Living on the wild side.
Welcome to Realms of Roush - I am Zach Roush, the creator of this newsletter. You can escape the real world for better ones every month. Subscribe today to receive sci-fi and fantasy short stories right in your inbox. There will always be an audio version for those of you on commutes, doing chores, or if you’re an audio-based learner. For those listening on their podcast apps, the link to the newsletter is in the description.
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Without further ado, this story is called Fetch.
Canidia is a different kind of jungle.
Brutus the German shepherd isn’t sure if he likes how the chaos excites and scares him. The whole place is an eighties fever dream, rife with leather and studs and smoking and neon. And this rooftop club is where animals show their true nature. Drinks going around, howls going up, and drugs being downed in ten different ways. These animals are partying like it’s the end of the world.
“Elevator, there,” Scratch says. “That’ll take us up to the real party.” He means the flesh market where the apex gangsters of the city buy human beings like it’s PetCo. They buy them for all kinds of entertainment, so Scratch says. The scrawny tabby hasn’t yet proved himself untrustworthy, but Brutus knows better. Before he’d run through that tunnel and by some strange magic became an upright-walking-human-talking-dog—person-thing, he’d spent some time on the streets. He was a rescue.
The plan is simple, on paper. Pretend to be waiters. Pretend to serve food and drinks. Initiate a hold-up. Hold the gangsters hostage. Escape with loads of money, jewels, and Brutus’ owner, Edgar, who was dognapped a day ago while taking Brutus hiking through the redwood forest.
“Move!” Brutus uses his booming bark to get the drunk and gyrating cats, dogs, rodents, marsupials, and more out of the way. The elevator’s ding isn’t audible over the music. They push their cart of food and their hidden pistols into the lift.
Scratch admits, “Okay, from here on out, I don’t really know what to expect. My source was…very expensive. ”
“You inspire incredible faith,” Brutus grumbles.
“I don’t need faith. Just your ugly mug. Though, if things head South, just put a bullet in me.”
“Why? You a squealer?”
Scratch smiles with one tooth showing. “The Heron don’t make you squeal. She makes you scream.” He rubs a wedge cut out of his ear.
The lift deposits them in a new hallway, this one paved in dark marble and bronze and lit by amber lights. Upscale. Expensive. The raven standing guard at the thick, double-height glass doors takes a shrimp from the cocktail bowl from Brutus’ food cart. He swivels his head, looks at ‘em with beady eyes.
“Bock, good thing you came. They were wanting more food. Where’re the guys they sent down earlier?” Brutus and Scratch make eye contact, briefly. Those guys won’t be coming up anytime soon.
“They made us bring it up here,” Scratch says, “something about breaking us in.”
“Heh. Bock.” Brutus tries not to make a face at the clucking. The raven waves a wing at the doors. They slide open like at Edgar’s favorite health food grocery store that smells like human armpits. Brutus notices how big the animals are in there. A few lions, a crocodile, and a bear. Apex predators. They’re wearing big suits with padded shoulders, gold chains hanging out, cigars in paw, and then there’s The Heron, the mistress of misfortune they call her. The white-feathered lady wears a masquerade-style mask over her eyes. It’s jeweled and heavy-looking. Worth a lot of dough.
One of the lions sniffs the air, “Finally. I was going to have to eat man flesh or something.” He eyes Brutus. “Come here, dog.”
The Heron says, “Bock, relax, Domingus. Let them put the food inside first. Then they’ll serve drinks.”
Domingus sighs. “You love your regimented schedule. Don’t you ever want to get wild?”
“Discipline is the rule. Breaking it the exception, bock,” she replies, flattering the lion with a wink and a wing over his shoulder. “Get in here and start serving drinks,” she hisses to Brutus and Scratch, who understandably froze up watching the whole situation.
Brutus and Scratch push the cart as fast as possible past the apex predators and into the circular room with glass surrounding it. All around them is the city of Canidia, all bright lights and sprawling buildings and roiling masses. They take their cart to a curved banquet table in the room, half-laden with food in metal trays, burners beneath them. They refill the trays and then go to the drinks end of the table. There’s liquor and mixers and all kinds of concoctions.
“When?” Brutus asks.
“During the auction.”
“Won’t she send us away? And what’s with the clucking?”
“I don’t know and I don’t know. If she tries to shoo us, start shooting.”
“You know how to make drinks?”
“A few, “ Scratch says. “One is whiskey, neat.” He pours a golden liquid into a glass and downs it.
“That’s not a cocktail…”
“Shut up.” He downs another.
“Hey, give me one.”
The Heron claps, her sharp beak lit by a smile. “Guards, you may leave. The meat market is open for business, bock.”
