Trickster

The FoxIn Spanish, he is Zorro, not the swordsman, but they share a name. In French, of course, he goes by Renard. In Italian, they call him Volpe.

In English, he is known as the Fox

But the ancient Greeks knew two things: first, he isn’t male. At least, not always. And second, whether fox or vixen, the Fox cannot be trusted.

Like the animal who bears the same name, the Fox is sly. Breaking into your house to steal anything shiny is just as likely as slipping into your chicken coop and having a nice, moonlit dinner. If caught, you’ll hear a tale so circuitous that the ending will loop around before the beginning has actually begun, but you’ll be so entranced in the telling of it, that you won’t care about the plot-holes and inconsistencies.

Far worse than stealing your material goods or livestock, though is when the Fox steals your heart.

In his masculine form, he’ll whisper sweet-nothings in your ear, but he’ll lace them with sin and magic, and make you crave his touch, beg for it, even, and then disappear after you’ve given up your love.

As a vixen, she’ll sing and purr and dance around you in ever tightening circles, hypnotizing you with movement and possibility, but her dance is a solo one, and any time you reach for her, you’ll stumble to the ground, clutching at empty air.

One day, he’ll be your best buddy; the next, he’ll steal your car, and your partner, too.

One day, she’ll be your best friend; the next she’ll swoop in and scoop your story, or close your business deal, or take all the credit for your ideas.

And either way, you won’t complain.

You might even help them do it.

Because the Fox is the ultimate trickster. Changing personalities is as easy as changing underwear and takes half the time. Wooing a woman one night, a man the next, and both on day three is just par for the course.

The Greeks said the capital-F Fox could never be caught.

But maybe, just maybe, if it’s a full moon, and Halloween, and you have the right combination of wine and chocolate, magic and sin, lust and laughter – for the Fox is a party animal, and a good time is essential – you might be able to clutch a tip of tail for a while.

You might be able to trick the trickster.

You won’t steal the Fox’s power.

But you might win their heart.

And a trickster who loves you? Truly loves you? There’s nothing that can beat it

Bottled Up

0416 - Potion 36At first glance, it was an ordinary bottle. Clear glass, with a matching (rubber tipped) stopper to keep it airtight, apparently empty, labeled with a number. Thirty-six.

She’d found it on the beach while walking her dog. Well, really, the dog had found it. He hadn’t picked it up, because he was a pointer, and didn’t fetch for anything. Even playing ball in the back yard, the dog would locate the toy, point to it, and, if she didn’t come to pick it up fast enough, look back with an expression that clearly said If you wanted it back, you should have adopted a retriever.

So, the dog had pointed, and she had done the fetching.

And the thing is, she isn’t sure why she decided to take the bottle home. She didn’t typically pick up litter (she should probably feel guilty about that, but she didn’t), and she wasn’t the type to collect beach glass.

But something about this bottle was a little off-kilter. Maybe it was the condition: old, sure, but intact. And pretty clean, if slightly scarred by tides and saltwater.

It just… spoke to her.

So, she took it home, and left it on her desk, next to the mug full of pens to the right of her monitor. Eventually, she’d wash it out, maybe discard the stopper, or leave it in the junk drawer and turn the bottle into a bud vase. She’d always liked using glasses and jars and old candle holders instead of actual vases.

Days went by. She forgot about the bottle, but on the night of the full moon, she noticed a shadow inside, almost like a person. She held it to the light, but that didn’t make anything solidify, it was still just a vague, shadowy outline.

Opening the bottle was likely an unwise idea, but she couldn’t help it. Just as when she’d chosen to cart it home, the thing was speaking to her.

Only this time, the speaking was literal.

Let me out… please! Let me out!

She pulled the stopper, expecting the worst. A demon maybe, or a trapped djinn. She expected her dog to start barking his fool head off, but he couldn’t be bothered to leave his place on the sofa, and as far as she could tell, all that was released was some air that smelled of saltwater.

The full moon crept across the sky.

She took the open bottle to the coffee table and stared at it.

Nothing happened.

The sun made its first appearance, while the moon was still faintly evident in the sky, and she gave up and went to bed. Her dreams were bizarre that night – morning – whatever. They were filled with sailing ships, storm-tossed seas, rum-running and cheating boyfriends. And then she had the feeling of being trapped and immobile. She tried to breathe, but the air was stale and swampy. And when she tried to sit up, she hit her head on the window.

Wait… window?

She opened her eyes to a sunlit room, but it wasn’t her bedroom. It was her living room, but everything was oversized, and she couldn’t seem to move from her spot.

