Not All Dogs Bite Out Here
by The Inimitable Pooh Bah
Not All Dogs Bite Out Here
by The Inimitable Pooh_Bah
Date: March 9, 2001
Summary: Zack and his brother don't quite see eye-to-eye.
Spoilers: Up to and including "The Kidz are Aiight," though the timeframe is at some vague and unspecified point in time between "Cold Comfort" and "Blah, Blah, Woof, Woof."
Archive: List archives and by submission. Do not archive or repost without permission.
I don't like dogs.
Hell, I hate dogs. Who wouldn't, who grew up like I did? The dogs at Manticore were vicious. They could hear and smell better than any of us. They could run just as fast as me for just as long. Their teeth were too sharp for me to dare take my eyes off of. They were trained to growl and snap and bite and sniff a kid out and take a kid down.
The dogs almost ripped me apart when I was one and climbed out of my crib, walked out an open door, and went off to explore the woods. My first reprimand. Lydecker was so proud.
The dogs caught Tad when we escaped. I can still hear him screaming. "Losing his cool," I analyzed, "oughtta play dead, they'll stop biting him then." But I know I wouldn't have done any better. . . . At least the dogs didn't kill him. The guards did that.
The dogs almost went after Max and Jondy. I knew, on a rational level, that Max and Jondy could outrun the dogs. I knew, on a rational level, that Dal and Ka were in more danger from the guards and their guns and tasers. I knew, on a rational level, that I should help Dal and Ka rather than Max and Jondy. But somehow, I couldn't convince myself to do that. I didn't want my sisters to be caught like Tad. Every instinct said, 'Distract the dogs,' and so I did. Dal and Ka didn't die--not then, anyway. I watched them getting dragged back to the compound. I saw them back there, briefly, when they caught me and dragged me back too.
When I escaped again, the dogs were my biggest worry. I would have spiked their kibble so they'd sleep through it all, but I didn't have the drugs, I didn't have the time, and I didn't have the access to the dog food. So I just ran like hell, and I made it, somehow. But those were the most terrifying moments of my life.
I've met other dogs outside Manticore. I never knew there were so many kinds before I escaped: little yappy Pomeranians to give me headaches and shred my ankles, big junkyard mutts to sniff me out when I'm just trying to get some sleep, middle-sized hounds to keep me out of houses with food and valuables. They're all just as bad as the German shepherds at Manticore, and I hate every one of them.
Every time I see a dog, my heart rate approaches hummingbird levels, my hands get clammy, my breathing goes shallow and fast, I start to shake almost like a seizure. I don't like to admit it, even to myself, but dogs terrify me. Who wouldn't be afraid of dogs, who grew up like I did?
My goddamned brother has a dog. He's from the same batch of kids as I am--he was there when I went exploring and met the dogs that first time, and he says he remembers. He was right behind me during the escape--he saw what happened to Tad. He helped me keep the dogs off of Max and Jondy--and he knows what happened to Dal and Ka.
But he likes dog. He likes dogs.
Especially German shepherds.
He's got one. It's right here, snarling at me. I'm scared stiff.
Thank God Zane's home and coming from the kitchen to investigate his dog's growling.
"Zane . . . " I say slowly, not taking my eyes off the dog. "What . . . the hell . . . is this?"
"What, you've never seen a dog before?" He turns to that monster of his. "Sit, Millie."
The dog shuts up and sits down. I'd breathe a sigh of relief, but she's still staring at me, and I'm still keeping my eyes on her. I'd like to think it's just mutual suspicion, but I can't get away from the idea that she's just watching for a chance to maul me.
Krit said once that I must be part dog. "You've got the best hearing of any of us and those extra teeth in back. I swear, you growl at me when I piss you off. And you're so protective of us, of your pack. . . . Bet you're a Rottwieler or a bulldog--you're built like it. Not quick and skinny, like a cat or a greyhound."
I told him he'd been drinking too much of that moonshine he makes. I have no affinity for dogs. Dogs have no affinity for me. Maybe it's just that part of me that wants to be normal, hating everything that keeps me from that.
"You okay, Zack?" Zane asks.
"No," I croak. The dog and I are still staring at each other.
He looks down at her. "She won't bite," he says.
I don't answer.
"She's real sweet," he says.
I'm still silent.
"She doesn't even rip up her chew toys," he says.
I manage to scoff this time--I don't believe that for one moment. I can see it in her eyes, that same viciousness that's in all dogs, that same desire to tear me apart into little pieces, that same search for any excuse to lunge at my throat.
"She's nothing but a marshmallow," Zane insists, scratching her behind the ears.
"She was going to eat me!" I hiss.
Zane shrugs, so calmly. "Lick you to death, if anything."
"Get her out of here, Zane. Please."
