Echo was sitting in her studio apartment, polishing her brand new red Doc Martens in preparation for a night out with her friends, when she saw a dark shadowy form of an animal crossing the room on the other side of her coffee table. It looked like a black dog, except that it lacked detail and definition. If her hair weren’t already glued into a Mohawk with half a can of super-hold hair spray, it would have been standing on end from the tingling sensation she felt working its way up her neck.
The shadowy form stopped and seemed to turn and stare at her, then shake its head like dogs do. Echo could actually see the moving shadow of dog ears flapping about the side of its head, but it was all done silently. Was it a ghost? She thought ghosts were supposed to be white puffs of smoke, and she’d heard of shadow people on late-night paranormal radio, but not shadow dogs. On the same show she’d heard about the multiverse theory of the universe. which is that of a bubble bath where each bubble is a universe and there are an uncountable number of universes, some so different from our own that they might have their own laws of physics, others so similar that all the planets might be identical and the sole difference is an alternate history on the third planet from our sun. Sometimes bubbles overlap and air and soap pass from one bubble to the next, and so it is with the multiverse. Either way it was freaking her out staring at her like that, so she took the freshly polished boot in her hand and tossed it at it, hitting it square on. But instead of the boot passing through it, making it disappear like she thought it would, it caught the boot in its mouth, turned and skedaddled.
“Hey! I need that boot!” Echo shouted, glancing down at the boot’s mate on her foot. What good is one red boot, she thought and leaped over the coffee table after the other red boot, which was rapidly fading as it passed through the wall of the bubble into the next bubble over. The multiverse at work. With her apartment whirling and blurring around her, Echo tripped on the edge of the low table and hit the ground, sprawling across a bed of golden leaves smelling of fall. She winced with the impact, but when she opened her eyes she was no longer in her dingy studio apartment in the South End of Boston, but in a thickly wooded forest filled with the musk of a composting forest floor, and standing not far from her was a dog resembling a border collie with his black and white fur. He had a piercing gaze of one brown eye and one blue, and resting between his front paws was her red boot. Being single-minded, Echo ignored the bizarre change in her surroundings and made a grab for her boot, but the dog snatched it up and darted out of reach.
“Give me back my boot!” she shouted, exasperated, and rolled onto her back. It was then that the forest fully hit her. She stared at the canopy of branches swaying in the wind far above her and heard the rustle of their leaves as a steady hush. She wondered where her apartment had gone. Oh crap, she thought, where the guano was Boston? Had she already gone out on the town with her friends, drunk too much and blacked out only to find herself in these strange woods? She didn’t feel like she’d done that, though it might be something stupid she would do. In fact she felt really good. It was then that the dog laughed, laughed just like a person.
She sat up and glared at him. “Please give me back my boot.”
The dog laughed some more, but this time he dropped the boot near enough for her to make another grab at it, which she succeeded at. She put it on and laced it up, then stood up and brushed the leaves off the faded Levi cutoffs and torn fishnet stockings she wore over long john bottoms.
The dog looked at her with awe as he scampered backward and away from her, worried she would fall on him. “How do you do that?” he asked.
“Do what?” she said, then blinked hard and said to herself, “The dog can talk? Oh no, someone slipped something in my drink.”
“Probably deer pee,” the dog said. “They have no sense at all about where they pee. They’ll pee in the stream as they drink. Personally, I don’t mind it, but dog, do some complain about it.”
Echo stared at the dog, her mouth hanging open like a dumbfounded cartoon character in the Sunday comics.
“But how do you do that?” the dog persisted.
“Balance on two legs like that.”
“Practice.” She put her hands on her hips, then reached up and pinched her left boob. She wasn’t asleep and dreaming, though she didn’t understand why pinching oneself would determine that; she could just as easily pinch herself in a dream as she could if she were awake, but it’s what everyone did. In fact she was capable of doing more things in her dreams than she was when awake. She couldn’t fly when awake or make out with James Bond any old afternoon like she could in her dreams, so maybe this was a dream. “Guano!” she said and rubbed her face with her palms. “I’m fucking Alice and I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole.”
