a hard days’





©2010 The Angst Guy (theangstguy@yahoo.com)

Daria and associated characters are ©2010 MTV Networks



Feedback (good, bad, indifferent, just want to bother me, whatever) is appreciated. Please write to: theangstguy@yahoo.com


Synopsis: A serial tale that describes what actually happened during the Daria TV show that the network did not show us, as narrated by an important background personage having first-hand knowledge of events depicted in the show’s third season, a time the narrator feels was quite taxing for the necessity of saving both his family and the earth, not to mention keeping his very skin intact.


Author’s Notes have been moved to the end of the story, except to note here that this serial tale appeared on both PPMB and SFMB from July through September 2007.


Acknowledgements have also moved to the end. Enjoy.











       Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “one can’t believe impossible things!”


       “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”



Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass











Chapter I:

Karma and Dogma



       Right, first things first. As much as I love humans, and despite my cynicism I truly do (some more than others), it pains me to point out that they have certain blind spots in common that must be tolerated if one is to get along with them, as there is so little chance of seeing improvement in those areas in this lifetime or any other. One of my—excuse the phrase—pet peeves is how little humans actually know about the world around them, and in particular how little they know about their so-called companions on this grand old earth. I include myself in the latter category—the pet category, to be specific.

       For example, a lot of people think the phrase, “It’s a dog’s life,” means dogs have it made. First, that’s not what the phrase means, and second, nothing could be further from the truth. People who think dogs have an idyllic existence have severely limited powers of observation. (Bluntly, they couldn’t smell a squirrel if one was hanging from the rear end of the dog in front of them.) Dogs have all sorts of problems, and I would know, as I am a proud member of that distinguished species, being first and foremost a stout English bulldog (a brown brindle, white legs and belly, white spot on my muzzle, handsome in the unconventional way bulldogs are). Granted, I was born and raised in America, but I am cognizant of my distinguished heritage. Granted, too, I am a bit up in years (nine plus two months) and creaky in the joints, and some might think me portly (fifty-five pounds, thank you for letting it go at that), but if I may say so I am also one of my kind’s better representatives. My role as a family guardian is a source of great pride to me, I am loyal as the year is long, sweet tempered, and... well, best to let it go there or else I will bore you. (And tenacious, I should mention that before we move on.) Also, I am the only canine I know of who can type 40 words a minute and use the Internet properly. You may call me J.B., since everyone else does. (The initials probably once stood for “John Bull,” but everyone, including my best human friend Dawn, has forgotten that, so I will do the same.)

       Going back to my original point, a dog’s life is full of trials and tribulations, and my life is no exception. A guardian must be ever vigilant, ever ready for anything that comes. “What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expected generally happens,” as Benjamin Disraeli wrote in 1837. (I am fond of quoting him in my e-mails.) No time better illustrates this point than the junior year in high school of my best friend, Dawn, when the boundaries weakened between the real world and those worlds beyond, and unimaginable chaos threatened to loose itself upon the earth. It did not, of course, or else you would not be reading this, but it almost did, and I live to tell the tale. And I meant the word “unimaginable” in a literal sense. You may believe you have heard nonsense before in your life, but (to paraphrase the Red Queen in the Looking-Glass World), I’ve seen and heard nonsense compared with which that would be as sensible as a dictionary. (I am also fond of quoting Carroll in my e-mails, but who isn’t?)

       A hint of what was to come was afforded me about the same time that school began, in mid-August 1998, when I had just turned eight. I believe it was a Wednesday, and around four o’clock that afternoon I had let myself out of my family’s backyard to stretch and take a whiff of the neighborhood (squirrels here, cat there, pepperoni and bacon pizza scraps about two streets over) when I saw this stick on the other side of the street. Not just any stick, mind you, but a great stick. Another dog would know what I mean. I saw this stick and right there made up my mind to carry it around the block for a while and show it off, incidentally implying to all the other local dogs that I was in such good standing with my human family that I was allowed to wander about as I please without a leash. That was a bit overstated, of course, as it was closer to the truth to say my human family had no idea I had even left the yard. However, the fact that they left the back fence in such poor condition argued in my favor, for if they didn’t trust me, they would have fixed the fence, correct? The defense rests.

       So, there was the stick and there was I, and I was walking across the street to get the stick, as any right-minded dog would do, when the next thing I knew there was a dreadful screeching of tires close by, and the front bumper of this positively enormous sport utility vehicle was parked next to my right ear, close enough that I could have licked it if I had wanted, which I of course did not. Now, to be sure, I had heard a vehicle coming toward me from the right, and a fairly loud one at that, and despite some problems with my peripheral vision I had even seen it in the corner of my eye, moving in an erratic manner with many changes of direction and sudden stops and starts, but the perfection of the stick occupied my attention and what was I to do? I trusted of course that the humans in the vehicle would see me in time, as it was a clear day without rain or fog, and that they would take appropriate action, like stopping well back from me until I had finished retrieving the stick, or, if they were in a great hurry, going well around me through one of the many front yards available for that purpose.

       It never once occurred to me that they might actually continue driving toward me until they were on the verge of striking me for no reason at all, as if I were a Bad Dog, which I hasten to say I was not even if I was out of the backyard and in the middle of the street when I wasn’t supposed to be, but we have already dispensed with those issues and should move on. I confess to having a certain anxiety when I noticed my trust had been betrayed: the vehicle was close enough that escape from it was grossly unlikely, and I would be forced to rely upon divine providence for my survival. I shut my eyes and winced, expecting a blow far more painful than a rap on the nose with a rolled-up newspaper—

       —when the vehicle screeched to a halt by my ear, as previously noted, and I was spared. Divine providence (by which I mean the innate good judgment of the humans within the vehicle as well as heavenly intervention) had come through! Praise God and humanity! My continuity thus ensured, I retrieved the stick and got up on the opposite lawn to see who had come so near to giving me a catastrophic thump with a multi-ton object, and why.

       There were two people inside the vehicle: a young frightened-looking girl who wore those odd eye-enhancing frames that some people are fond of using, and an older woman who looked to be the girl’s mother. The terrified younger girl was the driver of the car, and from her nervous demeanor I deduced that she was being trained to drive and had likely failed to notice me in time to stop properly. A failure on the part of her peripheral vision, no doubt thanks to those eye-frames. Poor little pup, she was clearly more distressed at the idea of hurting me that I had been of being hurt. The girl’s mother pointed at me, indicating that I had survived the encounter intact, and the girl’s subsequent look of relief was as clear as my food dish at suppertime. I forgave her on the spot, gave her a wag and a bark—though the latter proved difficult with a stick in my mouth—then bounded off to let her recover in peace.

       Being so blessed, I vowed to enjoy my reprieve and dwell no further on the issue of my destruction. As I rambled through the neighborhood, however, I reflected on my good fortune and thought how sad it was that I could not share it with my family, specifically with my best of all human friends, the incomparable Dawn. To mention a word of this episode would reveal my petty sin of leaving the yard, and I most assuredly did not want the fence to be fixed and so prevent any further exploration of the neighborhood on my own, even if I had already explored it as thoroughly as any dog possibly could.

       These ruminations deepened, and I began to reflect upon whether my close call with the SUV was some sort of omen, a warning of events that were even then on their way toward intersection with my life and the lives of those I cared about. Dogs are more superstitious than you would believe, and for good reason, but we will take up the why of this later. In any event, it was difficult to shake off an anxiety about this, and my unease began to open mental doors I wished had been left closed. Why had I not noticed the vehicle on its approach? My senses were top-notch for an eight-year-old bulldog, except of course for that peripheral vision problem, and since I was a pup I had known enough to stay out of the road, and at least to check for dangers if I decided I had to cross. So, all said and done, why had I not noticed the—no, that is not right—why had I not reacted to the SUV’s approach as I should have? I knew it was coming. I knew I was in its way. Why, then, did I ignore it and keep going?

       At this mental thunderbolt, I stopped dead on the sidewalk and put down the stick, giving it a long look. It no longer seemed such a fine stick. My desire for it had almost caused my death. Why had I wanted it so in the first place? Did it have to do with my wanting out of the yard, looking for any excuse to get away from home for a while and enjoy a little time by myself? Was I a Bad Dog? I much doubted that; I had gotten out before without incident, so the sin itself was of no importance. (“Little things affect little minds” —Disraeli.)

       As I contemplated the stick, another answer came to mind, a gut feeling more than anything thought out. I became convinced that the entire event with the stick and the car had been an omen. Some Power in the larger scheme of things had used the stick as a lure to give me a warning, a head’s up. It had happened to me before (a tale for another time), and I had wisely learned to attend to seemingly random occurrences. Yes, something of undesirable consequence was coming, a thing that threatened not only me but those over whom I claimed guardianship. Most importantly, if I wasn’t focusing my attention on the world around me, as I have so often accused humans of doing, that destructive event would flatten me out as that SUV had almost done—and it would take my loved ones as well.

       Though paranoid in flavor (one learns to think like that as a true guardian), that assessment felt right. I stared at the stick a moment longer, then went home. I entered the house as I usually did, through the secret basement window after giving a woof for identification, then down the slide to my basement study, then to the dumbwaiter to reach the first floor, as my joints were not as supple as they once were and climbing the stairs had become a chore. Being rather overheated from my ten-minute walk, I was grateful for the air conditioning; I have long believed air conditioning was proof that humans had divine favor, as I notice that God did not give air conditioning to any other species. True, any exercise is good exercise (“The wise, for cure, on exercise depend” —John Dryden), but I am a bulldog and not a greyhound (“There is moderation even in excess” —Disraeli again).

       Dawn finally got home ten minutes after I did. I knew her from the way she opened the front door and dropped her backpack before wandering into the family room, where I lay in repose on the old sofa, on which I am allowed to do as I wish (not so on the new sofa, but I digress). She blew me a kiss when she walked in, then sat down next to me. I opened my eyes just enough to make out her blurry form: a moderately stout (“well nourished,” in human parlance) teenager with a round face and a pleasant manner as befit a classic Libra, clad in a jacket and jeans with her noisemaking apparatus—earphones, I mean—attached to her head and operating as per usual. She smelled of sweat from her phys-ed class, spinach lasagna from lunch, breath mints, and a meatball sub and cheese fries, the latter a result of stopping by her favorite pizza hangout with her friends after school. Her scent was glory to me, because Dawn was the only one in the family who spoiled me in the manner in which I had become accustomed: rubbing my back, scratching behind my ears and around my neck—if you have a dog, you must know the drill. One could not hope for a more loving and dependable companion as she. It was paradise.

       That day, though, I was unable to completely surrender myself to her kindly ministrations. The accursed episode with the car lurked in the back of my consciousness, and I began to worry that, if my dark premonition proved correct, this idyllic time would come to an abrupt end, perhaps sooner than I dared imagine. I reflected upon this and knew fear, though I did not betray any sign of my concerns to Dawn. I did lick her hand once or twice, but not for the meatball taste, as much as I appreciated it. A lick is the closest thing to a kiss that any dog can manage, and a gesture not to be shared with just anyone (at least, not by me). I pledged myself then and there that I would do anything possible to protect and defend my gracious queen, my Dawn, and I would do the impossible, even give my life, if it were required to keep her safe and happy. “Man is only truly great when he acts from the passions,” wrote Disraeli, and I would like to think that applies also to dogs, where appropriate.

       Alas, I admit that as I lay there upon the old sofa, I still clung to a secret optimism that such sacrifices would not be required of me; surely all would turn out well. Fate, however, was not intending to feed my hopes, but had instead prepared for me a banquet of nightmares as could not be envisioned even by the insane. You know the outcome, but you do not know the fight, the descent into the dark gulf that not even I could have foretold. Here is my tale.





Chapter 2:

Hounded by Trouble



       My intuition that a novel set of difficulties was winding its way in my direction proved sadly accurate, if dreadfully understated. “Variety is the mother of Enjoyment,” wrote Disraeli, but the variety I began to experience did not pertain to any sense of the word “enjoyment” with which I had previously been familiar. Following the first outburst of unseasonable, world-threatening perils in and around my home town, I felt a strong need for a different kind of companionship than the magnificent Dawn could provide (no fault of her own, I hasten to assure you), so I collected my frayed nerves and once more let myself out of the backyard to visit my second-best friend, in the adjacent subdivision. I recall it was an overcast Thursday evening in mid-September; my family had left to go shopping. My second-best friend let me in through the back door after I buzzed him. A minute later I was in his private study, collapsed over his ottoman with none of my four paws touching the floor.

       “You worry too much, old boy,” said my second-best friend. He leaned back in his leather executive chair, clad in golfing clothes with his tennis shoes propped up on his cluttered desk. We were surrounded by great shelves of books that reached to the ceiling, between which were crammed diplomas and certificates covering what little wall space was left. My second-best friend was toying with an origami bird he had just made, the kind that flapped its wings when you pulled its tail.

       “What, me worry?” I replied, rolling my eyes. “That must be a kind of humor peculiar to humans. You must explain it to me sometime. After all that’s happened, now you tell me that I shouldn’t worry.” (If I failed before now to inform the reader that I can speak as well as type and use computers, I beg forgiveness. Bulldogs have a short muzzle that is a magnificent aid to vocalization, which I should have mentioned earlier as one of my good points, but I wanted to avoid boring you.)

       “Look at how well you’ve been doing,” my friend said, unfolding the paper bird as he spoke. “Last month you broke into those abandoned quarry tunnels and discovered the secret particle-beam accelerator that Metalmouth was using to guide Hurricane Bonnie toward Washington, D.C.—not to mention Baltimore and Lawndale—and you pulled out the plug and deactivated the accelerator so Bonnie gave us only a glancing blow before heading out to sea. That was magnificent! And that was on top of discovering the aerosol projector inside the Giant Strawberry that the Grey aliens were using to spray psychotropic chemicals over the suburb before the storm hit. You’re a hero a thousand times over, J.B. They’d give you the Congressional Medal of Honor if only you’d own up to it.”

       “And I would be taken away for study by government scientists and lose Dawn in the process,” I finished. “No, thank you. And you were as responsible as I was for stopping Metalmouth and his allies. Why aren’t you applying for that Medal of Honor?”

       “You know how I hate the D.C. bureaucracy,” he replied mildly. “Isn’t worth the trip for any medal. Country clubs—now that’s where real power lies!” His fingers folded and refolded the paper. “Artie did his share in stopping the invasion too, of course. He could go claim the medal for all three of us, though I doubt anyone would believe him. Boy doesn’t know when to shut up. Everything that comes out of that young man’s mouth makes him seem more delusional than before.” He grimaced. “Shame about his skin getting stolen, though. He says that synthetic skin the Greys grafted on him makes his forehead feel too tight.”

       “I should emphasize that the Giant Strawberry device did spray Lawndale,” I put in, not finished with my sour mood quite yet. “That was entirely my fault. I couldn’t get it shut off in time because I had to find Metalmouth’s secret lab and crawl through the ventilation ducts to get to it.”

       “And what harm was done as a result? None.” Andrew Landon held up the origami bird. He had refolded it in a new way so that when you pulled its tail, it not only flapped its wings but opened its mouth as if cawing. “So everyone in town got to sing and dance a bit. It’s good exercise. Michele and I cut the rug ourselves when we’re in the mood. And those chemicals muddled everyone’s memories just enough to keep them from later on wondering why they’d been participating in an off-Broadway musical while a Category Three storm was bearing down on them. Aside from a few sore throats and sore feet, everyone was fine.”

       “But if I’d only figured out the particle beam’s location a little sooner,” I moaned. “Poor Jodie—”

       “Jodie took the antidote like Michele and I did, so she was singing and dancing of her own free will while she was keeping an eye on the students, making sure they didn’t get hurt. She had four years of ballet in grade school, did I tell you that? Wanted to be a ballerina, but—”

       “The damage, the chaos—”

       “All the tree limbs have been cleaned up, the roofs have been repaired, and the flooded basements drained. Get Dawn to give you a tummy rub when you get home. You deserve a break.”

       I adore Andrew for his optimism, even if I find it intellectually impossible to take his point of view. “What about the satanists in High Hills Park? What if they start reanimating the dead again?”

       “The worst thing their zombies can do is jaywalk, you know that. It’s not like that three-hundred-year-old witch over in Burkittsville is helping them.”

       “Oh, thank you so much for bringing her up again,” I muttered, glaring at him. “I had almost forgotten about her. And what about the carnivorous plants that escaped from last year’s expo and infested the unstable landfill? What if they attack the home of the director of public works?”

       “That weed killer I gave to the local lawn-maintenance companies is keeping them down.”

       “And the cannibal grandparents at the Better Days Retirement Home, the ones who claimed they helped Doctor Lechter escape from the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane?”

       Andrew tossed aside the origami bird, which now laid paper-wad eggs when you pulled its tail. Or maybe those weren’t eggs. “Now I know you need a vacation,” he said. “Ever since you almost got nailed by that SUV, you’ve not been yourself. Where’s that loveable, fun-loving J.B. who used to beat the pants off me in Missile Command? Are you sure that car didn’t give you a bump on the old noggin?”

       “My noggin doesn’t need any new bumps,” I grumbled. “It has plenty already. Times have changed, Andrew. We’ve never encountered this many paranormal manifestations before, not to mention the abundance of peculiar mundane events. I literally cannot imagine what’s next on the disaster roster.”

       “Mmm. We have been fairly busy of late, but things could be worse.” He spread his hands and began to sing one of his favorite Monty Python tunes: “Always look on the bright side of life—”

       “Stop!” I howled. “Please stop this instant! I’ll be forced leave if you don’t—”

       Andrew chuckled and rolled his chair over to me. His huge hands began to gently scratch behind my ears.

       Against my will, I began to relax. “No fair,” I muttered as I closed my eyes. “That’s cheating. I want my bad humor back.”

       “Resistance is futile,” he intoned. “Old boy, you and I have taken on the worst of them, and we’ve always come out on top. You’re the best partner I’ve ever had in this business. There isn’t a serial puppy kicker around who won’t think twice before tangling with our team.”

       “I just wish the serial puppy kickers would go away,” I whispered, half awake under the gentle massage. “I wish they’d all go far, far away.”

       “‘Everything comes if a man will only wait,’” said Andrew.

       I gave a half-hearted growl. “Mere waiting accomplishes nothing, and I’m the one who quotes Disraeli around here, I’ll have you know.”

       “Very well. How about: ‘What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight—”

       We finished the saying together: “‘—it’s the size of the fight in the dog.’”

       “Eisenhower,” I added before he could. “May I ask you a personal question?”

       He kept scratching the back of my head. It was marvelous. “Fire away.”

       “Does origami really help you conceptualize the fourth dimension?”

       Andrew laughed and wheeled away from me, heading back to his overflowing desk. “It does seem to help,” he said, picking up the paper bird and studying it. “My father taught me how to fold paper after he got out of the Army, back in the fifties. He was stationed in Japan and picked it up there. Man, I must have made a thousand grocery sacks full of little birds and dinosaurs and things once I caught on to it. I was always good at math, topology especially. It just came naturally to me.” He smiled at me. “It didn’t hurt that it helped me create that folding coffee cup. The Army liked it well enough to put one in every MRE kit, and the rest—” He waved a hand at the well-to-do surroundings “—was history.”

       I knew the story of the folding coffee cup already, but I was tolerant of Andrew’s enjoyment in repeating it, at least as tolerant as he was of my compulsive need to complain about everything. “So,” I continued, grateful for the change in topic, “you say you can see four-dimensional objects in your head, like tesseracts or—um, those jar things, I’m afraid I forgot—”

       “Klein bottles.” He picked up a small hand-blown glass object from the chaos of books and papers on his desk. It looked like a clear ball with a curved handle. He regarded it with a solemn expression. “If I can find a way to crack through to the fourth dimension, we might be able to resolve that local weakening of spacetime that’s giving you, me, and everyone else in the Chesapeake Bay area so much grief. I think you’re right that we’ve had far too many of these disturbances lately, supernatural or otherwise.”

       He put down the Klein bottle and turned to one of his bookshelves, reaching for an egg-sized object that looked like the inside of transistor radio with the cover removed. “I had an idea for a kind of supernatural-event detector,” he said, “something like that PKE meter from the Ghostbusters movies, only I can’t get it to work properly.”

       I raised an eyebrow. “A ghost detector?”

       “More than that. I got the idea a year ago from reading about wormholes. There’s a kind of radiation that a wormhole should emit, especially an inter-universe type going from parallel world to parallel world.”

       “From a ghost world to this world, for instance.” I was following him as best I could. Quantum mechanics was never my strong suite, but I’d had only eight years of proper schooling.

       “Possibly. I got to thinking that a wormhole would of course produce instability in localized spacetime, and a natural consequence of that would be tachyons.” He looked uncomfortable, not meeting my gaze. “I can skip over the theory involved—”

       “Please do,” I sighed.

       “All right,” he said, as relieved as I was. “In short, this little device should detect tachyons out to a twelve-mile radius, giving us a leg up on any cross-universal invasion taking place, maybe even that old bitty in Burkittsville, assuming she’s concealing herself in—”

       “Andrew, please, can we not bring her up any further? My nerves.”

       “Well, you know what I’m talking about.” He shook his head, frowning at the device. “Can’t get it to work, though.”

       The tachyon detector looked like junk to me, but most human inventions do. “What’s wrong with it?”

       “It’s... it seems to be picking up tachyon radiation all the time, but it shouldn’t. I must not have set the sensitivity right. Maybe I’m getting superbradyons or something.”

       “Picking up radiation all the time?” I repeated.


       I thought for a moment. “As if there was a wormhole open somewhere nearby?”

       “Yeah, but that’s not possible. Wormholes aren’t stable, not even a traversable one. The amount of energy to keep one of those open would be tremendous.”

       “Pardon? What kind of wormhole?”

       “Traversable, a wormhole you can walk through, travel through.”

       A dreadful thought struck, and I shivered involuntarily. “That witch in Burkittsville—”

       “Thought of that, but it can’t be. She’s over thirty miles west of us, out of the detection range.”

       “Thank God for small favors. Aliens, maybe?”

       “Aliens have UFOs; they don’t need wormholes. They don’t even like the East Coast, except to try to get rid of us or pick on Artie. Poor kid.”

       I nodded at the device. “Does that thing measure signal strength? If you put it in your car and drive around, will it make more noise or whatever if it’s near the source of the tacky-whatevers?”

       “Good idea, but I haven’t tried it. Still think it’s messed up.”

       I studied the device. “Could I carry that around attached to my collar?”

       “What?” Andrew eyed me, then the device. “Don’t see why not. I could fix up a little earpiece for you, so you could hear it click. It’ll sound like a Geiger counter, the tachyon strikes registering like little clicks. You want to try hauling it around?”

       My ears perked up. “I could. It might take my mind off everything else, and maybe we would learn something from it. ‘Ignorance never settles a question.’”

       Andrew snorted. “You’re going to run out of Disraeli quotations one of these days, and then what are you going to do?”

       “Quote Gladstone. Why don’t you go ahead and put that thing on me? Dawn and the rest of the family went to the mall to shop for clothes, so I’ve nothing else to do. If they’re true to form, they won’t be back until nine, and I can get it off and hide it under my bed pillows before they get in.”

       Andrew had the device attached to my collar in under ten minutes. The weight was uncomfortable, but well within tolerance. The earpiece took a little longer to fix, but he managed to jerry-rig a suitable wireless device so I wouldn’t have an obvious cord going into my ear from the detector.

       “I don’t think anyone’s going to try to get a close look at the tachyon detector,” said Andrew when he finished. “I wouldn’t want to put my face next to a bulldog’s mouth just to peek at his collar.”

       “I’ve always been the perfect gentleman,” I sniffed. “I’m coura—”

       “—courageous, loyal, sweet-tempered, tenacious, yada, yada, yada.” He checked his watch. “I’d better head out and pick up Jodie. She stayed after school for a student council meeting, and I promised to take her for ice cream before she did her homework. She’s a great kid.”

       I gave him a doggish smile. Andrew was a demanding father, but he loved his children. A real brick, through and through. If it weren’t for him... well, for all my attempts at heroism, if it weren’t for Andrew, none of us would be here. I wouldn’t have so many of my dog-adapted tools, like my computer, or my excellent backdoor entry system at my home. Dawn’s father worked at Andrew Landon’s light industrial plant as the security foreman. The items Andrew made for me were given for free. It’s a complicated arrangement and will have to be discussed here another time, if at all. We’ll just say for now that I was originally supposed to be an “informal experiment.”

       I left Andrew’s home by the back door and headed out at a leisurely pace. My joints haven’t been the same since I turned seven, so it took time to warm up to the walk. Click-click, click-click, click-click—the tachyon detector spit a random string of echoed hits into my left ear, sounding like a ping-pong tournament. At first the sound was interesting, then less so, then rather boring. I began a large circle around the subdivision, hoping to detect an increase or decrease in the noise of tachyon hits, if that was what they were, before my legs gave out. The sun was about to drop below the skyline, but I had about an hour after dusk to roam about before I had to go home to greet my family—assuming they hadn’t already arrived home and found my presence wanting. Wouldn’t that herald a jolly time for one and all.

       As I went I was careful not to step on any cracks in the sidewalk—an old habit learned from humans, as you might guess. I did say dogs were superstitious, and for good cause. We normally sense a bit of the invisible world, the realm of ghosts and spirits and all unwholesome things that should have stayed in the grave but did not. We could detect abnormal odors, the scent of the supra-mundane, the whiff of those not of this world. We could hear whispers where humans heard only the wind, note the crack of a trodden stick on a soundless night. Little wonder we often bark at seeming nothing: we see threats everywhere that humans almost never do. Perhaps it’s better that way, perhaps not.

