad, he’d give their dogs biscuits and lure them into his van, to once again await his reward and be hailed a hero.
He got the idea to do this one day by finding a lost dog named Jasper. Jasper was a little Maltese. He noticed the dog on a poster that said “Reward”, then underneath a picture of Jasper and Jasper’s name was a dollar sign, followed by three hundred! He quickly grabbed the dog and dialed the number on the poster. When he returned the dog to the owner, all he was worried about was getting the reward. But when the family hailed him as a hero and he received a kiss on the cheek from the perky-breasted wife, he knew this was a feeling he wanted to experience again.
Steal a dog, collect the reward, and be hailed a hero. It was the perfect scam!
Before his dognapping days, he was just a petty thief. Now, on a good week, he was collecting a couple hundred dollars, which was enough to pay the bills. He got to stay at home and do nothing all day while he waited for reward posters to hit the streets. It was basically the dream job he never knew he wanted!
And what if reward posters never hit the street? Well, that depended on the type of dog, since the size and breed of the dogs would vary. If the dog was suited for fighting, he’d sell it to his contact over there. If it was a dog they wouldn’t take, then he’d put it up for sale online. If no one wanted the dog, then he’d simply put the dog down. He’d take the dog to a barren, grassy plain, chain it to a stake in the ground, point his Ruger at the dog, take aim and fire.
There was no cleanup necessary. The buzzards would come and pick at the carcass till nothing was left. He felt as if he was getting away with murder, except these were just animals, according to Ken, and you can’t murder an animal.
Ken had been scoping this rickety house in a rundown neighborhood for a while now. The person inside was an elderly woman, which just meant stealing her dogs would be that much easier. He didn’t expect much of a reward from her, considering her living situation and her age. He just needed an easy victory after what happened recently at the dog park.
Ken was caught trying to steal a dog from the local dog park. He claimed he thought it was his. The owners snatched the dog back from him and walked away. Now he couldn’t return to that park anymore, but it wasn’t all bad since he had multiple dog parks he’d cycled through. He knew he would have to lay low for a while, so no more dog park snatches for him for the time being.
This elderly lady had no husband, only her dogs, a German Shepherd and Beagle. A normal person would feel sorry for her, but not Ken. He saw an easy target.
He even mulled over the possibility of a home invasion. But that’s how the best thieves slip up; they try to one-up their usual routine and are caught right in the act, and after Ken’s recent close call, he just needed to get his feet back in the game. And stealing this old lady’s dogs was like stealing food off a free sample tray. Plus, he expected at least fifty dollars and a batch of cookies while he was at it, you know, for his troubles.
Loose planks of wood made up the fence. He ripped a few boards off and laid them on the ground. He wanted to make it look like the dogs broke free, so the lady would know how her dogs “escaped”.
He could taste those cookies now.
Ken whistled and the two dogs she’d recently let out into the backyard perked their heads up. He waved a meaty treat through the fence hole and the two dogs came near. One was a German Shepherd, and the other was a Beagle. Ken had dealt with all sizes of dogs, and for some odd reason, most dogs seemed to trust him.
The dogs ventured through the hole while Ken opened the back of his van. He threw the treats into the back and the two dogs jumped in.
Those cookies were tasting better and better.
He went around to the drivers’ side door, got into the vehicle, revved the engine, and drove back to his homely trailer.
When he got to his trailer with the two dogs, Ken waved the treats he had towards the cages he had set up for them. He threw the treats into the back of the cages and each dog went into their own designated prison. This was the smoothest heist he had ever pulled off.
He went over to his couch, turned on his gaming console, and began playing his video games. The dogs were strangely quiet. He didn’t have to go over to their cages once to spray them with the water bottle he kept handy for any possible yappers. But these two were exceptionally quiet. Almost too quiet.
He stopped playing his game and went to go check on the dogs. There they stood, in their cages, not making a move. When he entered the kitchen where their cages were, they both turned their heads and peered up at him. Their eyes met Ken’s and he shuddered. These dogs were unsettling for some reason, but Ken couldn’t put his finger on it.
He knelt in front of the cages and looked at the dogs’ collars. The German Shepherd’s tag read Aldrich. He looked over at the other dog, the Beagle, whose tag read Wilmer. He looked at Aldrich’s eyes. They stared at each other and then Aldrich blinked.
“What in the world?” Ken said as he watched the dog’s eyelids blink horizontally, blinking from side to side instead of up and down. It’s like it had a pair of hidden eyelids that lay in its eye sockets.