“Don’t know Alice,” was all the dog had to say.
“Where am I?”
“In the woods.”
“I can see that. How come you can talk? What kind of dog are you?”
He inched closer. “Pardon me, but what kind of dog are you? You don’t look like a dog but you speak like one and last I knew only dogs could speak. Are you some sort of hairless freak of nature? Maybe a fish or a reptile? And why do you cover yourself in rags?”
“Hey, don’t knock my clothes. I love my clothes. They’re much cooler than a mangy coat of fur.”
“No doubt. Let me see your tongue.”
“To see if you’re a reptile. Is it long and forked? My policy with reptiles is live and let live but best to avoid them.”
“I’m not a reptile.”
“Stick out your tongue,” the dog insisted.
Echo gave in and complied.
The dog leaned toward her to look closer. “Is that as far out as it will go?”
“Not much of a tongue. How do you drink with that?”
She pulled her tongue in. “I don’t drink with my tongue. I use a glass.”
“A glass, is that like a bowl? Not very practical. Do you carry this ‘glass’ with you wherever you go? Can I see it?”
“I don’t have a glass, I mean, not with me. They’re everywhere.”
“They are? I’ve never seen one. What do you do without it? Do you wither up and die of thirst?”
“Argh…. Then I get bottled water.”
“Bottled water? Why would anyone bottle water? What good does it do anyone inside of a bottle?” The dog pondered this for a moment.
Echo scrunched up her mouth and glared down at the dog. “Any more questions?”
“Well, since you asked. Why do you smell so funny? I’ve never smelled anything like you before and I’ve sniffed pretty much everything. Have you ever smelled something that stinks so bad that you have to step back and blow your nostrils clear of the scent, but then you’re drawn back to sniff it again because it smells so bad you just can’t help yourself?”
Echo said nothing, waiting for it.
“That’s what you smell like.”
“You’re a mean little mutt. If you don’t like my perfume, just say so. You don’t need to go off about how I stink.’
“It’s nothing personal.”
“What’s not personal about saying I stink? Little jerk.” The last part she mumbled to herself as she glanced up at the darkening sky. “So where is Boston from here? I need to get home. I’m meeting friends at the Rat.”
“Never heard of it.”
“Have you heard of Boston?”
“Of course I’ve heard of Boston. I’m not some line-bred yokel.” The dog cocked his head sideways at her. “I live in Boston. How come I’ve never smelled you before? Or even a trace of you? That scent is hard to miss. You must not scent mark much.”
“If you mean, do I go around peeing on fire hydrants and lamp posts or pretty much anything upright, then no, I don’t. I prefer to use the bathroom. It’s me who should’ve heard of you. The great talking dog, telling everyone how much they stink. You should be all over television.”
“Nothing unusual about a talking dog. It’s you who’s unusual, whatever it is you are.” The dog’s ears perked up at a distant sound Echo couldn’t hear. “We should go. It’ll be dark soon and the coyotes are rebelling.”
The dog took off at a fast walk, following by scent a hidden path under the fallen leaves. He normally would’ve traveled at a fast trot but doubted his companion would be able to keep up while walking on only two legs. Glancing at her over his shoulder, he asked, casual like, as if they were stuck waiting in line together, “Lived in Boston long?”
“All my life.”
“You must not get out much. What was that room you were in?”
“Where you stole my boot?”
“Where you threw it at me. Were you throwing it away because of its awful smell? Why put things that stink on your feet? Do you want people to avoid you? Maybe you’re anti-social. You certainly don’t get out much. Don’t you like your butt sniffed?”
“No, I don’t, and my boots are brand new. They can’t stink.” She threw up her hands. “Why am I arguing with a dog?”
“I’m not arguing. Arguing involves teeth and there’s no doubt I’d win an argument with you. How do you eat with those tiny nibblers of yours? They don’t look very functional. Are they just for show, like a cat puffing up its fur to look big? And we all know how much that helps the cat. Does someone have to tear your meat off the bone for you? Can you chew it once they do or are you still living off of regurgitation like a puppy? Dog, I’m so embarrassed for you.”
