The prison had busted open more than one hundred years ago. Now vines crawled in through its windows and weaved between the bars of its small plastic cells. The cells for fish were long shattered, the glittering rainbow pebbles they had swam over were now spread across every aisle. The warden, the manager as the olds would have called her, was long gone. Her species and all its breeds were long gone.
The building was full of bad memories for most of the animals, at least the ones whose ancestors had been held there, in the gulag of the Pet me! Pet me! Pet store, but memories had no effect on the runty pug as it scurried through the colorful pebbles and kept its stubby snout glued to the floor. The dog ran into the darkness of the back, ducking under mops filled with cobwebs and mouse fur.
“Wait for me Tarzan!” Dejah called to the young pug. She was a bit bigger, as she was a French bulldog, but she was nearly thirteen now and couldn’t keep up with her new pup. She hesitated for a moment a the threshold. She remembered the stories of doors that would ring bells at the sight of you, open on their own, and hypnotize you into stepping inside with the scents of delicious treats. “It’s all gone,” she reminded herself. “Only their harmless words left.”
The words were where they had gotten everything. The olds had left behind a void, a space for new intelligence to grow, and their best friends had snapped it up. Their books were everywhere, the shed skins of their metabolizing civilization. The dogs figured those out first; they figured out storytelling, love, anger, war, fine cuisine, and anything else that made their tails wag. Every pup wanted to get their name from an adventure story. Tarzan, wherever he had come from, was no exception. Dejah was more of a John Carter fan.
“Can’t wait!” the tiny pug yelled back, bark-words slurred by his lolling tongue. “Family’s right through here! I told you!” He stopped anyway, running in circles until the bulldog caught up. She spotted an overturned booklet and examined it, even as Tarzan rolled around on top of it. Once he was out of the jumping phase his desire to actually read things would become insatiable. At least, that was how the bulldog pups were.
It was an instruction manual on how to properly care for a diabetic cat. Dejah grunted: basically the French bulldog equivalent of all sounds. The cats couldn’t be cared for. They resisted care. They turned their noses up at friendship. Now all the dogs had was each other, and they didn’t even have that all the time thanks to the olds.
There were some bad words in the books, some that were not so harmless. Bad words with bad meanings. While the dogs gobbled them up they paid no attention to the tasteless poisonous ones. There were books about dogs, all the different breeds, and there was writing between the lines that only some of them saw.
“Don’t read now!” Tarzan whined. “My family’s just through here. The other side. It’s very green there! I feel like the real Tarzan when I jump on the logs!”
“Alright, alright,” Dejah said, tearing her eyes away. “I suppose we should hurry before…”
“Before what? Before your reputation is ruined?” a third voice asked from under the darkness of a table. Another bulldog emerged, kicking aside sawdust, his angered breaths throwing it into the air. Dejah’s head was mostly white, but this new dog had a brown patch like a hawk’s talon’s gripping his brows and the skin just above his protruding teeth. Tarzan was curious about the new friend, puppies only saw friends, but Dejah put her paw in his way and held the rascal back. The golden pug looked at her curiously.
“This isn’t a matter of reputation Cratchit,” she spat. “He’s separated from his parents. I’m just taking him back.” The golden pug nodded, unaware of the conflict. Bob Cratchit stepped out into the light.
“It is, and it is also of war,” the seven-year old dog argued. “We are of the final breed, our descendants will always be us, as long as we keep clean and to ourselves. That thing is not ourselves.” Cratchit had drunk deep of the olds’ poisons, seeing walls between the breeds that needed to be maintained. He was also third in command of their pack, and liked to police the women that wouldn’t lie with him.
“You’re too young to understand how foolish it all is,” Dejah said. “Besides, I’m not nursing him. I’m just escorting him home.”
“These pugs are like insects,” Cratchit went on, circling around the pup. Dejah stayed on her guard. “Look at those bulging eyes. I hear they pop out of their heads when they’re a few years old and turn them into crippled beggars.”
“Which book did you read that in?” she asked.
“It would help you to read some of our ones,” Cratchit suggested. “Move aside. I will rip this thing apart and then it will not need an escort.” Dejah had heard enough from the insolent, if stronger, dog. She brought her teeth out from her jowls and jumped on the back of his neck, ordering Tarzan to run through her mouthful of furry nape. He obeyed. Even with Dejah attached, Cratchit ran after the pup. He slid into a wall of carriers and sent them toppling.
“We are the final breed,” he wheezed. “The shadows of these cages don’t scare me. Those others belong here, with the birds, the fish, and the rats. We will reopen it and re-close the doors. Come here you little…”
The pug hopped through a doggy door in the store’s loading bay. Cratchit knocked Dejah off when he pushed himself through, and she followed as quickly as she could. Her mind was filled with horrible images of Cratchit shaking poor Tarzan like a throw pillow. She followed his tail into the bushes, ready to bite again once she was clear of its leathery green leaves.
She broke through, mouth agape, and kept it that way. Cratchit cowered. His heavy chin was pressed against the grass. He had no choice but to submit, as the happy Tarzan, tongue lolling, was flanked by his family: a Saint Bernard, a German Shepherd, a Catahoula, and a gray Pomeranian with scars that would’ve looked more at home on any of the others.
“My family!” Tarzan yipped. The bigger dogs growled and flashed their teeth. Cratchit turned and ran, stocky body flopping over itself inefficiently. Dejah approached cautiously, but one lick from Tarzan made her a part of the pack. The olds’ poison was strong, but dogs were loving creatures at heart. As long as there was a breed walking the Earth, it was the final breed.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by hug_a_pug_123 during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!