Bob goes to a pet shop to buy a puppy and meets someone - Quill Award 2018 best fantasy.
|Bob examined the puppies cowering on the sawdust in one corner of their cramped cage and rubbed his stubbly chin. They must feel terrified, torn away from their mom to be sold in this shop. His chest tightened. He wished he could do something to make it easier on the poor critters. At least if he bought one, he could give it a decent home. Samantha had hinted she wanted a puppy for her twenty-fifth birthday. More specifically, she placed magazines around their apartment open to articles about Great Danes, and when he checked his emails, the Wikipedia page about that breed filled his laptop's screen. Pet Paradise was the cheapest pet store in Manhattan, but the price ticket caused him to pause. Did she realize they cost a thousand bucks each?
He scratched his bald patch. Another problem was that though the gray puppies looked as cute as buttons, they'd soon grow into giants that required walking twice a day. He couldn't imagine his girlfriend tottering on her heels through Central Park, carrying a poop scoop for the scat. When the Dogs Trust invented the slogan "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas", they had Samantha in mind. She'd become obsessed with the idea of owning a dog the size of a small horse but wouldn't be interested in the practical aspects of house training. Much like cooking meals and taking out the trash, those duties would land firmly on his shoulders. She didn't need a dog; she had Bob to roll over and fetch.
"Pets are a great responsibility," said a husky, female voice.
Bob turned. "Excuse—" He froze. He'd thought a sales assistant had addressed him, but he doubted Pet Paradise employed supermodels in designer clothes and expensive jewelry. Suddenly, he wished he'd worn something smarter than his old Yankees sweatshirt. Black hair cascaded over her shoulders, and her pale cheeks dimpled around a smile. If Wednesday Addams let her hair down and grew up to become Miss America, this was what she'd look like. The only discordant note to her near-perfect ensemble was the bulky backpack strapped over her Armani jacket. An intoxicating scent of honey and chocolate urged him closer. What brand of perfume was that?
She closed his jaw with one finger. "You like dogs?"
"N-no. Er… I mean yes." He laid his cards on the table. "I'm here to buy my girlfriend a gift."
She pouted. "The cute guys are always taken."
He blinked. With his love of candy and disdain for exercise, cute wasn't an adjective many girls chose.
She lifted a Pet Paradise bag. "I'm buying food for my pets."
He pointed to her backpack. "I thought maybe you were traveling somewhere."
"No. My rucksack holds something I'm attached to."
"I see." What could be so important she'd take it everywhere? "You own several pets?"
"Quite the menagerie."
"Not just dogs?"
"My tastes are eclectic, from hamsters and gerbils to my unicorn."
Smiling at her unicorn joke, he offered his hand. "I'm Bob."
As they shook hands, hers felt strangely cold. Perhaps it was a side-effect of how nervous she made him feel.
She gestured to the puppies. "I noticed you're admiring the Great Danes."
"You like this breed?"
"I own a pedigree bitch. Two years ago, Eve won her class at the World Dog Show."
"You must be an enthusiast."
"I love Great Danes. In fact, I'm rather obsessed with all my pets." She placed a finger on her lips. "I wonder…"
"Your girlfriend, is she a good person?"
"Er… she's all right."
Lilith put her hands on her hips. "You're giving her a puppy. I hope she's better than all right. As I said, pets are a huge responsibility."
"Don't worry. It'll likely be me who takes care of the puppy."
"That's good." She placed a hand on his chest. "I'm sure any puppy would be thrilled to go home with you."
Bob's heart skipped a beat. "Um… thanks."
She cocked her head. "In fact…"
"Eve recently gave birth to a fine litter. Would you like one?"
Was she a dog breeder with an elaborate sales pitch? At a thousand dollars a pup, no wonder she could afford designer clothes. "If your dog is a champion, I doubt I could afford your price."
"I don't want money. Just good homes for Eve's puppies."
Oh! "That's awfully nice of you, but I couldn't accept such a generous gift from somebody I hardly know."
She squeezed his arm and flashed her dimples. "Please. It would mean so much for me to place a puppy in a good home."
Bob felt torn. On one hand, he could save a thousand dollars. On the other, he would be taking advantage of this girl. He tried not to factor in the knowledge that accepting her offer would mean he'd get to see her again. He wasn't about to cheat on Samantha.
"Your pup is probably worth more than the thousand dollars they ask here. Won't you at least accept that much from me?"
Lilith shook her head. "Money means nothing to me. I only want the pups to enjoy a high quality of life."
Bob couldn't argue with that. This was a win-win situation. "I'll give you my number so you can text me to make arrangements."
"Why wait? I can drive you to my place now and you can take your pick of the litter."
She led him out the store and into the bright summer sunshine. When she opened the passenger door of her red coupe and gestured for him to climb in, his eyes widened.
"You drive an Aston Martin Vanquish?" She must be rich.
He sank into the hand-stitched leather seat and inhaled that new car smell. James Bond drove one of these beauties, and Bob had never dreamed a gorgeous woman might one day drive him home in one.
Lilith climbed into the driver's seat. Strangely, she didn't remove her backpack but instead leaned back on it as if it were a backrest. It looked uncomfortable, but she must have her reasons. She pulled out into the chaotic traffic, and they headed north. Soon, the buildings grew smaller, and it became clear they were headed out of town.
