In my dream I saw a man. It was me. And I remember this…
“…I can feel the walls closing in on me: banks, brokers, lenders, wives, children, and dogs — especially dogs! Where was Lincoln? “That Bad Dog!” There… there he was on the dining room floor. The floor I spent hours sanding and polyurethaning! “Bad Dog!” I went to him, nail puller in my hand…” Excerpt from “exnzpat buys a rental”
Success at last! Lincoln had had a small clump of dirt lodged up high between the toes of his right paw, and after what seemed like ages of licking and gnawing, he finally dislodged it.
Lincoln stretched out on Michael’s bed. Michael moved uncomfortably away from him, deep in his own sleep. Lincoln took immediate advantage of the space on the bed and stretched out completely, his head almost touching the boy. Lincoln attempted to lick at the back of the boy’s head but the distance was too great. He snorted and closed his eyes and soon the rhythm of his breathing matched that of the boy.
What had it been? Six dinners, maybe seven dinners since his master had gone mad? Standing above him — enraged, his arm outstretched in anger, the hard metal thing in his hand — and then a strange thing! The yellow horse thing that lived in the attic above had slid slowly through the ceiling. Lincoln had known that it was there too – he had sniffed at it during the deepest and blackest moments of the each and every night spent in the gray little home. He smelled it – and other things too. Dangerous things – their smell stung his nostrils! Now he saw it, coming up swiftly behind his master. Giant and huge it was; monstrous, yellow in color, with flat and flabby arms, like bird wings. The creature grabbed his master’s hand and stayed the blow.
“Run Lincoln, run. Don’t look back. Hide, and don’t come out no matter what.”
The words were not spoken, and yet he heard them all the same. From his master he heard only a gasp of surprise as the beast took his arm.
“Go now,” the thing said once more.
And go he did — out into the night — but not before seeing the yellow horse envelope and subdue his Master within its giant arms. Lincoln ran and ran — far and long into the night – and after what seemed like forever he stopped, not sure of where he was or where he was going. And slowly, very slowly he made his way back the way he had come; he had no place else to go. He was not familiar with this town. The rental, as his master called the funny the little gray house, was a strange and frightening place. In that place an evil thing and other things lurked and sparred when nightfall came. It was a dog-fight like no other; shifting and changing, scraping and wrestling, biting and scratching – they were as bad as cats. Lincoln did not love cats. Arrogant, prissy things they are — and the things of the night caterwauled and screeched just like a whole alley full of the furry little brutes. His master only heard them some of the time – so preoccupied was he with his work. His master brushed the walls and played with the floor. To Lincoln there seemed no purpose to the work, but it kept his master happy. What his master could not see was the spying lurking shadow man, the man with the single horn, like that of a rhinoceros. The shadow man slinked and stalked his master during the early evenings while his master clicked and ticked on the flat gray rectangular box. Lincoln kept close to his master during those times – he knew his presence kept the shadow man at bay. And it was the shadow man Lincoln feared most. Of the others, the thing that looked like a yellow horse, he was not so sure of. This creature, would at a distance, watch the shadow man as the shadow man watched his master. The yellow horse sometimes changed its shape into that of a human woman. She had long flowing hair that shone brightly; in this state she charmed him like bacon. She walked the little gray house when the shadow man was not about, smiling and chucking Lincoln under his chin and kissing him on his nose. Lincoln was drawn to her in the most natural of ways. He felt fealty to her; He of Her Pack. Of the other two, who called the little gray house home: the pale woman and the dark boy – to them he felt empathy; he feared for them, but he was not sure why. These two repeated the same behavior over and over again. Their pattern never changed. At first Lincoln thought it a game and tried to join in; but so repetitive their actions, so sad and frightful their behavior that eventually Lincoln ceased his play. He felt he was watching a hurt and it touched him in places he knew not. The pale woman would stand in the kitchen and talk to someone, he saw not who, but fancied it was the shadow man, while the dark boy ran through the house to the back bedroom and clamber up the bookshelf of his closet to hide in the ceiling above. The pale woman wept and cried out with wet anguish. It was a sorrowful sound. At times he tried to comfort her but she seemed not to see him or feel his presence. His master could see both the pale woman and the dark boy, and they him; Lincoln found this strange because these two were by far the more transparent and wispier of the four intruders.
