by G.W. Thomas
Bounder sniffed the strange track. Digger had trained him in the art of tracking until he knew every spore-type in the City. The long prints crossed the rain-drippy street then went back into the building from which they came. Like a bird, there were only two at a time, not at all like a dog's. Bounder growled deep within himself.
The wet semi-circle of a trail led the shaggy-coated animal -- a crossbreed of a dozen other cross-bred ancestors -- into the interior of the deserted shop-front. Bounder's nose spoke of what his poor eyes could not see. A cat was hiding somewhere in the gutterway, but Bounder had better things to do than scrap with some rat-chewer. His keen sense of smell also told of a new odor, an unexplainably bad essence which wafted from the blackness ahead. Must be the strange-bird-walk-thing.
A board fell through the doorway. Bounder leapt back on powerful legs, the very reason for his name. An open, barking snarl met the new disturbance, as more wood and dust and refuse exploded from the crumbling doorway. Bounder's voice was sharp and high-pitched, not the loud booming of Yeller, his older brother. Still, the barking would carry, a block or two, to any other dogs in the street.
At the sound of the dog's call, a form appeared in the doorway. Tall, ever-so tall, white, and two-legged. It moved with uncertainty, stumbling, knocking over boards and dusty boxes. Two round eyes centered on the dog for a moment, then its mouth curled open.
"Hello, boy," the creature said.
Bounder stopped stock-still. What he saw could not be. But there it was, no bird thing, but the creature from the Holy Book, the one the Elders sang about at High Season.
"C'mon here, boy. I won't hurt you."
The thing moved closer, reaching out an odd-looking paw. Bounder snapped at the appendage, leapt back before he could think. Oh, what had he done! The Holy One! And he had not followed the ritual! The dog let another sharp bark carry out over the empty street. Where were the others? Why didn't they answer his call?
"OK, boy. I'm not going to touch --" The creature didn't finish its weird, non-barking bark. Instead, it fell to the dirty ground, moaning and touching its head. Now that it was at ground-level, Bounder could see that it wasn't much bigger than he was. For a moment he wondered if this was really The Holy One.
Behind the fallen creature, the dog could see new things, though his canine sight was not well-designed for the darkness of the old building. A large glass box, with an open door and a bad-smelling mist floating up to the ceiling, mingling with the dust. A chill emanated from the box, like frost in winter. A few snaky hoses hung out of the squat container, leaking odious fluid onto the cement. The strange old writing on the side read CRYO-6, though Bounder did not know this. What a place!
A host of yipping and barking drew Bounder from further examination of the shadows. Behind him, next to the pee-pole, were Snapper and six others from the North End. The two dogs sniffed each others' noses, drew alongside, and sniffed rears. Snapper bowed to Bounder's right of territory, and no dueling was necessary.
Bounder showed them the Holy One.
The creature was back on its two legs, though no more stable than before. One of its strange front paws reached out to steady itself. The clear eyes looked down and saw the pack. Fear crossed its eyes.
"Dogs. At least there are still dogs," it said to itself. The sound of its bark immediately sent the six newcomers howling with astonishment. Bounder had been right! Snapper and the North Enders recognized Him too! It was the Goddog.
Bounder led the chorus now, singing the Litany of the Holy One. All of the others followed, knowing the ancient song from puppyhood. Here is the Holy One, the Creator. Here is the Holy One, the Destroyer.
The animals moved closer, enveloping the legs of the Goddog. Being weak, it could not push them back. It tried with its strange paws, but as soon as one dog was pushed away, another took its place. The Holy One cried out in his undecipherable bark. The litany rose even higher until the moment -- the moment all dogs dreamt of -- the moment of the Slaying.
The Creator fell with the first bite, Bounder's. Soon all the dogs were snapping and tearing at the fur-less one. Blood covered their muzzles, their dirty chests. And the song continued, the song from puppyhood, that told how Dogkind would slay the Goddog, the Master and Destroyer of the Earth, who had left it to the dogs. The Holy One, Man.
Author's Note: This story came about in this way: My brother, Tim, read Clifford Simak's "City" while in high school. He tried to describe it to me. Two decades later, I read it myself. What I had imagined was very different. What I had imagined was "Goddog". This story is dedicated to Tim Thomas and Clifford D. Simak.
Story copyright © 1998-99 by G.W. Thomas <http://www.pgweb.com/chucks>
Artwork "Dogs" copyright © 1997-99 by Eric Seaholm <email@example.com> and Kyle Anderson <firstname.lastname@example.org>