Naturally, she turned Mike into a dog. It was the only way their relationship would ever work, and it had the added bonus that he would be immune from prosecution. He meant well, but he was always in trouble with the law for bullshit stuff; petty theft, DUI, warrants for unpaid tickets.
Not like she was perfect. She was packing when he knocked on the door. She thought it was the marshal coming to evict her from her shitty little studio apartment (the notice had been taped to her door for more than a month). Mike stood there shaking, feral fear in his sky-blue eyes. Tears ran down his cheeks. He’d clipped some SUV on the highway and it’d rolled into the median. He’d stopped—meant to help—but when he heard the sirens he panicked.
“They’re all right, Abby, I swear!” His breath stank of stale beer. “I can’t go back to my place.” He sunk to his knees, clutched her hands and sobbed into them. “Help me.”
She’d only seen him fall apart this bad once before, at the police station after their knock-down drag-out, before she’d relented and refused to press assault charges. She could see how sorry he was then, and he’d made it up to her. He’d always been loyal in his own way. Her heart swelled. He needed her.
She had him pull his Taurus into the apartment’s parking garage. The front bumper was crunched and a slash of black paint ran along the driver’s side doors. He followed her back into the apartment, babbling nonsense fueled by panic and hope, but she wasn’t listening. She led him into the kitchen and set a pot of water to boil. Formulating a plan, she pulled down the ingredients she would need.
“Baby, I’m not hungry,” he said.
“I’m not making food.”
“I left the scene. Even if everybody is okay, they’ll get me for my priors.”
“I know about your priors,” she said. He’d graduated from juvie and probations to short stints in low security prisons. They both knew he wouldn’t be getting a break this time.
She pulled her spell book off the shelf and propped it open. She’d only ever done temporary transformations and light disguises, shit for Halloween and cosplay.
“I didn’t mean no harm.”
“You never do.” God knows he wasn’t going to change on his own, and all his good intentions wouldn’t keep him out of the pen much longer. She searched the pages. This spell would have to be special. Permanent.
She leaned back against the counter and looked at him sitting at her kitchen table, his blue eyes welded to her like she was his only lifeline.
“If we stay together, you’re going to have to change.”
“Anything for you, baby.”
“Okay.” She gave him a beer and sent him to watch TV while she concocted a potion that would never expire. She would need a vessel, something small and friendly to offset his mean streak. She opened the window and looked out across twilit grass for one of the cats that lurked around the apartment units, but it would be a project to lure one of them in. Then she remembered Bingo’s ashes. Perfect!
Her little wire-haired terrier had been the only steady presence throughout her own chaotic childhood. The dog had even hung on despite the ravages of old age to get her through middle school. She found the Ball jar behind a bag of stale nachos, sprinkled his ashes over the bubbling liquid, and turned off the heat. When the potion cooled, she poured it into her chipped “Don’t Mess With Texas” mug and brought it to Mike.
The transformation was horrible. He writhed and screamed. She clamped her hand over his mouth and hoped the neighbors wouldn’t call the cops. After what seemed like forever, she was left clutching a small wiggling bundle of his clothes. She pulled them away and there was Bingo. He capered on the couch, nipping the air, then climbed on her lap and licked her face.
Her old hatchback wasn’t pretty but it was reliable. They drove day and night, stopping at convenience stores to buy gas, moon pies and kibbles. It wasn’t until they started up California’s Great Valley that she began to relax. Deer grazed in the shaggy grass along the road as the sun set beyond endless industrial farm tracts.
They’d moved all the time when she was a kid, and being in the car with Bingo felt like coming home. It was miles before the next city. The road flowed under her tires like a river, its black current pulling them deeper into the moonless night. She couldn’t see even the smallest halo on the horizon, no town, no gas station outpost’s fluorescent lights bouncing off the pumps.
She craned her neck to look at the millions of stars that crowded across the sky. The dog did the same, then turned his blue eyes to her. Bingo’s eyes had been brown. Nobody else noticed anything beyond the unusual color, but when she looked her new Bingo in the eye, he held her gaze, looking back at her with a mute human intelligence. Disconcerted, she turned her attention back to the road.
The dog returned to shredding fast food wrappers.
The grazing deer had vanished into the darkness, going off to wherever they go at night. Now only their dead remained, bedraggled shapes at rest on the warm pavement. The dog whined every time roadkill had appeared in the sliding glare of her headlights. He shifted in his seat. Maybe he had to pee. She pulled over and opened the passenger door. The dog jumped out, looked back at her, then trotted into the darkness up the road.
“Hey!” She didn’t know what to call him; Mike didn’t seem right, but neither did Bingo. She got out and started after him, following the soft crunch of his paws on the gravel. “Come back here.” The light from her headlights became murky.
“Mike?” The pebbles at her feet cast legions of tiny shadows, which blurred into more complete darkness as she followed the wet, snuffling noises the dog was now making. “Time to get back on the road,” she declared unsteadily. Then her foot hit something soft and rounded. “There you are, you little shit.”
She reached down and felt fur. Cool and waxy, it wasn’t Bingo’s. The form jerked. She jumped back and screamed. As her eyes adjusted, she could make out the dog’s back arching as he tugged at the innards of a deer carcass so broken it must have been taken out by an eighteen-wheeler. The animal’s hips were corkscrewed from the impact, broken legs trailed back like thick ropes; its midsection had split to disgorge a mound of intestines.
“Jesus!” She turned and stumbled through the dark, got in the car and rolled back onto the highway. The dog looked up, and her passing headlights caught his blue eyes. She shouldn’t have looked, but she did.
Bright red in the taillights, legs churning, he ran down the middle of the road after her car. He’d changed all right, but shit, she should’ve broken up with the little carrion eater when she’d had the chance.
She slowed and popped the passenger door open; he leapt in and skidded to a stop in the passenger seat. Panting, he tried to nuzzle her. Flecks of black blood clung to the hair around his muzzle.
“No! Bad dog!” She swung her arm around behind him and closed the door. He smelled of the fresh night air, blood, and something to do with digestion that had been halted. Bingo sat looking forward with blue-eyed enlightenment, licking his chops over and over.