Part 1 | The Dog

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     The Animal Control van rolled down the neglected streets at a sluggish ten miles per hour casting a bright side-mounted spotlight down the alleyways it passed. It was uncharacteristic for such a van to be out at such a late hour in such a part of town, but the attacks that had been reported were grievous and too many beds at Robingrove Hospital had been filled. Mitch, the driver of the van hated this part of town, and with each passing darkened alleyway hoped that he might catch a glimpse of a dog. Hell, any dog would do that at this point he thought, just so long as the press could see that they were trying. After all, it's not like they could cut the beast open and find evidence inside, like it was Jaws or something. The dirty grey buildings that huddled unusually close together leached away at his optimism, what little he had, and reminded him how far the city had fallen. The van rumbled onward.

     As the bright spotlight shot down the next alleyway a slight flicker of movement caught his attention, and with a jolt the van was stopped. One of the many problems with this part of town was that not even refuse collection came all that regularly anymore. The yawning gap between the two buildings with its overflowing dumpsters and heaps of shipping pallets provided more than enough concealment for whatever it was that had ducked out of sight.

     The Animal Control man took a step out of the truck and breathed deep the polluted air. You never really got used to the smell that always seemed to permeate this part of the city. Often, he would fantasize about moving back out to the northern country where he had grown up. A place where the buildings never towered more than two stories, and the warmth of the setting sun came with a chorus of crickets. But that unfortunately would take a lot of money, and Mitch, much to his repeated disappointment had slightly less than a lot of money. Here in this concrete winter the cold night was already turning the corridors into tunnels of icy wind and shadow.

     Mitch pulled a snare, his trusty set of heavy gloves and a flashlight out of the truck. Turning, he thought he caught the sound of a single cough or bark come from the second floor of the abandoned building to his right. But neither flashlight nor straining eyes could reveal anything but the gaunt aperture of a glass bare window. The Animal Control man sighed, feeling less than delighted with the prospect of exploring the grisly cleft before him. Another day in paradise he thought clicking the flashlight on and letting the cold air blow away the fatigue and hone his focus.

     The wind immediately abated as he entered the deeper gloom and made him acutely aware of each rustle of his movements. Much to his relief the stench from two rather beat up dumpsters was muted in the cold and was only moderately revolting. A grunt brought his attention to a heap of rotting shipping pallets that dominated the central space of the alley. His flashlight beam swept over the scene and then suddenly caught the eyes of a creature seemingly trapped among the heap on the far side. Mitch was not new to this game, having worked with animals for most of his adult life and was calloused to the sorry state dogs could descend to if left to their own devices. Fur clumped with dirt or rotten from perpetual moisture, bloodied or damaged paws, emaciated or sickly bloated bodies distorting the true shape of the animal. Once he had even called out to collect an animal that had suffered so severely from hair loss and some sort of mouth infection that neighborhood kids thought they had seen a monster. But in that case, as it was in every case, reality had been far more sad than scary. But in this case, the dog that Mitch now illuminated with his light seemed like it might have been the worst he had ever seen. At least the most deviant.

     It hunched awkwardly half under an overhang of the splintered wood watching him with bulging yellow eyes that sat almost at the peak of the head. Streaming mucus from the nose matted the rest of the visible fur and clumped the hair in an almost reptilian fashion. The mouth, while pulled back into a defensive snarl, was rimmed with bloated fish like lips and gave the thing an air of putrid lunacy. A red collar squeezed tightly at the animal's throat and was hooked at the buckle around a bent nail that protruded from the adjacent boards.

     "It's ok buddy," Mitch said soothingly carefully choosing his footsteps as he moved around the debris, "you don't want to be out here in the cold do ya?"

     It spat half-choked barks as Mitch grew closer.

     Hefting the snare in his left hand, Mitch stepped closer to the animal trying to ease the chord through the debris and around its neck. "Easy now", Mitch continued, setting the flashlight down and taking hold of the snare's handle with both hands, "You can't be running around hurting people, no matter how bad off you've got it."

     Before the chord could be tightened the creature heaved hard to the right sending a cascade of splintering wood down and setting free the collar.

     "Damnit!" Mitch shouted, watching the animal scramble over the pile and away towards the other open end of the alleyway. Mitch gave chase, his jacket tearing as he blundered his way through. Fast little bugger Mitch thought as he worked to keep up with the animal's unusual hopping gate. Up ahead a series of large heavily graffiti-ed and overturned trash bins blocked the route, and Mitch poured on the steam in anticipation of gaining on his quarry; but something unexpected happened then. Upon reaching the obstacle the animal leapt hard to the left and launched its scrawny frame nearly six feet into the air before contorting its body ninety degrees. It then bounded off of the nearby building at eye level, clearing the cans and continuing its flight without a moment's delay. Did that thing just ricochet off the wall? It was then that Mitch questioned just what sort of animal it was that he was after, and in his dumbfounded state failed his own vault over the cans. He landed hard on his shoulder, catching the rod of the snare between himself and the ground and felt it snap beneath him. Rolling, he flung himself back upright and kicked the remaining obstacle in anger as he resumed his pursuit.

     Mitch was far from a trained runner but an active life and the ghost of youth worked in his favor even after taking a spill. He cleared the alley and hastily scanned the area in the waning sunlight.

     The other side of the buildings opened up to the lovely vista of a bent down chain link fence which at one time enclosed the parking lot behind the Burger Prince fast food restaurant that butted up to the rear of the abandoned buildings. Mitch could see a couple of cars making their way around the building and heard the crackling sound of the fast food intercom taking their orders. Every second that ticked by Mitch knew reduced the chances that he would find the animal and he did not want to be out here all night if he could help it.

     Then suddenly another squawking bark rang out in the wind, and Mitch zeroed in on the enclosed dumpster at the back of the lot. The old concrete shell that housed the receptacle was falling into severe disrepair, and although he could not see around it enough to know for certain, he had a feeling that the animal he had been looking for had taken up behind it.

     With only the heavy duty gloves to protect him Mitch advanced around to the front of the opening.

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