Lincoln loved his master – and his master needed him – now more than ever. Why had the yellow horse sent Lincoln away? Lincoln’s food plate and water bowl were back there too. But, the danger was palatable. Lincoln could smell it and taste it. The shadow man was gaining an advantage with him absent. A cold dread filled his poor little heart and he hurried back.
When the morning sun came up he found himself standing and shaking in the backyard. Terrified he could not go on. He knew his master was in great danger. The yellow horse had done more than warn him; it had implanted some secret collar that kept him tethered to the outside of the perimeter. As hard as he tried he could not go forward. He quivered in anguish. He quivered in fear. He vomited; and exhausted, crawled under the neighbor’s back deck for shelter from the hot summer sun.
Later that day the friendly young neighbor boy, Michael, found him. With treats, he was easily coaxed into the safety of Michael’s house. The boy seemed to understand the danger that lurked next door. And the next night, when Mrs. Exnzpat and his brothers and sister were calling for him, Michael kept him hid; safe and still, until they were gone. But, when was that? He thought, at least seven dinners ago? And just one dinner ago, the last police car and the last ambulance left. The rental was closed up tight. A bright yellow tape surrounded the house; it was all they left. A terrible thing had happened — that was for sure – he had sniffed at it and he had wept at it. But for now, he was safe. He had a comfortable and ready friend to spend his time with. How long it would last he did not know…
Wings, Lincoln dreamed. Not like the soft fluffy wings of that bird he caught last summer; they made him sneeze. Mmmm… tasty bird wings. In his sleep Lincoln licked his jowls and stretched out even more. His forepaws jerked gently up and down. In his dream he was chasing a bird. At first, it was one of those quick little ones that flit annoyingly about the lawn acting as if they own the place; and just like real life, in his dream, they were just as elusive. He scattered the annoying birds as he ran headlong into a little group of them, not catching a one. But there was one bird, a yellow bird that looked like a tiny horse, it led him on, and Lincoln took up the chase. The sky above was a deep cobalt blue, the kind of blue that goes on forever. No cloud marred its face. Lincoln followed the yellow bird across an ocean; his feet splashing as he went. He was not swimming, and how he was doing this was beyond his comprehension, he did not fight it though, only other than to say: it works, so go with it. In a dream what else can one do? Up ahead in the distance was land. A cliff face, as white as a ghost, loomed high above the horizon blotting the sun from the sky. In his sleep Lincoln growled softly to himself and kept up the pace, chasing the yellow bird. Next to him Michael shifted slightly trying to take back more of the bed.
Lincoln hardly noticed the beach. A long stone staircase, almost straight up, cut the face of the white rock; Lincoln pounded up it, barely stopping to catch his breath. There was strength and power running inside of him now; it urged him forward – chasing the yellow bird; vitality from within welled up and overflowed the narrow confines of his biological self. His body was a pump. Pumping and surging, his body oozed a terrible energy. It was thrilling. Lincoln had felt nothing like it before.
Half way up the cliff face he met the first of the two guardians. The first guardian looked much like a tree – but all trunk and no leaves. In its hand’s it held knives. Sharp and long; vicious like the claws of a cat. Lincoln did not hesitate nor did he slow down, he was at the guardian’s throat so quickly that the guardian did not even have time to react. The knives fell uselessly to the ground as the first guardian died between Lincoln’s teeth. Lincoln did not tarry at the body. The yellow bird urged him ever upward.
