by Alvaro Rodriguez © 2002

Beth slammed the telephone receiver into the cradle once, then again when it didn't catch the first time. The grunt she exhaled came from deep below her diaphragm. Goddamnit, those bastards in purchasing were going to make her look like the horse's ass, again, in front of her division leader, again. Couldn't they get anything right? She'd have to make tracks fast if she wanted to catch Fed Ex, and that meant at least a 30-minute drive to the airport depot. It absolutely, positively had to be there, like, yesterday.

Traffic was a bitch and it was starting to look more like a 45-minute trip, maybe even more. To make things worse, her cellphone kept displaying NO SERVICE and the car's CD player was on the fritz, spitting out whatever disc she fed it, be it Mahler or Metallica.

A couple of miles from the airport exit, traffic had come to a lockjawed halt.

"Come on," Beth hissed.

That's when the CHECK ENGINE light came on in the instrument panel of the dashboard. "CHECK ENGINE for what?" she said aloud. "CHECK ENGINE to make sure it's still there? That it's still an engine?"

The temperature gauge was beginning to climb from Low C to High H. She could see the Fed Ex kiosk in the distance, a lighthouse in her shitstorm, and she gunned the engine for all it had. But a woody stationwagon edged in front of her, a bespectacled driver toting a truckload of ghouls and goblins, spidermen and princesses. Halloween, she thought. Daddy running one last business errand before taking the bratty kids and their brattier friends out trick-or-treating. Well, maybe one day, when Missy was older, she thought. She hadn't noticed the pickup van on the other side of the FedEx kiosk until she saw its red taillights speeding towards the terminal.

"Shitshitshitshitshit," she spat.

By the time she reached her apartment building, the car was seizing and jerking violently, and when she pulled into the space marked 27 in the gated parking lot, something under the hood ground together with something else giving off a smell not unlike a burning cat.

Dion was sitting under a big Mexican blanket on the sofa in front of the Playstation 2 and big-screen TV where more-real-than-real-life graphics danced and whirled Matrix-style in a ballet of bullets and high kicks. Beth breezed past him, not noticing the bowl of Halloween candy had been emptied, and slamming the door on the way in went straight for the bathroom.

"Goddamnit, Bear," she said. The dog, Bear, a giant mongrel hybrid of canine and ursine, with a near-certain amount of bovine and porcine thrown in, was sitting on the bathmat, splayed out like a large Russian bathing beauty, sleeping. Beth stepped over the beast and yanking down her panties squatted over the toilet.

"You will not believe the fucking day I had," she called out. If Dion heard, which he did, he made no response. "Goddamnit," she said as her hot piss splintered out into the bowl. "I think that UTI has come back. It fucking burns like fire."

She wiped and stood and flushed and stepped over the farting, bloated mass of Dion's dog. "You'd better not have drunk all the cranberry juice, Di," she said, walking past him into the kitchen. "Jesus." The floor of the kitchen looked like a sewer drain. "What the hell happened here?"

"Bear," Dion said.

"What the hell did he do?"

"Bear," Dion said.

Beth yanked the fridge open. It made the floor look like polished marble. "Where's the cranberry juice? Where's my gazpacho? Where's my goddamn chocolate cream pie?"

"Bear," Dion said.

She slammed the fridge door. "What about you, you lazy sack of yesterday's shit? What happened to your job interview?"

"Bear," Dion said.

"What about Bear?"

"He ate my resume."

"It's on the computer," she said. "You could have printed another one."

"Bear," Dion said. "He ate through the printer cable."

A glance in the direction of the computer desk confirmed Dion's words.

"That does it," Beth said. "I'm getting rid of that dog. I don't care if it is Halloween, that mutt is getting gassed today."

"Fine," Dion said, thumbs and fingers still beating an irregular tattoo on the game console's keypad.

"How long has Missy been sleeping?" Beth asked.

Dion stopped. On the screen, his game character had its skull and spine ripped out of its body in a bloody, dangling mess.

"Did you hear me? How long has Missy been sleeping? When was the last time you checked on her?"

Dion watched the screen as GAME OVER flickered and spun in 3D space. Beth started for the bedroom door.

"Don't go in there," Dion said.

"What? Why?"

"Bear," Dion said.

Beth stopped, her hand on the doorknob, her heart in her throat. "You shit," she said and smiled. Then she opened the door.

She reeled backwards, tripping over the Playstation. Her hands shot out to grab something for support and found the heavy Mexican blanket draped over Dion's trunk. The force of her fall pulled the blanket away from what was left of his lower body, the meat of his legs chewed away to the bone, right femur broken, toes gone, blood and pink-stained bone all the way to his disappearing pelvis under red-soaked boxers.

She gagged and gasped in erratic, convulsive fits, uncomprehending the hell that was Missy's crib, tears spilling out of her eyes like a salty flood. And then she saw Bear, trembling, red-mawed Bear, jowls ringed with a fringe of white foam. Bear, her live-in boyfriend's goddamned dog. Bear, who shared their bed nightly, not the foot of the mattress but plunked right in between them like an overweight and needy child. Bear, who had stolen her infant daughter like a bloody Saracen. Bear, who was stepping toward her now, his breath hot and jagged in her fear-stricken face. Bear, who licked at her lips for a long, wet time before he bit.

x x x

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