Chapter I: Raining Cats and Dogs
Lightning flashed through the window like a gunshot, only the bang came seconds later. The thunder scared the black lab sitting on the sofa. He howled and leaped into the air before running into the corner.
“Max! For a dog, you sure do act like a pussy sometimes,” said Sydney Mortensen. Sydney had never wanted another pet. As a child, she has seen too many family dogs, cats, birds, and hamsters die to want to live through it again. But Max had shown up in her backyard one day eight months ago and never left. She brought him a bowl of water, and after a full day passed without him leaving, she decided to buy some dog food for the dirty black labrador retriever puppy. He had no tags, no collar, and no name. She took him to the vet to get his shots and got him neutered. The vet had asked her what his name was, and she looked down at the lab then back to the vet and smiled. “Max. His name is Max.” The first dog Sydney’s family ever had was named Max. He was a huge German Shepherd – huge even for their standards. He had been hit by a car when Sydney was seven, and it changed her life.
Sydney smiled and stood up, walking over to Max. She knelt down and petted him on the head then rubbed his belly. “Come on, buddy,” she said. “Come back over and sit by me.” Max put his paw over his face and moaned. Sydney picked him up and moaned, too. “Ugh, you’re getting big. You’re not a puppy anymore.”
Sydney’s husband, Ben Mortensen, walked in the living room drinking a beer. He was tall in stature and incredibly thin. His curly brown hair and shirt were soaked from the rain. “Didn’t we put him on a diet? Are you feeding him from the table again, Ben?” said Sydney without looking up.
“Who, me? Feed Max from the table? Come on, you know me… OK, I did. I’m sorry, hun.” Ben smiled sheepishly as Sydney looked up.
“Ben, you’re dripping wet!” shrieked Sydney. She walked back to the sofa and sat down with a thud. Max curled up in her lap.
“I was out back watching the lightning when it started pouring.”
“Ben, I’m serious. You’re dripping all over the hardwood.” A look of disappointment swept across her face. Ben looked down to the floor and saw a trail of water behind him.
“Oh, sorry, Sydney. Let me get a towel,” he said.
“And take your shoes off!” Sydney looked down at Max and sighed. “We’ll have to start wiping off his feet, too. Yes, we will.” She petted him again and smiled.
The next morning, sunlight glistened off the dewy grass as Max came flying from the back door and rolled around in the yard. “Max! You son of a bitch,” said Ben, adding “Literally,” as he closed the door. He went to the hall closet and grabbed a towel then sat it near the door.
Outside, Max jumped up to the wooden fence, putting his paws on the second rail from the top. Max loved his new home, but he longed for a larger yard to have adventures greater than his wildest dreams. Max was a dog, dammit. He needed room to run, to explore, and to live his life to the fullest. He was already almost seven in doggy years. One of these days, he thought. One of these days, I’ll be able to get over this fence.
Chapter II: Achilles’ Heel!
Three weeks later, Max was at his wit’s end. He had to get over that God forsaken fence. He had no idea what he would find in this brave new world, but he knew he would do whatever it took to make it across. He loved Sydney, and Ben was just OK, but there had to be something greater out there. It might be dangerous, but he didn’t care. He didn’t care that he was afraid of thunder and lightning. He didn’t care that he couldn’t remember anything before showing up in their backyard. He had to get out and see the world. But how? He thought. They never let him off the leash when they took him for walks, and they never left the gate open in the –
That’s it! Max thought. Every system has a weak point, and for a fence with no structural damage, it’s always the gate. He knew that Sydney and Ben could open it, so if they could, why couldn’t he?
He stealthily crept along the perimeter of the yard, sticking close to the fence and low to the ground. He sniffed at the base of the gate and turned in a circle before lifting his leg to urinate in the grass. That had nothing to do with his investigation; he just really had to go.
Max lowered his leg and looked up at the locking mechanism on the gate. How did they open it? He thought. He jumped up and sniffed, smelling a faint hint of metal against the wood and grass scents filling his nostrils. He tried licking it, but nothing happened. He hopped down in frustration. Wait a minute! Could it really be that simple? Max hopped up again, then back down, and finally up again. Up and down, up and down, he thought. That’s how it works! Max looked around. He was alone in the backyard. Sydney was washing dishes through the window, but she wasn’t paying attention to Max. He looked back at the lock. It was just sitting there, curved around the gate’s post like it owned the place. He made a mental note to urinate on it the next time he had to go, and he cursed himself for wasting his last sample on the grass. He put his nose under the lock and pushed up with all his might. The lock lifted up and the gate swung open a few inches.
