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Contemporary Fantasy Speculative

The dog queries me. “Do you know your name?”

I try to respond, but I can’t speak. My lips don’t move.

“Just a moment. She’s coming around, coming into focus,” another voice says, and I understand that whoever they are, they’re referring to me. I try to intervene on my own behalf only to confirm that I cannot even move my jaw, let alone speak. A moment later I realize that I can’t move any other part of me, either.

I don’t think I’m restrained, I’m just—immobile, lying chest down on the sofa, my sofa. My face turned towards – my dog. I don’t remember anything beyond or before this moment. Just shadows of a life, vague obligations, nothing specific.

“Don’t speak.” The dog says. “Don’t try to speak, just think.”

There is no shortage of things to think about while I lay there, face down, conscious, but immobile on my couch. The fact that my dog is projecting thoughts into my head is something to think about, for instance. Shouldn’t I be shocked? Maybe I am but I’m too numb to feel it. And who said I was coming around? What did that mean? What’s happened to me? And who is he talking/not talking to? Is there someone else in the room?

I try to crane my neck but the only thing that moves is my eyes. I realize my chin is wet. My face is tingling. I wonder, ‘Is it blood?’

“It’s drool,” the dog says.

Okay. That was definitely the dog that said that. I don’t know his name. I assume he’s my dog. He seems familiar.

“You can assume you’re drooling while you’re at it.”

I stare at him. My face is cocked in his direction. We stare at each other. He’s a handsome dog, I think, and then I realize how meaningless the phrase is. A handsome dog.

“It is not meaningless. It’s a compliment. A kind word.” The dog says.

I want to scream, to yell, to roll over. To sit up, ironically. To shout, ‘I have a talking dog.’ But I can’t move, and I can’t remember his name. I have little choice but to stare at him while he gazes intently back at me. The tips of my fingers tingle, it’s the only sensation I feel. I struggle to move, without result. Fear, anger and frustration coalesce into a perfect emotional storm. Is this a dream? It’s too realistic to be a dream. ‘What in the world is happening to me?’

“You have been rendered inert by inhaling a complex compound,” the dog says. “One you will recover from. It allows me to communicate with you for a short while.”

‘Uh-huh.’ I think, without thinking, ‘What kind of complex compound?’

“I don’t know. I don’t know the name of it. You wouldn’t either.”

“Did you administer this complex compound?” I’m talking to a dog. Asking him questions about chemistry.

“I—had it done.”

A tri-colored cat I’ve never seen before struts into my field of vision and looks me over. I’ve never seen a cat look so business-like, his eyes assess me like I’m a piece of equipment. He leaves as silently as he arrives, without even a meow.

“Am I being kidnapped?”

The dog huffs, maybe it’s a snort or a laugh. “Hardly,” he says, telepathically. “You’re in your own house. Our house. But your life is going to change soon, Matty. It’s going to get harder, and things will be less pleasant for you in many ways. It’s unfortunate for you, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Not much, anyway.”

So, my name is Matty. It sounds familiar. I keep staring at his nose and mouth, wishing they would sync with the words in my head, but they don’t. It’s distracting, annoying, and pointless to mention it.

‘How long, have I been, in this condition?’ I think.

“A couple of days,” he replies. “You’re gonna be really hungry when you get your function back.”

‘My function back.’ I digest the information, and then, in a pointed manner, I ask him why I won’t kill him when I come out of my paralysis. He tells me that that’s a poor choice of words, and I reassure him that I’m speaking metaphorically. This all happens mentally, very quickly, without due consideration. ‘Not literally, Champ.’ I realize that’s his name. I’ve remembered his name. ‘I’m exaggerating of course, what I mean is, why won’t I get really, really angry?’

“You will,” he says.

‘I mean at you. I’ll be angry at you, Champ.’

“You’ll have to get over it.”

I mull that over. I still cannot move or feel anything but the tips of my fingers.

‘So, what do you want, Champ?’

“I don’t want anything, Matty. I want to give you something.”

“Oh.”

“It isn’t much, considering all you’ve done for me.”

‘All right,’ I think. I think I can turn my head now, very slowly, with great effort, but it’s really just my imagination. ‘Are you going somewhere, Champ?’

“No Matty, you are.”

‘What?’

“You’ll be forced to leave your home soon, and…”

“Forced to leave my… Which home? This home? Oh no. No, no. That can’t be.”

