Daria's Dog Days

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"I never liked zem to begin vith, but ven zey moved out of zese apahtments, ve could shtill hear zeir dead dog vining!

Is that damn dog digging up your garden and piddling your carpet…from the grave? Every dog has his day of the dead, tonight on Sick Sad World!"

Daria yawned and changed the channel. There was nothing good on that show anymore, she thought. Okay, so technically there had never been anything good. But it had been interesting, once.

She glanced around the unfamiliar bedroom with marked disinterest. Daria had never been excited about this vacation. But Aunt Rita was out of town and had invited them to use her new place, and it was in Boston where Daria would be attending college. Therefore her mother insisted.

The rain had not stopped since they arrived. It did nothing to lighten the atmosphere of this house, which they all agreed was too large, too empty and didn't have enough lights. And much to her mother's annoyance, there was almost no food in the kitchen.

Mom, Dad and Quinn had just left to buy groceries and any other necessities of life that might catch their eye. She opted to stay put as usual. It was a supremely boring and old-fashioned place, without Internet access to boot, but at least she brought some books along. She chose A Separate Peace, a book she should have gotten around to years ago. It was a letdown so far, certainly no match for A Catcher in the Rye or Heart of Darkness in its psychological impact. But she was grimly determined to finish in the slim hope that it would improve by the end.

More animal stories on TV chafed at her concentration. Something about a record number of strays being locked up and tortured to death by some freak. He was in prison now, they said.

"Maybe there he'll learn more empathy for bitches." Daria said to herself. She grabbed the remote and switched it off.

The Morgendorffers never owned a dog. The subject had come up many times and it was always the same. Jake wanted a big one with a high drool quotient that would play fetch and give him a mild concussion every time he came home from work. Quinn wanted a little one that would jump into her lap and yap at poor clothing selections. Helen wanted no dog, because they weren't sanitary and no one in the family had time to take care of it and she'd be damned if anyone was going to make a "Barksdale" joke at her expense (as everyone would).

Daria never said anything.

She had no need to mention that she didn't like dogs, and the feeling seemed to be mutual. She didn't have to talk about her extreme annoyance when the small ones barked at her, or her cold sweats and quickening pulse when a big one was nearby. Few of the people in Lawndale seemed to own a dog at all, so the issue rarely came up. The Taylors had a long history of cats, but they stayed indoors unless they were lucky enough to escape their one-month life expectancy.

Daria never had to talk about this. Her mother didn't want a dog and her mother's word, much like her profession, was law. Jane was the only one who knew. Or she might have mentioned something to Quinn a long time ago, but not much. She generally couldn't be trusted with a lot of information.

As usual, just thinking about her sister tired her out, and Daria's eyelids grew heavy behind her glasses. Rain drummed steadily on the windows and the roof as she drifted off.

She came awake about an hour later and sat up.

Something had roused her—a noise. She couldn't properly recall what it was. The sun had gone down and left the room surprisingly dark. Daria turned on the bedside lamp and listened.

There it was again. Daria stiffened and leaned forward, trying to figure out what she was hearing. It started out low, rose higher and higher into a squeak and abruptly died out. The first thing she thought of was a car with bad brakes, not unlike "The Tank" that Trent and his band drove. She leaned across the bed so she could look out the window. Her side of the house was nearest to the street. If there was a vehicle parking outside, she couldn't see it.

Daria sighed and picked up the book again. It wasn't much, but it was her only company here and it was better to focus on this than…well, other things. She ruffled through the pages and tried to find her place.

It was louder the third time.

Daria dropped her book. She was almost afraid to hear it, but she strained to pick it up over the rain. It wasn't a squeaking at all, but a whining, and not the kind she heard every day back home. It was the sound of something in pain.

Her eyes shifted to the floor. She could have sworn it came from downstairs.

Trying to overcome her jangled nerves, she opened the bedroom door. The lights were still on in the upstairs hallway—rather far apart, but at least they were there, throwing long triangles of dim light from the wood-paneled walls to the red carpet. Family pictures were hung every few feet on either side, including hers.

Daria realized that she would not entirely object to Quinn and her parents coming back soon. If misery loved company, so did fear. As long as it was the right kind of company. She had no desire to make the long walk downstairs only to find some wounded animal—or worse, some wounded person—crawling into Rita's house, fresh from a mugging on the Boston streets.

"Hello?" she stood by the railing and called out, though it was doubtful that her voice would reassure anybody. "Um, is anybody there?"

There was no answer. If anybody was down there, they weren't in a talking mood. Normally she could relate, but…

Get it together, Daria, she scolded herself. The only thing you fear is bad pizza. Usually after the fact.

She took the stairs quickly the rest of the way.

Once again she cursed her aunt for having barely any lights in the front hall. Mom said Rita was so cheap she probably took the bulbs out of town with her. That was something else they were supposed to buy, not that it helped her now.

She looked around the shadowed corridor and let her breath out slowly. Nothing in the entrance, but as long as she was down here she might as well check out the other rooms. Rolling thunder from outside seemed to punctuate her footsteps. A storm was getting closer.

Daria took a right into the nicely furnished sitting room, and crossed into the parlor where some nice pictures were hung, including Munch's 'The Scream.' It seemed like an odd choice for Rita. She wondered if it could be one of Jane's reproductions.

Tormented as that visage may be, there was no real person suffering in here. Daria began to wonder if she'd imagined the noises to begin with.

A violent banging sound jolted her from her thoughts. Daria whirled around.

The parlor door was vibrating from the impact. A moment later, she heard loud breathing and scraping noises from the other side. It was like something desperately wanted to get in, but couldn't. Daria stumbled back and covered her ears, trying to breathe normally. She didn't know whether to open the door or just lock it, and she was afraid to do either one.

