It took eight interns to carry the creature to the operating room.
The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society Office shared a building with a large veterinary clinic a few streets north of a Ohio River which serviced most of the outlying areas on this side of Pittsburgh. Hundreds of square feet were dedicated to the care of farm animals and livestock, with an entire unit with specialized equipment for horses, which would prove more than a little ironic.
Charles watched thoughtfully as the clinic’s younger volunteers awkwardly held up the creature they had found. He stood in the door to the lobby, his his white coat melding into the bleached walls. There was a gurney shoved up against one wall, a soft pallet with wheels and little else. They had brought it up for Charles’ charge, but he hadn’t accounted for its size; a canine gurney could never hold a creature of such...strange proportions.
Charles watched even as he thought. This was going to be a difficult situation, no matter how he cut it. Police involvement would only make it harder, and after the incident on the way here, Charles wasn’t entirely sure the gang who’d started all of this could be disregarded either. He decided though, to leave that set of problems for the future. Right now he was needed in the present.
The interns stared at whatever part of the unconscious creature they had been tasked to carry. One or two looked curious, a few looked shocked and the remainder looked a little sick. Charles couldn’t be surprised at that; after having had a closer look at its injuries, he had felt distinctly queasy himself.
He shadowed the strange huddle as they passed the rear of the front desk and shuffled quietly into the back rooms where the cages began. The entire rear room was lined grey partitioning walls fronted by steel gates. Every cage was floored with polished concrete, holding a food and water bowl and soft padded bed. They were the best cages money could buy.
And they were very much occupied.
There was silence for a time. The long ward, filled with upwards of a hundred dogs, cats, and other animals was silent but for the heavy sounds of breathing and the muttering of the interns. Charles took one look at the intent eyes of an Alsatian in the cage nearest him, the way it was crouched low, ears up, muzzle pointing unerringly at the pathetic child-sized bundle that hung so-far unmoving between the wall of human bodies. Charles turned to the vet behind him and quietly opened her medical kit.
She frowned at the older man rooting through her equipment, “Allison, what do you think you are-“
The silence shattered.
The Alsatian snapped, and in seconds every dog in the building roared in a flash of thunder. In the howling excitement, an intern let go of a limb in surprise. A golden eye opened, and took in a wall of barking madness, flashing teeth. The creature panicked.
It was violent, if short lived. The creature kicked out with its loose forelimb, untied by a well-meaning intern, and squirmed out of the grip of the rest of the people, and it fell to the floor with a thump. It let out a soft nicker.
The interns started yammering along with the animals, shouting at each other under the roaring and yapping of the dogs, the hisses of the cats. Charles grimaced as he pulled a syringe from the medical kit around the stunned vet’s shoulders and plunged it into the neck of the squirming creature on the floor. He kept the pressure on as he pressed on the plunger, keeping his arm and free hand pressing down on the slowly calming body, his eyes locking with the single orb tracking him. Even as the body beneath him came to complete calm, that eye never left him.
The dogs stopped. The interns stared at the haggard professor on the floor. Charles swallowed and handed the syringe back to the silent vet behind him. He whispered hoarsely, “…To the operating room, quickly please.”
It was a large room, a large flat table and various rolling trays layered with tools that looked more at home in a workshop than a medical centre. Charles immediately headed to a sink, shooting orders about as he washed his hands, “TJ, fetch some receiver bowls, and get the heavy-duty stitching kit from the equine ward.”
“Right away Doctor.”
“Jaime, make sure there’s a set of gloves for Tory when he gets here, I want that kid in here the minute he arrives.”
“On it Doc.”
“And Thomas, I need you to-“
Charles flinched at the gravelly voice echoing down the building. The dogs started barking again.
He sighed. These things never were as simple as he would hope. Pulling on the latex gloves in his kit, Charles turned and faced the double-door just as it was pushed open.
“Good morning, Officer Caraway.” Charles greeted coolly.
In the door stood a bear of a man. From his heavy boots to his dense beard, the scowl he wore as he smelled the heavy odour of disinfectant and the sharp look in his eyes as he found his quarry. “Allison.”
Charles failed to reply. In the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of movement. So did Officer Ned Caraway. The policeman smoothed his blue uniform over his girth, squeezed in as it was, and took a step nearer the creature wrapped in black under the nervous hands of the interns. Charles would have been amused to so the unbidden curiosity in the officer’s eyes, but his attention was elsewhere.
Jaime swallowed loudly, “Doc, it's w-waking up…”
“And what,” Caraway grunted, “Is it, Doctor, to have had you so wilfully use up your third strike?”
This was it, wasn’t it? The point where Charles gave up his little game, pointed out the possibly groundbreaking creature he had so far denied even himself. He could say any number of simple words, and the sheer excitement of it would blot out his transgression. In fact, if he played it, he could easily get out of his punishment entirely.
Instead; “Oh, nothing,” He cooed, “Just a beat-up Great Dane. Very messy, guts everywhere. Hence the bodybag, you see, holding in all those wriggly organs. Not fighting dogs, Danes.”
