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Bark

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BARK

 

Oskar Söderberg

Copyright © 2016 Oskar Söderberg

All rights reserved.

 

 

Bark – A Short Story

 

Bark was a good boy. He never pulled on his leash, not very hard anyways. Dad got him before me and he became my responsibility when I got big enough. That meant feeding him and taking him for walks, he used to love walks. Bark was my dog for many years until he became something else. Until he wasn’t Bark anymore. I don’t know what changed, but he moved weird, he became angry and would growl whenever I got close. Something shifted inside him, made him do things he didn’t want, at least that’s what I thought. His eyes was the worst part. My dog used to have large dark eyes, the friendliest eyes you’d ever see. After what happened they changed until they almost looked like mine or dad’s, human somehow. Like he knew too much. Bark was a clever German shepherds dog but never like that, not smart like a person, not until that thing ran away from the box.

It all started with Johnny, a kid in the neighborhood. Bark and I was out on a walk, just minding our own business and having fun. It was cold, so I wore a jacket. The leaves were turning yellow. My dog used to love the fall, he thought it was too hot in the summer. Anyways, there we were, walking. Johnny, my neighbor, walked up holding something.

“Want to see something cool?” he asked. Holding up a small wooden box that looked crooked, like his big brother had made it in class or something. There was something strange about Johnny that day, the way he looked at me. His eyes were wide, too wide, and his hands were jerky, like he couldn’t hold them still.

“What is it?” I asked, holding hard on Bark’s leash. That stupid dog used to love people, even kids my age. He sniffed around, like there was something he didn’t quite recognize, his tail was flailing back and forth, slapping my leg again and again. Johnny walked up closer, his eyes staring at me, creeping me out. Why was he staring like that? Johnny had always been weird, but not like that. I should have walked away, but I had to know what was in the box.

“It’s dead, but it’s still cool,” Johnny said, his mouth hanging open, lips wet from spit. The neighbor kid took another step forward and held the box out in front of me, one of his hands moving to open it. Bark went crazy all of a sudden. He barked over and over again, jumping up to put his paws on Johnny. He was a big dog, bigger than he knew himself. Big and friendly. Johnny jerked back and lost his balance. He fell to the ground, and the box fell with him. It banged onto the pavement and opened. Something fell out. Was it a bug? It looked like a centipede or maybe a worm, hard to tell but one thing was for certain. That thing was not dead.

The thing twisted and turned. It twitched and then scurried into the grass on the side of the pavement. Johnny was still on the ground when the thing disappeared. It was much faster than what you’d expect, but Bark was faster still. My dog was strong, maybe too strong for me, not that I’d ever tell dad that. He pulled hard and got away. There was a lot of pain in my arm and then Bark was free. He was barking like a madman and sprinted after that thing, trying to catch it. The closest house had a bunch of bushes around back and my dog disappeared behind them. I remember turning to Johnny to ask, “What was that?” He was getting up from the ground, those eyes of his still wide. There was no reply, he stood there looking at me, as if trying to figure something out. There was still something off about the way he moved. Why wouldn’t he say anything? He turned around and walked away suddenly, not even bothering to pick up his box. I would have followed, but that was when the barking stopped. There was one final sound that came from the other side of the bushes, but that was no bark. My dog squealed in what sounded like pain, it was a cry more than anything. Something was wrong, I could feel it.

Johnny was gone, leaving me alone. What had happened felt strange, like a bad dream somehow? I ran to find Bark, to make sure he was OK. Sometimes he would get too excited and fall down, maybe that was what the noise had been about? He was on the ground when I found him, lying still and breathing hard. His legs were twitching, like he couldn’t keep them still. My eyes burned. I don’t cry easy, but Bark was scaring me. “Are you OK, boy?” I asked. He didn’t move, other than his legs acting strange. There was an ache in my stomach, I wanted to run, to not be where I was. But Bark needed me, he wasn’t right. His fur was wet around his ear and my hand came away red when I tried to pet him, to make him calm. There was something wrong with his eyes. They were still his eyes, but they were looking around like crazy, moving between me and the grass and the house and everything. I tried to pull him up, but he was too heavy, what could I do? It felt like someone was sitting on my chest, making it hard to breathe. There was something wrong with my eyes too, there were dark spots floating around and it was hard to see straight. Everything looked double.

A sudden bark came from his throat and his head moved from the ground. There was a slight gurgle but his legs finally moved, like he was getting better. Bark stood and looked at me, but I could tell that everything wasn’t like it was supposed to. It was his eyes again, different somehow, mean looking. He wagged his tail like he used to and panted the same, but I couldn’t shake the feeling it wasn’t my dog looking back at me. We walked home, what else could I do? There was no more pulling on the leash, he was as obedient as ever.

“What happened to Bark?” Dad knelt down to look him over once we made it past the front door.

“I don’t know, there was this bug, and he chased it and then he was gone and cried out!”

“A bug?” he said, his face scrunched up, like he couldn’t believe what I was saying. Dad’s hand went to the dog’s ear, trying to find where the dried blood had come from. Bark just sat there, happily panting, like always. Only it wasn’t like always. He was looking at me again, watching me. His eyes looked even more different now, almost human somehow. “He doesn’t seem in pain,” Dad said, standing back up. “Go upstairs and clean him off, don’t forget to dry him with the blue towel when you’re done, I don’t want stains all over the house.”

I remember squirming before looking up at him. “I think there’s something wrong with Bark, like something happened.”

“Like what, Gabriel?” he asked.

“Look at his eyes!” I cried out, desperate to make him see. Dad walked around to where I was standing and knelt down again to get a good look at what I was seeing. Just as he got down to look I could see Bark look at me again before his eyes turned back to what they used to look like. It all happened so fast, there was no way dad had caught it.

