This story is by Alan Kennamer and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
‘So happy! So happy!’ The thought reverberated inside him, like wind through an open window. His entire body shook with anticipation.
“Dkoh neyg, bho!”
Although the words that reached his ears were indecipherable, he understood the meaning. Home. He was going Home.
The two shapes in front of him were big, larger-than-life. He craned his neck and flicked his tongue. The tallest one tasted salty. But the other… something about HER reminded him of health and caring. He rested his head against HER gray, flowery fabric, allowing his entire body to relax against the underlying firmness. His eyes blinked as HER pale claws scratched an itch he didn’t know he had.
As they continued to say unfamiliar things, HER talons found more areas that caused him to shake uncontrollably. He glanced around and sniffed, tiny scent tendrils reacting in his mind. All his companions permeated the air. He had never known a life without those constant aromas, yet these foreign smells were overpowering.
He shied away as something was looped around his neck.
“Rihmt ogho, Boy?” The words from HER resonated in his ears.
His own voice, absent for so long, rang forth.
Yes! I am Boy! He spun as he spoke, bouncing up and down.
After a moment, the large one pulled on the tether, guiding him toward the open space beyond the barrier.
“It’s scary.” Amber reached down and petted their Rottweiler, Chewy.
Three months had passed. Pieces of toys Chewy had torn up lay scattered around their home.
“First one’s always like that, or so I hear,” Matt replied, grinning from ear to ear.
“Sure, easy for you. Your job’s done now.” She paused and placed a hand on her still flat belly. “But I hafta carry him. Or her. They’ll be a part of me, and I don’t know what ta expect.”
Matt reached out and grasped her hand. “You’re not alone, Am. I’ll do everything you need. And some things you don’t!”
Amber laughed and gripped his hand harder. His touch, gentle yet firm, comforted her.
As she stood, Chewy met her gaze. He held a dismembered toy in his mouth as his dark brown tail whooshed back and forth, striking the table on the back-swing. Now 40 pounds, Chewy would grow to over a hundred. And quickly.
He’s gotta stop eatin’ stuff, Amber thought, absently touching her stomach. Although their protector, thoughts of Chewy performing his namesake on their child ran through her.
“What are we gonna do, Matt? Ya know, with Chewy?” Her brow crinkled, and her heart pounded in her ears.
“Whaddya mean? He’s our guardian. And he’s family.” After a pause, Matt continued, “Right?”
“Yeah… But what if he tries ta do something ta the baby?” As she plopped onto the soft cushions, her mind raced. “Look at him. He’s destroyed so many toys, and he’s only three months old!”
Matt knelt in front of her, his brows crinkled. He gripped her hand and petted Chewy with his other. “Nothin’s gonna happen, Am. We’re already training him.”
Amber’s eyes glanced toward Chewy. “Yeah, but we don’t know how he’ll react. Instinct and all…” Her free hand trembled, and she balled it into a fist.
Matt stood, his gaze steady. “I’ve had dogs all my life. Skipper never did nothin’ to me or my sister. He was awesome to everyone!”
“I hear ya,” Amber said, clenching and un-clenching her hand, her eyes drifting. “My neighbor had one. My friend had to get stitches. Lots of ‘em.”
“Don’t ‘but Am’ me! I’m scared!” A tear tracked down her cheek and fell onto her stomach. Is that a sign? What does it mean? And why can’t Matt understand!
Clearing her throat, Amber said, “Just leave me alone about this. I don’t wanna talk about it anymore.” She turned her head and looked out the window, casting a furtive glance toward Chewy.
He’ll be good to the baby. But what if he isn’t? Could I get rid of him for the sake of my child?
Six months later, Amber sat on the same cushioned couch, her fingers interlaced, resting on the top of her now bulging belly.
I’m so fat, she mused.
Chewy’s claws clacked on the tile floor as he strode toward her, his tongue dripping slop.
As he nudged against her hand, she gave him a treat. “You won’t hurt the baby, yeah?”
Chewy stared at her, his brown eyes twinkling.