Just like that, he handed it all away. Why? Because Professor Charles Alison was that kind of man. It was how he’d gotten into his situation to begin with. A word and a whim for what he thought was right was barely a decision to him at all. And so he passed up his free ticket out of this big animal hospice, back to his real life in the academic circles of the world.
The imagery Charles had brought to Ned’s mind reflected off the Officer’s face in a tight-lipped, pin-eyed look over pale cheeks. He huffed as he pawed at the doorframe; “R-right. That’s strike three, Charles, and you damn-well knew it. You go anywhere but this building or your apartment, you’re in jail.”
Charles looked past the officer, entirely bored with the man, at the rapidly approaching intern in the dim light amongst the cages. He nodded brusquely then, leaning a hand on the black plastic. He felt the tremble beneath it. “I’m sure you’ll handle that then, Ned. Now if you don’t mind letting my intern in…?”
Charles didn’t even watch the man leave. Looking at the creature shaking before him, he decided staying in this one place wouldn’t be all that bad.
Meanwhile Tory stormed in. “Holy Jack, Doc!” He gushed as he found some gloves, “Did your truck get molotov’d?!”
They were carrying me again. the One in white coat, he left me with the Others, but now he’s back. He’s standing here, looking scared. Looking at me. I remember…I remember he left, and Others carried me. I don’t remember why or where, I fell asleep again. I barely woke up once in their arms, to a soft voice, softer than I thought they could speak;
“…I hope the dogs in here stay quiet…”
“Shut up TJ…”
Dogs? I’ve heard that before. I’ve heard the Tall Ones shouting at their Ones with the Teeth and the Claws when they forced us at each other’s throats. Or more, them at mine. Why would they be…
Hundreds of them, everywhere, barking, shouting, screaming at me! I needed to escape the thunder: Let me go! I can fly away-
Then He was there. All I felt was a prick and then his warm touch. All I saw were his sad eyes, and then darkness.
And He’s here now. Above me, whispering soft things into the room, though whether to me or to the shadowy Tall Ones hanging on his every word, I do not know. I like his voice. Its also soft, but it’s a voice you’d listen to, because he can afford to be quiet while knowing, the same way others are loud because they’re clueless. Like that big man who just left.
They’re pulling apart the Black thing I’m tied into. The younger Ones hold my hooves down gently, but I can’t move anyway; my legs won’t listen. My back hurts. Oh it hurts! He is there, pulling at something. I can’t see him, so I stare at the pretty One in front of me. She’s holding a small box and a light in her shaking hands. Her eyes are scared, but she stays firm. The light seems so much brighter than everything else, but it’s still dim. Why is everything getting dimmer?
I watch her face as it changes shape. It contorts from a mild discomfort to sheer disgust. Her mouth moves, and I hear her.
“Oh my god…”
A hoof-long piece of metal is dropped to the table. Its red and shiny, a scarlet sickle against the white sheet I’m laid on. Just then, I feel my wing again. I feel it in every way I wish I didn’t. All the younger Ones stare at the metal, at me, some pale, some looking angry, some sick. I hear Him behind me, soft but strong. I want to be that strong.
“You can leave, if you want to. This will not be happy.”
It won’t be? I don’t want to make you sad. I don’t want to make you angry. When your kind are angry, I get thrown to the dogs. Dogs I know, I KNOW you have. I can hear them. I can hear them breathing, lapping, barking, talking to each other. Asking each other what is happening. They can smell something, something they don’t like. I can too. I can taste it. Copper.
The Tall Ones leave. All of them save two. Him, and the younger One, the One who first found me. He doesn’t seem angry either, even though I hit him with apple cores. He, also, just looks sad. His hands. I can feel them through the Black thing around me, probing at my body, feeling the way the rope has bitten through into my skin. I used cry about that. I used to cry about my wings being ruined, about my eye. I can’t cry now. I can’t feel.
My wing. I know it’s free from what had hurt it. It felt bruised. Now it feels…wet. My side feels wet. My vision gets darker.
Their hands move faster, their voices raised, in anger or fear I can’t tell, it’s all jumbled. I don’t feel scared anymore. He’s here, he knows what to do. Maybe I can just sleep again. I feel so sleepy. I feel them scrabbling at me, shouting at each other, panicky as they untie me from my trap. The young One carelessly unties my hooves. Hah! Now I could kick you, right in the belly, and you’d…never…never…
The Black is gone.
They took it off. They took it off, and I can feel the air on my coat, the softest breath from their bodies in feathers I forgot I had. Feathers. I have those! I used to be so proud of my feathers, long and sleek as an albatross, strong like those of a hawk! How the wind used to tickle and tease at them, daring me to go further, faster, higher, the mere touch of the breeze enough to make life brighter. I remember now, the rush of being aloft, of being alive. This poorest substitute is but a taste of that which I used to revel in, but a taste of Flying. Just a sip of Freedom.
I don’t notice it, or hear their violent cursing as I do, but I stretch my one wing skywards, move it back and forth, feeling the AIR. It feels wonderful. And so there, amid the tools and the white sheets against my cheek and the blood seeping from my body, I smile. I smile and I close my eye with one wing aloft, but I don’t feel sleepy.
I feel alive.