The roar woke me from the best dream I’d ever had. I was home, in the dream, and my red towel was there, and Sis, and me. I was there, but I could see myself like I was Blackdog standing over me on the couch. I rolled and kicked a cushion out of place. I rolled again and tore the corner of my towel. It was a normal day. Everything was perfect. Then the roar woke me up and the old growl bubbled in my chest.
“Just the vacuum, don’t worry, she’s in the front room.”
“Blackdog? I dreamt about you.”
“Yeah? Sounds like a terrible dream.” He leaped from the couch and landed at my toes.
“What’s that smell?”
“It’s me. The old lady’s on a cleaning kick today.”
“Don’t call her that. Mother. Call her Mother.”
“Fine, Mother, Mother old lady’s on a cleaning kick. Anyway, I guess I made the chores list, they tried to drown me. They fill a pit with boiling water, hold me down with stone hands, and after they wet me, they blind me with a white salve and tell me I’m clean. Hah! To be honest I was expecting worse. I hope that’s not the best these folks can do,” he dropped to his chest and raised his hind in the air, “because I’ll show them a thing or two about Captain Grizzles!” He pounced!
He landed on my shoulder and I gently pushed him off with my nose. “Your name is Blackdog.”
“No, it’s Captain Grizzles! I don’t want to be Blackdog.”
“You have to. That’s what she named you.”
“Who named you? Tombo? I mean, its kind of dorky, but its better than Blackdog!”
“Sorry, its Blackdog, okay.”
“No. It’s the darn, the darn …”
“Yes. I’ve never liked it. I keep my distance as much as I can. If you are going to be living here with us, I suggest you do the same.”
“Because we don’t know what it can do. But anything that can howl like that creature can, for as long as it can, without pause, is dangerous. And we do not go near it.”
“Don’t be scared Blackdog.” I laid my head back down. “Life here is actually very pleasant once you find your things.”
Blackdog crawled to me and we laid nose to nose. “What is a ‘your things’?”
“You know, like … well like my towel.”
“Things that, after a long time, collect smells and tastes that will always remind you that you belong somewhere.”
“Wow. What else can be a thing?”
“Anything really. I have this towel, my chicken of course, Sis—”
“That chicken is one of your things?”
“Yes, why?” I suddenly sat up and spun to find Sis at her place by my feet and—no, no, she was gone! “No! Blackdog, where is she?”
“I, well you see, I didn’t know that the chicken was your thing, and you were sleeping, and you weren’t using it, and I … Well I threw it around a bit.”
“Where did you take it, pup?”
Blackdog whined and rolled on his back. “I might have taken it by the black run-walk?”
“You took chicken into the front room? Blackdog, the vacuum!”
I stood and trotted to the hall and peered around the corner. There, under the treadmill laid Sis; in front of her, the yellow beast suckled greedily at the carpet for food, mindlessly rocking forward and back, incessantly moaning. “I have to get her Blackdog.”
“But you said vacuums were dangerous.”
“And if it weren’t for you, I would never be considering doing this.”
“Why don’t you just wait until she’s done?”
“No time for that pup, Sis is in trouble.”
Sklurp! Sklurp! The vacuum had lapped up the welcome mat in its mysterious maw and Mother cursed and yanked at it. ‘I guess she doesn’t just do it to me,’ I thought. She finally freed the mat, and as she did we caught sight of the horror under its black head. Two grinding jaws of black teeth, spun at high-speed. The broken bits of debris from its earlier meals lined its lips.
“I wouldn’t go in there if I were you. Not even being a Great Dane. No sir.”
“You aren’t helping pup. And I don’t have a choice.” I waded out into the hallway.
“Good luck Tombo.”
I didn’t turn to look at Blackdog, but I knew he was shaking with me. I took even steps and with each one the rumble creeped nearer to the soft patch on my lower belly. I reached the end of the hall, Blackdog said one last thing, but I couldn’t hear him then; I waited until the beast backed far enough away to give me a clear run. Wait … And go!
I cleared the distance to the treadmill in one leap and took up Sis in my teeth. I turned. I saw Blackdog in the living room, his tail twitched. I focused on him and made a second leap to finish the rescue, but as I was in the air, something caught my leg and pulled me to the floor. The vacuum cord slipped tighter around my hock. I yelped and dropped Sis. I jumped to my feet and whirled around to find her, but instead I collided with the creature and collapsed to the floor, my breath gone, my fate sealed.
But then she was there, Sis, just beyond my snout and I let out a terrible bark as I scooped her up and slipped and scrambled down the tile hall to Blackdog.
Later that evening, Blackdog and I shared my red towel, and we talked in low voices as the family stared at the television. Blackdog’s tail wagged frantically. “And then, she told him, ‘The darn thing just died, and refuses to work!’ ha!”
I licked Sis. Her wet spot offered up memories of Mother, years ago, and hot grass, and dirt planters, and home. “You just have to find your things, hold onto them, you’ll be fine pup. You’ll be fine. Now I would like to get some rest, I’ve done my duty for today.”
Blackdog yawned. “Yeah, I’ll join you. But say, Tombo, have some more exciting dreams tonight, okay?”
I closed my eyes and let the nonsense noise of the television white out my thoughts. “I’ll keep my dreams,” I said, “but like the vacuum, you will learn these things in time.”
“Can Sis be my thing too?”
“Go to sleep pup.”