The male dog lowered its nose and sniffed the ground. In the corner of the yard a squirrel glanced around nervously and did some sniffing of its own. It didn’t smell the dog, which the dog found most fortunate. What the dog knew, but apparently the squirrel did not, was that this was his territory, here behind the closed and locked gate and the high fence.
The dog inched forward, marble-eyes glinting in the dusky light, saliva dripping from either side of his mouth.
The squirrel darted further into the yard, oblivious to the threat only yards away. The dog looked over toward its companion. The bitch was tied to her own tree nearby.
Beyond the fence was a house, but a house only in the most rudimentary way. It still had walls, and there was most of a floor and most of a roof, but the rest of the home was little more that piles of garbage, rot, cockroaches and other things that Dillon preferred not to think about. The male dog sniffed the air again, toward the house this time, teeth bared at the smell wafting over from the hovel. The human was in there, banging around, making noise as though trying to scare away the squirrel.
The dog turned back to his prey. He hunched down low, lips pulled back in a snarling grimace, hind legs coiled and ready. He waited, planning his attack carefully. Then he lunged; his powerful legs like tightly-wound cords of pure muscle.
The rope around his neck tightened and he nearly fell backwards. But instead of falling, the dog came back to earth with a thud, clutched at the dirt with his claws, and lunged again.
There was a snap. The strangle-hold around his neck disappeared. The dog tore after the squirrel.
The squirrel caught the dog’s scent and realized what was happening. It retreated and the dog gave chase, dodging between the rows of cages standing empty on each side. The squirrel headed for a small gap in the fence. The ground shook as the dog charged, his immense, powerful legs carrying him towards the squirrel. The dog’s jaws opened, revealing huge, sharp teeth lodged firmly in massive jaws. Behind the male dog, the female whined, tilting her head, unable to move more than a few feet from her tree.
The squirrel reached the gap and bolted through. The dog’s jaws snapped shut mere inches behind it. The dog skidded, trying to stop his forward momentum, but slammed hard into the fence.
The wooden boards rattled. The dog shook his head.
The dog’s eyes narrowed as the squirrel scampered through the weeds, vanishing into the nearby woods. He refrained from barking; he knew it would bring the man from inside the house, and the man would bring the stick.
The dog glared at the house and snarled. Behind him the female dog let out a small bark as if in some kind of encouragement or sympathy and she shuffled her paws in the dirt, straining against the rope around her neck, but still unable to move.
Eventually, the dog gave up on the squirrel and padded back toward the female. She wagged her stumped-tail eagerly, lowered herself to her stomach and whined. He came over and nuzzled against her face.
They were mates. They had been born five years ago, some place else, and raised together. They’d traveled far; gone through so much.
Inside the house, the man knocked something over with a huge crash, cursing and yelling. The dog let out a low growl and bared his teeth again.
He turned back to the female, lowered his snout and sniffed her neck, and then saw the rope that was attached to her as well. A synapse fired in his brain and the dog had a moment of recognition, sensed a kind of pattern. He stretched his jaws wide and bit down on the rope, thrashing his head back and forth like a piston.
It was time for them to leave, the dog decided. They had to get out of there. They had to get away from the pain, the captivity and the loud, drunken abuser inside the house.
The dog tore at the rope with all his strength .
* * *
Dillon Horence was not a man that other men liked to be around,which was one of the reasons he lived so deep in the wilderness. Another reason had to do with one of the professions he’d taken up in the last decade or so. Dillon had never liked the idea of working in an office, working a farm, or doing much of anything that “normal” people did to make a living.
Dillon’s ramshackle home was the kind of grayish-blue that was the standard color among ramshackle homes buried deep in the wilderness. All around him stood the forests and wilderness of Wisconsin. He was ten miles from the nearest ghetto that could rightly be called a town and much further still from anything large enough to be considered a city. He had plenty of acreage but most of it was overrun by weeds. The acres he cared about were close to the rundown shack Dillon called his house.
Dillon was forty-years-old but he could pass for sixty. This had more to do with his predilection for booze and hard drugs than time spent outside. Also, Dillon was not the type of man who showered regularly, washed his clothes regularly, or even cleaned his house regularly. The only things he did manage to find time to do regularly were drink, do drugs, and beat his dogs.
