Bitter Cold

A fifteen-year-old Lash looked out of the tiny window of the Maxville Zoo's veterinary treatment ward. Snow was falling in a slow and constant pace. The sound of the snow was nearly drowned out by the dismal howling of sick animals, which were being treated in the ward.

'It'll Christmas Eve tonight,' thought Lash bitterly, still looking at the falling snow.

Hearing a soft whine, Lash averted his gaze to a large figure that was lying on the ward bed. His large boxer dog, Slinky (Toy Story had been his favorite cartoon), was lying there, hooked up to all kinds of tubes and monitors. Slinky looked at him mournfully, weakly lifting a paw. The paw fell, and Lash knelt down next to the low bed.

"You all right, Slinky ol'friend?" he asked, reaching out to scratch behind Slinky's ears. Slinky's tail shook slightly, as he tried to wag it for his master. Lash sighed, using a tissue to dab at the small trickle of drool coming out of Slinky's mouth.

The vet's had said that Slinky would die within two weeks of the initial diagnosis. Just before the Christmas. Thus far, Slinky had defied their predictions, but his health was slowly, and steadily, worsening.

Lash stroked Slinky, remembering how he had met him.

Flashback

A seven-year-old Lash was walking to the park to play ball with Speed, who said he would stop there after he dropped off some groceries to Mrs. Elaine's house.

'Rotten luck,' thought Lash, as he turned a corner, 'Mrs. Elaine was the nastiest old lady God ever put on Earth!'

A figure suddenly jumped out of a dark alley ahead of him. The figure turned out to be a man, with a rusty knife in his left hand, which was wrapped in soiled, tattered-looking bandages. The unshaven, dirty man smiled, showing off several chipped teeth, brown with grime. The smell of a Dumpster hung about him, as he approached Lash.

He spoke up, "Ye best be handing over any of ye cash that ye might 'ave."

Lash shook his head, scared, "I don't have any money, mister."

The man grabbed Lash's neck, and squeezed, "Don't be lyin' to me, yer lil' shit! I'll be gutting ye like a fish if ye won't hand me no cash!"

Lash opened his mouth to scream, but the man pressed the knife to his neck, "Shuttin' up's something I'm gonna to hafta teach you, eh?"

Just as the man tightened his grip on Lash's throat, a ball of fur and fangs plowed into the man's right leg. It was a small, brown dog, with short fur. The puppy clamped down its fangs onto the man's ankle, causing him to drop the blade and loosen his hold on Lash's throat.

"Yer lil' bitch!" screamed the man, as he tried to kick the dog off with his other foot.

Lash screamed his seven-year-old lungs out, causing several people to come running. Later, after he had gone home, he had seen the dog that had saved him earlier rooting around in a dustbin. He walked over to it, and it looked at him, unafraid, a piece of leftover lasagna in its mouth.

"Thanks," he said, causing it to wag its tail and run up to him.

Slinky had bowled him over, and Lash had taken him home. His mom allowed him to keep the dog, since the dog had saved his life, after all. Slinky had proven himself to be a loyal dog, always vigilant and playful.

But not now.

Slinky started hacking and coughing. Lash jumped up, and yelled for a doctor. He saw a woman doctor approaching, seemingly in slow motion, from the other end of the ward. Turning back to face Slinky, he saw that the dog was having spasms, simultaneously hacking out blood and viscous fluid. The fluids flew out of Slinky's mouth in wet, slimy ropes, hitting and sticking to the wall. He tried to restrain Slinky, but the dog abruptly snapped at him.

The doctor finally arrived. She whipped out a syringe and tried to hold down Slinky with her other hand. But he was trashing around like a fish out of water now, and she called for an orderly, while pulling out the leather restraint straps from under the bed. Lash tried to hold Slinky and calm him, but received a snap instead. Slinky's eyes were bloodshot, and he was foaming at the mouth, the foam turned pinkish with blood.

As Lash watched the orderly (who had just arrived) grab Slinky, he felt a lump rise in his throat. Was this still Slinky? The dog that had saved him eight years ago from that robber? Tears filled his eyes as he saw Slinky trying to bite the doctor and the orderly, strangled growls emanating from his tortured throat.

The doctor turned to Lash, "Hey, you! Your dog's beyond saving."

Lash felt his stomach knot itself, "You…. You…. You mean you'll have to put him down?"

The doctor nodded slightly, feeling some pity for the teenager-looking as if he was about to start crying- standing in front of her. She had lost one of her dogs to the Parvo virus before, and it seemed that this guy's dog was headed the same way.

"I can't do it without your consent," she said softly, as her orderly finally managed to strap the sick dog to the bed.

"How…. How could I allow my best friend to be killed?" asked Lash, as tears started rolling down his cheeks, "How????"

"It'll be the most you can do for him," said the orderly, looking at Slinky, "The Parvo virus has ravaged your dog too badly. It's shocking that he has survived till now…"

"Just call me when you've made your decision," said the doctor, beckoning to the orderly.

Lash looked at Slinky, his vision blurred by tears. How could he give the doctor the green light to kill Slinky? Slinky was his best friend, even more important than his girlfriend or Speed… But as he looked at Slinky, trashing against the restraining straps, he understood that to let Slinky live was to prolong his torment.

He decided. Turning to the doctor, who was walking away, he called out in a choked voice, "Please put him down."

The doctor walked back to Slinky's bed, "You have some time while I get the medicine ready." She walked away, to the medicine vault across the ward.

Lash looked at Slinky, who had finally stopped trashing and who was now breathing raggedly. Their eyes met, and he saw an emptiness there… Slinky's eyes seemed to be devoid of life, devoid of recognization towards Lash. For a moment, Slinky's eyes displayed a flicker of life, turning for a few seconds into the eyes of the dog that had been Lash's companion all these years. A whine escaped Slinky's throat as Lash awkwardly hugged his restrained form. The doctor returned, syringe in hand.

"Ready?" she asked, feeling sad that she had to be the one to do this. Over all her years as a vet, she had never overcome her qualms about putting animals to sleep. She found the heartbroken faces of their owners, and the sorrowful faces of some of the animals were too guilt-inducing.

Lash nodded, and she acted accordingly. Inserting the needle into a vein on Slinky's hind leg, she pumped the damned poison into Slinky. She pulled the needle out, as Slinky started to gasp for air.

"It works faster on victims of this," she said, pointing at Slinky's health chart, where the words 'PARVO VIRUS' were printed in bold, black letters, "I'll leave you alone now. If you want him to be cremated and buried here just tick the relevant boxes on his chart."

As she walked away, Lash looked at Slinky. His oldest friend was now still, looking every bit as scruffy as he had been when he had attacked the robber all those years ago. Lash brought a hand down to ruffle the fur on Slinky's head. Using his shirt sleeve, he wiped his face.

Before he left, he made sure that he ticked the boxes on Slinky's chart labeled as, 'CREMATE' and 'BURY'.

xxx

As he walked home, in the cold nighttime air, he heard the church bells ring. It was midnight, and cheerful voices could be heard singing carols. Lash stopped looking at the deserted, snow-covered park, where he and Slinky had shared so many happy moments.

"Wouldn't Christmas be nice again?" he wondered aloud, into the howling wind. The snow, which had been falling slowly earlier, was now starting to pick up, resembling a minor storm.

Amidst the happy songs and wishes, Lash walked home, alone, silent tears of sadness coming from his eyes.

END