"Does this bus go all the way to Braxton?" Amy asked the lumpy, middle-aged man behind the wheel. The bus driver barely spared her a sideways glance before merely jabbing a thick finger at the money slot. Amy gave a quick look around the scarcely occupied bus and, seeing the 'next stop HELL" graffiti smeared huge on the back of the filthy cabin, decided she was indeed on the right bus and dropped her dues in the slot. The girl then maneuvered her way to the back, carefully avoiding contact with the grimy seats. The seat she thought looked a shade lighter than the rest, however, turned out to be just as dirty. Worse yet, it was already occupied by a man who had apparently decided to call the place home for the night.

Taking a seat a bit farther back, the girl reluctantly took a deep breath of the thick air and laid her head back, giving her a nice view of the bullet holes in the ceiling. Braxton. Why did the tipper have to say they saw Jake in Braxton of all places? She sighed, actually hoping for the first time that she wouldn't find him. Not there anyway.

Amy could see her destination twenty minutes before the bus arrived. It was an eternally dark city, the permanent black clouds of smog creating distinct lacework around the buildings and obscuring the tops of the few skyscrapers. Unlike others, these skyscrapers didn't glint in the light. How could they without windows? The hollow skeletons stared out at the bus, grimly welcoming their newest visitors.

Twenty-five years ago, Braxton was a budding city called Blueborough with a bright future in the biotechnology industry. Thanks to its plethora of natural resources and odd ability to sprout geniuses, the city was a hotspot for young entrepreneurs looking to make names for themselves. The most notable was Tommy Jones; a notoriously sweet man who put Blueborough on the map when he saved the 51st president of the United States from a mutated terminal cancer by transplanting his brain into a chimp. After the initial fury and panic of having a freaking monkey as their leader calmed down, Tommy was showered with rewards for revolutionizing the medical and science world, and the now-furry president made Tommy the mayor of his hometown. The young scientist, blinded by optimism and power at the time, had dreams to turn the place into a little "utopia of science and discovery".

Turned out, running a city was not his forte.

As soon as the bus slowed to a stop, Amy pulled on a paper breathing mask she had in her knapsack, picked up her stack of flyers and set to work. She quietly laid one of the flyers on the still sleeping bum's lap and, after hopping off the bus, began to distribute the rest.

"Have you seen my friend?" she asked, holding a flyer up to a woman's face. The lady, scowling at the picture, shoved it away and boarded the bus. Undeterred, Amy tucked the paper in the lady's bag and continued on her way.

It didn't take long for Amy to get lost in the unfamiliar city. At first she didn't care; her priority was Jake, but after only half an hour of wandering in the hot labyrinth of overwhelming smells and white noise, Amy found herself feeling so dizzy, she had to stop and suck her inhaler for a few minutes. When the hazy buildings stopped spinning and the pain in the back of her eyeballs subsided, Amy found herself being stared at by a grubby man in a torn jacket. He was weakly leaning against a phoneless payphone. His face was gaunt with hunger, and soulful dark eyes gazed deep into her light blue ones, as if trying to find something. Amy flinched in discomfort, and then backed away when he began to whimper.

Pulling up her hood to hide from his intense gaze, she muttered, "I'm fine", to him and speed walked down the block. There was a bark and running steps, and when Amy turned to look back, the homeless man was sprinting after her at full speed. Amy screamed and began to run herself.

Upon hearing the creepy man holler again, Amy immediately scurried around the corner and into a ramshackle diner. To her alarm, the place was completely empty, and she feared she might have cornered herself. Only a moment later, however, a middle-aged man in an apron appeared from the kitchen and, to her relief, he smiled welcomingly.

"What can I get you?" he asked.

"One coke, please" Amy replied breathlessly, sagging into a ratty barstool. The man bent under the counter and came up a moment later with the cold drink. Amy chugged it down eagerly, immediately feeling better.

