he woman in the animal control uniform returns my dog bloody. She says it's not his blood but that of another dog. She clarifies that my dog is probably not responsible for the death of the other animal, that he was just curious. She hands my dog back, held in one hand, and says to keep him locked inside. There's a rabid animal on the loose, apparently. The woman's name tag reads "Jean." Jean's face shines from the humidity. I hold my tiny, bloody dog to my ear, listen to his heart race, and watch Jean until she's back in her truck. I tell myself that it's sexist to expect all animal control officers to be men.
I got the dog in the divorce and have spent a lot of time thinking up a new name for him. I'm kicking around the name Dog.
Stay in the house, Dog.
The next time I see Jean she's on all fours, crawling over my grass and sniffing the ground. The movement forces definition into her leg muscles, which, I realize, are spectacular. I watch from my porch, draped in a robe and sipping coffee. She turns to me and, without standing, says, "You gotta think like them." She also says, "There was a killing spree last night." And finally, "Rough night?" I must look extra pathetic because she offers to show me the victims as consolation. She opens the back of her vehicle and, inside, there are countless dog corpses. Just a big pile of red, purple, teeth, and fur. "Whatever's doing this is merciless," she says. "Kind of exciting, right?"
My ex calls and asks what she should do with all these CDs she found in one of her boxes. She asks if she can speak to the dog and I put the phone up to Dog's ear and listen to her say hewwo hewwo.
Jean expresses interest in making dinner for me. She brings uncooked steaks, and because my dinnerware is still packed away in boxes, we microwave the meat on paper plates. The blood soaks through and makes a shallow puddle in my microwave. We finish a bottle of wine and make out on the couch. I go to the bathroom and when I come back she's eating another steak, raw.
My ex meets me at an outdoor plaza in the touristy part of town. She carries my large CD wallet under her arm and exaggerates the effort of handing it over. Families ride by on rental bikes, all wearing ill-fitting helmets. I hold the wallet and wait while my ex leans down to pet Dog, who is obviously ecstatic to see her. He rolls over and exposes his belly. I drink an overpriced smoothie, which I bought because it boasted more than ten vegetables and I can't remember the last time I ate anything green. I notice Jean on the other side of the plaza, holding hands with another man. Both of them wear animal control uniforms. Jean sees me and quickly looks away. The smoothie tastes awful. I tug the leash and Dog, standing on his hind legs to lick my ex's face, falls on his back. Down, Dog.
Inside Jean's pants, it's just hair. A thick, coarse mat fills the space between her belly button and thighs. She writhes against my hand, grabs it, and pushes my fingers deeper. I bite her shoulder. After she comes, she says, "I'm on my period." I hold my hand up to the light and admire the wetness, blood, and hair.
Same qualities as a newborn.
We wake up to the sound of breaking glass. Jean sits upright, turns her head slightly in the direction of the sound, and jumps, naked, out of bed. I follow her into the bathroom and she pushes me back. She spreads her arms and blocks the door frame, but over her shoulder I see the raccoon, foaming at the mouth and shaking on top of the toilet tank. Dog hangs from its teeth. Jean steps forward, grabs the animal. Dog falls to the ground, yelps. She holds the raccoon like a baby. It becomes docile in her arms. She twists its head 180 degrees and then drops it into the tub, dead. Underneath my fluorescents, I see the fur that also covers Jean's ass. I reach out to pet it and she swats my hand away. "Take care of Dog," she says. I pick up my injured pet and twist his head while Jean lowers herself on the toilet to shit.
I bury Dog in the backyard. He fits in a shoebox. After I fill the hole, I get on all fours and sniff the dirt. That's when the tears come. Jean's right: You gotta think like them.
I follow Jean's scent to a downtown bar where all the animal control officers enjoy happy hour drinks. Jean idly scratches her boyfriend's back while he tells a story about rescuing a cat from underneath a sewer grate. The story stops when I join their group. "Excuse me," the boyfriend says. "Can I help you with something?" Jean looks down. I take a sip of my drink and throw the rest in his face.
People stare as we run past. Mothers hold their children close. Behind me, Jean's boyfriend leads the pursuit. They whistle at me. They yell, "Come here!" and, "Stop!" and finally, "Bad!" I run open-mouthed. The wind dries my tongue. Just playing, I think. Just playing.
"Animal Control" is our 2015 Short Fiction Contest winner.
Ryan Bradford's writing has appeared in Quarterly West, Paper Darts, Vice, and [PANK]. He's also the founder of the literary horror journal, Black Candies.
John Willinski is an illustrator and cartoonist from Wisconsin. He currently lives in Minneapolis, MN and is pursuing his degree in illustration at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.