4

Salome' Byrd

Puppy Tears

It was so empty and cold. The walls were dark gray and totally bare. The ceiling loomed high over his head, black and forbidding. A single blinded window let a few shafts of sunlight into that bleak place. The floor was covered with rugs. Bright orange rugs. They were cool and scratchy to the touch and somehow made the place look that much more empty and sad. There were a few boxes here and there, but nothing else. An inexplicable icy breeze seemed to be constantly moving through it, too.

He looked down at the note, not really reading it. Why would anyone want to meet him here? He hadn't given it a second thought on the way to the place, thinking it was one of his classmates messing around with him. Now he had to wonder why it was so secluded and depressing. He stepped forward and shuddered at the absolute silence. Footsteps were supposed to make sound. It almost seemed... unreal.

"Hello?" He called, noting the eerie echo his voice made as he spoke, "Is anybody there? Leo? Randy? ... Laura?" He waited a minute and then shrugged. No-one there. He wasn't in the mood for this, anyway. He just wanted to go back to bed. It was so early... ten in the morning! He was tired. He sighed, stretched his arms, and re-read the note.

"Kyle,

Please come to 913 Gosling Street at 10:30am.

I will be waiting for you.

- A friend"

He sighed again. This was pointless. Wait... what was that noise? He walked forward, disturbed again by the silence. A sound, somewhere between a screeching violin and a baby crying, filled the desolate warehouse with a further sense of unease. Kyle slowly inched his way toward the box that seemed to be making the sound. Was something in there? He realized with some hint of bittersweet amusement that his friends would have been scared by this. After what had happened, though… how could he be scared of anything anymore?

It came again, louder this time. He looked in the box. Nothing was there but a bunch of hay and a terrible smell. The sound was coming from behind the box. He stood there, looking over the edge of the box, paralyzed. Was this what he thought it was? There was no way it could be here.

Its dark brown ears lay back on its head. It was shivering and holding its same colored tail between its lighter brown legs. Its entire body was light, caramel brown color with just a few black strands of fur here and there. The tiny puppy whined again.

She was so small... he could have held her in his arms and not felt her there at all. He looked at the note one last time, terrified. There was no way. This was too cruel. There was something there he hadn't noticed before. A tiny, muddy paw print was on the back of the note card. Whoever had wanted to meet him had obviously wanted him to see the puppy. He looked back at her again.

Her ribs stuck out and her fur was matted as if she hadn't been properly cleaned in quite awhile, let alone fed. He didn't doubt that, no matter how much he wanted to. He wanted to say she could take care of herself. He wanted to say he didn't care what happened to some random puppy in a creepy warehouse. He wanted to say he could leave her and someone else would take her in. He wanted to say she had an owner who loved her and was worried about her right that very minute. He wanted to say he could forget she existed... but he couldn't. No matter how much he wanted to.

They sat there for a good long minute. He was standing over the box with the awful smell in it, his face frozen in a sort of painful grimace. She crouched on her belly, tail between her legs and a whine trembling in her throat. Both were scared, frozen, wondering where to go from here.

Kyle's phone vibrated in his pocket. The puppy jumped two feet in the air, her yelp reverberating off the walls. The boy moved to the right of the box and sank to a crouch. Experience was taking over. It was ten thirty.

He slowly brought his hand forward. The puppy blinked at it, seeming to think about scooting back from it. She must have seen people before, though, because she cautiously inched towards him, sniffing furiously. His face was blank. This was wrong. He shouldn't have been doing it. Just the same... he let her sniff his hand. Her tail came out from between her legs and started wagging. She liked his scent.

She whined in a slightly different way now, like she was asking for something instead of simply being afraid. She nuzzled his hand and he made a sort of surprised grunting sound. For looking so weak, she was awfully strong headed. He almost smiled at that, but wouldn't let himself. This went against everything. It was wrong. He sighed and got up; hoping to abandon what seemed to him like and idiotic plan. The puppy cocked her head at him and walked up to his leg, nuzzling it. To his surprise, she liked him. He grunted again, realizing he didn't have much choice in the matter. He would have to take her to the pound.

He bent down again and scooped her into his arms. She yelped in shock, then looked around and saw that she was okay. Her tail started to wag again and her ears finally perked up. They were like wolf ears. Pointed and twitching this way and that to hear all the sounds around her. He glanced at her neck, looking for a collar. One would have been obvious on a dog this small, but he looked anyway. Nothing. Just as he'd thought. With one final sigh, he rose to his feet and turned toward the entrance of the warehouse. He started walking in that direction, the rugs making a silence he couldn't stand.

Silence was dangerous. If it was silent he would have a chance to think. He didn't want to think. About anything. Especially not that. He closed his eyes and unwillingly remembered. Kelly.

She had been his cousin and he had loved her like a sister. He would visit her farm once every month. She raised horses bred for hard work and bred dogs raised to be loving companions. She would only sell them to people who would treat them well- horses and dogs alike. She had taught him so much... from how to house-train a puppy to how to appreciate every day because there was always something beautiful and exciting going on. She had made him think about life in a philosophical way. She asked questions like the meaning of life and what true happiness was. She had been the most influential person in Kyle's life. She had been the big sister he never really had.

