The Lovely Dog
By LM Langley
Copyright 2013 © LM LANGLEY & DARK NEXUS FICTION
The blonde girl tilted her head, mirroring the dog’s expression. She smiled. “Stupid dog. Come here.”
The dog wagged her tail as she approached the girl’s outstretched arms. The girl stroked the black fur on the dog’s head, still smiling. “Who’s the best puppy? Who’s the best puppy?”
“Are you still playing with that stupid dog, Angie?” Ellen said as she walked in the room.
“She’s not a stupid dog,” sniggered the blonde, “And I don’t understand why we can’t keep her.”
Ellen rolled her eyes. “It’s in our lease agreement. We can’t have pets. Not even birds. You should know, you did read it, right?”
“It can be our little secret. Isn’t that right, Tulip?” She was addressing the dog instead of her roommate. Ellen cleared her throat. “Come on, even a stuck-up like you has to admit that she’s beautiful.”
Ellen sighed, smiling. “Okay. She’s pretty gorgeous. But you can’t just keep a dog off the street. She may have… I don’t know, rabies. Or fleas. She probably has fleas. Now we have fleas.”
“Don’t listen to Ellen, Tulip,” Angie said, stroking behind the dog’s floppy ears.
“And that’s another thing. You can’t just name the dog! You have to like, take her to a shelter, see if she has been microchipped or something. Someone is missing their dog, you know.” Ellen sat down on the floor next to Angie, holding a mug in her hands. “Although I do wonder why she doesn’t have a collar. She’s too well-kept to be a street dog.”
“You think so? Hm.” Angie stopped stroking the dog, performing a thorough examination. Her fur and nails had been trimmed. She pushed the dog’s mouth back and looked at her teeth. “Yeah. I think you have a point. I think I’ll post her photos on craigslist or something.”
“Soon. Stop looking at me like that, I will!” Angie’s phone alarm rang. She closed her eyes and sighed. “Fuck.”
“I have an appointment with a client that I completely forgot about,” Angie said, as she checked her phone to make sure that she was right. “And I need to go, pretty much now. Can you look after Tulip until I come back?”
“Come on, Helena! You can do it! Pretty please?!”
Ellen rolled her eyes at her roommate. “Okay, but if you call me Helena again, I will sic her on you. Kill, Tulip, kill!”
Tulip barked, spinning around in a circle and happy at the attention she was receiving. The girls laughed while they watched her. Angie cleared her throat. “See? You love her, too.”
“Shut up. Don’t you have to go?”
Angie made a face at her as she picked herself up from the floor and brushed the fur off her clothes. She walked towards the door, picking her keys off the counter and said one last good-bye before opening and closing the door behind her. Ellen groaned, lying back on the floor. What was she going to do with a dog? It seemed to want to play, and she had things to do. Ellen stared at her for a few seconds. “Okay, dog. I have a dissertation to work on, and I need you to behave, got it?”
The dog wagged her tail and looked at Ellen. “You can come with me, but you have to be quiet, okay?”
She wagged her tail again. Ellen put her mug on the carpeted floor, running her hands over the dog’s fur and sitting up slowly. A hissing noise came out of the air vent near the lamp, next to the television. The dog glanced that way uncertainly, and then looked back at Ellen. “It’s just the air conditioning. You know, to make the place livable so that no one suffocates. It is so hot outside.”
The dog stuck her tongue out. Ellen rolled her eyes. “Right,” She got up and walked towards her bedroom. The dog followed her closely, and Ellen couldn’t help but crack a smile. The dog walk alongside her and watched as she pulled out her notes and her books, opening her laptop. The wagging tail was starting to distract the girl. “Okay, sit.”
The dog did as she was told. Ellen’s smile widened. “Good girl.” She reached behind her computer screen and grabbed a half open granola bar. “I guess you can have this.”
After watching her eat, she turned her back and opened up her first draft. Who knew a dissertation could sound that stupid, she thought, as she reread the last chapter. All her words looked wrong. The dog circled around herself a few times, before lying down on the floor. Ellen sighed, sitting back. “What do you want?”
She looked at the book next to her, glancing at the small words on the yellowed paper. Grimacing, she started to stack some papers together. She yelped as the paper made a small mark in the webbing between her fingers and her thumb. She instantly brought her hand to her mouth, swearing as she did so. Her words echoed inside the walls. Ellen tried not to shudder, giving in to the urge once she heard a creak below her. “New house noises,” She told the dog. The dog tilted her head. “They’re horrible, right? You obviously agree.”
