Chuckles and Larry ran around each other excitedly; their feet leaving little scuffs in the hard packed surface of the dirt road. They wrestled and bit and swatted at each other while moving every which way, allowing Doug to meander at a pace fit for a pondering mind without them getting too far away.
He watched them playing with envy. The carefree lifestyle of less intelligent beings, someone else got to worry about where their food would come from, and when they would get it. As long as they remained at least semi obedient, they got a free ride, because they were so damn cute. As any animal lover, he didn’t begrudge them their whimsy or silliness. In fact, those were the reasons he enjoyed their company. And he knew they would never leave him.
The creatures were stupid but loyal down to their calcium filled innards. He referred to them as brothers, but they weren’t related. They weren’t even the same breed, just being raised by the same individual, who fancied himself as their father.
Chuckles was the bigger of the two. He was a little older than Larry and a different color. While Chuckles was covered in thin blond hair, Larry was a chocolaty brown.
Doug walked slowly along the dirt road that ran around behind the power plant watching the two play and explore, feeding from a seemingly endless well of curiosity and wonder. As he watched Larry roll in something, he reflected on the fact that if Clara hadn’t left him last week, she would be livid that he let Larry soil his new sweater. Doug still wasn’t sure how he felt about clothing his pets. Most individuals seemed to think that putting sweaters and hats and the occasional pair of pants on a pet was ridiculous and Doug agreed that most of the clothing designed for this purpose was, in fact, horrible and flamboyant. He did, however, think that perhaps during the winter, a sweater served some utility, especially for Chuckles and Larry, who had such short hair.
Doug pulled his own jacket tighter around his body as they made their way around a sharp turn in the road. The chill in the air had been worse the last few days than usual and he was glad that his two friends had the sweaters, wishing a little that he could give them more. Chuckles stopped in the middle of the road and looked back at him happily, his tongue hanging out of his mouth in that stupid way that never failed to make Doug chuckle, precisely where the dog had gotten the name. His heart lifted as he looked into Chuckles’ brown eyes. Life wasn’t so bad, at least Clara had left him these two.
“Come here boy,” Doug called out, suddenly feeling the need to scratch a buddy behind the ear.
They both came. They circled around him, dancing as they made little excited whimpering noises.
“You are good boys!” he said, stuffing the leashes into his pocket and ruffling the hair on both of their heads. “I don’t need anyone but you two, do I?”
He dug into his pocket and pulled out two treats. Their eyes lit up when they saw his motion and both immediately sat down in the road as trained. Out of curiosity he had once taken a bite of one of the biscuits and had immediately regretted the decision. They were always so excited about the treats; he didn’t understand. By the way they stared longingly at his dinner while he ate every night, he knew that their tastes couldn’t be much different from his own, but they loved these biscuits, which tasted like nothing he would intentionally put in his mouth.
“Good boys,” he said again, giving them each one. Chuckles crunched on his, a few times then swallowed it, Larry set his on the ground, then tore pieces off.
“Go get a stick!” Doug yelled as soon as they were both done. He pointed to an area under a Pylack tree that grew next to the road, where he could see a few sticks about the right size. “Go get a stick!” he repeated. He hadn’t needed to repeat it again, they were smart enough to know what it meant and were sprinting headlong toward the tree already.
That’s when the truck came around the corner. Both animals scrambled as best they could to get out of the way, while Doug just stood there, watching in horror.
The truck swerved, but not as much as it could have. It missed Larry, but Chuckles was hit dead on by the front bumper with a hollow thud. He tumbled several times striking the underside of the truck in a tangle of limbs. He was out behind the truck before it came to a stop.
Doug and Larry both ran toward Chuckles. Before he got there, though, Doug could tell that chuckles was dead.
As he knelt over the mangled, broken form, watching blood move in an expanding pool, he heard the truck’s door open.
“He’s dead!” Doug spat at the driver without looking.
“He shouldn’t have been in the road,” the driver responded, no small amount of reproach in his own voice. Doug could hear Larry whimpering and feel him tucking in close to his legs.
Doug looked up, finally making eye contact. The driver wore the dark blue uniform of the power plant.
“YOU should have been looking where you were going.”
“Look fella,” the driver said, raising his hands, “he should have been on a leash.”
“What’s your name?” Doug asked, “Bruce, the director of that plant, is a friend of mine, and I will have your job if you don’t-”
Putting the driver’s job in jeopardy finally got to him. “Hey, Hey,” he said, “look, I’ll… uhh…” he paused for a moment, then dug into his pocket, “I’m sorry about that.” He took a few steps towards Doug.
Doug took a long slow breath, fighting with everything he had to not jump on the driver and punch him over and over again until his smug face wasn’t more than a splatter of red goo on the surface of the dirt road.
“I’ve only got sixty on me,” the driver said holding out a fist full of money, but that should be more than enough to send to Earth for another one, right?”
Doug took the money and stuck it in his pocket. “Yes, I’ll just buy a new best friend, that’s how that works, asshole.” He still very much intended to report the driver for his irresponsible driving, but knew that not much would come of it. Despite his threat, the man probably wouldn’t lose his job. He’d probably only get a slap on the wrist and a lecture about how he should be more careful, “Next time,” Doug could hear Bruce’s lecture now, “it might not be just the neighbor’s pet, but a life that actually matters.”
“So, are we good?” the driver asked, leaning down to pet Larry on the head. Larry growled at him, pure hate in his eyes. Doug wished he could react in the same manner, but being a higher being, he was expected to behave in a civilized fashion.
Without another word from either of them, the driver backed to his truck and got in.
Out the open window, just before driving away, he called out to Doug, “You should keep your humans on a leash.”