Though he wasn't real, Fargo was the best friend I ever had. Growing up poor meant moving to wherever my dad could find work, and we never stayed anywhere long enough for me to make any real friends. It also meant that new toys weren't a luxury we could afford, but I didn't mind-I loved Fargo more than any kid ever loved their new Playstation or trampoline.

He was a breadbasket sized stuffed dog we bought from the flea market. He looked like a mutt, and had soulful chocolate brown eyes.

The old lady we bought him from said that Fargo was a magical doll who could come to life. She also said that the moon landing was fake and that Ronald Reagan was the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. I don't think my parents took her seriously. Her word was enough for my imagination, though, and soon Fargo had come to life, even if I'd forgotten the stuff about the moon and Ronald Reagan.

Every day after school Fargo and I would go treasure hunting around the neighborhood together. He would lead me to all sorts of amazing things: a stick that was a magic wand, a piece of glass that was a diamond, and a bird's nest that was a king's crown.

It didn't matter to me that I didn't have money or friends-Fargo made sure that I was the happiest kid in the world. Until the day he got ripped.

It had started off the same as any other day, Fargo had told me that there were mermaid scales down by the creek, and so we went looking for them. We had just found a big one when I heard a low rumble coming from beside me-Fargo was growling.

He was turned away from the creek, looking at something behind me. I turned around to see a man I didn't know. He wore a washed out denim jacket and he smelled like cigarettes. When I looked at him I couldn't help but get a sinking, uneasy feeling in my stomach. He smiled.

"Hey kid," he said, "what are you doing?"

"Collecting mermaid scales," I answered.

"Oh, is that right?" the man asked, edging towards me. "Well I've got a whole real-life mermaid back at my house, and she's just giving away her scales for free. Wanna see?"

I backed up towards the creek.

"Um, no thanks, sir. My mom says I'm not supposed to go off with strangers."

I could hear Fargo growling again, but the man didn't seem to notice.

"Come on, kid, you gonna pass up the chance to see real life mermaid?" the man said, and his grin widened to reveal gaps in his crooked yellow teeth.

He was still edging closer to me, and I got the sudden urge to run. I glanced around and saw I was in an elbow in the creek-the only way out was forward. I picked Fargo up and held up out in front of me like a shield. He barked and snapped at the man, but the man still didn't seem to notice.

"Is that for me?" the man asked. He lunged at me. I pulled back but it was too late, he had swiped Fargo from my hands. "He's a cute dog," the man said.

He reached in his pocket and pulled out a little brown knife. He clicked a silver button on the side, and a blade popped out. He stuck the blade into Fargo's stomach, and Fargo let out a yelp that the man couldn't hear. He threw Fargo on the ground and Fargo lay there whimpering, staring at me with pleading eyes as his stuffing leaked out onto the ground.

I took another step back and felt my foot sink into the mud. I had reached the embankment of the creek. I tried to swallow, but my mouth was dry. My heart pounded in my ears. I had to run.

The man lunged for me again. I felt his fingers close around my wrist. I squeezed my eyes shut and tried to pretend I was somewhere else. I heard a scream, and I opened my eyes again to see the man stumbling backwards, swinging his arms around wildly. A stray dog was leaping at him, barking and snapping. The dog clamped his jaws around the man's knife arm, and the arm spurted blood.

There was a loud rip, and the dog's jaws came unglued from the man's wrist, taking part of the denim jacket with him. He slashed the dog across the face, and the dog yelped and fell back. The man charged, but the dog crouched down low, sending the man tumbling headlong into the mud of the creek. The dog leapt at him, and the man scrambled up and bolted, little flecks of mud flying off behind him as he ran. I could hear the dog growling somewhere behind me as I watched the man disappear into the distance. The growling stopped, and I turned around to see the dog was gone.

I walked over and picked Fargo up. He wasn't alive anymore.

His little brown eyes stared at nothing, plastic and empty, and his stuffing spilled out of the rips in his belly and face.

It wasn't until I leaned closer and saw the little piece of washed out denim sticking out of Fargo's mouth and the flecks of blood that dotted his muzzle that I remembered the man hadn't slashed Fargo's face at all. He had slashed the stray's face. My arms prickled up with goosebumps, and I gently tugged at the scrap of denim. It slid out of Fargo's mouth, and the seam that had always closed up his snout sealed up behind it.

Fargo never moved again after that day, and as the years went by and I grew up, I realized that the the scrap of denim in Fargo's mouth must have just been my imagination. After all, the world isn't like a story, toys don't really come to life because you want them to. Eventually Fargo was relegated to a cardboard box at the top of the closet.

That is, until last week

I woke up in the darkness to footsteps next to my bed. I froze with fear, not daring to breathe. Then I heard the low rumble of a dog's growl-Fargo's growl.

A snarl, jaws snapping together.

A man crying out, and then a thud, and footsteps retreating into the night.

When I hit the lights, my eyes caught on the silver gleam of a knife at the foot of my bed. Next to it sat Fargo, his muzzle dotted with blood.

The police would later tell me it was just a random home invasion-a drug addict looking for jewelry to steal.

But right then I was only thinking of Fargo. My heart pounded in my ears and my skin knotted together in little bumps as I picked him up. I washed the blood off in the bathroom sink and gently dried him off, placing him next to my pillow.

I think that from now on, that's where he's going to stay.