There's a new group of punk kids who hang out on my block.
We got this little shopping outlet on the corner, see, and they're usually in front of the taqueria or Jess's Place, the Peruvian joint that nobody seems to actually eat at, but has been in business since twenty years before I moved here.
The kids hang around at night, drinking the beer they've conned people older than themselves to buy for them (because like hell are they old enough to drink) and smoking (I doubt they're old enough to smoke, either), and just generally looking shady with their baggy clothes and weird-colored hair. Who the fuck willingly colors their hair green? Or pink? And, okay, yeah, maybe that's alright for girls to do-- what do I know about fashion? But then a couple of the guys have neon Mohawks that must take hours to do and there's just gotta be a line drawn, y'know? The ones they have are tall enough to be hazards to low flying aircraft.
And I don't wanna come off like some snotty old guy who hates the young people. You know, "get off my lawn," "pull up your pants," "your music is bad," and all that shit, 'cause I swear I'm not, but there's something really off about these kids. Stuff I don't mind in other kids bugs me with them. There's something really off about them.
Like how none of them actually live in the neighborhood. None of the neighbors are whatcha'd call friendly, but we all sorta've gotten used to each other by sight, y'know? And I've been there long enough to know if someone lives there or is visiting, and none of those kids belong to anyone on our block, or the one next to it, or the one on the other side. And, yeah, I know, "free country" and all, but the corner is small: just a gas station, taqueria, Jess's Place, a Dairy Bell, and a surprisingly popular hot dog stand that sells bacon wrapped hot dogs in the evening. Point is, it's the kind of place that you only go to if you're local and bored and want some good crap food. Why come over here when there are probably dozens of places closer? And yeah that's pretty flimsy, but still, it just nags at me.
I go to the corner store a lot. Not for booze, usually, but for chips and soda and shit. I never remember to go grocery shopping until it's too late, and the place is across the street from the place I'm renting, so chips and soda might be a bigger part of my diet than strictly healthy (no shitting; I can finish off a two liter in a day if nobody stops me. And nobody does). Anyway, any time I go in, one of those kids will ask me to buy them beer, and I swear they must have the memories of goldfish because they ask me every damn time and I always tell them no. Then they get whiny and annoying and it's like, jeez, kid, I just want my fucking Cheetos, and do you really wanna start fucking up your liver so early? I mean, one of my aunts is on dialysis, and it's the most miserable fucking thing.
So anyway, tonight I go to the shop like usual, yeah? And miracle upon miracles, the kids aren't there. I don't much think about it past being happy they won't bug me for booze. After all, they're kids, right? Their parents probably finally made them stay in. Or they got arrested. Or they found another place to hang-- who cares?
So I get my soda and chips and a candy bar because today was tough at work and I felt sorta like I deserved one (even though I've been trying to cut back on sweets lately), and the cashier, Harry (who has been there forever and has never aged a goddamned day, as far as I can tell), has the weirdest look in his eyes when I bring my stuff up.
"You alright?" I say.
And he nods, but he's giving me the weirdest look. Like his eyes aren't really seeing me, but they're seeing through me, looking at something behind me. I turn and look, but there's nothing there but a wooden snack stand full of packaged muffins and tiny vacuum-sealed pastries.
"You sure you're alright?" I say.
And he nods again, and when I try to pay him, he doesn't take it.
"Keep it," he says.
"Why?" I say. Like, don't think me ungrateful, but I was feeling weirded out by now and wanted to know what was up.
"If you make it back tomorrow, pay me then," he says.
If? I think, but before I can do or say anything, he's shoved everything my way of the counter, so I have to catch it before it all falls on the ground, and once everything's in my arms, he rushes out from behind the counter and shoos me away.
"Have a good night," he says. "Thank you, come again."
And he closes the door behind me. I hear metal sliding against metal and I know the door's locked. A split second later, the light inside goes out. A split second after that, every other light on the street goes out. Inside buildings, the neon signs for the stores, the gas station lights, the street lights-- all of them off. Even cars stop coming down the road, so there's no light from them, either. Despite that, though, I can see fine: the moon is bright enough that I'm actually casting a shadow.
I ignore the slow bubble of panic rising in my chest and head for home.
I'm halfway across the street when I hear the growling. It's a deep rumble that shakes the ground and rattles my teeth. It's the kind of deep noise that gets inside your chest and vibrates your ribs. I look around, wondering if a pipe burst or something and see several huge animals coming towards me.
At first, I'm thinking they're bears. They're the size of bears. But then, no, they're not. I look again and see that they're smaller than that. They're just-
-Dogs. Huge dogs, mostly black, but some of them have colored patches of neon green or pink.
They belong to the kids, I think. Who else would think dying dog fur would be a good idea? And it just figures that they'd be irresponsible enough to let them go roaming around at night.
I back up. The dogs keep moving closer.
"Bad dogs," I say. "G-go away."
They don't listen. One of them jumps towards me. I drop everything but a two liter of root beer and swing it around and hit the dog's head. The soda goes flying, but so does the dog. I turn and run towards my building, but one of the dogs-
It's not a wolf! There are no wolves in the city!