The second and last guardian was bigger than the first, but he carried no knives. Lincoln, believing that the second guardian was weak, approached him as he had the first; with the violence of his own biology. But it was a mistake. Lincoln moved at lightning speed towards the creature; and then a strange thing. Lincoln felt the second guardian inside his head. The weapon wielded by the second guardian was spirit energy from within. The second guardian assaulted Lincoln’s soul as Lincoln pounded towards him. It took Lincoln only a few seconds to strategize a new defense and then, a cruel idea came to him: he attacked. The second guardian crumpled like an empty beer can. Lincoln squeezed and squeezed; his mind furious with this new power. The guardian died but still Lincoln went on, crushing and shrinking, squeezing and tightening, he devoured the second guardian. Only after it was done did Lincoln feel regret. It was one thing to kill but it was a whole other thing to destroy. The second guardian was gone, not just as in death, but as if he had never existed at all. Lincoln knew he had done wrong. And now he knew that his strength must be used carefully. It was an important lesson.
Lincoln turned away from where the second guardian had stood and found that he had reached his destination. The yellow bird was gone but a giant green field stretched before him.
In this field, and as far as his eyes could see, stood people. They stood stock-still as if at attention – a crowd – but more — a silent rabble; millions of them; millions, and millions of them. At the head of this mass of humanity stood a great red horse. This creature he recognized – it had the appearance of the yellow horse, only larger. Upon its head, a vile crown of branches; they twisted like the hard west wind, and upon its face was a warped and guileful grin that vacillated and wriggled with hate and anger. This monstrous thing was, in the face, gray as the grave. The great red horse was armored in a crab-like carapace — like that of a shoddily shingled roof, blood colored and spattered with bile. It was ugly. It was the ugliest of all things.
Lincoln sniffed the air for danger but oddly, in spite of what his eyes told him, he smelled nothing. He looked closer at the tightly massed people behind the great red horse; he sniffed the air again, still nothing. Lincoln could see that placed at regular intervals, ringing the crowd of humans were more of the strange horse-like beasts – each shimmering with their own unique color — but none so large — or so ruddy, or so violent as the first. He smelled no danger and so he went forth.
Lincoln trotted onto the field. There was neither sound or smell or anything resembling life; statues all of them. Not a thing moved. Even the air itself was stilled. Then Lincoln noticed the lady. She stood quietly in front of the great red horse; she wore a brown dress; her head bowed. Behind the lady was thick dark forest. Lincoln sniffed at the forest. It did not smell safe.
Lincoln stopped at the lady and sat. She was as still as a statue with skin the color of aged alabaster. This was a strange place, and for the first time Lincoln felt alienation to his new found strength and power in this odd green field. It was a hard idea to formulize but there it was all the same. It was as if he had buried a bone but could not find it again, full well knowing the bone’s exact location; it was disconcerting. He cocked his head to the side and looked closely at the lady.
In the lady’s right hand she held a string of beads. Lincoln had seen beads like these before. His master kept some near his camp bed at the rental.
Lincoln sniffed at her, and stopped up short. The beads between the lady’s fingers were moving!
Ever so slowly, ever so slightly he saw that the lady’s fingers were moving the beads; imperceptibly slowly. Lincoln moved in for closer a closer look. Yes, they were definitely moving. Maybe the lady wasn’t a statue after all?
Lincoln licked her hand. Suddenly the lady’s eyes snapped open. Lincoln jumped back, startled. A bright smile graced her lips. She knelt, and with her left hand reached out and petted Lincoln’s head; and then, as if a storm of rain, thunder, and lightning, burst overhead — the ground itself trembled and the air came alive with sound and smell. It was the sound of a billion angry hornets taken to flight; and the stench of a trillion skunks violated that very same air. Lincoln spun around and looked behind him. The once silent statues of colored horse’s and frozen humans came alive. The hoard moved with the rhythm of life. Sound and smell stung his ears and nostrils. The musk of beast and the screams of men and women paralyzed him with fear. He was rooted to the spot; his senses became overloaded and he was unable to distinguish friend from foe: the world about him – it closed in on him — it was chaos! All the while, the colored horses and the human mass, as if in morbid dance, moved and swayed in unison, and then, as if from a trillion throats, rose a giant collective mournful groan that filled the air with a sorrow so thick and so ugly that Lincoln’s spirit was sure to die upon hearing it, but, for the touch of the Lady…
“Shhh…” The lady whispered to Lincoln and grasped his collar so he could not run.
