Entertainingly Evil

Smelly Dogs by Chris Barili

Good dogs don’t stink. They’re smart, cute, loyal, and good-smelling. Good-smelling people want good-smelling dogs, so the laboratories make us that way. They try to, anyway. I’m cute, faithful, and super-smart, but I smell like a dog—a plain ol’ ordinary dog. I’m a mistake, so they throw me out into the cold.
     I hesitate, staring into the frigid, shrieking wind. As my tiny body starts to shiver, I turn back toward the door.
     “Bad dog! Get out!” They kick me and I roll on the hard ground. When I look up, they’re gone and the slam of the door echoes through the night. I’m alone for the first time ever. Unwanted.
     That first night on the street the wind bites through my fur, making my body ache and my nose run. The spot where they shaved my leg and printed the bar code is coldest, stinging like it did when they burned a slash through it. The day I became worthless.
     I wander, tail tucked, searching for someplace—anyplace—warm. In a shadowed alley that reeks of blood and hunger, I find other smelly dogs, dogs I hope will help me. Maybe they’ll take me in, be my family. Maybe they’ll let me sleep with them or give me some of their food. Maybe they’ll want me. But I must smell like a bad dog to them too, for they snarl and chase me off. I sleep in a rotting old box, shivering without my brothers and sisters to warm me. They didn’t smell. People want them.
     As I roam alone, I see good dogs walking with their people, snapping up treats and pretending they don’t see me. They smell happy and safe. But when I get too close, the good dogs growl and snap. Their people shy away.
     “Bad dog!” they yell.
     Some kick me or throw things at me. I’m too weak to dodge or even cower, and besides—I deserve it. I’m a bad, smelly dog.
     I shiver and my stomach rumbles as I wobble down the sidewalk, feet dragging and pads numb. I can’t make it much longer, and I’m not sure I want to anyway. I wasn’t made to be alone, unloved. They made me loyal and loving and cute, a family dog, but it doesn’t matter now. I want to just lie down. Sleep.
     Then I see her. A little girl the good-dog-people ignore, hiding in the shadow of a trash pile. She sits on the hard, icy ground, eating from the trash as other people walk by like she doesn’t exist. I edge closer, head down. People usually hurt me, so I keep my distance, watching. Her hair is matted like mine, and her nose runs. She smells sick, hungry, and scared as she studies me.
     “I’m a bad girl,” she whispers. I can see where they burned through her bar code, too. “They threw me out.”
     She tosses me some food from the trash, so I edge closer. The bread stinks of mold and dirt, but it fills my belly for the first time in days. As I swallow, the smelly girl grabs me, squeezing me against her until I can’t breathe. I wiggle and thrash, but she holds tight and for the first time I’m warm.
     Her heat seeps into my body, a fire of belonging that spreads from my chest out to my now-thawing toes. As I drift to sleep in her arms, my throw-away human buries her face in my throw-away fur, smells me, and says something amazing: “Good dog.”

Chris Barili’s fiction has appeared on The Western Online (as T.C. Barlow), on Quantum Fairy Tales, and in two anthologies by Sky Warrior Books.  It will appear in a third Sky Warrior anthology, “The Dragon’s Hoard,” and “Temporally Out of Order” by Zombies Need Brains LLC this summer.

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