Dillon made most of his money by training dogs to fight. He didn’t think of this as a particularly bad thing. Given the extent to which Dillon’s brain had been destroyed by chemical abuse, he rarely gave much thought to anything. Dillon had spent much of his life cultivating an anti-social personality. He liked being alone.
Throughout his past, Dillon had tried several methods of making money, all of them illegal. He’d grown pot on his land, but had smoked more than he sold. He tried his hand at cooking crystal-meth in a hastily-constructed lab in a shack behind his home. When that shack exploded, one hot afternoon, Dillon decided it might be better to find something else to try. He gave all of ten seconds to the idea of trying to be a counterfeiter when he realized he didn’t have the technological know-how to accomplish that business successfully. Then somebody, probably while in a drug-induced haze or in an equally drunken one, suggested his land, set far away from civilization, might be a good place to house fighting dogs. It certainly didn’t seem any worse than anything else he had tried.
It turned out Dillon had a knack for training dogs. Not being a particularly sentimental person, beating and pounding on dogs from the time they were puppies didn’t bother him in the least. Dillon had some helpers come in and assist in training the dogs to fight. Dillon just enjoyed the beatings. Some part of him supposed there was something sick and broken inside of him, given the joy he got out of beating the animals, but his brain was so lost in a black haze that he really didn’t care. He lost himself in his work, enjoying the feeling of power he had over another living thing. The rest of the world was disgusted by Dillon and ridiculed him at every turn; this was his chance to take control of his world.
Dillon was passed out on the floor of the living room when the gate opened. It was nearly noon when the sounds of barking from his backyard filtered through his home and into his brain. When he opened his eyes he paused to brush cockroaches and other insects off his face, chest and lap before staggering to his feet. His mouth felt like the filthy shag carpet that covered the floor of his trailer.
To say that Dillon’s home was messy was like suggesting that the destruction of the Hindenburg was a little bit of balloon trouble. His house was covered in junk, much of it food, from the front door to the back and then huge quantities of it spilled right out onto the front and back porches. Dillon had long ago learned to live with the vermin that came to visit. As Dillon staggered to his feet he stepped on cardboard boxes laden with rotten morsels of food and spoiled containers.
At first Dillon was unsure what it was that had awakened him. He cursed under his breath, then licked his dry lips, which were caked with last night’s spittle and vomit. He ran his fingers through his greasy hair, brushing more bugs out of the tangled mat perched atop his head.
Then Dillon heard the barking from behind his house.
The dogs barked a lot. You got used to the sound after a while. Enough crack or meth could silence whatever sounds couldn’t be shut out through practice. This barking was different, though. This was the kind of barking that indicated trouble.
“Damn dogs,” Dillon slurred as he rubbed his eyes and tried to focus. The dogs sounded as if they had gotten out of their cages again. Dillon had left those cages open a little too often lately, the result of too much drinking and drugs and not enough thinking things through.
He’d spent the previous night downing cheap tequila, and when Dillon had finished that, he’d decided it wasn’t quite enough, so he backed it up by doing some crystal meth. When he had tired of that he tried smoking some pot. Dillon remembered vomiting at some point and looked toward a corner in what was supposed to be his dining room. Yes, it appeared he had definitely vomited. Dillon vaguely remembered thinking he was in his bathroom, but that sure didn’t seem to be the case.
At some point Dillon’s high had turned into a haze. Then the haze had turned into a blackout. The blackout eventually led to him passing out entirely. Dillon didn’t remember how he’d gotten into his living room, but it didn’t seem like he’d done anything to hurt himself, beyond introducing copious amounts of drugs and alcohol into his system.
Out back, Dillon had fifteen cages encircled by a fence. The fence had a gate that he kept locked. These days Dillon only had two dogs back there. They were huge dogs; dogs he was particularly fond of. Of course, for Dillon to be fond of anything, that usually meant he was particularly cruel to them.
Dillon could never remember the breed of dogs they were. He knew they came from the Canary Islands, but as far as Dillon was concerned that was an island that bred canaries. They were, to those who knew, Presas Canarios and they were a breed particularly known for being dangerous. There were those who believed the aggressiveness had to be trained out of them.