All that had ended barely a month before the note. One of her dogs contracted rabies and started attacking all the animals in the barn. The mouse-catching cats, the work horses, and even his fellow dogs. Kelly had to put him down and was barely in time to cure all of the animals he bit. She had cried for days and Kyle had just watched, unable to do anything.

They couldn't have known how many he bit, though. One dog in particular was overlooked: the current mother-to-be; the young dog that had been bred for the first time. She had hidden during exams and everyone had just assumed that she had been separated from the others during the attack. A week after her mate had been put to sleep she went into labor on the floor in Kelly's bedroom. She had six puppies and Kelly and Kyle had been so excited to see them. She didn't lick them off or offer them milk, though, and the cousins got worried. Her owner sent Kyle to get a damp washcloth from the kitchen.

He had gone without hesitation. He turned on the water to wet the towel and heard a horrible yelp and a scream from the bedroom. His first thought was of the dog. What had happened? He left the water running and clutched the towel tightly in his left hand.

He was too late, just the same. Kelly and the dog both had horrible wounds and lay across from each other, breathing hard and heavy. He had dropped the towel with a wet squelch on the ground and ran to the phone. He cussed terribly at the girl who took his call. Yes, it was urgent, damn it! He slammed the phone down and raced back to his cousin, hoping against hope that she would be okay.

By the time he heard the sirens nearing the farm she was already gone. Cold and lifeless in his arms. He hadn't cried, though. He'd been in too much shock for that. She and the dog and the puppies too... all dead.

The new puppy squirmed around in his arms and licked his face, tail wagging contentedly. She was saved! Or so she thought. He sighed, heavier this time. He turned the corner onto the street leading to the pound. He remembered that he and Kelly had always loved pretending that he would take a pup from one of her litters home, though they knew full well that Kyle's older brother was allergic to them. Freddie was gone now, though; off to college... Kyle shook his head violently. What was he thinking? He couldn't keep her! Freddie would come back in summer and she would ruin his only family time! Besides, Kyle himself didn't like dogs anymore. After all, they had been responsible for what had happened. For losing his cousin. His big sister. Hadn't they?

He looked up. He was standing in front of the parking lot to the pound. He looked down at the dog in his arms. So small and light. She tilted her head at him and let her tongue loll out of her mouth. She looked like a wolf... just like Ruby had, only more innocent and young and tiny.

He grunted as had become his habit, deciding.

"Look, dog. I don't like you and you don't like me. This town is full of kids just waiting to have a dog like you. They'll take good care of you. Get those ribs hidden," he started, glaring angrily. She licked his face. He faltered and tried again, walking backwards so his back was against a nearby tree. "So don't go getting attached to me. Be good for the people who adopt you. Be... b- be good for th- them." Kelly had always said that to her pups when they were old enough to go to a good home. A tear rolled down his cheek and he wiped it away.

It was useless to cry... wasn't it? The puppy whined at him in a slightly different tone. Not as if she were afraid or in pain or hungry. As if she was tired. Tired like him. He was tired of life and everyone leaving him. She had made him think and he was tired of thinking. It just made him think about her. He just wanted to sleep now.

The tiny puppy licked his face, wagging her tail slower this time. Kyle slid down the tree, not minding the bark up his shirt and the splinters in his back. It started to rain. The young dog crawled out of his grip and stood staring at Kyle. He looked up at the sky, silently begging this downpour to wash away his tears. "It's useless to cry, right? It won't bring her back! It won't change what Ruby did to her!" He yelled, ignoring the concerned and shocked stares of the one or two people walking by underneath umbrellas. The puppy barked at him, seeming angry.

He looked at her, surprised, and allowed himself a tiny smile. He touched a finger to her nose and her tail started wagging again. He smiled a little bigger. She jumped toward him and landed in a shallow puddle instead, seeming perplexed when she noticed she was covered in mud. He smiled bigger and started to laugh despite the tears still streaming down his face.

She barked her little puppy bark at him, seeming to say, "Hey! I don't look that funny!" He laughed harder and started wondering where she had come from. Why she had been all alone in that warehouse. When the last time she'd eaten was. Why his friends wanted so bad for him to find her. Did they just know he was an expert on dogs or what? Why was he happy when he should have been sad? Why had it taken him so long to cry over his cousin? Why was he as happy as he was when all that had happened was a puppy falling in a puddle?

He calmed down from his fit of laughter and looked at the puppy. She cocked her head at him. He tilted his to match. He smiled. She was making him think. He sighed, though in relief this time rather than frustration or exhaustion. For the first time in what felt like years, he was awake. His eyes were wide and taking in everything around him. From the trees to the pound building to the wet grass to the sunlight shining through the clouds that had lost their grayness. The rain was over.

He rose to a crouch, wincing a bit at the splinters he'd accumulated. "Well," he said, "how can I know if someone else will take care of you better than I could? How do I know whether Freddie will mind you that much when he knows how I used to feel about dogs? Looks like I don't have a choice here..." he scooped her up in his arms again and kept walking past the pound building, into the woods. It was a shortcut to his house. "C'mon, Kelly. It's time we got home."