ROBERT TALLEY - THE DOG IN THE PARK
THE DOG IN THE PARK
Five youths had on their fake faces, masks with twisted smirks and frowns, the types of white masks hackers glorified years later. They killed time the only way adolescents can when they have it to lose and to waste. At least, Kathy and Sally felt they could be doing something more productive but yet both were there with the other three hanging out, loitering in a public park.
Kathy passed the marijuana over to Sally, watched her inhale hesitantly. Sally didn’t smoke that often, not like the rest of them, and she couldn’t really feel getting high. She went through the motions anyway. The strong smell drifted in the park, four acres wide. It was a park that visitors could get lost in. The drift of the strong, pungent smell went further than the five could possibly know. The five were friends their whole lives. And they talked the evening away, loud and gregarious, in a park they had to themselves. None of them knew how far the park reached or where the ends of the park were. None of them cared either.
The sun began to settle in the city, illuminating beautiful folds of color in the sky, with light coming off the sun, bleeding the sky with any color imaginable. A sight even more outstanding for the five high youths as they were high. When they looked up at the sky, they saw the world’s biggest Jackson Pollack. And they laughed in their oblivious highness.
“What a sunset,” Carl said rather mechanically.
“That’s smog up there doing the dirty work.”
“It’s our smog that makes us even notice the refraction of the light.” Kathy added glibly. Kathy was the nerd with a physics background, a little smug because she knew physics. “And only in SoCal.” Sally finished. She was just hoping they didn’t notice she wasn’t actually high. Not high yet. Sally always reinforced anything Kathy said. The two were inseparable, relying on each other almost like twins.
On this soon-to-be strange evening they were not mindful of the fast-approaching darkness. Nobody else was in the park; others had already left. The five were alone, but alone together. For all their jovialness, they had a little anxiety, staying up late at 13th Street Park. Of the five, Carl seemed the least effected. He was clear-headed it seemed.
“What is that?” Moose asked quizzically, sitting on the highest level of the children’s playground structure, made of three wooden platforms with a netted, climbing rope attached.
“A dog.” Jack answered subdued. They noticed a snowy-white dog down below, gritting its teeth, sitting on its hind legs, and glaring up at them through the darkness. The dog was not making any noises though.
“It started watching us awhile back.” Carl muttered.
“Awhile back? How come you didn’t say anything?”, Moose said annoyed. “You seem the most alert out of all of us.”
Carl stayed silent, and the silence enveloping the vast park only lent to the uneasiness they experienced. “I couldn’t really tell if I was high or if it was really a dog down there.” Carl tried to deflect the fact that he was not really high.
“That’s lame,” Kathy chimed in.
At first, their inclination was to ignore the dog and continue their conversation, but the lean and malnourished dog started barking every time they started speaking, trying to jump in the conversation or interrupt it altogether.
“What the hell,” Jack said, staring back as if the dog could understand. It was so dark in the spacious park, they couldn’t even make out the type of dog, but they could see the dog was very big. Exchanging glances, Kathy and Sally tacitly acknowledged the seriousness of the problem. They had that connection whereas they could communicate without words.
“We are stuck up here,” Kathy noticed. “The dog is attracting too much attention. People will show up to save us only to catch us with weed.” Stuck on the structure children climb up in the playground with the mysterious dog down below, they did not know quite what to do. They were caught on their little island of a slide, rope, metal ladder, and wooden platforms.
“You see an owner anywhere?” Moose asked. They quickly scanned the park, searching for an owner, but did not see anyone. If the dog had an owner, then the situation would still be tricky. The owner would recognize the smell of weed. Just in case and hoping it would work, they put out the blunt, and threw the evidence in the sand.
“Nope,” both Carl and Jack said, noticing their isolation in the darkening park. The whole place seemed empty, motionless. But the dog started to stir things up. And the cogs of the wheels started to move unknowingly to the five oblivious youths. “This park isn’t known to accommodate late night visitors. Most know to stay clear once the sun moves over the Pacific.”
“No shit, Sally,” Moose responded.
The standoff continued for nearly thirty minutes with the five not quite sure how to get out of their tricky situation. Because he was high, Jack decided to do something. He whistled at the dog down below, “good boy, that’s a good boy.”
Some barks exploded out of the dog.
“That dog isn’t having any of that, Jack. It’s not that type of dog. You think you are going to train that dog to be in Westminster dog show or something?” Moose asked. The two girls giggled.