“They look fine. Stop worrying so much and go clean him off, he’s your responsibility. You shouldn’t let him pull away like that, son!” His voice was stern, like he wouldn’t be happy with me if I didn’t do what he said. A few seconds was all it took for him to disappear back into the kitchen with mom and that just left me and Bark back in the hallway. Those large kind dog eyes looked up at me and then they turned back, back to those staring ones, the ones who seemed unkind, like he went from good old Bark into something that hated me, hated everything. It was just a short look and then he turned from me, he turned and walked up the stairs without even having to be told. He got up to the second floor before he turned back and sat down. That thing just sat there, staring. Like he was looking down on me. Waiting.

There wasn’t anything that could be done, Bark had to be cleaned. Dad told me so. It was like walking up toward a nightmare, every step was a little harder than the next. Something happened to his mouth when I was about half-way up. The ends pointed up, almost like a doggy grin, but not quite. It looked like a human smile, like I would smile or how dad would. Those staring eyes and his mouth twisting was too much, I couldn’t do it. My throat was thick, and that made it hard to swallow, hard to breathe. Another step and Bark made the sound. It wasn’t like any sound he had ever made before. Like a growl but wrong somehow, wrong like his eyes. He used to be a good dog, he never growled at me. His throat gurgled and spat like an engine while the growling only got worse and worse with every step I took, that horrible smile never leaving his mouth.

“Gabriel, what are you doing?” someone said behind me, further down the stairs. The words came through like I had been dreaming, distorted and low. They made me jump, and I almost fell when I turned to look! “I asked what you were doing, young man!” mom said, raising her voice a little. The lump in my throat was shrinking, and I turned to look back over my shoulder at Bark who just sat there, panting like everything was right in the world. Like he was back to his old self. I knew better.

“There’s something wrong with my dog, mom.”

The look she gave me was one she often used, and there was no question about what it meant. “Stop being silly now, you’ll make Bark sad,” she said, looking into my face, without a doubt showing me she wouldn’t be so nice if I didn’t do as she said. It was a look she often used to get me to do stuff I didn’t want, like cleaning my room or other chores. “Come one now, let’s go get him nice and clean,” she added, as she walked up the stairs, taking my hand in hers. It was warm but insistent, she wouldn’t let go. Bark was still just sitting there, watching us climb the stairs, waiting for mom to look away long enough for him to hurt me. She wouldn’t even slow down, only two steps to go. The dog made no move. One last step. I squeezed my eyes shut, sure he would strike out at us, but nothing came. There was no attack at all! Mom pulled me past and turned right, to where the bathroom was, the one we would always use to clean Bark after he got dirty. He trotted after us at a slow pace, his breathing sounding louder than it normally would. The short hallway was dark and mom pushed no buttons to give us light. I swallowed hard, my throat feeling thicker again. That breathing was loud, much louder than it should. Bark’s panting got louder and more intense with each step.

“Are you OK, honey? Your hand is shaking,” mom said, hitting a switch, turning the light on. We had somehow ended up in the bathroom without me noticing.

“It’s nothing,” I replied, glancing over my shoulder to look at Bark. I didn’t dare say anything else, not after having been told not to by both dad and now mom. At least he was looking fine now, like his happy old self. Did I imagine the whole thing? Mom didn’t have to say anything to Bark, he wagged his tail and jumped into the tub like he always did. He looked like he used to but every move he made was slightly off, like he was a large puppy not completely in control. My body shuddered, but I still reached for Bark’s towel while mom ran the water. His was the one to the right, the blue one. First was dad’s, then mom’s and mine. Bark’s was last, at the far end. The actual cleaning was quick and all the gunk and blood and stuff got washed away. It was my job to dry him off and he almost seemed like his old self for a moment. But it didn’t take long for him to reveal his true self. The way Bark walked was still somehow off, and the way he moved his mouth, almost like he was chewing air. Many little things added up and once again showed me he wasn’t my old dog, he was someone else. Something else. Mom was quick to get out of the bathroom, leaving me and the dog by ourselves without saying another word. She sighed and turned off the lights as she left, making it hard to see. I panicked, what was I supposed to do? My legs are short but I ran faster than I ever had before, getting to my room in only a few seconds. The large wooden door slammed shut, making me safe from whatever it was outside, from the thing that was wearing my dog.

I sat there on the other side with my eyes shut, doing my best to stay quiet and not cry. Boys aren’t supposed to cry, but it was hard. My cheeks got wet, but at least I didn’t make a sound. It took a long while of hearing nothing out there before that nothing turned to something. It was the pattering of his claws on the wooden floor, a scraping tapping sound that grew louder and louder until it stopped. Bark had stopped outside my door. He was standing there panting, just standing there, doing nothing but panting. For the longest time that was it, but then he rasped on the door, making whiny noises like my old dog used to when he couldn’t get inside. The thought made me feel sick. He knew, it knew somehow about what my dog used to do, and now it was using it against me to get in. I knew what would happen when he whined like that, and somehow he knew it too. And sure enough, a scream came from downstairs. “Hey bud, let the damn dog inside so he’ll shut up already!” Dad sounded angry and mean, like how he’d get after drinking beer.