Then a voice like the clatter of a thousand breaking plates broke that terrible groan.
“There are no champions today friends. Just a dog! Be still.” He said this last softly, as if to himself. The great red horse grimaced, his lips curled upward and outward displaying a mesh of long horrid teeth; the whole time his eyes never left the lady.
Lincoln, terrified but unable to do anything about it, collapsed against the lady’s bare legs. Had the lady not grasped his collar he would surely have fled into the dangerous forest behind her. The lady ruffled his ears one more time, released his collar, stood up and assumed the position Lincoln had found her in. Immediately the great ruckus of the multitude quit. It was as if a switch had been thrown. Stillness and silence reigned once more. The great red horse, frozen, continued to stare at the Lady; and his stare was a rotting stare that flowered of malevolent hatred.
After a few minutes of shivering at the Lady’s feet Lincoln poked his nose into the air to sniff for danger. There was none. Where once there had been so much, now there was none. Not a sound could be heard; neither a twig nor twitch. The strange world was as silent and as still as Lincoln had first found it.
It took a few minutes for Lincoln to collect himself. He stood up and took a few tentative steps away from the Lady; turning, he looked at her. She was as she had been – bowed head, and the ring of beads moving inexorably slowly between thumb and forefinger. Strange!
Lincoln sneezed and shook himself. He padded over towards the frozen multitude of humans ringed by the colored horses; something did not seem right about the humans. He steered clear of the nearest colored horse, it was a bright purple horse with arms like spun silver; a shift of stiff silver hair bristled from its head. The purple horse did not move but all the same Lincoln felt its eyes follow him as he passed. Lincoln shivered at the feeling and his hackles rose upon his back.
Of the human’s: a man stood closest to the purple horse, frozen in statue, like the rest; he was naked and wore a grimace, terrible and stark did it etch its way across his creased and weathered face. Deep sunken grooves showed his age. The grooves looked like they had been put there with a blunt butter knife. There was an inexplicable horror to the man. It was as if the man wanted to scream and writhe in pain — loudly and with as much profanity as he could muster — but instead that emotion was trapped and chained inside of him. His release of emotion — his explosion — if it could be best expressed this way — manifested its essence in other ways though. Lincoln could see that from out of the man’s body growing things had come forth: appendages that Lincoln could not understand; bulbous and skin-like, ugly and deformed, — like bruised and blackened fruit rotting on a vine; these things hung from the man’s body. Lincoln shook his head – not sure what to make of it. The man was definitely human. Lincoln got as close as he dared, but kept one eye on the purple horse all the same. Lincoln knew instinctively that no matter his new found powers, he was no match for the colored horses.
The most important thing to a dog is hierarchy. The successful dog is the dog who submits to whoever is in charge. The noisy and frightening scene Lincoln witnessed earlier told him that the multitude of humanity wrapped tightly within the circle of colored horses submitted to the great red horse himself. But! The great red horse submitted to the lady; not gladly – but submit He did, and therefore… It was odd – but quantifiable – to the mind of a dog; also, clearly the kind lady had protected him from the great red horse. So he knew he need not be afraid. But even so he was not going to push his luck – he sniffed the air for danger and not finding any, pressed on.
Lincoln moved away from the man and went up as close as he dared to a woman who stood nearby. It was a woman, but she did not look quite like a real woman. Her body was misshapen and uneven; twisted slightly as if bent like a tree branch, so much so she barely looked human at all! From the right side of her face a sack of purple skin grew. It looked greasy and foul like a badly shucked oyster; protruding ungainly, it hung all the way to her waist. Her neck was chaffed, rubbed red and sore. Her face was scrunched-up, tight and knitted. Lincoln saw in the woman’s eyes real pain; but something more — the woman wanted rescue. Her eyes implored him for help. He watched in horror as her eyes moved in their sockets. Lincoln jumped back. Once again he became terrified, for he realized that whatever this place was and whatever these humans were, they were alive! And they were suffering too! An excruciating pain afflicted them. It tied them and it bound them to a motionless dance of inward and begotten emotions. Such LIFE! Such TERRIBLE LIFE!!!
