Dog Gone Days
By Gabriela Lee
Nobody wants to be the kind of girl who sat on the steps outside a convenience store in the middle of the night, but this was exactly where Kate was: ass on concrete, bag tucked in the hollow between her stomach and her legs, her grip on her cellphone somewhere between nervous and paranoid. Despite the possibility of theft, staring at her screen was better than staring at nothing – or worse, at everything. The man pushing his wooden cart across the street, his hair lank and greasy. The little girl in a hand-me-down school uniform, barefoot, carrying strings of sampaguitas. The old woman whose back was bent in the shape of mountains, her hand perpetually upturned as she asks for alms. Another stray dog, fur matted and flea-ridden.
Kate wondered where Anton was: he said he was going to meet her at the Mini Stop nearest his house at 10p.m., and it was already pushing five minutes past 11p.m. She didn’t want to go inside the brightly lit store behind her—she barely had enough money to catch the three jeepneys needed to get to her aunt’s house in Fairview. Though her stomach grumbled at the thought of a kariman or fried chicken with rice (and that gravy!), she stayed on her perch. She had a couple of menthol candies left, somewhere in the bottom of her bag. Those would be enough until she got back to her aunt’s.
Fuck Anton, she thought miserably. But her heart wasn’t in it—her crush on him had been nursed in her Landscape Architecture classes, and a sudden realization that he was also her classmate in NSTP. The current semester was already miserable, and being in the friend zone didn’t help her either. She scrolled through his Instagram feed, double-tapping a couple of pictures. His last post was six hours ago—sunset across a horizon of trees. She wondered where he was when he took the photo, and why he wanted to meet her tonight. Alone. It was important, he said, and of course, her stupid heart didn’t let her say no. (She had a long test in Bio tomorrow, and a reaction paper for Comm class that had barely progressed past the first paragraph.) Sometimes, she wanted to smack herself on the forehead for being so dumb.
Kate checked her messages again. His last text was an hour ago, and she didn’t want to bother him. (His text read: Just need to wrap up a few things. Wait for me.) But it was already late, and the concrete was hard and unforgiving. She stood up to stretch, just as a pack of young boys rushed past her, thundering their way towards the entrance of the convenience store. They were all wearing what looked like stained hand-me-downs, the rubber of their slippers worn to paper-thin shreds. Salivating and frothing at the mouth, they looked like they were ready for a fight.
The security guard at the entrance tried to stop them, but the group seemed to morph and expand, all brown limbs and bad haircuts and teeth. Kate turned around just in time to see one of the boys leap up and snap at the security guard’s throat like a rabid dog. His jaws stretched and unhinged, canines sharp and sinking into the pale flesh of the guard. An arc of blood flew from the wound, a rainbow with a single hue.
The others jumped at the customers and staff of the convenience store with the frenzy of the hungry and desperate. Kate was frozen in place, watching the carnage in front of her. She remembered a trip to a meat factory when she was in grade school, which was meant to make the students think about where their food came from. She remembered the dull monotony of repeated butchery, where limbs and flesh lined one wall of a room, no longer recognizable as a once-living thing. Separated from its parts, animals lose their shape, their form. Kate used to wonder if she would disappear if someone removed her heart from her chest. (Now she knew.)
She scrolled through Anton’s Instagram feed, double-tapping a couple of pictures. His last post was six hours ago—sunset across a horizon of trees. She wondered where he was when he took the photo, and why he wanted to meet her tonight. Alone.
She could hear the sirens in the distance. Around her, neighborhood lights started flickering on. Curious residents gathered at the gates of their homes, separated from the madness by an increasingly fragile pane of glass. A body thumped against the windowpane, sliding down in a mess of flesh and fluids. Her phone began ringing; her aunt was looking for her. But she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the window, couldn’t move from her spot. Because there, at the farthest corner of the store, his body being chewed on by several of the dog-boys, was Anton. His body was slack, one of his eyes already torn from his face. The other eye was bruised, closed.
Kate turned away, began moving, her feet carrying her across the street and towards the well-trodden path to the nearest tricycle stop. She didn’t see Anton open his eye, snap his spine back into place, see the spark of recognition in his gaze. She never noticed him. She never knew that he was behind her, all along