“For your information, I can chew just fine.” She glared at the dog’s little fluffy tail as he trotted in front of her. It was the most perfect tail she had ever seen and it struck her as a very smug tail, if a tail could be smug. “Isn’t there anything about me you like?”
The dog stopped and turned around. “Oh yes, there is. I really like your hair, what little there is of it. It’s like your hackles are up permanently. It makes you look even taller than you are, if that’s possible. What about me? I bet there’s a lot about me you like.” He wagged his tail high above his back and didn’t wait for an answer. “You wish you had a tail like mine, I know, I see it in your eyes when you look at it. Everyone does. I have the best tail in Boston. I’m always getting compliments on it. Grooming is the key. It’s important not to let the knots get started or else you have to chew out a whole section of fur, where if you’d gotten it early on when it was just a burr, a seed hitching a ride, your tail would’ve remained whole. I don’t see any burrs in your hair. Doesn’t look like any would even stick to your hair. I bet that’s nice. I hate burrs.”
Echo loved the perfectly round shape of her head and how cutting off all her hair except for the Mohawk accentuated its shape. She ran her fingertips along the sides of her Mohawk, front to back. “AquaNet. Need I say more?”
“AquaNet,” the dog repeated. “Stinky boots, bottled water. The more you say the more you need to explain.”
“Don’t tell me. You haven’t heard of it.”
“Strange name for a mate. So this AquaNet grooms you like that? Maybe he could do my tail. If you wouldn’t mind.”
Echo let it go. “Sure, I’ll call him.”
“Oh, is he around here?”
The dog started walking again. “But back to that room where I found you. What was it?”
“That was my apartment, where I live.”
“Then why do you say you live in Boston? You live in the woods, silly. Were you line bred? I hear many in the woods are.”
“I don’t live in the woods, and I don’t know what line bred is but I doubt it’s nice.”
“Put politely, it’s when your dame and sire are a little too closely related.”
“The way you keep bringing that up I’m beginning to think you have a big problem with it where you’re from.”
The dog quieted down for a bit and they meandered through the woods, the dry leaves crunching under their feet. An inshore breeze picked up, bringing in the ocean air. It smelled much saltier than Echo remembered Boston Harbor ever being. When they came to the edge of the forest, a tidal flat at low tide opened before them, and beyond that was a large hill that would’ve been an island if it weren’t for the narrow peninsula that formed a bridge to it.
The dog stopped and gazed across the mud. “There she is, the city on the hill, Boston. I never tire of the view from here, I call it the homecoming view.”
The hill was covered with thousands of warren holes and small thatched-roof mud huts, all interconnected with dirt trails, and going about their business on these trails were dogs of all shapes, sizes and colors. In spite of the bizarre sight in front of her, Echo’s stomach grumbled loudly as she looked across the mud and tidal ponds at the hill. She had skipped lunch and was starving. She had to get home, if only to eat. She knew she had cereal, and the milk was still good. She’d kill for a bowl of Fruit Loops. But she had no idea what was going on. There was the old fallback that this was all a dream and she’d wake up soon and be nice and cozy in her bed, but she knew she wasn’t dreaming. She’d pinched her boob. Her dreams had people in them, not thousands of dogs looking like ants on a distant hill. She dreamed of sex and booze and drama, lots of drama. And if she’d lost her marbles there’d still be people around; why invent a world of smelly dogs? Nope, she didn’t have a clue. Not one.
“Hungry, huh?” the dog said. “Me too. I know a place that serves a mad rabbit.”
She’d never had rabbit before and normally would like to keep it that way. It would be too much like eating Bugs Bunny and she really liked Bugs Bunny, but it was sinking in that she was going to have to adapt. “Is it cooked?”
“Cooked? Never heard of that. No, they’re mad because they’re not exactly happy about getting eaten.”