“It’s nomadic, a drooling street-dog” Kathy explained. “That dog wants to maul us.”
“A bum-dog, then,” Jack quipped and quickly agreed. The dog barked at the notion.
"Okay, then. Maybe this dog contracted rabies or something, but it used to be a playful and friendly dog," Carl continued.
"How many times have you seen it here?", Kathy asked. Kathy was beginning to become suspicious of Carl. Carl was always a little off. His timing was always off as well. Sally noticed it too, but she was getting too high to make anything of it.
"Oh, I don't know," Carl replied slowly in a drawn-out voice, staring at the dog down below. “More than a few times. I have to come here for my little nephew’s baseball games. I can’t mistake the dog. It kinda looks like a thin polar bear.”
“You have a nephew…”
The beast started barking loud at Carl as if responding, interrupting Kathy. Each bark echoed angrily in the park, bouncing off a faraway brick wall separating the sandbox from a stretch of identical suburban houses. They stood frozen, staying silent, and the dog slowly stopped barking as if showing self-awareness.
Jack faked jumping off the playground structure to observe the dog’s reaction. And in doing so, he almost slipped and nearly fell off, losing his shoe. The dog flinched and showed the beginning movements of an attack, saw the shoe flip end-over-end and hit the ground. Within seconds, the dog pounced on the black shoe and ripped it up with its teeth and mouth.
“Damn, that shoe was expensive.” Jack lamented.
“This dog has been neglected for a while.” Moose observed.
“It’s difficult to tell in the dark. And many dogs are just lean” Carl replied.
“Focus. Whatever the case, none of that provokes any sympathy from us. We are now stuck in a zero-sum game: us or the dog in a battle of will and attrition.”
“Very dramatic, Kathy. As always,” Jack said sarcastically.
“Is this dog, homeless?” Carl asked quizzically.
The dog barked loud again as if offended at the question.
“Bum-dog!” Jack yelled.
The dog barked even louder.
“Perhaps, this park is its home. I don’t really see anybody else here except us”, Carl somehow knew.
Sitting atop the playground structure near the entrance to the slide, looking oversized as if they could break and fall through the wooden beams holding their lanky bodies up, the distressed five plotted their next move. “Our first strategy is to out-wait the lean dog. Maybe the dog will become bored or even forget why its angry,” Moose said.
“Forget why it’s angry? I doubt that Moose. The dog isn’t dumb. Dog’s like that don’t forget they are angry. They are just angry all the time”
“Just bide your time, Jack. Read something. You like to read all the time. We are surrounded by weeks-old newspaper.”
Jack reluctantly picked up a recent newspaper with a few pages intact lying near them. The daytime kids used newspapers under their butts to slide down to prevent any metal burns. A large picture of a woman on the front page startled him at first. “Whoa. She has an enormous dome.,” Jack commented. Sally and Moose laughed. Her domed head and puffed up hair and that face stared out at them. He tried to ignore the image and read his best in the dark but gave up after his eyes started to hurt. He threw the newspaper pages over the rail of the structure, and it fluttered down slowly to the sand where the wolf-dog waited. As it landed gently on the sand, the wolf-dog bit into it and tore the newspaper pages up into shreds with its baring fangs. It was almost as if the dog was trying to showcase its rabidity. As the dog made a case for its ferociousness, Kathy eyed Carl, watching his reactions to every move the dog made. Carl seemed unfazed by the dog and not afraid at all.
“I’m not impressed.” Jack then walked with one shoe across the red playground structure. He looked like he was limping. He slid down the tall, chrome slide, stopping slowly halfway with his shoes. The sliding almost mocking, his shoe squeaked against the stainless steel each time he resisted his body's momentum down. “What the hell are you doing? That noise is piercing my ears,” Moose complained.
The dog started barking again, running over excitedly to the other side of the playground structure. It jumped on the slide, trying to run up. And its body slid back down quickly, creating a running-up-the-escalator repetitive motion. Jack barked back at the dog. “How you like them apples?!" The dog, quickly confused, stopped running up the slide and sat still waiting for Jack to do something else. Moose held in a slight laugh.
“I suppose we are going to just out-wait this dog” Moose interrupted. The dog just sat there waiting for the next move. “This must have been what the soldiers felt like in trench warfare: boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror.”
“Speak for yourself. I’m not scared,” Carl said. They all looked at Carl and did not say anything.
