Mr. Sneedle’s classroom was on the first floor, but it was still about a five foot drop from the window. And because I’m not a stuntman, I didn’t have the faintest idea about the right way to jump out of a window. I conked my head a pretty good one on the metal frame of the glass, and cut my arms up, too.
I landed awkwardly on my shoulder and rolled out onto the grass. For a second, I just stayed where I was, trying to get some sort of sense from the world—like maybe the insanity had been confined to my science class. I closed my eyes tight and tried to listen to the pulse of my heartbeat in my head instead of the screams that I was still hearing. The deadly temptation of sleep was still strong, a part of my mind telling me that this was some awful dream that I needed to wake up from, if I just closed my eyes and drifted off it would all be over when I woke up.
I heard a growl to my immediate left, and I ignored it. I couldn’t be troubled with things like nightmares in my dream world. And then something grabbed me. And that’s when the drowsiness left me. Because you can see things that short circuit your brain, but when the right wires get soldered together, when you finally realize that you might be about to die, the survival instinct really kicks in.
My eyes shot open and I saw Sarah. She was pulling me to my feet.
“Oh, thank God,” she said, hugging me and kissing my face. “I thought you were dead, Brian, when I came around the corner and saw you on the ground.”
“Nah, I’m okay.” It’s really all about perspective. If you’re having a normal day-in-the-life-of kind of thing—you wake up, you eat some breakfast, go to school, come home—you probably wouldn’t say that seeing your science teacher mutilated by a killer poodle and then having to jump out a window to escape was “okay.” On the other hand, if you see your science teacher mutilated by a killer poodle, jump out the window to escape, and then realize you’ve made it out with minor cuts and bruises, you might just be crazy enough to say that you are okay.
“What the hell’s going on?” Sarah asked me. I didn’t know if she was asking because it’ one of those things people just always do in crisis situations—What’s going on? How did it happen? How will this be fixed?—or if she was asking me because of my psychic abilities. I didn’t figure it mattered too much—the answer was the same, either way.
“It’s the end of the world, darlin’.”
“They look like little dogs that got mutated. They’re killing everyone.”
“Started at a circus. Fuckin’ dog-lovers, man. When will they learn?”
It was a really good question, and I had no idea why she was asking me. You want to know what jeans will look really good, I’m the man to ask. You want to know what questions are going to be on next week’s math test, I got what you need. You want to know what you’re supposed to do when a bunch of mutated circus dogs start a killing spree in your school, you probably need to find someone else.
“I don’t know,” I told her.
“What? I thought you were psychic! You’re supposed to know all about the future!”
“Yeah, well I did. Right up until the point where the dogs escaped. After that, it’s just a bunch of pictures of chaos and blood.”
She just stared at me. I’ve never really been the type of psychic that can read people. You see those frauds on TV, they’re always touching someone’s hand and saying some dumb shit like, “You’ve been hurt in love. You will find great fortune around the corner. You feel like you deserve more out of life.” Stuff like that, that’s all crap. But I’m sure there are some real ones out there, some freaks who touch you and can tell the inner workings of your mind and soul and whatever else it is that you usually keep hidden from the rest of the world. Not me, though.
The thing is, I didn’t even need to be psychic to know what was going on in Sarah’s head at that moment. She had come to find me because she figured that me and my curse would be able to safely navigate through this world of madness that had erupted around us.
Because I was young and dumb, I had thought that it was because she loved me.
“Bri,” my mom used to tell me, “Love isn’t good for anything except for making movies and writing poetry. You don’t make movies, and your poetry sucks, so you should probably remember that love isn’t ever going to do anything for you.” Cynical bitch. I always thought I knew more than her, though, what with me being a teenager and all, but the moment I saw that look on Sarah’s face, I realized that maybe my mom knew a thing or two, after all.
Then I heard the growl again. I looked up and saw what appeared to be a Boston Terrier, but one that had grown out of it’s skin. There was exposed muscle, pink against the black and white fur, and one of the bulging eyes was leaking green fluid. The dog stood much higher than it was meant to—about three feet high, probably—but it didn’t look like it was used to having the long legs. It kept wobbling as it walked towards us, and it even fell down a couple of times. Sarah screamed, and the dog’s ears perked up. One fell off into the grass, and a new leak of green fluid appeared where it had been.
