Up until his transformation into a corgi, King had not adequately considered just how much longer every trip took when you made it with shorter legs. In the snow. With no shoes. He wondered how animals managed it, as his toes were numb and wet. For the first week of regular play with Fox, King had gone home frozen, sore and stiff. Trudging through the snow to Fox’s house, a short jaunt down two streets might have taken five minutes as a human, but it was approaching twenty.
Pete didn’t do anything to help alleviate it. King was most upset about that; in his opinion, Pete made him and therefore should be responsible for his happiness. King ought to be able to eat regular food, use the bathroom inside, and go to bed when he wanted. While he was considering his happiness, Pete ought to give him a king-sized bed with full waiting staff, a wide selection of pretty girls, a removal of all pain permanently and a VIP pass to heaven. If Pete was going to be messing with reality, he might as well be a wish-granting genie.
But even without the amenities, pets got those small things, at least in other households. Most of the time dry kibble was to supplement a diet by offsetting the cost of meat, but pets had plenty of opportunity to eat regular human food, use a human bathroom, and receive an allowance. Although, his pets didn’t receive that when he was a child, but that was because his family was poor. He didn’t have any say in their treatment.
Though he couldn’t help but think that Pete was acting precisely the way King would if he were a human pet owner. King could not help but feel that everything that happened to him, even outside the transformation and home life, was all Pete’s doing, and that it was all allegorical. King might have pared down everything to terrible luck like he usually did, but it so happened that the very first friend that he made here was the one he had attempted to kidnap.
King sat down of the front steps to Fox’s house and stared out at the road. He hadn’t wanted to kidnap Fox. He argued against it, but he want along with it because he was not really sure if he cared. That must have been what Pete was trying to teach him. Or something. Pete was not clear on what he was trying to teach King, or even if he was really teaching anything. He was a little fuzzy on the details, which coincided well with him now being a little fuzzy.
He stopped trying to strangle himself for coming up with that stupid pun when Fox opened his front door. King’s stomach leaped up into his throat and he choked it back down. Though he’d known Fox for a week now, every time he saw him, he felt like he’d escaped from prison and was still human and Fox would run away, terrified. Then his dad, Officer Bill, two hundred and fifty pounds of muscle, would beat the junk out of him for resisting arrest. It was not the sort of mistake one wanted to make twice, even subconsciously.
“King!” Fox said. He only wore his collar with the yellow bandana wrapped around it, making him look naked, since King had expected him to be wearing his bomber jacket so they could go out and play. “Where have you been? Come on in, you’ll freeze your tail off.”
“Inside?” King swallowed. “Isn’t your dad home?” King had always found the practice of pets referring to their masters’ as their parents a little weird. He certainly didn’t think of Pete as his dad, but Fox had also said that not every pet did it either. It was reserved for those relationships that were more parent/child than ruling overlord/terrified subject.
“Yeah, but we’re having a party today. You wanna come in?”
King’s ears perked. “A party?”
“Yes, a party—”
“With like, food?“
“Yes, with fo—”
King barreled past Fox and hurried into the house, where the smells hit his nose like a runaway train with a thousand screaming passengers made out of deliciousness. An assortment of snacks waited on the dining room table, beckoning—popcorn, peanuts, hard candy, Chex mix (the peanut butter kind but not with M&Ms), and the room flooded with the strong scent of cooking hotdogs and hamburgers on the indoor grill in the kitchen. (Though Bill did not so much cook the meat as show it crude drawings of hypothetical fires.)
King’s mouth watered, and he climbed up onto the first seat he could and reached out as though touching a holy relic. He heard a cough from behind trying desperately to be polite. King turned, his mouth stuffed with a fun-sized PayDay. Fox stood there, with his hands out in a presenting manner to the dog next to him.
“King, this is Fido,” Fox said.
“Hi there,” Fido said, offering his hand for King to sniff.
King froze. Fido looked familiar. Behind Fido in the living room, five dogs sat around. They also looked very familiar.
“. . . Fox?” King said, staring past Fido, “Who is this party for?”
“The local K-9 unit,” Fox said, “did I forget to mention that? Sorry.”
The PayDay tumbled in slow-motion out of King’s hand and clattered against the floor. He almost felt naked, but he was naked, and that was the sort of thing one could get used to. What he couldn’t get used to was the feeling that someone would notice at any moment that he was not used to being a dog, and that a supernatural being had transformed him into a dog, and that he had been a PETA member for a brief stint in his former life and the dog standing in front of him right now was the one who recaptured him after resisting arrest and he would know. King knew already that he was giving off at least a dozen reflexive tells, and absolutely every single one of them would point to his former life of misplaced anger that resulted in poor life decisions which somehow led to a life of crime.
“Uh, you don’t have to look guilty,” Fido said, “It’s a party, so it’s not really sneaking food.”
