It’s always in the last place you look, right? That’s where you’re practically expected to find things, after all: where they’ve got no business being in the first place. I got reminded of that twice in a day. The first reminder was just finding my phone in the fridge. Right not-at-home between the butter and takeout container.
I sighed a soft prayer of gratitude to any gods that might be sleeping in the ceiling before sudden clarity cut short. “Damn. If my life had ever depended on remembering what I had for breakfast yesterday, I could be dead right now.” That’s what I thought. Almost as if on cue, the sound of clinking metal tags and dull nails on the floor traveled into the kitchen.
My mouth curled into a completely non-negotiable smile before I even turned to lay eyes on Roger. His coat still held some leftover shine from the last bath, but what gleamed more were his curious yet focused eyes. Ears raised, head tilted, golden and gazing into my soul with all the charmingly doggish intrigue they could hold.
Roger, like all good dogs, could read my mind effortlessly. Those ink pools in his eyes keep secrets I’ve never needed to speak. I return Roger’s focused stare with one of my own. I even mimicked his head tilt to go for full flattery.
Almost every dog owner I’ve ever known has talked about how well their dog can read them at some point, but I’d never heard of one being caught at the exact moment of its canine psychic reading. I suddenly couldn’t help but wonder what it must look like in real-time. Roger, with his eyes already locked on me and his tail beating in a relaxed rhythm, was clearly already enjoying a buffet of unspoken information.
I wanted to see if his face would change if I imagined a direct question that concerned him.
“Do YOU remember what you ate for breakfast yesterday morning, Roger?”
In an instant, Roger’s focused stare and closed snout unraveled into his trademark doofy panting face. My eyebrows raised a bit at the timing, but I figured that he must be hungry for his usual bowl of dry kibble cereal.
“Yes. For breakfast, I consumed the flesh of an adolescent rodent. Its spirit was admirable to the end. “
I blinked twice. Roger hadn’t stopped panting.
Without looking away from Roger, I curled my index finger and thumb into a decent-enough pinching claw for dream killing. Just a light pinch to the cheek to wake up. Two pinches. Still there. Roger stopped panting to lick his nose and resumed.
I quickly ran down a mental list of every mind-altering substance that could have possibly entered my blood stream directly or indirectly within the past decade. The voice returned to cut through my thoughts.
“You’re not hallucinating, Weston. The fact that you can hear me means that you’re nearly sober. It only took 36 years.”
You see, people in my line of work who stay long enough are prone to burnout and irregular sleep patterns. We’d gotten only about 48 hours of downtime between Zimbabwe and Tokyo. When I told Craig about polyphasic sleep, he’d joked that he’d visit me in the asylum to collect his $50 on a bet that I’d go insane within five years.
I patted my left pocket to confirm my wallet was still therewith the money that I definitely owed Craig. Not wanting to waste any chance of self-awareness while psychotic, I thought of another question.
“Do you consider Roger your name, or is it just what you answer to? And since when do you eat rats?”
Roger stopped staring at me to sniff the ground.
“Names are of no consequence. All that matters is the energy to take action for a worthy purpose. The rat’s energy united with my own in its pathway to a greater purpose. There are many energies for you to consume as well,Weston. Far grander than common rats.”
The sound of an ambulance siren wailing in the distance came through my window. It had started to rain.
“Roger, my non-talking dog who is certainly a dog, I don’t know how much of my self-control I get to keep during this episode of sleep deprivation-onset psychosis. But I’m definitely not planning on eating anyone.”
Lightning struck. Roger, or perhaps, what I had called Roger, was sitting at attention. He stared at me just like he always had when anxiously waiting for a treat or head scratches, but somehow, it didn’t feel familiar.
The longer I looked, the more ominous it become. His paws,placed too perfectly parallel. His back, near ramrod-straight despite having zero dog show experience. It was subtle but undeniably far from dog-like. It was too consciously measured. Deliberate.
“It’s not a question of what you don’t plan to do, Weston. It’s only a matter of when and where you will do what you will. The moment of choice requires no warning when it arrives.”
Roger squinted and open his jaws wide for a massive yawn that bore every canine tooth. Even without taking my eyes off him for a millisecond, I had no idea where the decorated sword hilt he closed his jaws back down on came from.
“Now, defend yourself!”
Before I could react, my phone was already in three evenly sliced pieces.