"Two dollars, missy" the man told her, and Amy reached into her knapsack, pulling out two dollars and handing them to the man. She then turned to the door and felt reassured when the homeless man bounded right past the diner. "Something on your mind?" the clerk asked.

"Nah, I'm just- actually, yes!" Amy turned around and reached into her knapsack, shuffling around inside. "Have you seen this… wait, where are they?" Amy turned over her knapsack onto the counter, spilling the few contents onto it. Chap stick, a small wallet, Kleenex, a warm water bottle she'd forgotten about, and a map of the city. Her flyers weren't there.

"Where's what?" asked the clerk with curiosity.

"My flyers!" Amy cried out. The stress was suddenly too much, and she began to cry. "The flyers I made for my dog!" she sobbed. The clerk, alarmed, took her arm gently.

"Whoa there! No need to get upset over some lost paper! What's this about a dog?"

Amy sniffled but continued to sob. "Three months ago, Jake ran away from home, and I've been looking all over for him, but I can't find him! I miss him so much, and I don't know why he'd leave, and I'm two hours away from home, and my parents wanna get me another dog, but I don't want another dog, and-"

"Jesus, girl, slow down!" the clerk interrupted in agitation, rubbing his temple. Then, in a gentler tone, he said, "I've seen a couple of dogs around here. What's yours look like?"

Amy sighed. "He's a yellow lab with orangey eyebrows. Medium size." The clerk was silent, and when Amy looked up, she saw he was thinking. After a few seconds, he smiled.

"Well, you're in luck. I know an animal that fits that description exactly."

"You do?" Amy straightened up.

"Mh hmm. Passes by the front of my diner every evening at 7 PM sharp. Never met a dog with a routine before, so he stuck in my head. I can let you stay in here until then if you'd like."

Amy grinned, trying unsuccessfully to not let her hopes up in case it turned out to be a mistake. "Thank you so much!"

Amy stared tirelessly at the clock for the next three hours. Or rather, she thought she was staring at the clock until she found herself being woken up by the clerk. "There he goes", he said, pointing out the window in time for Amy to catch a glimpse of yellow tail. The girl jumped up from the stool and ran out the door.

"Jake!" she cried. The dog froze, his tail dropping. "Jake, it's me, boy!" Amy dropped to her knees and hugged the animal tightly from behind. "I've missed you!" Slowly, Jake turned to face her, and Amy's smile evaporated. His distinctive eyebrows were the same, as were the rest of his face, but his eyes… they were human. Screaming in terror, Amy scrambled away from the beast, and the dog sprinted away, letting out a bark that sounded incredibly close to a cuss. The hair on Amy's neck stood up. That wasn't Jake. Not anymore.

It was right then that Amy finally realized she was never going to see her best friend again, but she didn't cry. She'd known this, deep inside, for a while already. Her heart snapped shut and, lifeless, Amy slowly stood up and trudged towards where she knew there'd be a bus stop. Life, however, didn't seem to be through with torturing her. The homeless man from before appeared again, looking even weaker than before, but his intense eyes continued to bore into her soul.

This time, Amy stared back; trying to figure out what he could possible want from her that he'd follow her so determinedly. His eyes, round and huge, revealed starvation, physical as well as emotional, but there were also recognition and affection floating on top of all that. Then there was that familiar little green birthmark on the left iris…

"Jake?" she whispered, disbelieving.

Jake's droopy eyes brightened, and he pounced on her. Pinning the girl against the wall, he licked her face excitedly. Amy laughed, wrapping her arms around his neck in a tight hug. Then, after a few moments, she pulled away, eyes sad as she studied him. "What have they done to you, boy?"

Jake's grin dropped, and he began to whimper as his eyes filled with tears. "Aw, it's okay. Don't cry", Amy cooed, wiping away the first tear that rolled down his face. Jake smiled as she pulled out his collar and strapped it around his neck. He released her to finger the collar. Feeling a new appreciation for the awful choker, Jake decided he was never taking it off again.

Bending down again so Amy could reach his neck once more, she clipped on the leash and, together, the girl and her dog made their way back home.