She sat back up and started to type something. C-H-A-P-T-
“Did you hear that?” She said, turning to the dog. A loud noise came from beneath. This time, it wasn’t creaking, it was something else. Like a boiler settling. A boiler? She didn’t remember seeing a boiler when they had first toured around the place, a young guy in a white shirt and black trousers showing them every nook and cranny of the home. He had made them sound lovely, of course, saying that the home had a really charming and rustic feel to it. He hadn’t been wrong. And he hadn’t mentioned a boiler – but she had taken hot showers in the house, so there had to be one. Ellen brushed her long brown hair back. “I think we have to go find the boiler, doggy. Screw this dissertation shit. I have a mystery to solve.”
She stretched before she got up, and enjoyed the smell of mango and candle wax that permeated every area around her. Behind the kitchen, there was a small door leading to a utility room with a set of stairs that went down to the basement. “I guess the boiler is in here,” Ellen said, stepping onto the pile of dirty clothes that had already accumulated behind the closed door. She looked around, setting her eyes on the shiny fuse box.
Ellen opened the door, peaking into the downstairs. It smelled like bleacher and stale lime, like their cleaning had not gotten rid of the dust that permeated the space. She covered her nose, trying not to cough. Her eyes filled with water. “Should have taken an anti-allergen,” She muttered under her breath. She flicked the light and started to descend the stairs. They creaked under her weight. The dog went further ahead of her, her tail in the air, wiggling so fast Ellen could hardly see it. Ellen spoke with the back of her hand pressed against her face, her eyes still full of tears. “Calm down, Jesus. It’s just a basement.”
As if on cue, the dog started to leap down the stairs instead of walking. “If you want to shred my ninth grade journal, you are more than welcome to,” Ellen groaned. “Fuck, why is it so dusty in here?”
The dog was running around the corner of the room. Ellen walked up to it, glancing around to see if she could find a small door or even an indication that the house shared the boiler with the home next door. “Maybe the noise wasn’t anything.”
A creaking response bounced off the concrete basement walls. This time, she could feel the floor vibrating under her. She mumbled something and got down on her knees. The dog towered over her. Ellen could see her unmoving paws, her tail sweeping the dust from side to side. The girl swallowed; her saliva heavy and speckled scratching against the walls of her neck. She held back a cough, holding her breath. Maybe it wasn’t anything. She started to kneel up when she heard it again. One of her arms still on the floor; she tried to crawl to where the noise was coming from. She had dragged herself about two inches before she heard a softer noise behind her. It sounded like somebody gently closing a door when they didn’t want to wake up a toddler. Ellen started to turn her head around, suddenly realizing that the dog had stay put where she was before. She had barely turned her face to look behind her when she saw a shadow on the wall from the corner of her eye. Something towered over her. Ellen tried to turn around, putting her weight on her elbows and barely managing to get up, hearing her heartbeat behind her ears. A loud noise, a tingle that turned into pain that shot down from the top of her head to the bottom of her spine, and she tumbled over like a ragdoll onto the concrete floor, tasting the dust and the blood from biting her tongue. One last flash of light, the dog in front of her. And a happy bark.
Ellen’s eyelids felt like heavy curtains as she battled to open them. The light shining through her eyelashes was blinding. She felt wet sandpaper stroking her limp hand, her fingers twitching. Against her dry tongue, she felt thick cloth, her mouth propped open with something downy. The sides of her lips had little cracks in it from the way her mouth was positioned. She swirled her tongue around the material – was it a sock? Was there a sock in her mouth? – trying to spit it out. She brought up her hand to her face, her shoulder being pulled back by the restraints that were enveloping her. Her eyebrows furrowed, she looked back. There was nothing but darkness. She was tied to one of the beams. Her shoulders burned. Her muffled groan echoed in her ears.
The basement’s dim yellow light bounced off the bright white balls and the concrete ceiling. Ellen saw an elongated shadow standing behind her. The dog was sitting in front of her, wagging her tail back and forth, dust particles climbing to her dark fur.
Ellen tried to keep her breathing in check. All she could hear was the swish swish swish from the tail on the concrete. She tried to slow down her breathing.
She heard a noise from behind her and tried to turn her head, her restrains making it impossible.
It sounded like slow steps. His voice was raspy, too slow, once he finally spoke. “Hello, beautiful.”
Ellen tried to move. Her restraints were burning against her skin. She tried to say something, but the sock – it was definitely a sock, she thought – prevented her from being able to articulate her thoughts. A searing pain shot through her spine. Ellen looked down, noticing that she was kneeling. Her legs were positioned on each side of the beam she was tied to.
“What do you want?” She tried to say. She heard her words, incomprehensible.
“Calm down,” The voice demanded. He was still behind her. He was now sitting. She could see his shadow, cross legged, his arms dangling in front of him. “I’m not going to hurt you. I just want to talk.”
Ellen focused on the noise the dog was making with her tail.
“You shouldn’t scream, you know. We are in a basement and the door is closed. Nobody is going to hear you if you do, but I may have to take – precautionary measures.”