Ken shook it off and continued to look the dog in the face, analyzing it. It had deep black scars that formed what looked to be a cross on the dog’s face. Had this old lady tortured her animals? Ken looked over at Wilmer and saw the same cross-like scar on his face.
“What the hell did she do to you guys?” he asked, not expecting any answer back, other than maybe a few barks to be let out of their cages. But they didn’t even do that. They didn’t pant, whine, bark, or make a peep. He went back to the couch and plopped onto its cushions. With his controller in his hands, he continued his mission, taking his eyes off the kitchen to focus on more important things.
Ken was killing Nazi zombies in a video game. He licked his lips as he mashed the buttons and twiddled the analog stick from side to side. A booming sound from a shotgun bounced around the tinny trailer as Ken nailed a zombie in the head.
“Boom, headshot!” Ken yelled out in excitement as he killed the last zombie, clearing the level and moving on to a point in the game he hadn’t reached yet.
The sound was deep and rumbled as it echoed through his head. Ken dropped his controller and turned around the room, but there was no one in sight.
He didn’t get a response.
“I’m losing my fucking mind,” Ken whispered to himself.
Then his stomach began to rumble. Great, I hope I still have one Hungry Man dinner left in the freezer.
He walked over to the refrigerator and peered into the freezer. Luckily, there was one microwavable meal sitting all lonesome, just for him. It was a Salisbury steak meal; with mashed potatoes and corn.
Unwrapping the plastic, he placed the small cardboard tray into the microwave and punched in the time. He hit the start button and the plate inside started to spin.
The deep voice returned. Ken turned around and looked at both ends of the trailer, but once again saw no one. He looked down at the dogs. The dogs just stared at him, and he returned their stare.
“What the fuck are you two looking at?” Ken asked, then kicked Wilmer’s cage. But Wilmer didn’t flinch.
“I can’t wait to get rid of you two,” Ken said and returned to his couch to play video games till his meal was heated up.
A few minutes passed, and the microwave beeped obnoxiously. Ken got up and walked to the kitchen. He opened the microwave door and peeled the seal of the top of the cardboard tray. It steamed upwards and Ken backed slightly away. He left it in the microwave to cool down and went back to the couch to continue killing zombies.
He mashed in a zombie’s head with the butt of his gun and then shot it in the face. Ken let out a cheer while mashing the buttons on his controller, filling the room with clicks. Then something thumped onto the kitchen floor. Ken’s heart leapt out of his chest. Then he listened, as the thump turned into a dragging noise.
He paused his game and got up from the couch, head toward the kitchen. Then he stopped. Lying next to the dog’s cages was an empty microwave dinner tray. At first, wonder struck him, then anger soon came after. The tray was missing its Salisbury steak. The mashed potatoes and corn covered the ground. He cursed, picked up the steak-less box, kicked Aldrich’s cage, and threw the box away into the trash.
“Pizza it is,” Ken said angrily, staring the dogs down.
How exactly they got the food from the microwave was beyond him. The dogs were in cages and the microwave was opposite from them. However, the only thing Ken cared for was the fact they ate his food! Fucking mutts.
A few days passed, and other than the odd black inky substance that formed around the animal’s cages, a substance that took him a while to scrub off the floor, the days went by without incident. Ken figured it was about time he walked around the old lady’s neighborhood to search for lost pet signs.
He got to the street where he’d originally stolen the dogs, and lo and behold, signs were affixed to the utility poles. The sign read “Lost dogs!” with two pictures of Aldrich and Wilmer. A small paragraph under the photos was a large, red printed warning: “If found, call immediately. Dogs may be dangerous. Handle with care.” There was no reward offered on the sign; just the old lady’s phone number.
What a crock of shit, Ken thought to himself. He didn’t expect much of a reward, but for none to be posted was a bad sign. It probably meant cookies were off the table as well. He grabbed the poster and hopped back into his van.
He sat in his car and thought for a moment. He knew the Shepherd, Aldrich, would go to a dog-fighting ring easily. Wilmer, the Beagle, on the other hand, he’d have a tougher time getting rid of. Not many people were looking for Beagles, especially one its age. Ken would probably have to put it down. He hadn’t had to put a dog down in a while. He folded the poster and pushed it into his pocket.
He drove up to his trailer and hopped out of his car. He walked up to his trailer with his keys in hand and began to unlock the door when what sounded like rummaging came from within his trailer. He put his ear to the door and heard screeching. He unlocked his trailer and entered the house. It was a wreck.
“What the hell happened here?” Ken yelled.