More time elapsed as they waited, bored. As time passed, their optimism faded. “I'm about to be mauled to death in this park. Nobody will ever know what happened” Jack muttered slowly.
It barked again, breaking his thoughts. Jack barked back. This time with more aggression.
“Stop that. You look stupid,” Moose said.
Jack stopped mock-barking the rabid dog while a cat climbed down the bark of a large tree thirty feet from where the five sat in the playground structure functioning as a castle. The stealthy white cat with yellow stripes paused to look at the dog, which turned its head, noticed the cat but did not give chase. The cat, recognizing its chance, was gone in an instant.
“Weird. It didn’t even care,” Moose observed.
“That cat was stuck in that tree like we are stuck here,” Jack said.
Carl looked concerned that the dog ignored the cat completely. Kathy noticed his concern.
“I’ve never seen that before...I mean for a dog to be disinterested like that…”
Just then another seemingly random event happened on the heels of the cat sighting. A green car in the distance sped off, tires screeching, the driver recklessly speeding away from the park. All five waited to observe what will happen. The dog did not chase the green Honda Accord either. Two events in a row that the dog was not interested in. This made the situation even more strange for the five stuck in the park.
“Why are you so obsessed with us?!” Jack yelled at it.
Sally and Kathy were almost expecting an answer from the dog.
But it just kept staring at them.
“One of us has to run for it,” Moose declared.
“I’ll do it,” Jack offered. “I think I can run for that ...I can climb to the top of it. While I go that way, you have to run for the next slide over there,” he said while pointing to a web-looking rope net that was convex in shape and protruding from the ground.
Jack slowly climbed down the metal ladder and stopped halfway, hovering above the sand. The dog stayed outside the sandbox but waited anxiously for Jack’s next move. He jumped off the ladder, landing hard on the sand, and ran as fast as he could for the web-designed rope net.
The dog duly took note, and started barking, running away from the playground. The rope looking like a net convex in shape was only forty yards from the slide, but the dog closed the gap quickly, and caught up with Jack. He couldn’t hear the dog’s claws hitting the sand, but he could make out a strange noise. He wasn’t sure where it was. The dog gained space on Jack and pounced to bite Jack’s calf. A loud bellowing noise emanated from Jack as some blood started to drip down his leg.
Within minutes, Jack was no more. The dog exploded in a madness and rabidity unseen ever by the other four. Jack was mauled to death, in pieces.
The four were shocked and in abject terror. Their friend had been violently and bloodily torn apart. As traumatizing as the event was, the four knew they had to make their way and run for it. Not mindful that they had watched the whole altercation and wasted precious time, Moose and Carl became a little anxious once the dog turned to look right at them. "Now!", Moose yelled. "Time to run!” They all jumped off the playground structure, landed on the sand, and started running in the direction of the next playground structure.
Carl looked back quickly to track the dog. The dog turned its head, caught the glance and started the chase in a swift, fluid motion. They sprinted to the next playground structure, climbed the little metal ladder with little metal rungs, and waited for the dog’s next move. As they peered almost blindly into the night, they saw the dog running as if it was floating, fast and ferocious. It got excited and charged full speed with frightening speed. The dog picked up velocity. To the faraway eye, the dog seemed to increase its speed exponentially. The amount of ground it covered shocked and awed. Within minutes the barking wolf-like dog was back down below.
“Now what?! We only moved twenty feet.” Kathy complained. “How fast do you think that dog runs, Moose?” Sally asked.
“It obviously gets faster as it runs. But it’s difficult to tell. It’s pitch dark out here. This park wasn’t designed for visitors at night”, Carl jumped in.
“No park is, Carl.”
“What we can do now is throw things, make the dog chase them, and then we can run for the next playground structure and climb it before the dog comes back,” Moose offered.
“No way. I’m not going to yield this position. The dog has the advantage once we jump off and start running.” Carl quickly said. “It’ll catch us sooner or later.” Sally noticed Carl seemed scared now whereas earlier he was not.
“And do you have any better ideas then?” Moose asked, knowing Carl had no ideas of his own.
Before they could finish arguing, Moose threw a large stick that earlier fell off a nearby tree and it seemed to move in the air like a boomerang without it doubling back.
“Now!” Moose yelled.