Max dropped back down to the ground and pushed his head into the fence, opening it all the way. I’m free, he thought. Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, I am free at last! Max was allowed to think that. He was a black lab, after all.
He looked back at Sydney in the window and saw her smiling with her soapy arms around Ben. Fuck that guy, he thought. Sydney would rather spend time with him than with me, anyway. Max looked away from his past and toward his future: outside the yard. He took his first step outside the yard without a leash. He breathed in deeply. He smelled all kinds of things. Dirt, grass, wood, that metal from earlier… And then he smelled something new. Max smelled freedom.
Chapter III: Sit, Stay
Rain poured heavily, smearing the ink on the missing sign with Max’s photo. The sign peeled from the telephone pole and fell to the street.
Five days earlier, Ben and Sydney had put copies of the sign all across town on every telephone pole, bus shelter, and phone booth they could find. Not that there were many phone booths left – it was 2011, after all. But the fact remained that Max was missing. Sydney was deeply upset, and she cried most nights after he disappeared. She blamed Ben for leaving the gate open, and she had even made him sleep on the couch the last few nights. Ben tried explaining that he never left the gate open. He hadn’t even been in the backyard that day. But it was no use. Sydney didn’t believe him, and it was putting a strain on their relationship. “Hun, we’ll find him. I promise you,” Ben pleaded with her.
“It’s been five days, Ben,” she replied. “You know what they say. After forty-eight hours, they usually never find them!”
“Sydney, that’s for missing kids, not dogs. Nobody kidnapped Max.” Ben was beginning to lose patience with his wife.
“Well, Max may as well be our kid, Benjamin,” said Sydney. “You know I can’t bear children!” She began to weep, and for the first time, she doubted that she and Ben would last as a couple.
The truth was, Max had been kidnapped.
As Max left the backyard, he wandered down the street in search of his first adventure in the bigger yard that was the planet earth. Ah yes, he thought. The American Dream. Now I can do anything I want, go anywhere I want, and urinate anywhere I want. Max walked down the sidewalk and rounded the corner. A block down the street, max saw the man that would become his arch nemesis: The Mailman.
Chapter IV: The Mailman Always Thinks Twice
Max stopped dead in his tracks. The Mailman was always on the other side of a pane of glass, and Sydney had never let Max get close to him. “Max, shut the hell up already,” she would say when he barked his head off. “He’s just delivering letters… And bills. OK, you’re right. Bark your ass off.”
But now, Max had him in his sight. Slowly, he snuck up behind the Mailman. He had his back turned as he filled his bag with letters. Right on his heels, Max did the only thing he could think to do: he barked. “Bark, bark! Bark!” woofed Max. The Mailman jumped in his boots, hitting his fat bald head on the roof of his truck. He turned around, rubbing his head and saw Max staring him down. “Bark, bark!” he repeated.
“You stupid mutt!” the Mailman yelled. “You scared the shit out of me!”
I’m a purebred, you piece of filth, thought Max. “Bark!” Max let him have it, but the Mailman didn’t budge. He knelt down and picked up Max by the scruff of his neck. He turned over the dog tag on his collar.
“Max, huh?” the Mailman snorted. “Well, Max, I’m going to teach you a few tricks.” The Mailman picked him off the ground. Looking around, he made sure no one was watching and carried Max to the back of his truck. He opened the door and threw him inside. “I’ve dealt with animals like you my entire career. All I want to do is give people their letters and magazines. Maybe a package or two, if it fits in our Priority Mail Flat Rate boxes. But enough is enough. Today, I will have my revenge.”
He closed the door. Max whimpered in the cold darkness.
Max woke up with a dim light shining in his eyes. He tried to stand up, but he soon realized he was strapped to a metal table. A muzzle was wrapped around his mouth.
“He wakes,” whispered the Mailman in Max’s ear. Max tried to bark, but he couldn’t make a sound. “Do you know what happens when you mess with a mailman, Max? You find out his bite is worse than his bark.” The Mailman rolled his sleeves up. From the darkness in the corner, he grabbed a syringe and a gray bottle. Well, everything was gray to Max – he was a dog, and dogs are colorblind. The bottle contained a mysterious liquid, and Max was hoping it was water. He was parched, after all. But inside, he knew it was something more sinister than he could ever imagine.
The Mailman stuck the syringe into the bottle and drew in the liquid. “This is a little something I’ve been working on the last few years. It’s a creation I like to call the Dog-Gone Serum. You see, it’s designed to render your bark, your bite, and your puppy dog charm completely useless. You’ll be a shell of your former self. A puppet, really. Anything I tell you to do, you will do. If I tell you to sit, you will sit. If I tell you to stay, you will stay. If I tell you to give me your paw, you will comply. You are my first patient, Max. Now here comes your medicine.”