I didn’t have a choice, the door would have to be opened, but not yet. Dad would break it down if I didn’t open, but there was still some time, some time to find a way for me to defend myself. Bark would be left alone with me and the thought of being alone with the beast he had become made me squirm and shudder without wanting to. The search was frantic, toys flew everywhere as I looked for a weapon, anything to hurt my friend that wasn’t my friend any longer. The back of dad’s fist pounded on the door just as I saw it, the answer. “You open this door right now or I’m breaking it down!” dad yelled, his voice unstable from his drinks. There was stuff everywhere on the floor and I had to step carefully or I’d stumble and fall. The lock made a small clicking sound as my hand unlocked the door. There was no way to make it back to the corner without running. My feet hurt something terrible, they must have stepped in something sharp or hard on the way back.

I made it just as the door swung open, pushing toys further into the room as it moved. “Now keep this door open or I’m taking it off its hinges,” dad said. His eyes were red and tired, too tired for any more yelling. Bark was standing there right next to him, silent and unmoving. When had he stopped his whining? Dad turned around and went back down the stairs, leaving me alone with that thing. My arms were shaking, I would only get one chance. Was the dog smiling? He trotted into the room, moving closer without making a sound. Why hadn’t I turned on the lights? It was dark, only some light shone in through the crack in the door. Enough to see his outline, even with the dark fur. The light also revealed the teeth in his mouth, yellow and pointy. More of them became visible the closer he got. The sight of them made my skin crawl, and it felt like my arms would freeze up. They couldn’t, there would only be one chance. The thing walked past my bed and then stopped. Bark just stood there, watching me. Then something happened.

It isn’t easy to explain, but it was like something was moving inside him. He stopped directly in the ray of light, making it easy to see him and the thing moving inside the skin of my old friend. Something was twisting and turning inside his belly, I could see it even from where I was standing. The movement inside Bark stopped for a second before returning, this time it was closer to his throat. His mouth opened wide, much wider than what he should be able to. A small gurgle returned and then a yip, like a cry of pain, as his jaws opened wider still. My dog’s eyes bulged. Did he know what was happening to him? Was he still in there? Bark’s tongue flapped around his lower jaw but then it was like it stopped on purpose. The thing looked back up into my eyes and then it spoke, or tried to speak. “Boy, do not struggle,” it said, half-speaking and half-mewling, like an animal in terrible pain.

My breath got caught and there was nothing to do other than stare. Bark had spoken, or the thing wearing my friend had said words, made sounds. The room seemed to get darker and spun out of control. My world came crashing down and a deep breath was the only thing keeping me from passing out. I grabbed my weapon in both hands and turned to swing it at the beast, desperate to make the nightmare stop. It came down from almost overhead and struck Bark cleanly on the head, forcing his skull into itself with a loud crunch that made me wince. He wobbled back and forth as my eyes got steady, the light returned as I remembered to breathe. I did it, I won! The thing was swaying back and forth, still not falling down. The heavy bat had fallen off to the side, showing a large dent in the dog’s skull. It was caved in, the skin broken and bits of goo sprung out between flapping skin framing a gaping gash. One of his eyes were gone, crushed into nothing, but he still didn’t fall. The swaying back and forth continued, and a sound erupted from somewhere in his throat. Things moved inside him, it looked like large insects worming around, making his skin bulge all over. Why didn’t he die? Bark’s swaying stopped, and he took another step forward. I wanted to scream, my old dog was coming for me and as he moved his head changed. The large dent moved back out. I closed my eyes and tried to wake up from the nightmare.

“You shouldn’t have done that, boy,” the thing growled. “Now I will make it hurt.” My mouth opened to let me scream, but no sound came. It talked again, its limp jaw flapping up and down. It was only a step away. I had to run, but couldn’t move. Bark had me cornered, but it didn’t matter. I was frozen, there was no way for me to even shift my weight. The heart in my chest was thumping and thumping, beating too hard. My chest was so tight, but it didn’t matter then, it wouldn’t hurt for long. The bloody mess moved even closer, now in reach. Everything was wrong, wasn’t he still my dog in there somewhere? I remember thinking Bark had returned, but I’m not sure why. I peered down to look at him and there he was. That happy boy doggy was back, panting and wagging his tail. He tilted his head to the right, just like he used to.

The thumping didn’t stop and my shirt was wet. Sweat? My breathing was so quick, even faster than when I run a lot. Everything felt wrong, but there he was. Standing there waiting for me to do something. It had to be real. I tried to smile down at him and reached with my hand to pat his head. It was shaking so much that even my fingers couldn’t stay still, but I still reached. He had to be back. Slowly. Inch by inch. My hand reached and touched his fur. It was wet. Why was it wet? I turned my fingers to look. Red, so red. That was when he hurt me. I blinked and his head was caved in again, but that didn’t stop him. His flapping jaw snapped shut and my hand was stuck. Pain struck, terrible. It hurt so bad but then I could finally scream. I screamed and screamed but Bark wouldn’t let go. My knees bent and then I don’t know what happened, but I was on the floor.

The door flung open, and I saw dad through my tears. He said nothing but ran in and kicked Bark in the side without hesitating for even a second. The big furry thing crashed into a bunch of toys and made another crunching sound. Everything was turning dark again, but I felt dad pick me up and carry me out of the room, back into the light of the corridor. My head was spinning and I couldn’t understand what I was seeing when I held out my hand in front of my face. Stuff was missing from it, important bits were gone but I couldn’t figure out what exactly had happened. It didn’t matter, dad had saved me. My vision was blurry and turning darker and darker. It finally turned to black and then I don’t remember.

I woke up somewhere else, a hospital. My hand was wrapped in white, so much that I couldn’t even move it. Mom was there in a chair and she said something I couldn’t make out. Everything spun. Dark again. Then someone I didn’t know carried me outside. It was dark out. Mom’s car stood by the street and we got in. The man helped with my belt and I tried to say thanks, but my lips were heavy, making it hard to talk. Mom leaned over and said thanks before the man closed the door on my side. She sat there for a while, crying while looking at my hand. “I’m so sorry, honey. Everything is OK now. Dad is away to take care of Bark. I’m sorry but your dog will be gone when we come home in, we can’t keep him after what happened,” she said, sobbing in between words.