       I reflected on my vision as I walked. If only my eyesight was as grand as my other senses: a poor peripheral sense and mild nearsightedness that were my nemeses only, and of course the red-green colorblindness all dogs shared. I could see a little color, of course, colors that Andrew and I had determined were what humans knew as a muted yellow and blue, different from black, white, and gray. Humans and I saw the same blue sky and blue sea, the same bright sun. Beyond that, I would never know the legendary hues that humans called red, orange, green, or purple—not even the brown everyone tells me is the color of my coat. In my favor, my night vision was terrific, vastly better than human—within range, of course—and I had fine movement detection, too—when I was paying attention, which wasn’t as often as I would like. Plus there were the usual bulldog issues with eye infections, irritations, allergies, what have you. Overall, a negative balance. A complete pain, that’s what it was, but what can you do? What—

       Clickclickclicklclickclick. I stopped and frowned more than I usually did. I was on the northwest side of the subdivision, and the hit rate had picked up considerably in mere seconds. Beyond the edge of the housing area was a commercial district along a boulevard: shops and stores, restaurants, car lots, the usual. I looked around, but noticed nothing out of the ordinary... except for a new scent in the air. It was unfamiliar, almost electrical, and made my nose wrinkle and my nerves twitch and the hair rise all along my back. I had smelled it before but never under benevolent circumstances. My heart skipped a beat, possibly two or three.

       Others were here. Creatures not of this earth had found their way to Lawndale. I sensed their presence as clear as daylight, of which very little was left.

       For all my talk about bulldogs being stout and brave, I confess there are times when it is exactly that, mere talk. In that awful moment when I knew there were Others about, I nearly wet the sidewalk like a whimpering pup. It was the scent that had been on the zombies raised by the cult in High Hills Park, the smell around the Greys’ aerosol sprayer in the Giant Strawberry, the stench of the invader. I had to flee at once and call Andrew for help—

       Slowly, the blood began to move in my veins again. Or, I thought, I could also find out what the matter was, do a bit of investigating on my own so I could give Andrew a more accurate report. No sense going off half-cocked, as they say. “The secret of success is constancy to purpose” —good old Benjamin Disraeli. My resolve thus strengthened, I moved onward with exceeding caution. To avoid attracting any further attention, I got off the sidewalk and went through a row of bushes, which put me on the edge of an access road and a line of parking lots that ran behind the businesses nearby. The gathering darkness would serve to conceal me from casual view. I still regretted that I could not carry a radio or cell phone with me, but Metalmouth and others had buried sophisticated electronic eavesdropping systems all about town, and we could not risk giving away our plans.

       I remember thinking that with any luck at all, the scent would lead me to a jaywalking zombie that had gotten separated from its fellows several weeks ago when we sent the rest of its kind back to the grave. The zombies had not been overly destructive, though they had a nasty bite and tended to rush you as one, making it difficult to—

       Low voices echoed ahead, stirring me from my reverie. I crept forward until I peeked around the side of a parked car, behind a Chinese restaurant whose smell was familiar, as Dawn was fond of its pork fried rice. Despite my nearsightedness, I could see extraordinarily well in the twilight, even better than in the full light of day. Score one for canine eyes.

       A cluster of teenagers dressed in unusually outlandish and disturbing fashions stood next to a dumpster, the latter pushed against the back wall of the restaurant. The tachyon detector took in so many hits that the earpiece gave off nothing but sustained static. I realized I was very close to an open wormhole, though I saw nothing out of ordinary except the teens... who collectively smelled of the Other. It was them that I had been seeking. They were the invaders. I swallowed and shivered.

       Teenagers, though? Perhaps my fevered imagination had grown overheated. It stood to reason that not every invader from another dimension or universe had to be a foe. Despite their off-putting clothing, tattoos, piercings, and what have you, were they any worse than the teenagers with whom Dawn attended secondary school? Logically not. I was seized with the impulse to walk out and greet them, welcome them to our world, and give them a chance to put the right foot forward.

       It was then that one of those otherworldly teenagers grabbed another from behind, pulled out a knife, and slashed open the victim’s throat from ear to ear.





Chapter 3:

The Melancholy Days Are Come



       The unfortunate youth fell with a gurgling noise that tried to become a scream. A computer keyboard slid from his hands and clattered beside him on the asphalt. He struggled for a second to rise, then yielded to the inevitable and relaxed against the bloody pavement, quiet and motionless. A dark pool crept out around him and glistened in the streetlights. His eyes remained open, glazed with shock.

       The other teenagers stood with their eyes locked on the body. One of them, a girl, had gasped as the horrific deed was done, but not one of the five standing cried out or made any attempt to run. I had the impression that they were—there’s no decent way to put this—they were fascinated by what they had witnessed, morbidly drawn to drink in every moment of horror. I am sure my heart did not beat at all during that grim episode or for half a minute afterward.

       “Wow,” breathed the girl standing next to the murderer. She was about five and a quarter feet tall, hair braided in cornrows, wearing a skin-tight minidress that barely covered her ample mammaries and buttocks. (Humans are curiously built, but this is not the place for a digression.) The girl then turned to the killer and said, as best as I could make out at a distance, “Why’d you do Wye?”

       The murderer was a tall young man with wiry muscles, wearing a pulled-out T-shirt, dirty jeans, and scuffed cowboy boots. The T-shirt had the name of a long-ago punk band stenciled across it, the Dead Kennedys. (It was not a group with which I was overly familiar, nor did I want such familiarity.) His face was the part of him that arrested my attention—bland, for some reason that word comes back to me, it was bland and unremarkable, shallow and unaffected. It was as devoid of humanity as the empty space between the stars. That emptiness frightened me more than anything else about him.

       When the girl asked the question of him, the murderer shrugged. “Didn’t like ‘im,” he said, his voice as bland as his face.

       “You didn’t like him?” repeated the girl in the minidress.

       The tall youth knelt and wiped his bloody Bowie knife across the dead boy’s pants before standing. He tucked the long blade into a sheath hanging from the back of his belt, then pulled his T-shirt down to conceal the weapon. “Talked too much,” he elaborated as he grinned.

       The girl looked taken aback—then burst out in a wild peal of laughter. Of the other three present, only the humongous, bare-chested wrestler-type joined in her glee; he positively roared with mirth, the sound loud enough to echo for blocks. I have no idea why the noise did not attract anyone’s attention, unless the listeners were understandably afraid to investigate. The lad was six and a half feet tall from his black leather boots, black pants, and nail-studded belt, on up his massively muscled chest and tree-trunk arms covered with tattoos and piercings, to the top of his shaved, glistening head. An open black vest completed his clothing, though he had a delightful nose ring, earrings, and a dozen other metallic ornaments scattered about his person, imbedded in his skin. I noticed that he also wore a thin gold necklace of some sort, as indeed did all of the five who still lived.

       The two silent members of the group included a young man who appeared to be completely wrapped in a dull gray metallic foil that made a soft creaking sound when he moved. He had no other covering or clothing, not even boots, except for a pair of thick black goggles over his eyes and the aforementioned necklace. The dull metal foil covered his nose and mouth as completely as the rest of him, but he showed no distress at being unable to breathe.

       As appalling as the rest of the group was, it was the last one who caused me the most apprehension. She was, if my estimation of human standards of pulchritude is accurate, a shockingly, even preternaturally beautiful young woman, so striking and perfect she could have been a living work of art. Yet as I watched, I saw that she also had a peculiar facial tic: every few seconds, her flawless face would twitch, and in that instant her beauty would vanish and her skin would shrivel like the visage of an aged, withered corpse. Her lips would pull back to reveal teeth set in a ghastly rictus; her eyes would turn into hollow sockets; her cheeks would melt away into fleshless bone. This nightmarish transformation did not appear to trouble the diminutive young woman in the slightest.

       The shortest of the group at just over five feet, the beautiful young woman bore a waterfall of long, thick hair so densely black it was without detail; it was cut in bangs across her white forehead but otherwise fell freely down her back and along the sides of her head, perfectly framing her face. Her soot-black lips and long-sleeved, square-necked gown were as featureless as her hair, and her bottomless onyx eyes had been highlighted with Goth-like makeup to emphasize their mysteriousness. Though her hands, face, neck, and the top of her chest were alabaster white, they were as featureless as the darker parts of her. She had no trace of grayness nor hue of color, not anywhere on her—only dead black, dead white, and nothing else. I tore my gaze from her with the greatest effort to follow what the rest of the unearthly group was doing.

       “You know what’s gonna happen now, right?” said the girl in the minidress to the young man who had slain their companion. “I mean, you know what ain’t gonna happen?”

       “What?” said the youth after a beat. His tone made it clear he did not care one whit what would happen.

       “There ain’t gonna be no day for Wye now,” she said. “His day ain’t gonna come. All that stuff Wye was talkin’ ‘bout, crashin’ the ‘net an’ all that, it’s not gonna happen now ‘cause he’s dead. You killed him in the real world, so Wye’s dead for good, an’ so’s his day.”

       The bland-faced murderer stared at her, then snorted and glanced around the group with a little smirk. “Too bad,” he said.

       The girl in the minidress and the leather-clad wrestler laughed uproariously at this bon mot. The metal-foil man and black-and-white girl looked on in silence. My lungs were about to burst from my unwillingness or physical inability to breathe.

       “Oh, wow!” said the minidress girl at last, catching her breath and wiping her eyes. “You’re so freakin’ funny! You know, I even told Wye to watch out ‘cause you might get him, but he didn’t listen! He didn’t get it at all!”

       “Huh?” said the murderer, staring at her again. His grin was gone, his face empty and dangerous.

       The girl snickered without looking at him. “I said to Wye, ‘Beware the Ides of March,’ but he didn’t get it! I told him you might do it!” She then noticed the killer’s stare—and instantly flew into towering rage. “Don’t you start in on me!” she shrieked at the murderer. “Ain’t nothinhappenin’ to you, so get the hell over it! Don’t you dare look at me that way!

       The murderer’s gaze lingered on her a moment more, then he appeared to withdraw from the confrontation. He looked away and began scanning their common surroundings. I pulled further back behind the parked car, fearful of discovery, but the killer did not appear to notice me. “So,” he asked as if nothing at all had happened, “where’d your big sister go?”

       “Hell if I know,” the girl said. “Weenie goes where she wants. Bitch thinks she’s all that. She’s such a holiday whore. I don’t do that freakin’ trick or treat. This devil wants a night out first, and I like real tricks.” She made a reaching motion in the air with her right hand and suddenly had a lit cigarette between her fingers. “Thinks she’s all that,” she muttered, looking down at the dead teen at her feet, then she put the cigarette to her full lips. The ashen cigarette tip burned like the sun.

       “Dev,” said the wrestler with a faint Germanic accent that reminded me of Arnold Schwarzenegger, “wheh ah we going?”

       “Anywhere we want,” she said, blowing out a long cloud of smoke. “We can go anywhere we wanna go.” She looked back at him. “Where you wanna go, Wulf?”

       The wrestler grinned broadly. His teeth were like the grillwork on a battered semi tractor, with a couple of gaps visible. “I like to fight,” he said slowly. Anywheh iz good.”

       Dev in the minidress glanced at the silent members of the group, specifically at the black-and-white girl. “Frye, you an’ Trin wanna hang with us, or you got stuff you wanna do?”

       The black-and-white girl glanced down at the body in the pool of blood. “We’ll clean up,” she said. Her voice was beautiful even in my ears, but beautiful in a way that made your heart ache and stomach turn over. “You guys go ahead.”

       “Whatever,” said Dev with a trace of annoyance. She turned to the killer. “Ides, you goin’ with Wulf an’ me?”

       Ides ran a hand over his combed-back hair, smoothing it down. “Sure,” he said.

       “Cool,” said Dev. She gave Wye’s body a last look, kicked it once with a high heel, then waved at Frye and Trin. She, Ides, and Wulf sauntered off, heading around the side of the restaurant for the main boulevard. As Dev walked off, her arm came up and she snapped the cigarette away. It flew through the air and landed in the open dumpster bin behind the restaurant.

       Frye looked at Trin, who gazed down at the body. As soon as the others were gone, she bent down and reached for the dead boy’s neck. Her fingers curled around a bloody chain, and she jerked it free and lifted it to her face. A medallion swung from the end before her black eyes. Her face twitched and became skull-like for an instant, then was beautiful again. A few seconds later, she flipped the necklace away from her without a glance as to where it went. As fate would have it, it came in my direction and landed on the pavement not two feet from my forepaws. The bloodstained medallion was actually three gold capital letters that were linked together into one unit: Y2K.

       Rising to her feet, Frye said, “Go for it” to Trin, then turned and took half a dozen steps away, where she crossed her arms in front of her and waited without moving. Behind her, a curl of smoke rose from the dumpster where Dev’s cigarette had fallen.

       Trin glanced back at her, then looked down at Wye (“Y”) again and reached for his goggles. He lifted them up to his forehead—and I had to shut my eyes, as a retina-burning blue radiance came out from the two holes where his eyes should have been. The radiance fell upon the body of the dead youth they had called Y; the body began to smolder, then without warning the corpse became a brilliant mass of white flame. Oily black smoke boiled up from the cremated body into the night sky. The vilest of stenches, one hailing from the lowest pit of the Inferno, assailed my nostrils and my gorge. I choked on it and nearly ran, but I held my ground at the last moment to see what would happen next.

       The white bonfire dimmed and died. Smoke rose from the black-burned body, then the smoke too faded into darkness. The youth known as Trin had replaced his goggles by this time. After a pause, he stuck out a foot and toed the body. Y’s remains instantly collapsed into a featureless pile of ashes. Not even his computer keyboard remained.

       “Ready to go?” asked Frye. Trin nodded, still looking at the flash-burned remains of Y. Flames now leaped from the dumpster behind the Chinese restaurant as Dev’s parting legacy.

       “Oops,” said Frye in a gentle voice. For reasons I could not fathom, a thrill of terror ran through me at that one word. The black-and-white girl soundlessly turned in place until she was looking








       “Here, little doggie,” she said in that toneless voice. “Here, boy.”

       My vaunted bulldog courage shattered on the spot. I spun on my paws and ran—but was jerked to a neck-breaking stop scarcely an instant later. The accursed tachyon detector hanging from my collar had become snagged between the tailpipe of the car I was using for cover and the bottom of the car’s rear bumper. My windpipe was squeezed shut by the twisting of the dog collar; I wheezed and gasped for air even as I fought to escape, my paws scrambling over the asphalt but accomplishing nothing except to strangle myself in matchless terror. I threw a mad look behind me—and saw Frye was only twenty feet away, then fifteen, then ten, pacing toward me as soundless as smoke. Her face twitched second-by-second between that unearthly heartbreaking glamour and that accursed ghoulish façade. The medallion on her golden necklace now was clear to me. It was the number 13.

       “Poor little doggie,” she whispered as she knelt beside me. “Are we having a bad day?

       She reached for me with a featureless white hand.

       The buckle on my leather collar snapped. Free at last, I bolted from her touch like a bat loosed from the roaring flames of Hell. I vaguely recall leaping and clearing two parked cars in my flight, crossing several busy thoroughfares where tires squealed and horns blared all around me, headlights coming at but never striking me, and finally tearing through a maze of dark brush and undergrowth until, I later learned, I struck a massive tree and knocked myself wholly insensible. For all the injury that wild escape did me, for all the aches and cuts and bumps and bruises, I was grateful for every bit of it. And as for my cowardice, I had no shame about that at all—not until later, anyway, and even then, I admit, not much.





Chapter 4:

However Long and Hard the Road May Be



       The most peculiar dream came to me as I lay unconscious, in which I found myself in a courtroom charged with excessive public referencing of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations in the first degree. I protested that Bartlett’s was intended for such use, but the prosecutor—who looked disturbingly like William Gladstone, nineteenth-century British Prime Minister and Liberal Party member who was usually at odds with Benjamin Disraeli, separately a Prime Minister but of the Conservative Party—the prosecutor said my bias toward quotations from Disraeli violated the spirit of the book, and I should be fined 1,000 British pounds and imprisoned for ten years in a low-class kennel. My defense attorney—Winston Churchill, as it turned out—said this was all nonsense and he would introduce evidence proving that I was nowhere near the hydroelectric dam on the night of June 31st. I was puzzling over what if anything the dam had to do with the charges when the courtroom doors swung open and a petite young woman composed entirely of black and white walked in. A terrifying radiance spread out from her person like a mist; everyone in the room tried to escape it but failed, writhing on the floor in unspeakable torment until they arose again and stood erect, each one of them now a skeleton.

       “Poor puppy,” the black-and-white girl whispered, her black gaze fixed upon me as she advanced up the center aisle. “Don’t you know who I am?”

       I was paralyzed with terror. I would have given anything to have run, but no movement was possible. She came nearer to my place on the witness stand. “Today’s Friday,” she said in a soft voice. “That ring a bell?” Her face turned into a dark, bare skull with long black hair. Her jaw moved as she spoke. “Today’s Friday the—”

       The dream snapped and was gone. Daylight stabbed my eyes as I came fully awake, possessed of a roaring headache and having not the faintest idea of where I was or what I was doing there. Then I remembered the damnable girl in black and white, and I struggled to my feet—and collapsed at once, overcome by dizziness and the blinding pain in my head. Gritting my teeth, I sank down on the grass to recover my wits before trying to move once more. It was then that I heard footsteps and voices.

       “It’s a perversion, is what I’m sayin’,” snapped a man with a distinctly Irish accent. “It’s a crime against nature, a mortal sin, an’ those who indulge in such wicked practices ought to be whipped!”

       “Dude,” said a heavier voice that reminded me of a California surfer, “NABs aren’t all that bad.”

       “What are ya sayin’, ya big winged lummox?” shouted the Irish fellow. “That nonalcoholic beer ought t’ be legal? That innocent people ought t’ drink it? I canna be hearin’ ya right! It’s ten Hail Marys an’ off t’ confession with ya!”
       “Whoa,” said the laconic surfer, coming to a halt. “There’s a dog.”

       “Stop tryin’ t’ change the subject!”

       I looked up and tried to focus on the large blurry figure before me. It seemed to be a chubby college student wearing a toga. I’m afraid I had a lapse in judgment at that moment because I decided to speak, but my straits were dire. “Help!” I gasped. “Help me!”

       “It’s a talking dog,” amended the surfer, as if long accustomed to such sights.

       “Of course it’s a talkin’ dog!” cried the Irish fellow, who appeared to be barely five feet tall. He wore a hat and a shirt with a cloverleaf pattern on it. “Ya disturbed the natural order with yer wicked heresy! Next we’ll be havin’ a plague of locust an’ a rain of frogs!”

       “I think he’s hurt.” A giant pair of pink hands came down and gently lifted me into the air. I squinted and tried to see who had me. I could make out a peaceful round face with sun-bleached hair. “Whoa, it’s a bulldog. He’s pretty messed up.”

       “It’s an English bulldog! Put it down an’ wash yer hands, man!”

       “F-f-f-Friday,” I managed to squeak. “Friday... Thirteenth.”

       “Nah,” said the surfer. “Today’s Friday, September eighteenth. Close, though.”

       “She’s here.” I shivered, desperate to tell anyone. “Friday the Thirteenth is here.” I blinked at the big fellow and regained a scrap of my composure. “Who are you?”

       “Cupid,” said the big blonde guy. “But Friday the Thirteenth didn’t come with us. She goes to that alternative school, Hope High. She’s not allowed out.”

       “They ought t’ send Guy Fawkes Day there,” grumbled the Irish teen. “The bastard. Lock ‘im up with the rest of the hoodlums, I say.”

       “Oh, my,” I said, recovering very quickly. “I’m frightfully sorry if I gave you a turn; I shouldn’t have spoken. I—” I winced from my overpowering headache “—I didn’t mean to, um—”

       Cupid—or whoever he was—began to hum a tune. In moments, my headache vanished and my head cleared. On top of that, every injury I had sustained was gone. I was flabbergasted. It had to be real magic—and good magic, for once.

       “There you go, little dude,” said Cupid, and he put me down on the sidewalk. “Nothing like a morning-after from Maureen McGovern to set you straight. You can head home now.”

       Wide eyed, I took in the toga-wearing Cupid and his frowning Irish friend. Cupid had enormous white wings as well. “Why are you dressed like that?” I asked, wondering if the wings actually worked.

       “None of yer bloomin’ business, ya damn English mutt!” shouted the Irish guy.

       “Don’t pay any attention to him,” Cupid told me. “He’s got issues. Oh, we’re dressed like this ‘cause we’re holidays.” He jerked a thumb at himself. “I’m Valentine’s Day, like—you know—duh, and he’s like the leprechaun of Saint—”

       “An’ stop tellin’ the dog our secrets, damn it all!”

       “Chill out, dude,” said Cupid in his surfer drawl. “It’s just a talking dog.” The big guy in the toga looked down at me and smiled. “We gotta go find someone at the local high school to help us talk Christmas, Halloween, and Guy Fawkes Day into coming back to the island. They kind of like wandered off a week ago to start a band. Long story. Anyway, ciao.”

       Stunned, I watched the two of them turn and walk off down the sidewalk. In my newfound clarity of mind, however, it came to me that they knew who I had been talking about: an entity named Friday the Thirteenth. They had to be exactly who they said they were, Valentine’s Day and Saint Patrick’s Day. I had encountered so many bizarre creatures over the last few years, especially in the last two months, it was absurdly easy for me to swallow the idea that I had been in the presence of the human personifications of two of the most popular public holidays. Only supernatural oddities such as they would regard a talking dog as unremarkable. Either that, or I was having the most amazing hallucination.

       “Wait!” I cried, hurrying toward them. “A moment of your time, please!”

       They stopped and waited for me. “Well, okay, but we can’t stay,” said Cupid. “What’s up?” Saint Patrick’s Day (who was too tall to be a regular leprechaun) grabbed at his hat and stamped his foot in frustration at the delay.

       “Are there more of you here?” I asked. “More holidays?”

       “Just me and him and the other three,” said Cupid. “Nobody else came through the wormhole. Um, I think.”

       “But definitely not Friday the Thirteenth, you say.”

       “Definitely.” Cupid shook his head. “She’s kind of like in this special school for problem days, pretty heavily guarded. Nobody could get out of there unless they were like some kind of computer geek or something, which she isn’t.” As I listened I thought for a moment about poor Y2K, and instantly knew why he had been traveling with the other group. Ides of March must have been covering the escapees’ traces in killing him.

       “She’s in a reform school for holidays gone wrong?” I asked.

       “She’s not a real holiday, dude. She’s like the opposite of a holiday. Nobody celebrates Friday the Thirteenth. Not to get all judgmental about it, but she’s like one of those bad days, the—”

       “The suppressed days, the wicked days!” interrupted the over-tall leprechaun, getting quite red in the face as he shouted. “The un-holidays, do ya get it now? She’s one of the days everyone tries t’ forget or pretend don’t exist anymore, the days everyone’s scared to death of! Now, be off with ya! We canna be wastin’ time talkin’ with pets even if they can talk back! We’re on a mission!”

       “Sorry, but he’s right,” said Cupid with a shrug and a farewell wave. “Later, little dude.”

       This time I let them leave. I had entirely too much to think about. Friday the Thirteenth was here for sure: possibly the worst non-holiday of them all, as so many people worry about the date and it can appear more than once a year. And there were those appalling movies, too. But who were the others with her? The girl in the minidress who said she was Weenie’s sister... Weenie must be Halloween, and the only bad day associated with Halloween was the night before, Mischief Night, October 30th, also known as Devil’s Night (or “Dev”), the time for arson and vandalism, chaos and crime. And the Ides of March, the 15th, made famous by Shakespeare’s play about the killing of Julius Caesar, the personification of murder, betrayal, and assassination—a date no longer acknowledged as relevant and certainly not celebrated, but one whose influence reached into the present day in ghastly ways.

       And Lawndale was their new home! The very idea was monstrous. I had to prevent it from happening by any means possible.

       But who, then, were the dull-witted muscleman with the accent, and the silent one clad in soft gray metal whose eyes glowed? They could not possibly be good days. I racked my imagination but came up empty. I had to get back to Andrew Landon’s house as soon as I could and—

       Gods! I was staggered to realize I had not gone home last night! What would my truest friend think, my precious magnificent Dawn, the queen of my domestic life? Was she frantic with worry? Crazed with anxiety? Had she called the police and the fire department and the FBI? Was she even now crying in her bedroom, so grief-stricken that she had given up eating and drinking and going to school? How could I have let her down so cruelly? I mean, aside from being chased through the night by villainous supernatural demigods bent on my destruction, but was that any excuse?

       I hung my head. Dawn would throw me out when she saw me, so angry would she be at my perfidy. I would have to live like a coyote on the fringe of society, eating out of garbage cans—perhaps only those in the Crewe Neck subdivision, though, as they had a better quality of garbage—and living in storm sewers like the albino New York alligators in those entertaining urban legends. I deserved no less. With the weight of the world bearing down on me, I sighed and began my sad walk home.

       That was about two seconds before a flexible loop went around my neck, a loop attached to a long stout pole held by a muscular Lawndale Animal Control Officer. (I no longer had a dog collar or dog tags, I realized too late. Friday the Thirteenth’s curse was effective indeed.) I was then manhandled into a wire-and-plastic cage, placed in the rear of an Animal Control van, and taken to the local pound. Valiantly did I resist, but the officer was experienced in handling the likes of me and it got me nothing but neck burn from the loop.

       The humiliation of it was more than I could bear. Me, a (mostly) purebred English bulldog, courageous and incorruptible, faithful and valiant, the living symbol of strength and endurance; a member of the illustrious breed personally spoken of by Abraham Lincoln (“Hold on with a bulldog grip”); mascot of Yale and the United States Marine Corps, not to mention Mack Trucks; baiter of bulls and defender of children; one of the breed written of by the Bard himself, the great Shakespeare, in one of his plays about British kings, though I have had some difficulty locating the exact reference. Me, caged like a common opossum in the back of a van that smelled like cat urine. Death should have come before this dishonor. I discarded the possibility of talking my way out of it, as I would likely never see home again if I did; God knew where calculating, greedy men would take me next. They might even force me to do dog-food commercials. I lay down my head and waited for whatever Fate had in store for me.