Ellen blinked. Her eyes, still filled with water from the dust, stung. The feeling of salty water sliding slowly down her cheeks and winding up in the cracks of her lips made her want to squirm. She stayed put. Blinking. Waiting.
The male cleared his throat. “I’m going to take off the gag now, okay, Ellen?”
The girl nodded, staring at his shadow and attempting to lick her teeth, meeting her tongue with the dry sock instead. The man reached over and yanked the sock out of her mouth. Ellen coughed, spitting out dust and fluff from the material. Her cough made her entire body shake. The dog lied down at her feet, her tail still moving from side to side. She licked the sides of her lips, shuddering at the coppery taste of her blood. She took a deep breath and bit her lower lip.
“Good. You know how to follow directions. I like that in a woman.”
Ellen looked at the dog. Her eyes were closed and her ears were perked up. The girl tried not to groan.
“To be honest, I was kind of looking forward to seeing your roommate, Angie. You’re not too bad yourself, though. I wouldn’t want you to get jealous.” He laughed, throwing his head back. She watched the shadow shake. Her knees hurt. “Tell me, how do you know each other?”
Ellen opened her mouth, trying to speak. Instead of being able to form words, she heard herself croak, far away. The man shook his head. “Are you thirsty?”
“Yeah,” Ellen said.
“Here you go.” The man handed her a bottle of water. She stared at it.
He laughed again. “Of course. What an idiot I am.” He twisted the lid off and placed it on her mouth. She swallowed, streams of water falling down the sides of her mouth and onto her red top. She closed her eyes as the man spoke again, holding the bottle against firmly against her lips. “You see, I have a thing for blondes. I mean, I like pretty girls, but call me boring – there is something about a blonde bombshell looks that drives me wild.”
The water burned a hole in her chest. She turned her face away from the bottle, coughing.
“Huh. I thought you were a polite girl. Maybe I was wrong about you.”
Ellen sighed. Her words felt like metal whips on her throat. “I’m sorry. Thank you for the water.”
He laughed again. “I knew you were polite. I really hate disrespectful women. I was worried I couldn’t be nice to you anymore, Ellen. I know you must be a little confused right now, but I assure you, I only have the best intentions.”
Ellen closed her eyes.
“I am going to ask you a series of questions. Some of them, I will know the answer to. Some of them, I won’t. You won’t know which ones I know about and which ones I don’t. If you are going to lie to me, I will be a lot less pleasant than I am being right now. You’re a smart girl, right? So you know what I’m talking about?”
Ellen nodded. The man cleared his throat. “You need to use your words, Ellen.”
“Yes,” Ellen replied.
“Good. So how long have you known Angie for?”
Ellen cleared her throat. “Like, two years.”
“Do you remember when you met?” The man said.
“At school. Through a friend.” She said, staring ahead, trying to make out his features. She thought he was wearing a hat, although she couldn’t be sure. The woman cleared her throat before she spoke again. “Why don’t you come and talk to me face to face?”
He laughed. It sent a jilt down her spine. It was so ordinary, it was almost like she had heard it before when she was walking down the street or shopping for groceries. She might have even smiled to herself. She might have even called it infectious. “How stupid do you think I am?”
Ellen rolled her eyes. “Well, you said you were being nice. I’m terrible at talking to people I’m not looking at. I don’t even know your name.”
“Yes. You know me. You know Angie. You just said you know stuff about us and that you will know when I’m lying to you, but how am I supposed to know you are telling the truth? Am I just supposed to trust you?”
He grabbed a strand of her long hair, twirled it around his finger and gave it a pull. There was a hint of a smile in his voice when he spoke. “I guess I underestimated just how smart you actually are.”
Ellen licked the undersides of her teeth, twirling her tongue and jamming it inside the space between her teeth. She tried to move her fingers, still bound behind her. She focused on her breathing, leaving her head steady on her neck, staring straight ahead. He sighed. “You can call me Kay.”
“Okay,” Ellen replied.
“So you’re studying to get your master’s in Fine Arts?”
“No,” Ellen said. “It’s a Bachelor’s. It’s not an MFA. I’m getting a Bachelor of Arts in English.”
You twat, she added mentally.
“Right. Smart. Like I thought. And Angie has an event planning company?”
“Yeah,” Ellen said, trying to put her index finger through the rope. “She is an event planner. It’s not just weddings, though.”
“Yeah. Why don’t you tell me about Angie, Ellen?”
“What do you want to know?” A bit of her nail got caught on the rope. It stung like hell. Ellen bit her lip, taking in a sharp intake of breath, trying not to wince. “She’s nice. We’ve been roommates since last year.”
“Okay. What shampoo does she use?”
Ellen swallowed. Her saliva felt like tiny pebbles. “I don’t know. Suave, I think. We’ve never shared a bathroom.”
Kay tilted his head. He tapped on the floor and let out some air through his nose. “I don’t like being lied to, Ellen.”
