The Last Good Boy
An Excalibur Knights short by Luke Mitchell
It’s sometime between the Darkening and the High Orb Shine when he awakens. The Masters are gone. Have been gone for a while now. Somewhere between a caterpillar’s creep and days and days. The smells are faded. How faded, he can’t quite say. Times are hard. Almost as hard as waiting for treats when the Big Master places them on his nose and makes the wait-for-it sounds at him. But such is life.
With an exquisite sigh, Copernicus rolls over and prepares to resume his nap.
Something catches his attention before he can doze off. A faint wrongness in the air. Not a smell—he knows smells. And not a sound either. No. This is a feeling. Not quite like the feeling that led him up to the High Place at the Pink Lady Master’s house sometime between a few sleeps and an eternity ago. That feeling had been strange and foreign. That feeling had made his head and his insides feel funny. This feeling is something simpler.
This feeling is danger.
Something is coming.
Copernicus rises, a soft growl bubbling in his throat. Too much growl. Can’t hear. He cuts the growl and listens, cocking his head for maximum effect. Nothing. He trots out of the Good Master’s room, claws clacking annoyingly on the hard floor. Always clacking. Clack-clack-clack. Ruining the sounds.
He tries the smells instead. Stale, bitter can-drink and aging crumbs. Nose-burney spray-bottle sweetness from downstairs, where the Scratcher of Tummies slept. Musky scales and cloying dead-mouse from behind the closed door of the Big Master’s room. Nice smells from Big Master’s slithery companion. Intriguing smells. Bear further investigation.
Copernicus clacks closer to the door, sniffing down at the crack, where the scents come through strongest.
The sounds steal his attention back. Low, humming sounds. Far away. All wrong. Not like the growling windowed boxes the humans often ride up and down the dark-hard paths. Different. Not like anything he’s ever heard.
His mind turns to the last unknown thing he encountered with the Good Master many sleeps ago. The scent of deep earth mud and something reminiscent of hot dogs and body odor, tinged with several other smells like Copernicus has never smelled before. Hard smells. Wrong smells. And the Beast Thing that had been attached to those smells, stomping after them on two legs like a giant gray-skinned human…
Low growl turns to soft whimper before Copernicus knows it. Scary memory.
Worried now, he turns for the Great Color Square Staring Room, thinking to mount the couch and look out the front windows, wishing the Good Master didn’t insist on leaving his protection so often, and for so many naps at a time.
A Good Master should never be without his Good Boy.
Copernicus gathers himself and leaps onto the couch. Forcing himself to ignore the mouth-watering salt-and-cheese scent of the orange Crunchy Treats one of the Masters has dropped in the cushions, he leaps again and alights on the high back of the couch, just like the Big Master does sometimes.
Panting from the exertions, he sits and stares out the dark windows, trying to remember what it was that brought him here. He wishes the Good Master were here to remind him.
The orange Crunchy Treats beckon from below.
A deep pulse of sound tears his attention back to the Outside. It’s distant, his instincts tell him. A few hard-dark paths away, perhaps. It sounds like one of the sounds the Color Squares make when the Masters are all gathered around to stare at the flashy lights. It’s joined by howls.
Bad howls. Afraid howls. Howls of the hunted.
The howls are spreading.
But what hunted humans?
Copernicus feels his chest beats quickening in time with his hot breaths.
Beast Things. That’s what.
And if another Beast Thing is out there… If it finds the Good Master and his friends when Copernicus isn’t there to protect them…
Before he’s even aware he’s moving, Copernicus has bounded down from the couch and over to the front door, fear and apprehension clouding his racing thoughts. He tries the scratches. Has to get out. Tries the barks. Tells the shiny Handle Thing to let him free to find the Masters. Tells it that they’re in great danger.
The shiny Handle Thing doesn’t listen. Never listens.
Shaking with worried pants, Copernicus leaps back up to his perch, looks out for any sign of the Masters. He sees nothing but the plain dark Outside and a lone windowed box sitting in the middle of the hard-dark path out front, not rolling, it’s rear end lit with twin red lights.
The dark Outside flashes to daylight without warning, then back again as a wall of pure, furious sound smacks Copernicus straight in the ears. Sound like he’s never heard. The air explodes with it, sends him falling, falling.
He hits the couch cushion below with a surprised yelp, ears ringing, then leaps back up just in time to see the light shine down. Harsh light. Blue light. Not like the thunderclap daylight flash a moment before. It’s everywhere, flooding the hard-dark path, and the houses across the way. Something is burning farther down the street.
Copernicus inches forward on his perch, going paws-to-window for a better look, then tenses and nearly falls into the Tight Space behind the couch as the air splits with a horrible sound like every chew-toy and mug in the world all ripping and shattering at once. Too much. Too loud.
Then there’s another Horrible Sound, and the houses across the hard-dark path shudder and cough their rooftops into the air. Too many broken pieces to count, falling upward into the sky.