       The Lawndale County Animal Shelter was nothing but one enormous warehouse of insane barking and meowing and screeching and howling and what have you, a deranged cacophony that would drive even the local satanists’ zombies mad if the odiferous nature of it did not slay the undead first. I put my paws over my head to cover my ears, tried not to breathe too deeply, and made an effort to fill my mind with cool thoughts, imagining a river running to the ocean, far from that dreadful spot. I had gotten only as far as picturing my dog dish full of water, back at home, when a door at the end of the great room opened and Andrew Landon walked in behind the officer who had captured me.

       I stood immediately and pressed my face to the wire bars, trying not to wag my tail too energetically. Andrew was led to my cage, whereupon he said, “That’s him,” and paid my animal-control fine of $50. I was fitted with a new collar and a leash and led out of the building. Once in the parking lot, Andrew took off the leash. “I had to miss a millionaires’ golf game today, hosted by Terry Berry Barlow,” he muttered. “You’d better have a good explanation for this one, old boy.”

       “We’ve been invaded by villainous supernatural demigods bent on the destruction of the earth,” I replied.

       “Good enough,” said Andrew. We got in his blue Jaguar and left at once. I lay on the floor of the passenger side in front and explained everything as he drove and listened.

       “I wouldn’t have believed a word of this if you weren’t a talking bulldog,” said Andrew, highlighting yet another of the reasons I so adored him. “I’ll have to build another tachyon detector when I have time. Shame about the other one and the earplug, but what can you do. Before then, however, I think we’d better call in the Irregulars and come up with a plan.”

       “Can you call Dawn and let her know I’m safe, at least?”

       “I’ll have Jodie do that.”

       “Isn’t she at school today?”

       “Oh. Um, right. Well, I’ll call the office and have someone there do it, one of the interns. You and I have real work ahead of us.”

       “Let Dawn know it wasn’t my fault.”



       “Not a problem.”

       We drove back to Andrew’s home and went in through the garage. I nervously cleared my throat as I came in, peering left and right for a different kind of threat. “Won’t your wife be displeased to discover my presence?” I whispered, remembering that she was not fond of seeing animal hair on her furniture or carpets. To say that Michele Landon has a temper problem is like saying Mount St. Helens made a noise when it blew up and took part of Oregon with it.

       “She took little Evan to her mother’s for the day,” he said, striding toward his study. “The girls are in school, so we have the house to ourselves.”

       The reader will understand when I say that this news did not ease my concern, as Michele might have at any moment appeared at the door in search of a diaper bag or lost sunglasses, but I did relax enough to allow Andrew to fill a paper plate for me with leftover hamburger and fried chicken (no bones), which I devoured at once. It was no time to quibble over nutritional values.

       Andrew then turned on his wide-screen TV and set it to a local station to see if there was any news. Indeed, as a soap opera prattled on, a line of ticker-type scrolled across the bottom of the screen, naming the locations of a curious series of car accidents and arsonist attempts plaguing Lawndale at the moment. I called his attention to that and suggested we mark the spots on a map. I had an idea that one or more of the “bad days” would prove responsible, and we might track them if we acted quickly.

       “Good idea,” he said, tapping a speed-dial number into his phone. “I’ll have one of the Irregulars do it.” He waited a moment, then spoke into the handset in a cheery tone. “Good morning, this is Andrew Landon. May I talk with Principal Li, please? Thanks, I’ll hold.”

       “Getting Jodie?” I asked.

       “She has a French test today,” he said, cradling the phone between his shoulder and right ear. “And something with the tennis team after school. I think it’s the tennis team. Might be student council. Whatever. Oh, yes, Ms. Li, this is Andrew Landon. How are you? Fine, thanks. No, it’s not about Jodie. Yes, she’s a wonder, isn’t she? No, I’m calling because there’s a meeting scheduled in half an hour for the Junior Business Achievers of Lawndale, and a few of your students volunteered to attend as interns. Someone has to make the coffee and staple things.” He laughed before continuing. “All day, I’m afraid. Will they have to make up homework? Wonderful, thank you so much. I’ll drive over and pick them up in ten minutes. Oh, you will? Are you sure? I mean, you have a school to run. Well, thank you so much! I’ll have Michele mention your graciousness the next time she speaks to the Lawndale Businesswoman’s Alliance. You know where I live? Okay, then, here’s the list...”

       After he hung up, he called his office to have an intern call Dawn at school with the news of my untimely rescue from the pound. I groaned to myself, knowing the backyard fence would be mended for sure as a result, but it could not be helped. Andrew then sat back in his leather chair, put his feet on his cluttered desk, looked at the ceiling, and went into deep thought. I turned my attention back to the TV, making an effort to attend only to the news tickertape, not to the soap opera. (How humans can watch that nonsense and keep track of who is cheating on whom is a mystery. And people think dogs are indiscriminate with whom they mate. I will resist the urge to pontificate further.)

       It was about five minutes before a car beep sounded outside, signaling Ms. Li’s arrival with the rest of the Irregulars, when a disturbing note appeared on the screen. Lawndale’s public library had been vandalized by someone who had thrown concrete blocks through its windows. Damage was estimated to be in the thousands of dollars. Police were looking for a bald man in black pants, possibly a weightlifter, who was seen throwing the blocks single-handed.


       Something about this information niggled at my consciousness. I padded over to one of the bookshelves and found a copy of an almanac, then brought it over to the TV, carrying it most carefully in my teeth. With some difficulty I managed to turn to the index (oh lucky thou art, you with opposable thumbs) and began scanning the list of names, places, dates, and so forth, hoping it would trigger a memory that would identify the culprit. Nothing came to mind. Bald guy, tears up libraries, bad nature, German accent but speaks English... he sounded very much like a stereotypical neo-Nazi skinhead.

       Bingo—it came together. In my frequent readings about criminal gangs and terrorist groups, I remembered there was one particular day that neo-Nazi groups celebrated in common, a day that had been taken up by white supremacist societies and by other radicals around the world who supported tyranny and fascism, thugs and political malcontents who had no love for democracy, law, or any number of vulnerable minority groups. It was a banned date, a dark date, but it was one not universally known. I found the proper page in the almanac’s biography section just as Ms. Li’s car horn sounded, and in moments located the last tidbit I needed to name the un-holiday.

       April 20th was the date.

       Adolf Hitler’s birthday.





Chapter 5:

Let Slip the Dogs of War



       Andrew Landon got the idea for the Irregulars not from a laxative commercial (little joke there, nothing serious intended) nor from reading about Sherlock Holmes and his Baker Street Irregulars, but instead from watching an old movie, The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eighth Dimension, of which Andrew is inordinately fond. The movie features a team known as the Blue Blaze Irregulars, a cheerful, motley band of heavily armed citizens who support Mr. Bonzai’s crusade against the forces of evil. I have the impression that Andrew always wanted to be a part of such a team—rather like the child Scooter in the movie—and the high-school Irregulars with whom he now met were his attempt to recreate the same set-up, only with Andrew as the new Buckaroo, and no guns (thank you, God).

       I adore Andrew, if I haven’t already mentioned that, but his concept of the Irregulars has two troublesome flaws. One, I suspect Andrew has always wanted to have a son, and even though he now has little Evan he still likes playing a fatherly role to boys whenever possible, giving them guidance and a sense of greater purpose in their lives. However, the Irregulars include no girls, which is a bit irksome on a politically correct level. My cautious mentioning of the issue has gotten me nowhere; Andrew simply ignores it. While his daughter Jodie has helped our cause on occasion, she is not nor ever has been an Irregular. I don’t even know if she’s been offered a position with us. His middle child, Rachel, wants nothing to do with us whatsoever and usually pretends we don’t exist.

       Two, as Disraeli once wrote, “Youth is a blunder,” and a meeting of the Irregulars always begins with a brainstorming session which seems to me nothing more than the above quotation brought to painful life. I had no sooner finished my summary of the events of the last twenty-four hours when The Head—an eye-frames-wearing lad in a gray T-shirt with the image of a man with an enormous cranium—said, “Halloween’s here in town, and she’s a girl?”

       “I believe that was what Devil’s Night said, yes,” I replied, keeping one eye on the TV screen in search of more breaking news.

       “Whoa, dude!” cried The Head (his Irregulars’ codename, which I shall use instead of his real name, which is Derek). “That would rock to go out with her!”

       “She’s evil, you nimnob!” yelled Shaggy (another Irregulars’ codename, though this shaggy-haired, eye-frames-wearing, baggy-pants youth’s real name was Dewey). “She’d bite you and you’d die of black widow spider poison!”

       “No, she wouldn’t!” protested The Head.

       “What’s Devil’s Night like?” asked Brother Grim (codename for an Afro-wearing youth with the requisite eye-frames and a miniature radio forever tuned to talk shows). “Is she really hot?”

       “Skull heads are cool, so I’m going out with Friday the Thirteenth!” said Graham, the only one of our male teen group not from Lawndale High School, not needing eye-frames, and not using a codename. At Andrew’s call, he drove himself over in his father’s Ferrari from Grove Hills Academy, a well-to-do private school in the Lawndale area.

       “None of you are going out with any of them!” I cried, having had my fill and seeing that Andrew was not coming to my assistance, being still deep in thought in his chair. “They’re sociopathic criminals with supernatural powers bent on destroying our city!”

       “Maybe the media’s blowing it all out of proportion!” said The Head. “Maybe they’re just lost and trying to get home! And what do you know about girls, J.B.? I bet Halloween is super hot!”

       “I know they already have boyfriends, and their boyfriends would kill you even if the girls didn’t!” I responded. “Look at the TV, at the news! They’re rampaging around town, and we’re wasting time arguing about dating them!”

       A general chorus of “Aw, man, come on!” greeted this, but I pressed on to regain the upper hand. “We need to brainstorm some means of stopping them. If you are determined to engage in self-destructive behaviors with the females afterward, that’s your own funerals, but right now—”

       “Hey, you know what?” said Bug Guy (codename for a light-haired youth wearing contacts, known for his two pocket protectors containing over a dozen pens, pencils, and markers). “I think I saw those two guys you were talking about, the big guy in the diaper and the Irish guy! They were talking to Kevin Thompson and Brittany Taylor right after second period!”

       “Yeah, I saw ‘em, too!” said Penguin of Doom (a codename, but don’t ask me why he chose that one). “Those were real holidays? Oh, man! I thought they were like college exchange students in a school play or something!” A rather overweight boy with especially thick eye-frames, Penguin’s primary claim to immortality is that he can snort anything he drinks out of his nose, a feat guaranteed to reduce the rest of the Irregulars (except for me) to helpless laughter. It works every time. Trust me.

       “Did you overhear anything they were saying?” I pressed, ignoring the chorus of hoots and shouts filling the study.

       “After they talked with Kevin and Brit, they said they were going to go talk to some smart chick or something,” said Penguin of Doom.

       “Maybe they’re here as part of a publicity stunt!” said Brother Grim. “Any of you see that Sick, Sad World show the other night about that mall in Atlanta with the manger scene in August and everything? Maybe the mall sent those guys here to advertise their stuff!”

       “Oh, man!” cried Penguin. “That would suck! I hope they’re for real! Are there any other girl holidays here?”

       “You said Y2K was dead?” asked Graham out of the clear blue. He was extraordinarily bright and often caught on long before the others did, even when distracted.

       “Ides of March killed him, yes,” I replied.

       “And they said there wasn’t going to be a Y2K problem or anything, right? ‘Cause he was dead here in the real world? The computers aren’t gonna crash or anything when they hit the event horizon on January first, two thousand?”

       “Yes, they are!” shouted The Head.

       “No, they’re not!” Shaggy shouted back. “The dude’s dead!”

       “So,” said Graham, “if we kill them, the bad days won’t exist anymore, right?”

       The study was suddenly silent.

       “I mean,” Graham elaborated, “if you killed Devil’s Night—”

       “Hey!” Brother Grim cried.

       “Lemme talk!” Graham snapped. “Listen! If you killed Devil’s Night, people would stop burning down stuff and all that the night before Halloween, wouldn’t they? The un-holiday, as J.B., calls it, wouldn’t exist! We could stop them all!”

       The silence was broken by a low “Whoa!” from Bug Guy.

       I confess a similar concept had been floating through my head for some time, though I had dared not give voice to it. I found the idea infinitely disturbing. “Wait a moment,” I said quickly. “No one is killing anyone.”

       “But think about it!” said Graham. “If you killed that big skinhead jock, nobody would celebrate Hitler’s birthday, would they? Think about it!”

       “Man, Graham, you really don’t like jocks, do you?” said Brother Grim.

       “We don’t know that that’s would really happen!” I said, getting more nervous by the second. “Maybe we only have to trap them and send them back through the wormhole to their own universe, get them out of ours!”

       “But then they might come back!” shot Graham. “Do you want Ides of March running around assassinating people? Or the big jock guy beating everyone up?”

       “Let’s kill the guys and trap the girls!” said Shaggy.

       “Yeah!” said almost everyone else.

       No!” I cried. “No killing! It’s wrong! And you’re going up against the real-life equivalent of comic-book supervillains! I’ve seen them in action, and they don’t take prisoners!”

       “Uh-oh,” said Brother Grim. He had been watching the news ticker on the TV screen while the rest of us had been arguing. “They broke into a gun shop.”

       We watched the story unfold. A gun-and-ammo store had been burglarized and damaged by fire. Some of its inventory had gone missing.

       Now do you want to go fight them directly?” I said, hoping that would make my point better than anything I could say.

       “Not if that Ides guy can shoot like Oswald,” said Penguin, looking subdued.

       “So, brainstorm some more!” I ordered. “How can we stop them? Think!”

       Silence. The Irregulars watched the TV. Live news coverage was beginning outside the burning gun shop.

       “That’s the TV station where Sandi Griffin’s mom works,” said Bug Guy.

       More silence.

       “Who was the smart chick?” said Graham.

       “What?” said several of the others.

       “The smart chick that Diaper Man and Irish Guy were looking for.”

       “Probably Jodie,” said Penguin, giving Andrew a quick glance.

       “Could be what’s-her-name, with the big last name,” said Bug Guy.

       “Darlene,” said Brother Grim.

       “Daria Morgendorffer,” corrected Shaggy. “She’s in some of my classes. She’s really weird.”

       “Hmmm,” said Graham, watching the screen. “What’s she look like?”

       “Short, green jacket, black skirt, round glasses,” said Shaggy. “Always wears the same thing. Weird.”

       “Oh, she was in that self-esteem class with me last year,” said The Head. “She is weird. Hangs out with that artist chick. I think they’re hooked up, if you get my drift.”

       “Tell us something we don’t know,” said Brother Grim in a bored tone.

       “Hmmm,” said Graham.

       “You know her?” said The Head, looking at Graham. “That Daria girl?”

       Graham paused for a beat, still watching TV, then said, “No. Never heard of her.”

       “You ever meet Jodie when you’re over here?” said The Head. “I heard she went over to your school last year, she and Daria, for something, I don’t know what.”

       Graham slowly shook his head no. He glanced at Andrew, who was still thinking, then went back to watching the TV. “Not yet,” he said at last.

       “I was thinking,” said Bug Guy, “maybe we could go through the wormhole and invade their universe, see how they like it!” This produced a useful chorus of “Whoa, man!” and “That rocks!”

       “Or we could turn off the wormhole and trap them here in this universe,” said Graham calmly. “I wonder if they get less powerful over time if they’re out of their home universe. Fish out of water.”

       “Maybe that would kill them,” said Penguin. “Like you said, fish out of water.”

       “Wait a minute,” said The Head. He took out his cell phone and dialed directory assistance at 4-1-1. “Lawndale Mall main office, please,” he said.

       “Who are you calling?” asked Bug Guy.

       “Shhh!” said The Head, then he spoke into the phone. “Aunt Beth, hey. Yeah, it’s me. I wanted to ask you something. When does Christmas and Halloween stuff go on sale?” He waited, listening. “It’s not at all?” he finally said. “So, like, sales and stuff are way down? When do they put up decorations and everything?” Another pause. “No way,” he said. “Okay, no problem. Talk to you later.” He shut off the cell phone and faced the group. “Aunt Beth says they heard that big mall in Atlanta, the one that was on Sick, Sad World, just took down its Nativity scene and put up winter-sale advertisements. They were gonna put up their own Christmas and Halloween stuff, but all the really early sales are way down, so they’re not gonna bother.”

       “That’s because Christmas and Halloween are here in this world,” said Graham. His eyes seemed to light up as he leaned forward in his chair. “They’re vulnerable. The holidays have a weak spot. The longer they stay in this world, the weaker their actual holidays get, which means they’ve got to get weaker, too!”

       “We shouldn’t go after the good holidays!” I cried. “Only the bad ones!”

       “Maybe we can trap them all and then sort them out!” said Penguin. “The good guys can go, but the bad guys—” He drew a finger across his throat.

       “Expedition to explore the wormhole!” shouted Bug Guy. Everyone vocalized loud approval.

       “We’d better hurry,” said Andrew.

       Everyone turned to look at him. He sat upright in his chair, a hand pressed to his right ear, then pulled out a wireless ear receiver similar to the one he had given me for the tachyon detector.

       “I’ve been listening to the tap we put on Metalmouth’s underground cable network,” said Andrew. “He’s figured out there’s a cross-universal invasion going on, and he’s ordered his henchmen to check it out. He might try to attack some of the real holidays and un-holidays, but I think it’s more likely he’ll try to get them to join his forces, or else figure out a way to use them in his plans for world domination. There’s a lot of chatter coming out of the abandoned quarry, too. Can’t tell if he’s trying to re-establish his old fortress there or what.” He got out of his chair and headed for the garage. “Time to mount up,” he said. “We’ll pass out the goodies on the way.”

       The room emptied on the spot as the Irregulars ran after him to get into the Chariot, which is what the boys called Andrew’s grossly oversized and overpowered SUV, a Futura Motors Mastodon with an armored grill. It was based on a discarded design for a Marine Corps armored personnel carrier and looked it. I sighed and got off the ottoman, then gave the TV set a last look before leaving. Police, said the newscaster, had no leads on the gang that had been committing vandalism and arson across Lawndale overnight and into the early morning. Things appeared to be settling down, however, and cleanup and evidence gathering were both well underway.

       I grimaced, fearing the relief was only temporary. The bad days must have gone into hiding for a time, waiting for night to fall to continue their rampage—unless we found a way to stop them. I shut off the set and hurried out to the Chariot with marked anxiety.

       The Irregulars had to hoist me into the oversized vehicle, whereupon I found my usual place in the rear and prepared myself for the drive. The so-called “goodies” being distributed from the front seat included military-grade body armor sized for each boy, helmets, assorted energy detectors, pocket computers, and ear-mounted communicators with wireless lines scrambled to prevent (or at least slow) Metalmouth from learning our plans. As I mentioned, Andrew had taken pains not to equip the Irregulars themselves with actual weapons, though they could do considerable damage to electronic systems with the materials they did carry. The Chariot’s defenses and weaponry were another matter entirely.

       Andrew drove over to the area where I had detected the wormhole, which turned out to be behind the popular Good Time Chinese restaurant on Marcil Boulevard, near the intersection with Johnson Avenue. We made a recon in force, backed up by the power of the Chariot, but no one was there. We did find a half-scattered mound of ash where Y2K had met his doom, which brought everyone up short and added an ominous undercurrent to the proceedings. Bug Guy, Brother Grim, Penguin of Doom, and Shaggy were then detailed to set up a security perimeter and investigate the wormhole. If they found it, they were not to confront any supernatural entity, friendly or otherwise. They weren’t to get picked up by the police for truancy, either, though I had no doubt they could talk their way out of relatively minor problems like that, even dressed in body armor and helmets as they were. Principal Li would back them up in any event, knowing Andrew wanted it done.

       That done, Andrew took The Head, Graham, and me to the rock quarry on the southwest side of town. It lay across a railroad line in a lightly populated area, screened from the rest of town by dense forestation. We approached with the greatest caution, all defenses up, and took a little-used gravel road leading into the far side of the quarry by the shallow lake.

       “Getting a coded transmission,” said Graham, working the controls of a fold-out communications set in the shotgun seat. “Can’t make it out. It’s on one of Metalmouth’s minor frequencies.”

       “No hostiles,” said The Head, in the middle seat behind the front. He was operating the fire-control system for the Chariot. Technically that was illegal given his age, as you can well imagine, but The Head did not yet have his permit to drive, and Graham was a little overeager to play with weapons, so The Head got to operate the big guns. I stayed in the back, up on my two back feet so I could look out the window and serve as rear guard.

       The Chariot exited the forested road and entered the quarry proper—and came to an immediate rocking halt, throwing everyone forward into their seat restraints. Everyone but me, that is; I fell over on my back and yelped.

       “What happened?” yelled The Head, looking around.

       “Oh, crap!” said Graham, looking out the windshield with wide eyes.

       I got up and looked between Graham and The Head to see what was holding us up. My eyes went as wide as Graham’s did.

       Standing in a group only sixty or seventy feet away were four teenagers: a huge skinhead wrestler, a girl in a minidress, a bland-faced kid in a dirty T-shirt and jeans, and a girl composed entirely of black and white.

       “Get us out of here!” I yelled at Andrew. “It’s them!

       “Hostiles in the air at six o’clock!” shouted The Head, charging the plasma cannon. “Hoverguns, H-and-K’s, netters and cage-bots! They came out of the woods right behind us!”

       I ran to look out the back window. Metalmouth’s robots were filling the skies over the forest and the road down which we had just traveled. “It’s a trap!” I yelped. “We drove into a trap!”

       “Mister Landon!” came a tinny, echoing voice I knew entirely too well. It rang out from the hovering armada of automated vehicles behind us. “It appears you have fallen on evil days, my old friend!”

       “Don’t shoot yet!” Andrew called to The Head. He then picked up a hand microphone from the dashboard, leaving the Chariot running while parked. “Metalmouth, what are you doing here?” he snapped. Hidden speakers in the Chariot’s body amplified his words and broadcast them across the entire quarry.

       “I was going to ask you the same thing,” said Metalmouth through his robots. “I had thought I would invite these fine young extra-dimensional individuals to discuss our mutual interests. To my surprise, they accepted my request—but this was supposed to be a private party, not open to crashers. Are these interesting personalities acquaintances of yours, perchance?”

       “Say yes!” advised Graham. “Make him think they’re on our side!”

       “That might tick off the un-holidays,” said Andrew, his thumb off the transmit button. His brow furrowed, again deep in thought, then he pressed the microphone button. “I’m familiar with their work,” he said.

       “Not a yes, not a no,” Metalmouth’s voice echoed around us. “If you would be so kind as to turn off your engine and exit your remarkable vehicle, then perhaps we might resolve this Mexican standoff for the benefit of one and all.” He began to chuckle. “Rather, for the benefit of me,” he added, and he laughed harder.

       It was then that Graham did something to the communications controls and grabbed the microphone handset from Andrew’s hand, pulling it toward his mouth. “ATTACK METALMOUTH NOW!” he shouted into the open mike. His deafening voice thundered across the quarry.

       “Graham!” Andrew shouted, snatching the microphone back, but it was too late. As I looked out the windows, I saw Metalmouth’s hoverguns and flying hunter-killers move slightly, entering their attack positions. I looked out the windshield—and saw Super Skinhead and Ides of March raise two pistols each, pointing over our vehicle. Devil’s Night was taking a cigarette from her mouth and winding back for a throw.

       “GET GOING!” I roared at Andrew, then turned to The Head and yelled, “FIRE!”





Chapter 5.5:

A Brief but Necessary Digression



       I beg your indulgence before we continue.

       Among the many urban myths circulating through the secondary schools of the Chesapeake Bay region is the legend of Metalmouth, also known as Steelteeth or (predictably) Jaws. The short form of the story is this: Once upon a time, there was an industrial arts teacher who went mad, some say because of his students (not a hard development to swallow), and as a result he replaced his regular teeth with stainless steel dentures, with which he could tear apart wooden doors, desks, chairs, irritating students, and so forth. In most versions of this tale, the teacher becomes a crazed, vengeful stalker preying upon students making out in parked cars, much as per the more famous urban legend, “The Hook.” One of the elements associated with this legend is that Metalmouth’s steel dentures accidentally pick up pop music stations and play the songs just loudly enough that you can hear them up to thirty feet away, which gives away his approach and allows frightened teens to escape. Metalmouth’s story is frequently told during overnight campouts around the bay area, and for maximum effect one of the naughtier campers usually sneaks out of the woods about midnight and turns on a small radio next to the rest of the sleeping tents, which almost always produces a prolonged, noisy, and satisfying response.

       An entertaining anecdote, to be sure, but the reality is a bit different. Metalmouth (not his real name, but it will do for now) was once a brilliant government scientist in the U.S. Defense Department. This was in the late 1950s, during the height of the Cold War’s atomic paranoia. His specific employer was the Advanced Research Projects Agency, and he assisted with Project Defender, whose mission was to develop weaponry that could destroy incoming ballistic missiles during a hypothetical Third World War. You can look all this up using your favorite Internet search engine if you wish; it is all true. Metalmouth’s favorite assignment was a program called GLIPAR (never mind what that stands for), for which he reviewed proposals from various persons and corporations for building unconventional devices, the likes of which the earth had never before seen or imagined. Among the other “blue sky” inventions he studied were death rays, plasma guns, electromagnetic force fields, antigravity weapons, antimatter bombs, orbiting constellations of anti-satellite spacecraft, nuclear-powered bombers, flying saucers, nuclear cannon, city-sized spaceships powered by atomic explosions, H-bombs that could blind enemy defenses across a continent, and worldwide computer networks providing instantaneous communication and response times to any form of attack. He studied and knew them all.

       Some of these wild proposals actually worked. You now have the Internet as a result of the labors of ARPA (now DARPA), as well as lasers, particle beams, the Saturn V rocket, artificial intelligence, GPS receivers, antimissile defenses, hypersonic aircraft, cruise missiles, virtual reality, and every sort of military satellite in the American arsenal. DARPA has worked on everything you can possibly imagine, plus a few things that you probably would not believe possible, like invisibility or computers controlled by your mind. You think I am kidding, but I am not. Wait a few years and see for yourself.