“Oh my God. They’re still alive?”
The dog cocked his head at her. “You are a strange one. What else would they be? We’re not carrion-eating coyotes. That’s disgusting. We eat our food fresh.”
Echo sat on a nearby log and buried her face in her palms. “Ugh, so you kill it. That’s disgusting. I suppose you eat it raw? No cooking,” she said through her hands.
“Cooking? What is this cooking you keep saying?”
“You know, roast the rabbit over an open flame?”
“Flame as in fire? Dog no.” He shook his head vigorously. “Why would anyone consider going anywhere near a fire, let alone close enough to put their food over it? At the first scent of smoke I’m out of there. That’s one of the reasons Boston is the oldest city of all the cities. The forest fires never cross the tidal flats and there’s nothing that’ll burn on the peninsula; we make sure of that.”
Echo’s stomach grumbled some more. “Would you mind killing my rabbit for me? I don’t think I could do that.”
“Your teeth not up to it, eh? It would be my pleasure, literally. That’s as fun as eating them. I’m very proficient at the neck snap.”
“Ugh.” Echo buried her face in her hands again.
In the distance, the coyotes could be heard beginning their nightly howls of protest before they went on their raids. The fur along the dog’s spine went up.
“We’d better get going,” he said and trotted toward the peninsula.
Echo got up from the log and followed. “So tell me about this coyote rebellion.”
“Oh that,” the dog said, exasperated at the topic. “It’s what everyone is talking about and what no one can agree on. Lots of arguments there. Lots of teeth.” He shook his head. “They want equal rights. Can you imagine that? Coyotes crossing the peninsula and living in Boston? Just like dogs? Next they’ll be letting in the wolves. Just try having a wolf over for dinner.”
Echo had seen plenty of coyotes but had always mistaken them for stray or loose dogs out on a tear.
At the mainland side of the peninsula they were met by two very large mastiffs blocking their way. They looked at the dog, then at Echo trailing behind him, then back at the dog. “What’s this with you?” one of them asked, sniffing the air in her direction.
“Pew!” the other said and snorted his nostrils clear of scent. “Some sort of exotic critter for the feast?”
Echo threw her hands against her hips. “Hey! I’m right here, you know.”
The mastiffs looked at each other. “It can talk?” one asked.
“It can talk,” the other said.
“Of course I can talk.”
Both mastiffs sniffed the air in her direction again and wrinkled their noses with discomfort. “It stinks,” they both said.
“You don’t like my perfume either, huh? Well you stink much worse than me. You should invest in some body spray, and lots of it.”
One of the mastiffs moved in closer and poked her in the belly with his massive snout. “Hey, I just rolled in rotting fish,” he said indignantly. “I know I smell good.”
The other mastiff nodded his equally massive head. “Me too.”
The dog squeezed between them, apologizing for her. “You’ll have to excuse my friend. I found her lost in the woods and I’m afraid she might be a little line bred and deficient in her manners.”
“Line bred, huh?” the more belligerent one said sympathetically.
“Poor thing. Explains the stink. No one ever taught it what to roll in,” the other said and moved aside. “Let them by. I want to roll in that fish again.” He looked at Echo. “It’s right over there on the beach if you want to give it a go.”
* * *
That night Echo cooked her first rabbit over a small fire she’d started with her Zippo on the beach. The dog kept his distance from the fire but was drawn by the scent of the roasting meat. When it was done, she tore off a piece and offered it to him.
“Careful, it’s hot,” she said.
The dog sniffed it and gingerly took it in his front teeth, carried it a few feet away and dropped it on a rock. He sniffed it again, then took it in his mouth and chewed, taking his time as he savored the new flavors, then swallowed.
“That was delicious. Give me more.”
“Get me another rabbit.”
“I’ll get you two,” he said and began to run off, but stopped, the drool from his mouth glistening with anticipation in the firelight. “We should open a restaurant. We’ll make a killing.”
“Sure,” she said. “We’ll call it the Rabbit Hole.”