They jumped off and started hauling ass as fast as they could once they saw the dog fall for the bait. The four ran funny given that they were high. Or maybe just three of them were high. The dog turned and ran quickly for the stick and thanks to Moose’s arm, the stick must have traveled at least fifty feet. They found the next playground structure and climbed, waiting for what the dog would do. By the time they were standing on top of the structure, they could see the big, white dog staring intently as if it was aware it was duped. It jogged back then just sat on its hind legs, staring.
“It worked!” Moose declared triumphantly. “Sort of.”
“Yeah but we are still stuck in the park with a blinding mad dog trying to maul us. We only moved a little bit from where we were.” Kathy explained.
“We just need to keep doing this and then we could make it to the edge of the park and ask for help or run back home.”
“And how many more projectiles do you have to throw and distract the dog?”
“Two. My shoes.” Moose said hesitantly.
Kathy laughed. Carl did not. Sally noticed that Carl did not laugh, deciding to make a run at him this time with a barrage of questions.
“Where in L.A. were you born, Carl?”
“When did you move out here?”
“When I was small. Been here ever since.”
The rest took that for granted but Sally was not convinced. There was a con in Carl’s voice that Sally felt only she heard. And she didn’t know how it was related to the dog or Junction City.
“Anyway. I’ve got a better idea. Or maybe the only idea. The only idea left,” Moose confessed. He pointed to a heap of trash down below with large, heavy wooden boards.
“Don’t do it, Moose,” Kathy said, knowing instantly what Moose was planning.
As Moose sacrificed himself by slowly moving down to the ground, the dog started to notice and began to dig in his claws. The wolf-dog’s fangs began to bare, and a collision of some sort was about to happen. A collision of worlds. The dog looked ready to pounce. Moose stood near a pile of trash that was overfilling. He noticed some two-by-fours, and decided that if push came to shove, he would pick up the two-by-four and whack the dog in the head with it. As if sensing what Moose wanted to do, the dog stopped its slow approach and began to hesitate. “Get ready to start running. Once I engage it, jump off and haul ass to the next slide.”
Carl stayed silent but ready to run. Sally and Kathy too. Though Sally and Kathy were still fixated on Carl, more than the dog, and wanted to run alongside him to observe how he ran.
The dog slowly walked up to Moose, who was about four times his size. The dog began growling and salivating. They were afraid of the worst: that this vicious uncaged dog had rabies. Moose started to get inpatient, so he took a page from Jack’s book, and started mock-barking the dog. Right then, Moose peered directly into the eyes of the devil-dog and saw the irises expand, revealing large red spots from the back of the eyes. The dog mauled into Moose so fast, Moose did not know what hit him. He did not have a chance to grab a two-by-four. It was not a fight but a slaughter. The dog’s violent mauling happened so quickly, the four could not even get on the ground to start running. As they looked on in horror, Moose became of many and no longer one. The terror of it all shocked the four as they stood isolated, alone, and helpless in their castle playground.
When the dog finished mauling Moose to death, it slowly walked closer to the ten-foot high slide structure and stared at the remaining four as if boasting to what it had done. A chill went down Kathy’s spine, and she spontaneously burst into tears. The crying so loud and helpless as it went around the park. Sally hugged Kathy.
“It’s going to be okay, Kathy. We’ll find a way out of here.”
“No, we won’t,” Carl piped in.
Kathy re-upped on her crying, crying harder and faster.
“Why the fuck did you say that?” Sally whispered to Carl.
As the two looked like they were beginning an argument, the dog barked loud, reminding them it controlled the pace of events and would be the center of all attention.
“Why don’t we rest over here and take a minute to collect our thoughts,” Kathy told Sally as she led her across the wooden path that led to the other side of the slide structure. Carl stood up to walk with them but was cut off.
“You stay here, Carl. Let us ladies have a breather,” Kathy said.
Kathy and Sally huddled together to formulate a plan for themselves and conspire against Carl.
“What do you suggest we do?”
“I don’t know. This dog is vicious and smart. It seems to learn quickly,” Kathy replied.
“What about Carl? He ran rather rigidly. Do you think...”
“Ssshh. And yes. I do.” Kathy had the voice of a conspirator with a wicked plan.
The two sat there together, huddled for hours as night became day. Dusk was beginning.
Carl stood on the ledge, overlooking the dog. The dog did not seem to look up at Carl but walked around. Carl looked down at it almost in a commandeering way.
“Hey Carl,” Kathy said as she walked up to him. Sally stayed behind, sitting down and waiting for what would happen.
