Happy Solstice! Today is the Summer Solstice where I live. :)
Anxiety, depression, and brain fog ruled this past week for me. I surprisingly did manage to do the minimum requirements for life, though, despite the garbage brain. Not everything that needed to get done actually happened. Or even close to the things I wanted to get done. But the minimum was my best this week and... it's okay.
Small victories, right?
On a political note, the UN drafted a resolution for calling a probe into police brutality, specifically against black people. It was lobbied to be written as an investigation into US police brutality, but "watered down" into a broader and world-wide probe. I'm disappointed that they decided not to perform a commission of inquiry (the most invasive of UN scrutiny), but glad they're giving time and resources to an investigative probe estimated to provide reporting a year from now. This type of review is something I never thought I'd see in my lifetime, and calling out systemic issues like this is still painfully overdue, but this is a little shove to start progressing toward a better and fair world. A tiny victory, yes, but still a chance for things to begin changing in needed ways I never thought I'd personally witness.
I hope you're safe and well this weekend!
Linkly cowered away from the stranger the moment the dog that had killed Bailey, but for some reason hadn’t killed her, bounded away to slaughter the gang who’d terrorized her tour group. The air around the stranger was hot, but the skin where she’d accidentally touched their wrist was so cold that it hurt her fingers. She couldn’t tell from their smell if they were a man or a woman because there was no smell. The worst part was hearing them crouch to be closer to her, but the sounds reached her as if through cotton in her ears and she couldn’t tell how close they now were.
“Please don’t hurt me,” she murmured quickly, hands held up to fend off the stranger.
“I won’t. You have my word. You also have one request of anything you might ask for.”
“I don’t want anything, thank you.” She said it quickly.
“I don’t carry debts. You returned Dog to me, which is all I could’ve asked for. For that I owe you one thing, up to all you could ask for.”
“Thank you for the offer but I don’t want anything.”
“Not even” –the tags on Bailey’s collar jingled, the distance surely too far for the nearby stranger to have reached– “another like Bailey?”
“No thank you.”
They sighed. “But that’s the thing you want the most, isn’t it? It’s what I hear your heart is crying for.” The final sentence made the nerves in her teeth tingle uncomfortably, as if they’d picked up a frequency to transmit the words into her mind rather than the sound coming the regular way through her ears.
Linkly tried to shift further away from sound of their voice. The stranger wasn’t wrong, but she didn’t want anything from them. She just wanted them to take the dog that had killed Bailey and then snuffed out the screams of the gang and go as far away as possible.
“I’ll apply for a new companion from services when I go home. You don’t need to make it your concern.” She’d been slowly backing away from the stranger for the entire conversation. “I’m happy you have your dog back,” she added. Something about the air shifted, like static from a carpet floor pulling up all the hair on her body, and she knew the stranger was smiling.
“You’re the worst liar I’ve ever met.”
“Thank you. I don’t practice often.”
The stranger shifted a few crouching steps toward Linkly, faster than she could skooch away on her hands and butt, and wrapped a hand around her foot. She shivered as the cold of their touch seeped through her sneaker and pinned her in place. Their grip held the distinct impression that they could crush every bone enclosed inside their fist and was simply choosing not to.
“Please don’t hurt me,” she begged. They chuckled and static danced over every hair on her body.
“I wish only to thank you. To do so I have to repay you; balance this debt between us. You desire a companion. Allow me to provide you one.”
“Um,” Linkly replied.
It would be impossible for this stranger to know where she lived or what services buildings she frequented because all her information was locked up at the hotel, so she could easily hope they wouldn’t ever find her if she got back to the hotel. And if she got back to the hotel, it would be a simple thing to change her ticket and fly home on one of the next available flights. She just had to get back to the bus which would take her back to the hotel.
The hotel this tour had been planned through.
A tour encouraged by every hotel employee.
A two hour walking tour at the end of a bus trip three hours from the edge of the city her hotel was in.
To walk on a jungle hiking path where all the guests had been targeted for an attack by a gang with a murderous dog.
“The companion I provide would also protect you here?” the stranger offered, answering to the worries in her thoughts that she hadn’t vocalized.
