DOG DAYS: CHAPTER 1

“Please pick up…

Made it to Maywood and found your nephews. He wasn’t there. I searched all over, but like they said over the phone they won’t protect him now. If I were Danny I wouldn’t go lookin’ for help from them anyhow, but it was worth a shot.

 They’re just afraid. I was afraid of him too, but I don’t have time to be scared. Three weeks sounds like a long time; it really isn’t.

I can’t get anythin’ done at work. No one’s said shit to me yet, but they will. They know somehow. I thought we were careful. No, I guess.

My shift starts in a few hours. Afterwards I’ll try something else— Danny’s roommate. Maybe he can point me in the right direction. I’ll let you know if I get anywhere.

I promise I’ll bring him back. Hopefully you’ll see to lettin’ me back in the house when the time comes.

I’m sorry, Claire. I love you… bye.”

Chapter 1:

Good Neighbors

                The afternoon shift ended with a belching siren high above the factory. A small crowd had formed by the exit; their uniforms soaked through with sweat and machine grease. Eustace was the first to trickle out into the parking lot. He had changed out of his uniform back into the clothes he wore last night. He had already gone through what he packed on Monday and figured whatever he wore last night was just as clean as anything else in his duffel bag. Eustace was broad-chested and top-heavy with stout legs and a protruding belly. His knees ached on rainy days and he limped as he watched steam swirl up from the hot pavement on his way to his car.

                 “Slow down, Euwie,” said Terry. “Hold up!”

Eustace curled his hand under the door handle of his Buick; his greasy fingers squeaked against the chrome when he clenched. He had hoped to be gone by now.

Terry looked like a mantis with his gigantic goggles and headphones bulging from his face. He wore a green bandana over his mouth to keep the forklift fumes out of his lungs. Terry pulled down the bandana and rested his headphones around his neck. “I was talkin’ to the guys about your boy—said they would help you look for him.”

Eustace peeked over Terry’s shoulder and saw a group of six waiting by Jake’s silver Ford truck. Eustace had ridden in it once when they went deer hunting last winter. The truck bed had always been full of camping equipment and salvage. He barely recognized it now that it was empty. Jake had made space for something big.

                “That’s Okay, Terry. You tell ’em all thanks, but no.” Eustace managed to get his car door open this time.

                 “Hey Eustace.” Terry removed his goggles, leaving a deep ring etched into the dark skin around his eyes. “If it were my boy, I’d take all the help I could get.”

                 I’d love nothin’ more than for it to be your boy instead of mine. “A group of people will spook him. It’ll go easier with just me.”

                 “What are you bringin’ with?” asked Terry.

                 “What does it matter?”

                 “It matters.”

                 Eustace scratched the area between his ear and sideburn with his clean finger. “I got the Henry 30-30 in the trunk.”

                 “Any Silver?”

                 “Not on me. Was gonna make a stop tonight.”

                Terry turned half way and whistled for Jake. Eustace let the red car door hang open between him and the two men like a shield. Jake approached with his work shirt in hand, his bare torso riddled with scars and puncture marks. Some patches of skin were lighter than others from grafts and other surgeries. Terry explained about the silver and Jake pulled out a box of twenty rounds from his jeans and handed it over. Eustace slide the box open and ran his fingers over the ballistic tipped munitions. He never noticed how cruel they looked, how they might feel tearing into flesh with each blast.

                 That’s more than enough,” said Jake.  There was no compassion in his eyes like the others had pretended to have. He was the reason Eustace had tried so hard to keep Danny’s situation a secret. Jake had the hunting acumen and skill to put down a hundred werewolves, and he spoke as if Danny was as good as dead.

                 “Figured we’d save you a stop,” said Terry. “It doesn’t matter what size gun you use; if you ain’t got silver, you ain’t putting it down.”

                 “Ya’ll know he can’t do anythin’ until the next full moon. You know when that is?

                 “Two weeks, six days, eight hours,” said Jake.

                 “We can’t let it get too far out of control,” said Terry. “If we don’t get it by…whatever time Jake said, it can spread to others and come back on us hard. We don’t want to get overrun by—“

                 “Stop callin’ my boy It, Terry.”

