After a messy breakup that ended with Ian slamming the door behind him on his way out of my apartment, all I’d wanted to do was get through a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. Maybe watch some gratuitous violence on Netflix, smoke some pot to help me make the day a little fuzzy. But pulling into the parking lot of the grocery store down the street and ignoring the lazy drizzle in the air, something caught my eye.
A dog near the edge of the lot, laying down under a tree that provided shade for the lucky Floridian who claimed the parking spot under its branches. A dog lover through and through, and with far less caution than was rational, my path immediately curved toward the animal. It appeared to be some sort of German shepherd mix and looked like it had had a much worse day than I had. A much worse life, to be honest.
Its fur was rough and patches were missing, possibly from mange, though I’m not a vet. My guess was that it had been out here for ages, and to be honest, the town I currently lived in wasn’t huge on paying attention to stray dogs. Unless they got aggressive, of course, then it was time to call in animal control to take down the threat to all the precious children.
Getting within a few yards of it, it raised its head and let out a low growl. “Hey,” I murmured, crouching down. “You look like ten miles of bad road.” Its ears weren’t flat against its head or anything, and it didn’t bear its teeth, but it let out another warning growl. “Not keen on people, huh?” I paused. “You hungry?” No reaction, unsurprisingly. I pushed myself and went into the store.
Coming out a few minutes later with a bag of plain jerky in hand, I went back over to the dog, which growled once again at my approach, as if this spot under this tree had been bought and paid for, no guests allowed. “You like jerky?” I tossed it a big piece, landing perfectly just a foot in front of its paws and it flinched back as if it were a grenade. But it only took a moment to scent what it was, and the dog promptly went back over it and snatched it up, chewing and swallowing quickly.
Then it took a few steps back, unconvinced. I tossed another piece. Then another. We went through the whole bag, aside from one piece left. “Want to come with me?” I asked, waggling it in the air. The dog, I could see it was a girl now, took a few steps forward. I nodded back toward my car. “I’ve got air conditioning. We could get you over to the vet, I’ll spring for a nice warm bath, in case you got fleas. Get that skin condition figured out. Whaddya say?”
Slowly taking steps backwards, jerky in hand, I headed back to my jeep and, to my honest surprise, she began to follow me. And when I tossed the last piece of jerky into the back seat, she jumped up inside, chowing down on it, and I shut the door.
A few hours later, we were back at my place and she was still in rough shape, but in much better condition, as well as flea- and dirt-free. I hadn’t had a dog for close to two months, my last girl passing away and still reluctant to replace her, but I still had all her things. I took them out from storage in my garage and put the bed on the ground in the living room, where it had been when Roxy had used it, something tight gripping my heart when I put it back.
The dog walked over, sniffing it thoroughly. “That’s for you to sleep on,” I said. “My bed’s fair game during the day, but I toss and turn at night, so you got your own.” Kneeling down next to her, I let her sniff my hand before offering pats, which she tentatively accepted. “You a good girl?” She met my gaze, something in her eyes that I couldn’t describe. “Hm. Maybe you’re still working on figuring that out. Don’t know what your life’s been like so far, but I get it. Trust is hard.”
I paused for a long moment and then, unbidden, a name popped into my head. I attributed it to my love of the show Supernatural. “Lilith. That sounds good,” I murmured.
And that was that. It took her ages to come out of her shell, weeks of staying near her bed, or hiding in the nice dark laundry room, unless it was dinner time. She was perfectly house-trained though and chill with a collar and leash, so I figure whoever had had her before had taken care of her at some point, but no chip and no response to ‘found dog’ ads resulted in her just staying with me. Over those weeks, her coat filled in, her eyes got a bit brighter, and every time I saw her dozing on her bed, I smiled.
We went on a walk every morning and every evening, and a low growl rumbled up from her belly whenever someone walked by, so I was careful to give them a wide berth. After a month or so, I took her to the dog park. Not to participate, we stayed outside twenty yards or so from the chain-link fence and just sat on the grass.
Her eyes darted after each of the dogs inside, curious, attentive, and admittedly, aggressive. Tense. Wary.