       Some proposals Metalmouth reviewed might have worked, except for the niggling fact that they were insanely dangerous even to the country that built them, such as H-bomb-carrying supersonic robotic aircraft using nuclear-powered ramjets that became so radioactive in flight they could not be recovered, so the jets could only be crashed in enemy territory where they would poison the land for thousands of years. (This was Project Pluto. Look it up.) As they were regarded as counterproductive to human survival, these things were never built, or so most people thought before Metalmouth came along. And some proposals were believed not workable at all, but that was mostly because Metalmouth officially rejected those ideas as unworkable even as he quietly stole them for himself. From the early 1960s onward, he began developing his own private robotic military force in secret, in various locations across the U.S. He was able to do so because he invested wisely under assumed names, knowing which company was going to get which government contract, and he became quite wealthy. Retiring from ARPA to avoid discovery, he took up a job as a substitute high-school teacher as a cover for his clandestine activities. He taught for a while, in fact, at Lawndale High School.

       He became known as Metalmouth because he really did replace his teeth with steel ones. He replaced most of his body in time and became a cyborg, part human and part machine. He had a perverse habit of playing incongruous music over loudspeakers when he attacked those who opposed him or merely happened to be in the way of his plans—pop tunes were his favorites, usually something by Elvis or Roy Orbison. And, though he could be charming, he did slowly go mad over the years, suffering crippling delusions and paranoia that did the earth far more good than it did him. His mental debilities hampered his efforts at conquest, so he was never the world-destroying villain he always wanted to be. No one wept that he never achieved his dreams, which would have been everyone else’s nightmares.

       Eventually the U.S. government caught on to him, but it never caught him. Many of his secret bases have been attacked and destroyed; a few of the ones out west were hit by atomic weapons under the guise of “underground nuclear testing.” Still, he keeps coming back. No one knows where he is or what he’s doing, but it’s a sure bet whatever he’s planning is not even remotely in our best interests.

       It’s also a sure bet that tangling with Metalmouth is an experience you will never wish to repeat, and this particular moment—being caught between four supernatural invaders and a full wing of Metalmouth’s elite flying marauders—was precisely one of those experiences.





Chapter 6:

Never Wear Your Best Suit to a Dogfight



       My recollection of what happened after the shooting started is rather unreliable, being as preoccupied as I was with immediate survival. A subsequent review of the Chariot’s “black box,” which held all the data collected from the video, audio, and other data recorders mounted aboard the vehicle, inside and out, helped me put subsequent events in a semblance of order for this narrative.

       The fight began to the opening strains of Mr. Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” which rang out at overwhelming volume from Metalmouth’s flying robots as they opened fire with moderately lethal weaponry. I heard the snarling hiss of high-explosive missiles in flight and the bang-bang-bang of rocket-propelled concussion grenades being launched, and—knowing there was nothing left for me to do in the Chariot, as I lacked opposable thumbs with which to be of any assistance—I jumped for the rearmost seat, meaning to pull off the seat cushion with my teeth, dive into the armored safe box mounted below, pull the lid shut, and hide in relative safety, which is what everyone told me I should do in case things got out of hand. I hasten to add that I was not being cowardly, merely prudent, not that it matters all that much in the end, I suppose. To my detractors I must quote Disraeli, who famously said: “How much easier it is to be critical than to be correct.”

       Several events simultaneously conspired to prevent my attainment of a safe haven. For one, Andrew threw the Chariot into reverse and stamped on the gas, then spun the SUV around and threw it into forward gear, hoping to drive out of the quarry the way we came. The vehicle’s sudden movements caused me to miss the seat toward which I had jumped, and instead I painfully banged my nose into a window and fell to the floor. The Head then fired the plasma cannon on the roof, which caused the inside of the SUV to reach one hundred thirty degrees Fahrenheit in a second. Everything in my field of vision lit up as if the naked sun had passed directly above us. Thank heavens for the polarized windows or we all would have been blinded. The glare and the afterimages were still dreadful, but I could make out stark black shadows racing through the car as the plasma ball was hurled away. A hovergun took the hit and detonated so loudly my ears rang. (There had been no time to put in earplugs—and no opposable thumbs to do so even if there had been time.) This was a half second before a high-explosive missile hit the quarry ground a dozen yards to our right. The shockwave and flying debris cracked the inch-thick bulletproof windows facing the blast and almost flung the Chariot over on its left side. Sans seatbelt as I was, I was tossed about the Chariot like a ping-pong ball in a rolling barrel.

       I found myself upside-down in the rear of the vehicle and struggled to my feet, but the Mastodon’s front wheels then went over a rock ledge and we went airborne, sending me toward the ceiling. When the Chariot hit the bottom of the dry gulley, the impact flung me into the back of The Head’s head, causing him to accidentally trigger the plasma cannon. As it turned the interior of the Chariot into a huge bright toaster oven, the white-hot ball went horizontally into the forest ahead, setting fire to everything it passed and incidentally striking a hidden automated ammo carrier from which Metalmouth’s hoverguns were supposed to resupply themselves. Yard-thick logs flew out of the eighty-foot-wide fireball that lit up everything ahead of us. The blast caused Andrew to swerve to the right toward the shallow quarry lake, but not in time to avoid the spinning cedar tree trunk that swept the plasma cannon from the SUV and ripped off the rear four feet of the roof, smashing out all the back windows as well.

       At this point the left rear wheel of the battered Chariot ran over a rock on the lake shore, and the entire vehicle bucked. I flew through the gaping hole in the roof and out of the vehicle, twisting in the air like an acrobat who has made a dreadful mistake and has no safety net to negate the unwelcome consequences. I had a momentary glimpse of a cage-bot roaring down from the sky in my direction, trailing a column of black smoke as its port hover-rotors vainly tried to make up for the flaming starboard ones, which had been damaged by debris flung skyward by the ammo carrier explosion. Then I saw the quarry lake come up and I hit it in a belly-flop that I felt for a week afterward.

       The cool lake water revived me from the shock of impact, but I am a pitiable swimmer by nature and have always been terrified of deep water, which is to say water deeper than that in my drinking dish. I was literally clawing my way to the surface for air when the twenty-foot-long cage-bot slammed into the lake only six yards from me and threw up a mini-tsunami that lifted and flung me onto the shore, where I hit a boulder that bruised all my ribs and knocked the wind from me to boot. I collapsed in a heap, too disoriented to recall which direction was up and in too much pain to think benevolent thoughts.

       My hearing started to come back, and as I wheezed and gasped and coughed up water in an effort to breathe normally again, I heard the unmistakable staccato of many electric-powered Gatling guns being fired at once from the air. Metalmouth’s limited patience had run out; the hoverguns were cleaning up the battlefield. Expecting a painful and undoubtedly messy death at any moment, I dragged myself behind a rocky outcrop and hunkered down, then peered around a corner in hopes of viewing one final scene worthy of taking along when I shortly found myself in Doggie Heaven. You make me so lonely, baby, sang Elvis from Metalmouth’s aerial armada; I get so lonely, I could die.

       What I beheld from the rock outcrop was breathtaking. The four extra-dimensional bad-day teenagers stood in a close group exactly where we had first seen them, still on their feet and completely intact. About them fell a torrential rain of 20-mm Vulcan ammunition fired by myriad airborne gun platforms at a rate of 100 rounds per second each. Ricocheting rounds and rock chips hurled in all directions—everywhere except at the four ostensible targets. White missile contrails coiled in the air around the four, but no explosions occurred near them; the rockets instead soared away in random directions to smash into quarry cliffs, into the burning forest behind me, or straight up into the sky where they collided with the hunter-killer robots that had launched them. I looked on in disbelief and awe. How was this possible?

       Ides of March had tossed aside his pistols and was now firing at the flying robots with a semiautomatic rifle, changing ammo magazines faster than I would have believed possible. Hitler’s Birthday roared with laughter as he fired the pistols he held, even trying trick shots and shooting with his eyes closed. Devil’s Night took lit cigarettes from the air, puffed on them once, then flung them away; the butts changed into comet-like fireballs that streaked off to envelop whole war machines in yellow flame. But all that Friday the Thirteenth did was stand there and look a tad bored with it all.

       Then it hit me: The disaster befalling Metalmouth’s forces resulted entirely from the efforts of the black-and-white girl in the middle of the group of teens. True to form, Friday was making her allies’ luck stunningly good, and her enemies’ luck unbelievably bad. I saw armored hovercraft shot down with mere .22 bullets, guidance gyros fail on hunter-killers causing them to spin in the air like pinwheels until they flew apart, and guided missiles suddenly become unguided and corkscrew about until they hit other flying robots and burst into balls of flaming scrap metal. The vast stone floor of the old quarry was already littered with the smoking pyres of dozens of war craft, the conflagrations fed by aviation fuel and exploding ammunition. The nausea-inducing stench of it was almost more than I could bear, but better it was to bear the stench than to be an integral part of it.

       I was content to keep a low profile and avoid further action beyond my current level of commitment, and I did well at that for perhaps twenty seconds, at which time the upper half inch of my left ear was abruptly shot away by a 20-mm round randomly discharged from a crashed hovergun. The injury stung like mad; I yelped and ran in a circle once or twice, surprised that I was even able to move after all that I had been through. After I had regained control of myself and stood there whimpering, of course, I realized I had done a very silly and fatal thing. I had revealed my location.

       And Friday the Thirteenth did not look quite so bored as before, now that she was looking at me. Her skull face reappeared for a full second. A bad sign.

       I jumped to my feet to run—then realized it was pointless. What had happened the last time I had fled from her? I nearly choked myself to death in an unlikely accident involving my dog collar. What grotesque misfortune would she inflict on me if I ran now? I stared at her as she stared at me, perhaps for too long a moment but I wished to make a point. I then sat down despite my aches and faced her as if nothing were going on. I wondered if she might be impressed, in the way immortals are sometimes impressed when an ephemeral thing stands its ground and challenges them to do their worst.

       I rather like bad wine, Disraeli once wrote. One gets so bored with good wine.

       The air became quiet and still except for the crackle of flames and the whine of discharging Gatling-gun rounds among the impromptu bonfires littering the quarry. No more Elvis was heard; the King had left the battlefield with the crash of the last of Metalmouth’s flying robots. Contented, Ides of March lowered his rifle. Devil’s Night pulled on the bottom of her revealing minidress and brushed herself off. Hitler’s Birthday tossed aside his pistols, smiling as he rubbed his shaven head with both hands.

       “There’s that dog again,” said Friday the Thirteenth. She pointed, and the other three looked in my direction. “Would you bring it to me, Wulf?”

       Wulf grinned, which made his head look like a jack-o-lantern. “That dog?” he said unnecessarily, then he strode toward me, balling up his fists in anticipation.

       Running meant certain doom, and surrender much the same. Given the circumstances, I had only one reasonable alternative: I sat and waited for Wulf, giving him as casual and disinterested a look as I could muster. One gets so bored with good wine. A laughing Devil’s Night urged on Wulf with lewd promises of a special reward if he brought me back alive, though not necessarily unharmed. Ides smirked and picked his teeth, the rifle cradled under his right arm. Friday watched but did not smile.

       “You come with me, ya?” said the young giant as he approached. He was very big. I thought of Dawn and tensed. Wulf was slower and more stupid than I had expected, and he likely had not watched the final scenes of that interesting 1980s martial-arts movie, The Karate Kid, which Dawn and I liked very much. That was good for me. But bad for him.

       He leaned down to grab me by the scruff of my neck.

       My jaws sank into his left forearm in a tenth of a second, snapping bones between them. I could have held on as my ancestors did when they were bullbaiters, back in Merry Old England, but instead I wrenched my head left and right, my teeth tearing through the muscles in his arm, then I let go. As I dropped to the ground, Wulf recoiled, already screaming, and stared at his mangled limb. I came in at once and bit through the back of his right ankle, jerking my head violently to rip out his Achilles’ tendon. This must sound appalling to you, but that is the nature of war and a true warrior does what he must. The hamstrung titan tried to kick me but fell instead. I dodged aside, then lunged in to tear out his throat. By that point I’m afraid I had forgotten my earlier injunction not to kill the bad days: I fully meant to put this one down. His elbow got in the way of his neck, so I contented myself with slashing his right upper arm down to the bone before I bolted for the road leading out of the quarry. If Friday the Thirteenth tripped me up then, there was nothing I could do about it.

       Only nothing happened to trip me up. Bullets and fireballs whizzed by, but none touched me. I believe that Friday, for whatever reason, used her manipulation of luck to keep Ides and Dev from killing me. I cannot say why she did it. She might have been more tired of Wulf than she was of me. She certainly hadn’t complained when Y2K met his doom.

       Aching in every spot in my body, I ran into a bank of light smoke drifting over the gravel road. The forest to the rear of the quarry was an inferno; the thunder of flames and pop of exploding tree limbs filled the air. Blazing heat seared my short fur. Though I coughed and my eyes ran, I pressed on until I could only stagger, as winded as a being could possibly be. As noted before, I am a bulldog and not a greyhound. The awful heat worsened. Sparks fell around me like red glowing rain. My vision dimmed.

       When I fell on my chest, unable to move an inch more, I knew it was over—but it had been worth it, every moment of battle. I had tasted the blood of my enemy, and he would remember his brief scrap with me to his final day. One could not ask for more, though I did wish I could have seen Dawn one last time to tell her how proud I was to have served her. I was just a dog, but I was her dog, and that was a better medal than I could get from anyone else.

       As I heard a rapid thumping sound I assumed was my dying heart, I pictured my imminent ascent into Doggie Heaven, or something vaguely like it. Send in the Valkyries, Great Odin, I thought, rather lightheaded from pain and fatigue. I am ready to enter Valhalla and take my place with the heroes of yore! Send the Valkyries and let my spirit rise!

       Curiously, at that very instant, a hand reached down, snagged me by the leather collar that Andrew had purchased for me, and hauled me into the sky.

       “Sorry I’m late, J.B.!” shouted Artie, the Irregulars’ geeky expert on aliens and UFOs. The loud thump-thump-thump of the rotor overhead threatened to drown out his words. Before I was strangled by the collar, he deposited me in the cargo basket of the single-seat autogyro he was flying, something Andrew had put together for fun one weekend and loaned out to the group as needed.

       “I hate this dinosaur technology!” Artie yelled to me. “I tried to get a grav cycle from the Greys, but all of theirs were rented out for some kind of party on the far side of the moon! Figure that one out!”

       I was not interested in figuring anything out. I wanted only to rest, so I closed my eyes and was out at once. Valhalla would have to celebrate my triumphant entrance another day.





Chapter 7:

Nuked, Rebuked, Out-Kooked, and Spooked



       As fate would have it, the long rest I so craved was over with in eighteen minutes. Having rescued me in the best tradition of the Greek theater’s deus ex machina, trusty Artie flew me back to one of Andrew Landon’s safehouses, an abandoned railroad station two miles south of town along the same railroad line that went past the rock quarry. There he landed, carried me inside, took me downstairs to the emergency shelter, and deposited me inside a tall, white, boxlike apparatus that the Irregulars like to call the Nuke Box. Outwardly it resembles one of those Port-a-Potties one commonly associates with construction sites and outdoor rock concerts. Inside, however, one finds only four white walls, a ceiling, and a solid floor beneath which lies a mechanism built by a very alien technology.

       The Box was devised by a green, three-eyed, four-legged extraterrestrial race that liked to visit Earth restaurants after hours, when regular customers would not be disturbed to see them. However, the aliens found human restroom facilities both unhygienic and in short supply. The Nuke Box was the solution: a teleportation device of limited scope that does not send the person inside it to any location. The person stays right there. The device scans the life form that steps inside it, then teleports away all materials it deems unnecessary to the life form’s continued health. One zap, and you don’t have to go to the bathroom at all for several hours. It also heals almost any injury, eliminates harmful viruses and bacteria, restarts stopped hearts, unclogs plaque-filled arteries, removes excess fat, and cures bad breath. One leaves the Nuke Box fully refreshed and ready for action. I understand that the TV show Sick, Sad World did a show about them not long ago, though I don’t think anyone actually believed it.

       Unfortunately, the Nuke Box cannot tell useful things from necessary ones, so it will also teleport away all your clothing, every nonliving thing you’re carrying, and possibly even most of your hair, your appendix, and your little toes, so certain settings need to be adjusted before the device can be safely used. Everything you ate recently will be gone, so you will become ravenous in short order—not a problem for the aliens, who were after all eating out. It also won’t replace missing body parts or fix congenital conditions such as colorblindness, nearsightedness, height issues, or having two heads.

       Worse, each Nuke Box has a limited number of uses before its battery runs out, so the few we have are only for emergency situations. Andrew was thoughtful enough to have Artie obtain three Nuke Boxes through the aliens’ interstellar version of e-Bay, though spare batteries were unavailable. Andrew was also thoughtful enough to have predetermined settings fixed on the machines for use by humans, one setting for men and one for women. (The Boxes are normally incapable of telling the difference, so surprising things might be “fixed” as a result of using them.) The Nuke Boxes can also be used by male bulldogs, a setting that was intended only for me. Where Nuke Boxes send the materials that they consider waste matter is unknown, though I secretly fear it will turn out to be something like the vault at Fort Knox, and one day we will have a troubling visit from agents of the federal government.

       Back to my story: I awoke to an unpleasant ozone-like odor, blinked at the white walls in a momentary daze, then realized where I was. (I’ve been in a Nuke Box before, a sordid tale for another time.) My dog collar was gone, of course—zapped away by the box. Feeling fitter than I had in weeks, if a bit giddy, I scratched on the door, and Artie let me out.

       “J.B., looking good!” said Artie, whose scrawny neck and facial features—I’ve never told him this—remind me of a freckled turkey with red bangs. He shook his head. “You know, you snore really bad.

       “Can’t help it, it’s endemic to my breed,” I said, not wishing to correct his grammar and appear rude, however much I wished. (As Disraeli reminds us, “Without tact you can learn nothing.”) Then I remembered what had happened. “Oh!” I cried. “Andrew and the others are at the quarry! They—”

       “No problem! They’re pulling up outside in what’s left of the Chariot.” Artie grinned. “You also drool like a garden hose when you’re asleep, you know? Is that endemic to your breed, too?”

       Yes, as a deficiency of etiquette is to yours, I thought, getting testy, but I said instead: “My good fellow, I really am quite thankful that you rescued me, but could we possibly—”

       The sound of feet stampeding down the stairs to the emergency shelter saved me from continuing the discussion. The Head burst in first, his helmet off and his face bright pink from plasma-burn. “Artie!” he shouted, almost hysterical. “We lost J.B.! He fell out of the—oh, J.B.! You’re here!” With that, he ran over to me, dropped to his knees, and gave me such a hug as to make me feel rather wanted and warm inside. Humans really are a dog’s best friend, I thought, forgetting Artie’s discourtesy entirely.

       Andrew ran in next and hurried over to give me his affectionate greetings as well, calling me Old Boy and a few other (ahem) pet names before thanking Artie. A third figure then entered the room, but he stayed by the door and came no closer, remaining silent.

       Andrew noticed the third figure at last, gave me a final head-rub, then stood up with a furious expression. He was not looking at me. “Graham!” he barked. “What the hell got into you, son?”

       The figure by the door appeared surprised and spread his arms in feigned innocence. “What’d I do?”

       “You almost got us killed!” Andrew roared. “We had a chance to talk our way out, but you got us caught between those teenage whatever-they-ares and Metalmouth’s air cav! How could you do that?”

       Graham’s face hardened. “I told you we have to kill those bad days!” he shouted back. “You heard what J.B. said! It really works! Y2K bought it, and now there won’t be—”

       “We’re not killing anyone!” Andrew cut him off. “All you’ve done is tick off those young thugs, so now they’ll come gunning for us! We have to find some other way of dealing with them!”

       “Bull!” Graham retorted. “We can wax ‘em! You’re just scared that I’m right, and I am right!”

       Stop it!” Andrew’s voice grew cold. “You’re on probation, Graham. I’m taking you back to the house, and you can go home from there. You’re going to sit this one out and think about what you’ve done. You endangered us all! I can’t have that kind of crazy cowboy behavior going on when we need to work together. If you can’t follow orders, you don’t belong in the Irregulars!”

       The Head, Artie, and I were deeply uncomfortable with the direction their argument was taking, but we wisely remained silent. Andrew wasn’t his usual buoyant, boyish self, but his basic good judgment was, in my mind, vindicated by no less than Disraeli himself, who once wrote, “The secret of success is constancy to purpose.” We had to stay the course as Andrew and I had earlier laid it out: move with care, gather intelligence, and do nothing foolish out of hand, like trying to slay the bad days.

       Except, of course, I had not stayed the course myself. I had tried very hard to kill one of the bad days, though he had tried to harm me first. I wondered what sort of undesirable consequences I might face in the near future. I glanced uneasily around, wondering if anyone had witnessed my bloody scrap with Hitler’s Birthday, but no one looked at me. They were watching Graham for his response.

       The response was quick. With an angry glare and a muttered obscenity, Graham turned on his heel and stomped back up the stairs to wait outside.

       Andrew looked shaken. “Graham’s a smart boy,” he said in the silence that followed. “He just needs to learn his limits, get a more little self-control. I suppose we all do.” He sighed and looked at the rest of us, focusing on me at last. “J.B., what happened to your ear?”

       I realized the upper part of my left ear was missing, healed by the Nuke Box but not regenerated in toto. “Nothing of importance,” I said, not wishing to dwell on the matter and risk revealing that I had fought one of the bad days. I gave the group a synopsis of events after I had been thrown out of the Chariot, leaving out only my duel with Wulf. (I remembered as I spoke that the name Adolf originated from words in Old High German that meant noble wolf. It figured.) I added lavish praise for Artie, despite his uncouth comments about my sleeping habits. (“It destroys one’s nerves to be amiable every day to the same human being.” —Disraeli.)

       Andrew agreed that Friday the Thirteenth was doubtless altering probability levels in her vicinity to extreme degrees, and he praised me for my powers of observation. I felt guilty nonetheless for my other deeds, and moreover I was angry that I felt guilty—I mean, really, Hitler’s Birthday had been about to attack me, so what else was I supposed to do? Wasn’t killing him the best that could be hoped for, as Graham claimed? Or was he wrong? I realized I did not understand very much at all about these holidays and un-holidays. I could presume nothing. What was done was done; I had to move on and face my next challenge, but also had to think clearly and let myself be distracted by nothing and no one.

       About that time, my stomach began to growl.

       “The Chariot’s a mess,” said Andrew when I finished speaking. “Can’t let Michele see it, or J.B. won’t be the only one living in a dog house. I’ll have to take it to Moreno’s body shop again, then have it refitted with a new plasma cannon. That’ll set me back a few thousand right there. Crap.”

       I cleared my throat, nervously recalling the ridiculous destructive power of the so-called cannon. It was one of Andrew’s favorite big-kid toys, but I knew one day it would bring trouble. “Not to be presumptuous,” I said in a low voice, “but perhaps some less destructive but equally effective device would be more appropriate—something that won’t blind or sauté us when it is discharged, at least.”

       “J.B.!” cried The Head indignantly. “Plasma cannons are like so cool!

       Fortunately, Andrew considered my words more robustly. “I’ll think about it,” he finally said. “We’d better get topside and find out how the guys at Good Time Chinese are doing. More importantly, we’d better find out if Metalmouth or those teenagers from outer space are coming after us. Artie, scout around the quarry in the autogyro—don’t get too close—and report back on the situation. Use code.”

       “You got it,” said Artie, and he hurried up the stairs, adjusting his pilot’s goggles.

       My stomach growled louder. Everyone looked at me. “Was that you, J.B.?” asked The Head. “You getting hungry?”

       “I suppose I am a little peckish,” I confessed in embarrassment. Actually, I was famished. My digestive system had nothing at all in it, thanks to the Nuke Box.

       “We might have some leftover snacks in the car,” said Andrew. He looked drained of energy and enthusiasm, but he put on a brave face and said, “Everyone up and out.”

       We were marching up the stairs when we heard Artie’s cries outside. In the following stampede to see what was the matter, I was left far behind. (Bulldog, not greyhound—remember.) When I finally did emerge gasping and panting from the decrepit train station’s interior and trotted out on the old loading platform, I saw Andrew, The Head, and Artie on the dirt road nearby, standing by the mangled Chariot with their eyes locked on something in the sky. The overhanging roof of the train station blocked my view of what so captured their attention, but I did notice that there was no sign of Graham—and no sign of the autogyro, either, though I could hear its rotors thumping clearly as it sped away on the wind. In my shock at Graham’s perfidy, I forgot for an instant just how ravenous I was.

       “He’s flying back to the quarry!” shouted The Head. “Graham, you total idiot! Come back!

       His face a study in horror, Andrew bolted to the Chariot and got up in the driver’s seat, leaning over to work the communications panel. I heard him plead with the errant Irregular to return, but to no avail. Graham and our autogyro were gone.

       My empty stomach knotted in pain. The situation was upsetting in the extreme, but the current drama would have to wait while I gave in to my biological demands and wandered over to the Chariot in search of sustenance. The Head helped lift me inside, where I used my trusty olfactory sense to sniff out the only edible substances in the vehicle: five stale Cheetos, a peanut, half of a granola bar, a lint-covered Gummi Bear, and a wintergreen Tic-Tac. The Tic-Tac burned my tongue and throat, but I ate it anyway. It was fortunate there was no chocolate in the SUV, as it is poisonous to canines though it smells and tastes as marvelous as can be imagined. Still poisonous, though. My resistance to it would have been absolutely nil, necessitating a second trip to the Nuke Box in less than a day, plus a lecture from Andrew.

       Andrew drove us back to his house. There he fed me everything else he could find in his refrigerator, then pulled a tarp over the grossly battered Mastodon and had us get into his Jaguar. Our next stop was the Good Time restaurant so we could warn the others about Graham, Metalmouth, the bad-day teens, and anything else we could think of while we checked on their progress with the wormhole. The ride was made largely in silence. The Head looked grimly out the window, chewing his lower lip. Artie wore an expression of vast disbelief that anyone would steal the autogyro, for which he had a deep affection despite his disdain for anything that wasn’t an antigravity vehicle.

