Current day, North of Mount Silver, Virginia.
“Can we keep it, mom? Pleeezzze?”
Placing her hands on each side of her faded blue jeans, Frannie angled her head and eyed the trio of muddy, wide-eyed beggars with a heavy heart. The soggy, severely outmatched combatants had chosen to meet her on the killing floor of their cluttered living room, eyes filled with both trepidation and hope.
Like a monolith, the stony-faced woman stood erect, her face never betraying the internal empathy she held for the small, brave warriors before her. Beings clearly filled with yearning; physically shaking, wishing with every fiber in their being to obtain the unattainable.
Full of pity, she resisted giving in. Frannie was also a veteran of this sort of battle, her own scars buried just beneath the skin. She recognized the sensation, old familiar pangs of holding onto something long dreamt of only to have the powers that be, whatever form they chose to take at the moment, rip it squarely from one’s hands. Frannie sighed. This time she would be the slayer of dreams, the evil tapped to wield the weapon that dealt the blow; she would be the immovable face of this immense dark power and its world-levelling force.
Frannie swallowed, begrudgingly uttering the deadly monosyllabic word, “No.”
“You’re the meanest mommy, ever!” squealed the smallest of the wounded, catching the brunt of the one word verbal assault. Like an old rag doll, she fell to the old wood floor in a writhing heap, destroyed at the utterance of the exclamation. “I hate you! I want to die!” she cried.
Frannie rolled her eyes at the pitiful casualty and then focused her gaze of warning onto the other two warriors, who in their collective twenty-two years of experience wisely knew when to wave the white flag of compliance...unlike their younger sibling. “Okay, you two, take that nasty dog outside into the garage. I really shouldn’t have to say this, but you know we can’t afford to feed the thing, I am doing well enough to keep food in your three mouths. Plus, it looks like it may need some serious medical care and that’s something we definitely can’t deal with at the moment.”
“We know.,” said the oldest of the three, Frannie’s thirteen-year-old daughter, Kaitlyn.
“The dog can stay in there for the night, but in the morning it has to go to the shelter,” Frannie added before exhaling a sigh of sadness, noting several patches of missing hair surrounding varying sized sutures and scars appearing in numerous places on the animal’s pink, exposed skin.
“We know, momma...” the duo sang in unhappy acknowledgment. They turned and sorrowfully shuffled away, heads down, carrying the panting, very muddy dog, its long wet fur draped over the arms of one tearful nine-year-old boy.
“Poor thing looks like it had been cut on repeatedly,” Frannie muttered as she turned to walk into the kitchen and check on the spaghetti noodles boiling on a vintage gas stove. “There are some sick people in this old world...”
“You’re the meanest mommy ever!” issued a distant five-year-old female voice. The small girl was still lying on the battlefield, fatally wounded with a broken heart, sadly smearing a fallen tear into the grains of a floorboard with her pointer finger. She shuddered. “You hear me momma?”
“Yes, I hear you and so does Jesus. Now, dinner is almost done. Just let me know if you go to meet him before I fix you a plate and I’ll give it to the dog, okay?”
“Whatever, mean mommy! Jesus sees you, too!”
“Shut up, Raven! You’re bein’ stupid!” shouted her older sister, verbally riding in like a white knight to rescue her mother, the destroyer of all things fun.
“Kaitlyn, you’re a booty-head! I had a name picked out for it and all!” shouted the small girl, now sitting upright on the floor with her legs crossed, wiping the tears from her eyes.
“Woundn’t matter none, my name is better, anyways,” retorted the smudge-faced Hunter from the garage with a sniff.
“All of you, that’s enough!” Frannie shouted from the kitchen. “Now, Go on and change out of them filthy, wet clothes and wash up afore you sit down at the table! It’s time for dinner!”
“Yes, ma’am!” they echoed and scurried off to the bathroom.
As the door closed behind the children, one very wet, unkempt Pekingese whimpered, standing in the warm, damp garage all alone. It lapped from a bowl and then lifted its head, leaving drops of water on the concrete floor. The animal watched the door, its tail wagging in anticipation of the humans return, hoping they would bring something edible with them. It had not eaten anything substantial in a couple of days. The wagging stopped as the dog flinched, responding to the sudden sound of a thunderclap in the distance. It ran beneath an old station wagon and whined, still no one came.
The canine crept from beneath the vehicle and painfully sat down to scratch at its itchy ear with a hind leg. The rapid motion dislodged a small metallic object from the furry inner cavity and sent it flying across the room. The capsule landed with a plop in a rusty bucket busily catching the rain leaking in through a hole in the garage roof.
Streaks of rain distorted the light thrown from the headlights of a black SUV as their beams broke over the crest of a rural Virginia hill. The vehicle quickly slid to a halt, creating a muddy pair of ruts in the heavily wooded path that the GPS software insisted was a road.
