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Black Dogs Are Loose Again
By Danny Pakemwobis
He shambled in from a side door and sat down, saying, "Well it is right nice of you folks to come here today, and I know that you're wondering when the show is going to start up, but I got to tell you right off that I'm it.
"Now wait up. Don't you go and get restless. Because I know you're thinking that I can't do nothing at all you'd care to see. And you're right about that, of course. I can't do nothing. But rest easy, cause it ain't anything I do. It's just something that happens to me, sometimes. Well . . . most times. So if you'll set a while, you'll see something. At least so they tell me.
"And while we're waiting on it, they don't mind me telling you how it first come about. Or at least they let me tell it. Though sometimes it's Sister Fuller what does the talking while we're anticipatin'. Everybody calls her Sister, you know, as she's such an old lady now, but happens that also she's truly my own dear sister. That's how come she and me's the same -- born that way. Only she don't like to perform. Shy, I guess.
"But me, I don't care.
"Anyway, a time ago, before all this ever got started, and I was a good bit younger, although even now, of course, I ain't much more than a boy . . . (say, don't you go laughing it up back there. More to things than meets the eye, y' know.)
"Well, as I was saying, on that day I'm going to tell of, my Aunt Joonie had scrubbed me up fit to kill me and made me put on a shirt and long pants a pair of black patent leather shoes and told me I was her doll baby and all that, like she did when whenever she got me cleaned up like that, and she drug me to the meeting place for some crazy church she liked to go to. And we all went into the tent and sat on some little folding chairs that looked like they might of been a hundred years old or more. Aunt Joonie had some of them at home, too, although that's not to the point of what I was saying.
"So anyways, this little preacher come out and started raving away to beat the band, saying the Great Saver was going to come for us all. Well I wasn't listening any too hard, and when he said "saver" I got to wishing I had some kind of LifeSaver candy to chew on, when this red-headed kid slunk in and sat down on the next chair to me and next to him was his own Auntie, or anyways some old lady he was with.
"Like me, this kid was downcast over being there. But when he glanced over at me, right away he give me the nudge and showed me how he had something clenched up in each one of his hands.
"So I clenched up my hand the same way, and then I opened my hand up, signaling to him I wanted to see what he was holding.
"I guess he'd been waiting for just that, because the gave me the devil's own grin and opened his one hand, and in it was what was left of a roll of those selfsame lifesaver candies as I'd been daydreaming about.
"Say -- you back there! -- don't you go now. It's coming. I can feel it coming over me, so set down a while longer, and you'll get your show today. I can swear to that now.
"So then that kid opened up his other hand, and in it was a big disgusting bug, all wet and shiny looking.
"And soon as I'd got a real good look at that bug, he popped it into his mouth and ate it!
"Well! That was so disgusting, I thought I'd puke. And I'd of moved right off from him, only Aunt Joonie grabbed a hold of me and held me still, much as I wanted to get free. Because I knew what was coming next, and I didn't want no part of it.
"Sure enough, that kid reached into his pocket with his free hand and out come another bug that was even bigger and nastier than the first one. It was so big and so wet it seemed like it could fill up that whole big tent-room. And I thought, "Oh Lord, let this cup be taken from my lips," which is what Aunt Joonie used to always say when she was overcome by some badness I had done, although I was not a bad kid, only very dumb and clumsy, and inadvertent-like. As I still am, of course.
"But by then, I was lost. I could not take my eyes off that bug in his hand. It was too horrible not to look at. So horrible I did not dare to look away. And it was alive. I know, because I saw its legs wave.
"Slow, slow he moved that hand at me, bug and all. And slow, slow he showed me that other hand with the candy in it. He put that candy to his mouth, and with his teeth he took off the top one piece, which was yellow-lemon, and he ate it, crunching it hard between his back teeth. Then he showed me what was left of that roll which was now mostly only the paper wrapping.
"I have to say I was seeing all of that out of the tail of my eye, because I had my main eyes fixed on that horrible bug. But even so, I could see there was one candy left. It was red. And it smelled of cherry-lime.
"He offered it, and I sure wanted that candy, so I reached out.
"But then he closed his hand real fast and drew back, holding out the bug instead. Which of course I'd known he would do. He was signaling that if I wanted that lifesaver, I had to eat his bug first.
"So there was the bug and there was the candy, and maybe I would have and maybe not, but he was not done yet. Not by a long shot.
"No -- hold on, you folks. Sit back down. It's coming. It's here. I'm holding it off right now, doing it so hard it makes my head hurt. But that'll just make for a better show when it does come. So you sit back down. Story's almost over.
"To make it short, he dared me. It was a double-dog dare, which no person can hold up his head if he draws back from, so I put that live bug in my mouth and swallowed it down. And you don't want to know what it tasted like, I will tell you that, for sure.
"At which the kid leaps up and screams and points at me and yells, "That kid just ate a live bug, and I saw him do it!" Then he began screaming and crying like a house afire, until he took such a fit he had to be carried home. While I, the simple-minded victim of his maneuver, stood green and gagging, until, sure enough, I did puke all over the floor, shaming myself and my Aunt Joonie before her friends and all the world. And what with the puking, and the bug, and the heat, my head hurt even worse than it does now, and at that time, I didn't even know what ailed me.
