The Terror of the Care Center

A Sci-Fi Short Story written by Emmie Christie

The Terror of the Care Center

by Emmie Christie

Emmie Christie’s work tends to hover around the topics of feminism, mental health, cats, and the speculative such as unicorns and affordable healthcare. She has been published in Flash Fiction Online, Zooscape Magazine and in Three-Lobed Burning Eye and she graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2013. She also enjoys narrating audiobooks for Audible. You can find her at www.emmiechristie.com

 

 

Merina hunched down in her wheelchair in the care center’s back yard. Rain drizzled down, but she had parked herself under a table with an awning. In the rental home next door, a Scottish terrier scuttled in a little circle. He barked with the incessance of a child’s toy without a removable battery. “I’m gonna chew on his shoes when he gets home. He’s gonna get mad and smack me again. But they taste so good. Like meat, but also like, not meat.”

Merina barked, “I can understand you, dumbass.”

The Scottish terrier ran up to the chain link fence. “Did you just—did you speak dog?”

I was a Russian code breaker in ’73,” Merina said. “You think dog is hard to figure out? You’ve been barking for 45 minutes.”

The terrier tensed, shivering a little bit in the rain. The neighbor had just moved into the rental house last week.

Now listen here,” Merina said, a plot forming in her mind. “You’re gonna do me some favors. Bring me some human food tomorrow.”

Why should I?” the terrier growled, showing teeth.

Merina raised an eyebrow. “You got a lot to learn, bucko, before you can intimidate someone like me.”

She looked quite harmless. Vulnerable even, with her curved back, and fingers spotted with age. But she spoke with a growl and locked eyes with him, as if she’d stared down bigger dogs. He dropped to the ground and rolled to show his belly.

Hey, Merina.” Her care tech, Steve, a burly man with a durable chin and a wide smile, plodded out of the care center. He held an umbrella and an applesauce container. “You talking to the dog? I thought you didn’t like animals.”

Well, it’s not mine, so I don’t have to scoop its poop or anything.”

You’re missing out, you really are. I miss my—aw.” His gaze snagged on the terrier. “He doesn’t even have a doghouse. Poor thing.”

She swiveled in her wheelchair. The terrier stooped, head bent in the rain, not even a tree to huddle under. “Huh.”

Steve placed the applesauce on her tray, and she wrinkled her nose. He sighed. “Now, don’t give me that look. You’ll get pudding on Friday.”

Three more days of baby food.” She spooned some in her mouth. The rain pattered down, and the wind rose.

I should get you inside,” Steve said.

The next day, the terrier brought her a half-eaten sandwich, and she straightened in her wheelchair to grab it over the fence. She unwrapped it and huffed. “You slobbered all over it!”

Well, yeah.” The rain from yesterday still matted the terrier’s fur. “My teeth get in the way.”

On Thursday, though, he brought her a proper fast-food burger still wrapped up and in the bag. She gobbled it down in twenty seconds.

You’re just like me!” said the terrier. “You love food.”

Of course I do. Food is the best thing about life, isn’t it? Especially when life gets so small.” She hesitated, then handed back the wrapper with sauce still on it. “You understand, right? Being in that yard all day.”

Small.” the terrier licked the sauce clean. “Yes, small. Trapped. Running in circles.”

Steve trailed out to check on her, bearing the dreaded applesauce. She refused to eat it.

Hey, now,” he said. “You have to keep your food intake up.”

She didn’t say anything. She didn’t want him to spot any bits of burger left in her teeth.

The next-door neighbor stomped outside. “Hey!” he shouted at the terrier. “Did you steal something again!” He grabbed the dog by the collar and dragged it in. “You did, didn’t you? That’s my burger!”

A cuff, and a yelp. Then a resounding shot of a gun.

They both stilled.

“Let that be a lesson to you!” A whine, and then a foot kicking the terrier back outside, his tail between his legs. He dashed to the corner of the yard and curled up like a fortune cookie.

“Is he—” Merina sat up in her chair.

“No, he’s not shot.” Steve’s jaw tightened. The sizable muscles in his arm flexed. “I wish we could call the animal abuse hotline.”

“Can’t we?” Merina asked.

He clenched her wheelchair handles. He’d never displayed such anger in front of her before, and he’d worked at the care center for three years. “The law is too specific. The abuse has to be . . . a particular kind. With evidence.” He paused. “Meaning, he didn’t actually shoot the dog, so it doesn’t count.”

Merina dug at bits of burger stuck between her teeth. She’d caused some of this, dang it. If she hadn’t intimidated the animal into stealing for her, the owner wouldn’t have hit him so much.

She studied Steve, then made her decision. “Can we walk the neighborhood now?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah. I’ll fetch your walker.”

While passing the house with the terrier, Merina kicked off a tennis ball from her walker’s legs. It rolled down the hill. “Oh no! My foot slipped!”

“Don’t move! I’ll get it!” Steve dashed down the hill.

Merina chuckled to herself and trundled over to the neighbor’s front door.

When Steve returned, he found Merina and the neighbor outside in the front yard, the terrier on a leash. His hands shook and his face seemed pale. He tossed the terrier’s leash to Steve. “Here. Take him. I’m moving out next week.”

He slammed the door.

“Merina,” Steve said, his voice low. “What did you say to him?”

Merina shrugged and slid her tennis ball back on the legs of the walker. She toddled forward off the neighbor’s porch. “Just told him how kind you were, and how you loved animals, and how you noticed his dog. Out in the rain. Alone.” She paused. “How you killed a man once in the war.”

“Merina!” Steve dropped the leash and started after her, whisper-shouting. “I can’t take this dog!”

“What?” She blinked at him. “Why not? Isn’t he cute?” She paused. “He’s cute, to you, right? I wouldn’t know. It’s a dog, for Chrissakes.”

For a moment, she hoped Steve wouldn’t adopt him. She’d be back to eating applesauce every day. Her life had shrunk to such smallness, she tried to control it as much as she could in petty, insignificant ways. But such selfish thoughts shamed her, and she did care for Steve, and even the stupid dog with the stupid slobbering face.

The both of them needed each other, more than she needed control.

The terrier trotted forward and huddled behind Steve’s legs. Steve hesitated, watching the front door. The neighbor appeared at a window and drew the curtains closed.

“He’s not adoptable anymore,” Merina said. “He needs someone who knows how to take care of the elderly.”

“You’re a right terror, you know that, Merina?” Steve shook his head, but he bent down and held out his hand. The dog wagged his tail, just a little, his eyes darting all around.

“I know I give you lots of grief,” Merina said. “So, I thought I’d use my . . . specific talents for you, for once. Help you out.”

Steve sighed. He bent down and scratched the terrier behind the ears. “You’re a good boy, aren’t you?”

The next Friday, Steve brought the terrier in. He left the dog outside with her while he cared for a few other patients. The terrier barked and ran across the whole yard, then back again. “He’s the best. He’s so nice! He gives me treats! He doesn’t hit me! He pets me instead!”

“I’m glad you’re happy,” she said in dog. “You deserve it.” She beckoned him with a crooked finger. “Now, real quick before he comes back. Do you see that lady over there in the other corner?”

Yes?”

Go and steal her pudding for me.”

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