“Bark gone?” I asked, mumbling with my heavy mouth. She nodded and put her hands on the wheel. Thank god, everything would be fine. Dad had saved me. The dark came back and the next thing that happened was the car door opening, we were already home. Dad leaned into the car and undid my buckle. “Hey son, welcome home. I have a surprise for you!” His tone was strange but I couldn’t figure out how. Mom gave him a strange look but said nothing. We walked inside, dad carrying me. The spinning was still there but a lot less. He opened the front door, and we walked in together, mom and me exhausted from the trip to the hospital. My dizziness kept getting better, but it was still hard to focus when dad put me down and my knees buckled. Mom caught me as dad walked up to the kitchen door. “Surprise!” he yelled, opening the door to reveal what was on the other side. It was the thing. Bark. He was standing there, his tail wagging left and right. The dog stepped around, going back and forth, excited to see us. His face and head was like they should be. But that wasn’t enough. He still wasn’t right. I could tell that he still wasn’t my dog.

“Why dad?” I asked, screaming. “He bit me!” Dad walked over to the dog and sat down, almost losing his balance. There it was. The little step he did to keep upright. It was unnatural, like Bark’s.

Dad sat with his arm around Bark’s neck. “He’s fine now, look how happy he is!” The smile on his mouth was too wide, there was too much teeth showing.

“What the hell are you thinking?” mom screamed. “He lost two fingers!” She pointed to my bandaged hand. Red seeped through.

The smile on dad’s mouth disappeared into a thin line. “Honey, the dog is fine now,” he said.

Mom replied, “It’s not fine! Get rid of it, now!” Dad didn’t seem to like her reaction. He stood and came over, the animal that wasn’t Bark any longer stood waiting. His tail had stopped, he didn’t look so happy anymore.

“Come honey, let’s talk in the kitchen. No fighting in front of the boy,” he said, pulling at mom’s arm.

My eyes opened wide then I figured what he was trying to do. “Mom, no!” She looked down at me with a small smile. He couldn’t take her too!

“Just wait out her for a moment while I talk sense into dad,” she said, her voice low, almost sad. She stood and pulled my hand away, I hadn’t even noticed grabbing her dress with my other hand. She walked in with dad in front and they closed the door behind them. That’s when the dog growled. I ran.

“Where did you run to?” I asked, trying to make my voice smooth and comforting. The kid was in shock. His little body shook and his wrapped hand looked like it bled under the bandages. Had the dog scared him so bad he made up stories so he wouldn’t have to go home? Most boys don’t run away from home before they’re in their teens, at least. What a mess. He came running out of the bushes, right into the road. Thank god for my coffee enhanced reflexes. A cop car can inspire confidence, everyone knows cops are supposed to protect and serve. Getting the address out of the skinny boy wasn’t easy, but it had to be done. I hoped his parents could shed light on what was going on, he was delirious, talking about monsters and possession.

We found the house. Everything looked all right from the outside, the lights were on and someone stood by the window. The boy visibly shook by then. Not a great sign. Still, he got out of the car with me but wouldn’t walk closer without holding my hand. Cute. We stepped up to the door and had barely rung the bell before the door opened.

“Good evening,” I said. “I found him running around outside, thought it best to return him. Is everything all right here?” The woman had a nervous air around her, jittery like. She knelt to hug her kid and seemed happy to have him returned. Both of them cried, and she needed a moment to collect herself.

“Everything is fine officer, thank you so much for bringing my son home.” Her hand went to pat his head which seemed suddenly to spook the kid who pulled away. “He’s hurt and ran away. We called you guys already, hoping that you would have found him.” Sometimes you get a feeling. Something deep in your gut tells you that something is wrong. A wailing kid is one thing, kids can be stupid, but there was something else. It was hard to put your finger on it, something about her seemed off.

“Where’s your husband, ma’am?” I asked, trying to keep the conversation going. The kid pulled away from the woman and did a disappearing act into the house somewhere.

“He’s around. Thank you so much officer, but we should get to sleep now. It’s been a long day.”

“Have a good night.” The door closed, and I got left alone. It nagged at me, was that boy all right? Where had the husband gone? Shouldn’t the dog have come running to the doorbell? The cold wind brought on a shudder and it felt good to be back in the prowler with the lights on. A hunch made me place the call. There had been no reports of a missing boy. All kinds of alarms went off in my head as I ran back to the house. The light inside was gone. My fist almost made the wood of the door bend as I knocked with the back of my fist, but there was no reply. It was one of those cheap doors that couldn’t even keep a determined kid out. My weight was more than enough to smash it open and I stumbled into the house that had seemed so light and welcoming only a moment ago. There was little of that left, the whole place was dark and there were no signs of anyone.

“Hey kid! You in here?” I yelled. The words bounced around on the walls.

“Shh, be quiet!” The sudden sound sent a shiver down my neck and made me jump into the air right where I stood. The kid’s voice had rung out from outside the front door, had he gotten out somewhere else? Is that why he had ran? The darkness outside made it hard to spot him in his hiding place behind some of the bushes that lined the house walls. “Pst, down here,” he said. And there he was, so tiny and fragile. “The back door was open, where are they?” he asked, his tone of voice sounded murky, fearful. Too scared, a kid shouldn’t have to feel what he was feeling right at that moment.

“It’s OK now, I’m taking you with me,” I said, trying to sound confident and reassuring.

