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A Wuff at the Door
by Matthew Charles
Matthew Charles -- all rights reserved
 

I looked up at the sign. The letters were all greyed out and blurry but, I thought, that's only normal for dog eyesight. And they looked pretty close to "The Blind Pig Gin Mill", which was good enough for me.

"Well," I said to myself, "no sense standing out here." And then I took a deep breath and threw open the door.

Nobody looked up.

I paused, downcast, for a moment, then brightened up and yelled, "Hiya ev'rybody! I'm here!"

That worked. A load of them stopped what they were doing and looked at me.

"My name's Alex! And I'm a dog!" I added, then barked in case any of them hadn't noticed.

A lot of them kept looking at me, which was great because I'd made a strong first impression on them. And the barman - this big cow with really cool horns - was waving at me, only in a kinda funny way. So I started off to go and see what he wanted, but then I smelt the wolves.

Now, with wolves and dogs, it's very - well, impolite, I guess - to wander into someone else's patch without asking them, and I didn't want to make anyone angry with me on my first night, so I waved back at the barman to let him know I'd get to him in a minute and headed over to their table.

They were sitting there - about eight or nine of them - and they were all staring at me, so I thought I better handle it carefully.

"Hey-ya. I know you guys take all that pack stuff real seriously, so I just want you to know that I'm not, like, challenging or anything." I started to get down on all fours. "I mean, I just wanna have a drink with you or something, that okay?"

They continued to stare at me as I rolled onto my back and waved my feet in the air. I was a bit worried that they were keeping so quiet.

"Do you guys want to sniff me or something? Is there anything else I have to do?" I asked.

For the first time, one of them piped up. "Yeah, you have to go whizz all along the bar so's we know who you are." But then another one glared at him and stood up.

"Pay him no attention, Mr Alex, he is pulling your leg. And please stand up; your shirt is being wetted by a puddle of beer spilt by one of these uncouth gentlemen."

"Wow, you're British! And, if it's okay with you, I'll stay on the floor for a bit."

He raised an eyebrow in a really sinister, disapproving way at that, so I thought I better get up, seeing as he was the Alpha or something. So I had one last roll in the beer and got to my feet.

"My name is Wanderer," he said, reaching out with his hand. I shook it.

"My name's Alex!" I said. He smiled at that.

"Yes, Alex, I know. And, if I may introduce them, these disreputable fellows are collectively known as The Lupine Boys."

"Oh, is that a British name or something?" I asked. He was about to reply when I smelled something else.

"Hey! A rabbit! Oh wow, I love rabbits!" I turned to go after it, but Wanderer grabbed my collar.

"That, Alex, is Mr Geusz. I'm sure he would not appreciate your enthusiasm."

My ears drooped down. "Oh really? I'm sorry, I didn't mean to do anything wrong."

"No harm done. In fact," - he dropped his voice to a whisper - "I'm more worried about you than our lapine friend. He keeps a Magnum in his pouch."

"Really?"

"Oh yes," he continued, winking at me. "They say that the last dog to jump at him ended up as a barbecue. I suggest that you behave most decorously around him."

"Oh, I will," I said, and went quiet for a moment. Then I thought of something.

"Hey! I know - since you let me stay here, I'll buy you a round of drinks!"

"Nonsense, my dear boy, as our guest it-" began Wanderer, but suddenly broke off with a yelp.

"Thanks, mine's a double," said one of the other wolves who was standing around by his side. Then the others asked for what they wanted - three beers, an orange juice, a bowl of ginger beer and a 'special Bloody Mary' - and I turned to asked Wanderer the same.

"If you insist, Alex, I shall have a glass of cola."

"Great! And I'll have some beer too!"

He sniffed and looked at me. "Alex, are you sure you want another drink?"

I looked puzzled. "Another drink? But I haven't had one yet."

He sighed and tapped his nose. "The scent of alcohol hangs heavy on your breath, my friend. I'd say you started drinking long before you came here."

"That's funny," I said. "I only had one drink this evening, and the man said that was fruit juice."

He looked at me with his head cocked again.

"Well," I said, "I went to go to The Blind Pig, but I got the directions wrong or something, and when I went in and said 'Hi', it turned out to be The Blue Peter, but that was okay because they were all very friendly and they gave me a drink on the house in a bowl. It had fruit juice in it."

He sighed again. "Look, Alex, why don't you sit down over there - no, a bit away from the Lupine Boys, I think - and I shall go and get the drinks. Don't worry," he added as I started to argue, "you can pay me back later if you wish. But you've had a busy evening and I think it would be a very good idea for you to take it easy for a while, hmm?"

He pointed me towards an empty table in a corner of the bar, and he was right - I was feeling a bit sleepy, so I trotted over and curled up underneath the seat, just because.

I'd hardly been there a minute before someone else - another dog, a Dalmatian - came and sat down, just by himself. I waited a bit, but he didn't seem to notice me, so I popped my head up.

"Hiya!"

He jerked back violently.

"Jeesus, don't do that! God, this place... What're you doing under there, anyway?"

"I like it down here," I replied.

"Under the table?"

"Yep!"

"And do you, by any remote chance, also like chasing cats and having your food served in bowls?"

"Yep!"

"Well then, Mister Cute Doggie, to get it out of the way, are there any other particularly irritating canine-type things you like?"

I was a bit put off by the tone of his voice, but I said, "I like having my head scratched," hopefully anyway.

"Shit. That's it. Right, go on, shoo, get lost, scram, piss off. I do not need this right now. Go away and pester somebody else who can deal with it."

My ears went flat and I started trudging away, tail drooping.

"Oh, for fuck's sake... C'mere, you stupid thing."

I perked up again and, my tail wagging all over the place, dashed back to the table.

"Only sit on a chair this time. And try and talk like a human being, okay?"

"Okay."

"Good. Now, you, like me, are a SCAB in a bar. You are already well and truly plastered. This means that you are here to drown your sorrows about something. So if you wouldn't mind acting a bit more depressed and telling me about it, we can commiserate together. Okay?"

"What would I want to commiserate for?"

"You aren't here to drink your miseries under the table, then?"

"Nope."

He cocked his head and looked at me. "Doesn't it get you down at all, being a SCAB?"

"Nope."

"Aren't you the least bit unhappy, though, about suddenly being turned into a half-human animal? I mean, don't you wish it'd never happened?"

I shrugged. "Nope."

He sighed, sounding a bit frustrated. "Do you mean to tell me that you're really happy being a dog?"

"Yep!" I said, and grinned.

He rubbed his forehead for a bit.

"Well, wouldn't you be happier the way you were?"

I started to say nope again, but he looked all worked up, so I said, "I might be."

"Right! And wouldn't you rather be the same way again, and get treated like a person?"

"But I'm not a person," I said. "I'm a dog."

He put his hand on his forehead again. "Yeah, you mentioned. Look. When you were a person, yes, would you have been unhappy about getting turned into a dog?"

I shrugged. "I guess so."

"And that doesn't bother you?"

"No," I said, then to explain I added, "I'm not a person any more."

He thumped his head down on the table a couple of times. "Christ, I give up. Please, just get back under the table and we can pretend you're a real dog. Oh no, don't start that, I know you're really a dog. You said. Look, just get down there and you can have your drink in a bowl or whatever, just don't say a single, fucking word. Got that?"

"Ye- I mean, Woof!"

He rolled his eyes. "Yeah, whatever."

So I crawled back under the chairs, shut my eyes and just sort of let the noises of the bar pour over me. I did wonder a bit where Wanderer was with the drinks, but it didn't seem important. Slowly, everything blended together into a big, confused jumble, then faded away.

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