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The Black Dog

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Two strangers wander into the same bar. One, Ricky, comes there to drink his sorrows away. He has nothing left to live for. He lost his job and is almost broke, his wife divorced him because he couldn't give up drinking, and he's legally not allowed to see his son. The other, Neil, has nothing better to do on his Saturday night. He used to be a wealthy man, but now he's lost it all, and he's close to losing his girlfriend as well. He tells himself he's not drinking away his problems. He just has nothing better to do. What a coincidence it is that the two strangers would meet that very night, both at a new low, thinking of all the mistakes they've made, and become friends over a few drinks. After the first glass, they introduce themselves, and a conversation begins. After the next few, everything comes out.

"I haven't seen my own son in five years. Five years! Rob's got to be thirteen now. I've missed so much. I'm missing everything. My boy is growing up without me."

"I hear ya," Neil tells him. "That's awful."

Ricky downs another glass. "Well, what about you? Why're you here?"

"I have nothing better to do."

Ricky chuckles. "No. Really."

Neil lets out a sigh. "Fine. My girlfriend kicked me out. I had nowhere else to go."

"Oh, man. That sucks. What'd you do?"

"I gambled away all of our money. I got in way over my head. I was convinced we were gonna hit the bigtime. We could've had it all. If I could've tried just one more time . . . "

"You know, that gambling stuff isn't good for you."

Neil raises an eyebrow. "Neither is alcohol."

This makes Ricky laugh again. "Point taken."

The bartender clears his throat. "You boys have been here for hours. Why don't you go home? Take a break from this stuff, huh?"

Ricky gets up. "Okay, fine. I'll be back, though." He and Neil pay him for their drinks.

"You guys need a cab?" the bartender asks.

Neil waves his hand. "Naw. I've got me a ride. What about you, Ronny?"

"My name is Ricky," he reminds him. He tells the bartender, "I'm fine. I can walk."

The two men stumble out of the bar, still ranting for a few minutes.

"Well, I've got a car," Neil tells Ricky. He points at a dark alley next to them. "It's down a few blocks away. I'm gonna take the shortcut."

"Okay. I'll walk with ya."

Neil knits his eyebrows. "You sure?"

"Yeah. Why not? I ain't got anyone waiting for me. This is the longest conversation I've had with someone in weeks. Wait . . . " he pauses. "It's the only conversation."

"Okay then," Neil says. They turn and continue walking. 

The back road is deserted, shaded by looming shadows. They know nothing is there, but they watch closely, just in case. Something doesn't feel right to them.

That's why they both jump when they hear something crash behind them. They turn, squinting through the darkness. Something moves, jumping off a dumpster and coming toward them. It's as black as the night, cloaked by the darkness. Then it pants, wagging its tail.

Neil laughs. "It's just a dog. Hey there, pal. You lost?"

"I wonder if he's a stray," Ricky acknowledges.

"I have no clue," Neil says with a shrug. "And anyway, my girlfriend would kill me if I came home with a dog."

"Yeah. There's no way I could ever afford to care for a dog. I can't even pay the bills." Ricky pats the dog on the head. "Looks like the poor fella is gonna have to be on his own."

They keep walking, and the dog follows them. For a while they try to pretend it's not there, but they start to feel bad for it. They turn around, but it's gone.

"Huh. That's strange." Ricky rubs his head. 

Neil shrugs. "Must've gone back."

"Yeah." They continue walking again. 

A shape comes out of the darkness, facing them. This isn't a dog. The man wears a ski mask, and a dark hoodie. He points a gun at them. 

"Woah," Neil says. He and Ricky put their hands up. "Don't shoot. Just tell us what you want."

"Give me your money."

"Okay." They pull out their wallets, handing him the rest of their already meager amount of money. The man takes it, and runs off. 

"Great," Ricky growls. "Just great."

"Hey, at least we're still alive," Neil tells him. "The man had a gun pointed at us. What else were we supposed to do?"

"Yeah, yeah. I hope he enjoys that money. That was all I have."

Neil puts his hand out, stopping Ricky. "Look."

"What?" 

The black dog walks right in front of them. It looks over at them, then walks behind a wall.

They hear a scream.

"What the hell was that?" Ricky breathes.

"I don't know. Come on." Neil turns the corner, and Ricky follows him. They freeze.

There, on the ground before them, lies their money, right next to the man's gun. They pick it up, and Neil gasps.

"What?" Ricky asks him.

"I think it has blood on it. Tell me that isn't blood." He holds his money up to him. Sure enough, there are spots of blood across the green paper. Ricky looks down, and sees blood on his, too. He shakes his head.

"No. This must be some kind of joke," Ricky assures him. He pockets his money. "It's fine."

"Alright," Neil says, not sounding very sure. They keep walking. It starts to rain on them, and Ricky pulls up the hood on his jacket.

"Man, you parked pretty far, didn't you?" he asks.

"Yeah. I wanted to go for a walk. I didn't plan on getting drunk at first."

"Well, I'm sure it's not too much farther." Ricky stops. "Neil, it's that dog again."

The black dog is sitting in the middle of the road, panting. It gets up, trotting away. They follow it, but when they turn the corner, it's gone again. 