“Come on, Fido,” I said. The words “puppy love” seem so morbidly out of context in this situation, but I don’t really have any other way to describe that first weird love that most of us go through. Puppy love, that goofy sort of love that kids get, when they think that this is the world for them, when they think that this is their one and only chance, when they feel like their heart will break into pieces that can never be mended if things don’t work out. It makes them act all stupid, you know? I’ve known girls that have cut their wrists because their high school sweethearts broke up with them. I’ve known guys that have gotten drunk and crashed their cars for the same reason.
And maybe that’s why I got so belligerent with the animal. I don’t know—who knows why you act like you do when reality has ripped out it’s icky innards and made you eat them? Not me, man. I just know that I wasn’t thinking about life and death right then. It was all some lame movie, some cheap video game. Something that I could walk away from no matter what, so why not play the jaded hero?
“Brian, what are you doing?” Sarah asked. She sounded incredulous, afraid, and impressed. “I guess I’m saving your ass—that’s why you came to find me, right?” I stood up and started walking towards the dog.
“Brian, stop this!” Now she just sounded terrified. Scared of losing her map through the madness. The dog snarled, baring a mouthful of jagged, uneven teeth, and more of that green fluid.
“Piss off,” I told either her or the dog, I don’t know which. I advanced another step. The dog fell back on it’s hindquarters, like maybe it’s back legs had given out, and I moved forward to kick it.
The next series of events happened so fast that I barely had time to register them; fast like when someone yells heads up and you turn around and there’s a baseball sailing towards your face at about light speed, and the next thing you know you’re looking up at the sky with a broken nose. The muscles in the dog’s back legs tripled in size, that was what started the series of events. It wasn’t gradual at all—one second the dog looked one way, the next second, it looked a different way. There was the sound of ripping flesh as the muscle erupted, though, and that seemed to last forever. I realized—too late—that the dog hadn’t fallen. It was about to pounce.
Which was the second event. It shot from the ground like a bullet from a gun, nothing but a blur of fur and exposed muscle and torn skin. I didn’t even have time to think about reacting. I was standing about four feet away from it at that point, and there was no way for me to dodge. The only thing that save me was the old man with the shotgun.
At the time, I didn’t realize there was an old man with a shotgun, of course. All I saw was the dog’s head explode into a spray of green and pink mist. The blast sent the dog into a spinning mess of nastiness, and I was knocked back to the ground by the hind legs. The corpse landed a few feet behind me, twitching and oozing, just like corpses are supposed to do when you’re in the middle of a nightmare.
“You’ll have to be a bit quicker than that if you want to survive in this world, sonny.” I looked towards the voice, and that’s when I realized that there was an old man. He was tall and skinny—that kind of skinny that only old men and anorexics ever attain. He didn’t look frail, though—you could see his muscles bulging like tow-rope under the flesh of his arms as he cocked the shotgun. He had a black t-shirt on, blue jeans, cowboy boots. His white hair was cut into a spiky crew-cut.
And he had an eye-patch. The eye-patch kind of threw me, because I had never seen anyone in real life that had one. I wondered what was under it, but only for a moment, because he instantly raised his shotgun and fired it again. Another dog tumbled to the ground, about four feet away from the Boston Terrier. I hadn’t even heard that one growling.
“You’re never going to make it,” the old man said, and then pulled something off of his belt. It looked like a tampon. He lit the string, tossed it into the window that I had just jumped out of, and walked away. “You’ll be wanting to move away from that building,” he called over his shoulder.
I yanked Sarah to her feet—she had been sitting there watching the entire scene—and ran after him.
“Who are you?” I asked. “What are you doing here? What do you know about these…thing?”
“Name’s McMurphy. Came to kill those things. And what do I know about ‘em? I know I’m going to kill every damned one of ‘em. Now fuck off, kid—I got things to do.”
And then the school exploded.