“Dammit!” shouted the driver, his deep voice easily cutting through the rhythmic slapping of the windshield wipers attempting to clear the window of the rain pounding its surface.
“What is it, Vick?” asked Dr. Lawrence Royal with a scowl. The lead research and development engineer for Radii Defense Systems bent over to retrieve his phone from the passenger side floorboard of the vehicle. “You could have warned me you were going to do that!”
“It’s the damn RFID tracer, it just went offline,” commented Vick DeJue, security chief for RDS, inc tapping the glass on the tracking device mounted to the off-road vehicle’s dashboard. “See!”
Dr. Royal corrected the placement of his glasses and stared blankly at the screen, then at his driver. “I pray that it did not get eaten!”
Vick returned the vacant expression and added a pale face, “Oh God, I hope you are right.”
”God will not be involved if this gets out of hand. We will be right there at the front of the line into Hell itself with Uncle Joe Stalin and Chairman Mao.”
The next morning Frannie woke to the sounds of birds chirping outside and the strong odor of wet dog next to her nose. She opened her eyes. “Baby, what are you doin’ in here with that dirty thing?” Frannie lay face-to-face with the poor tan and white creature, it sadly stared back with large round eyes and licked its lips between its nasal, practically labored breaths.
“Mommy, it’s so hungry,” Raven said pitifully. She stood next to her mother’s bed holding the dank animal she and her siblings rescued from a rainy ditch the previous afternoon. The dog sneezed into Frannie’s face.
“Seriously, Raven!?!!” the woman said wiping the splatter from her eyes and nose. She grimaced and turned over, covering her head with a pillow, hoping she was only having a nightmare.
“C’mon mommy, please!”
The woman’s eyes narrowed as she peered at the fading wallpaper from underneath the edge of the fluffy cushion. She sighed, “Alright, let me get up.”
“Yay!” the little girl remarked and quickly scampered off, jostling the poor dog wrapped in her arms as she jogged through the old wooden home.
“Kaitlyn!” Frannie shouted.
“Yes ma’am?” the girl responded sleepily. She sat up in bed and stretched, her dark hair falling carelessly over her eyes. She ran her fingers through the brunette locks and removed them from her face. The young girl swung her legs out of the soft warm bed and placed her bare feet onto the creaky ancient floor. She stood and shuffled wearily across the hall into her mother’s bedroom. “Whatcha need me to do, mom?”
“Get the boy up, looks like we’re going to the corner store.”
“Alright,” the elder girl replied, then ventured down the hall to her brother’s small room. She knocked on the door, it squeaked open. “Okay, turd time to get up,” she said poking Hunter on the arm. “Get on up, boy. We’re going to the store in a bit. Momma said.”
“What for?” he asked without lifting his head.
“Probably for that dog and all, stupid.”
Hunter sat up. “Oh yeah! I forgot about Death Monger!”
“Death Monger? What’s that?”
The boy grinned widely, “That’s his name! I’m callin’ him Death Monger.”
“No you are not!” shouted a small voice from behind Kaitlyn. “I ain’t lettin’ you call Mr. Buttons that awful name!” Raven said attempting to reposition the muddy dog in her arms.
“And what do you think Mr. Buttons is gonna do to his self-esteem, Raven?” the boy asked sincerely. “You are going to make it feel stupid and it’ll just quit livin’, that’s what’ll happen!”
“Nuh ah! This dog is nice and it ain’t stupid, you’re stupid.”
“Shut up both of you!” interjected Kaitlyn. “How about you all go and get your teeth brushed and put your clothes on so we can go when momma’s ready an’ all.”
“You ain’t the boss of me or Mr. Buttons,” retorted Raven.
Kaitlyn sneered at her little sister, “If daddy was here...”
“Well, he ain’t!” Hunter said sharply. “Even if he was, I won’t listen to him. He left us, remember, sis?”
“Fine. Whatever, just get your damn clothes on so we can git!” the very annoyed older sister commanded.
“I’m tellin’ mama and Jesus you said a cuss word, Katydid!” Raven said smartly.
Kaitlyn rolled her eyes at the sound of her nickname uttered by her younger sister and understood it was supposed to be an insult. She watched Raven turn in a huff and stride off with purpose toward their mother’s bedroom, evidently excited about how much fun it was going to be to tell the story of Kaitlyn’s sinful words.“Go on then, but I ain’t taking it back none!”
“Kaitlyn Rose Hitchens! Get your butt in here!”
A smile spread over Hunter’s small face. “Ewww, she used your whole name. You’re in trouble!” the boy caroled.
“Know what your whole name is, Hunter?”
“Mom!” Hunter said in feigned offense, jumping from his bed to also tell on his evil sister.
Kaitlyn smiled as she skipped down the hall to her doom.