                 “No one wanted Danny to get turned, Euwie. This is just like when Scott’s boy turned a few years back or when Jordie’s wife Tanya went bad. We were all there, remember? This is how we take care of our own—between us. No need to get the Watch involved. It’s a Goddamn tragedy, like getting your house caught on fire. We’re just tryin’ to help you put it out; the way good neighbors do.”

                They shot the boy in his sleep. They meant to do the same for Jordie’s wife. Eustace remembered the look on Tanya’s face when they cornered her in the bedroom. Jordie and Tanya had been married for fourteen years when he let them walk into their home— guns drawn and ready. Eustace stayed afterwards to help scrub the walls and carpet. “As one father to another, Terry, let me do this alone.”

                 “Two weeks,” said Jake. “We’ll give you two weeks to handle this. It’s a shitty position to be in, but folks are scared and we need to give them peace of mind.”

                It was a look he never wanted to see again. “You can all go to hell.”

 Eustace slipped into his car and tossed the box of silver rounds onto the passenger seat. He backed out quick, narrowly avoiding Terry and Jake. He drove away red-faced and leering at his rearview mirror. They all watched him go.

*****

                Eustace stopped at a diner. The place was busy for a Friday night, but he had few options. He sat at a booth and brushed his hair with his hand. He wasn’t used to the beard that encroached from his face down to his neck and considered using a metal fork to scratch it. A waitress came over and asked him to please sit up at the counter so more people can use the booth.

                Eustace stopped at a gas station; no waitresses in sight. He walked up to the counter and asked for a foot long and something cold to drink. A TV hanging in the corner near the surveillance screens showed a house on fire in Bridgeview. The family inside burned to death as well as the neighbors who tried to save them. Police were baffled as to why the neighbors got involved without contacting the fire department. The way good neighbors do. The cashier handed back his change. He ate in his car.

                He opened his glove compartment and pulled out his address book. He scanned down the list of contacts, but he couldn’t find Danny’s college roommate in the “K” section. He remembered that Claire spelled names wrong and flipped back to “C”. Kalvin stayed with his folks during summer break before going back to Wayne State. Eustace dialed the number and heard a recording that it had been disconnected. He decided to pay Kalvin’s folks a visit.

                The Luceros had moved to Naperville after Kalvin graduated high school. He and Danny had been friends since the second grade, but Eustace hadn’t bothered to get to know the Luceros in the nearly two decades their children had known each other. He had met the mother once when the boys moved into their dorm. She passed away shortly after. Eustace had not attended the wake or funeral. Her name began with a “B.”

                The house seemed too ample for just the father to live in by himself. Eustace wondered if he stilled lived here anymore. Bathed under dim porch lights and mosquitoes, he knocked on the front door. The man who answered looked like Kalvin with a receding hairline and glasses. He wore a Rolling Stones t-shirt and plaid pajama pants. Eustace was too tired to be shy. “Hello, Mr. Lucero. I’m sorry to bother ya’ll so late…but your boy and mine go to Wayne together.”

                “I know,” said Mr. Lucero.

                “You see, Danny’s run off and I was hoping to talk to Kalvin to see if—“

                “You gonna shoot your boy, Eustace?”

                Eustace froze with his mouth ajar. “How? How do you—“

                “Kalvin told me all about Dan. Do you plan on hunting him down and shooting him?”

                “I don’t know what Kalvin told you about me, but I just want my son back.”

                “I know your type—a bunch of gun nut vigilantes that think they can put people down like sick dogs. You got a gun in your car right now, don’t you?”

                “Of course not!”

                “Then you wouldn’t mind letting me take a look?”

                “Will you let me talk to Kalvin if I do?”

                “He’s not here. I’ll give you his new number if you’re telling the truth.”

                Eustace handed over his car keys and watched as Mr. Lucero methodically searched his red Buick starting with the trunk, then the rear seats, and then he opened the driver side door. He dove his hands into the duffel bag and checked the side pockets. He placed his knee on the driver’s seat and stretched out onto the passenger side. He sat back up and shook the box of bullets in the air.

                “You didn’t say nothin’ about ammo,” said Eustace.

                “Mr. Bully!” called a voice from the front door.

                The two men turned around. Kalvin had trimmed blonde hair that made him look bald from far away. He wore a Chicago Wolves Hockey Jersey with sevens embroidered on the sleeves. Mr. Lucero scolded his son to get back inside, but Kalvin made his way to Eustace instead. “Dan told me you used to hit him with a belt growing up; is that true?”

