Play Dead

*All stories best read on nickpetrouauthor.com as “WordPress Reader” omits formatting

Play Dead

+++He starts shouting, so I match it — loud, at the top of my lungs, to the beat, continuously.
+++“Shut it!”, I bark. I am angry now, writhing.
+++My neighbour has been throwing his voice all morning — keeping us all awake complaining about there being no food in his home. How irritating!
+++Just shut up! My saliva hangs viscid over my teeth. I lose concept of time in my rage, and just keep howling back at the fellow over the fence.
+++Then I hear some wretched noise: a sort of complicated growl —— and the clamour ceases.
+++Peace again. I curl up on a daybed, and dream of running.

***

+++I am wakened abruptly from the churning of that thundering metal flap: the strange, mechanical thing that shelters the moving homes I sometimes live in. This audile que means but one thing: my friends are home, probably with dinner too! I could not be happier. Life is great. My body quivers with anticipation.
+++My friends walk into their room on long legs. I can see them through the smudged and dirty see-through shield that separates my room from theirs. My room is so big and interesting — full of plants and life, shade, and blankets. But as much as I love it, I love my friends more, and I love being inside their room. Playing, eating, cuddling — it’s all great, all joy.
+++But wait… wait… somethings wrong. I can feel it in the air, smell it with my awesome nostrils. What could it be? Are they mad at me? What could I have done? I have been here all day, alone, sleeping. It can’t be me…
+++It must be me. It is me. Oh, what have I done?
+++“Hi!” I pretend everything is fine, but neither of my friends notice me. Not a glance.
+++“Hello!”, I repeat, as my quivering advances in frequency.
+++“Friends?” I smile through the dirty shield, adding to it slobber.
+++I see Chris shove Linda. Perhaps he will mount her again? He always does that. I have even been in their room during it — smelt it. They hate it when I watch, get all shy and flustered. Why? It is normal. Like the gnawing of meat and bone, the slurping of fresh water. Why hide?
+++My friends shove each other now, and shout — each time louder than the last. I cannot make out what they say, for it is a wretched, complicated noise — like that which I heard this morning. They are not playing, not mating. Oh… no… They are fighting!
+++“Stop! Don’t hurt each other! I can help! Let me in!” I scratch desperately upon the shield, leaving streaks in the dust and grit clinging to it.
+++Now they look at me, fuming, exhaling forcefully, and spilling further gibberish. I can smell their heat, their sweat. Their bodies are claustrophobic, and brewing in senseless frenzy. They stretch toward me, and I cower under the wooden platform where we sometimes eat.

***

+++I have not seen my best friend Linda in… how long? I have not smelt her smell, tasted her taste. All my snout perceives now is steamy rain, and the coming of the cold. There are traces of a new scent upon Chris, like he has been rolling in lavender — whiffs of other.
+++My food has become dry, and I eat separately from Chris. I cannot be excited about these exhausted meals, nor the dreary manner in which they are offered to me.  All the ques and words I know have been replaced with silence.
+++My friend hardly acknowledges me. I have not been in his room at all. Just out here with the weather. And how long has it been since we travelled in the moving homes? How long since together we had walked to the water and sand?
+++All the while my foolish neighbour loses his head — yelping, growling, crying always. No matter how vociferous my return barks are, the fellow ceases only upon the return of his own friends. If I ever meet the bastard I will tear out his throat.
+++The dark and nebulous sky is stricken with stiff light, and a most terrible crash enters my sensitive ears and boils my brain. My body folds on itself with gut-wrenching anxiety. Urine trickles from me.
+++Again, potent light and a hideous crash! I remember this pain, as if from a past life.
+++“Let me in!” I scrape desperately at the see-through shield. “Friend, let me in. Chris, please!”
+++Shocking light — followed much quicker by a thunderous snarl! And I can see him in there, with his eyes attached to that ghostly rectangle world upon the wall. Can he not hear me? I am terrified! I want to be in my friend’s room — playing, eating, cuddling.
+++Then a wretched and unintelligible warning! My friend’s command is fierce above even the storm. I surrender to it, and crawl into a frightened globule beneath the daybed.