Realization came in the form of a demonic red eye on the other side of what she now recognized as a curve of salt-etched glass. The eye blinked, and suddenly it was blue – the same blue as her own.

A hand curved around the bottle, and lifted her up, and she saw the demon properly. But the horned head morphed into a facsimile of her own face, and when she looked down at herself, all of her color was gone. She felt small. She felt transparent. She was… trapped.

She tried yelling for her dog, but the fickle creature was standing next to her newly-made double with his leash in his mouth, and his tail wagging.

He gave a single bark and the demon with her face and body laughed in her voice. “Sure, let’s go to the beach, boy. We should get rid of this thing.”

The demon clipped the leash onto her dog’s collar and tossed the bottle – her prison – into her tote.

When they got to the beach, the demon walked out to the end of the jetty and hefted the bottle once more. With a strong arm (apparently the demon had inherited her softball pitching arm) she threw it into the sea.

A magical creature could have lasted centuries in a glass bottle, even in the depths of the ocean. But she wasn’t magical. She was just a young woman who’d found a bottle on the beach. She was unconscious before the bottle sank into darkness, and dead by moonrise.

And the demon?

She lived a happy stolen life in her stolen body, with her stolen dog.

As demons do.

Four Horsewomen of the Post-Apocalypse

0417 - Four Horsemen

“And behold, a pale horse and its rider’s name was Death,” Margo quoted. She asked her horse to pause at the top of what had once been the main street of the city they were entering and waited as her companions caught up to her.

“Are you casting me as Hades then?” Helen asked, drawing up her own mount beside her wife’s. “Not sure that’s flattering.”

“But don’t you feel like that’s who we are?” Margo challenged. “Look at this city. The buildings are burned out husks. Nature is weaving itself back over the framework, and what are we doing? Picking over the carcasses of what’s left behind.”

“Child, you fret too much.” The warm words came from Mother Ruth, the leader of their community, and this… hunting party. “We did not cause this atrocity, we survived the actions of those who did.”

“But we’re still gaining from it, Mother,” Margo complained. “How does that make us any better?”

“Because we have accepted the challenge of rebuilding the world,” the older woman answered in a tone that brooked no argument.

Beyond her, the fourth member of their party released her left hand from the reins and pointed. She didn’t speak – hadn’t spoken since the Day of Destruction many decades before – but her meaning was clear. They were meant to move forward.

“I’ll lead this time,” Helen said.

“Just because you don’t want to be Hades,” Margo teased.

“Well, that… but also it’s my turn.” And she urged her horse forward, assuming correctly that the others would fall in line behind her.

At the center of the city, they found their destination. It was not, as Margo had expected, Mother Ruth’s home church, or even the great cathedral in the center of the broken metropolis. Rather, it was the public library.

“Books?” Margo asked. “We’re here for books.”

“Books, yes,” Mother Ruth confirmed. “But also, to see if the computer network here might still be working, to find out if there are other survivors somewhere.”

Technology had all but died after the last war, and the surviving engineers and computer and telecom experts were just beginning to bring it back. Electricity had only been reasonably reliable for about a year, and with it, refrigeration.

“And if there are? Do we reach out?” The question was Helen’s this time.

“We give them directions to neutral ground and invite a meeting. We don’t know what other survivors might be like. Some might be quite violent.”

But while the network was still up – shielded as it was in the basement of the old building – there was no sign of anyone using it. They left one machine logged in to a message board they’d set up. Then they’d filled their saddle bags with books – how-to manuals, cookboks, gardening guides, and a few novels – and made their way back outside.

The horses were waiting patiently.

Mother Ruth helped their silent companion to climb aboard her mount, then settled herself on her own saddle with surprising grace. Margo and Helen were not quite as graceful, simply because they hadn’t had the same years of practice, but they were competent, and the party soon began their journey back out of town.

The light was fading as they left the city, and somewhere behind them a wolf howled, causing Margo to shiver. Closing her eyes against the fear, she imagined the four of them as they must look to anyone still hiding within the crumbling stone and rusted steel, and the bible verse came back into her head.

Helen and Ruth and their voiceless friend might not like the comparison, but it was people like them who had destroyed the world, and it was they themselves who were picking over the bones.

“And I saw, and behold, a pale horse, and its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him; and they were given power over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.” ~Revelations, 6:8, RSV translation.

