Miranda is dead and no one is going to believe me. My thoughts raced with me as I fled down the street. My pursuers were faster than I anticipated and I wasn’t as young as I used to be. It didn’t help my case that I hadn’t had a proper meal in days. I picked up the pace, my old heart labouring to keep up with the demand, and I turned my course for the nearest alley. Only to realise too late that it lead to a dead end.
“Hey buddy, it’s alright.” The tall one called at me, his breath steeped with menthol and rotting teeth. I could practically taste the cigarettes as he spit onto the pavement near his feet.
“We’re not going to hurt you, promise.” Followed the heavier one, grinning. I could hear the creaking leather of his gloves as he tightened them on his weapon, the old fabric straining at the knuckles from years of abuse.
I looked around frantically trying to assess my options as the pair slowly approached me. It became clear to me that I had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. I called out, hoping someone, anyone, might come help me. No one heard; no one came. It seemed the only way I was going to get out of this alley was through the two men who had chased me here to begin with. I charged towards the tall one, hoping to slip past his grasp and out of reach of his partners weapon.
I ran. I ran as fast as my legs would take me. I could see my freedom waiting for me in the sun filled street. Just 6 more steps. I was certain I was going to make it, until the tall one sidestepped into my path, forcing me to veer towards his partner. That’s when I felt the cold, rigid wire slip around my neck. I careened straight into the pavement, every beat of my heart forcing more and more pressure into my already swollen skull. I wheezed, begging for them to release me, begging to breathe, begging for anything besides this rigid wire induced hell.
“Woah man, easy. You know we take them alive.” The tall one said, patting the other man on the shoulder. “That was a close one, ya got him in the neck of time. Get it?” He continued, looking at his partner with one raised eyebrow. “Now help me load him into the truck. We’ll drop him off quick then go get some lunch.”
The cell they placed me in was cold and clinical, but for its sterile appearance it was rife with evidence of past occupants. The distinct copper smell of blood coated the cell door as if some poor bastard had run out of options and tried to chew his way out. The pungent acidity of urine assaulted my nostrils as I explored the back of the cell, reiterating the fact that was already forefront in my mind: be afraid.
I heard the doors close after my kidnappers climbed into the truck cabin, their voices muffled by the thick steel separating us. The engine kicked to life with a mean growl and I realized how dire my situation was. As we started moving I tried my weight against the cell door, hoping maybe if I could get myself free I could overpower the men when they came to let me out. After a few attempts I had myself panting and I realized it wasn’t going to work no matter how hard I tried. I decided it was best to rest and save my strength so that when the opportunity came for my escape I would be ready.
It was then that I first noticed his presence. He was too proud to be afraid, and too young to realize how stupid he was being. He was bigger than me, stronger, lean and all muscle. I could see that he was tense and I realized I might have an ally in all of this.
“What’s your name, kid?” I growled. He turned his head towards me, cocking it sideways, and I felt the penetrative stare of his multi colored eyes.
“They call me Tiny.” He replied.
“Tiny?” I replied, laughing, “aren’t you a bit, uhh, husky for that?”
He cocked his head at me again and let out a long breath laced with discontent.
“Alright alright, no more jokes about your size.” I responded, unable to maintain my attempt at humor under his gaze. “So you know where they’re taking us, Tiny?”
Tiny maneuvered his large body so that he could lay down in his cell. He rested his head on the stainless steel floor and gave me one last look before he closed his eyes.
“This your first pick up, old timer?” He asked, yawning, his voice seemingly laced with boredom. “I heard the way you struggled against those two fellas. Must be your first time.”
“You’ve been taken before?!” I exclaimed. Surely if he had been taken before he must have escaped. My mind whirred with ideas, with plans, with hope. “Tiny, how did you escape the last time you were taken? What do we need to do?” I continued, my stomach rolling with anxiety.
“You don’t – uh, what was your name again?”
“Max,” I replied.
“Right. You don’t escape, Max. The only way out is if they let you out. My people always come for me. You’ll only be there until your people come for you.”
Miranda. “Tiny, what if I don’t-” I began to say as the truck pulled to a hard stop, the ill maintained brakes screeching in protest. Heavy footsteps travelled alongside the vehicle and the back door opened shortly after. The tall one clambered into the truck and reached for Tiny’s cell.
“Easy there big guy, easy.” He said, unhooking the latches and reaching his gloves hand inside to grab onto the collar around Tiny’s surrendered neck, leading him from the truck.
“Don’t fight it,” Tiny called back to me. “They aren’t your enemy, Max.”
My mind was chasing 100 rabbits. What if I don’t have people to come get me? What will happen to me if no one comes? How can Tiny be so sure he will escape again?
I felt the all too familiar steel cable slip over my neck again and raised my eyes to meet those of the heavier man.
“It’s ok, buddy. Everything will be just fine. Easy there, easy. We’ll get you inside and get you all sorted out.” He said through a smile, all the while keeping his eyes on my teeth. As he led me from the truck, one thought crowded out all the rest. What if no one comes for me?