He gives me an odd look, but heads down the hall and whistles so the dog follows. I've probably lost a lot of respect with him--the fearless section leader, scared by a "marshmallow" of a dog. I don't care, though. I just want that dog to stay away from me.
I glance around the living room while he's gone. I haven't seen him in two years, and, after finding out he has a dog, I'm not sure any more what to expect. People change. Even when they're highly trained soldiers, even when you've known them all your life, even in the relative stability of twenty-two, people change.
He's still a mechanic, like he was always meant to be--I remember him getting in trouble once, for taking one of the humvees' engines apart to see how it worked. He still leaves his tools around the living room, and he's still got repair manuals and car-parts catalogues on his book shelf. He's still got his collection of sci-fi novels, too.
He's got real furniture, now. A sofa, an easy chair, an ottoman. They're threadbare and mismatched, with dog hair and spots of engine grease, but they're not card tables and inflatable chairs and milk crates like he had two years ago.
He's still got his bulletin board on the wall by the door. It's still hung with shopping lists, client phone numbers, and pictures of Zane and his friends from all the years since we escaped. But now there's little notes, a lot of little notes, flirty little notes in purple ink with tidy rounded letters and heart-dotted I's, not Zane's sloppy pencil scrawl.
There's so many familiar photographs.
There's still fifteen-year-old Zane, posing triumphantly in front a run-down garage in Baltimore, proud of his first job, proud that his face had finally begun to harden so he looked adult enough to be hired. I told him they didn't believe he was eighteen, they just knew it was barely possible to play dumb if they got in trouble with the child labor laws. He didn't care until it did happen a few months later and he had to move on before the police found his barcode like they found mine.
There's Zane two years later in Philadelphia, in the middle of the tall and weedy and awkward phase I never went through, hair long to hide the barcode he'd gotten tired of removing over and over again. It's a group shot, the graduating class at the high school he got into when he realized a boy his age was meant to be getting an education. That wasn't long before he proposed to his girlfriend, Rita. He was dumb enough to ask me to be best man when he called in that week, and I was in Philly knocking on his door before he could blink.
There's Zane a few weeks after his graduation day, with me in Oklahoma City. He smiled even though he was furious with me for making him leave without even telling Rita goodbye. I smiled because it's what people expect from photographs and anything else would be suspicious. But Zane's smile seems so much more sincere. I think it's because he knew even back then what it's like to be happy, and I'm still only guessing.
Another two years, and there's Zane just after he'd moved to New Orleans. His shoulders have broadened dramatically, his face has lost the last of its baby softness, his hair been cut short again. He's with the twins, Pike and Krit, who are flashing identical cocky grins as they stand with Zane in front of Pike's beat-up Jeep. I don't know how Zane made contact with the other two, when they were living in a tent in Minnesota twenty miles from the nearest road and forty miles from the nearest phone. I do know whose idea it probably was to get together--Pike and Krit were always trouble. I found out about it soon enough, when they all called in from the same pay phone with the same Mardi Gras parade roaring in the background. I told Pike to just hit the road, because he wouldn't have stayed wherever I sent him for more than a week anyway. I told Krit to stay in Louisiana because it's as good a spot as any. I took Zane with me and headed for L.A.
I haven't seen him since I dropped him off in front of a motel and handed him five hundred dollars to get him on his feet.
He's been here three years now, and he's been having a lot of pictures taken.
There's another guy in a lot of them, smallish and wiry, with freckles and curly red hair, wearing an orange jumpsuit like Zane's in some of the photos. They're always palling around when they're caught on camera-- arms around each others' shoulders in front of the ruined Hollywood sign, looking up from work on a car, test-driving a fifty-year-old red Porsche and pretending for a moment that it's theirs. I wonder what it's like to have a friend like that.
There's a girl, too, alone or with the two guys. She's pretty--fiery red hair, a sprinkling of freckles on her nose, green eyes, slim build, laughing smile. Another girlfriend. He's always had one, wherever he's been, and he's always wanted to say goodbye to her before he goes. Phoebe in Baltimore, Rita in Philly, Grace in Oklahoma City. Even in New Orleans, he'd had a date and wanted to tell Linda he couldn't make it. I've never let him say goodbye. I hope someday he'll learn not to have people he needs to say it to.
Sometimes I'm sorry I do this to him. Every time I come and disrupt his life, Zane has everything I can't pause to enjoy because I've got to keep moving and I've got to take care of the others and I've got to remember that we're soldiers. He's got all that now--a buddy, a girl, a dog, a goddamned dog. Someone who greets him at the door when he comes home from work. Someone who keeps him company when his buddy and his girl aren't around. Someone who'll follow him to the ends of the earth, wagging her tail all the way just because she's with him.