"I don't believe this," Ricky rumbles.

"We've got to be seeing things, man. Let's just get to my car so we can get home and get a good night's rest. That's all we need." 

"Yeah, you're right."

They turn the corner and walk, but they hear a subtle crying coming from somewhere.

"Do you hear that?" Ricky asks. 

"It's coming from over there," Neil tells him, pointing at a dumpster. Huddled next to it, weeping, is a woman, covered in a worn blue blanket and soaked from head to toe. She looks to be in terrible shape for her young age. Her skin wrinkles and droops, making her eyes look hollow and sunken. She trembles fiercely. Neil steps toward her. "Hello?"

The woman looks up at them. She sobs. "Please, help me. My baby. Something is wrong with my baby!" She unwraps the blanket, revealing a tiny, shivering child. They look at it, unsure of what to do.

"Do you know what's wrong?" Ricky asks her. 

The woman shakes her head. "I haven't been able to feed him for days. I have nothing, I'm broke. He must be starving."

Ricky and Neil look at each other. Ricky says, "Listen, I know there isn't a whole lot we can do, and I haven't got a whole lot to give, but . . . " He pulls out his wallet, handing her some money. "Here. Hopefully this can help."

"Yeah." Neil pulls some money out of his wallet, doing the same. 

The woman takes the money and runs off, without even thanking them. They glance at each other and shrug, assuming she must have just been desperate to get her child food. They turn in her direction and, once again, continue walking.

The black dog slinks by, following the woman.

"You know, something isn't right about this place," Ricky points out. "Or that dog."

Neil nods. "I know. It's giving me the creeps. We just need to get to my car."

Another scream rings out, almost stopping the men's hearts. It came from a woman. 

They start running, following where the dog went. They see it in the distance, and watch it turn into another alley. When they turn, it's gone once again. On the ground lies the woman's blanket, next to a broken needle. There is no sign of the woman, or her baby.

"Oh my God," Rick stutters. "We need to get out of here, Neil. We need to get out of here now."

"I know, I know. We're almost to my car."

They hear a bark, a growl, and then a scream. "Oh no. Come on!" They run toward the sound, and find the black dog chasing down a man. The man comes to a dead end, and turns to them.

"HELP ME!" he screams.

The dog growls, diving at him, but it doesn't bite him. It bites his coat, pulling and pulling at it until it rips off. Needles fall to the ground and shatter. "NO!" The man tries to salvage some of them, but they're gone.

"Did you give that woman these drugs?" Neil questions. "The one with the baby?"

"Yes," The man sobs. "She begged me. She gave me money that had blood on it."

Neil growls, stomping toward the man. He grabs him by the shirt collar, pulling him closer. "We gave that woman money because her baby was starving. We gave her money so she could buy food, not buy drugs!"

The man glares. "Well, you guys were fooled."

Neil tosses him to the ground. "Come on, Ricky. Let's get out of here."

They leave the man behind, even as they hear him scream. 

"The way out is right up here," Neil tells Ricky. "I'll give you a ride." 

Ricky hesitates. "No, that's okay. I don't live too far - "

"Ricky, I can't leave you out here like this. Something strange is going on, man." 

He blinks. "Well, thanks."

"No problem."

"Are you sure you're okay to drive? You're drunk."

He waves his hand. "We'll be fine."

They turn the last corner and stop. The dog sits at the end of the alley, watching them. 

"What is it doing?" Neil asks.

Something moves out of the corner of Ricky's eye. He turns his head, but nothing is there. "Did you see that?" Ricky asks.

"See what?"

"I thought I saw something on the road over there."

"You're seeing things, Ricky. We need some sleep. The dog won't hurt us." Neil steps forward, and the dog growls at him.

Another scream echoes. This time, it's a kid. "DADDY!"

Ricky cries, "ROB! WHERE ARE YOU?"

"DADDY! HELP ME, DADDY!"

"I'M COMING!" Ricky yells. Neil grabs his arm.

"Ricky, don't! It's a trick! Rob isn't here! He can't be!" he warns him. Ricky ignores his pleas, pulling his arm free, and runs. "Ricky! No!"

Neil tries to chase after him, but he's gone. Ricky's screams echo, and Neil sobs. "RICKY!"

The dog walks by, watching him until it disappears. Its eyes look almost human. He chases it, not surprised to see that it's gone again. He falls to his knees when he sees Ricky's jacket on the ground in front of him, covered in blood. "No. This can't be happening. No!"

The dog growls from behind him. Neil stands up, facing it. It stares him down, rumbling from deep within its chest. He turns and runs, hearing it chase him down. He makes it out of the alleys, finding his car, and dives into it. He pulls out of the lot in a rush, tires squealing, and gets onto the road. His house is another few blocks away. It will be at least a ten minute drive.

As he turns right, Neil thinks he sees something on the road. It walks across and vanishes. He tells himself he's seeing things. He's safe now, and he needs to relax. He closes his eyes for a few seconds, but he sees flashing images of Ricky and his bloody coat. He opens them back up, and gasps. The black dog is there, sitting in the middle of the road.

"Oh my God!" Neil swerves out of the way, losing control of the car.

The last thing he sees is a tree.

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