"You don't live in the city?" he asked.
"Not far out. Near Poughkeepsie. Hyde Park."
"Near the Vanderbilt Mansion?"
"You know it? We're neighbors."
"That's a two-hour drive!"
She placed her hand on his thigh. "Don't worry. I'll have you back before bedtime…if that's what you want."
He hesitated. He told Samantha he'd only be gone a couple hours, but she'd be delighted when he came back with a puppy. Besides, Lilith's hand felt nice there. "Th-that's good."
As the gray city buildings segued into green fields and trees, Lilith turned to Bob with a predatory grin. "It's confession time. I didn't just whisk you away to show you my puppies. I also kinda like you."
He swallowed. "You do?"
She reached over and patted his cheek. "There's something lovable about your chubby cheeks. You need someone to take care of you."
"Yes. Someone to feed you, ensure you get enough exercise, and punish you when you've been a naughty Bob."
His pulse raced. No girl had ever been so forward with him, never mind one who was hot and loaded. But he wasn't a cheater.
"Sorry, Lilith. You're really nice and all, but I could never do anything to hurt Samantha."
She grinned. "You're adorable!"
Sooner than he'd expected, she eased off the gas and pulled onto a side road. A few minutes later, she drove through a huge set of gates. To one side stood a surprisingly mundane mailbox labeled "Addams". He couldn't suppress his giggle.
"You are one of the Addams family."
She frowned. "My ex-husband's name. Never bothered to change it after our divorce."
"Husband? You look too young to have been through marriage and divorce."
"It only lasted a few miserable weeks. I walked out because of his unreasonable behavior. He was a Neanderthal. Literally!"
"Sorry to hear that."
"Worst thing is, only a month afterward he married another girl—some airhead called Eve."
"Eve like your dog."
Lilith chuckled. "Childish, I know, but I got a kick out of naming my bitch after her. Anyway, I don't need him anymore. I have my pets to keep me company."
Ahead, a palatial mansion dominated his vision—three stories high with a neoclassical facade. Forget rich; Lilith was obviously a billionaire.
She shrugged. "It's not as pretty as my French chateaux, but it's okay."
Passing this grand structure, the driveway wound around the back and led to a series of outbuildings that appeared to be stables, a coach house, and barn. She parked outside the barn.
"Oh, I just realized," she said. "You'll need my number in case you have any problems."
"Right." He pulled out his phone.
"Let me." She snatched it from his hand and typed quicker than he could see. Then she leaned close, slipped the phone into his pocket, and whispered in his ear, "Call me anytime."
His cheeks blazing, he exited the car and followed her to a side door. Two cameras covered this entrance, an alarm box flashed overhead, the door was fashioned from steel, and the barn's high windows were boarded over.
He whistled. "You take security seriously."
She draped her arm casually over his shoulder. "This is where I keep my menagerie. Some of the animals are rare, and thieves lurk everywhere." She punched a keypad. The lock clicked, and she gestured for him to enter. "The light switch is to your right."
Bob stepped into the dark. He had trouble finding the switch and noticed odd growling sounds from somewhere nearby. An unpleasant stench like wet dog fur caused him to wrinkle his nose. The door slammed shut behind him.
She didn't reply.
He couldn't see a thing. Neither could he find a light switch or a door handle. He was trapped. This was freaky. He pulled out his phone to call the police, but it wouldn't power up. In confusion, he opened the back by touch to maybe clean the battery connections. The battery had gone. How did Lilith manage that? He slumped to the floor and leaned back against the wall. What did she want with him?
Lights flickered into life and illuminated the barn's spacious interior. Bob stood and looked around. He was inside a compact cage, and a dozen similar steel enclosures occupied the remaining space. This was the only one with an outside exit. The others opened into a central corridor. Inside one cage, a jaguar snarled, and a chimpanzee jumped up and down in another. He squinted at the strange horse in a corner cage. Wait! Was that a…unicorn?
Something shifted in the cage next to his. He turned to see what looked like a crocodile with long legs and wings. The creature sneezed, and flames scorched the concrete floor. Bob edged away.
Lilith entered the barn and skipped along the corridor. She paused outside his cage. "Hope you like your kennel."
He gripped the bars. "Kennel?"
"Yes. This is your new home."
"Are you crazy?"
"Maybe a little." She shrugged off her jacket. The backpack came off with it. As they hit the floor, huge black wings unfurled from her back. They must be what she'd kept hidden in her pack. She stretched and flapped her wings.
"Y-you're an angel?"
"No. My soul is as dark as my wings."
"Then you're a…demon?"
"Who's a clever boy?" she crooned.
"Why did you bring me here?"
"The previous human in my menagerie died."
"But why me?"
"Ah, Bob. Don't you realize what a rare creature you are?"
"I'm just a man."
"You're a loyal and genuinely good man. Now that is rare." She smirked. "I'm going to have so much fun training you to sit, roll over, and beg."
WORD COUNT: 2000
"Comedy Newsletter (July 11, 2018)" "Comedy Newsletter (September 5, 2018)"
QUILLS 2018 Honorable Mention Comedy Category and winner of the Fantasy Category.