by Bryan Russell
John was very brilliant and worked at a lab splicing and breeding things and he had an idea about a dog because he always loved dogs and had a Rottweiler when he was a boy. It was a big dog and he used to lie on it and feel his head rise and fall as the dog breathed, but then it chased a car and got hit and rolled over and whined in the dirt until it died.
So John had the idea to make a car-proof dog and spliced some things into a litter of puppies. He was very good–splicing was just like pushing buttons, sequencing here, sequencing there, or perhaps it was like playing the violin really slowly. He didn't tell his bosses because he'd already floated the idea and they'd told him don't be stupid.
So he had a litter of pups, but times were tough—he had a gambling debt (damn those ponies) and decided to sell the pups at a garage sale, along with his old golf clubs. Bob came and bought the biggest because it was one damn big pup, with a head like a football covered in a shag rug. But one of John's bosses happened to stop by the garage sale (he was always looking for a deal) and saw the pups and got pissed off and confiscated them, though he did buy the golf clubs for twenty-five bucks. John said that was the whole litter (because he certainly wasn't giving that hundred dollars back to Bob).
So now Bob had a giant Rottweiler pup, and it was cute and ungainly in a brutish sort of way. He fed it kibble and it grew very quickly. Within a few weeks it was eating a full bag a day and was already the size of a grown dog. Bob was sort of happy, as no one would goddamn ever mess with him while his dog was around, but it was pretty expensive, this big frigging dog.
Then the ungainly pup caught a squirrel after waiting patiently at the bottom of a tree. Bob just saw a fluffy tail sliding into the maw and down that wide gullet.
Next it was a cat. Meow.
That's one tough dog, Bob thought. He taught it to sit up and roll over and bark at his command, but after a while it simply stopped and stared at him. Bob noticed its eyes were sort of red.
And then it started eating the neighborhood dogs. The Martins' Chihuahua, of course. Then the Smith's beagle. Then Lassie (the Dubrovniks actually called the hairy thing Lassie). Sampson the golden retriever. Marko the Doberman Pinscher. Emma the Rottweiler. This made Bob nervous, and sort of happy. He thought about calling his dog Cannibal. Or maybe Cannibal Lecter.
But then the local dog owners gathered together and came with shouts and pitchforks. Well, garden rakes. The dog just stared at them, and when it growled they felt the road vibrate and they remembered their microwave dinners were probably ready now. Let the police deal with it.
The officers came, somewhat nervously, wearing padding. They were armed. They caught sight of the dog and stopped. It was a big dog. A very big dog. But the dog turned and loped off into the trees.
Maybe it's for the best, Bob thought. The officers gave him a ticket, but he said it wasn't his dog. He said he thought it was John-from-down-the-street's dog.
Except the dog came back, sometimes, at night, and looked in Bob's window at the flickering TV. It was almost as tall as Bob now.
Once, in the deep of night, when the stars were like icepicks in the black sheet of the sky, Bob thought he heard a howling, a deep and sad and terrible baying.
McAdam, who had a farm just on the edge of town, said that his cows were disappearing. The story was in the local paper, section C3. And then McAdam disappeared. The local racetrack shut down, as some of the horses had gone missing, and the rest wouldn't leave their stalls. A reporter called it "a mass onset of equine agoraphobia."
There were reports that a couple bears had come down out of the hills, rooting for garbage, haunting the McDonald's dumpster after dark. And then one day a severed bear head was found in the parking lot. It had a frightened look on its dead face.
Bob woke one night to see huge red eyes in his window, vast glassy pools lit from within and shadowed by dreams of ash and smoke. His bedroom was on the second floor. He didn't move. The eyes blinked. A nose puffed steam onto the window and bumped it open. Its breath rustled the curtains. A huge head, bulking shoulders… shoulders with strange protuberances. Like giant swellings. The furnace eyes blinked again and then the dog was gone.
Bob stopped working. He waited, each day, though nothing happened. He did not see the dog for a while. He wasn't sleeping well. There were shadows under his eyes. He went out one morning in the dimness before dawn and saw a shape. It was as big as a house. Red eyes turned and saw him. Three pairs.
The dog had three heads, each one massive and thick, like the furred head of a dinosaur, a tongue-lolling tyrannosaur. The three heads watched him for a while, and then the dog loped to the nearest house. The Martins. When Mike Martin stepped out into the morning in business casual, one of the dog's heads snapped him up and swallowed.
It was like a game. So easy. The dog was really rather quiet for something as big as a house. The shaggy heads took turns. Early-to-rise joggers. Shop owners. Civil servants. A few lawyers. A long-necked podiatrist. The heads fought over the mailman. The middle head ate John, and then it bayed, the sound haunting the air and rattling between the rows of houses.
When the neighborhood was silent (silent as a February wind after a storm), the dog knocked down a house and lay on the flattened roof. It rested its head on the ground, the lamp-like eyes watching Bob.
Bob got in his car, turned the key, and backed into the street. He started down the road. West. Go west, young man. The three heads rose up. Noses sniffed.
Bob hoped 70 miles an hour would do it, but as he hit the city limits he saw a dark form in his rearview mirror, loping along. Bob sped through the slanted light of morning toward a new town, an electric town with high picket fences, followed always by the specter of a dog.