The center of the floor divides in half and a platform slowly rises up in its place, twenty or so humans atop it. They’re naked, chained, blindfolded, and gagged. The Heron grabs one and leads him sideways, pulling the human chain until they all stand in a line. There are people of all ages, both men and women, and all body types too. Brutus spots Edgar instantly, the man’s pale skin luminous in the canned lighting.
“What excellent stock, Heron,” Domingus declares. “The best yet.” He rubs his paws, his eyes flashing from person to person.
I’m going to kill these filthy animals, Brutus thinks. He holds to this even when he also considers, this is how they treat animals in pet shops in the human world.
“You all come here for your own reasons. Some to find a companion - we have new collars in, by the by, bock. Some of you want to hunt. Others, satisfaction for your hunger, literal and otherwise.” There are growls and hoots and purrs in agreement. “I supply for all reasons. As long as the price is right. As long as...” She trails off as she sees Brutus walking up to her with a drink on a platter. “Bock, get back, you—” she begins to say. Brutus reveals his gun beneath the tray and fires, shattering that beautiful mask, sending jewels and gold flying.
“Neutered nuts.” Scratch curses, then takes out his pistol. He fires it into the air. “Everyone on the ground, now!”
The humans obey instantly. The predators do not.
Brutus points the gun around and says, “A hundred animals surveyed, question’s on the board: what do you do when someone holds a gun and tells you to get on the ground?”
Domingus growls, “I’m going to tear you—”
Brutus shoots him in the knee. “Ehhh! Wrong answer! Anyone else?”
Brutus and Scratch move around, making sure everyone’s paws are up and out. Scratch takes every wallet and watch and piece of jewelry and stuffs it in a duffel.
One of the bears makes a run for it. He gets to the glass doors before Brutus shoots him. He crashes through the doors and slides to a halt in front of two raccoon waiters with a cart full of food.
“Neutered nuts! The Trash Twins!” Scratch says, then shoots at them, missing wildly. They take cover, then pull out their own guns from the food cart.
“How did you beat us here, Scratch?”
“Don’t set him up for it, sis.”
Scratch screams, “Everyone underestimates the runt of the litter, don’t they! Eh? Don’t they!”
Brutus barks, “Whatever tuna you have with them, it’s not time for it. Let’s get the humans out.”
“Check Heron for a remote or something. We’ll go through the floor,” Scratch says. Brutus rifles through the Heron’s dress, finds a miniature radio and a device with a button in her pocket. He presses it and the platform with the terrified humans starts sinking.
“Scratch! We’ll help you get out of here if you split the money!”
“Yeah, for old time’s sake!”
Scratch hisses at the Trash Twins and joins Brutus on the platform.
Brutus tells the humans, “We’re getting you out of here. Scratch, help me get their blindfolds and gags off. Do any of you know anything about the building?”
“I don’t,” Scratch says.
“I know you don’t.”
After a pause, the platform sinking, the humans finally begin to believe what’s happening. A few have started crying, realizing they’ve avoided the horrors of the auction. Edgar is quiet, taking things in. Brutus meets his eye.
“I came for you.”
“How…? Oh. You were with me in the cave. I can’t believe you came to save me.”
Brutus holds up a paw. “Please don’t say that here. It’s demeaning.”
A woman finally answers Scratch, “The lift goes to a staging area where they took our clothes. A huge elevator there too that goes to the garage.”
“Not getting anywhere without keys,” an older man says.
“I can hotwire a car,” replies a soft-looking youth. “Are cars the same here?”
Scratch answers, “Yeah. Mostly stolen classic cars.”
The lift ends up in a room filled with lockers. There’s a key to the chains, so the humans free themselves and get dressed. According to The Heron’s radio, the birds are figuring out what happened.
“Faster, come on,” Scratch says. They pack into the service elevator, Brutus and Scratch at the front, ready with guns.
Scratch doesn’t face them but says, “Okay, hot wire guy, we gotta get to a van. A delivery truck. We’ll cover you as you get it going. Everyone else…don’t get shot.”
“We don’t have much ammo left, so work fast,” Brutus says.
“You have another gun? I’m a crack shot,” says a young woman.
“Take one of mine. I’m a horrible shot,” Scratch says. “I can help hotwire.”
Brutus’ eyes go wide. “What do you mean?”
“Yeah, I’ve never even shot someone before. Can’t stand the thought. You’ve killed one hundred percent more animals than me.”
“Oh my God,” Brutus mumbles.
“How’s it feel to be a murderer while saving humans that enslave animals like us?”
“Oh my God,” says the crackshot woman. “I have so many pets.”
