Daisy encountered the boy years before she found him smiling in the barley field. She was minding her business in a store’s lot at town’s edge, poking at garbage that might hide treasures. A dirty, skinny little thing, not so different from her, the boy toddled out of the store holding the hand of an older woman. This was the morning Daisy could not forgive.
“Look, Aunt Delia!” he shouted. “A puppy!”
Daisy was young and small, but she hadn’t been called a puppy in a while. She approached the boy.
Aunt Delia bent over, hands on both knees. “Isn’t she cute? That’s a yellow lab. Her hair’s almost tawny as yours.” She reached into her shopping bag.
Daisy’s ear perked at the sound of tearing plastic. Yes, there was treasure here.
“Your mom won’t mind if we share a little.” Aunt Delia reached out, a piece of sweet-smelling meat in her hand.
Daisy hurried to devour it, and then licked the residue off Aunt Delia’s palm. She didn’t tremble when the boy’s chubby fingers stroked the fur across her head. These seemed like decent people.
“Isn’t it funny how some people look like their dogs?” Aunt Delia asked. “Such a happy girl. I bet her owner looks happy, too.”
The boy smiled around a missing tooth. “I want to look happy.” His petting hand curled into a tiny, tugging fist, its fingers clenched around Daisy’s left ear. “My puppy!”
She yipped and darted back. The boy was still smiling, the dark gap in his teeth telling her to run before he did something worse than yank her ear. She dashed home, fast as she could, where she hid.
She found him again in the withering barley field near the old railroad tracks, where conifers marked the line between town and lingering wilderness. Years had left her young, but wiser. He was older, but still the same. She recognized him by his hair likes hers, by the gap where a tooth had been knocked out or never grew, and by the vicious smile around that gap. He was no longer a small boy, but a lanky man, smiling through tears. He was in some kind of trouble, but proud of it.
Daisy scratched at her ear and barked once. He looked at her. Then his face brightened and that gapped smile widened, as frightening now as outside the store years ago.
She ran. He chased her.
It was easy. He had a shambling gait, his shoes ill-fitting. His body seemed out of shape while Daisy’s was ever strong as she wanted. She kept just ahead of his grasping hands. Mouthy, he called to her like she would stop if he talked enough.
She led him around the barley field a few times, to tire him, and then took off down the slope and across the overgrown railroad tracks toward home.
His footsteps paused when they reached the dirt trail. It winded around reddened maple trees and yellowing underbrush to a small wooden stoop beneath a half-open doorway. Nature had retaken this place and left only one narrow house, built of aged and water-soaked wood, its windows aglow with friendly firelight.
Daisy looked back at the man who had once been an ear-tugging boy. The setting sun painted the sky red behind him and a shadow fell across his face. Something had spooked him out of mindless want.
What a greedy creature he was. He was hurting, she guessed. If she became his, went home with him, she would not make him happy. His pain wouldn’t end. Possessing her would only change to her into a thing like he was—petty, listless, demanding—and then, yes, his dog would look like him.
But she didn’t belong to him. She wagged her tail and squeaked out an encouraging yip. That snapped him out of caution. He started giggling, and the chase carried down the trail, up the stoop, through the open front door.
Daisy followed the warmth and the smoky scent along a short hallway and around a corner to the library and its fireplace. Her mistress’s chair, cushioned with red velvet, sat to one side of the doorway, unseen from the hall. Bookshelves lined every wall, their volumes plump and well-read.
The lanky man popped through the doorway, still giggling, his sweat cutting lines down his dirty face, when a hand swung from around the chair and grasped his outstretched arm in long, gnarled fingers. There was no chase left in him and even less fight.
He didn’t look at the chair right away. His gaze fixed on Daisy, his eyes reflecting where she sat ahead of the fireplace, at the foot of her mistress’s seat. It was almost as if he’d caught her in that puzzled gaze, his happy puppy.
Her eyes grew large and red. Damp, her tongue stretched to the floor. Her features twisted in the shadows cast by the dancing firelight until she looked more her age, a wizened, haggard creature with hungry eyes and sharp teeth. She yipped once more, this time guttural and deep.
From the chair came a heavy chuckle. At last, the man turned from Daisy to her mistress.
Daisy reflected on Aunt Delia’s quaint observation. But likely her nephew didn’t think it was funny how some people looked like their dogs. Not funny at all.
Hailey Piper was born obsessed with monsters, ghosts, and all things that go bump in the night. She now writes horror stories to feed that obsession.
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