***

+++I have not understood the words of my friend since Linda had gone missing. All the regulars: sit, shake, roll, and dinner — all missing with her. Chris was foreign, hard — like the bland biscuits that sustain me.
+++Thick water falls from the clouds endlessly; my room is soaked, always. The birds and insects: gone. The sun: gone. My blankets are drenched and stale. The daybed is musty, and covered in my own shedding. Faeces litter my patch of lawn: even to me it reeks.
+++But the filth isn’t what bothers me most: it is the boredom, the loneliness. I am stuck in my own mind, lacking the creation to amuse myself. My world is all response, instinct; but now there is no stimuli. I am wasting away in a prison built of neglect.
+++And now, without shame or fear, I beg to live my life. My lack of remorse stems from desperation. I just want to get out of here… go out into the world. I would literally kill to see once again the foaming tides crashing upon a white shore. Oh, to feel the grains course between my toes. To smell concoctions of urine and damp fur.
+++I have become sorely used to my rambunctious neighbour. His agonizing choir has become sufferable, and I can now sleep through it… when I am not whimpering myself.

***

+++I awake early, for the weather has broken a funereal cycle. It is bright out! Oh, finally! Perhaps it was just the weather? Perhaps my friend will play with me now? What a perfect day for the beach!
+++I incite myself with a fuel of internal madness, and flood with optimism. Oh, what the sun can do!
+++And there he is — Chris! — walking toward me upon long legs. Then he says the thing. The thing every grain of my body has been aching for:
+++Walkies!”

+++We fly in our moving home; air dances about us in awesome gushes. Whoosh! And the smells! I can smell everything. Friends… friends everywhere! Flowers… beautiful, blossoming flowers. Oh, and all of it bathed in such light… such inviting, jubilant light!
+++I cast a wet grin toward Chris. “Thank you!”, I exclaim. “Thank you!” But, his attention remains toward the world rushing at us through a see-through shield.
+++Not to worry! I am free now — outside! Things will be okay, always. Life is great: all joy!
+++My elation does not falter. We fly and fly.
+++But soon come to a slow… then a halt. We are not at the beach, but a place I am unsure of. Hmmm, I remember it, as if from a past life…
+++Chris ties me to a rope and we walk closer to the strange place — the place void of brilliance with a hopeless stench in the air. But as we draw nearer I begin to smell that comforting concoction: urine and fur. Others like me? More friends? It must be that.

***

+++My new room is frigid, narrow, and entirely without colour. I am surrounded by my own kind, but none of them are friends. They all shout — each louder than the other. It never ends. Always someone mourning. My bastard neighbour was a blissful caroller compared to these beasts.
+++I cower into a corner, up against the harsh metal grill of the empty cell to my side. On the other side is a damaged creature: one eye has been taken from him, scars line his thorax. I cry and cry: too afraid to be angry at Chris, too afraid to comprehend the reasoning behind my being here. How long have I been in this place?
+++As by a que, the mood lifts, and everyone in the prison rises. Real sunshine streams in through the open frame of an opaque shield, and in walk a family upon their long legs. They flow patiently down the aisle, inspecting us, crouching occasionally for intimacy.
+++Friends?
+++They reach my cell, and a young one presses herself to it. She speaks to me with words I can understand:
+++“Sit.” — I do.
+++“Roll.” — I do.
+++“Play dead.” — I do.
+++The young friend snickers, stands up. Her family say something then, and all hope is drawn from the world. The family continue their charitable stride down the aisle of sadness.

+++This series of events plays out infinitely. Time is absent in this place.
+++Over and over, I obey: I sit, I roll, I play dead. Never well enough, evidently.
+++I see others of my kind come and go. I see excitement turn to terror and sadness; I see sadness turn to leaping joy. And through all this, I remain.

+++I awake to the fiddling of metal upon my cage, but cannot tell who startles me due to a blinding light. I feel a tightness around my neck: a collar, much too tight. Maybe I am being taken home? Maybe these are friends?
+++But the way they handle me is anything but friendly. My frail body is squeezed and grasped by unrelenting hands. I am laid upon a platform: a silver version of the one where I used to eat. It is cold upon my thinning fur. I stress-shed. I whimper. This fear is absolute — far more horrid than any storm I had witnessed. My awesome nostrils absorb particles of dread.
+++Pinch! A thing enters me. For a moment, I struggle. Then it becomes easier not to. I slip into oblivion, and dream of running.

END

Play Dead

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