He stood and walked over to peer inside the dark house. “They left after me but went the wrong way. Bark will find me if we don’t hurry. Please lets go somewhere else before they come back,” he pleaded, even pulling on my pant leg. A situation like in that house is not something you turn your back on, but the kid’s safety was priority one, so I took him back to the prowler. My flashlight lit up the surrounding area pretty well, but there were no signs of anyone even then. It wasn’t until I was already in the car that I saw them. The kid looked catatonic by then, he wouldn’t even look up from the dashboard. His parents were up there, on the second floor. Standing by the window, motionless. Another sweep with the flashlight revealed the dog as well, his eyes reflecting the light from where he sat, right on the front porch. By then the kid was hunched over, hugging his own legs. It would have been best to go have a stern talk with the parents right away, but it seemed heartless to leave him in the car all alone. Not to mention that he was hurt. I hadn’t spotted it outside in the dark, but under the car’s light it became apparent that he had been bleeding quite profusely. He stopped me from looking for a wound, said it was his ear of all things, but couldn’t explain how he had hurt it. Poor kid.

“Rough night for him then,” the Captain said after the briefing had ended. What a mess. “We sent a few cruisers over there right when you called it in, but it seemed empty. Don’t worry though, we’ll find them.” He sighed and leaned back in his chair. “So what do you think? Cult or something?”

“I don’t know, maybe. Didn’t meet the husband. The kid got so scared that he was hallucinating, either that or he was embellishing the hell out of that story to get my attention.”

“He’s a kid, it’s what they do,” the Captain replied. “Social services are here, they’ll handle the kid.” Just as he said it, a homely looking woman walked past, she held the hand of that small boy. His hand had been checked out, and they had found some clean clothes for him to wear, several sizes too big. I waved, but the kid ignored me, must be tired. Only a small dot of dried blood remained, just below his ear-lobe. The two officers watched them walk out of the station hand in hand. The kid stumbled right before exiting the door but the social services lady caught him. No harm done.

About the author

 

Oskar is a Swedish writer with A Lone Smile being his debut novel. To be an author has been a dream of his for quite some time, but it took years to actually put pen to paper. Who knew you actually had to write to be a writer? Several more novels are in the making with Going Through Stuff (working title – Yes, the main character can sort of phase through walls) being next in line. A book about high school kids getting lackluster powers which they are equally terrible at using.

 

Read on for sample chapter of A Lone Smile

 

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CHAPTER ONE

Messages

The key didn’t fit. Odd. He used it to lock the front door when he left only a few hours earlier. “Hey Kayla! My key doesn’t work. Let me in!” The back of Mark’s fist hammered on the door but only silence came to answer. There was a bustling noise from inside but still no answer. Mark let his arm fall back to his side. He slumped against the door before letting himself slide down, twisting until his back was to the blue painted, wooden panel. The right pocket on the front of his pants buzzed, and he fumbled before withdrawing his phone. There was a text from his girlfriend. “We’re done. I want you out of my life, asshole!” Ex-girlfriend. Their relationship still carried a freshness seal when they moved in together and her apartment became theirs. It remained so even with him living there. Her stuff left no room for his, despite the fact that almost all his possessions could fit into a large bag. Well, there were always hotels.

“What about my stuff?” he replied. A frustrated scream came from the other side of the door and the locks clicked. Mark stood and moved away, not sure what to expect. The displaced air made a whooshing sound as it opened and Kayla appeared. She only wore a white top and underwear, her face red and blotchy like she had been crying.

Rage was the only way to describe her expression, a clenched jaw and dark eyes. The skinny legs he liked so much carried several dark and fresh bruises, ugly spots on a pale background. Next to one white thigh dangled an honest to god hand cannon. The kind of revolver that looked like it would take an arm or a leg clean off in a single shot. He had never seen her with a gun or even heard her mentioning one before. Her expression was so unlike anything she had ever shown before that it terrified him. Was that the person he had spent the last couple of months with? Mark held out his hands, palms up, and backed away with widened eyes. “Whoa, why are you carrying that? What happened to you?” he asked. She said nothing, instead she used her other hand to swing his large rucksack from just inside the door, tossing it toward him with a grunt. It landed at his feet and she closed the door once again. Several locks clicked. Another buzz. “Never contact me again you psycho!” and then a third message, notifying him of his single-status on Facebook. Harsh, what was her problem? He picked up his belongings and gave the familiar door a final look before walking away, checking over his shoulder now and then to make sure he wasn’t followed. How could he not have noticed her craziness during those months?

The sun shone providing no real warmth. It was late April and spring was just showing itself. Mark made his way to the closest hotel he could find, not wanting to lug the heavy sack further than necessary. That lead to him finding himself in a depressing room that looked like the last renovation happened during the seventies. What once might have been white paint now looked beige, with dried chips of the stuff scraped off in large areas. Holes littered the gray drapes, moths must live somewhere nearby. The stench of stale cigarettes filled the air. Now what? Another buzz. A flashing icon showed an unread message. Kayla crawling back already? Not her. Someone he thought long gone reared his head. Robert lived next door from kindergarten through most of high school, which lead to cultivating a close friendship. College meant him going away. The two of them kept in touch at first, but the excitement of college life made his friend harder and harder to contact. The text was the first communication between them in three years. “Sup! Saw the status, you OK?” Short and sweet.

Mark replied, “Yeah, staying at a hotel for now.” Mark tapped his hands on the dresser, waiting for a response.