“This is where dogs go to have fun,” I said, gently rubbing her behind the ears. “See them all? They’re all nice. That’s why they’re all together.”
Only time would help her out of her shell, I knew. Those first few trips, whenever a happy, playful dog ran up to the fence, spotting us out on our own, Lilith would let out a sharp bark, then another, and another, until the dog decided that they wanted nothing to do with my big grumpy girl. And I’d hoped she’d get past that, but she never changed. She didn’t want anything to do with other dogs or people.
But she did become less aggressive on walks, and more obedient in that respect. Eventually, I was able to stop worrying about her doing something like lunging at someone ‘suspicious’ that we passed on a walk. And that was the only bar, really, that I wanted to reach. Aside from that, all dogs have their own personality, and if she honestly wasn’t going to have fun chasing tennis balls and wanted to be a hermit, I wasn’t going to force her into a world she wanted nothing to do with.
The years passed and she was my closest buddy for a while. Suspicious when I came home smelling like a new guy, and exceedingly wary of Spencer, who I dated for a year or so. Gratefully, that ended pretty amicably. Then there was Harold, who absolutely loved Lilith, despite her complete indifference toward him, and we dated for about six months. And a few others that came and went.
As I closed in on my thirtieth birthday, glumly wondering if I was destined to be alone forever, just me and Lilith, I was struck by how much she’d changed over the past six years. I’d never known how old she was when I first found her, but the vet guessed that Lilith had been at least six already. And one day when I noticed her take an extra moment to get to her feet for our walk, it seemed to hit me all at once, how gray the fur around her muzzle was compared to when I’d first found her.
That’s when the weirdness started. First it was a guy on the corner of the block that would always watch us when we went out for our walks and when we returned. He was a perpetual fixture, like some homeless guy would be, but didn’t look the type. And he was always there, leaning against a telephone pole. I brushed it off, assuming he had a similar schedule to mine. Even though Lilith, seemingly reverting to old habits, let out a low growl whenever the man looked in our direction.
Then there was a woman who came to my apartment one time with some flyers for some sort of medicine line for dogs. She tried to chat me up about how one could give me extra years with my girl, practically trying to get herself invited in. But when her toe just made it over the threshold, Lilith, who’d been standing in the middle of the living room, hackles up, let out a low growl, rebuffing the attempt.
Looking unreasonably irritated at that, she’d just left.
Then came the knock that night. A handsome man in a black suit stood on my doorstep and, despite Lilith’s comforting presence, especially it being after dark, I answered the door with the chain still on it and pepper spray in hand. “Yeah?”
“I’m here for Lilith,” he said, his voice quiet and calm.
I stared at him. He was too perfect, his head bald and smooth, his skin carved from marble, his eyes dead and vacant of emotion, his face a facsimile of a normal man. I felt like I was staring at a psychopath. “You’re…here for her?”
“She knows why. It’s time for her to come home.”
Swallowing hard at the nut job standing in my doorway, I didn’t hesitate before slamming the door shut and flicking the deadbolt. I took a few steps back as Lilith’s toenails lightly tapped when she walked across the hardwood floors and slid her head under my hand. I absently patted her, wondering if I should call 911. But that was a bit moot when the man proceeded to walk through the closed door.
Stumbling back, I shouted, “What the f**k?” and flicked the tab on my pepper spray, holding it up in front of me defensively.
And as quickly as the man had made his entrance, Lilith made her transformation, though it was unnoticed by me until she stood, as I stared wide-eyed at my intruder. Then, suddenly, beside me a young woman rose to her feet, and that drew my gaze, prompting me to stumble back. Naked aside from the dog collar loose around her neck, she unlatched it, holding it in her hands and looking at it almost reverently before she turned to the intruder. “No.”
“No, what?” he muttered, bemused.
“I don’t want to come back.”
He shifted his weight, staring in stark disbelief, as if the young woman had lost her mind. “Lilith, this was a punishment,” he said slowly. “You want more of it?”
“What’s happening?” I whispered, blinking rapidly.