“Do you know what I see? I see a matching two.” Kathy violently shoved Carl over the playground ledge. Carl hit the sand with his chest; his face in the ground.
Surprisingly, the dog did not pounce. The dog kept looking up at Kathy, then looking at Carl as if it was processing and deciding on the next decision.
Carl started laughing. He stood up to look at Kathy.
“How did you know?”
“The weed didn’t make you high. As did the rigid, robotic way you run. And you always seem to be a tad behind in a conversation.”
“No matter. You know the penalty for weed in this city. Death by trial…or death at arrest.”
Carl unexpectedly and picked up a two-by-four. He picked it up and swung as fast as he could at the dog’s head. It was a homerun. The wood slammed hard on the dog’s skull, cracking open the head. The dog stammered backwards as if it was dizzy or even looking drunk, falling backwards onto the ground.
Kathy paused after that. She did not know what to do.
As it fell to the ground, the dog’s head fell off its neck, showing chrome-colored wires and a staggering amount of light emitting diodes inside.
They stared intently as the inside of the dog was not made of blood and bones and what you would expect but wires, sensors, and light emitting diodes. No rotting or stinkiness. It smelled of overheated metal.
Silence permeated the park. No more barking.
“But it was salivating” Sally said, looking at Kathy. No response. All fears of rabies subsided and they puzzled more than feared. The dog’s white coat contrasted oddly with the silver and chrome colored parts inside. The three witnessed clean, shiny circuits, resistors, switches, and transistors that worked seamlessly.
“This dog has a different type of virus,” Carl said. “It’s the same dog I’ve seen play friendly with kids at this very park.”
“So, the robot-dog got a robot-virus to make it all crazy like that?” Sally asked.
“It must have.”
“It’s a computerized dog. A machine underneath.” Carl said. “The city uses the dog for multiple purposes at this park.”
“If the city uses this dog to secure the park, what does that say about us?” Sally asked.
“Well....we are drunk and loitering” Kathy said. “And what does it tell us about you, Carl, that you know all of this?”
“What does it say about you that you pushed me off the ledge?” Carl quickly responded.
Suddenly, the decapitated head lying next to its body a few feet away started barking. The barking sounding like a dying electrical toy running out of batteries. The barking started fast and then slowed down, getting quieter. Water shot out and went everywhere like water squirting on a car windshield. Knowing it was a computer-dog, they weren’t grossed out with the water flying at them.
The two girls jumped back and watched in horror. There was still some life left in the dog. The barking got louder but stranger as the head still lie on the ground, flopping around like a fish out of water.
They watched in horror when the dog’s body began to slowly stand up and straighten itself out, facing them. They could hear a winding-up noise like a mechanical toy ready to be released. “Uh-oh. It’s in attack mode. You two made it mad.” Carl sounded confident and sinister.
“But how can it attack if it has no head?” Sally said.
“Just fucking run!” Kathy yelled.
Both ran this time for the perimeter of the park where there were lights and the sidewalk that would lead them back to the reception. They looked back to see the dog’s head still on the ground barking, but louder than before. The body of the dog looked like a toddler trying to learn how to crawl. This gave them enough time to run, creating great distance on the mechanical dog.
“Keep running!” Kathy yelled. “It’ll correct itself and start chasing us.”
Hauling ass down the street, Sally had the audacity to look back again. Sure enough, the headless dog was chasing them. “It’s chasing us!” she yelled. They could hear the barking even further in the distance as the head flopped around on the ground. Even without its head, the robot-dog still possessed the ability to sense where they were and how fast they were running.
Without stopping, the two stared at the upcoming red light fixed high over the intersection. And since the dog's barking reminded why they were running, they ran the intersection, knowing the risks. They could hear the sounds of the metallic paws hitting the sidewalk as the mechanical dog sought its revenge without its snout and jaw as the dog’s head kept barking back at the park. It was spooky action at a distance.
As the dog pushed into an intersection after them, a chrome 1998 Ford SUV came across, driving fast. The driver saw the three clear the street but accelerated through the intersection to avoid the red light. He did not notice a trailing, headless, mechanical dog running perpendicular. The driver barreled aggressively into the mechanical dog, the SUV rocketing down the street afterwards, leaving the intersection in its rearview mirror. They heard the sound of crashing and twisting metal. The SUV was gone. Silence. Sally looked back and saw nothing except Carl standing there laughing.
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