William had just turned 12 and was breaking in his new bike by parading it around town. Heads turned as he zoomed past, but instead of their awe, he felt their disgust. People didn’t like him, and he knew it. He sensed their stares as he went by; although their lips never formed the word, he felt it from their eyes.
William sped through town. He rode until the pavement disappeared and he was crunching over twigs, until the world sloped downward toward a lonely creek. He stopped short of the water. He was safe. The creek wound through three acres of private woodland, and William, friendless, planned to spend much of his summer in its isolation.
He staggered to a rotting old footbridge, took a knee, and peered underneath.
“Hey, Arnie! Hey boy!”
A small, dead beagle stared at him with a gelatinous eye. Its legs bent at impossible angles, scratches marred its face, and its coat squirmed with maggots. A leash dark with dry blood fastened its head in place.
William! I thought you forgot about me.
“Of course I didn’t forget you!”
William always wanted a dog. It had topped every birthday and Christmas list for the past five years, and it even snuck onto grocery lists and to-do lists and every note his parents left on the fridge.
Milk, eggs, bread.
William poked Arnie’s gooey eye. It reminded him of Jello with bits of pineapple in it.
“Wanna go for a walk?”
William picked up the leash he borrowed from his father’s shed. His father didn’t like him much either, but he was more polite about it. William remembered overhearing him in the kitchen one night, voice low and tinged with fear.
“I think there’s something wrong with him,” said his father. “Earlier today, I—”
But William couldn’t remember the rest. It was as if someone had taken a black marker to his memory.
William picked up the leash and led Arnie out of the woods.
So what were you up to today?
William told him about the bike, the looks, the hate. Freak.
Arnie was dead weight dragging across the ground, but to William, it felt like Arnie was trotting beside him. They walked until they got to town. William talked and ignored the stares and gaping mouths.
A pickup truck skidded to a halt in front of them, and his father huffed out of the driver’s seat.
“Oh God. Not again. Son, what is wrong with you?”
“Dad! I found this dog—”
“Will, he’s your dog! We gave him to you last year! Remember? He went missing? Just like Robbie, the one before that. And Kirby. Don’t you remember?”
William bent down and scratched behind the remains of Arnie’s ear.
“Can I keep him?”
Inspired by FFC52, Week Nineteen Prompt: A man’s dog (or pet of your choice) develops the uncanny ability to communicate telepathically with him.