Henry was a door-to-door salesman with a shock of bushy white hair. He’d grown up in the suburbs, knew suburbanites well and what they wanted. They’d embrace any device that made their lives easier so they could spend more time on the couch living their lives by remote. More and more of them lived by themselves. Chores no longer needed to be shared, they were automated, and what was left, like mowing the lawn, was hired out. With all this independence came loneliness, but like a blank spot in the garden was filled with a gnome, a void in a suburbanites life was filled with a dog, a little furry person to keep them company.
All that suburban automation wasn’t worth squat when their new puppy scratched at the door because he had to go wee-wee. That was where Henry came in. A militant canine rights advocate, Henry loved dogs, and he had the answer. All across America, suburb by suburb, he sold dog doors door-to-door, and not just any old dog door that the box stores sold, but the Freedom 500, the first dog door to operate on facial recognition. While not in use, and in keeping with the modern suburban house with its triple-glazed windows sealed so airtight a fart in the morning would linger until the guilty one got home after work to flick on the ventilation system, the Freedom 500 remained locked and sealed tight against the elements until it recognized the resident dog’s face, and then would open and quietly urge the dog inside with a recorded message from its owner.
Henry scored big time in the suburb of Indian Hills, Oklahoma, when he sold one to a widowed lady for her dachshund named Brat, short for Bratwurst. Her late husband, a local king of the grill, had named him, and Henry’s enthusiasm for his dog doors reminded her of a younger version of her late husband. After Henry installed her Freedom 500, she was so impressed with it that she invited him to one of her church socials to give a demonstration to her girlfriends. What a goldmine! He was booked solid with installs for weeks all over Indian Hills.
* * *
The Freedom 500 was whisper quiet, a quality the dogs appreciated more than the owners. It allowed them nighttime visits to the backyard where they could be themselves without interruption. No senseless demands like, “Come, sit, stay, who wants a cookie?”
During the cold months when their owners rarely used the backyard, the dogs could get up to anything they wanted, even digging, and any dog knows that the best place to dig is under the nearest fence so you can poop in the neighbor’s yard and keep your own clean.
Indian Hills Middle School was the focal point of the neighborhood during daylight hours. The kids were dropped off in the morning on their parents’ way to work, and after school there were baseball and soccer games, and Pop Warner football, depending on the season. But while the neighborhood slept, the playing field behind the school became the gathering place for Freedom 500 dogs with soft soil under the backyard fence. They’d gather there and play into the early hours of the morning, and then drift home in ones and twos, completely shagged out.
During one gathering, an unfamiliar dog showed up. He was arctic white and so large some took him for a wolf. The dogs were standoffish toward him, but he was calm in his greetings and not overly eager in his sniffing of faces and rears, and it wasn’t long before his play bows were reciprocated. He played well, never too rough, but one by one he nipped each dog just hard enough to break the skin. Some dogs felt it and yelped, others didn’t even notice, but play was play and accidents happened, so all was forgiven.
As the play reached its peak, a full moon revealed itself from behind the clouds, and the newcomer let out a long howl, sounding more wolf than dog. One by one, the others they joined in, and as a group they howled for several minutes. When they stopped, the newcomer left on his way.
The Freedom 500 gatherings continued unnoticed, but a month later when the full moon came out from behind a cloud and bathed the field with its light, the dogs stopped playing and whimpered in pain, and as if they were made of putty underneath their fur, they transformed from dogs into people proportionate to the size of dog they’d been, each with a very bushy head of fur.
They looked at one another, standing naked in the field, confused and silent, but eventually a man, who had been a Newfoundland so big he was a regular-size man, attempted a bark, but it came out sounding like what it was. A man trying to bark. So he tried something different.
In a slow, labored voice, he said, “Who … wants … a … cookie?” just like he’d heard it said countless times.
The small people around him cocked their heads and wagged their naked butts.
“I do,” said one.
“Me too,” said another.
“I want a lot of cookies.”
And the werepeople were born. During the month they gathered and played as dogs, but on the full moons they met in a nearby park, sat on the benches and held meetings about their future. They organized and formed committees that formed subcommittees that took a lot of votes, but all they could agree on was that they needed to form more subcommittees to study further the matter of their future.