-one of them howls, and any sense I have is gone. I'm blown away, obliterated, reduced to a stupid animal, and the animal only knows one thing.
So I run.
The street around me blurs, not from the speed, but for some other reason the animal I am doesn't understand. The buildings are the same shape as the ones I know, but they are not the ones I know. The street stretches out, far longer than it should be. My heart pounds in my chest and my feet pound on the street and they're right behind me. I feel the heat from their bodies and the heat from their breaths. A few times, one runs in front of me and switches sides, chasing me from the left instead of right, or vice-versa. They're playing with me, but I can't stop; whenever I slow, they snap at my heels and snarl.
The street keeps going. I pass the same unfamiliar buildings over and over like a cartoon reel. I try to shout for help, but when I do, I lose my breath to run. Why isn't anyone helping me? One of the dogs gets tired of the game and bites my ankle. I go down. They're on me instantly.
A million years ago, my dad and I saw a story in the news about a woman torn apart by a pit bull. I was a kid-- couldn't have been older than ten-- and dad ground it into my head what to do in a dog attack. So now I curled into a ball, covering my neck, head tucked in, with nothing sticking out for them to grab. Didn't stop them, though. They bit at my arms and tried to bite my sides, but their mouths weren't cut out for it. They tore my clothes-- my sweatshirt was thick, but they were determined.
Then one of them gets my wrist, and they drag me open. I'm thinking that is it. They're going to tear me apart right there on the street. The biggest one comes up to me and puts its jaw around my neck. It doesn't bite down, but it holds there. The others let go. They back away, out of my sight. All I can see is the sky and part of the dog that's holding my head.
Oh God, I'm going to die.
Then I hear laughter. A few of the kids come into view. I can smell alcohol on their breaths, even over the smell of the dog's breath. They laugh and leer and point at me, then laugh some more.
"Did you see his face?" The girl with the spiky green hair says.
"I'm still looking!" says rainbow Mohawk boy.
"Is this your dog?" I say, suddenly too angry to be afraid. They've been watching the whole damn time?!
"Aww, he's scared," says another boy. This one crouches down and pinches my face.
"Get it off of me!" I say.
"Check his pockets," says the crouching boy.
"What?" I nearly holler.
"Hey," says the boy. "Calm down, oldster." The little shit tweaks my nose, and when I try to get up to hit him, the teeth around my neck tighten their grip.
"Nothing," says one of the girls.
"I got his keys," says one of the boys. "He lives in the building over there, right? Which one is his? We can go have a party."
"Don't you dare!" I say.
"Relax," says the crouching boy. "We'd bring you with us."
"Yeah," says one of the girls. "It's no fun without something to play with."
The dog at my throat lets go. I shoot up and am just in time to see it melt upwards, turning from a hulking black dog to an equally hulking kid in black clothes. The boy runs his tongue across his teeth.
"He tastes all sweaty," he says.
I stare, slack jawed.
They all laugh. One of them drags me to my feet.
"Come on, bud," he says. "Let's just get you back home."
I can't speak. Everything hurts, and I can't think. They lead me away, and I barely notice that we're back on my street, across from my building.
I try to figure out what was wrong. Everything is wrong. Everything is foggy. One of the kids is talking to me--
"And when we get there, you have to invite us in, okay? That's important. You have to actually say that we can come in."
--But I'm not catching any of it.
I think I fall over, because at one point, I'm on the ground, and the side of my face hurts where it's resting on the pavement.
"Be careful with it," says one of them to the others. "We need that!"
Two of them grab me and hoist me up again. One tries to grab my head, and I try pushing them away.
"Just kill him and find a new one," says one of them. "This one's so disagreeable."
"We can't kill him here," says another.
"I wanted to play with this one," says a third.
The leader of the group looks like he's going to say something, but then the streetlights flickered. The kids jolt upright and stare at something coming down the street.
Then there's a shadow in the road. It's bigger than a house and takes up the entire street. It's the size of a house cat and was sitting on the pavement. It's furry and black with red tints. It has no fur, it was a silhouette, a hole cut into the universe. It's shaped like a wolf. It's definitely a deer. It is everything and nothing and it was mad.
It lumbers forward towards us, and the streetlights go out as it passes. Every step it takes sound like it's cracking the pavement. Its eyes are yellow. There are no pupils, no anything, just burning yellow fire.
The creature stops before us and opens its mouth.
Its teeth were made of stars.
I'm on the ground again, sitting on my ass and staring at the monster. Next to me, the kids ware all gone, but the wolves are there in their places.
IT'S PAST CURFEW
The wolves roll over, exposing their bellies. They whimper.
The wolfs yelp and run down the way the monster had come, vanishing into the darkness.
The creature looks at me, then.
I AM SORRY FOR MY CHILDREN'S BEHAVIOR. IT WILL NOT HAPPEN AGAIN. HAVE A NICE EVENING.
And then he turns and is gone, too.
The streetlights turn back on. Sound of cars and people and the neighborhood come back. I sit there staring until someone in a Chevy comes up behind me and honks. The driver screams for me to get out of the road, so I wobble over to the sidewalk. Then, after I've caught my breath, I get up and stagger home.
I don't sleep for the rest of the night.