The eruption of screams and snarling launched Sofia’s heart into her throat. She dropped her pitchfork and bolted from the barn, blindly running straight for the attack as if she already knew the damage without having to see.
Oh, fuck. She wished she didn’t have to see. The bird-girl from the kitchen was on the ground, slapping frantically and shrieking as Sol smothered her with his huge body, his head jabbing down, rearing back, jabbing down again as he lunged to bite over and over, the girl’s screams pitching him into a frenzy. Dirt clods and dust spit up around them, as if someone was shooting the ground around their feet. The blue bowl from the kitchen lay tipped on its side, the surreal debris of a world upended.
The wolfhound mutt was fast. So nightmarishly fast.
No matter how the girl twisted and writhed, he was there. Battling to subdue her, as if the human girl was another dog who wouldn’t submit.
Shouting exploded into the morning air as the front porch spewed its occupants. The new guy got to the fight before anyone else and dove head first into it. The force of his hit knocked Sol off his feet so they both tumbled away from the shrieking girl.
They righted themselves with wild agility, their feet digging into the earth. Sol coiled and sprung, and German braced his legs wide, catching the huge body chest to chest. Gripping hard with his arms, in a feat of strength he surged up and flipped, whipping his legs around and driving the big dog into the ground while he landed on top.
Snarling rent the morning air as the dogfight continued, as though it were two animals growling, not one. The roar was cut off as German buried his face under the dog’s chin, his hands quick to lock on the dog’s throat.
Sol-Dog melted into submission, panting heavily, his eyes rolling.
Sofia focused on that spectacle, not the shouting crowd gathering to help the girl.
Charlie strode into the pile of German and Sol, latching on to the dog’s scruff and yanking him to his feet.
Like an animal himself, the new guy snapped at the other man, as if to keep him from intruding. But then, just as quick, as though he was repulsed by what he’d done, German skittered backwards, and bolted for the far corner of the farmhouse, away from the chaos.
Her attention riveted back onto her dog and the other man now in control. With his fingers clamped and digging into Sol’s ruff, Charlie hit Sofia with a murderous scowl. There was no understanding in that glower. No forgiveness in the hard lines etched into his stern face.
Her dog tried cowering to the ground but could only go as far as Charlie’s arm allowed, his deep chest still a foot off the ground.
Sofia’s throat knotted, twisting tears up until her vision blurred. She knew. In her crushed heart she knew. There would be no explanations. No apologies.
Sol-Dog had committed an inexcusable crime.
All because of a stupid girl—a panicking waste of flesh and blood.
By some silent acknowledgment, Charlie said nothing as Sofia backed away.
He would leave the inevitable up to her.
She returned a lifetime later, thirty seconds in a dead sea of her future life. As real as the .22 pistol in her sweaty grip, Sofia felt the fraying of the mooring lines holding her, knew that when the bullet ripped out of that chamber her life would be shredded, too.
Two shits was what her future was worth to her. But what filled her with terror was the fact she was about to kill her best friend. The one creature who’d utterly stuck by her, no matter where she went or what she did. They’d gone hungry together, slept like spoons in a drawer in junk cars, and not once did that dog’s loyalty flag.
Neither had hers. When she ate, her dog got half. When she found a warm, dry place to sleep, it had to accommodate the large wolfhound cross, too. It was Sofia’s promise to the mutt when she’d adopted him as a puppy.
She would always protect him, no matter what. A promise she’d held to a hell of a lot better than any of her foster parents had.
Sofia just never imagined the no matter what meant having to kill the only living thing she’d ever counted as family. But she’d be fucked if she was going to let anyone else do it. Her best friend would die with dignity and without suffering. And the only way to pull that off was to do the deed herself.
Sofia took stock of the people crowded around the bleeding, sobbing girl: the one responsible for what she was about to do. They stood around with pale faces, talking in fractured sentences as they pieced together what had happened. Real smart folk, they were. Sharp. The fucking idiots couldn’t use their own brains to finish their thoughts?
It was not her dog’s fault. The girl had it coming. Had practically begged for it, really.
Which changed nothing. Because in the human world, a mere dog wasn’t allowed to bite people no matter how valid the reasons were behind it.
Sofia hitched a staggeringly deep breath and stepped toward Charlie and Sol-Dog, who stood at the end of a shrunken tunnel of her vision, like she was looking at them out of the wrong end of a pair of binoculars.
She wasn’t sure she could do this.
What she figured she could do was aim that two-ton weapon she carried in her sweating fist at every staring face around her and squeeze the trigger. Hell, she knew it wouldn’t hurt half as much as what she was about to do.
Sofia’s throat twisted up on her like a dishrag, all the liquid wringing out of her eyes.
Oh, fuck, fuck, fuck.
She willed octane into her leg muscles. Moved stiffly toward Charlie and her dog. Positioning the muzzle of the .22 in the nook of rounded cartilage of his softly furred ear and the hard bone of his skull, Sofia pulled the trigger.
The dog dropped over his long legs and face-planted into the grass under his paws. Dead.
Sofia collapsed with him, dead in every way except the one doctors said made a difference. Her heart still clunked spasmodically against her sternum, railing for the oxygen that wasn’t coming because she’d stopped breathing.
Until the moan in her guts mushroomed to such a painful size her head fell back and the lament distended into one long, lung shredding shriek that spewed her soul at the sky. Her grief showered around the farmyard and settled on the manure and all the shit that had been her life.
The witnesses left her alone with the carcass of her dog.
Installment #13 coming soon.