King swallowed nervously. “Eh yeah that’s a real funny thing aha ha ha ha! The thing you said.” He mustered up an insincere smile that displayed his molars.
“His owner doesn’t really let him have those kinds of snacks,” Fox said solemnly. This resulted in a glance, a glance that said You poor thing, I’m so sorry! with all due sincerity. Fido lifted his hands ready to give King a supportive hug. King twitched in a run-away-as-fast-as-possible direction and fell off the chair he stood on.
“Ha! Some police dog.” said a small voice that was not Fido’s but came from his direction. The tuft of fur on Fido’s head moved to the side and revealed a particularly tiny mouse, who leaned on it. King remembered the mouse too, making snide little comments that didn’t particularly coincide with the situation. It was like the mouse was trying hard to justify his home on the police dog’s head by being clever all the time.
The mouse knows too.
Fido shoved the mouse back with his pointer finger. “He’s not a police dog, he’s here as Fox’s guest. Like you’re here as a guest of mine, mostly because you won’t stay home.”
“That cuts deeply,” the mouse said, “you’ve hurt me Fido. You’ve hurt me badly, I am not sure if I could ever recover. Say, if he’s not gonna finish that PayDay . . .?”
Fido sighed and picked up the candy bar from the floor and offered it back to King. King shook his head vigorously and scooted backward a foot. Fido then broke a piece off and handed it to Spo.
King composed himself and got to his feet. He supposed then that there was nothing to worry about, though the warning signs still flashed in his brain as surely as he had just thought them, but he forced them down. Perhaps it was part of small dog anatomy to be really nervous and aggressive about potential threats. It was all adrenaline. He would have to work on keeping it from overpowering him.
Fido turned to the living room. “Kevin, come out here an meet King!”
Immediately King was tackled by a huge Doberman, sailed across the dining room and into the kitchen until they crashed into the far wall. “HI KING IT’S REAL NICE TO MEET YOU!” The doberman shouted in his face.
“AAAAH! AAAAH!” King screamed. He scrambled to pull away from the nightmarish déjà vu that had him in a vice grip.
“Hey boys, play nice,” Bill said without looking up from the grill.
“King!” Fox scrambled to the other side of the kitchen and pulled him out of Kevin’s grip. “Get a hold of yourself!”
King clung to Fox and shuddered violently.
“Kevin! Bad dog!” Fido said, “no tackling dogs who are smaller than you!”
“Uh, sorry,” Kevin said, getting up, “I thought you said no tackling dogs bigger than me.”
“No! Any tackling is for specific contexts only!”
Fox wrenched King off of his chest and dragged him into the laundry room and closed the door. He sat King down on a basket of dirty laundry to put him at eye level.
“King, are you okay?” Fox asked. He sniffed at King’s collar, but King pushed Fox’s nose away. He telegraphed his feelings in body language, but dogs always wanted the scent first.
“No I’m not okay,” King said.
“I had a—” King paused a moment, and considered who he was and who he was talking to. A lie would be far more appropriate. “I was . . . bullied . . . by police dogs . . . when I was a pup?”
Fox sighed. “They mean well. Don’t let it get to you, alright?”
King considered how far he would have to push this lie, then bit his lip. “Kay,” King said.
“Now come on, you need to meet the rest of them—”
“NO,” King said too fast. “Uh, no, could we just . . . get me some junk food and then I’ll just go back home or something. I really have been wearing out my welcome aha ha ha! Ha.”
Fox crossed his arms and glared at King. King’s ears fell.
“Yeah alright,” King said.
“It’s not alright,” Fox said, “you have a serious issue here. You’ve told me about your dad, and you’d rather go home than hang out here for the rest of the afternoon?”
King winced. It was true. Pete, who was bullying him now, was certainly the worse of two evils. He had a nervous twitch in front of the police dogs, but he couldn’t help it—these were those same dogs that arrested him, in the house of the man who arrested him, who owned the dog that he attempted to kidnap. But it wasn’t as bad as Pete; none of these dogs recognized him, because he had changed so much since. At least on the outside. He was exactly the same on the inside and he thought they’d know. Dogs had more senses than humans knew.
“Alright,” King said. He hopped off the laundry basket and willed himself to be calm. He felt himself relax—fresh laundry smells tended to help—and he felt a genuine smile creep back onto his face.
When Fox opened the door, King immediately smelled the scents of the dogs who had terrified him the moment before. King’s ears dropped, his pupils shrank, and he jumped inside the laundry pile and hid.
“Oh no you don’t!” Fox said. He grabbed King by the stubby leg and yanked him out and dragged him across the kitchen floor.