She could almost hear Chewy’s thoughts. ‘I’ll be good. I am, after all, a Good Boy!’ His tail wagged and his mouth grinned, tongue flopping to one side.
Chewy had learned so much, yet fear still permeated Amber. Sit, lay down, come: all commands Chewy had mastered. He never bounded anymore, always carefully plodded along, looking at her or Matt for guidance.
Yet in a dark place within her, turmoil reigned. Weaning him off destroying his stuffed animals had proved challenging. She read stories of rots treating babies like chew toys. Of pets reacting to an inadvertent touch and snapping, hurting someone. Or worse. And what happened to her childhood friend…
So many tales.
Chewy rested his head on her lap, his ear flicking against her belly. For the moment, her mind calmed, and her despair ebbed away. He’ll be our protector. All of us.
“Thanks, boy.” She reached for him, scratching above his brow. Pieces of his dark fur attached to her fingers.
With one hand on Chewy and the other on her still growing midsection, Amber closed her eyes. Calm returned, and she fell into a deep, untroubled sleep.
“It’s been exactly a year, ya know,” Matt said as they walked through the door, into their home.
“What?” Amber held their newborn daughter, Elize, in her arms and stepped behind him. Peering around Matt, Chewy sat, his tail wagging, and pieces of something hung from his mouth.
“Since we got ol’ Chewy.”
Was that true? Do both my child and Chewy share a birthday?
Amber gripped her baby tighter against her chest, unconsciously keeping Elize away from their dog. She walked past him and steered toward the plush couch. Below her, Chewy kept pace. He craned his neck, striding alongside.
“Careful, Boy.” Her voice shook, barely audible. “Matt. Please…” Leaving the words hanging, she slowly sat, holding Elize to her chest. Shielding her.
“I’m comin’, babe.” Matt dropped the small suitcase near the front door. “Chewy! Here boy!”
Chewy’s ears perked up, and he strolled toward Matt.
Amber sighed as tears flew down her face onto Elize’s soft peach-fuzzed head. Amber brushed the salty liquid off as a deep intake of breath wracked her body.
I can’t. I just… can’t.
She glanced at Chewy, his shape distorted by her tears. “Please.” The word escaped her lips as she closed her eyes.
A fresh smell penetrated his nose. Familiar yet different. He sniffed the air, the scent coming near HER. But the new one held a combination of HIM and HER.
Chewy swung his neck back and forth between them, straining to capture the new aroma.
“Famb ook. Chewy ens fuld!” HIM glanced between Chewy and HER.
Their scent’s changed, a darker, more intense smell. He laid on the floor, head down, eyes darting between both.
After a time, HER spoke. “Chewy! Come!”
He stood, the broody, underlying scent permeating the room. Chewy slowly padded toward HER, his head low.
HER leaned down and Chewy craned his neck forward and sniffed. The new aroma was powerful, so wondrous. The mixture of THEM reminded him of his time in the other place, when they brought in tiny new ones.
Chewy moved closer and extended his tongue until it touched the small thing SHE held. A slightly bitter yet sweet taste. So gentle. So new.
One of US.
Shifting back, he sat and stared at HER, waiting. As he had been taught.
“Ood Boy. Uk eood Boy.” HER reached out and rubbed the space above his eyes. He blinked slowly as his tongue fell to the side.
“So?” Matt had kept asking, and after four weeks, she was ready to talk about it.
“Yes, Matt.” Pausing, Amber glanced toward the bassinet. As he had done since she brought Elize home, Chewy laid in front of it. Like Elize’s protector. While he still sometimes ravaged his toys, he stayed close to Elize, growling at strangers that came near them.
“It’s still so new,” she began again, “but Chewy’s training’s gone good.” Chewy’s eyes darted to her as she said his name. “I’m still scared, but look at him. He’s been great with her, treating her like family.”
“Yeah! Thanks, babe!” Matt jumped off the chair and bolted toward Chewy. “Who’s a good boy? You’re a good boy!”
Chewy sat up, his tail whisking across the floor.
Did he understand? Could he?
Those thoughts flicked through her mind as she breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, Chewy is family. Like Matt. Like Elize.