                Eustace scratched behind his side burn. “Maybe once or twice.”

                “Barbaric,” said Mr. Lucero.

                “Fuck you, Barbaric! I’m tryin’ to save my son and you’re givin’ my car a fuckin’ 21-point inspection! I would never kill my own son, but that doesn’t mean he won’t try to kill me!”

                “Get back inside Kalvin, Mr. Bully was just leaving.” Mr. Lucero threw the set of keys back at Eustace. He caught them with one hand and turned to Kalvin.

                 “If you know somethin’ you tell me right goddamn now, you hear me!?”

                “You keep him out of this!” said Mr. Lucero.

                “Dad, enough!” Kalvin approached Eustace slowly. “You swear you’ll do everything to bring him back safely?”

                 “I can’t go back without him.”

                Kalvin watched him for a moment. “He’s telling the truth, dad; I can tell.” Kalvin took a deep breath and stared down at his shoes on the driveway. “Dan made friends with some couple a few months back, they had a lot in common if you know what I mean. They told him things, useful stuff about being infected. He used to drag me along at first, but he started seeing them by himself.”

“Detroit?” asked Eustace.

“No, someplace in Warren.”

“Names?”

“Charlene and…”

“Charlene and what?”

Kalvin bit his lip before answering. “Gator… he called himself Gator.”

“Can you draw me a map?”

“I can take you there.”

Eustace took a step back. “A map would be better.”

“The fuck you are!” said Mr. Lucero. “It’s pointless!”

“I’m going to do everything I can to help Dan,” said Kalvin. “I’m going with.”

“I’m not bringing you,” said Eustace slowly so Kalvin would understand. “ Listen to your dad.”

“They know who I am! They won’t just let you walk into their apartment!”

“Oh, Mr. Gator doesn’t like to entertain strangers in the middle of the night?” said Mr. Lucero. He began to pace the driveway with his arms crossed.

“The faster we find Dan, the better off we’ll all be. Please, Mr. Bully.”

“Kalvin, listen to me,” said Mr. Lucero. “I know he’s your best friend, but you don’t owe him this.”

“I’m the one who convinced him to tell his parents. Charlene and Gator told him to keep it a secret no matter what, but I told him to let you and his mom know what was going on. It’s as much my fault as it is yours, Mr. Bully. If coming along can better your chances at all I owe him that.”

                Eustace could see the guilt racking the skinny boy’s body as he spoke. This twig of a man was more loyal to Danny than his own blood and the only thing he feared was losing his friend forever. Eustace had made up his mind, Kalvin’s father however…

                “So let me just make sure what I’m hearing is accurate,” said Mr. Lucero. “You think that Danny is with these two people in Warren and you’re just going to pick him up and drive him back home—end of story?”

                “That’s my understandin’ yeah,” said Eustace.

                “And you can do this tonight?”

                “It’ll be a long night, but I plan to.”

                “In that case, I’m coming with. Kalvin and I will follow you to Warren in my car.”

                “Kalvin rides with me because he knows where the fuck we’re goin’. You can ride with us or follow behind in your car. I really don’t care.”

                “Fine. Let me get some pants on.” Mr. Lucero walked back into the house.

                For the first time all week, Eustace began to feel relief. He would have good news to tell Claire and he might be driving home tomorrow morning with Danny in the passenger seat. “Hey Kalvin, can you drive stick?”

                “Yeah. Why?”

                Eustace tossed another Lucero his keys. “Congratulations, you get to drive tonight. Wake me when we get to Warren. And Kalvin, what’s your dad’s name? I’m sick of calling him Mr. Lucero.”

*****

                “Start waking up, Mr. Bully. We’re almost there.”

                Eustace stretched as best he could in the back seat. His arms and legs bumped against the windows and interior. Three full hours of deep sleep did him good before remembered about Gator. “So what is this couple like?”

                “Well Charlene is a knockout. I kinda miss seeing her from time to time. Ass like you wouldn’t believe.”

                “And Gator?”

                “I wasn’t really checking him out, Mr. Bully,” said Kalvin smiling.

                “Is he dangerous?”

                Kalvin stopped smiling.