Copernicus lunges back from the window to dig his claws into the couch perch, sure that he’ll go falling into the sky too if he doesn’t. But he misses his step, and suddenly he’s falling the other direction. Falling again. Thump, thump, thump, down into the Tight Space behind the couch.
There’s throbbing pains and nowhere to move, but he hardly cares. He can still see through the paneled window wall. Can still see the rooftops falling into the sky, and the screaming humans falling with them.
And the Good Master is somewhere out there, falling into the sky without his Good Boy.
Copernicus whips around in the Tight Space, not caring that it hurts, trying the barks first at the front door, then louder, hoping the Big Master’s slithery friend will hear, thinking maybe they can help their Masters together. Nothing. He barks louder still. Begins crawling toward the distant end of the Tight Space.
Something feels funny on his insides. Something building. Squishing. The air is squishing him.
Then it yanks him the other way, wedging him between couch and window, and a Horrible Sound thunders down—the loudest yet—right on top of him. Cold blue light fills the tight space with a wrenching crash. The smells flood in. Outside smells. Outside air.
Copernicus smacks back to the hard floor and cranes his head around, shaking, too frightened to properly move.
Half of the ceiling is gone, ripped open like the others across the way. And something is up there in the dark sky. Something bigger than houses. Something huge and scary and impossible to properly see past the blinding blue lights shining down.
The huge Sky Monster floats past like an evil cloud, and Copernicus is still shaking. He’s just realized the Tight Space is no longer tight—that the couch has somehow been thrown halfway across the Color Square Staring Room—when another sound catches his fearful attention.
Thumping, heavy foot steps. A booming voice, deeper than any human’s, making sounds that are all wrong. Just like in the park.
No sooner has the thought landed than a great dark shape stomps by the corner of the house, trekking through the front yard as if it fears nothing. A Beast Thing. It’s unmistakable, even though this one has clothes on—dark, hard-looking clothes, like an armored shell.
Copernicus barks before he can think twice. Before he can register such important details as the fact that he is still stuck inside, and that the Beast Thing is carrying what looks like a much larger version of the humans’ boom sticks.
That humming boom stick tracks straight toward Copernicus as the Beast Thing spins, alerted to his presence. Its beady eyes fix on him, then it looks around like its expecting something else. The boom stick stays pointed straight at Copernicus, and Copernicus stays very still.
He wants to bark. Wants to bust out of this house and sink his teeth into the Beast Thing until he can be sure it won’t hurt the Good Master and his friends. But he can’t. Can’t even move. It’s like his body has shut down. Something wet is pooling around his paws.
The Beast Thing begins to shake, emitting a rumbling sound not unlike the ones the Masters make when they are all pointing at one another and shaking with smiles, and it lurches closer to the window, tromping right up and bending down until it’s practically face-to-face with Copernicus through the window wall.
He should attack. He should do something. Anything. But he’s frozen in place, quivering. He can’t stop quivering.
Then the Beast Thing taps the glass with one dark finger, and something snaps inside Copernicus. He lunges forward, scratching furiously at the window, barking his mightiest barks, not caring one bit what happens next, so long as he does right by the Good Master.
He barks and scratches, demanding the Beast Thing come in and face him. But the Beast Thing only draws back to its full height and turns to stomp off through the yard and across the dark-hard path, shaking with the amused rumbles all the way.
Copernicus tries a few more futile barks, hope slipping away, hot shame soaking into its place.
Trapped. Trapped inside, sitting in the cooling puddle of the mess he hadn’t meant to make, helpless to do anything but watch as the Beast Thing and its Sky Monster continue on, marching into town, toward the Good Master and his friends.
There are more of them out there, too. He hears them now.
An entire army of Beast Things, and here he is. Helpless.
But the shakes are slowing. And here he still is. Alive and well. Ready to do anything.
He looks around the mess of shifted furniture and broken bottles in the Color Square Staring Room, searching for a place to start. Both doors to the Outside are still firmly shut, the damaged portion of the ceiling too high for him to reach. But the walls are standing, and he’s alive.
He suppresses the urge to try a few more barks. He knows they won’t work. They’re beyond barks now. What he needs is something more. Something better.
He’ll look for new ways, he decides.
He’ll try climbing. He’ll learn to solve the mysteries of the shiny Handle Thing. He won’t stop until he finds a way. And if all else fails, he’ll protect the Good Master’s home. Keep it safe until the one they call by the nate sound returns.
That’s what he’ll do, he decides, as he picks himself up from his shamefully wet haunches. He’ll fight on no matter what. Fight on until he’s the last Good Boy standing, if he must.
That’s what he’ll do, no matter how many Beast Things and Sky Monsters and Horrible Sounds try to stop him.
That’s what he’ll do, Copernicus promises himself, as the last quivers leave his body.
Then he sets his tiny head high and begins.
Thank you for reading.
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