Civil Twilight

micael-widell-520887-unsplashCivil twilight. To most people it’s that period between sunset and full dark, but to the people of Raven Beach it was something else. It was an agreement between the Day-Walkers – mostly human – and the People of the Night – mostly inhuman, or formerly human, or humanish.

Their community was an experiment in peaceful coexistence. It helped that their town was situated in a northern latitude, where that in-between time was longer than it was elsewhere. It helped that they were a coastal village, rather than a big city. Everyone knew each other. That mattered.

The experiment had begun a decade before, after a hellish month.

First, a vampire child on his way home from school in the morning had been accosted by human kids waiting for their bus. He’d lived – barely – but it had taken weeks to recover from the sunburn, and the family had nearly gone broke trying to keep him fed with virgin blood.

In retaliation a vampire gang had captured a human girl, the sister of one of the boys involved in the earlier attack, and drunk her nearly dry before dumping her outside the local hospital. They’d warned the family of their plan to turn her but hadn’t in the end. Still, it was a clear message.

Over the next weeks the attacks had escalated. Old Mr. Pritchard on third street had chased a pair of werewolf cubs off his lawn with a silver-tipped pitchfork after they’d… watered it… in a particularly canine way, and their parents had caught Mrs. Pritchard coming home from her bible study class a few evenings later and ‘accidentally’ scratched her. It wasn’t deep enough to cause a full change, but she’d suddenly had to battle extreme facial hair when the full moon came. Not to mention the way she craved raw beef.

And so, it continued. The zombies were chased away from the morgue with blinding floodlights, and even though it had been quietly accepted that it was their job to dispose of the bodies of unidentified homeless people when the waiting period had ended, and the demon who ran the library was chased home one evening by a mob wielding water-pistols filled with holy water.

Something had to change.

Many suggestions were made: the bloodsuckers and shifters should just turn everyone. The zombies should move to a new town. The humans should burn all the other-human creatures out of house and home.

But, despite their great differences, the people of Raven Beach felt tied to their community, and to some of the unique aspects of it. Granny Liebowitz, for example, was a hedge witch who made the best cherry pies, but she wasn’t above tossing together a batch of blood sausage for the vampire kids who came to help clean up her yard after every storm.

And Sal D’Angelo who ran the pizzeria didn’t just make the best meatball sub on the North Atlantic coast, but he also did a steak tartare pizza for his customers who preferred their meat uncooked. He hadn’t managed to create a marinara sauce without garlic, but he did a pumpkin and oxblood ravioli that the vamps considered a guilty pleasure.

And speaking of the vamps, Vlad and Katya owned the music store in town, and not only did they offer free studio time to every local band trying to cut their first CD, they had a rental library of vintage vinyl that went back forever.

No one in Raven Beach wanted to lose that, but at the same time, no one wanted to live in fear of being bitten, bled, burnt, or staked, either.

A town meeting was called. The council suggested that they all step down en masse to be replaced with a new council, with representation for all the major groups in town. The people agreed and held a vote that night, with the new council including four humans, two vampires, a werewolf, and a demon. (The zombies didn’t put up a candidate. They felt they didn’t have the necessary communication skills.) The ninth member of the council was a Native American shaman the last descendant of the original tribe which had occupied the area. Everyone felt she would be impartial.

That was step one.

Step two was an agreement that the morgue would better serve the zombies, that the blood bank would host monthly blood drives to help the vampire community stay healthy and robust, and that the werewolves could let their cubs run free in the dog park on odd numbered days.

And step three… step three was the Civil Twilight Concordance.

It was agreed that the time between first light and full dawn, and first sunset and full dark, was a no-kill time. Children could safely travel to and from school. Adults could move freely from home to work or vice versa. Most of the year, those hours even allowed for brief errands.

And the rest of the time?

The vampires might, from time to time, stalk humans on their way home from the movies, or the werewolves could be caught threatening the teenagers at Lovers’ Dune. But there was an unwritten agreement that townies, no matter their breed or species, were untouchable.

Human, inhuman, formerly human, and human-ish live side by side in Raven Beach. And during civil twilight, they walk together.

Jasper

Teddy as Jasper

Every night at nine, The Thing arrives in the back hallway, and Jasper goes to drive it away. He barks and growls and bares his teeth at it, never letting it get into the main house.

He doesn’t try to get his people to come see why he’s barking. He knows humans don’t believe in such Things, and wouldn’t even if they could see them. Which they can’t.

But Jasper can, and he knows it’s his job to protect his people, to keep the house safe from beings like The Thing that are even more evil than postal workers and UPS deliverers.