It's not fair, somehow. But nobody ever said life was fair, did they?
"'Kay, Zack," Zane says, coming back from shutting the dog away.
I snap my attention away from the dart board and focus it on him. I can hear the dog whining and scratching on a door down the hall.
"If you're hungry, I'm working on dinner right now." I follow Zane into the kitchen, where he picks up a knife and takes it to a half-sliced carrot. I must've interrupted that when I popped in.
"Why the hell do you have a dog?" I ask, leaning against the counter between him and the sink.
"Why not?" he returns. "Keeps burglars out."
"Tries to eat your brother," I add.
"You should consider knocking on the front door instead of slipping in through the window," Zane suggests. "Most people would prefer that."
"How could you own a dog?" I demand.
"I like dogs," says Zane.
"How could you like dogs? Don't you remember Tad?"
He stops chopping the carrots and looks up at me. "Calm down, Zack."
"Don't you remember Tad?" I repeat.
"Yes," he says plainly, never breaking eye contact, never wavering. "I could never forget Tad."
"Then how could you invite a dog into your home? How could you feed it and walk it and pet it and throw sticks for it? How could you give it a name?"
"Zack. . . . What's wrong with having a dog?"
"Everything, Zane, everything."
"You're afraid, Zack."
I clench my jaw for a moment, then nod. "Yes. I'm afraid of dogs."
"Not of dogs. Of what we used to be. Life goes on, Zack. Things are so much different out here than in there."
"No. They're not."
"They are. You can wear long hair and an orange jumpsuit, instead of a buzz cut and fatigues. You can take people's cars apart--people want you to take their cars apart, they pay you to take their cars apart. There aren't fences and compounds and drills and officers and standing at attention. . . . And not all dogs bite out here."
"You can't do this, Zane."
"Do what?" he asks.
"Settle down, like you try to every time I put you in a new city. You've got to keep moving. They'll find you if you let yourself get tied to a place."
Zane looks down at the carrots, and slices for a few minutes. "I saw you looking at Coleen's pictures," he says finally. "She's coming for dinner tonight, in about five minutes."
"No, she's not." I say it so bluntly, but it hurts to tell him that.
He looks up at me, challenge in his eyes. They're all turning into Max, all getting defiant. Is it sloppiness, because they haven't seen what can happen when you're careless like Brin? Is it just our age, the youth they're getting to experience but I'll never have the time to? Is it something about me?
"You've forgotten who you are, Zane."
"No, I haven't. I'm just not the boy they made."
We watch each other silently for a long minute. He knows what's coming. He knows I'm considering what city to make him move away to now. He knows he won't have the nerve to say no once I issue the order.
"Please, Zack," he begs, before I can say anything. "I have to stay here. I'm in love. Please."
I don't answer him. I have no answer to that but an identical weakness I know I have deep inside. If I can't control it, someday it's going to destroy me. And someday Zane's weakness will destroy him.
I don't want that to happen, to either of us.
"Haven't you ever wanted to just be normal, Zack? To stop looking over your shoulder, and find a girl, and settle down? Get a cat, or a hamster, or something? Have kids?" It's a long time before I nod. "But I can't, Zane. You can't let your guard down, when you're trying to stay free. You can't trust people."
"You can, Zack. I swear you can. I'm not in any danger here--I promise I'll leave the moment things go sideways. If they go sideways."
"You know I will, Zack. You know I take orders."
There's a knock on the door. Zane moves around the counter to answer it, and I follow him with my eyes. Coleen's even more beautiful out in the hallway than in Zane's photos of her. I can see why he'd want to stay. I could see that in all of his girlfriends, in all of his cities, in all of his lives.
He greets her with a kiss and leads her toward the kitchen, where I'm still leaning against the counter.
"This is my brother Zack," he tells her. "Zack, I already told you about Coleen."
She offers her hand like people do, and I shake it stiffly. I've never been comfortable with the idea of such a physical greeting.
"I'd better go," I tell Zane, straightening up and crossing the kitchen. "I'm not that hungry."
"You sure?" he asks.
"Okay," he says, fixing a suspicious look on me, wondering what made me change my mind and let him stay here.
I couldn't answer that question if I wanted to. I head for the door.
"Zack?" he asks as I'm reaching for the doorknob, and I pause.
"Not all dogs bite out here," he says.
I close the door and stand in the hallway, listening to Zane's low voice, Coleen's airy one, Millie's happy barking as they let her out of the bedroom to lick everyone's faces and make Coleen giggle.
Not all people are out to get you. Not all soldiers have to stay soldiers. It's alright to stop and have a life. . . . Not all dogs bite out here.
A sentimental lie, all of it. But I think I'll let him believe it a little longer.
[ END ]
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