“That sucks man, I’m in town. Meet me at Yusuf’s in an hour? I’ve got something that’ll cheer you up!” He replied in confirmation. Excitement was a rare thing, Mark’s day looked brighter already. Mark got to the right part of town and saw his destination, the house itself was in a good neighborhood but looked run down. Not old in earnest, more like it was engineered to appear aged. The marks and graffiti looked too perfect somehow which, in his mind, made it seem fake. He checked his wrist-watch once he got closer, early. Always early. There was no line but the bouncer still scowled at him as he entered through the open door. Music washed over him as he made his way inside, the same Indie-rock trash that played everywhere, and Mark honed in on the bar. A drink was paramount, or he’d make it alone in that shit hole. The back of the bar had assorted beer brands proudly on display on three separate shelves. Indian pale ales, micro-brews and craft beers pushing everything else out of focus. He stood there scratching his head. “Do you have anything that wasn’t raped by hops?” he asked. The bartender gave him a short once-over before pouring a large glass of something light-colored with plenty of foam. Condensation formed all around the glass and he took it back to the most secluded sofa he was able to find. As far away from the dance floor as possible.

It was early, but the bar was getting more packed by the minute. The crowd was already full of ironic mustaches and plaid coupled with wide-rimmed glasses and Swedish rucksacks. The loud music and groups of people laughing, talking and dancing was uncomfortable, but he tried to blend in. Not an easy task for someone sitting alone in a bar. The people dancing almost looked menacing. They kept glancing over to where he was sitting, staring at him from behind their masks of fake exuberance. His eyes darted back and forth, trying not to focus on any one person for too long. Why were they looking at him like that? What had he done to warrant the stares and frowns? Robert materialized from the crowd and made his way to the couch, he turned around as he approached and fell back onto the sofa with a thud. “What’s up?” He began laughing and Mark couldn’t help but join in, his worries dissipating in no time at all. They hugged, squeezing the air out of each other, for a moment that lasted a bit too long before Robert released him with that trademark grin of his. “Man, it’s been ages. How are you doing?” he asked.

Mark looked at his old friend, nostalgia hit and he remembered all the fun they used to have together. “I’m all right, aside from getting dumped? You’re early, you’re never early.” A woman who looked a year or two younger than the two of them approached with three bottles of beer, she sat down next to Robert and placed three bottles of IPA on the small table in front of the couch.

She sat there, studying them for a brief moment before extending her right hand toward Mark. “Hey, I’m Linda.”

Mark matched her smile as he took her hand. “Hi. Mark.”

He looked toward his friend who explained. “This is my fiancée, you’ll love her.” He leaned closer and added a few words. “I promise.”

Robert had remembered his general disdain for new people. “I’m sure I will, nice to meet you Linda.”

He laughed again, always so quick to joy. “So have you found what you want to do yet or are you still as direction-less? Taking jobs you drop because they’re stupid?” That might have sounded condescending coming from anyone else but the tone in his voice and all their history had cemented that his friend held no ill will, he just wanted to find out what he had been up to. If he had changed.

“It’s still the same, it all just seems stupid. I wish it was possible to do a Walden and settle down somewhere away from it all,” Mark replied.

Linda suddenly looked overjoyed. “Oh, I love that book and it fits so well, tell him Rob!”

Confusion scrounged up Robert’s face. “Isn’t doing a Walden backstabbing someone? Or is that a Walder?” He spread his hands as if to convey that he did not understand what was going on. “Anyway, Linda and I, together with some friends, are going on a hiking trip and we wanted to ask if you’d come along, it will be awesome!”

Robert wanted him to ask, that much was obvious. “Where to?”

His friend took a theatrical swig from one of the bottles on the table and let out a satisfied sigh before replying. “AFRICA!” He raised his arms as he said it, like he was trying to physically convey how excited he was about the prospect. “South Africa to be precise.”

Mark’s eyes widened, and he straightened his back. “Africa? Isn’t that dangerous?”

Robert still had his hands above his head. “Might be! Just kidding, it’s safe, we’ll have armed guides and all that stuff. Still man, just imagine it. The jungle!”

Linda laughed along and raised her own arms, mimicking her boyfriend. “Africa!” A thousand thoughts ran across his mind, most of them too quick to process. To leave the US behind and travel in some faraway country sounded like a dream come true. Trekking through the raging heat and dense jungle would be unlike anything he had ever done before. Maybe he would even find answers out there, far away from everything. Mark snapped out of his own head when Robert tapped his shoulder. “Come on man, what do you say?”

He looked up and saw both of them watching him, both quiet. “That sounds great actually, can I give it some more thought?”

“Better be quick, we leave the day after tomorrow,” Robert replied. “Full disclosure, one guy dropped out which means we have a spare ticket. Your Facebook actually showing an update made me nostalgic, not a common occurrence. It made me remember how you would always disappear on some trail all on your own.” Right. He was an after-thought, but could he blame him? It had been years since they got together last.

“All right, why not? Let’s do it,” Mark heard himself saying. Why not? A change of scenery was just what he needed.

