Author : Phillip English

Dust swirls past a naked lightbulb and out amongst the wire-brush scrub. There is an old man, mid sixties, seated on the verandah. In his lap lies a twelve gauge shotgun; it is broken open, showing two empty barrels. A cache of shells nestles in the flannelette next to the gun, rolling back and forth with each deep breath he takes. The only sound is the continual plink of a moth impacting against the glass of the bulb.

A shuffling wakes the old man up, and he starts as he regains consciousness, spilling shells onto the hardwood slats. It’s the dog, a kelpie cross. It stands at the edge of where the greasy shine from the lightbulb fades into the night. Its back left leg is trembling and ticking. It stands there for a minute or so, and the old man stares at it. Eventually the dog lies down, sitting like a sphinx in the dirt and watching the old man bending down slowly to pick up the shotgun rounds.

There is silence once more; the moth has flown away to chase the spark of stars. The verandah’s joints creak as the man stands up. A puff of dirt floats in the now-still air between them as the dog springs to all fours. The man loads his gun and snaps back the barrel. The dog’s ears prick. He brings the rifle up to his shoulder and fires both barrels straight at the dog’s head. The dog is kicked back, and its body tumbles out into the darkness. The man swallows, licks his lips, and reloads.

He finishes tucking two more shells into their home just as the dog staggers back into th light again. Its lower jaw is stripped away, leaving a palate peppered with slivers of fang to pool bloody saliva onto the dirt. Added to this is a small string of silvery liquid, like mercury, dripping from the remains of its nose. It appears to be fighting against the flow of the blood; some of it succeeds in regaining its place within the confines of the dog’s skull.

The old man flips the barrels closed again and takes aim. The scratch of the gun against his stubble reminds him of the animals that he has destroyed. And not just animals. He fires once more, and the dog’s skull explodes in a silver streak, twisting the lightbulb’s feeble glow into a neon fuzz that settles slowly to the dirt.

He relaxes slightly, drops the gun from his shoulder, and stomps back to the seat on the verandah. There is time for sleep now; the flies will take until morning to discover the corpse and lay their eggs, before springing off in a perfectly controlled formation; a silver speck residing in each of their tiny brains, searching for its next, stronger host.

The 365 Tomorrows Free Podcast: Voices of Tomorrow
This is your future: Submit your stories to 365 Tomorrows