Max squirmed on the table trying to free himself, but it was no use. The Mailman came closer, pointing the syringe right at Max. But the Mailman made one fatal mistake: he had taken his boots off, and as he walked across the thick carpet below his feet, a static charge formed in his socks and worked its way through his body. Max could sense it in the air and tried to howl out, but it was no use. The Mailman injected the syringe into Max’s neck, but as he did so, he steadied himself on the metal table, causing a static charge to jump through him into the syringe… and into Max. The blast was unimaginable. The Mailman was sent back from the sheer magnitude of the spark, crashing into the wall behind him. As the electricity flowed through the black labrador retriever, Max lit up like a Christmas tree from Hell. The syringe shot out at a thousand feet per second, shattering against the wall just inches from the Mailman’s head.
“No!!” cried out the Mailman. “No! What have you done, you stupid dog?! My creation! The Dog-Gone Serum! It’s ruined!” The Mailman slowly stood up, his knees shaking. Max finally stopped convulsing, and the light above him flickered out. The Mailman tried to walk, but he tripped and fell to the floor. Everything was falling apart for the Mailman. Nothing was going to plan. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen, he thought. This was supposed to rid me of these mutts forever!
Suddenly, the light burst brighter than the sun. The Mailman made his way off the floor, but when he looked at the table max was gone. He had busted through his restraints and cast them aside. From the other side of the room, Max let out a deafening roar of a bark. “BARRRRK!” The Mailman hid behind the table, more frightened than he’d ever been in his life.
And then, Max spoke: “Mailman! Your Dog-Gone Serum has backfired, for I am now stronger than I have ever been. Your puny human restraints are no match for me, and I will hold you accountable for the emotional turmoil you have caused me and my kind since the day you decided to go into this line of work.”
The Mailman peeked out from his hiding spot. “You… y-you can speak?” he muttered. “I must have gotten the calibrations wrong in the laboratory. Damn you, Sinatra! You were always a distraction to my work.”
“Yes, Mailman. You were wrong. And your mistakes were only amplified by your choice in flooring. My master Sydney has hardwood floors, and she loves them.” Max looked down at the floor and hesitated. “No. I have no master now. I am my own master.” Max ran for the door.
“Where do you think you’re going?” cried the Mailman.
Max turned around. “Me?” asked Max. “I’m going postal.” And then he put on some sunglasses and ran out the door.
Chapter V: Canine to Five
For the next three years, Max roamed the country putting mailmen in their place. But it wasn’t just mailmen. It was plumbers. It was cable guys. It was cats. Wherever there was dog in trouble, Max was there to help. If someone so much as sneered at one of his four-legged relatives, Max would use one of his newfound abilities: namely the Sonic Woof.
A few days into his adventure, Max realized he could do more than just speak. He had these abilities he couldn’t explain… the Sonic Woof was one of them. The Sonic Woof started as just a really loud bark, but it grew into something so much more. Over the next few months, Max developed and tuned his bark to the perfect pitch and frequency to shatter the sound barrier. The Sonic Woof could knock a mailman over in the snap of a finger, or maybe even the blink of an eye.
But nothing was ever as simple as it seemed. For all the gifts Max had received during the Dog-Gone Serum Incident of 2011, he also received something much, much worse. Max called it the “Dog-Gone Curse,” and he couldn’t control it. Whenever Max’s blood pressure increased, the Dog-Gone Curse would set in. Normally, Max’s blood pressure averaged around 154/96, which was pretty normal for dogs, but if it ever increased to 160/119, he lost all control. His muscles bulged. His claws and teeth sharpened. His senses multiplied tenfold. And he attacked anything and everything in his path. Usually, it was only the mailmen he attacked – he would send them running back to their trucks, crying. But two months ago, the Dog-Gone Curse took over him while he was near a twelve year old girl. It was Bring Your Daughter to Work Day, and some dumb son of a bitch mailman thought it would be a good idea to bring his little girl on his route. When Max lost control, the mailman ran for his life, leaving the girl behind. What a coward, Max thought. What kind of a father leaves their child behind? Inside, Max wanted to stop. He pleaded with the Curse to spare the little girl. But in the end, the Curse won, and Max put a three inch gash in the girl’s arm before she got away. It wasn’t a deep wound, but it bled, and Max got a taste of the crimson blood. It enraged him. It nourished him. And he wanted more.