Did someone break into his house? Without breaking the door down? No, it couldn’t be. It had to be those damned dogs! But how? They’d been locked inside their cages the whole time he was gone… right?
He went to the kitchen and just stared at the cages. The bars of the cages bent inwards. It looked as if something had eaten through the metal. Again, he asked himself, how?
He heard a noise over his shoulder and spun around. He thought he saw movement behind the couch. Creeping as slowly as he could, he approached it. He called the dogs’ names out and whistled. Then, Wilmer jumped up on the couch and just stared at Ken.
“You fucking mutt! You wrecked my house!” he screamed, bringing his hand upwards, then downwards onto the dog. He nailed the dog in the jaw, and knocked it to the ground, but the way his hand contacted the dog didn’t feel right. It was a mushy feeling like the dog didn’t have a skull. The dog got up, turned to face Ken again, and just stared.
Ken took a few paces backward. This isn’t right. And then it happened.
The dog began to growl, and its face began to open. The scars Ken saw before became slits. As its face bloomed open, the slits spread apart and formed four black flaps with each flap having at least two dozen sharp teeth. The growl turned into an ear-piercing screech.
Ken fell backward and began to kick his feet out, propelling him backward.
“What the fuck!” Ken yelled as the thing took small steps toward him. The Beagle’s slow strides became larger as the fur from its legs slipped away, revealing long, slick twig-like legs. The thing doubled in size. A black ink-like substance oozed from it. On some parts of the Beagle’s body was torn skin and fur, but underneath it was a black mass. How this thing was contained in that small dog, Ken couldn’t understand.
Ken’s backpedaling halted when his back met the kitchen counter.
The demonic creature let out a final screech and leapt toward Ken. He kicked his leg out and the creature’s flaps clamped down on his foot. Ken let out a yelp, then a scream. He looked down at the creature and it was whipping its head back and forth like dogs do when they get a hold of a chew toy. He could feel the thing’s teeth piercing his leg, giving him that pins-and-needles feeling one gets when blood flow is cut off, but ten times worse.
He pelted its mushy head with his fist, but it did no good. He reached for the kitchen drawer, grabbed a large knife, and plunged it into the creature’s side. It immediately let go of Ken’s leg and screeched. Then it ran back out of the kitchen and hid behind the couch.
Ken attempted to stand, but he couldn’t put any weight on his ankle. He cursed as pain surged through his body. He hobbled to another drawer in the kitchen and pulled out the Ruger he used to put the dogs down. He hoped it would do the trick. He loaded a cartridge into the gun and turned the safety off. He turned his body toward the couch. He leaned against the counter to take the pressure off his hurt foot. The thing that had been Wilmer came around the corner and screeched.
Ken fired! But the shot missed. The creature leapt at Ken again, causing him to fall on his back. Ken held the dog’s throat as it tried to clamp its toothy flaps onto Ken’s face. Ken struggled, leaning one way and then the other, not wanting to look directly at the thing.
Its tongue slid out of its mouth. It was unusually long. The tongue landed on Ken’s face and it rubbed at it in circular motions. Ken squirmed at the slimy feel its tongue gave off. Then the thing began to spew ink straight into his face. Ken struggled to breathe as it came at him in full force.
The thing screeched, and Ken cursed. He worked the gun underneath Wilmer and fired. The creature went flying and hit the ground a few feet away from him.
Ken took in a deep breath and fell backward onto the kitchen floor. He’d killed it. He was safe now. He closed his eyes and breathed heavily. In through his mouth and out through his nose. He thought about pulling the poster from his front pocket and giving the nice old lady some harsh words. He had so many questions he wanted answered. What exactly was her little pet? Ken knew damn well this wasn’t any kind of dog he had ever seen before. Was it a mutated dog? An Alien? What could that demonic creature be?
He reached into his pocket for the poster, but it wasn’t there. It must have fallen out of his pocket. He shut his eyes and leaned his head back. Then a sudden thought came into his head: Aldrich!
A deep growl ripped through the air and Ken opened his eyes to see the Shepherd hovering over him with its flaps bloomed, fully opened. It was much bigger than Wilmer, so it must’ve needed more time to shed its doglike exterior, probably lurking in the restroom during the scuffle with the Beagle.
The thing growled, and its face opened into four large flaps.
The deep rumbling voice turned into a guttural demand. Ken realized then that the thing was putting the word into his head. It was talking to him telepathically! Aldrich was informing him that it was hungry, and Ken was the only thing in stock.
It let out one final screech and brought its face down on Ken’s with lightning speed.