John’s mouth said, “Okay” but his eyes said, What makes you think you can just walk away?
“Let’s order a pizza.”
THE PIZZA TASTED like rotten eggs. Just to me, not to John. The rest of that week, every meal smelled like formaldehyde or paint thinner. I decided it was them, messing with me. Punching random buttons in my brain. When they got bored with that, they switched senses. I would hear my name as I drifted off to sleep, as if spoken six inches from my ear. Over and over again.
Molly started to get agitated, growling at things in the darkness, prowling around our bed at all hours of the night as if keeping watch. Early one morning she woke me up, pressing her wet nose against my elbow. I went to let her outside, and she went sprinting down the street. She didn’t look back.
Not long after that, they—whoever “they” were—tried something new. The radio. I would hear entire songs changed, twisted. I got dancey and lighthearted beats under lyrics about prison rape or incest and, once, a version of “Stairway to Heaven” with my name edited in throughout. This new version that blared over the speakers of a busy shopping mall (though only I heard it, of course) was a list of all my chronic sins and vices, a musical rundown of all the reasons I, David Wong, was destined for Hell. It got to me, I admit. Even if their version of “Stairway” barely rhymed. What rhymes with masturbation?
I slowly came to the realization that these shadowy beings had the crude sense of humor of fourteen-year-olds.
That’s when things started to disintegrate between me and Jen. Our entire relationship had been a process of slow disintegration, I think. She knew something was up, mainly because there were so many more ’80s power ballads around the house than usual. She pestered me until I came clean and told her what was going on.
She nodded and said she understood, then left to go to her friend Amber’s house, ostensibly to help out with Amber’s new baby. She seemed to have taken all of her clothes with her, though, and didn’t come back that night. I sat there, depressed, thinking about coming home to the silent house night after night. Without even Molly for company.
On an evening a few weeks later, I was driving home from work with one thought cycling through my brain: I would go to the grocery store, buy a pie, and just eat the whole thing. In one sitting. A whole pie.
My radio was playing a supernaturally reworked version of an ’80s song by some Duran Duran soundalike band. It was the one with the word “Africa” in the chorus, and this version had been twisted into some kind of a racist diatribe against blacks. I tried to block it out, turning my attention to the call. Toto, that was the band’s name.
My cell phone rang.
Shocked, as always, that I had actually left it on, I fished around inside my jacket for the chirping thing. Caller ID showed John’s number. I punched the button and said:
“Dave, glad I caught you. I just got a call from my uncle. He’s asked us to come in on a case. Like consultants.”
“Your uncle? The exotic dancer? Exactly what kind of ‘consulting’ would we be doing?”
“No, no, Uncle Drake. The cop. They got weirdness and they want us to come look at it. The crime scene is at Eight-eighteen West Twenty-third Street. By the mall.”
This stopped me. The cops called us? What, they got a ghost they want us to check out? Like we’re fucking Scooby-Doo?
“No. We talked about this. I’m going home to eat a pie.”
“I think they found Molly.”
Molly? What, did she steal another car?
“Come get me. See you in a few.”
“I’m not going, John. I—”
I was talking to a dead phone.
I cursed and rubbed my forehead. The radio sang its bigotry in perfect ’80s pop harmony.
Let’s send ’em aaallllllll ba-ack to Aaaaafrica . . .
I reached down to the knob, to find the radio was already off.
Here we fucking go.
I PICKED UP John at his building, since it turned out his supernatural powers couldn’t stop the bank from repossessing his motorcycle.
We turned onto 23rd Street, a lineup of perfect new houses with trendy coffee-cream-colored siding and a shiny SUV in each driveway. Finding the house was easy—it was the one with the swirling red-and-blue cop lights out front, the collected cop cars making it look like the ship from Close Encounters had landed there.
One guy tells us to turn back, and we go, I thought as we pulled up a block away from the commotion. Any one of those guys says “boo” and we turn around and never come back here.
We passed a blue Jeep in the driveway, license plate STRMQQ 1. John studied it, frowning a little. Four cops stood out on the front lawn, looking unsure, like they all needed each other’s armed company right now. Eight eyes landed on us.
“Don’t worry,” John said to them. “We’re here.”