Still, it would be nice if, once in a while, one of his people would recognize his vigilance and tell him he was a good boy for protecting the house or thank him from driving The Thing away every night.

Just one pat on the head, or maybe an extra dog biscuit would make all the difference.

Instead, Jasper has to hear them tell him to Stop Barking, and Be Quiet, and Go Lay Down, when his job has been done again and he returns to the living room to let them know.

And then it happens.

Sort of.

On the very night that he manages to make The Thing become dead – even deader than his stuffy squirrel after he removed the evil squeaker – Jasper’s people join him in the hall.

“Sweetie,” the female person says (he’s not supposed to have favorites, but he likes her just a little bit more than the male person. She was the one who’d picked him up when he was living in the Loud Place and held him against her chest and let him gum her neck until he was asleep.) “Jasper’s barking sounds different tonight. We should check on him.”

“He’s barking at nothing, like always,” the male answers.

“Humor me.”

And his people join Jasper in the back hall, where he has the remnants of The Thing in his mouth.”

“Wow! Looks like Jasper caught a rat!” the male human observed.

(It isn’t a rat, but humans can’t see the truth of Things.)

“Oh, ugh, take it away. That can’t be good for him,” the female urged “Wait… is it dead? Don’t touch it until it’s dead.”

“Oh, it’s dead.”

Jasper stands with The Thing in his mouth, wagging his tail.

The male human trades him a chewy for it, and the female one kneels on the ground and puts her arms around his neck. “No kisses until I forget what you had in your mouth, Jas. You’re a good boy. You protected the house.”

Jasper leans into her side. She is warm and comforting, and he is glad she feels safe with him. She doesn’t need to know what The Thing really is. He knows that human people see what they think they should.

And anyway, it doesn’t matter.

Because Jasper is a Good Boy.

And his humans know it.

The Boys of Endless Summer

zombieslugger

If you follow sports, you know there are “dream teams,” combinations of players who seem unbeatable. In basketball, the first such group to earn the title was the 1992 United States Olympic Team. In hockey, people again point to an Olympic team – the 1980 hockey players. In baseball, people generally point to the 1995 team in Puerto Rico.

But what if there was a team – two teams – that got stuck in the dream, forever.

Sure, Game Three of the 2018 World Series went to 18 innings before the Dodgers finally won, but what if it hadn’t? What if there’s a dimension where the game continued, inning after inning, after inning, to the end of time?

Imagine it… scoreless inning after scoreless inning, twenty, thirty, fifty, a thousand… more.

The pitchers don’t just exhaust their arms, they literally keep lobbing balls until their muscles are bleeding, until their shoulders disintegrate.

And the batters… at some point they turn on each other.

And that’s when the spectators realize: they’re part of the endless ballgame, too. They’re stuck in the same time-stop with the players and the managers and the coaches and the umpires. Realization becomes horror when they recognize one other’s pale faces, bloodshot eyes, more prominent teeth (are those bicuspids elongating, or are their lips receding from dehydration?)

Accepted lore says that zombies are created by other zombies, but if you put enough people in an inescapable location, for long enough time, creation is replaced by critical mass which leads to manifestation.

When the concession stands run out of food, the fans begin to kill and eat each other.

Sam the Sox fan rips off John the Dodgers fan’s head and tosses it over the fence, where it lands on the pitcher’s mound. It seems such a little thing to substitute it for the ball? The eye-sockets make good grips – like the holes in bowling balls. The blood is as effective – and as illegal – as the Vaseline used in old-school spitters (long-since banned).

And maybe, just maybe, the batter will balk  and the game will end.

It’s a curse, of course, the change into zombies, the bloodlust, the days, weeks, months, years, decades, and more of scoreless games.

Somehow, the teams never dwindle too far to call it.

By some sick miracle the crowd never noticeably thins.

But this is no field of dreams; it’s a field of nightmares where the scariest words anyone can hear are, “Play ball!”

His Lips

0105 - His LipsShe runs into him  – quite literally – outside the coffee shop across the street from old campus, the one where they make the mochas with proper bitter chocolate and understand that whipped cream shouldn’t be sweetened.

“Excuse me,” she says, “I’m so sorry, I was looking at my phone and…” Said phone has fallen to the ground and she crouches to retrieve it rather than bend. When she looks up it’s his mouth that catches her attention. His mouth. His lips. Pressed together. Plush in a way that men’s lips typically aren’t.  Kissable.

In that moment, the stranger in his vintage clothes and the hat that obscures his eyes has become the object of her desire.