The wire came off my neck and a length of cord was attached to my collar instead. Apparently the heavy one trusted me not to turn and attack him. I resigned myself to follow his lead, telling myself that had I been a bit younger perhaps I would have attacked and escaped, but in my wise older years I would find a different way out of this situation. We entered through a doorway and I was struck by a wall of scent as palpable as a dense fall fog. Others. Lots of others. There had to be at least 20, no, 35 others kept prisoner here.
“Stacy, looking lovely as always.” My captor called out to the woman behind the desk. She was dressed in light blue scrubs and an old pair of tennis shoes. Her hair was pulled back in a loose ponytail and I could smell her perfume, something heavy with lavender.
“Ralph, I see you’ve retrieved a golden client.” Stacy responded, laughing to herself as she came around the front of the desk and crouched down in front of me. “Does our new guest have a name?”
I felt her hands gently pull the tags on my collar to attention. “Max,” She said standing up, “Who’s a good boy, Max?” From the front pocket of her scrubs she pulled a small snack and tossed it towards me. I instinctively caught it, chewed it on reflex, and felt my tail wagging. I’m a good boy, Stacy.
“It was 630 days, by my count, that I first arrived in this gentle prison. I have been treated, if not necessarily with kindness, then certainly with a dignified amount of detached compassion. I have made many friends and I have seen all of them come and go. I can tell you one thing with confidence, friend. You will move on.”
Two small eyes stared back at me in mild admiration.
“So cheer up, it isn’t all that bad.” I said to the newcomer sitting in front of me. I could remember my first day like it was yesterday. The fear I felt after I was picked up enthralling me. The delicious taste of the morsel of food Stacy gave to me, the first food I had eaten in days. The whirlwind of smells, sounds, and sights that overwhelmed me as I adjusted to being a prisoner. It wasn’t easy for me but I survived, and everyday since I have kept my head high and my spirits up.
“You might even move on today during visitor hours. Heck, we both might!” I said through a smile. “Today could be both of our lucky days.”
The young pup and I turned toward the opening door way at the same time. Stay positive, Max. They could pick you. I thought to myself as a small family entered the room, accompanied by Stacy.
“I’ve got the perfect dog for your family.” Stacy said, leading them down the aisle. “He is gentle and I just know you are going to fall in love with him.”
“Well we can’t wait to meet him.” The mother said, her hand wrapped around her son’s shoulder. The husband and daughter had stopped earlier down the aisle, looking into one of the cages.
Stacy walked up to my cage and opened the door, crouching down and holding the back of her hand out towards me. “Max, come here.” She said, her voice filled with love. I walked towards her and gave her hand a kiss. I looked up towards the mother and son standing in front me, picking up their scents and trying to decipher if they were friendly people or not. The son bent down to my level and met my eyes.
“Come here, bo-” He began saying as his sister cut him off.
“Mom! Come look at this boxer puppy, he is SO adorable! I want him!” She excitedly called out from further up the aisle. Her mother turned towards her daughter and responded, “One second, MaryLynn.”
She turned towards Stacy, her eyes mildly apologetic, “Sounds like we found our dog. Thank you for showing us Max though, I’m sure he will make someone happy. You know how the kids love puppies…”
It was over before I really knew what happened. Stacy led me back into my cage, scratching me briefly between the ears. “I’m sorry, Max…” She whispered. The family was a fit of laughs and smiles as they lead their new companion out of the prison. I sat, confused, wondering what had gone wrong.
It didn’t feel like long before Stacy was back at my cage door, looking down at me with sadness in her eyes. She held a clipboard and a lead. Maybe there is another family in the lobby? I wondered to myself as she hooked the lead onto my collar. Stacy was smiling but I could smell sadness all over her. When we walked down the aisle and through a door I had never entered. A thought flashed through my mind – Is Stacy taking me home? She lead me into a small room, a room I hadn’t been in since my first day. She helped me up onto the table and had me lie down, gently stroking my back with her hand.
“I’m sorry, Max. I was really hoping that family would take you, but we’ve just run out of time.” She said idly, stroking my back and looking towards the door. Shortly after, the door opened and a woman entered the room, wearing an outfit similar to Stacy’s scrubs. She turned towards me and asked Stacy a question I didn’t quite understand.
“I was hoping it wouldn’t be Max. Is there nothing else you can do to delay it?”
“I’m afraid not, Brenda. You know how far I’ve stretched the rules already..” Stacy responded. I could feel her hand tense up slightly as she responded to Brenda.
Stacy continued stroking my back as Brenda went into a nearby cabinet and retrieved a syringe. Approaching the table Brenda asked Stacy if she was ready.
“Yes. I just wish I had room at home for one more. I just wish we had more time..” Stacy responded as I felt the prick of the needle near my collar. “3 months just wasn’t enough.”
By Zak Killermann