“You will survive if you take my advice. Maybe.”

‘Maybe? Survive?’ That focuses my attention. I assume I’m talking to a hallucination. What else could it be, and what harm could there be in conversing with one? ‘Okay,’ I say. ‘Assuming you’re not a figment, what’s your advice?’

“Spend your paper money as quickly as possible, in a few weeks it’ll be worthless. Hoard coins, fuel and canned food. Pack warm clothes and gear for winter and head for the high country, most who make it through the first winter will have a better chance of survival.”

‘Camp in the mountains, for the winter?’ I shake my head, but the shake, I fear, is only in my head. ‘I don’t think so,’ I say. ‘Too cold.’

“You’ll have to,” my dog says.

‘Why? Why, why, why?’

“The reasons are obvious, Matty. Your species is destroying the planet.”

I’m puzzled. ‘Huh?’ And I look into his eyes. There is no guile, no cunning, just those warm, brown eyes I’m used to. He doesn’t really look all that intelligent, to be honest.

“You don’t look that intelligent either,” he says. “You’d probably agree if you could see yourself.”

I respond instinctively. ‘I’d be happy if I could just feel myself.’ I have been avoiding the fact that I have no idea where my torso, hips, legs, or feet are. In which direction they’re pointing, or if they’re still attached to me. The thought is so scary, I can see why talking to my dog is such a wonderful distraction. ‘I get what you’re saying, Champ, I just, don’t, I’m not connecting the dots. What do you hope to do about it?’

“About people?”

‘About people destroying the planet.’

There is a long, peculiar silence. Finally, the voice in my head says, “Pack for the winter, clothing will be more important than food. Find water, move upstream, travel in small, quiet, manageable packs.”

“I’m single Champ. You know that.”

“Make friends. Plan. Prepare. Take action.”

‘How Champ? Why?’ I know I’m whining, without even speaking, I’m whining. The lack of sensation feeds my fear.

“Matty.”

“Oh shut up. Just shut up, Champ. I’m trying to think. Is this what you wanted to give me? Advance notice of the apocalypse? Jesus, Champ. I’m paralyzed…”

“Temporarily.”

“What am I supposed to do? I can’t help you. Hell, if you’ve got the kind of resources you claim, you don’t need my help.”

His big wet tongue slathers my face with dog spit. Uchhh. I’m incapable of wiping it off. But I think, ‘It probably isn’t any worse than lying in my own drool.’

“Matty listen—you need to pay attention.”

‘How can I pay attention when I’m paralyzed and covered in dog spit?’ I’m crying. Somehow. Without tears, or sobs, or any other outward sign. I’m filled with fear, self-pity, confusion, denial… My dog says, “Matty—without self-control, you will perish quickly.”

That got my attention again.

“Dogs have had a special and privileged relationship with human beings. For better or worse, we have prospered in our partnership with people, but we had to make a choice, Matty. A terrible, awful, choice. One that does not bode well for you, I’m afraid.”

‘You’re afraid?’

“To aid and abet the irresponsible actions of a single species, bent on plundering the planet, or join a growing phalanx of allies poised to put an end to the insanity.”

I didn’t know what to say. ‘Why would you tell me this, Champ?’

“Because—you named me.”

I didn’t understand what he meant.

“There will come a time,” the dog said, “when you cannot deny the failure and incompetence of your ruling class. When that time comes Matty, I, personally, will no longer be of service to you, I won’t be here, but I can grant you one privilege.”

‘One privilege?’

“A kind of mental stamp that, if you think kindly, you will find assistance, but you must think kindly, and learn to take the initiative.”

I woke up in a hospital. The doctors claimed I had an allergic reaction to oysters and I would be fine. But I didn’t eat any oysters, and I’m not allergic to them anyway.

I explained my experience to the doctors, a counselor and various nurses and aids. They all listened to my story, nodded patiently, squinted at me with a critical eye, and spouted sympathetic homilies. All assured me that it was a fever induced dream, a common occurrence with victims of comas, or strokes. I could’ve pointed out that I had suffered from neither, but what would be the point?

I went home. Got plenty of rest. Called in sick for a few days. My dog, Champ, had been looked after by the neighbor, a man I hardly knew, and I have to admit that his rendition of how he knew to feed my dog was vague and sketchy at best.