Each dog could grow to 125 lbs. They had a head which resembled a Great Dane’s. Dillon had seen their teeth up close and knew they were teeth meant for tearing apart flesh. Dillon had used his share of Rottweilers and Pit Bulls, but he had never seen a breed of dog so designed for fear as these.
There was a male and there was a bitch. Dillon had moved them out of their cages yesterday and tied them to stumpy trees in the yard with linked rope. He’d tied them up just after he started drinking. He’d carried his cattle prod with him at the time and had used it against the male, which he had named Demon. Delilah, the bitch, had come along quietly.
In addition to being aggressive and mean, these were damn clever dogs. At times, they amazed Dillon with their intelligence. Sometimes, they were so smart that Dillon feared them. Dillon had become so afraid of them, lately, that he’d started taking the cattle prod with him whenever he went out to the cages. He hated the way the male dog looked at him. It was like it was thinking and the thoughts were not pleasant. The thought that the two dogs were out of their cages again filled him with fear, but he suppressed it. Dogs could sense that, he reminded himself. He had to project strength. He did not feel strong, but he did his best.
“Damn dogs,” Dillon muttered as he rummaged through his kitchen, fumbling through drawers, dirty dishes and pizza boxes, until he found the long cattle prod. He figured he would need to zap the dogs a few times to calm them down. Zapping them and hearing them yelp would also give him an adrenaline rush that might clear a few of his cobwebs.
The prod itself was a device so simple that Dillon, even when drunk, was able to use it. It was a long metal rod ending in a kind of fork. The handle was made of plastic and rubber with a simple button for a trigger. It generated a powerful electric shock when pressed right against an animal or person. When pressed in the right places, it truly had a way of taking the fight out of anyone or anything.
Finally, Dillon spent several minutes looking for the key for the lock that kept the gate shut. It was on a thick ring of keys that fitted the locks of the various cages; he kept it on a wooden peg screwed into the wall near the sink in his kitchen.
After grabbing the ring of keys he staggered out the back door to his porch. The sunlight pierced through his eyes into the back of his skull. Dillon cursed again and held a hand up over his face, clasping his fist against his right eye, which felt as though a spike had been driven through it. He squinted up into the sky for a moment and then sneezed twice. He wiped his dripping nose with his grimy sleeve and staggered his way down the stairs into the faded grass and weeds of his backyard, all the while muttering and spitting.
The dogs were making a racket. Their barking echoed and bounced off of Dillon’s skull like tiny ball-peen hammers. Each bark was followed by vicious snarls and growls. There was a moment where he thought the dogs were attacking each other, and this cut through the fog of Dillon’s hangover and raised concerns for him. In his own strange way, Dillon did care for the two dogs. They were champion fighters. Each of them bore the scars of countless battles, countless victories. If they were injured, they would be unable to fight and if they were injured seriously, he would have to euthanize them. He did not want to do that.
“Demon!” Dillon yelled, his tongue feeling as if it had been coated with old paint. “Delilah! Knock it off!”
The dogs ceased barking. That was good and Dillon smiled and nodded. They still knew who was in charge and that gratified Dillon. He nodded again and walked toward the gate. He peered past the gate and the fence that encircled the area, looking for the dogs. They were nowhere to be seen. Dillon frowned. When he’d put them in the yard yesterday they had been on lengths of rope long enough for them to be seen from the gate.
“Demon!” Dillon yelled again. “Delilah! Where are you?”
The female dog slowly walked into view, toward the center of the yard. Her head and tail were down and she looked at him sadly and whined. She lay down in the middle of the yard and put her nose between her paws. There was still no sign of Demon.
“Hello there, Delilah,” Dillon said as he reached the gate. ”What’s all the racket about out here?”
Dillon opened the lock, pulled the chain through and let both sides of the gate slowly swing open on creaking, rusted hinges. Dust blew in the soft breeze across the expanse of yard Dillon used for his dogs. Along one of the other fences were the remains of a training dog that the two had torn apart earlier in the week. Dillon had no idea what kind of dog it had been. Normally he got dogs that people were keeping as pets, then stolen, and brought to him. They were used just to train the dogs to attack. They seldom lasted long.
“Where’s Demon?” Dillon asked. Delilah peered back with eyes surprisingly soft and kind.