                “Stupid question, I guess. Listen, Kalvin. No matter what happens with Danny, I want you to know that he did the right thing telling me and his mom. I fucked up, not him. And you’re a good friend for helpin’ him and helpin’ me tonight.”

                Kalvin held back tears and nodded his head.

                “It’s gonna be all right, boy.” Eustace sat up on his seat and looked out the back window. “Let’s see how Tim’s doin’”

                “He’s been pretty tight on us the whole way,” said Kalvin.

                It was hard to see Tim’s Black Cadillac in the darkness. The lights from the street signs illuminated Mr. Lucero’s face with each pass. He waved at Tim, but Tim did not wave back. Traffic had stayed brisk even as they approached the city. A bright light had beamed directly into Eustace’s eyeball. He wiped his eyes with his hands and searched for the source of the flash. What he saw made him want to retch.

                “Are you okay, Mr. Bully?”

                Jake’s silver truck had accidentally switched its headlights to high beam instead of off. What happened to “two weeks”, Jake? “Kalvin, I need you to speed up.”

                “What’s going on?”

                “Speed up and I want you to turn on the next exit, but not until the last second and for God’s sake don’t signal.”

                “ But I’ll lose my Dad!?”

                We’ll lose more than that if we’re lucky. “We’ll call your Dad later! Turn now!!”

                The Buick was clipped by another car trying to merge into the exit. The driver slammed on his horn as it sped past.

                “Why did you tell me to do that!?”

                “We’re bein’ followed by some bad people. You did good, Kalvin.”

                Kalvin threw his phone in back. “Call my dad and tell him what happened.”

                “He can’t know that we’re bein’ followed, understand? I’ll just tell him you took a wrong turn. Repeat what I just said.”

                “He can’t know. I got it.”

                “Can you get to the apartment on these side streets?”

                “Yeah, but it will take a lot longer.”

                What’s another few minutes? “Take your time. And, Kalvin, those people back there won’t hurt you.”

                Kalvin glanced at Eustace for a moment in the rear view mirror. “I believe you.”

                “When we were back at your dad’s place you believed me when I said I wouldn’t hurt Danny. You’re a good judge of character.”

                “Not quite. Danny told me that you scratch your side burn when you lie. You didn’t scratch then, and you didn’t scratch now.”

                An hour passed before they parked on the curb. Warren had absorbed some of the residual plight of Detroit.  Apartment windows were shot out and some people slept huddled in the alleyways. “We don’t need to wait for Tim. How do you want to do this?”

                “I can call my dad again.”

                “Forget about that! Just walk up there and see if Danny’s been around.”

                “I was hoping you’d go up with me.”

                “They’ll see me!”

                “They won’t see you. They’re on the fourth floor at the far end of the hall on the right. I’ll knock and you can wait in the hallway.”

                The two men walked up the steps as if they were made of glass. Eustace’s head began to pound. He was close to getting his son back, but every step felt like he was putting his son in jeopardy. No sound emanated from the other apartments; nothing to muffle their approach. Kalvin pointed at the door to the couple’s apartment. He cleared his throat before knocking.

                “Hey guys! It’s Kalvin…Danny’s friend! I have that Chelios Jersey you wanted to see! Guys!?” The doorknob came loose in Kalvin’s hand. “Eustace, this isn’t right.”

                Eustace charged at the door and kicked it open. The apartment was black. “Do you have my son! Answer me!!”

                Kalvin felt frantically against the wall for a light switch. When he flipped the switch a cheap chandelier light revealed fresh blood on the floor, walls, and ceiling. Eustace smelled something that reminded him of the night they killed Tanya, the smell of blood and carpet cleaner baked into the humid air.  The leather couches had been shredded while stuffing adhered to the table in a clear liquid. The television had been bashed in with glass scattered across the living room carpet. As Eustace walked deeper into the apartment the shards cracked and popped under his footsteps. He followed the debris to the balcony window, the final act of destruction. He unlocked the shattered door and stepped out onto the balcony terrified of finding his son’s body sprawled at the bottom of the alley. Instead he found nothing and sat on the balcony in the summer breeze.

                “I really need to call my dad,” said Kalvin as his voice trembled.

                “Fuck your dad. Call the Watch.”

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One comment

  1. […] spent the last few months rereading Dog Days and evaluating characters and plot points. The revision process has been slightly faster than the […]

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