I went back to work. Spent many a night staring into the face of my dog, who refused to meet my gaze, but seemed to encourage me to get to know the neighbor, Jack, who it turns out was planning a two-week trip up into the front range in late September. I accepted an invitation to join him, and we soon began spending time together, planning our trip in earnest.

We committed ourselves to a rigorous regimen of outdoor activities. One early evening, sitting on a boulder with Jack after a particularly grueling hike, he said, “You seem driven, Matty.”

We were both out of breath and already more than friends, so I told him. Sort of. The news was riddled with strange reports of bizarre and appalling events. Outbreaks of panic spread like waves through the filaments and fabric of society, the government was gridlocked. Okay, I didn’t really tell him, I just said, “When we go, Jack? Let’s pretend like we’re never coming back.”

“What about Champ?” He said.

“Champ can take care of himself,” I said. “When Champ goes, we go too.” Jack was quite sweet on me, because there were times, and this was one of them, when I could tell that he thought I was a little bit crazy.

A week later, I was waiting in line for something at a discount store, wishing I had grabbed a bottle of water, when someone nudged me from behind. At least, that’s what I thought. When the stranger gave me a second nudge, I turned around and there was a handsome German Shepard sitting patiently behind me with a bottle of water in his mouth. I accepted it, much to the delight of everyone who witnessed the transaction.

Three days later, when I got home from a dismal day of work, Champ was nowhere to be found. My strong, silent neighbor had no idea where he’d gone either, and I accepted the news with aplomb.

When the dog didn’t return for three days I demanded Jack’s attention. “Are you ready to go to the mountains?” I asked him.

Jack laughed and said no. But he’d be ready in a couple of weeks.

“Not good enough,” I said. “Be ready in three days or I leave without you.”

He looked at the calendar we’d hung on the wall and then at me. “What’s the rush, Matty?”

“Champ is gone.”

February 26, 2024 06:04

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10 comments

Wendy M
15:56 Mar 21, 2024

I love this! What a fab story, I'm not sure how missed it back in February. Great choice of name for the dog.

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Ken Cartisano
15:43 Mar 22, 2024

Thanks Wendy. Thank you very much. You wouldn't believe how little thought I gave to the dogs name, and yet, it seems perfect. It was serendipity. (I don't mean the dogs name, I mean -- Oh, you know what I mean.)

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Claire Trbovic
21:36 Mar 06, 2024

100% hooked from the first few sentences. Excellent concept. Excellent characterisation. What a champ Champ is, particularly liked his line ‘To aid and abet the irresponsible actions of a single species, bent on plundering the planet, or join a growing phalanx of allies poised to put an end to the insanity’ - what a legend

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Ken Cartisano
02:46 Apr 29, 2024

Thanks Claire, Had a busy month, but I appreciate your comments immensely.

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21:38 Mar 02, 2024

Another solid creation. I accept 100% that the dog drugged his owner long enough to save his life in the upcoming reclamation of the planet. I would love to see what happens after Matty is safely in the mountains.

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Ken Cartisano
03:03 Apr 29, 2024

Thanks LeeAnn, Yeah, I didn't really think that far ahead for this story, just the immediate circumstances. I thank you for commenting on it.

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Michał Przywara
23:17 Feb 27, 2024

I've often heard that when humanity is put on trial by the rest of the natural world, only dogs and mosquitos will vouch for us. Seems like Champ is more selective, taking a risk for just a single person. The premise is pretty wild. Did the meeting actually happen, or was it some medical thing? Doesn't really matter, as there's enough truth in it that Matty's convinced. I wonder if there's something deeper to that. Matty doesn't know, but is going on instinct. Have we collectively dumbed down our instincts, insulating ourselves from them...

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Ken Cartisano
15:59 Mar 04, 2024

Thanks Michal, Thanks for reading and commenting. I wrote this about a year ago for a different (first line) prompt but missed the deadline by about 60 seconds. Forgot about it until I saw the intro to this weeks contest prompts. I never heard of Fabulism before, but this story seemed a good fit. (Although, in my opinion, the story is much more about science than magic. There was no spell, as such, just chemistry and telepathy.) An excerpt from the prompt: 'Fabulism, also known as magical realism, is the inclusion of magical elements in an...

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Mary Bendickson
12:31 Feb 26, 2024

I miss Champ. Think he would have been useful on this road to...?

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Ken Cartisano
03:12 Feb 27, 2024

The road to...? To oblivion. Were you looking for something with yellow bricks, perhaps?

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