Dillon stepped into the yard. Around him were dozens of empty cages and, for the first time that he could recall, Dillon felt particularly nervous. The empty cages seemed somehow menacing. The entire area smelled of dog shit, food, and dried blood. Dillon barely noticed it anymore; most of his nasal capacity had been blasted by cocaine. The sun made him sweat and Dillon could feel it running down his neck, adding to the various stains of his shirt.
“Tell me, girl,” Dillon said, in the kindest tone he could manage. His hand shifted its grip on the cattle prod. ”Where’s that boyfriend of yours?”
Dillon walked toward the dog. She shifted, lifting her nose from between her front paws. She raised her head to sniff the air and then whined. Dillon moved slowly, letting the cattle prod swing easily in his hand, trying not to show any fear. However, inside, his stomach felt tied up in knots. He couldn’t put his finger on what was wrong, but something was not right. Dillon let his eyes wander around the yard. Dammit, the other dog should have been right nearby. He let his eyes wander back toward Delilah just as he was about five feet from her, and his eyes froze. Dillon was slow to grasp things most of the time, particularly when he was just waking up, and it took time for things to register. Something about Delilah’s appearance was wrong and he licked his lips, cocking his head to the side, trying to sort out what he was seeing.
“Delilah?” Dillon heard himself ask, as if the dog could respond to him.
The rope was tied around Delilah’s neck as it had been the day before. Dillon’s eyes fixed on the rope and trailed down its length. The rope ended maybe a foot after the loop that surrounded her neck. Whether or not she had chewed on it or snapped it, Dillon couldn’t say. He could barely remember anything from yesterday. It took several seconds of him staring at the end of the rope before it fully registered what he was looking at and the full implication of what it meant.
For the first time Dillon felt outright fear crash inside his stomach. He gripped the cattle prod tight and started to raise it. Then he heard the snarling behind him.
Demon lunged with blinding speed. The dog weighed close to the maximum 125 pounds that the Presas Carnario was known to grow to and the animal was entirely made of muscle. Demon’s teeth were bared and Dillon had never seen fangs so huge, numerous, or sharp. He tried to swing the cattle prod around, but Demon took him full in the chest. The beast’s huge front paws slammed into his sternum. Dillon felt the breath rush out of his lungs as he fell backwards. He saw the rope around Demon’s neck flapping in the wind.
Dillon landed hard on his back. His head smacked against the dusty ground. All of the air rushed out of his lungs and the full weight of the dog on his chest prevented him from gasping for breath. His eyes grew wide and his mouth gaped. Demon’s stinking breath washed over Dillon’s face and made him gag. His eyes spread wide in terror as he stared into a mouth frothing at the edges and filled with saber-sharp white teeth. The dog’s jaws gnashed and his eyes burned with hate.
Dillon tried to raise the cattle prod, but had only managed to lift his arm off the ground a few inches when terrible, searing pain rocketed through his arm and chest. Dillon screamed, but with the dog on his chest the only sound he could produce was a strangled squeak. Dillon looked at his arm and saw that Delilah held it between her jaws and was growling. She shook her head and Dillon heard the bones in his arm snap. He felt the skin on his forearm tear away from the muscles and bone. Warm blood washed over his arm and spattered into the dirt.
Dillon tried to screamed, this time in sheer pain and terror, but could only produce an agonizing hiss. He fought against the weight on his chest. Demon bared his teeth, lowered his jaws. Dillon kept trying to scream, until Demon tore out his throat. Then he was unable to make even the strangled hissing sound any longer. Dillon learned very quickly, if too late, how dangerous those teeth really were.
* * *
Demon stared down at the twitching, bleeding thing beneath him and licked his lips. He tasted the warm blood and it was good. The abuser had finally stopped making that terrible, hissing sound that hurt Demon’s ears. The human still smelled terrible, though.
Delilah moved in and tore another chunk of meat off the body. The man made another guttural noise that was more reflex than conscious response. Demon began to pant and he tasted the the air with his blood-soaked tongue. He looked at the open gate.
Demon had known this place for a long time. It was his territory, even though it had taught him only pain and fear. Now, Demon decided it was time to leave. It was time to find another place to mark and call his own. He could smell fresh water somewhere beyond the gate. It was miles away, but with his stomach full he knew he could make it. When he found a place for himself and Delilah, he would defend it. He would make sure the humans did not hurt either of them again.