       It was Andrew’s face, however, that worried me most. Andrew had a rigid look about him and moved stiffly, mechanically, uncertainly. Graham’s ill-thought betrayal had been staggering for us all, but I saw in Andrew’s glazed eyes that the unkindest cut had been reserved for him. He was the responsible one, being the only adult; he was the one who should have been able to keep our motley group safe and together, but he had failed spectacularly. What would happen to Graham? Had he already met a bad end, one that would haunt us all in terrible ways, and soon? How was Andrew coping with this knowledge? He did not appear to be doing well. Seeing him so distressed turned my stomach.

       I had my own demons to wrestle. Aside from fretting over my attack upon Wulfenstein, I had now a nagging feeling that I had not done something, or else perhaps I had forgotten something, something fearfully important. My mind went back over the battle: our unlucky Chariot and its contents in the middle of a firefight between Metalmouth’s flying circus of death and the four nightmarish bad days—

       Four bad days. There had been six at first, then five. The fifth one, the one I was beginning to think of as the foil-wrapped Baked Potato Man, where was he? There had been no sign of him at the quarry. What was he doing at this moment? Without a doubt, he was a bad day like the others, but which one? Would knowing that in any way help us defeat him and send him packing with the rest? His powers were certainly alarming. That dull foil wrapped around him like a bad Halloween costume, the thick black goggles, the eye-searing blue light that burned away the remains of poor Y2K—what did it mean? Who was he really? Why was he alone? What were his plans? I sat on the floor of Andrew’s fine Jaguar and felt very useless and stupid. And Friday wasn’t even half over.

       Upon our arrival in the back parking lot of the Good Time Chinese restaurant, we found Bug Guy, Penguin of Doom, and Brother Grim kneeling around a yard-wide hole in the rear of the restaurant. The damaged area had formerly been concealed by the wheeled dumpster. The three youths had taken off their helmets and bulky armored vests owing to the heat of the day. I heard them shouting, but their voices were muffled as they were shouting into the hole itself.

       “Irregulars, report!” called Andrew as we drove up.

       “We’re trying to get Shaggy out of the wormhole!” yelled Bug Guy, turning for a moment. “It’s gone crazy! We can’t see him!”

       What?! Andrew snapped off the engine, leaped from the car, and hurried over, his face alive with panic. The Head followed suit. When I emerged, I noted that there was no longer any room for me around the hole in the wall, which I suspected was the wormhole itself. Resigned to being the rear guard, I began patrolling the parking lot, wondering how we would dissuade the restaurant’s owners from quite reasonably ordering us off their property or having us all arrested. Maybe Andrew could pretend to be a building inspector for the city, something like that.

       Overcome with weariness, I paused for a moment by the rear hedge and closed my eyes. It was time to take a deep breath and collect my wits before I—before—

       Whatever it was that I was thinking, I forgot it immediately. I had caught a whiff of the Other. My eyes opened quite wide and I looked around with not inconsiderable dread, but I was alone. I then looked down at the pavement. I was standing right over a paper cup from a Burger World restaurant that had been flattened by a car tire. Gingerly I brushed the cup aside with a paw.

       Beneath the cup was the bloodstained, yellow-gold necklace that had belonged to Y2K. From it wafted the scent of Other-ness I had detected.

       I looked back at Andrew and the Irregulars, then elected to join them and get away from the necklace, in case it had any ruinous mystical powers that I would regret activating. Before I left, I covered the necklace up again with the flat cup. If someone found it anyway and took it, it would be their curse to deal with, not mine. I was not fond at the moment of the bad days anyway, after my clash with Wulf.

       As I again reached the group, they were engaged in pulling someone by the arms from the hole in the wall: Shaggy, of course, but—but not quite the Shaggy I remembered. His sunglasses were askew and his T-shirt was dirty, but there was more. None of the others noticed, but he did not have on the same shoes as before. He was rather tanned, too. And even from my distant vantage point, I could tell that he smelled differently than he had earlier in the day. We dogs have marvelous olfactory memories, and this Shaggy smelled of a hundred things he did not smell of when we had dropped him off at the restaurant a couple hours ago: hot dogs with mustard, cigarette smoke (second-hand, I hoped), cheese pizza,  (lots of that)... and, faintly, fishy, algae-ridden sea water, salt and all, with a touch of engine oil and rancid garbage.

       Whoooa!” breathed Shaggy as he got unsteadily to his feet. “That like... so totally rocked!

       “Easy, son!” said Andrew, clapping Shaggy on the back. “What happened here?”

       “He was testing the wormhole!” said Penguin of Doom. (I loathe that nickname. Forgive me, but I had to say so.) “Bug Guy found that tachyon detector you told us about, the one J.B. lost, and I found the earplug receiver, and we were seeing if this was the real wormhole, and it was!”

       “You weren’t supposed to go inside it!” Andrew snapped.

       “You didn’t tell us not to!” said Bug Guy defensively. “Really, you didn’t! And he wasn’t going that far into the wormhole!”

       “Tell us what happened!” shouted Brother Grim to Shaggy. “What’d you find?”

       “Ohmigod!” said Shaggy with a look of awe. “That was so awesome! I went back in time!”

       “You what?” shouted several people at once, me among them.

       “Everyone in the car!” called Andrew abruptly. “Throw your gear in the trunk! We’re out of here!”

       For a moment I was surprised that Andrew wanted to pull up stakes so quickly after such an astounding claim, but I realized that Graham’s flight was weighing heavily on his mind, and he no longer wished to take chances with our lives. A wormhole that permitted time travel had the potential to discharge far worse creatures than it already had, and staying so near it with the bad days still around was more a hazard than a help.

       The ride in the Jaguar back to the Landon home was crowded, as one would expect, but it was anything but boring. We informed the four we had picked up of our own plight, from the encounter at the abandoned quarry and the near-destruction of the Chariot to Graham’s sudden disappearance on the autogyro. Suitably sobered by our news, the others told us of what had befallen them, with Shaggy’s adventures as the final highlight. I did not quite believe his wild tale then. Later on, it was a different matter.

       “I was crawling through the tunnel with that tachyon detector,” he began, “and I had to take out the earpiece because it was making so much noise, then, like, I dropped the earpiece and lost it—sorry about that, Mister Landon!—and when I couldn’t find it, I was thinking, man, I wish I could go back in time and write myself a note telling me not to drop the earpiece, and that was when I saw the other end of the tunnel ahead of me, and I crawled out and I was in Lawndale, you know, but it wasn’t now, it was back in time, a year ago just after I got here with my family! I didn’t see you guys so I went walking around, and that was when I found out it was in November nineteen ninety-seven!”

       “No freakin’ way!” cried Brother Grim.

       “Yeah, way!” said Shaggy, nodding hard. “I went home and went up to my room, and there was the me from a year ago, studying for one of Mister O’Neill’s pop quizzes! I couldn’t believe it! The other guy who was me couldn’t believe it, either. Then I hold him what was going to be on the quiz, all the answers, and then I told him how I got there, and we decided we had to go back to the restaurant and try out that wormhole again, and we did!”

       “Both of you?” asked Andrew as he drove.

       “Both of us! And it was great! We went back to Brittany Taylor’s party, the one I wasn’t invited to last year, because we figured out that the way to get in was to tell her I could predict the future, and I asked her if I told her the final score of the big game with Oakwood on the Friday before the party, could I get in and bring my twin cousin, and she said sure, so I told her ‘cause I remembered what the score was, eight to zero, and after the game she said we were cool so we could get into the party, so both of us went! It was so awesome!”

       “Why’d you wanna go to a party at her place?” demanded The Head. “She’s a moron!”

       “Yeah, but she’s got the coolest house! It’s like a mansion! And I got to ask Kelly out!”

       “Kelly?” said a wide-eyed Bug Guy. “That red-haired girl with the big cap?”

       “Yeah! See, I’d always wished I’d asked her out, you know, but I was too afraid to a year ago, but I told the year-ago me that I’d ask her out and she could date both of us, and he said sure, so I did! And guess where we went? You’ll never guess!” Before anyone could attempt a speculation, he cried, “We went back to the Chinese place and went back in time again! We went to see the big game four years ago when Tommy Sherman helped us win the state football championship! That was so cool! We got to see Tommy knock himself out on a goalpost and everything!”

       “NO!” shouted all the other guys in the car, except for Andrew and me of course.

       “YEAH!” said Shaggy. “We did all kinds of stuff! The year-ago me finally asked me if he could date Kelly, since if he dated Kelly, that would mean I had dated Kelly, so I said sure, I’d go date someone else, so I decided I’d go out with Quinn Morgendorffer—and I did!

       “NO!” shouted all the other guys in the car—again, except Andrew and me.

       “YEAH! I had to go into the future again so I could predict something for her, and I went into next year, nineteen ninety-nine, and found out she had to go to the hospital because she got hit in the head by this chandelier that fell in her kitchen at home, you know? So I went back to the day just before it happened and I saw she was reading something about angels helping people, so I told her I bet she had a guardian angel of her own, and she wasn’t going to talk to me at first but she did for a minute after I said that, and I told her I was that twin cousin of Dewey’s who predicted stuff for Brittany Taylor at her party, and I could make a prediction for her. She said what was it, and I told her that if she was sitting in her kitchen the next day, she should get up and move real quick because her guardian angel told me she should, and the next day she did and the chandelier didn’t hit her! She told me and these other guys all about it the next day at school and she let me sit at her table and everything! She wouldn’t go out with me then, but then I went back in time again and told her she shouldn’t do some of the stuff that the Amazon Modeling people wanted her to do, when she and those other girls were rubbing those guys’ bare chests on stage and all? You remember that, and everyone said she was a slut? I put a note in her locker saying she shouldn’t do it, ‘cause people would think she was too easy, so she didn’t and I know because I watched her in the audience when I was pretending I was my twin cousin again, and then I went forward in time again and told her I knew her guardian angel had helped her that time when the modeling people came around, and she like hadn’t told anyone that, so she knew I was really in good with her guardian angel and she said she’d go out for one date only with me, only she made me promise not to tell anyone about it ever. We went to this French place and she asked me to predict one more thing for her, which was whether she was going to have a cute baby or an ugly baby, and I said, like duh, it was going to be cute, and she said boy or girl, but I said I could only predict the one thing, that it would be cute, and she said that was good enough. I didn’t have to go into the future to tell her that. It cost me like a hundred thirty dollars to take her out, but I went into the future again and borrowed some money from my wallet in my room in March two thousand five, ‘cause I was still living with my parents then after college, so it was all right.”

       Dead silence filled the car after this long and breathless speech. I was stunned beyond words. Shaggy had been to the year 2005? What was it like? What was going to happen to us in the future? Surely someone would ask if I didn’t!

       “Wait a minute,” said Brother Grim, before I could get out my question. “You—you mean you really went out with Quinn Morgendorffer?

       “YEAH!” said Shaggy. “And the year-ago me is still dating Kelly and going time-traveling all over the place, and you won’t believe the stuff we saw!”

       “WHAT?!” cried everyone—including Andrew and me this time.

       “I saw Kevin Thompson crash his new motor scooter into that tree that Ms. Li had planted outside the school, the memorial tree for Tommy Sherman! He wrecked his bike and hurt his leg, but he got better and won a big football game right after that! That happens next month, swear to God! And next spring there’s like this ship cruise that everyone’s going on for like gambling and stuff, out on Chesapeake Bay, but I found out the ship crashed into another ship and blew up and sank because the captain was so drunk, and almost everyone on the ship died, so I went on the trip to make sure that didn’t happen by getting into the pilot house and steering the ship when no one was looking, and I saved everyone even though the ship still ran into a garbage scow, but then it was in shallow water so everyone got to shore! I was like James Bond, man! I wore my best suit jacket and everything! It was cool as hell!”

       “You went to the twenty-first century?” I finally asked. “Who was the president? What happened—

       “And that’s not all!” Shaggy crowed. “I got to be there in school when Daria told that art chick she slept with the art chick’s boyfriend, and the art chick broke up with her!”

       “NO!” screamed everyone but Andrew and me.

       “YEAH!” screamed Shaggy. “They’re both really bi!”

       “OHMIGOD!” screamed everyone but Andrew and me.

       “God damn it!” shouted Andrew. “Would you keep the blasted noise down when I’m trying to drive?!”

       “And she told her girlfriend this in school?” cried Penguin.

       “Wait a minute, Mister Landon!” called Shaggy, waving a hand. “I have to get out here! That’s my house! You guys go on without me. I have to get something first!”

       After some arguing, Andrew stopped the Jaguar and let Shaggy out at the curb. Before we pulled away, Shaggy said, “Wait a minute!” once more, then stuck his hand in through the window and tossed a folded scrap of paper to me. It landed on the floor mat in the back where I sat; I put a paw over it to keep from losing it. “Bye!” Shaggy called, and he hurried away and was gone.

       Everyone began to talk as I tried to open the paper scrap with my feet. “I don’t believe it!” breathed Bug Guy as the car pulled away from the curb. “Daria is really bi? Whoa!”

       “And she was banging that art girl’s boyfriend!” said The Head. “We should have asked when this was supposed to happen, so we could see it, too!”

       “Quinn Morgendorffer,” sighed Artie. “I’ve seen her before. No way that the Shagster ever went out with anyone like her.

       “Way,” said Brother Grim, Penguin of Doom, and Bug Guy in glum tones.

       “I swear I don’t believe this,” I interjected. I was becoming frustrated with the paper scrap, which wouldn’t open properly, but I was too proud to ask for help. “Shaggy informs us that he’s been to the twenty-first century, and no one thinks to ask him what’s going to happen in the future.”

       “He told us!” retorted The Head. “Didn’t you hear it? Daria schtupped the art chick’s boyfriend!”

       “That’s not what I’m talking about!” I bellowed. “What I’m trying to—oh, the hell with it.” I was too disgusted to continue. I looked down at my feet, tried to open the scrap one more time—and succeeded. I had to twist my head to read what was written thereon, as the printing was upside down.

       SORRY, J.B., read the note, BUT IT HAD TO BE LIKE THIS. HAVE A GOOD TIME.

       I blinked in puzzlement. What in the world... ?

       “We’re here,” said Andrew. The Jaguar turned into a driveway. “I’ll pull around back. Don’t get out until I stop.”

       “What I can’t figure out,” said Brother Grim, “is who the guy is that was the art chick’s boyfriend that Daria did the dirty with. Do you think it was—

       Andrew slammed on the brakes and everyone was flung forward. I was thrown into the back of the passenger seat and fell over on my side. Penguin stepped on one of my paws and I yelped.

       “Good God!” Andrew gasped. “They’re here!

       “Holy cripes!” yelled The Head, looking out the windshield. He actually said something pithier than “cripes,” but I would rather not repeat it. Being on the floor as I was, I couldn’t see what was happening, but I could tell anyway.

       “They’ve got Graham!” Bug Guy cried. “There’s the little copter, behind the gazebo!”

       “Don’t move!” roared Andrew. “Don’t do anything threatening! Stay calm, Irregulars!”

       “He’s got a gun!” Penguin was as white as a sheet. “That guy’s got a gun aimed at Graham!”

       “They want us to get out of the car!”

       “What do we do?”

       “Let’s do as they say,” said Andrew. His voice betrayed no sign of fear. “Move carefully and slowly. Stay together, but if anything happens, run for it. Stay together for now. Go ahead and open the doors, but slowly.”

       Terrified, everyone did as Andrew told them. The car doors opened. I stayed on the floor, trying to decide what to do next and coming up with nothing.

       “J.B.,” whispered Bug Guy, not looking at me. “Stay in the car. They can’t see you.”

       I nodded, having no other plan. Silently, the Irregulars and Andrew Landon left the vehicle and slammed the doors. Then, apparently following signals that I could not see, they walked away. I waited alone in the car for several minutes before I heard the back door of the house slam shut. Then I carefully got up, pulled on a door handle with my front paws, let myself out of the Jaguar—and ran off as fast as my legs would carry me, until I was well down the street and out of sight of Andrew’s home. I was no greyhound, but it was good enough.

       A minute later and there I was, hiding in someone’s shrubbery like a frightened field mouse. The expedition had turned into a disaster. I was worse than helpless: I had behaved like a coward. I swallowed and my head sank. The bad days had captured everyone but me, and I could do nothing about it.

       A few seconds later, I automatically corrected myself: everyone had been captured except for me and... Shaggy.

       Sorry, J.B., but it had to be like this. Have a good time.

       “Good Lord!” I wheezed, still winded from my escape. Shaggy had foreseen that this would happen! He knew we were driving into a trap! But why hadn’t he stopped us? It had to be like this. Why? I knew the answer was out of my grasp now, but what was left for me to do?

       Have a good time, Shaggy had written. Have a good time. Have a good—

       The Good Time Chinese restaurant.

       The ball was in my court. With a last glance at the Landons’ fine home, I hurried away at a sustainable trot and prayed my simple guess would make all the difference.





Chapter 8:

Tomorrow’s Sun May Never Rise



       Andrew Landon’s home was over a dozen blocks from the place I saw as the last hope of salvation for my friends, my city, and my unsuspecting Dawn. Every moment of my hurried trot across town was filled with the cruelest anxieties: Were Andrew and the Irregulars still alive? Had they been harmed? Were those four teenage monsters from another dimension even now carrying out wicked plans against them? Why was I not back at the Landons helping my companions like a Good Dog? I fought down my fears and kept going, panting in the early afternoon sun. Shaggy’s message was all I had. I would not let my good friends down.

       Fire trucks and police cars were visible in abundance, doubtless searching for new outbreaks of violence and fire-setting. Footsore and weary, I finally spotted the intersection of Marcil Boulevard and Johnson Avenue not far ahead. My lungs were working like a blacksmith’s bellows and my poor paws ached as if they would fall off my legs, but a tiny beacon was lit inside my soul. I was almost there! I had made it! Salvation was at hand!

       “You again,” said a voice behind me. Startled, I looked back to see who it was.

       A burly man in a city uniform was following me. He held a long pole with a loop on one end. The patch on his sleeve read: LAWNDALE ANIMAL CONTROL.

       “Here, boy,” said the dogcatcher in a soothing voice as he approached. “Nice doggie. Niiiiiice doggie.”

       It was more aggravation than I could bear, and I fear that for a moment I lost my temper. Not even a meditative quotation from the immortal Disraeli could soothe my fevered brow. Turning to face the officer, I drew a deep breath to slow my panting, then let the man have it.

       This has gone far enough!” I burst out in righteous fury. “Really, I must insist you halt this infernal hounding of me! And that wasn’t meant to be a clever pun! Leave off! Begone! Earn your paltry salary wrestling down a rabid ferret or a cat or something equally trivial, but leave me alone! Good day to you, sir!”

       The officer with the snare pole stopped dead on the sidewalk and stared at me popeyed. I took that as my signal to muster my dignity and hurry off again, though with a glance or two behind, just in case. The man watched my departure with the facial expression of a stunned goldfish.

       That settled, I pushed through the shrubbery into the rear parking lot of Good Time Chinese. I was quite winded by this time, my oration to the animal-control officer having nearly done me in, but I had reached my goal—and I realized I had no idea at all what to do next. I was at the Chinese restaurant, just as Shaggy had hinted I should be—but how was this fine achievement supposed to save the world? Where was the cavalry? Who would ride in to save us?

       Cars passed on the street on the other side of the restaurant. After a few moments to catch my breath, I walked around to the front of the establishment. Huge, vaguely Oriental-looking letters looked down from their place on the roof over the long glass storefront: GOOD TIME. I blinked and stared. Good Time. It was almost funny, really. A restaurant that connects our world to a place where teenaged holidays live, and it was named Good Time. The joke of course was that a holiday was, literally speaking, a good time, as the origin of the word “holiday” was “holy day,” corrupted by centuries of careless English-speakers into a single word, so the irony of it all, if irony was the right term, the irony was... it was... it... oh.


       It struck me like a thunderbolt. My breath stopped. My eyes widened. My mouth fell open rather like that animal-control officer’s. Of course! It had been right in front of me the whole time! My gaze drifted down to the legend painted on the windows of the eatery: GOOD TIME CHINESE RESTAURANT.

       A Chinese good time. A Chinese... holiday.

       Success is the child of audacity,” wrote the immortal Disraeli, so I took his advice. The front door finally gave in to my insistent pushing against it and admitted me, though it came within a hair of pinching my stub of a tail when it closed. Awash in the fine pleasure of air conditioning once again, I trotted up to the cashier’s station. An attractive Asian girl behind the cash register was chatting away on her cell phone in a language I assumed was Chinese, paying no attention to me whatsoever. How she could have missed my entrance was a marvel, but there it was. No other living person was in the restaurant.

       I cleared my throat. The girl continued to ignore me.

       “Excuse me,” I said aloud.

       The girl turned, looked over my head at the door, then looked down and saw me.

       “Excuse me,” I repeated, “but I should like very much to speak—”

       The girl screamed and dropped her cell phone, fleeing her station at the speed of sound to disappear through a door in the back of the main dining room.

       “Oh, bother,” I said, more to myself than anyone else. Though I was on the verge of following her, I thought better of it and sat down by the cashier’s station to bide my time and think of the right thing to say next, if what I thought was about to happen was indeed about to happen.

       The door creaked as it opened just enough to permit the young lady to peek around the corner. She gasped when she saw me. “Go! Get out!” she cried, ready to slam the door again if necessary. “Shoo!”

       “I would like to speak—” I began again, but the woman slammed the door. I was waiting nervously in hopes that she was not locating where she had last left her collection of automatic firearms when the door again creaked open and she peeked out once more.

       “I call police!” she shrieked. “Nine one one! Get out! Bad dog! Go!”

       Bad dog indeed, my furry little butt. I swore I would never eat scraps from this restaurant again. Sensing defeat, I turned to the front door, then realized that it only opened inward. I could not open it again to leave. Stupid of me, really, not to have noticed that before. I groaned and said to the lady, “Is the manager back there? I need to see him, please. It’s most urgent.”

       The door slammed again. Perhaps ten seconds later, a great deal of foreign-language chatter could be heard through the door in the young woman’s high-pitched voice. Another voice answered her, a young man’s. Soon footsteps were heard, and the door opened again.

       This time a young man came out, a fellow with perfect Han Chinese features. There was something about him that gave the impression he was older than he looked, or else very self-possessed and mature. He was tall, dark haired, and dark eyed, dressed in a fine silk shirt, light slacks, and casual loafers. The shirt was partially unbuttoned, and the tattooed image of a flying Chinese dragon was visible upon his muscled chest, the dragon’s head located over the young man’s heart. He did not have a gold chain necklace and medallion round his neck, but I decided to take the chance that he was the one whom I sought. Perhaps only the bad-day teens had those necklaces.

       The young man, his gaze never straying from me, leaned back and said something to the girl behind the door, then he carefully shut the door and solemnly looked me over. He then strode toward me until he cut the distance between us by half, and there he stopped.

       “May I help you?” he said. His voice was calm, cool, and infinitely confident.

       I drew a deep breath, recalling the only useful bit of advice that came to mind, something the First Earl of Beaconsfield (Disraeli, of course) related to a poet friend: “You have heard me accused of being a flatterer,” he said. “It is true. I am a flatterer. I have found it useful. Everyone likes flattery; and when you come to Royalty you should lay it on with a trowel.”


       “Most wise, gracious, and excellent New Year,” I said, bowing my head and trying my best to appear respectful.

       “Happy New Year to you, too,” he replied after a pause. “Your greeting is a little early, though, as the New Year, either Chinese or Western, is still months away.”

       “I was attempting to address you by your real name,” I said in a low voice. “It is the Chinese New Year I seek.” I dared to glance up to gauge his reaction. I must confess that the Chinese New Year was the only Chinese holiday I knew of, so it was quite a risk.

       His expression did not change, except that the corners of his mouth curved upward a slight degree and his black eyes seemed to sparkle. “You are bold for one of your stature,” he said, his tone crisp and straightforward. “Who are you, and why have you come here?”

       “I beg your forgiveness for the intrusion, oh Great One,” I said. “My name is J.B., and I face a difficult situation for which I hope you might be able to provide desperately needed assistance.”

       He lifted his chin. “Assistance?” he asked pointedly.

       “If at all possible,” I said, on the verge of groveling (and it would not have been an act had I done so). “Are you the manager of this place of business?”

       “I am the founder, owner, and the manager,” he corrected. “What assistance do you seek?”

       “A group of—well, I can only call them ‘bad days’—have come to this world through the active wormhole in the rear of this restaurant. Some good-natured holidays came over as well, but they are not really my concern. The bad days—”

       “From the island?” he interrupted. “These are people who came here from Holiday Island?”

       I remembered that Cupid had said something about an island. “Yes,” I said cautiously. “The bad days are Friday the Thirteenth, Adolf Hitler’s Birthday, The Ides of March, and several others.”

       “Hmmm,” he said. My news appeared to have surprised him, though he merely raised an eyebrow. “That is interesting. I was not aware anyone else knew of the corridor of probability.”

       “If that is the proper name for the hole in the rear of your restaurant, then quite a few people know about it,” I told him. “A few holidays have come through it—Christmas, Halloween, Saint Valentine’s Day—”

       “Yes, yes, I know them—but what about the bad days?” he interrupted again. “The ones causing the ‘difficult situation’?”

       “They have taken a number of people hostage and caused havoc in this community. Everyone who has attempted to stop them has failed. I fear for my friends, the ones who were taken hostage, and I fear for this city tonight if the gang renews its destructive adventures through the streets. The situation is dire and growing worse by the moment.”

       “Why did you come to see me, though?” the young man asked. “Why did you believe that I, a mere student and part-time store manager, would be of any help to you at all in dealing with your ‘difficult situation’?”

       I swallowed. Lay it on with a trowel. “Only the wisest, most intelligent, and most powerful of all holidays could harness a corridor of probability to suit his needs,” I said. “Only the savviest of holidays would dare create and operate a business that spanned universes. You are without question the only hope left to this world that the gang of bad days can possibly be stopped.”