It had been great fun to catch up with his old friend, but the hours came and went, and the two of them needed an early start to get everything ready for the trip of a lifetime. Mark found himself back in the hotel where the silence and his slight drunkenness put him in a pensive state of mind. “Africa, huh? How am I supposed to react to that?” he asked the empty room. It was a dream come true. Traveling might add stress, but that was minor. Clearing the idea with the person who had the last word, that would be a different story. Dumb luck made sure his standing appointment with Dr. Shannen happened the very next morning, convincing her was step one. Those visits were once a staple of his sanity, but these days he didn’t see the point. Mark took care of himself, but without those visits he couldn’t get his meds and who knew what that would lead to? No telling what would happen after such a long time of taking them every single day. Due to some convoluted ideas in his parents’ will his psychiatrist additionally filled the role of banker, she kept her grubby hands on his money, and would continue manage his finances until he hit thirty, an arbitrary age restriction set by his parents’ estate. The weekly allowance wouldn’t even cover the flight, which meant he would have to convince the woman to hand over the money for it. It had been his mother’s idea to let her own shrink transfer over to him in case something happened. Therapy had to be necessary in that case, right? Years ago that might have been true. It started when he was just a kid after what they now referred to as “the accident.” The event took his parents from him at a young age, an incident mostly blocked out. A blurry mass of nothingness remained, and he was happy to keep it that way. Life had been hard before they found the right combo of prescriptions, time and mental exercises. But that was many years past, and he had largely been fine. The occasional flash of something feeling off could turn up, just like in the bar, but those always wore off in a minute or two. The two of them had grown into something resembling friends and she was the closest thing to a parental figure he was likely to get. Mark supposed that he should be grateful, but the thought only depressed him. He fell back into bed and waited for sleep to grab him.

It had been late when it did; the sun coming up and birds chirping kind of late, and Mark was sitting bleary-eyed with a cup of coffee in a pastel-colored room. Many hours had been spent sitting around in there over the years, waiting for Magda to come out and call his name. There was a standing appointment, but it was common practice for her appointment to run over the allotted time. Just as he sat back down after getting himself more liquid pep a grown ass man came out of her office crying his eyes out, Magda was standing behind him with a reassuring and professional smile. Mark knew that smile well. He didn’t wait for the plum psychiatrist to call his name, instead he walked up after the sobbing guy had stopped blocking the door and continued past his psychiatrist with only a nod of greeting. He plopped down on one of her large comfortable chairs and waited for her to follow. The waiting room was sterile and boring, like a hospital, but the office was decorated in rich red colors and the floors carpeted to match, the furniture crafted from dark woods and smelled like oil coating and old cigars. A large desk in the same dark color took up a large part of the room but she would never sit behind it, her spot during the sessions being a large comfortable chair that stood facing his own. She would sit there and talk to him while writing on one of those large yellow legal pads that Mark was sure they stopped making twenty years ago. These days she would converse with him and not just ask him pointless questions about how things made him feel, which suited him much better. Anyone who knew him for any extended period could confirm that Mark wasn’t much of a people person, but Dr. Shannen always put him at ease. A side-effect of being his confidante, money manager, shrink and mentor all rolled up into one. At times he pondered the ethical prospects of their relationship. Magda sat down in her usual spot and folded her hands in her lap and gave him a searching look over her wide brimmed glasses. “So Mark, how are you doing?”

“Well, Kayla dumped me so I’m living in a shitty hotel at the moment, which sucks.”

Magda used the back of her pencil to push her glasses back onto her face in a gesture that Mark must have seen a million times by now. “That’s too bad, she seemed like a nice girl. Breakups are never easy, but are you holding up all right?”

“Yeah I suppose, I don’t like to dwell on those kinds of things.”

Her pen scratched on the paper. “Yes, I know Mark. You don’t sound very beaten up about it. Did your troubles have anything to do with it?”

The comment irked him. “I said I didn’t want to talk about it! I’m OK.”

Magda lifted her hands in an appeasing gesture. “Fine, fine, we don’t have to talk about it.” She wrote something on her pad again. “Anything else happening in your life? Have you considered looking for work? Social interaction is good for you, staying alone and cooped up in a hotel room will be hurtful to your progress if you do it long enough.”

Progress, always with the talk of progress. “Yeah, yeah. I wanted to talk to you about that, well not the work part but I met an old friend who wanted me to come along on a trip.” Mark realized that he was fidgeting with his fingers and sat on his hands so he wouldn’t appear nervous. Doctor Shannen was a sharp lady and picked up on his body language.

She slipped right into a professional smile and said, with little to no inflection, “Well, Mark, it’s great you’re in contact with friends and I’m sure a trip wouldn’t hurt. Where would you be going?”

An intent look from her made him see it was the psychiatrist talking and not his friend. “Africa,” he replied. Doctor Shannen’s eyes widened just a bit at the mention of him going to another continent but Mark continued speaking so she wouldn’t stop him. “Yes it’s far and different but I’ve come a long way since what happened and believe it would be fun.” Magda sat there studying him long enough for Mark to grow uncomfortable from the attention. “Well?”

That watchful gaze continued, her eyes narrowed, but she at least broke the silence. “Well, where in Africa? There’s a difference between Boko Haram’s Nigeria and Morocco, right?”

Mark had to search his mind, he hadn’t been one hundred percent clear of mind the night before, too much beer. “Robert mentioned South Africa, but we would be out in the jungle.”

A quiet thoughtfulness dominated her expression. “I think it’s peaceful around there. Just make sure you take your prescriptions. You will need a note for customs.”

Wait, really? That had been way easier than he had thought. Maybe he had misjudged the woman sitting across from him. “Great!” He rose as if to leave.

Doctor Shannen held up a hand to stop him. “Just call me if you start experiencing symptoms.” She looked up at him from behind her glasses which had slid further down her nose again.

Weight shifted back and forth, from left to right, but he did his best to seem unaffected by talking with gusto. “I’m not sure if my phone will work or not, but I’ll do my best. You don’t have to worry about me so much Magda!” He stood, and she mirrored his movement. There was still the funding issue but talking about money made him uncomfortable, like a child asking for a handout. This time, however, it had to be done. He cleared his throat to speak. “About the costs.”

Three seconds passed before the implied question got through. “Oh right! I’ll wire you some money. Just E-mail me if you need more. This trip might be a good investment for you!” Magda then surprised him with a quick hug. “It’s not like you’ll run out of money any time soon!”