Lilith turned to me and took my hand, putting her collar into it. “Hold onto that for me?” I hesitated before nodding. “I’m not really a dog, Tracey,” she told me, her voice quiet, something dangerous lacing the words. “I never was. And like he said,” she continued, looking back to the man in my living room, “this was punishment. It was supposed to be, at least.”
“You’re saying you enjoyed it?” he smirked. “The life of a pet? Tame and trained and obedient? Should we have vied for something more creative?”
“It just…wasn’t what you’d planned,” Lilith sighed. “Wasn’t what I’d planned. Wasn’t…” She shook her head slowly. “All those humans I’d met before, it’s as if they were a different breed. Tracey is so curious, none of their tendencies, their vices, their vicious desires. It was a life of peace. I’d never had that.”
“You grew fond of your master, did you?” he chuckled.
“She wasn’t my master,” she snapped. “Not like you are.”
“Maybe that’s how I can fix things, then. Lucifer wanted a punishment for his daughter, and I’m not one who would ever disappoint him.”
At that, he reached his hand out toward me and clenched his fist and I suddenly couldn’t breathe. Fumbling at my throat, my eyes bulged as my blood turned to acid in my veins, agony echoing through my every cell and I collapsed to the ground.
“Stop it!” Lilith screeched. Her voice echoed in my head as my vision swam. There was a loud crack and suddenly I could breathe, the pain was gone, and I gasped in lungfuls of air, fumbling backwards along the ground in a panic. My wide eyes staring, I saw that Lilith had the man pinned to my front door by his throat, a sliver of a crack slithered almost the length of the door where he’d struck it.
“She is mine,” Lilith whispered, her voice barely audible to me, “and she’s not to be harmed. Punishing a daughter of Lucifer is one thing. Angering her is quite another, I’m sure you’d agree.”
His dark, steady eyes stared into Lilith’s, unphased by her attack. My lower lip quivered and my heart raced as I blinked back fearful tears, just staying as still as I could on the floor, willing myself to turn invisible.
“What do you think your father will make of this?”
“We would need to ask him,” she said. “I wouldn’t dare assume to know what…my great father…would decide. Are you saying you would?”
He pursed his lips as he kept his gaze on hers, unblinking. “Surely not,” he purred. “I am his servant above all else. As are you. Aren’t you?”
Lilith fell silent and I watched as she gradually released her grip on his throat. “I suppose since neither of us can presume to know better than my father, that there’s no choice but to visit him and ask.”
“That seems most logical,” he murmured, his voice thick with condescension.
Taking a breath, Lilith walked over and crouched in front of me, careful and slow, much like I had when I first approached her in that parking lot. “My years with you were pleasant,” she said softly. “I doubt to ever see you pass through the gates of Hell, so this will be goodbye, in all likelihood.” She gently smoothed down my hair, tucking it behind my right ear, as I could only stare, feeling as if the ground was wobbly beneath me, that it could drop out at any moment.
Pushing herself back to her feet, the man unlocked my door, removing the chain, and opened it. My eyes widened at the world beyond, not of the street I walked out to every morning, but of another world, a horizon far off, the air dark reddish orange and clouded with smoke, the faint echo of screams sending chills down my spine. They then simply walked through, shutting it behind them and dropping me into a stark silence, leaving me sitting on the floor.
It took me several minutes to gather myself before walking over to the door, hesitating, and then swiftly swinging it wide open. It revealed only my street, streetlights keeping the dark at bay, wind whispering through the trees and car engines echoing from the nearby main roads.
I looked down to the collar in my hand, rubbing my hand over the name carved into her tag, before looking back up to the world outside my door. My world, not hers. I stood there for ages, wondering of her life as a dog before she’d met me, and wondering of what it would be once she arrived home. Her real home, it seemed, mine just a temporary stopover.
And in spite of how I’d been smothered beneath the terror and confusion of what she really was, I found myself hoping, like any dog I’d had before or would in the future, that I had given her a good life in my home.
Republished with permission from the author, karenvideoeditor. Image created using Stable Diffusion.