       A corner of the young man’s mouth pulled back in a sardonic smile. “You are too generous in your praise,” he murmured.

       “I fear instead that I understate your vast abilities,” I replied in a humble tone. “I have no wish to offend one as powerful as you.” That was true enough.

       The mocking smile grew broader. “No offense taken,” the young man said, then he crossed his arms and looked away from me, deep in thought. As I waited, I did my best to conceal my increasing unease at the fate of my companions. Over half an hour had passed since I had seen them taken away to an unknown and doubtless unpleasant fate. Were they now dead? Was this all for naught?

       “As I said, I was not aware that the corridor was being used by anyone other than myself,” he finally told me. “It would not do to have my school project disrupted.”

       I blinked. “School project?”

       “For my honors economics class at Holiday Island High School. I created a chain of interdimensional restaurants that have to show a profit before the end of the school year. This one is the fourth, the easiest one to start as I merely bought out the previous owners and kept on the regular staff. I hope to have a dozen restaurants in operation before midterms.”

       That fairly took my breath away. I had just gotten used to thinking of calendar holidays as actual teenagers, but to think that they also went to high school and operated chain stores as homework—I shook off a feeling of unreality with great difficulty. “Good luck on your final grade,” I said, not daring ask what sort of beings would be filling out his report card.

       He gave me a genuine smile. “Good fortune is my stock in trade,” he replied. Then his smile faded and he looked at me in seriousness. “Your visit, though your news is personally troubling, was nonetheless fortunate as well, as it revealed the necessity for me to monitor the corridor for... undesirable elements, and the necessity to render those elements harmless before they damage my customer base. They were doubtless the ones who set fire to the trash dumpster last night. That was most annoying.”

       “Speaking of undesirable elements—” I began, thinking of those who held Andrew and the others captive.

       “How many of these ‘bad days’ are there, again?” he interrupted.

       “Um, Friday the Thirteenth, Adolf Hitler’s Birthday, The Ides of March, Devil’s Night—oh, one of them, named Y2K, was murdered by Ides when they arrived here. I witnessed his killing.”

       The young man’s expression darkened. “That is most serious. One of our students was killed here, on this world, by one of the others?”

       “Yes, last night, just behind this restaurant,” I said.

       The frown deepened. “Criminality will be dealt with harshly by the island’s administration. Where is the unfortunate one’s body?”

       “Another of the group destroyed it. There was nothing left of Y2K but a necklace.”

       “Nothing?” the young man asked, eyes widening. “Where is the necklace?”

       “I will show you if you let me outside,” I said. “I can’t get the front door open. Too short, no hands. A bit inconvenient.”

       “I can well imagine.”

       Moments later we were out in the sunlight, walking around the building to the back parking lot. Little remained of Y2K’s ashes, scattered far and wide by wind and passing cars. I led the young man over to the flattened drinking cup covering the necklace. He knelt, brushed aside the trash, and picked up the necklace to study it. The Y2K medallion was dark with dried blood.

       “Who did this?” he asked in a cold voice.

       “The one known as The Ides of March cut his throat, but his body was burned up by a being I cannot identify. There are five of the bad days left here, not counting Y2K. I don’t know the name of the fifth one, the one who did the burning. He is very strange. He wears goggles over a shining blue face and looks like he’s wrapped—”

       “—in strips of lead,” he finished with a growl. “I know of him. He is very dangerous.”

       Oh, marvelous news, that. “I had rather thought Friday the Thirteenth was the worst of the group, with her bad-luck power,” I opined.

       The young man snorted gently, still looking at the necklace. “Her talents are not unfamiliar to me, but—” He turned to look me in the eye “—do not think me conceited, but her powers are in no way equal to mine. The others with her are but crude barbarians, easily handled, but she will learn her place as well. I will take care of the four of them personally.”

       A statement that makes you, my good Chinese New Year, a holiday to be respected, I thought.

       “That last one, however...” said the young man—but he left the statement unfinished. His fist closed over the gold necklace, then he stood up and dropped the necklace in a pocket of his pants. “You are aware of our weakness,” he said. He made it a statement.

       I thought over what the Irregulars had discovered earlier in the day. “The longer you stay on this world,” I said carefully, “the weaker your respective holidays become in the popular mind, and thus the weaker you are as well.”

       “Exactly so. If one of us stayed long enough, that one would become human and mortal. I dare visit here only once a week, for no more than a few hours at a time, so little harm to my strength is thus done. You were extremely fortunate to find me when you did—as I was fortunate to meet you.” He looked away, scanning our surroundings: the parking lot, the hedge, the distant buildings and trees, the telephone lines and clouds above. “The Burning One, he who is of the most concern, will not listen to any such as me,” he said quietly. “He is not like the others. He is a law unto himself. The others are opportunists, creatures of impulse. He, on the other hand, is a planner. He schemes and plots, but he never speaks, never reveals himself. His heart is unknowable. He was under constant surveillance at the alternative school where he was housed. It is unthinkable that he escaped, but it is even worse that he has come here, to this world. It is a calamity beyond reason.”

       Crap. That was just want I needed to hear.

       Chinese New Year (he had a proper name, of course, but I don’t speak Chinese) looked down at me with an unreadable gaze. “Do you love this world?” he asked in a hard voice.

       “Do I... uh, well, yes, of course I do. Most certainly, yes!”

       “Then you must find this other one and convince him to return to the island. Use every wile you have. Everything is permitted to you to change his heart, except one thing: do not physically harm him. If you do that, all that you love is doomed.”

       All that I love would be doomed? Dawn, too? My Dawn would be doomed? And, anyway, how could I possibly harm anyone who could burn anything around to ashes just by looking at it?

       “Do not harm him,” I repeated dully.

       The young man nodded. “If any of the rest of us were to perish here, the public mind would close to our personal day, and it would be forgotten in a generation. The Burning One, though, is different. Everything he represents would no longer be feared. And my economics project would suffer an irreversible loss as a result—to say nothing of what you and your kind would lose in the unparalleled cataclysm to come. Perhaps I should close up shop after I get my final grade.”

       I was cold with horror. “Who is he?” I finally asked. “What day is his?’

       He shook his head in mild disappointment. “I had expected that you would know your history better than that,” he said. “You do not know him? Did not anyone call him by name?”

       I searched my memory. “One of them called him Trin,” I said, deeply embarrassed at this lapse in my self-education.

       “It is a nickname. His full name means ‘three in one,’ though I cannot say why he was so named.”

       “Three in one? Trin—Trinity? His name is Trinity? That’s a religious name, isn’t it?”

       “I cannot say.” Chinese New Year pulled car keys from his pocket. “We have talked long enough. I had best offer your friends a little assistance. Have no further worries about them. Your worries should instead be concentrated on preventing the end of the world.” He started off, then stopped himself and turned back. Reaching into a shirt pocket, he pulled out a folded sheet of paper. “Perhaps your friend can tell you more,” he said, opening the page and setting it on the ground before me. “He said his name was Shaggy, and he wished you to have this. I must go.”

       “Do you need the address?” I called after him as he headed for a parked car—a very nice, low-slung Lamborghini.

       “No,” he said, opening the car door and getting in. “If I drive in a random direction, luck will guide me there in no time. And may luck guide you as well on your quest to save the world.” The door slammed, then the engine started with a roar. Tires screaming, the Lamborghini shot from the parking lot like a bullet, and was gone as soon as it hit the street.

       Save the world? I had to save the world... again? Was there no justice? Why couldn’t someone else save the world this time instead of me? I didn’t even know where this Trinity was, or who or what he really was, or what I would say when I found him! It simply wasn’t fair!

       In the midst of my self-pity, my attention was drawn down to the page that Chinese New Year had placed before me. It was indeed a note from Shaggy, stapled to a smaller paper. I recognized Shaggy’s appalling penmanship, though his writing was literate enough.

       Hey, J.B., I read. I’ve got some good news and some bad news. By now you’ve probably talked to that New Year’s guy and he’s gone off to save Mr. Landon and the other guys from the bad holidays. For what it’s worth, N.Y. kicks major ass on every bad holiday in the bunch!!! He is an AWESOME dude!!! Definitely way better than Jet Li. Sorry I had to bail on you and let everyone else get caught, but it was the only way to keep the bad holidays together in one place so N.Y. stomps on them later and sends them home. I knew you’d get away, though.

       Now for the bad news. N.Y.’s probably also told you that you need to find that Trinity guy and stop him from destroying the world. There’s kind of a problem with that, though. I’ve been time-traveling through the wormhole for a while now, trying to get into the future, but I haven’t found a future yet where the world isn’t totally blown up. I don’t mean to mess with you or anything, but when I told you I borrowed that money from myself in the future to take Quinn out for dinner, what really happened was that the future me gave me the money for free because paper money isn’t worth anything in the future, only canned goods and medicine and stuff like that are any good, because everything in the world was blown up in one big-ass atomic war. That’s the truth, J.B. I was so damn upset about it, I didn’t even ask Quinn for a kiss later on at dinner.

       I had to promise the future me that I would find out how to stop the war from happening, but I’ve tried I don’t know how many times to talk to Trinity and he won’t listen to me at all. He won’t leave Earth to go back to Holiday Island, no matter what I yell at him, and he always does something stupid later and gets shot or blown up and killed. Then, three years from now in September 2001, there’s a huge war and almost everybody is nuked out by Christmas. Some people are left, but most of them are sick or dying. The future me in 2005 has some kind of blood cancer. He looks bad. I think the world ends because Trinity dies, but I don’t know why.

       Trinity is at the public library right now. The library’s closed because someone busted out all the windows, but he got in there somehow and he’s reading there every time I go looking for him. I’ve yelled myself hoarse and thrown things at him and everything, but nothing works. I’ve done everything I can. I just went and found all the other future me’s who are trying to talk to Trinity, and I told them it won’t work and to let you try instead, so it’s up to you. Good luck, J.B. Don’t blow this one. Your buddy, Dewey.

       P.S. “Shaggy” was kind of a stupid name, wasn’t it? Doesn’t matter now, I guess. Bye, old buddy. Love you. It was fun while it lasted.

       A slight breeze lifted the page as I finished. I moved a paw to pin down the smaller sheet below the letter, which turned out to be a photocopy of a page from an encyclopedia. The page held part of an article about the atom bomb. Highlighted with a yellow marker was the following section:



The first successful test of any nuclear weapon was

at Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. This

was named Trinity by Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, for

obscure reasons. There, an implosion-type bomb was

exploded that had the power of 20 thousand tons of

TNT, heralding the beginning of the Atomic Age that

led to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and

nearly led humanity to disaster during the Cuban

Missile Crisis of 1962. Oppenheimer said that as he

watched the mushroom cloud rise from the test site,

he recalled a line from the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita that

read: I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.



       There was more, but I no longer cared to read it. I took my paw from the pages. They blew away across the parking lot.

       So that was Trinity, the destroyer of worlds. And I had to stop him.

       It took a few minutes to collect my thoughts. When I was done, it was still a fairly pleasant day out despite being partially overcast. It was certainly nice enough to take a walk to the library. Having nothing else to do, I did exactly that.





Chapter 9:

Teenage Nuclear Wasteland



       I admit that as I made my way toward Lawndale’s public library, I had no hope that anything I did would be of any use whatsoever in preventing the destruction of civilization, scheduled to begin only three years from that moment per Shaggy’s note. My thoughts were rather dull and trivial, in fact. As I left Good Time Chinese, I vaguely recall seeing a curious group walking up the other side of the street, heading in the direction from which I had just come: the big blond toga-wearing Cupid, the touchy oversized leprechaun, and two teenage girls, one of whom looked oddly familiar to me because of the large round eye-frames she wore. (I figured it out later.) None of them noticed me as they were engrossed in a conversation about Holiday Island, which the two girls were apparently about to visit for the first time. (“Anything has to be better than sitting at home listening to my parents in the next room having sex,” grumbled the girl with the big eye-frames.)

       With hardly a shrug, I continued on my way. It occurred to me soon thereafter that Holiday Island might be the perfect fallout shelter for my human family and friends when the day of the nuclear nightmare came—if the time came, I amended out of habit, though I feared in my bones it would happen, possibly in my own lifetime. If a time-traveling Shaggy had been unable to keep Trinity out of harm’s way, what chance had one such as I? Chinese New Year was closing up shop soon anyway, he had told me, and the “corridor of probability” would somehow be deactivated; the escape route would close forever. Perhaps if I tried hard enough, I could talk my loved ones and friends into moving to that other world now. Surely there would be a place on the other side where we could—where we might—we could—

       Sorrowfully I shook my head and dismissed the fantasy. It would never work. No one would believe me. Worse, engaging in such daydreams allowed me to sink into hopelessness and avoid taking direct action. There had to be a way to save the world. There had to be a way to talk a living nuclear bomb into returning to Holiday Island, or whatever Alice in Wonderland realm lay on the other side of that wormhole, before mischance befell him. There had to be.

       But no such plan for deliverance came to mind. The problem was too great, too bizarre to grapple with. The endless well of my imagination had run dry. I would arrive at the library, as humans would say, with empty hands. My melancholy deepened into complete despair. I kept walking only because stopping and lying down would feel infinitely worse.

       Time passed as I padded along, and I soon found myself thinking of Dawn, remembering our life together and what we had shared. It is perhaps apparent to the reader that I am prone to idolize my companion, despite my awareness that she has her flaws, as we all do—even Disraeli, though he did not have many flaws to speak of. Dawn is terribly important to me, more so than Disraeli or Andrew or anyone else who has ever existed. Why this is so is difficult to explain. Words are a feeble echo of reality, but that echo is all that I have to work with.

       I consider myself reasonably well read on the subject of canine-human relations, so I am aware that the two species have over many thousands of years developed a unique kinship that is unparalleled in all of zoological history. Here and there we have had our bad moments with each other, and we shall continue to have them, but on the whole no more potent and loving partnership between species was ever birthed, a curious thing in view of the fact that dogs and humans are likely the two most dangerous predators in existence. We have both been changed by our relationship in ways that are difficult to name, because those changes may have passed into our genes. Is a fish aware of water? Are dogs and humans fully aware of what we have become for each other? It seems obvious what effect humans have had on dogs, given the enormous variety of breeds of the latter, but then one examines the effect that therapy dogs have on human hospital patients: reducing their loneliness, calming their fears, and improving their affect, morale, and health. Have not dogs in some way changed humans on the inside? And we dogs are known to smile. I cannot believe we ever smiled before we met humanity.

       Dogs and humans have thrown in their lots together since the most ancient of days, when we hunted side by side in the chill of glaciers and fed upon the wild boar and giant elk we brought down with our mutual skills. Our cooperation ensured our survival through the terrors of the Ice Ages and allowed us to dominate every square mile of the untamed world before us. After thousands of generations of such interdependence, humans often think of dogs as part of their families, and dogs often think of humans as part of their packs. The fate of one has become the fate of the other. Even Superman has his Krypto. We are one, and none have stood against us.

       The reader must forgive me if here I quote from someone other than Disraeli. A popular humorist of the nineteenth century named Henry Wheeler Shaw, who wrote under the pen name Josh Billings, is remembered today because he once said, “A dog is the only thing on earth that loves you more than he loves himself.” He was a human speaking to humans, of course, but what he said was dead on: that is exactly what we dogs feel. Yet the street runs both ways. Consider that not one but three constellations in the night sky were named by humans for dogs, the brightest star other than the sun is named for a dog, and the first living being to voyage into outer space aboard a rocket and circle the earth was a dog. And which of the two species christened the dog “man’s best friend”? (Hint: It wasn’t the dog.) Humans are the more technologically apt of the partners, but our hold on their hearts is as secure as theirs is on ours.

       And so we come to Dawn. Dawn knows that I can speak, but she has rarely requested I do. She knows I am rather well informed for a dog, thanks to the accelerated education techniques afforded me by Andrew Landon and others as part of the “informal experiment” of which I am the core, yet she does not ask me to help her with her homework—not often, anyway, and only with the greatest reluctance. She does not know that Andrew and the Irregulars and I have pitted ourselves for years against supernatural menaces that threaten the Chesapeake Bay area, and I would prefer she never knew, though she suspects something is going on of which she is not a part. She worries for me, but has shown no desire to deeply probe my place in the world.

       All that Dawn asks of me is a chance to give to me something she can give to no one else, which is complete and unconditional love. And that is all that I have to give to her in return. Those moments when we sit on the old sofa together and say nothing, when I revel in her gentle touch and she lets me snuggle against her—those are the only moments when I am truly happy. I think it is the same for her, though I have never asked. I do not mind admitting this. Never apologize for showing feeling, wrote Disraeli; when you do so, you apologize for the truth.

       It must be in our blood, this bond between human and dog. It is a sentiment too deep to spring from anything else.

       Alas, all good things must end, and all living things are born to die. Astronomers inform us that even stars and galaxies pass on in their own manner, and perhaps one day the universe will fade away as well. There is no reason, however, to rush the process; life is good and should be lived to its fullest. As I meditated upon these matters on my way to the library, it occurred to me that I did not wish for Dawn to see her life end before age twenty. I did not know if I myself would be around at the time, as bulldogs are not noted for longevity; an age of ten years is considered extreme. Nonetheless, I vowed I would do all I could to bring my beloved a better future than what Shaggy had claimed was coming, even if I had to lay down my own life in the process.

       The library came into view around a bend in the highway ahead. I came to a halt and, panting heavily, gazed upon the building, guarded by two police cars sitting with lights flashing in the library parking lot. As I rested and watched for signs of Trinity, my mood changed, and I fell into a gloomy reverie about those upright creatures that we dogs adore and worship.

       It is a little-known bylaw of nature that once a species becomes an apex predator, capable of preying on one and all beneath it in the food chain, it has no real enemies anymore—except for itself, that is. Humans have this thing called war, which they imagine no other species practices except for ants and perhaps chimpanzees, if Ms. Jane Goodall is correct. I shall not belabor all the arguments in favor of or opposing war, or elaborate upon theories on how the pressures of war have interacted with technological development to produce better tools as well as weapons. It has long been a point for me to ponder, however, that as much as I envy humans their hands—and believe me, I do—I have also been relatively content to live my life without any manipulative organs other than my mouth and teeth. To have the power to shape and change the world brings with it a dreadful counter-power to destroy it. When humans figured out the power of the atom, they at last met their match. Their worst enemy became themselves. God forbid that dogs should ever find themselves in this position.

       I looked upon the library and it came to me, there and then, that it was up to man’s best friend to keep mankind from destroying one and all. Trinity was the mythic sum of the human nightmare of atomic weaponry. If any of the rest of us were to perish here, said Chinese New Year, the public mind would close to our personal day, and it would be forgotten in a generation. The Burning One, though, is different. Everything he represents would no longer be feared. Now I understood why harming Trinity physically would bring disaster. If Trinity were slain, humanity would soon no longer fear the consequences of nuclear warfare. The unthinkable would become thinkable, and then it would become reality. Whatever monstrous event was destined to spark global conflict in September 2001 would then engulf whole continents in atomic fire and radioactive poison. Humanity would fall like Icarus—and dogs would fall with them. Perish the notion! I was by no means ready to cede leadership of the world’s glowing ruins to the cockroaches or, heaven forbid, cats.

       I needed every scrap of wisdom for my forthcoming attempt to change Trinity’s mind, and memory was equal to the task. “Action may not always bring happiness,” quoth the sage, “but there is no happiness without action.” So, action I would take. As for pessimism, I recalled that: “Despair is the conclusion of fools,” and also: “Circumstances are beyond human control, but our conduct is in our own power.” Thus braced by the Right Honorable Benjamin Disraeli, I drew a deep breath, lifted my muzzle, and trotted off for the library, electing to circle it and attempt to enter from a side the police would not likely notice. Failing that, I would creep up from concealment and make a dash for any entrance that presented itself.

       On the way I reviewed what I knew of the holidays and bad days in general, and it came to me that their guise of being human teenagers might be turned to my advantage. Perhaps they went through the emotions that human teenagers did, from the swell of first love to the angst of being misunderstood and alone. I had a good way with teenagers, the Irregulars in particular. Perhaps I could somehow use that knack when I spoke with Trinity. He was a thinker, a plotter, said Chinese New Year. A purely emotional appeal would thus not likely sway him. Use every wile you have. Everything is permitted to you to change his heart.

       To change his heart so he would return home, I would need to understand him. Not to unfairly criticize Shaggy, who had performed tremendous deeds already, but it did not sound as if he had understood Trinity, judging from what he wrote about shouting and throwing things. None of this would matter for the present, as Shaggy had stated that he had stopped his alternate time-traveling selves from interfering with my work. Trinity and I could converse uninterrupted. (I confess to having a nagging feeling that Shaggy had interfered entirely too often with the time stream and had likely produced a number of chronological paradoxes, some potentially unsolvable and even detrimental to the existence of this time-space continuum, but worrying over that was a task for another time, if another time there would ever be.)

       I reached the rear of the library undisturbed and found but one door there, a solid gray one with no windows that appeared to be closed. Uninhabited open grounds were the only witness to my presence—so far, so good. I then noticed a scorch mark near the doorknob. Closer inspection revealed that something had burned through the deadbolt lock, shearing it through from top to bottom as if by a laser. Only Trinity would be capable of doing that—a bit of knowledge that did my nerves no good at all. Making sure that I was unseen, I bumped the door with a paw and jarred it open. It took but a moment to nudge the crack wider with my nose, and then I was inside. The door creaked shut behind me as I looked into the library proper.

       All of the fluorescent overhead lights had been turned off, but stark illumination was provided by high-intensity bulbs mounted near the ceiling, attached to emergency batteries. My night vision assisted admirably, too. The library’s main stacks, behind which I had entered, were a shadowed and silent forest of shelving units. I carefully made my way down the nearest aisle looking left and right, ears pricked up to catch the slightest sound. My nose detected the odor of burnt dust (on the emergency lights, no doubt), the expected fragrance of old paper and bookbinding, the usual friendly aroma of humans... and a whiff of a curious electric-like smell, almost like ozone.

       It was the scent of the Other.

       I swallowed and silently padded to the end of the aisle, where I cautiously peered to either side. From the right I heard the whisper of a page being turned. My blood ran cold, and I had to force myself to break free of a sudden paralysis before I could move on, so great was my fear. Nothing to worry about, old boy, nothing at all, whispered a small voice inside my head. It’s only the end of the world waiting for you. Nothing more.

       Step by step I made my way past a long row of high shelves in the adult fiction section. No doubt Trinity was reading. My frayed nerves began to settle down. I wondered what work of trashy modern literature young Trinity was so keen to study in a dark, abandoned, vandalized library. Something about sex, no doubt. I rolled my eyes. Teenagers.

       The scent of the Other grew very strong, but I felt I was well in control of my fears. I walked past yet another row of bookshelves, sensed something there in my muddled peripheral vision, glanced over to my right—and jumped and yelped like a scared pup.

       Two tall thin human legs, each swathed in strips of soft gray metal like an exotic mummy, stood less than a yard from my nose. The feet were turned toward one of the bookshelves. I looked up with horror-filled eyes. Looking down at me was a gray, strip-wrapped being who wore aviator’s goggles with pitch-black lenses. Shining through each goggle lens was a sparkling light of eye-searing blue, a mad starry radiance that pulsed in-and-out with a silent double-beat pattern: flash-flash, flash-flash. The rhythm had a dreadful lifelessness about it, more akin to an electronic signal than a heartbeat. It was a good thing that I had been in a Nuke Box just over an hour before, or else I would have badly soiled the library’s recently cleaned indoor-outdoor carpeting. Not that I would have cared.

       Trinity held an open book in his hands, but he was watching me and waiting. It took forever for me to force a word from my mouth, and when I did, it came out more or less like a robotic version of this: “Huh-huh-huh... heh-lo!”

       Trinity continued to stare at me. At least he’s not ignoring me, came a crazed thought, crazed because if he was not ignoring me, it would make it easier for him to blast me into ashes the moment I began to annoy him. He did not respond, so I repeated the “hello” with a mouth as dry as a desert. Still no response.

       My gaze went to the book. I recognized it from the artwork on the back cover: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. What in the world? Why that book, out of all the others?

       Another strangled swallow and another attempt at repartee. “That’s a good book,” I ventured, and instantly felt like a complete idiot. I struggled on anyway. “Um, uh, yes, I liked that one. Very good book. I, um, read it a couple years ago. Not at all like the movies, is it? Much better in fact, I really think so. It says so much more than the movies ever did, or could. D-d-do you agree?”

       No response. He has no mouth, said that annoying voice inside my head. It’s all covered up. He cannot speak a word, you fool.


       Trinity then nodded. It was only a slight movement, and only once, but it was a nod. He was paying attention to me. He agreed with me. We had communication! No doubt my being a talking dog was of some benefit. All well and good, then. I cleared my throat and started to feel my way through the conversational minefield. To be as honest and natural as possible was my only goal. It never pays to lie to a youth—never.

       “Hard to believe that a teenager wrote that,” I said, without thinking too deeply about what I was saying. “Mary Shelley was only nineteen. Amazing. One of the greatest works in all science fiction, fantasy, and horror, and she did it just like that, knocked it right out with a pen and paper. Teenagers can be amazing, can’t they?” I coughed. “Excuse me. Haven’t told you my name yet. I’m J.B., and I’m pleased to meet you. You must be Trinity, correct?”

       Trinity gazed at me a few seconds more... then looked away and went back to reading his book in the harsh illumination of the emergency lights.

       “Um...” I needed to regain his attention, but nothing came to mind. I tossed around for a topic. “I heard you were from Holiday Island. Strange name, that. What’s it like there?”


       “Is it really an island, or sort of like Rhode Island in that... um... you know, whatever.”


       “Do you like school?” Too late, I remembered he had been held a virtual prisoner in the equivalent of an alternative school for problem holidays. Frightened, I held my breath and waited for his reaction.

       He ignored me.