The printer connected to her ancient computer spat out a piece of paper which she signed. Mark folded it and put in his back pocket, careful not to ruin it in any way. “Hey, thanks Magda. I’ll stay in touch or call when I get back to the states.” A hesitant nod was the only reply as he got ushered back to the waiting room which was filling up with the usual mix of deranged lunatics and bored housewives. Mark got to the right part of town and saw his destination, the house itself was in a good neighborhood but looked run down. Not old in earnest, more like it was engineered to appear aged. The marks and graffiti looked too perfect somehow which, in his mind, made it seem fake. He checked his wrist-watch once he got closer, early. Always early. There was no line but the bouncer still scowled at him as he entered through the open door. Music washed over him as he made his way inside, the same Indie-rock trash that played everywhere, and Mark honed in on the bar. A drink was paramount, or he’d make it alone in that shit hole. The back of the bar had assorted beer brands proudly on display on three separate shelves. Indian pale ales, micro-brews and craft beers pushing everything else out of focus. He stood there scratching his head. “Do you have anything that wasn’t raped by hops?” he asked. The bartender gave him a short once-over before pouring a large glass of something light-colored with plenty of foam. Condensation formed all around the glass and he took it back to the most secluded sofa he was able to find. As far away from the dance floor as possible.

It was early, but the bar was getting more packed by the minute. The crowd was already full of ironic mustaches and plaid coupled with wide-rimmed glasses and Swedish rucksacks. The loud music and groups of people laughing, talking and dancing was uncomfortable, but he tried to blend in. Not an easy task for someone sitting alone in a bar. The people dancing almost looked menacing. They kept glancing over to where he was sitting, staring at him from behind their masks of fake exuberance. His eyes darted back and forth, trying not to focus on any one person for too long. Why were they looking at him like that? What had he done to warrant the stares and frowns? Robert materialized from the crowd and made his way to the couch, he turned around as he approached and fell back onto the sofa with a thud. “What’s up?” He began laughing and Mark couldn’t help but join in, his worries dissipating in no time at all. They hugged, squeezing the air out of each other, for a moment that lasted a bit too long before Robert released him with that trademark grin of his. “Man, it’s been ages. How are you doing?” he asked.

Mark looked at his old friend, nostalgia hit and he remembered all the fun they used to have together. “I’m all right, aside from getting dumped? You’re early, you’re never early.” A woman who looked a year or two younger than the two of them approached with three bottles of beer, she sat down next to Robert and placed three bottles of IPA on the small table in front of the couch.

She sat there, studying them for a brief moment before extending her right hand toward Mark. “Hey, I’m Linda.”

Mark matched her smile as he took her hand. “Hi. Mark.”

He looked toward his friend who explained. “This is my fiancée, you’ll love her.” He leaned closer and added a few words. “I promise.”

Robert had remembered his general disdain for new people. “I’m sure I will, nice to meet you Linda.”

He laughed again, always so quick to joy. “So have you found what you want to do yet or are you still as direction-less? Taking jobs you drop because they’re stupid?” That might have sounded condescending coming from anyone else but the tone in his voice and all their history had cemented that his friend held no ill will, he just wanted to find out what he had been up to. If he had changed.

“It’s still the same, it all just seems stupid. I wish it was possible to do a Walden and settle down somewhere away from it all,” Mark replied.

Linda suddenly looked overjoyed. “Oh, I love that book and it fits so well, tell him Rob!”

Confusion scrounged up Robert’s face. “Isn’t doing a Walden backstabbing someone? Or is that a Walder?” He spread his hands as if to convey that he did not understand what was going on. “Anyway, Linda and I, together with some friends, are going on a hiking trip and we wanted to ask if you’d come along, it will be awesome!”

Robert wanted him to ask, that much was obvious. “Where to?”

His friend took a theatrical swig from one of the bottles on the table and let out a satisfied sigh before replying. “AFRICA!” He raised his arms as he said it, like he was trying to physically convey how excited he was about the prospect. “South Africa to be precise.”

Mark’s eyes widened, and he straightened his back. “Africa? Isn’t that dangerous?”

Robert still had his hands above his head. “Might be! Just kidding, it’s safe, we’ll have armed guides and all that stuff. Still man, just imagine it. The jungle!”

Linda laughed along and raised her own arms, mimicking her boyfriend. “Africa!” A thousand thoughts ran across his mind, most of them too quick to process. To leave the US behind and travel in some faraway country sounded like a dream come true. Trekking through the raging heat and dense jungle would be unlike anything he had ever done before. Maybe he would even find answers out there, far away from everything. Mark snapped out of his own head when Robert tapped his shoulder. “Come on man, what do you say?”

He looked up and saw both of them watching him, both quiet. “That sounds great actually, can I give it some more thought?”

“Better be quick, we leave the day after tomorrow,” Robert replied. “Full disclosure, one guy dropped out which means we have a spare ticket. Your Facebook actually showing an update made me nostalgic, not a common occurrence. It made me remember how you would always disappear on some trail all on your own.” Right. He was an after-thought, but could he blame him? It had been years since they got together last.

“All right, why not? Let’s do it,” Mark heard himself saying. Why not? A change of scenery was just what he needed.


Bark

A short story about a boy and his best friend, the dog named Bark. What goes through the mind of a small boy when the large dog he grew up with and cared for becomes someone else, something else. An incident changes his friend forever and something else takes over, turning Bark into a mewling nightmare. Will his parents believe him? Could they even make a difference?

  • ISBN: 9781370454570
  • Author: Oskar Söderberg
  • Published: 2016-12-28 13:05:09
  • Words: 10126
Bark Bark