"Well, everybody commenced to hollering, while the Preacher kept shouting and trying to make everybody keep order so he could go on, and one women fainted away in the heat, and it was all just a terrible ruckus.
"Finally, when the commotion was at its worst, Aunt Joonie took me by the arm and hauled me out of there, with puke all over me, and once outdoors she found a spigot with a hose attached nearby, and she hosed me down.
"Maybe she did it for my sake, and maybe to reduce the smell, but I was glad of it either way. But after which, she left me in the sun to dry, while she and her dear friends went to get themselves a lemonade, which I could not share in, being such a disgrace and all, and anyway I had to dry off.
"So there I was, all disconsolate, dripping in the hot sun, when this man come up, and without a word he gave me a life saver, which I took as soon as he offered it to me. Yes, I swear that's what he did, and red lifesaver at that. Life's full of such little coincidences.
"'I'm sorry for you, sonny," he said. "You stink, and your head hurts you, and I happen to know it's going to get worse and worse all the rest of your life."
"So I says, "How do you know my head hurts."
"And he says, "Because I can see the light and dark leaking out of the hole you got in it."
"And I says, "In my head? What hole?"
"And he says, "Poor little sonny, didn't they tell you about that? You got a big hole in there inside your brain, and that hole looks into another place in the big scheme of things, and stuff just pours in through that hole and then pours out of you, and there's not one thing anybody can do for you. Your sis has it, too. You all got it, all you Fullers, cause you are just nothing but living holes to that other place. C'mere, and let's let this load out."
"With that, he put his hands on my aching head, and right off, the pain went away. But at the same instant, I began to see terrible things and without knowing I was doing it, I began telling all I saw, until pretty soon a bunch of people had came running. After one look, they gathered in to listen to me prophesy, as they called it.
"By the time Aunt Joonie had came back, due to her hearing the noise, I was on the ground blabbering and wailing, and with foam coming out of my mouth, she said. (She herself thought it was the bug that had caused it, and I kind of thought so too, at the time, but it was part of the other thing, because it's always like that when I get a Happening.)
"So finally they carted me off to home, where I was out of my head for maybe two-three days and nights. And you know, I never got to enjoy that damn lifesaver at all. And as for the man, of course I never saw him again.
"So the upshot was . . . well no more because . . .
"I can't . . . it's . . .
"I'm seeing it now. Seeing it, seeing how the end of things will come. I see it in the fall of Troy. There is the body of Hector, pierced though the ankles and dragged behind Achilles' chariot, and the armed men are tearing the babe from Andromache's arms as she stands on the burning walls of Troy. I watch them fling the shrieking babe into the flames. Why not? She and the babe are their enemies. But even across those thousand and more years, I can see the fire's reflection shining on her cheeks, wet as they are with tears.
"I see the ending in the Rape of Nanking when the bodies of infants are impaled on bayonets and held aloft by the soldiers. The soldiers are laughing with horror at their own shame as they raise up their guns, and one man runs a desperate woman through with his sword that already bears the body of a dead child, so that it slides into her dead arms as she falls forward.
"I've seen the end coming as the starving survivors tear at the carrion bodies of their comrades. I see it in the waves of the insidious yellow gas that burns everything it touches, scarring the skin, searing the eyes to blindness, scalding the lungs with agony too fierce to . . .
"It's there in horrors old and new. Across ten thousand years of violent deaths lie the mutilated bodies, living and dead -- in their legs, hands, eyes, in the long waving hair of the scalps that hang from the saddle bows, and inside the little purses made of human skin. I see it as fire falling from the sky, and on the slow sickening of the mind. I see men who are still half children become so hardened that they spit their cherry pits into the half-open mouths of corpses. Look: the bodies are stacked like cordwood. There are the bodies of dead women and dead men stacked high, their hands wired helplessly behind their backs . . .
"The war is coming now. And running ahead of the bullets the dogs come, mouths open to eat it up. The weredogs, with their tongues lolling, are leading us on. "Eat! Eat," they bark. "Give us more dead to eat! Feed us hungry dogs." But they are not all dogs, are they?
"How can we hold back the oncoming wave? Will you leash those dogs? Loop the chain around them, if you can. They are unclean, but they are immortal. If they cannot be killed, then let us chain them where they can leap and bark alone. Catch them if you can. Catch them now or someday they will run so far you cannot catch them ever again. That day is soon.
"Wake up! They are coming for your children. Women, will you send your sons and daughters out to play among the graves? If they play with the dogs, the dogs will eat them up. Men, do you share this feast, or will you abstain ... "
The old man is on his knees now, and only the whites of his eyes are visible under his reddened lids.
He falls on his side, his mouth still working, and his words, never entirely clear, become wholly unintelligible as the spit and foam run down his chin.
The audience becomes restless. Those farthest from the makeshift platform get up and go. They are the ones who had made that little disturbance earlier, and some of them are muttering to each other about a refund.
Couples in the middle of the room begin to stand up. They look at each other and some of them shrug. Most stop and watch silently as a man and woman come in and examine the ancient speaker. The woman kneels down to take his pulse, then shakes her head. The young man picks up the twitching body and carries it away. Someone begins turning out the lights, one by one.
At a distance, a dog begins to bark,
I'm sorry we came. Sorry I heard all this. I want to go home.
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