       Relieved, I then almost asked if he had a girlfriend, but a flash of sanity stopped me just in time. Under no circumstances did I want to ask about his romantic life. My scheme to play youth counselor was swiftly getting nowhere. My gaze went to the book he held. “Do you have a favorite line from that novel?” I asked, hoping to keep his attention. “Something you really liked? It’s such a quotable book, has a little of everything. What’s your favorite bit?”

       To my surprise, Trinity looked down at me again, then turned to look around us. He moved a foot and bumped it against an empty metal shelf by the floor, drawing my attention there.

       Two thin beams of intense blue-white light stabbed the shelf and began moving over it with quick, straight strokes. It almost frightened me to death. (Thank heavens for the Nuke Box, or else—well, you can imagine.) The blue beams converged on a single brilliant point that burned words into the metal. The paint hissed as it blazed, and smoke arose from the glowing letters. I read the carefully printed line once the afterimages of the burning dot had ceased to blind me.






       After hesitating, I read the passage aloud and added, “Those are the monster’s words, are they not?” For an instant I was then terrified Trinity would think I was referring to him as a monster. However, he again nodded agreement. I understood in a flash. “Do you feel like the monster in the book?” I asked. “Is he like you in some way?”

       Trinity nodded more rapidly this time, then turned his gaze aside. Blue laser-light flashed from his goggles, burning again into the scarred shelf. I turned my head away to keep from being blinded until he had finished, then read his message.








       I looked up as he continued to “write” with his burning vision. He was glancing rapidly back and forth from the book in his hands to the shelf, turning pages as he went. It came to me that he was still quoting his favorite lines from the book. His pace of activity was unnerving.







       It then struck me that he was doing more than quoting. He was telling me what he actually felt and thought. Those were his words as well as the book’s! A chill ran through me as he continued.








       My creature? What did that mean? The “Adam” and “fallen angel” references I could grasp, as atomic power was first seen as a boon to humanity, not its destroyer. And what was that “for no misdeed” part? What of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? True, men who flew the planes and released the bombs, but wasn’t Trinity the animate symbol of the rage and guilt and horror and grief that atomic destruction had wrought? Was he saying he was good or evil? Frankenstein’s monster was sometimes seen as morally ambiguous; was it so for Trinity, too?

       He continued to write. The shelf was filling up with words. The air reeked of burnt paint and singed steel.








       “Now, wait a minute,” I began, feeling a new fear creep in my heart. “I’m not planning to—”







       “Trinity, hold on, let’s—”

       No more writing space remained on the shelf. He turned and lashed out with a lead-wrapped foot, knocking over a row of volumes on another low shelf, thus clearing more room. The blue eye-beams flashed out.






       “No! That’s not true!” I cried in a shocked voice. “I don’t, I swear it! I came here to talk to you!”

       Trinity shook his head violently, then continued to write with his eye-beams.







       Fear ran riot through my veins. “I didn’t make you!” I shouted. “It wasn’t me! Look at me, will you? I’m a dog! A dog! D-O-G, dog! No hands! Humans made you, but that’s not the relevant issue here! No one is going to destroy you, and I mean no one, period!”

       Again a violent head-shake: No! Again, blue lasers lanced into the scorched metal.










       Dear God, what was he saying? I tried to slow my panicked breathing. This had gotten entirely out of hand. What madness had possessed me to think I could handle a monstrosity such as this thing?

       Revelation intervened. The significance of his words struck me like a thunderbolt, and I understood his intentions at last. He wasn’t talking to me, little J.B. the bulldog. He was rehearsing a speech, telling me exactly what he wanted to say to someone else, using the exact words of Frankenstein’s monster. The only possible recipient of his oration was without a doubt the race that had created him: humanity. It was a speech that warned of imminent damnation—

       —and doubled as a suicide note.

       He knew what would happen if he were killed—and he intended for that end to occur. He planned to deliberately put himself in harm’s way, and dare the race that had created and cursed him to destroy him. In revenge, his death would then ensure the subsequent destruction of all humanity: a genocide-suicide.

       My mind reeled. I had thought Trinity’s death would be accidental, the result of youthful carelessness and indiscretion, yet it was anything but. It was a brilliant plan. It was wickedness incarnate, a fantastic act of evil that made all other foul deeds look like wholesome acts of charity, but brilliant nonetheless. I was rendered speechless.

       The blue beams blazed.













       There was so much smoke in the air I could have choked. It was amazing that the fire alarms hadn’t yet gone off, yet I was hardly aware of it. I felt faint as I read his words. A sudden thump brought me out of my giddiness. The book in Trinity’s lead-clad hands had closed. He reverently set it aside on an empty shelf. One last word did he sear into the carpet at my feet:






       With that, he stepped past me and walked away. He headed for the front doors of the library--and the armed police officers in the parking lot beyond. I knew his intentions: death by cop, some called it.

       His death first, and then the death of all the earth soon after.





Chapter 10:

Sympathy for the Devil



       “Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius,” wrote Britain’s greatest Prime Minister in 1880, but I did not have this phrase in mind as I watched Trinity stride toward the library’s front doors. My head was instead filled with cosmic doses of shock, horror, disbelief—and, rising in the background, a burning anger that he would dare do such a terrible thing for whatever reason. And it was up to me to fix the impossible mess that had been dropped in my supper dish! How dare he think of destroying himself and the entire world as well! Of all the nerve!

       It was that anger that at last moved me to speak up, though concern over the consequences moderated my words. I now saw things from Trinity’s viewpoint—and had discovered a possible flaw in his reasoning.

       “They won’t remember you for this, you know,” I said in a steady voice, dropping all pretenses. “They’ll forget you ever existed. It’s inevitable.”

       Trinity’s pace slowed. His head lowered and turned slightly to one side. He was thirty feet from the doors.

       “I don’t mean humans will forget you because they’ll all be dead,” I added quickly. “Not even a nuclear war would kill them completely off, though it would certainly make a credible effort. You’re counting on people to forget what you represent in order to increase the chances of war, I understand that—but as soon as you die, everyone on this world will begin to forget you. Think about it. In time they won’t remember you personally, not a bit. It’s the way it goes with the holidays and other days that come here, I’m sure you’ve heard, an unfortunate byproduct of their deaths. It’s what’s going to happen to that Y2K fellow. A day ahead of his time, I suppose, but now everyone’s going to forget about him because his day won’t come about. He’ll be a joke for a while when nothing happens on Y2K day, then he’ll be nothing at all. Zero, zip, nada, nothing.”

       Trinity had come to a stop only five feet from the doors. He did not turn around as he listened to me.

       “With you, it will be different. After your death, another day will replace you. Not even historians will remember your day because after the next war the books and computers will be gone: Trinity, Trinity, what was that all about? What humanity will remember instead will be the day that the bombs fall and civilization comes to a screaming halt. They’ll remember that day perfectly, the survivors will, but you will be erased. All the influence you once held over the minds of men will be gone like a puff of smoke. No one will have a clue that you were taking revenge on them. They’ll blame the war on the politicians, aliens, sunspots, trivial and ridiculous things. They won’t remember the injustices they did to you, or anything at all about you. If there was some bitter moral lesson you meant to teach, some payback you intended to matter in the long run, that will be lost. If you wanted this dreadful punishment to bear your name, that won’t happen, either. It’ll have someone else’s name on it, not yours, and your lesson and vengeance will be wasted.”

       Silence filled the air for a beat. “It must have occurred to you,” I continued, “that humanity cannot keep up the nuclear juggling act forever. One of these days, as surely as we are standing here, someone’s going to push the button, and he’ll do it without your help. It’s inevitable. Humans are like that. They’ve almost done it several times now, but each time they escaped blowing up the world out of sheer, dumb luck. We should all be dead and radioactive a dozen times over, but we’re still staggering on and the missiles are still in their silos. It won’t always go on like that. Someone’s going to screw up sooner or later, some madman general or insane politician or fevered terrorist, one of them will unleash the genie. When they do that, the world will remember you, the start of it all. You’ll have your revenge in a moment’s time, and all you had to do was to wait. You’ll be the most powerful of days. Everyone down to the last fallout-tainted child in New Guinea will know your name. Your revenge will be complete, and it will be you, not some other day, who then fills the hearts and minds of humanity. They’ll remember their mistreatment of you and repent of it a thousand-fold. If that dream has some appeal, it is yours—and it won’t cost you your life to seize it.”

       My voice softened. “There is another option. Humans hate and fear you, but you are no monster. In the strangest way, you are now humanity’s only hope for survival. That hatred and fear give you far greater powers over mankind than you realize. If they curse and revile you, let them. You are the stronger for it, a better brake on their self-destructive impulses. Whatever else they say or think, humans need you. They need to see that sword hanging over them, a sword they themselves forged. They need humility to counter their arrogance, the certain knowledge that they are not immortal, the assurance that someone real and dangerous forever watches over their shoulders, waiting for that one lethal error—and that someone is you. You said you were the master of your creator, and you were right. That is your destiny. No other day can save or destroy humanity. No one else has the power you do.

       “Live and be mighty, or die and be nothing. The choice is yours.”

       I wanted to add more, but I forced myself into silence. In retrospect my speech was disjointed and rambling; the only thing holding it together was that every word was meant to keep Trinity from destroying himself and the world with him, at least within the immediate future. Nothing mattered now but the path he chose.

       Somewhere in the empty library near the children’s section, a battery-powered clock ticked the seconds away. I waited and did not dare to breathe.

       Trinity lifted his head and moved. He reached the entrance in two strides, then pushed the doors open and stood in the clouded light, facing the world.

       He had chosen to die.

       My heart leapt into my mouth. I sprang and raced franticly to the doors to get outside ahead of him. I had the wild idea that I could somehow talk the police officers out of shooting Trinity, perhaps distract them or even frighten them away—but even as I ran, my heart sank. It was hopeless. My struggle to save the world was lost. I hurled myself through the door and outside—

       —just in time to see the two police cars race out of the parking lot with sirens wailing, without so much as a backward glance at us. I thought for an instant that the officers had been frightened away by Trinity’s alien appearance, then realized they must have started leaving while we were still inside. Something else had made them hurry away, but what? I had no answers.

       “Strange,” I panted absently, watching the police cars disappear. I then glanced up at my companion.

       Trinity looked about, deep in thought. Then his shoulders sagged and he seemed to sigh. Still holding open the library doors, he looked down at the sunlit sidewalk before us; blue lasers snapped on from his goggles and burned black words into the concrete.






       Dumbfounded, I stared at the message and read it aloud. It took a moment for it to sink in that I had actually won. Trinity had given in. Why he had even tried to confront the police after all I had said would never be known. Perhaps it was the last gasp of his self-loathing and suicidal urges, and giving in to that darkness had frightened him into living again. Perhaps he was just being a contrary teenager, trying to show me who was boss, which of us had the final say over his life. If so, he did.

       I felt giddy. My legs trembled with relief. The world was saved! I had done the impossible! Now all I had to do was escort a bizarre, frightening, and immature humanoid atom bomb about twelve blocks across town to a Chinese restaurant, during mid-afternoon just as the mad Friday rush hour was about to begin, and make sure no harm befell the teenage bomb in any way. I also had to ensure the human bomb did not change his mind and again try to get himself killed, in which case the world was completely lost. Nothing to it. Piece of cake. I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to find a shred of inner peace to guide and strengthen me. I needn’t tell you what the result of that was.

       “Well,” I said, opening my weary eyes, “we could certainly use a bit of luck from Chinese New Year, we definitely could. In the meanwhile, why don’t we... uh-oh.”

       That last bit was uttered when my gaze fell upon a vehicle passing on a nearby highway, slowing to turn into the library parking lot from which the police had just left. Someone was coming.

       “Let’s step back inside a bit, shall we?” I said, and I bumped against Trinity’s left leg for emphasis. The lead wrappings felt warm to the touch, which caused me to shiver. I was dreadfully afraid of getting radiation poisoning out of this as a bonus for my hard work, though if I did it would be in perfect keeping with the quality of my day so far. Fortunately Trinity was in a mood to listen to me, and we both retired to the library’s interior. I stood in the doorway, keeping one of the automatic doors slightly ajar with my body as I peered outside. The approaching vehicle was a truck. I squinted to read the lettering on its side as it pulled up in front of the building and parked.


       I said a bad word under my breath—several bad words, in fact. This was all I needed to make my very bad day complete.

       The driver’s side door opened and a stocky man got out wearing a sweat-stained Lawndale Animal Control officer’s uniform. It was the same man who had caught me yesterday and tried to catch me earlier today. He appeared pale and rattled as he pulled a walkie-talkie from his belt and clicked it on. “Unit Thirteen to base,” he said, standing by the open door of his truck and gazing nervously around the parking lot. “I’ll be offline for half an hour at the library, doing a little research. Over.”

       The radio hissed static, then responded: “That counts as your lunchtime, Unit Thirteen. We’re not paying overtime for something you can do after five o’clock. Over.”

       “But this is important!” the man shouted at the radio. He turned away from the entrance (and me), shading his eyes with his free hand. He appeared to be searching the library grounds for something. “I just have to check some stuff out, okay? It won’t take that long, over!”

       As he spoke, I finally had a bright idea. “Wait here,” I whispered to Trinity, then I trotted out of the library while the man had his back turned. The library door quietly closed behind me.

       “Why is it so important you go to the library now? Over.” asked the walkie-talkie.

       “I saw something weird today, okay?” said the officer. “It... it... I just have to look something up. It was some kind of weird animal, all right? Over.”

       “What kind of weird animal?”

       “Well... it talked.”

       There was a pause. “Fred, are you drinking on the job? ‘Cause if you are, I swear to—”

       “Just gimme a chance, okay? I’ll tell you about it later! Gimme a damn break!”

       “Jeez, whatever,” said the radio in an irritated tone. “Take it up with the shift commander when you get back. Out.”

       The Lawndale Animal Control officer clipped the radio back on his belt with trembling fingers, shut his truck door, and started to walk toward the library entrance. He then discovered that I was standing on the sidewalk blocking his way. His eyes instantly took on that old familiar popeyed goldfish look.

       “Excuse me,” I began, “but we seem to have—”

       The man jumped and shrieked a sacrilegious oath that I hope the reader will forgive me for not reprinting. He backed into the truck’s outside rear-view mirror, then clawed for the driver’s side door handle without finding it, because it was two feet away from where his hands were. He never stopped gaping at me.

       “As I was saying,” I repeated impatiently, “we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot, and I thought this would be a fine time for us to get better acquainted. My name is J.B., just like the initials, and you are... your name is... you’re... oh, never mind. Listen, I was wondering if I might be able to borrow your truck.”

       The panicked man grabbed his belt radio, but it fell from his grasp and struck the pavement with a loud crack. Several pieces—like the battery cover, battery, and stub antenna—broke free and bounced away on the asphalt. The man snatched up the maimed radio, realized it was permanently nonfunctional, then dropped it again with an unmanly whimper. He then held up his hands to ward me away. “Don’t hurt me!” he cried. “I was only doing my job!”

       “Yes,” I said, getting testy again, “I’m familiar with the ‘only following orders’ defense. Listen, my good fellow, I don’t have a lot of time to explain this situation so I will cut to the chase, as they say, and repeat that I need to borrow your truck for a short while. I’ll probably have to borrow you as well since I am physically unable to drive, if that isn’t too obvious to you. Would you mind terribly much taking me and a friend for a quick jaunt over to the Good Time Chinese restaurant on Marcil? We need to leave now before the traffic worsens.”

       “What?” the man said blankly. “Do what?”

       “Excellent! Thank you ever so much!” I turned to the library and shouted, “Trinity, come out! I’ve found us a ride!”

       The library doors opened and out came Trinity, the gray mummy with glowing aviator goggles. The animal control officer’s eyes got even larger and he made a curious whining sound before gasping, “What’s that?

       “That’s Trinity,” I said as Trinity walked up. “Trinity, this is the fine gentleman who’s going to drive us over to Good Time Chinese so you can go home. Just get in the truck on that side, if the door’s unlocked—oh, jolly good, and now this good man and I will get in on the driver’s side. That’s right, just open the door... you need to open the door, like that, right. Very good. Um, let’s see, I need a little help getting in. I can’t jump up there. You’ll have to lift me up... I said, you’ll have to lift me up... just pick me up and stop staring at me like that, it’s quite unnerving! You act like you’ve never seen a bulldog before! Pick me up! Yes—oof—that’s right, careful, just put me down on the—there, right, thank you ever so much. Now you get in... you have to get in, too... oh, rot! Listen, my good man, if you don’t get in this truck right this instant, I shall command every rabid skunk in this city to track you down and bite off your toes this very evening! I might even alert the rabbits and chipmunks as well! I swear I shall! Don’t think for a second I won’t do it! Ah, finally, that’s it, get right in, excellent. Shut the door, yes, and here we are! Isn’t this fabulous? Here we are, the three of us in your fine truck, and now you have to start the engine... with the keys... yes, there you go! And we’re off! Oh, wait! Seatbelts! Put on your seatbelts! Right! Now we’re off!”

       The truck sat and idled without going anywhere. “Where are we going?” said the officer in a high, squeaky voice. His hands gripped the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles were white.

       “The Good Time Chinese restaurant,” I repeated. “A first-rate establishment. I recommend the sweet and sour chicken. I can’t stomach the spicier dishes, but the sweet and sour chicken is exceptional.”

       “Uh—” The officer swallowed “—a-a-are you going for dinner?”

       “Oh, no, no, no,” I said. “We’re dropping off Trinity behind the restaurant, next to the interdimensional wormhole by the dumpster. He needs to return to his home universe, A-S-A-P.”

       The animal control officer digested this news in silence as he drove for several blocks with exaggerated caution, looking at me or Trinity every few seconds to see if we were still there. His face still bore that stunned goldfish look, and he was sweating buckets. Trinity peered out the side window, lost in thought. I could not see above the dashboard, so I could not tell what sorts of reactions Trinity was getting from those who happened to glance at him.

       The officer cleared his throat. “Is... is this like in that movie?”

       “Movie?” I asked. “What are you talking about?”

       Th-th-that movie, the, uh, the one about the men in black.”

       “Oh, really now, what rubbish! Do I look like a pug dog? This isn’t a movie. This is real life!”

       “Oh. S-s-sorry.”

       “And you’re not dreaming, so you can leave off pinching yourself, too.”

       “Oh, um, sure.” He coughed. “Are you two... you know, from, uh, another planet?”

       “Me, no, mercy. I live here. Lawndale born and bred. And I believe I’ve already said Trinity is from another universe, parallel dimension, something like that. He came by to look up something in the library. Quite an excellent library Lawndale has, I must say. A fine reputation everywhere.”

       “Uh... so... he’s like an alien?”

       “Well, sort of. He’s more like a nuc-... um, let’s skip that part. Trinity may seem a little odd at first glance, granted, but he’s a perfectly fine fellow. Don’t worry about a thing.” I glanced at Trinity, then added in an undertone to the driver, “A word to the wise, though: you might wish to go over your vehicle with a Geiger counter when you get back. Probably nothing will turn up, but you never know.”

       “A g-g-g-”

       “Geiger counter. Dosimeter. Something that measures radiation contamination. Better safe than sorry, eh?”

       “Uh...” He shot a glance at Trinity as his complexion became pasty white. If he was sweating buckets before, he poured rivers now.

       Conversation was distinctly lacking after that, until the animal-control officer pointed ahead. “There’s Good Time,” he said. “What—where—I mean, what—”

       “Just pull around back,” I told him. “We’ll get out there. And thank you again for the lift. No hard feelings about the other day, but let’s be more considerate in the future. Live and let live, eh what?”

       Breathing like every breath was his last, the driver turned the truck onto the road leading to the rear parking lot. He turned the wheel again as we came around the back of the restaurant—and his eyes grew huge as teacup saucers as he stamped the brake flat. The unexpected stop threw me to the floor and for good measure banged my noggin against the underside of the dash. Even through the pain-filled haze in my brain, I became aware of a rumbling sound like a giant turbine, very close by.

       “Bloody hell! I growled, scrambling back onto the seat and trying to ignore the smarting in the back of my head. “Steady on there, steady on! What is the matter?”

       Wordless, the animal-control officer pointed through the windshield at something on the road ahead. I saw that Trinity was similarly transfixed by the frontward view. This did not bode well. I jumped up and put my forepaws on the dashboard so I could peer over the ledge and see outside.

       Floating a few feet above the pavement behind the Good Time Chinese restaurant was a gray vehicle about twenty-five feet long that appeared to have two large doughnut-shaped devices at either end, facing downward. I recognized the “doughnuts” as hovercraft engines, the giant ducted fans that allow such vehicles to fly. Mounted on the long metal chassis connecting the fans was a series of low armored boxes—flight-control and fire-control computers, a power plant, gyro-stabilizers, and ammo boxes, each with black skull faces and serial numbers painted on them. A six-barreled weaponlike mechanism was mounted upright in the center of the chassis, to which power cables and ammo belts were joined. I recognized it as a Vulcan: an electrically powered, air-cooled Gatling gun with a rate of fire of about a hundred 20mm rounds per second. It was aimed right in our faces.

       I had never before seen one of Metalmouth’s hoverguns at close range. This one was twenty feet away, perhaps less. Dust clouds blew around our truck as the twin robotic engines thundered.

       “Don’t move,” I whispered, perhaps unnecessarily.

       The goldfish-eyed officer sat as rigid as an alabaster statue as he stared at the robot gunship, though he did emit a tiny squeak or two. I could scarcely blame him.

       “Well, well, well,” said a loud, tinny voice I knew all too well, issuing from loudspeakers on the hovergun. “My little friend J.B. has some new companions. I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced.” There was a pause, then the voice added, “Perhaps it’s none of my business, J.B., but isn’t that dogcatcher aware that you are, technically speaking, a dog?”

       “It’s Metalmouth!” I whispered to Trinity. “He’s a mad scientist who tried to kidnap the others who came through the wormhole with you! Let me do the talking!”

       “Excuse me!” blared the loudspeakers. “I will do the talking now! Enough of your damnable tricks, you malevolent mutt, or I’ll air-condition your motor vehicle the hard way! Is that clear?” The Vulcan barrels flicked back and forth slightly to make the point. “Mister Trinity,” Metalmouth went on in a more relaxed tone, “I don’t believe I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to you!”

       “Don’t listen to him!” I hissed, trembling. “Trinity, use your head, I beg you!”

       “Young sir,” Metalmouth continued, “word has it that you and I have strong mutual interests in bringing a long-overdue Judgment Day to the miserable natives of this wretched planet. I propose we join forces and do exactly that! Let us give these gibbering savages exactly what they deserve, without mercy or quarter, then take absolute control of whatever garbage remains after the sentence is passed! With my robotic minions, you and I will usher a new age of technological mastery and perfection, and from the pitiful human survivors we will breed a new race of servants who bow to the righteous might of the Machine Gods! Leave these cretins so I may dispose of them, and together we will reign supreme to the ends of time itself, and even beyond! Join me! Death to our enemies!”

       “He won’t do it!” I roared at the windshield. “He won’t listen to you! He—oh, no!”

       I would have continued in my foolish show of defiance, but Trinity interrupted the whole affair at that moment by undoing his seatbelt, opening the passenger door of the truck, getting out of the vehicle, and shutting the door behind him. He then began to walk toward the hovergun, showing no trace of hesitation.

       NOOO!!! I howled. “TRINITY, NOOO!!!

       “Is this bad?” whispered the animal-control officer. “Is this like really bad?”

       “Welcome to the future, co-tyrant of Earth!” boomed the hovergun’s speakers. “We have much to do! First, however, if you will take five steps to your right to remove yourself from my line of fire, I will deliver a well-earned high-velocity punishment these two filthy—”

       Faster than I believed possible, Trinity reached for his goggles with both hands and whipped them off. I could not see his face as his back was to me, but a blinding blue light glared out from where his goggles had been and enveloped the hovergun in its entirety. I fear that I lost my self-control at that moment and said something incoherent and possibly obscene, then dived for cover on the truck’s dirty floor. A terrific explosion assailed my bones like a great hammer; it threw me willy-nilly about the floor and rendered me deaf except for the shrieking of my tortured eardrums. The truck was flung backward by the blast, and a nasty burning smell filled the cabin. I knew it was the end. I saw Dawn’s glorious face before me. I waited for that final burst of pain, then my eminent deliverance to the golden gates of Doggie Heaven—

       —which once again failed to come about as expected. Coughing on smoke, I realized I might be staying on Earth for a while longer unless the truck had caught fire, and I again got up on the front seat and peered out of the cracked, scorched, soot-smudged windshield to see what had happened and how much time we had left to flee it.

       A huge pyre blazed behind the Good Time restaurant, but even as I watched the flames were dying out. Where the huge armored hovergun had floated in the air was now a flat bubbling smear of molten metal splashed across the asphalt for dozens of yards, smoldering and steaming for all it was worth. Trinity had put his goggles back on and was looking calmly over the ruins.

       After an appropriate delay, I turned to the frozen animal-control officer. “Well,” I said brightly, “I must be off! Thanks once again for the ride, and remember to drive safely!” I went over to the passenger door, opened it with a paw, and jumped out. The driver continued to sit and stare straight ahead with big round goldfish eyes, his face a bit red and sunburnt but not terribly so.

       After pushing the truck’s door shut with my forepaws, I trotted over to Trinity and admired his handiwork. I couldn’t keep myself from rubbing against his lead-wrapped leg. “Good job,” I said. “You have admirable talent.” I cleared my throat. “Shame you can’t stay, but... damn good job.”

       Trinity knelt beside me. I turned and looked up at his face, which gave me a bad turn as his goggles were pulsing blue light at a rapid rate. His gray hand came up and stroked the side of my head; I’m afraid I shivered when he did that. He scratched me behind the ears—the only time in my life that that gesture did not calm my nerves—then turned his head aside and burned a few sentences into the pavement with his laser lights.