He doesn’t speak, but extends a hand to assist her as she releases her squat and stands straight. “Thank you,” she says. “Again, I’m sorry.”

He touches his hand to the brim of his hat and disappears into the shadowed twilight of the university district.

A week passes by, then two.

Halloween is over. Thanksgiving is coming fast.

There’s an annual party at the university, and as a professor, she is required to attend. It’s hosted by the English department this year, and the folklorists have chosen the theme: firelight. They’ve got fires in the giant fireplaces at either end of the hall and set the tables with lanterns of living flame.

The portraits of past presidents, past tenured professors, high up on the walls, look down in judgement and envy. Possibly more of the latter.

She half-expects to see him there, immortalized in oil paint.

Instead she spies him over by the hot hors d’oeuvres. He’s serving himself some of the stuffed mushroom caps.

Across the room, she finds herself once again entranced by his lips.

She goes to him, observes that the chafing dish that once held mushrooms is now empty. He must be watching her, too, because a cool hand touches her shoulder and he is offering a second fork, gesturing for her to share his plate.

“You’re very kind,” she says.

He gives the slightest of shrugs and leads her to a quiet alcove.

They spend the evening watching the rest of the party. They leave together; he escorts her to her apartment.

“Do you want to come in?” she asks.

He touches his hat again, and the muscles in his cheeks contract slightly, drawing his lips – god! Those lips! – into a subtle smile.

They share a pot of tea, and then a bottle of wine.

She does all the talking, but somehow, he conveys his opinions on her observations. Yes, Ayn Rand is overrated. No, modern students don’t read enough romantic poetry.

As dawn light turns the window shades pink, they each move to the center of her sofa. He takes her hands in his. She leans close, under his hat-brim with him, and touches her lips to his.

In the space of a kiss, she understands… the hat hides his demon eyes from human gawking, and also protects them from bright light. And his lips hide teeth meant for cutting and chewing human flesh.

His voice… when she hears it… is mesmerizing. Julian Sands married to Alan Rickman mesmerizing. He tells his story in a few succinct sentences. His father was a demon, his mother his human mate. When she learned what he was, his mother made his father promise that he could live a human life. He chose to dwell among books.

* * *

“Why don’t you speak?” She asks, much later in the morning, when she’s resting against his smooth chest.

“My voice is where my power lies,” he explains. “If I’d wooed you with words, you would be in thrall, and I didn’t want that, don’t want that.”

“Is that what happened to your mother?”

“Yes. But becoming pregnant broke the thrall, and now she remains with my father out of choice.”

“It wasn’t coincidence, was it? Me running into you?”

“No.” His answers are brief, but she hears the more in them.

“How long can this last?” She means the connection they’ve forged.

He answers by kissing her.

“You’re wrong you know,” she tells him, several days later, as they’re walking to the coffee shop as the season’s first snow falls around them. “It’s not your voice that draws people in. At least, it wasn’t with me.”

“What was it then? The hat? The clothes?”

“No,” she says. “Guess?”

In the privacy of a darkened doorway, he smiles at her with a closed mouth covering his deadly teeth, and she stretches a gloved finger up to caress his lips.

Coda?

0175 - PianoInstruments are meant to be played. They’re not to be left alone, untuned, unused , unloved.

 

They have souls, you know. Not fully-formed ones such as ours, mind you. Rudimentary souls. Proto-souls, you might call them.

 

Or maybe they’re not souls at all. Doesn’t matter. The name you give them isn’t important. That you recognize that there’s a spark of something – a spark of some THING – suspended in the wire and the wood, or curled up inside the brass of the bell, or hiding tucked up against the reed – that’s what matters.

 

And those things. Those THINGS… when they’re ignored long enough they go crazy trying to make music without a human hand, a human heart, to guide them.

 

You know how when you walk by a cello on a stand, sometimes you hear a hint of resonance? Or you think you hear a piano note late at night?

 

Those are them. The sparks trying to become flame.

 

We talk about great musicians being connected to their instruments, playing as if the violin or saxophone an extension of their body? That’s because the spark has found ignition.

 

A raw, new, unplayed instrument will fade into dust.

 

But one that’s felt the loving touch of elegant hands on its keys, the special balanced weight of sticks being held to drum, the soft slide of a virtuoso playing a glissando – those instruments quite literally go mad.

 

They cry out loneliness in crazy concertos that fold in upon one another like cobwebs. They fill empty rooms with the dissonant sounds of their grief.

 

“I’m sorry, ma’am, what were you saying about the music room?” Sarah had been lost in thought, seeing the poor old piano.