Each cop was individually pissed off by that, I could see, and it was only the arrival of John’s uncle Drake that spared us the confrontation with these guys who clearly had no idea who we were. Drake was a big guy, with a uniform that stretched and bulged around the middle. He sported an uneven mustache that I think he grew to cover a scar on his upper lip.
“Hey, Johnny. I really appreciate you comin’ by like this.”
He gave John a hard, manly handshake.
“So what’s goin’ on?”
“Do you, uh, know whose house this is?”
“Strom Cuzewon?” John offered.
A moment of confused silence from Drake.
“Um, no. It’s Ken Phillipe, the Channel Five weather guy.”
“Oh,” said John, seeming unsatisfied. I glanced back at the plates, STRMQQ 1.
“The Qs are supposed to look like a pair of eyes,” I informed John. “The license plate means ‘Storm Watcher.’ ”
John looked at the plates, then back at me, then at the plates again. I noticed for the first time that the big bay window into the living room of the house had been bashed in, the curtains behind it rustling in the breeze. Finally John said, “So somebody killed the weather guy?”
Drake grunted. “Sorta. Damnedest thing you ever saw.”
“I highly doubt that.”
“We ain’t been inside the house yet. There’s this, dog.” To me he said, “John here said he thought it sounded like yours.”
I couldn’t see around the bay window curtains, so I walked up to the front door and peered into the decorative little window, into the living room. A girl sat on an overstuffed leather couch, maybe a few years younger than me, silken auburn hair pulled into a ponytail. Little wisps of bangs drifted down over her smooth forehead, just above her gorgeous almond eyes. She wore cutoff sweatshorts and had the most perfect pair of tanned thighs I have ever seen. I felt my hand instinctively go up to straighten my hair and I was suddenly horribly aware of every physical flaw on my body. Every ounce of fat, the little scar on my cheek.
If I looked like that, I would wear shorts in October, too. I’d quit my job and spend all day at home, gently caressing myself. Did I shave today?
On the floor next to the couch was a bloody dead person.
“That’s the weather guy?” I asked.
“Yeah,” confirmed Drake.
“Do you see the girl sitting on the couch?”
“Look, buddy, I told ya we’ve tried to get to her in there, but the dog . . .”
“I wasn’t being sarcastic. I just wanted to know if you could see her.”
“That’s Krissy Lovelace, their neighbor. She’s been sitting like that since we got here, frozen. We even tried to signal to her but she won’t respond. Like she’s just blanked out.”
“So she killed him?”
“No, his throat was torn out. By the dog. It’s still in there. That’s the problem. Every time we try to get in, it—”
“Damn,” I interrupted. “It’s too bad this city doesn’t have a special department to, you know, control animals. Oh, wait. We do. It’s called Animal Control. Do you want their number?”
“Wait a second,” said John. “You’re saying Molly did that?” He turned to me. “Dave, we sat there and poked at Molly with a stick for exactly twenty-three minutes that one time before she even growled. She couldn’t do that to a man.”
“No,” Drake said. “You still don’t understand. My guys won’t even go in and I don’t blame ’em. It’s somethin’ . . . unnatural.”
I peered in again. “Well, I don’t see a dog. And I’m not seeing why we can’t just—”
Molly came into view. It was her all right, the rusty coat of an Irish retriever or whatever she was, now shampooed and combed to perfection. Her new owner apparently groomed her more than I had. This combination of girl and dog could make a good living as models in the dog-supply industry.
The only other thing that was different about Molly was the blood staining her muzzle and the fact that she was floating three feet off the floor.
Molly’s legs were stiff below her as she moved, buzzing slowly across the room as if on a track and hung by invisible threads. When Molly came near the door she turned her head my way and in a clear but guttural voice said, “I serve none but Korrok.”
Molly continued to float around the room like a shaggy little blimp.
Here. We. Go. Again.
I TURNED FROM the door. John had this look on his face like this was all routine. Ah, yes, a floating-dog scenario. We have the parts in the truck.
Drake said, “A neighbor saw it, said Krissy was just walking the dog along the street out there and all of a sudden the thing takes off. The damned thing breaks its leash and races across the lawn like it was fired from a cannon. It then jumps through the plate-glass window. She said the dog jumped into the air and tore out Phillipe’s throat in half a second. I guess Ms. Lovelace ran inside after it, started bawling and then she just shut down. Too much for her. I kinda feel like doing that myself. Not the bawling part, mind you.”