After the Curse wore off that night, Max couldn’t sleep. The next day, he visited the local children’s hospital and, disguised as a therapy dog, searched through the new patient files and found the girl. Her name was Susie Sampson (Surprisingly not Susie Mailman, Max had thought), and she received ten stitches. Max thought about Susie’s father leaving her behind again, and it reminded him of his own mysterious puppyhood. Who were his parents? Where were they now? Were they even alive? Max wasn’t sure he’d ever remember.
Max was ashamed at what he’d done, but he couldn’t turn himself in. He would be put down, for sure. He vowed to never harm another innocent person, but he knew it was only a matter of time before the opportunity presented itself again.
Chapter VI: Every Dog Has His Day
After the attack on Susie, Max decided it might be best to head back to the only home he’d ever known: Sydney and Ben’s house. He traveled across the country and finally made it home after three years on the road.
When Max walked up the driveway to the house, he noticed a different car in the open garage. Cautiously, he approached the front window and peered inside. Fortunately, he saw Ben and Sydney sitting down at the dinner table. It seemed their relationship had blossomed again since he left three years ago. They must have worked it out, he thought. I’m happy for them. Then a shadow appeared on the floor, making its way into the dining room. Max blinked in horror as he saw a golden retriever waddle up to Sydney, wagging its tail.
“It can’t be…” Max whispered to himself. “They… they replaced me? With a golden?” Max ran to the front door and clawed at the wood, but it wouldn’t open. His rage was building and his blood was boiling. He stepped back and ran into the door several times. His blood pressure hit 162/120. He ran into the door again, and it burst open. Sydney and Ben stood in shock. The golden retriever took advantage of the situation and ate the pork chops on their plates.
“What the hell is going on?!” screamed Ben.
“Ben! Ben! It’s Max! It’s really him, it’s Max! He’s alive!” Sydney was ecstatic. She jumped up and down as tears ran down her face.
Max looked from the golden retriever to Sydney to Ben, then quickly back to Sydney. He took a step back. Sydney looked at the golden retriever then back to Max. “Max, it’s not what it looks like. Daisy’s just another dog, she didn’t replace you.” Daisy let out a bark of content.
Max howled and whimpered as he ran out the door.
Sydney chased after him, running down to the sidewalk. “Max! Max, come back! Please!” But Max kept running. He ran and ran until he didn’t know where he was.
A man driving a truck drove down the street and slowed down as he passed. “Hey, buddy!” he said. “Are you lost?” Max released a Sonic Woof, shattering every piece of glass on the truck. The man screamed and stepped on the gas.
Max ran to the nearest yard and dropped to the ground. He rolled around howling, releasing as many Sonic Woofs as he could muster before he could bark no more. How could she replace me? He thought. It’s only been twenty-one doggy years. How could she forget about me? How could she take in that bitch? What about me?
That night, he slept under a bush in a yard a few miles from Sydney and Ben’s house. But Sydney and Ben didn’t sleep. Sydney was very distraught. She snuggled with Ben and Daisy the golden retriever on the sofa. “Ben, where has he been for the last three years?” she asked. “I thought… I thought he was dead. I thought he got hit by a car or something. How could he be here now?”
“I don’t know, hun,” replied Ben. “He must have been taken in by another family. And somehow, he found his way home.”
“Maybe,” said Sydney. “But how did he bust down the door like that? He was so big! Max was never that strong or lively.” Sydney was confused, and she didn’t know if he’d ever come back again. Daisy licked her cheek, and she smiled. Another tear rolled down her face as Ben put his arm around her.
The next morning, Sydney made coffee for her and Ben and put food in Daisy’s bowl. “Here you go,” she said as she handed a mug of steaming hot coffee to her husband. She rubbed her eyes and straightened her hair as she took a sip.
“Thanks, Sydney.” Ben was doing his best to be there for his wife, but he didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t explain Max’s reappearance anymore than she could. Unlike Sydney, however, Ben suspected that they would see him again soon.
About an hour later, Sydney decided to take a shower. Daisy pawed at the door until she let her in, like always. Daisy loved the steam from the shower, and she would lie on the bathroom floor until Sydney left. Ben sat down on the sofa with the morning newspaper, which was pretty slim these days, when the doorbell rang. Ben looked out the window and didn’t see anyone. He got up and walked to the broken front door. He pulled it open and saw Max. Ben smiled.
“Ben,” said Max. Ben’s smile slowly transformed into a look of horror. “Ben, we need to talk.” Ben fainted, falling flat on the floor.
Sydney walked in, wearing a towel. “Ben, what was that noise? Who was at the door?” She saw Ben on the floor and screamed. Max stepped inside the house. “Max?”
Sydney fainted, too.
To Be Continued…