“I… I don’t…”
“You only need to agree and this debt of my heart’s desire returned is paid by replacing that most precious to you.”
Linkly whimpered. She was alone in a foreign country, and her things at the hotel were probably being stolen right now. Bailey was dead. She didn’t have any way but trusting strangers for getting home, and how many would actually help her? Once she got home, if she got home, it would be a long wait to be paired with a new dog.
“Please. Help me,” she whispered
“Do you accept the companion I will gift to you?”
“Yes.” It was a word barely spoken, but settled into the air around her as a physical presence.
“Thank you, Linkly Barrs, for returning Dog to me.” Static crackled along her skin again as the stranger smiled and released her foot. The air at her back burst as if a nearby oven had been opened and the stranger’s voice puffed against her ear: “The debt between us is cleared.” She spun, striking out, but there was nothing all the way around her except the memory of heat still prickling under her shirt as normal air chilled the sweat on her skin and the scents of the jungle returned.
From a distance, she heard a sharp whistle. The crashing of multiple large animals pounded through the forest around her, coming from many directions and aiming for the source of the whistle. She knew one of the animals was the one the stranger had called Dog.
A single path of crashing sounds wasn’t following the direction of the rest, and that animal sounded like it was on a path directly to where Linkly was cowering. It stopped close enough that she could smell the wetness its fur picked up from leaves it had knocked into during its run and feel its breath panting against her shoulder.
The same shock to her senses that had led her hands to the buckle on Dog’s collar jolted through her body when this dog’s nose touched her bicep. She held up her fingers to be sniffed, realizing this dog was the companion the stranger had promised as payment for the debt they said they’d owed her. It wasn’t a killer like the one she’d set free. This beast was young and had only ever been like a wolf, low in pack status, but his features were squared under her palms in ways that wolves weren’t. His fur felt like hair that had been carefully matted into thin, intentional dreadlocks. He grumbled happily and licked her hand into his mouth, toothing harmlessly on her fingers before tugging her hand in a way heartbreakingly similar to what Bailey used to do when she wasn’t wearing the harness.
“You know the way back to the bus?” she asked. He dropped her fingers and ruffed quiet agreement.
She stood up and held out a hand. His head appeared under her fingers and then his body pressed against her leg. He was a lot bigger than Bailey. The top of his shoulder was at her hip. Rubbing the spot on his back where his skin twitched earned her an affectionate head-butt to her stomach. Linkly hugged around the bulky head and got a snuffling lick on the inside of her elbow. When she straightened to hold a fistful of hair at his shoulders, careful not to pull any of the dreadlocks uncomfortably, he dutifully settled beside her as if already having trained years for this. She took a deep breath.
“Let’s go back to the bus,” she said. He started walking, his leg brushing hers and their strides aligning. “Wait! Bailey’s collar!”
Linkly dropped the fistful of dreadlocks and turned back. Bounding paws leapt away before she could take a step and then the familiar jingle of Bailey’s tags rang closer with every leap back until the dampened leather collar was pressed into her waiting hand below a wet and snuffling nose.
“Thank you,” Linkly said, crying a little as she knelt to hug her new friend. He tucked his head over her shoulder and sat gently, staying close as she squeezed tightly. This time when she stood, it was with his dreadlocks in one hand and Baily’s collar clutched tightly in the other. “I guess we should use the walk back to the bus to figure out a name for you, hey?” His reply was to yip like an excited puppy and wiggle under her hand. She let go of the dreadlocks to rub away a twitching spot on the back of his neck and he crooned a happy growling sound.
Somewhere distant, still under the jungle canopy, noiseless thunder clapped and echoed as a shock through the undergrowth. Linkly shuddered and her new dog whined, both of them instinctively turning to face the epicenter. After a moment of silence only broken by water dripping from leaves, a tentative bird sang quietly. The stranger and the rest of the pack were gone.
Linkly stroked the strong neck under her palm, completely unaware the sticky mud on her hands was blood leaving red streaks on his grey hair, and the dog butted his head into her stomach affectionately. “Come on. Let’s get to the bus.”
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!