       After a moment my voice began to work again. “You will be well thought of, though, for the good you have done—and continue to do,” I whispered. My heart quailed at the notion of accompanying him to that bizarre universe from which he had hailed, so my relief at his reprieve was boundless. Trinity then wrote:






       “I will always remember you,” I said softly. “Now, please go back... and keep humanity in fear. Make them afraid to make that final stupid mistake. Only you can do it.”

       Trinity nodded, then gave me a last pat on the back and stood up. He walked around the animal-control truck (which had not yet moved, since the engine had stopped) and headed for the dumpster in the back of the Good Time Chinese restaurant. He pushed that aside with ease, then got down on his knees and started to crawl into the hole—but stopped and raised up on his knees. He reached for something at his throat, tore it away, and tossed it to me. It landed at my feet.

       It was a chain necklace that I had not previously noticed. It had a pendant in the middle. The pendant was of a stylized atom encircled by electrons, whose nucleus was a human skull.

       Trinity nodded to me, then crawled into the hole and disappeared. He never returned that I know of.

       After a minute, I sat down. I was never so exhausted in my life. “Life is too short to be little,” I said aloud. Yes, Benjamin Disraeli knew exactly what he was talking about. Life is too precious not to give it all you can, even if it nearly killed you in the process.

       I eventually heard a truck door open behind me. Someone got out and walked up and stood for a few seconds in silence.

       “Is this like in that movie,” said the animal control officer at last, “the one where that guy Arnold was a robot from the future and he—”

       “Shut the hell up before I bite your legs off,” I growled without turning around.

       “Right,” he said, and in no time at all he and his badly seared dogcatcher truck were gone.





Chapter 11:

Speed of Lightning, Roar of Thunder



       I waited behind the restaurant for the most part because I was a little worried that Trinity would change his mind and come back to our world, but he did not. I also waited for Andrew and the Irregulars, who I hoped would be along at any time. Then I meant to catch a ride home and sleep through the entire weekend.

       It was also a nice time to collect my thoughts before I did reach home and again lie by Dawn’s side on the sofa, where I belonged. And one of the thoughts I collected was the memory of the stick that had almost gotten me flattened out as road kill. (See chapter one if you don’t remember the stick yourself.)

       Why did I go for the stick? In retrospect, because it was worth having. Why did I ignore the oncoming SUV to get the stick? Because having the stick was more important. It had been a warning, I decided, or maybe more like a premonition played out in real life. I had gone after the stick representing the safety of all I held dear, and I had cast aside all thoughts of danger to get it. Well, that wasn’t exactly true, as I had been all too aware of the danger involved. But still, the danger came second to having the stick. Perhaps I am belaboring the metaphor, but in any event you understand what I mean. I had in a literal sense stared Death right in its face, and Death had backed down. Death had perhaps even changed his ways and become a better... um, whatever. All in all, it had all been worth it.

       Ten minutes after the dogcatcher left, a Lawndale Fire Department pumper pulled into the back parking lot, sirens screaming most painfully, in search of a fire someone had reported. The firemen found only me and a large splotch of thin, warm metal spread out over the asphalt. They hosed down the metal, looked around a little more, then grumbled to themselves and left.

       Fifteen minutes after that, a very nice low-slung Lamborghini purred into the parking lot and stopped in the space marked “OWNER.” Chinese New Year got out and waved in my direction. His silk shirt and pants were torn in a number of places and his hair was mussed, but he otherwise seemed none the worse for wear.

       “Any luck?” he called.

       I nodded, too exhausted to do more.

       “Excellent!” he said. He went around to the trunk of his car, opened it, and removed a large garbage bag that he threw into the dumpster. It contained various weapons I realized he had taken from the bad days. “Your friends are coming along soon,” he said, walking over and crouching down to my level. “They’re bringing the troublemakers with them. The hoodlums will trouble you no further.”

       “Thanks,” I offered, lowering my head in respect. “I’m grateful for everything you’ve done.”

       “No problem.” He rubbed my head and scratched me under my chin. I felt my spirits lift. “Was it difficult for you?”

       I sighed.

       “Good dog,” he said kindly. “You are the greatest of heroes. Better even than that cartoon dog, what was his name. You want some stir-fry beef? I can make you a plate.”

       “Thank you, but I think I would like to go home soon. I miss my family.”

       “Ah. I’ll drive you there myself if you need.” He checked his watch. “Uh-oh, have to get the place ready. We open in an hour. See you!” He got up and waved as he headed back around the building.

       Another fifteen minutes passed. I meditated on life and felt some of my tension ease away. Trinity did not reappear. I felt better, happier, more sure of myself again. It might be a good weekend after all.

       With a loud rumble, a badly damaged Mastodon SUV pulled around the side of the restaurant and stopped short when the driver spotted me. Andrew and the Irregulars quickly disembarked the vehicle, but they did not immediately give me any greeting more elaborate than simple waves and shouts. Instead, they focused their efforts on unloading a foursome of disheveled teenagers wearing torn, dirty clothing, each with their hands tied behind them with what appeared to be camping rope. Their feet were also tied, but with just enough separation between to allow for a shuffling walk and no more.

       Ides of March and Devil’s Night had clearly been on the losing side of a physical fight, their clothing torn and exposed skin bruised. Ides sported a nasty black eye. Hitler’s Birthday had numerous bandages and improvised splints on his limbs, and had to be supported as he left the vehicle. He raised his head and saw me, immediately making a determined effort to charge me—but he was restrained at once by his captors, who had little trouble managing him in his grossly injured condition. He contented himself with spitting in my direction and cursing under his breath in several languages.

       Only Friday the Thirteenth looked exactly as she had when I’d last seen her, unscarred and unruffled in her black Goth dress and makeup. Her unearthly face shifted every few seconds between beauty and that ghastly death’s head that exhibited her powers of misfortune. She, too, caught notice of me but merely watched me with an impassive expression, her thoughts known only to herself.

       Chinese New Year opened a back door of the building and came outside, waving at everyone. “Take them to the wormhole,” he said crisply. “They know what to do. Once they start in, they cannot turn around or back up until they reach Holiday Island. The authorities will take care of them when they arrive at the other side.” He glared at Ides, who looked away. “They have much to answer for.”

       “Do we have to untie them?” asked The Head, whose gaze like most of the other Irregulars rested on the overflowing physical charms of Devil’s Night. That minidress badly wanted replacement.

       “No, no,” said Chinese New Year. “They can manage on their knees. Crawling will build character.”

       If looks could kill, the glances that the defeated bad days gave the young Chinese man would have put him deep underground at once. Only Friday kept her gaze on me. I returned her gaze without blinking—and without pity or malice.

       The Irregulars herded the prisoners to the wormhole and, one by one, they left our universe. As you would expect, Devil’s Night received the lion’s share of attention when she went through the tunnel. Humans, really. Andrew should have made the boys turn around or something.

       Friday was the last one to go. She stepped away from the others for a moment, looking me in the eyes.

       “Feeling lucky, are you?” the black-and-white girl asked me in a dangerously soft voice.

       It was, as you doubtless expect, Disraeli who offered the best advice on how to handle this situation: Next to knowing when to seize an opportunity, the most important thing in life is to know when to forego an advantage.

       For once the silent stoic, I said nothing in return. There was always a chance she knew a way to get back at me, even across universes, if I one-upped her this last time. My side had won, hers had lost. No need to rub it in.

       She lifted her chin, seemingly satisfied and perhaps even pleased at my lack of a response. She got down on her knees in front of the wormhole, then crawled into it and disappeared into the darkness. Chinese New Year rolled the dumpster in front of the hole in the wall, and all was as it had once been—except of course for the Mastodon. I could only wonder what Michele Landon would say if she discovered its condition, but I knew Andrew had no doubt provided for that eventuality by arranging for it to be dropped off at the usual body shop for an overhaul.

       “I think I can help you with that wormhole problem,” Andrew told Chinese New Year. “I’ve been studying the fourth dimension since childhood, and there’s a way you can make it impassible without closing it off entirely. I can sketch out the details for you, if you’re interested.”

       The Chinese youth grinned with delight. “I would be most honored for your service,” he said. “I do not know how to repay your kindness, however.”

       “Dinner!” said Artie.

       “Yeah!” cried the other Irregulars.

       Chinese New Year laughed. “If that will do, I can accommodate you without delay!” The deal was sealed with a handshake. Andrew, I believe, did not need money more than he needed to reward his loyal group—and to look good in their eyes as well. We all need that now and then, even me. The group started to follow Chinese New Year back into the restaurant—but Andrew stopped and called, “J.B., are you coming with us?”

       “Yeah, J.B., come on!” cried the boys, noticing me once more. “They’ll let you eat in here!”

       I knew I wasn’t going to go with them, but something curious struck me as I looked them over. “Where is Shaggy?” I asked.

       “He said he was coming by later,” said Graham, who then looked uncomfortable as he walked over to me. “I’m sorry for what happened,” he said, looking genuinely ashamed. “I apologized to the other guys, but I owe you one, too. You were the one who got thrown out of the Chariot when—”

       “Quite all right,” I interrupted. “Quite all right. All is forgiven.”

       “One question, though.”

       “Why’d you chew up Adolf Hitler’s Birthday? You ripped that guy to shreds. How come you got to do it, and I didn’t?”

       “Graham!” snapped Andrew. “Knock it off!”

       “It’s a fair question,” I replied tiredly, “and I’ll be glad to explain the difference between self-defense and running around killing people later on, when I’m in a better mood. Meanwhile, go have your reward. I, um, need to go home and attend to a few things. It’s been a very long day.”

       After some additional chitchat and a few belated backrubs and ear-scratches, the Irregulars and their leader left me to my own devices. It was getting late and the sun was low. I was still thinking about what had happened. It had been more like a twenty-four-hour nightmare. A fragment from the Book of Common Prayer came to mind, something I saw in my personal copy of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, which I was inordinately fond of reading at odd moments: “Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night.” I was not a particularly religious dog, but I liked that scrap very much. It had been a very long day, and as dark as any night could ever get—but, once again, we had made it through.

       I heard the dumpster’s wheels squeal, then the dumpster itself was shoved aside. Someone was exiting the wormhole! With my heart in my throat, I got to my feet and prepared to attack. Would I have a chance to warn Andrew and the others before

       The short girl with the big eye-frames crawled out from the wormhole and got to her feet, brushing off her dark skirt and her jacket sleeves. Her taller friend with the black bangs came out right behind her. No one was with them. I sat down again in relief.

       “I wonder if there’s an Anarchy Day I could go out with,” said the second girl, fixing one of her rolled-up sleeves. “That Fawkes guy has lost his appeal. Stupid wanker.”

       “Later, Jane,” said the smaller girl. “Let’s get the other holidays back to the island for that gig at the high school before I start burning down calendar displays in every store... across... town.” She paused with a puzzled look. Her magnified gaze rested on me for a long moment, then she shook her head. “Couldn’t be,” she muttered to herself, looking somewhere else. “Do I want to know anyway? No. Time to leave, then.”

       “What are you going on about?” asked the taller girl. “Transdimensional travel starting to scramble your brain cells?”

       “It wasn’t important,” said the smaller girl, and they walked away. I decided it was time for me to leave as well; I need not bother my friends for a ride home when they so badly needed a respite from the appalling events of the last twenty-four hours.

       As I got up, however, I heard a car engine approach. Another low-slung sports car eased into the rear parking and rolled quietly over to where I sat. It was an unfamiliar make. The gull-winged passenger door opened upward when the car stopped.

       “Hey, J.B., want a ride?” asked Shaggy, sitting at the wheel. “It’s a De Lorean DMC-13, two-thousand eleven model. Cool, huh?”

       Shaggy did not look like his old self. He was obviously older, taller, leaner, more confident. I guessed he was in his early twenties now. He still had shaggy hair, but with a layered cut, teased to look casually messy. He sported new sunglasses and clothes that belonged on someone far richer and cooler than I had ever imagined Shaggy to be. In short, he had grown up.

       “Where have you been?” I asked in amazement.

       “Long story,” he said. “I’ve been time-traveling so long now, I can’t remember much about when I started. You want to go see Dawn?”

       “Yes, I would,” I said faintly, overwhelmed. “I would very much, thank you.”

       “Hop in,” he said. “Don’t worry if you scratch the leather. I have six of these in different colors.”

       I shook my head slowly in disbelief. “How? You’re a high-school—I mean, you were a—”

       Shaggy laughed. “I’ll tell you all about it on the way. Oh, it was me who called the police and reported a break-in downtown, so the cops left you and Trinity alone at the library. And I got the mess at the quarry cleaned up before the authorities got there. There’s a lot to tell. Come on!”

       Wagging my tail, I did as he asked. The De Lorean was a marvel of construction, and it had that new-car smell to boot. But what were all the new dials and widgets on the dashboard? None of them were familiar.

       “How did you get this through the wormhole?” I asked.

       “I didn’t,” said Shaggy, fastening some belts and straps around me. “Hold still and let me buckle you in. They make dog seat harnesses in the future. Cool stuff.”

       “This came from the future, but you didn’t get it through the wormhole? How?”

       He grinned. “Wait and see. While we go, why don’t you tell me how you talked Trinity into not destroying the world. We have time for anything.” He punched a button on the dash and settled into his seat.

       “Uh, okay, well, we... oh, my gosh!” I caught a glance of the landscape out the side window. Shaggy’s car had left the ground and was rising vertically into the air, the front tilting upward toward the evening sky. A faint star glimmered ahead of us, the first one of the evening.

       “Hold on!” he said, punching another button.

       “With what? I yelled. “I’m a dog! I don’t have hands! I can’t—AAAAAAAHHH!!!

       —and we accelerated like a Star Wars spaceship.

       Which, in a manner of speaking, Shaggy’s newer-than-new car actually was.

       But that’s another story.





Chapter 12:

No One Ever Lets Sleeping Dogs Lie



       Be amusing,” wrote Disraeli long ago. “Never tell unkind stories; above all, never tell long ones.” He was wise beyond his years, and to the best of my ability I have tried to take his advice into account in setting down this record of the events of September of last year, though the length of this tale did get out of hand.

       Time has moved on. I am an older dog now, though not much wiser. Trinity has done his job so far as I can tell: no atomic missiles have winged their ways across the globe, at least yet. There is hope for the future, though I admit Shaggy’s remark about September 2001 has me worried. He never elaborated upon this prediction, and asking him about it is useless. The only Shaggys about nowadays are ones from his earlier time-traveling adventures, and they know nothing of the future beyond the middle of next year, 2000. I don’t even have an idea who the next president will be. The older Shaggy with the flying, time-traveling De Lorean (I should have seen that one coming) was reticent about the nature of Things to Come, and I never saw him again after he dropped me off to see Dawn and my family. I hope he’s well, wherever—and whenever—he is now.

       Time-traveling on my own is out of the question. Chinese New Year sold his fine restaurant back to its original owners this last spring and sealed off the dimensional wormhole. I suspect the various Shaggys running around know some way of getting the wormhole to open again, as they would otherwise be trapped here though clearly are not, but they have not volunteered this information and I have no desire to ask them about it.

       The wormhole would have failed before long anyway, Andrew tells me. The tremendous energy required to keep the wormhole open, he said, came in some perfectly unlikely “quantum mechanics” manner from the emotional energy that humans invested in the holidays, such as came from Holiday Island, so with the increasing use of the “corridor of probabilities” came a corresponding instability in the wormhole, which would have imploded and vanished in a year’s time at most. Just as well it’s gone.

       The Irregulars are still in business, though less so of late. Artie left the group in order to establish a utopian society made up of “polygamous pods joined together in an interstellar coalition of cosmic unity,” which made no sense to anyone, but we had always suspected Artie’s mind would start to become unhinged one day after so many traumatic run-ins with alien forces. To be fair, perhaps he’s on to something. He bought a farm and has a live-in artist-type girlfriend named Alison, who to be perfectly honest gives me the creeps, but who am I to judge human mating proclivities? In any event, they both seem happy, though sometimes I think Alison is a bit of a... well, it would be unkind to say what I was thinking, so no more of that.

       Of the other Irregulars, I am reminded of Disraeli’s dictum that “Almost everything that is great has been done by youth.” The Head, Bug Guy, Brother Grim, and so forth are doing extraordinarily well in school and are planning on careers in math and the sciences. Andrew and I are quite proud of them. Every Friday the 13th that comes about is marked by them with the wearing of all-black clothing, which puzzles the school administration but not enough to trigger an investigation. They remain ready to investigate new challenges, if only we’d get any. Which I am perfectly content not to worry about.

       In other business, Metalmouth is still a problem, though he has not demonstrated a show of force such as he did last year when he attacked the bad days in the abandoned quarry. The nativity scene in Atlanta went back on display soon after Christmas, Halloween, et al. returned to the island, following the clever plan of that young lady with the big eye-frames who once almost ran me over (for which she was long ago forgiven, I repeat). Life in Lawndale for the most part has returned to normal, except for the Affair of the Intelligent Carnivorous Plants in the City Sewers, which occupied most of this last March, the Affair of the Third Reanimation of Tommy Sherman’s Body, last October around Halloween (the actual date, not the teenager), and the Affair of the Bomb-Sniffing Dog at the High School Who Did Not Bark When He Should Have, which is another long story and not of much interest to anyone except antiterrorist dog trainers who unknowingly use dogs that were previously trained by bomb-making terrorists. Bad combination.

       Though my joints ache a great deal these days, I still get about in the afternoons when it is warm. The times I have spent in Nuke Boxes appear to have enhanced my lifespan despite all the bacon I’ve eaten, according to the veterinarian. She feels I can expect to live to be (and she did not know of my previous issues with this number before she said this) thirteen years old. Imagine. I am likely to see Dawn graduate and even go to college before I shuffle off this mortal coil.

       Hmm, that was a depressing thought. All right, enough of this for today. Still don’t know how you turn this thing off. Artie said he got it from that interstellar e-Bay, sort of like a dictation machine that automatically writes down and edits what you say while reading your mind. Interesting. “I will not go down to posterity talking bad grammar,” said Disraeli, and I quite agree with him. One should never be caught—

       Hold on, telephone. J.B. here. Oh, Andrew, hello. Nothing much, writing my memoirs. I’ve finished with the first story, and... wait, I can’t make out what you’re saying. Where the devil are you calling from? A boat? Chesapeake Bay, really? Are you on vacation, or what? Well, aren’t you cold? It’s October, man, and it must be... wait, repeat that, please. Chess? Oh, Chessie, yes, I know about... slow down, Andrew. That can’t be right, man. Chessie’s not even a real creature. It’s merely an urban legend, nothing more than... um... mmm... oh, you are kidding me. You must be. What kind of sea monster are you talking about? Prehistoric survivor, genetic mutant, one of Metalmouth’s mechanical devices, what? Bloody hell, Andrew, if it is then you should be calling for help from the Coast Guard instead of wasting time talking to... hello? Andrew? Andrew, are you still on the line? Damn.

       Terrible way to end a story. I’ll polish it up when I return. Must leave a note for Dawn first. Don’t want her to worry if I’m gone long. That does it, and... still can’t turn it off. Rubbish. I can’t leave this for Dawn to find and read—oh, of course, the plug. This is J.B., signing off until later when I finish seeing what Andrew was going on about. Sea monsters, really now. I should have my head exam—













Author’s Notes: “A Hard Days’ Night” describes the behind-the-scenes events of the third-season episode, “Depth Takes a Holiday,” which here takes place from Thursday afternoon, September 17, 1998 through Friday evening, September 18, 1998. Richard Lobinske’s essay, “The Daria Temporal Analysis Project,” was used to establish the date. While this story takes place during the show’s third season, the episodes are not necessarily given in the order in which they were shown. The episode “Daria!” took place the month before, and the bizarre events therein were logically explained [cough] in chapter two.


J.B. is the bulldog that Daria almost ran over in “Through a Lens Darkly.” The hardest part about writing from his viewpoint is remembering that he has red-green colorblindness, so I had to keep removing inappropriate color references. I could not say that Devil’s Night wore a bright red minidress, for instance, though she did. Use your imagination to best effect.


Portions of both The Blair Witch Project and Silence of the Lambs take place a short distance from Baltimore (e.g., Lawndale). Interesting, isn’t it? The flying De Lorean at the end was of course from Back to the Future.


William Shakespeare’s literary mention of bulldogs, which J.B. cannot recall, was actually in two places:



The time when Screech-owls cry,

and Bandogges howle,

And spirits walke, and Ghosts breake up their graces.

—King Henry VI, act I, scene IV



That island of England breeds very valiant creatures;

their mastiffs are of unmatchable courage.

—King Henry V, act III, scene VII



The placement of the Good Time Chinese restaurant on Marcil Boulevard, near the intersection with Johnson Avenue, came about because the writers of the episode “Depth Takes a Holiday” were Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil. The events of that episode are referenced numerous times; this story interconnects with the ongoing action of DTAH throughout.


Andrew Landon’s wealth comes from his development of a folding (paper?) coffee cup, per “Gifted.” Metalmouth first appeared in the episode, “Legends of the Mall.” “The Old and the Beautiful” featured the Better Days Retirement Home. “Doggie Heaven” is a play on the phrase “kitty heaven” from “This Year’s Model.” The Sick, Sad World episode about aliens hunting for restaurant restrooms appeared on the third-season episode, “It Happened One Nut.” In “Gifted,” Graham had a nasty run-in with Daria and Jodie at Grove Hills, which he later denies; that’s also the episode with serial puppy kickers. Artie’s skin problems, resulting from alien tinkering, are mentioned in “The Lawndale File.” Jaywalking zombies first appeared on the “Sick, Sad World” segment on “The Lost Girls.” Terry Perry Barlow was mentioned in “Of Human Bonding.” Lawndale’s library first appeared in the episode, “See Jane Run.” Kelly’s name appears on Mr. O’Neill’s class roster in “Café Disaffecto.” (She’s the redhead who sits in the back of his classes.) Bug Guy, Brother Grim, Penguin of Doom, and The Head all appear in a short scene in “Quinn the Brain” (the four guys sitting at the table watching one of them snort milk out of his nose).


The Daria Diaries mentioned that Jodie Landon wanted to be a ballerina, that there might be Satanic worship in High Hills Park, that there was a carnivorous plant expo in Lawndale once, and the town has an abandoned quarry and (assumedly active) railroad line. The Daria Database mentioned the cannibal grandparents.


“Moreno’s body shop” came from an old PPMB Iron Chef (“And the Last Shall Be First”) from December 2005. Nemo Blank there wrote a nameless but stunning short story that I don’t recall seeing elsewhere, from 12/31/05. In it, Jesse Moreno is given a job at a muffler or auto-body shop by his uncle Frank, who gives the fatherless Jesse support and direction in life. The Chariot, the Futura Motors Mastodon with an armored grill owned by Andrew Landon, was borrowed from another fanfic (by me), entitled “Till Death Do Us Part.”


Shaggy’s strange appearances in the Daria series were cataloged in James Bowman’s stupendous Daria Encyclopedia 0.0. (Search on the name “Shaggy.”) Shaggy appeared in two places at once in “The Invitation” and “This Year’s Model” (I’ve watched both and can confirm this), time-travels with Kelly in “The Misery Chick,” sits at Quinn’s table in “Groped by an Angel” (after she miraculously avoids being hit by the chandelier), and appears at the following odd times: Kevin’s bike wreck (“A Tree Grows in Lawndale”); Aboard the Princess Fairy before it sinks (“Just Add Water”); and in the hallway behind Jane during Daria and Jane’s near-breakup (“Dye! Dye! My Darling”). See the Daria Encyclopedia 0.0.


Artie’s description of his utopian society in chapter 12 came from a monologue he has on the MTV website.


The title for chapter 3, “The Melancholy Days Are Come,” was taken from the opening lines of “The Death of the Flowers,” penned in 1832 by the American journalist and poet, William Cullen Bryant. The relevant lines read:



The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,

Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear....



The title for chapter 4, “However Long and Hard the Road May Be,” was taken from Sir Winston Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minister, in May 1940: “Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”


The title for chapter 5, “Let Slip the Dogs of War,” is from William Shakespeare’s play, Julius Caesar, act III, scene i, where Anthony looks upon Caesar’s body and pictures the civil war to come:



...Caesar’s spirit, ranging for revenge,

With Ate by his side come hot from hell,

Shall in these confines with a monarch’s voice

Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the dogs of war.



The title for chapter 8 is part of a line from a letter written by the eighteenth-century English dramatist William Congreve, who wrote:



Defer not till to-morrow to be wise,

To-morrow’s sun to thee may never rise.



The title for chapter 9 comes in part from the lyrics to a familiar song by The Who. The title for chapter 10 comes from the lyrics to a familiar Rolling Stones song. The title for chapter 11 comes from the lyrics to the Underdog cartoon show from the 1960s (a favorite of mine when I was a child).


The descriptions of Metalmouth’s hoverguns were based in part on the “Airgeeps” (military hovercraft) of the late 1950s and early 1960s, depicted here.


Hurricane Bonnie (August 1998) is here the "big, wet rainstorm" that veered away from Lawndale, as depicted in the episode "Daria!" (This hurricane fits perfectly into the third season of Daria.)


The original idea for the “nuke box” came from reading about a similar device in Larry Niven’s SF novel, A World out of Time.


The blue light coming from Trinity’s eyes is Cherenkov radiation, passing through either his goggles or a skin covering beneath them.


An excellent compendium of Benjamin Disraeli’s best-known quotes is available on Wikiquote.


The idea for the autogyro came from watching a James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice, in which a small autogyro was used. For more information and pictures, see here.


The Advanced Research Projects Agency, where Metalmouth supposedly worked, is described here. Project Pluto, offered just for fun, is detailed here.


A brief overview of Chessie, the sea monster reportedly inhabiting Chesapeake Bay, appears on Wikipedia.



Acknowledgements:  The use of the term “Baked Potato” to refer to the bad day also called Trinity came from a remark by DigiSim, later shamelessly stolen by me. And Derek made a chance comment that of course permitted me to borrow his name for The Head’s real name. And, as usual, smk picked out the errors so this copy would be clean. Thank you!





Original: 09/04/07-09/05/07; modified 11/01/08, 05/12/10