Lincoln backed away. There were so many…
“For their sins,” the lady by the forest said. Lincoln heard the voice clearly inside his head. He looked behind him to the Lady, who, tranquil and unmoved, continued her quiet business with the string of beads.
“The pressure-head of the well-water is sin; it must be leached. They must be cleansed and their waters must be free to flow.”
He did not understand. He turned and watched the lady closely – she had not moved – but Lincoln was sure it was her voice and not another’s. Then the voice came again but this time an image came with it. He remembered himself as a puppy. He had been playing in exnzpat2’s room. A small chewing thing with hair had found its way into his mouth. Then a scream went up. “Mom, Lincoln has my dolly!” There was confusion, much screaming and much crying, and hitting too. Bad Dog! Bad Dog!
Poor Lincoln – he knew sin. But, he knew not sin! For as a little puppy he did not know what was his and what was another’s but he learned it, and he learned it quick. This was not sin.
And then another image came – his master’s dinner plate. Lincoln had already eaten and was not hungry, but there it was – one quick step-up onto the table and it would be his – but he was not hungry – and yet…
He did it anyway. He knew he shouldn’t have – the master makes the rules — but he did it all the same!
Now he knew sin: choice.
Then Lincoln looked at the ringed mass of humanity and whimpered. So many…
“Yes Brother, Arbol is large and not yet full.”
Lincoln continued to back away from the human mass and their colored horse jailers. Not looking where he was going he bumped smack into the lady’s legs and jumped into the air with fright. The lady did not move, so deep was her concentration on her beads. Lincoln fretted greatly for the next few minutes but eventually calmed down. In this strange place the sun at least was warm on his back, and the grass was soft and green. He settled down next to the lady and dozed the way dogs do. Nose in the air, eyelids drooping, their big eyelashes flitting; after a fashion he tucked his nose deeply into his belly and fell asleep.
An imperceptible smile formed upon the lady’s face as she watched her new friend drift away…
Instantly, Lincoln woke. Somehow he had ended curled up in a ball at the end of Michael’s bed. He snorted and sneezed and wiped his wet nose on the bedclothes. He shook the strange dream from his head: something about birds, a couple of nasty cats, some naughty rabbits and a kind lady who petted him. But no time for that now — he had been given a command — but by whom?
He looked about the small bedroom but saw no one.
Michael was snoring loudly at the top end of the bed, tangled in sheets and blankets. Lincoln knew the footfalls of both Michael and his father. Lincoln listened again – no sound came from within the house – and then…
Lincoln slipped off the bed, and using his nose, opened the bedroom door and padded softly down the darkened hallway, through the living room and past dining room, and into the kitchen. Lincoln put his forepaws up on the kitchen countertop and looked through the window.
There, in the small bedroom of his old master’s house was the yellow horse! Horse neck, horse face, and predatory — but cow-like eyes; stared back at him!
Lincoln fixed his eyes intently on the creature. It was She who was giving the commands. Lincoln was not afraid. This creature had saved his life; of that much he was sure. Lincoln wanted to bark a greeting but knew he should not.
Then… a strange thing, the kitchen door clicked unlocked, the handle turned and the door swung slightly ajar. No person was there.
Lincoln took his front feet from the kitchen countertop and went out into the night.
In the black night, in the backyard of the rental She was waiting for him. She was huge, and in the coolness of the summer night air, dew sparkled from off Her leathery body.
“TRUST!” Like a good dog – Lincoln trusted! He lowered his head, his ears, and tail, and approached the yellow horse.
The creature bent over and wrapped a long boney finger around Lincoln’s collar and spoke: “Come! We have much to do!”
There was a bright flash and Lincoln, the good dog, and his new Mistress, disappeared into the night.