“I changed my mind!” King yelled, scraping at the linoleum floor, “Lemme go home! I don’t wanna be here!“
Fox dragged King into the living room with him still clutching a single black sock. He sat King down on the couch, pinning him to the cushion. The police dogs approached and crowded King’s personal space. He panicked, and curled up in a ball as a half dozen noses poked him.
He was introduced to Sergeant Ralph, the German shepherd and unit leader, in whose police car King had ridden to the police station. Fido was directly under him, both physically and in the hierarchical sense; an Officer First Class since ‘Sergeant’ was the highest rank a dog could attain in the police. King learned all of this as everyone tried to introduce themselves at once, but their scents all in close proximity only served to make him feel like a small lump of Jell-o.
Then everyone went back to what they were doing. It felt suddenly wrong to King, who sat up on the couch, still clutching firmly to the black sock. Now, when he was not the center of attention, his desperate fear subsided into a mere lingering paranoia. Fido was insisting that everyone play a parlor game of some kind. Everyone booed; they were police dogs after all, and they preferred sports. Kevin wanted to play tackle Frisbee outside, but the snow was laid down thick and that was more of a sport for summer.
Kevin folded his arms and grumped. “Okay, what’s your stupid game?” he asked.
“It’s called I Have Never. Everyone gets three markers.” He handed out toothpicks to everyone, including King. King looked at the toothpicks. Were they seriously about to play a parlor game? This reminded him of visits to his Aunt Clarabelle’s house.
“What is this, an old person game?” the mouse on Fido’s head said, “I could have sworn that I played this at my aunt’s hole this one time.”
“Spo hush,” Fido said, “let’s just try this once and then we can do something more physical, like Hide and Seek.”
“Tackle Hide and Seek?” Kevin asked, ears up.
“We are not going to destroy Officer Bill’s furniture!” Fido said, “do you remember the last time you added ‘tackle’ to an indoor game?”
Sergeant Ralph sniggered. “Are you kidding? Tackle Candyland actually made the game fun.”
Fido glared. “Now . . . we go around in a circle,” Fido said, “and you must say something you have never done. Then everyone who has done that thing gives you one of their toothpicks. I’ll start so everyone gets the hang of it.”
Fido contemplated it for a moment, then said, “I have never chased my tail.”
Everyone but King and Kevin tossed a toothpick toward Fido and he gathered them up and smiled. “You see? That’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to say.”
“But I don’t have a tail to chase,” Kevin said. From his looks, he was raised to be a police dog, with his ears and tail all cropped. King craned his neck around. Even if he had not only just received a tail a few weeks ago, his was stubby and not very chaseable.
“I got it,” Sergeant Ralph said next, “I have never worn my sunglasses at night.”
Everyone but King and Fox grumbled and handed Ralph a toothpick.
“It’s true,” Sergeant Ralph shrugged.
“I have never chased a Frisbee!” Kevin said.
“Um, no Kevin,” Fido said, “It has to be something you haven’t actually done.” The mouse on Fido’s head giggled.
“Oh.” Kevin scratched his head. “Then how would I know if I haven’t done something?”
“Probably because you don’t have any memories of doing it?” Fido suggested.
“Oh, in that case, I never knew my own mother!” Kevin said.
King had known his mother, of course, so he tossed a toothpick at Kevin. Kevin gathered up the toothpicks—both of them. Fido was the only other one who lost a point.
“Uh,” King said, “I take it this is a common occurrence?”
“Most of them went straight from obedience school to the academy,” Fido said. “Nice one, Kevin, nice one!” He clapped, and everyone else clapped half-heartedly.
King sat back in his seat, suddenly very self-aware.
“I’ve never been to the academy,” Fox said.
“Awww!” All the police dogs said. The other three that King didn’t know were now out, having run out of toothpicks.
“This is bogus,” said one who didn’t get a turn, an English Spaniel with a proper accent, “Come on, let’s see what video games they have.”
The three vacated the room, and Kevin looked sad as he stared at his toothpicks. “Fido, can I go? This is dumb.”
Fido rolled his eyes. “Okay, okay, but let’s see if King could at least have a turn then. King, do you wanna go?”
King thought escape, but then shook his head. “Well . . . alright.”
He was trying to socialize as much as he could, to try and take the edge off the paranoia. But the more he said, the more he felt starkly contrasted to the dogs. But if he always kept quiet about himself, they would think that he was hiding something. He was already the new dog, and he didn’t want to remain an outsider, not when they were trying to be friends.
“I have never . . .”
He closed his eyes and thought: what did dogs do that people didn’t?
“. . . sniffed anyone’s rear end.”
King opened his eyes and looked around. Everyone was stone silent. Fox turned his head. Fido’s mouth was open. Ralph dropped his toothpicks.
King then realized the implications of what he said, and his lingering paranoia shot back up to full fear.
“Hey!” Kevin said, “What if we played tackle whatever this game is?”