 

“Piano comes with the house” the woman in the gold blazer repeated. “Previous owner was a classical star until arthritis killed his career.”

 

Sarah made some polite response as she and Gold Blazer Woman moved to the next room in the walkthrough. But she cast a final glance at the deteriorated instrument and the collection of empty chairs.

 

“Don’t worry.” She willed the ancient Steinway to hear her thoughts. “I’ll save you.”

Basic Cookery

0412 - DemonFnarglyl sprawled on the dining room floor leafing through his granddam’s cookery books. He had no plans to actually make anything. He just enjoyed reading the recipes and trying to imagine what the various exotic dishes might taste like. Far too many of them seemed to involve vegetation like crabgrass and dandelion greens. Granddam always said that greens were good for his digestion, but he was pretty sure she made him eat them because her granddam had made her eat them, too.

He tossed aside a book that was dedicated to plant-based foods: Ivies for Immortality. Being immortal sounded cool, until you realized that it meant leaving your friends and your family all alone and getting old and broken but never actually dying. Pheh. They could keep their immortality, especially if it meant a diet based on ivy.

Although… the poison kind did have a nice bite to it.

He skipped over three books about stewing roadkill – not interesting enough, and then he found a book that was different than the rest. Instead of having a brightly colored cover with pictures of sumptuous food, this one was black, and leather, and smelled faintly dangerous.

And it didn’t have a title.

After glancing around to make sure Granddam wasn’t paying too close attention, Fnarglyl opened the book, and began paging through it. Some of the pages had recipes, but they didn’t seem to be for food, and they involved drawing symbols on the floor in chalk… or blood.

Just as he was reading a chapter called “Humans: How to Summon and Care for The Pink People,” his grandmother interrupted him. “Glylly, sweetie, it’s time for your bath, and then into bed.”

“Aww, Gran, can’t I have just a few more minutes?” he asked.

“Not tonight, Glylly. You know I have my garden club tomorrow morning, and I have to be up early.”

Fnarglyl reshelved the cookbooks, but the black one, he tucked under a wing. Granddam usually left him alone for the two or three hours she was with her gardening friends. Most of the ingredients for summoning a human were in the house, and she’d never notice if he drew a chalk circle down in the basement… at last, he didn’t think she would.

“Glylly… don’t dawdle.”

“Sorry, Gran,” he said, and got up. He kissed her cheek and caressed her hand with his tail and slid past her toward the bathroom. He was almost sure she’d looked at him funny, but she hadn’t said anything.

Tomorrow, he thought, I’m going to meet a human for the first time!

He hoped they didn’t bite.

 

 

Fur

Fur

Every dog owner can tell you that dog hair seems to have a life of its own.

Breed, color, age, coat-length and type, there’s always one commonality: the fur gets everywhere. In some cases, it even seems as though there’s more of the stuff on the floors and furniture than can be found on the actual dog. Even on the no-shed varieties of canines.

The stuff congregates in corners and bunches under beds. During certain seasons, you can brush enough of it off your canine companion to form his or her doppelganger out of the discarded fibers.

Own a dog long enough, or have enough dogs trotting through your home with drooling jowls and wagging tails, and you begin to wonder if maybe you’ve got it wrong. Maybe the dogs are really naked, and their coats – so lovely to touch, so accursedly painful when you get a dog-hair splinter in your foot on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night – aren’t just an adaptation to protect their soft parts and keep them warm.

“What if,” you muse aloud while your husband is forwarding through yet another commercial during the latest episode of The Flash, “dog hair doesn’t grow on the dog? What if it’s really a symbiotic life form, bent on taking over the planet?”

“Are you writing another story?” he asks. “Because that’s an interesting premise.”

“No, I’m completely serious,” you say. “I mean, consider: it ends up everywhere, it seems to multiply like crazy, and we don’t perceive it as a threat unless we’re allergic to the dander. And what about those allergies. Maybe they’re not just allergies! Maybe it’s a toxin released by this alien life form! Maybe these creatures are the reason dogs have comparatively short lifespans!”

“Or maybe you’re just annoyed because I haven’t swept the floor in three days,” your husband says, not without affection. “Can we finish this episode now?”

“Go for it.”

Your chihuahua jumps up onto the couch, and a single piece of his fur separates from the rest and spirals into your tea, but you don’t realize it until you take a sip and begin to choke.

At the funeral, everyone says you look amazing, and so natural, and how appropriate that even in death there’s dog hair clinging to your blouse.