The elevator opens out into a parking garage filled with an eclectic mix of boxy old cars, all luxurious. Like a gaggle of terrified geese the humans and dog and cat run, looking for a vehicle that can hold them all. There’s a tall white van waiting near the exit ramp.
“That’s how they brought us in,” says the old man. “I’ll watch the ramp. Is there another elevator, cat?”
Scratch bares his teeth at being called ‘cat’, and doesn’t get the time to respond, as another ding echoes through the parking garage. In a burst of feathers and bullets, a gang of fowl surges into the parking garage. Car windows break. Alarms go off. The gangsters’ loud bocking makes the cacophony oddly hilarious.
“Dumb ass birds. Can’t even see us and they’re shooting,” Brutus says, getting behind a pillar. He fires until he’s out. “Scratch, you got another gun?”
“Fetch!” Scratch tosses a Glock to Brutus. He catches it in his mouth with ease. “Good boy!” Scratch calls with a laugh as helps hotwire the van.
The woman with the other gun is shoulder-to-shoulder with Brutus, taking shots. A bird screams. The soft-looking man has the truck door open, its window broken, while the others scramble to get in the back. There’s the initial whirs of the engine turning over, but bullets are already putting holes along the whole right side. Brutus and the woman fire until the gangsters take cover, putting a lull in the shooting.
Brutus calls out, “Hey! Hey! I wanna talk! If we give up, will you let us go?”
A deep voice responds, “Bock, you mothercluckers think you can fly from this?”
“We can’t! Not enough ammo,” Brutus says, letting his very real desperation out. “I don’t wanna die for these skin bags.”
“What about your partner?”
Brutus makes eye contact with Scratch, who’s watching him. He pantomimes shooting at Scratch, then playing dead. Scratch nods, but Brutus bets it’s a fifty-fifty chance the cat understands. Brutus fires his gun in the van’s general direction. Scratch yowls bloody murder and starts cursing wildly.
Brutus calls, “That’s him taken care of.”
“Wow! I mean. That’s cold, bock. If you come out with your paws up, maybe we can…”
The delivery truck turns over, the engine starting.
Brutus counts, “One. Two. Three. Now!” He and the woman break cover, firing at the gangsters as they run to the back of the van. They hop in and fire their last shots as the van pulls up the ramp, rams through the security bar, and drives into the night.
At a jolt, Brutus wakes. It’s morning, now. The humans are getting up, stretching, and acclimating to their surroundings. They’re at a campground, disused trails and concrete pads marking its boundaries.
“You’ll find the same thing on the other side of the tunnel up that way,” Scratch tells them. “They don’t traffic through here anymore, so you’re safe to go through.”
A few humans walk up to the cat, thanking him, some hugging him and others awkwardly offering to shake his paw.
Edgar approaches. “You’re staying.” Brutus nods. “You’re incredible. I wish I could get to know this version of Brutus. Can I give you a hug?”
“Yeah,” Brutus replies, getting emotional. This is the man that adopted him, walked him in the heavy rain, and even picked up his shit. Edgar sneaks his hands up to Brutus’ head and gives him scratches behind the ear. Brutus doesn’t know if that’s weird in this world, but he loves it anyway. His tail wags.
“Can you ever come to the human world?” he asks. Brutus looks at Scratch, who’s licking his fur where the humans touched him.
Scratch nods. “Brutus is stuck this way. But you shouldn’t come back.”
“Then I’ll come back to wherever the tunnel ends. Will you meet me?” Edgar asks.
“No. I won’t be.” Edgar’s face falls. Brutus keeps talking, takes Edgar by the shoulders. “Before you go, you gotta get out of the house. You gotta get over her.”
“And for goodness sake, throw out her shit.”
Edgar laughs incredulously. “Ha! You know, you’re right. I’ll miss you, Brutus.”
Brutus watches his former owner walk up the trail and into the trees. Part of him wants to go after the man and be at his side forever.
“I remember missing my people,” Scratch says, taking out a catnip blunt. “The regular meals. The freedom from want and always being loved even when I knocked plants off counters on purpose.”
“I’ll miss a lot of things,” Brutus replies, “but having opposable thumbs is worth all of it.”
They pass the catnip with said thumbs. They consider the horizon, the city, and its smoggy haze, and feel nothing but lucky. Even in this dog-eat-dog world.
Thank you for reading and listening to Fetch. I really appreciate the time you share with me.
If you enjoyed this story, leave a dog emoji in the comments! 🐕
Also, I’m curious, have you ever imagined what your pet would be like if it could talk? What would they say to you?
Until next month, Realm Walkers