There was an even louder thud, and the door rattled on its hinges. Daria felt her back against the wall. She looked around for something to use as a weapon against…whatever that was, if it ended up breaking in. A wooden chair from one of the tables was the best she could do.

Harder this time. She heard the sound of wood splintering.

"GO AWAY!" she screamed, or as close as she ever came to that.

Silence fell.

Daria waited and waited for it to assault the door again, but the sound never came.

She couldn't go out there and look. She had to go out there and look. The mental struggle seemed to go on forever, but finally curiosity won out. She crossed back into the sitting room where the other door to the front hall was, put her ear up to it and listened. Still nothing.

With agonizing slowness, she reached out and turned the knob. She saw a dark sliver of the hall, then a wider sliver, then a column of shadow. She turned her head and peeked out to inspect the damage to the parlor door.

There wasn't a single scratch on it.

But that was crazy! No door could be that solid. After everything she heard, there had to be a mark somewhere. Unless…

Unless this new medication just wasn't working out, Daria thought. That must be it. The doctor had prescribed the pills for mild anxiety, but they obviously weren't doing the job. Hell, she was hallucinating now. Some anxiety relief that was.

She stepped out into the hall to take a closer look when a sharp, vicious bark rang out behind her.

A huge dog was standing in the sitting room. Shadows played over its mottled coat as it showed a row of jagged teeth. It crouched in an attack position, as if she was the intruder. Its eyes glowed like dying embers from a fire.

It charged.

Daria threw herself against the door and slammed it shut just in time. She turned about, breathing hard and jumped when she saw another dog in the middle of the floor. This one was smaller. It turned its gaze on her, whining pitifully. It was covered with scratches and bite marks. A puddle of red spread under it as it struggled and failed to get up.

Daria backed away, her face white. The news story had said something about this. Dogfighting, violence against animals, men in long coats and low profiles who came to participate. But…no. It couldn't have been this house. And even if it was, why would she be seeing them now?

The answer was something she'd never believed—couldn't believe. She had to get out of here. The front door was only thirty feet away.

She turned from the crying animal and made a run for it. Loud breathing echoed through the hall from every side. She threw open the door, welcoming a night on the city sidewalk for once.

Another dog sat right there on the front stoop, this one even bigger. It rose immediately, snarling at her. Bruises stood out under its fur.

Daria swore an oath and slammed the door shut. She had to find some other way out. Her mind raced as she stumbled backward into the hall.

Her back hit something. It was large and wet with intense, stinking heat.

A tremulous snarl cut through the air like a laugh. She gagged in terror as something tugged sharply at her neck like a leash, forcing her to turn and see what was there.

Long, low growls rumbled through the room and froze her with terror. Figures of shadow stood before her now, uncountable and indistinguishable in their long coats—all men until she saw their faces, where pointed ears twitched over pitch black fur. Long tongues glided across scores of jagged teeth, bared in a hateful rictus. Her soul seemed to cringe beneath the stare of their inhuman eyes.

The leash jerked again, pulling her in as they lowered their heads to attack.

Daria screamed and screamed.

The front door crashed open again, and yet another dog raced in—this one small, white, and wearing a tiny sweater.

Daria was so startled that she almost forgot to be scared. She didn't even feel anything, when the other dogs should be tearing her apart.

The poodle growled and let loose the most frenzied barking she'd ever heard. And the strangest thing was, it wasn't barking at her. Instead it rushed right past Daria, skidding along the floor in every direction and yapping bravely into every corner.

Could he feel them there, too? Was he chasing them all away?

She fell to her knees and breathed again.

"Hi Daria!"

She'd never been so happy to hear Quinn's voice. The fashion princess stepped into the house with an overflowing bag of pet accessories in her arms.

"What do you think of Tootsie? Isn't he cute?! Mom and Dad bought him for me! Do you like him?" The last question came with an edge, as if she knew without a doubt that Daria would not welcome this addition to their family.

But her mouth fell open when the little terrier ran into Daria's arms, yipping and licking at her face as her sister laughed. She laughed so hard, it sounded almost like crying.

I did it, the dog seemed to be telling her. I got rid of them. You're safe now.

"Thank you," Daria whispered, running her hands clumsily through his soft coat. "Thank you so much."

"Hey, we didn't get him for you!" Quinn pouted, misunderstanding her. "Muh-OMMMM…"

"Damn pet stores," Jake complained as their parents walked in the door. "Why don't they just TAKE an arm and a leg right off of you?"

"This was your idea, honey. Remember?" Helen said wearily.

"But that dog wasn't my idea…"

They stopped and stared at the sight of Daria and Tootsie on the floor together, inseparable.

Ω

Daria would always wonder what had really happened that night.

Was it just the medication? Or was there really something left of the suffering that occurred in that house? There was no way of knowing. Daria convinced them to leave the house that very night, leaving the light bulbs and groceries as a sardonic gift to Aunt Rita's inhospitality. Daria never took the anxiety pills again, and Rita sold the house a few months later without explanation.

She supposed it didn't matter. She wasn't even that afraid of dogs anymore. She finally had one on her side, one that would always protect her.

Daria finished reading Tootsie her latest Melody Powers story as he lay on her bed, listening. "…And as she looked triumphantly upon the scores of dead communists and animal abusers lying all around her, Melody realized she had gotten her wish. It was the bloodiest Christmas ever. The end." She smiled at the dog. "What do you think?"

He barked happily.

The End

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(A/N: I wanted to write a oneshot about Daria instead of Quinn for a change, and I always noticed how few dogs there seemed to be in Lawndale, so one thing led to another. I have a dog just like Daria's, except she's a mixed poodle and her name is Clover. I dedicate this story to her. She chases my ghosts away, too.)