“Why would I lie about something like that? When we lived in the other apartment, she had an en-suite and I didn’t,” Ellen tilted her head, unable to brush the hair off her face. One strand of thin reddish brown hair tickled her nostril. “So we have never had to, no.”
The man was quiet for a few seconds. Ellen stared at his shadow, at the tapping of his fingers on the floor. “Tell me, Ellen,” He finally spoke up, pressing one stubby finger to her face and using it to trace her features. “What good are you if you can’t answer my questions?”
The outlines out of his fingers made white marks on her skin. She groaned, jerking her head back and hitting the beam she was sitting on with the back of her head. She swore as the pain spread from the back of her head down to her spine.
The man chuckled again. It made her nauseous. “I guess you’re good for some comic relief,” He said, putting his hand on the back of her head, where she had hit her head. “But that won’t do. I have gone through all this effort and I certainly expect – well, something – to come from it. I’m sure that you understand.”
Ellen blinked. He snapped his fingers in front of her face, close to her nose. Ellen shut her eyes. “I fucking hate being ignored,” Kay said. “It’s one of my least favorite things.”
The girl swallowed. “Sorry. Yes, I understand.”
“Good. Good,” He added, his foot now tapping the floor. He had spread out a bit, and she could see the bottom of his leg from where she was now. He was wearing tall black boots and denim trousers. The bottoms of his jeans were scuffed. The laces of his boots were brown. The laces were worn away too, jagged around the edges, the bit at the end hanging off by a thread. The hair at the back of her neck stood up at the sound of his voice. “So is there anything you can tell me about her that is useful?”
Ellen tried to think. The swish swish swish sound, kicking dust up in the air, along with the slow tapping from the man, filled up her mind. Images flashed of the worst things that could happen to her in the situation. He had been remarkably polite so far, but what did that mean when he had her tied up? Ellen licked her lips, feeling tiny specs of dry skin on her taste buds. “She likes flowers.”
“Yes, flowers. She loves – not just flowers, plants, too.”
The man cleared his throat. “I didn’t see any flowers in your house.”
Her eyes were closed so tightly the space next to her eyebrows hurt. “Right. I’m incredibly allergic to most things. Including dust and pollen. She doesn’t think fake flowers look nice, so we don’t have any.”
“Right,” Kay replied. “I didn’t know about this. Why should I believe you?”
“There are plants. Outside. They weren’t there before, they are all Angie’s. She was looking into buying an indoor wall garden until I talked her out of it,” Ellen replied. “That – there are all sorts of them. It’s her favorite part of event planning, picking out the flowers.”
“Flowers. Huh.” Kay replied. Ellen nodded, barely able to feel her legs, still pinned under her. “What are her favorite flowers?”
“I don’t know. Orchids, I think.”
He grabbed her by the hair, pulling her face close to him. Her head felt like it was about to snap from her neck. “Do you think I’m stupid?”
“N-no,” She answered in a thin voice. “I just, I don’t know which type of orchid. She has told me before, but flowers really aren’t my thing.”
He let her hair go, letting her bounce back to her starting position. Every one of her limbs stung. Her feet protested for air, pins and needles spreading up to her ankles and all through her leg. She could see the man’s shadow look at his hand, strands of thin hair poking out through the webbing between his fingers. He brushed it off with his other hand. She watched as strands of her long hair fell to the floor. The dog perked her face up, her eyes following the man’s hand motions. Ellen tried to motion to the dog with her, tilting her head slightly towards Kay. The dog looked at her for a few seconds, putting her paws on the floor in front of her snout as if she was about to get up and glancing at Kay. Ellen saw his shadow hold out his arm. The dog lied back down, curling onto herself.
Kay turned to look at Ellen. She could feel his breathing on her neck. “What else can you tell me about her?”
“I don’t –“
A noise from upstairs made them both look up. “Be quiet,” He said, getting close to her and whispering in her ear, holding her shoulder down and digging his short wide fingers into her skinny elbow.
Angie put her bag and the cups on the kitchen counter, throwing her keys on as an afterthought. She took her phone out of her pocket, removed her headphones from her ears and started to wrap them up around her palm. “Are you studying? I brought you a pumpkin latte. That meeting was a bust.”
She walked towards Ellen’s room and tapped on the half-open door. “Ellen? This is going to get cold! Are you in the bathroom?”
Angie rolled her eyes, then frowned. “Huh. Tulip! Tulip! Dog! Street Dog!” She called out. She didn’t hear anything. Shrugging her shoulders, she went back to the kitchen and grabbed her drink from the counter.
“Angie!” She heard Ellen say. Her voice sounded strained. “Angie!”
“Angieee!” Her roommate said in a singsongy voice. “I’m kind of stuck down here. I need your help.”
The man chuckled, his hands still around her Ellen’s neck. “Nice touch, Ellen. I like you. You’re funny.”