Chapter 1, Part 3

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Before any of this went down.   Before the tinder box exploded in a flash of sparks.  Before we collectively opened our eyes, the world seemed to vibrate.  It was a low-grade hum that reverberated though your bones.  People were waiting for something huge to happen.  I’m of the opinion that they wanted it to happen.  Everywhere you turned there were signs and symbols pointing towards humanity’s twisted desire for a hard reboot.  Book after book about the zombie apocalypse. Hollywood clambering for the next big disaster movie.  Amplified scares of flesh-eating bacteria and viral outbreaks. And all the while, there was a general dulling of the nerves.  We were warmed by the glow of our Tivos and streaming content.   And we didn’t like it.  As funny as it sounds, most of us felt like cattle being herded through our day with no control and no say on the outcome.  Little did we know what was coming.  Little did we know that things were about to change.  On the day my dog became the harbinger of confusing and inevitably awful news, that vibration in my bones played me like a concert cello.

…and I still wasn’t listening.

Chuck bounded noisily up the steps two at a time.  I followed behind in a much less vigorous manner feeling a little punch drunk with my newfound knowledge.  We entered the kitchen of our turn-of-the-century Victorian home.  My wife Misty was sitting at the kitchen island tapping away on her Macbook and watching one of her favorite home remodeling show.  This one featured a hot skinny blonde who made it her mission to rescue condemned houses and restore them to their original beauty.  All the while strutting her skinny ass and well-toned guns.  Misty affectionately referred to her as her “HGTV Whore.”

As Chuck and I approached, he flashed me a narrow-eyed stare that said be cool, sucker.  I retorted with my best “ten-four good buddy” nod.  I was well on board with keeping up outward appearances.  There was no reason to draw attention to an already-confusing situation.  My gazillion unanswered questions aside, it was business as usual.

Our two ankle-biters, pooches we lovingly named Cooper and Lulu, were asleep on the floor next to Misty’s stool.  They must have been content where they were.  They didn’t so much as budge when I opened the door and let Chuck out to do his business.  I was in no hurry to find out if they had suddenly gained the art of speech.  As they say in Milwaukee, let sleeping dogs lie.

I was still preoccupied in deeply confusing thoughts as I closed the door. When I turned, Misty was staring at me in confusion.

“What?” I asked, sounding dumber than usual.  I know, it’s a stretch.  And then it hit me.  I didn’t put Chuck on his leash.  On a “normal” dog day I’d have a firm grasp on the big lunk’s collar.  Any slight movement in the yard, be it squirrel or small child, would turn him into a slobbering, curly-haired missile.  Once this SCUD was launched it was hell getting him corralled again.  Then again, we’ve waved bye-bye to normal dog days, haven’t we?

“Shit,” I cussed and rushed out the kitchen door before Misty could admonish me.  So much for keeping cool.  I was alarmed to find Chuck sitting patiently on the edge of the patio that led out to the yard. He looked less than amused.

“Smooth,” he whispered as I bent to attach the lead to his collar.

“Suck it,” I replied.  “Go piss on an electric fence.”

When I reentered the house again, Misty’s puzzled look had faded, replaced with an air of curious concern.  “Was the big dummy still there,” she asked, “or did he take off after one of the neighbor kids again?”

She’s such a mom.

“He was waiting for me,” I said, trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, “so I sent him out to play in traffic.”  It was a joke my father liked to use when my sister and I were little kids. Along with such favorites as ‘Does your face hurt? It’s KILLING me’  and ‘You lost ten pounds? Turn around I think I found it.’  Lame, but I thought it would do in a pinch.  It seemed to have worked.  Misty turned back to her show.

“Oh my God,” She gushed, “look at the subway tile in that bathroom.”  Misty is an interior decorating dynamo.  She devours any media related to the subject.  On any given weekend we’re out looking for furniture to rehab or an old door to turn into a table.  Or a table to turn in a bench.  It’s very confusing.  I shit you not, I’ve painted our kitchen six times in the three years we’ve occupied our home.  I’m fairly certain she’s on Sherwin William’s Board of Directors.  We met about six years ago and became involved shortly after the aftermath of our failed previous marriages.  I found the thought of life without her unbearable and she felt utterly sorry for me.  We moved in shortly afterwards.  Since then we’ve been inseparable.

She inquired if I was hungry, offering to warm up some leftovers from the night before.  I barely heard her in my preoccupied state.  I was still a bit distracted by talking dogs and the on-coming apocalypse.

“Helllllooooowwww?” She chimed.

“Huh?” I started, snapping back to present consciousness.  I was struggling with whether or not to tell her what had just transpired in the basement and coming up empty on how to go about it.  Honey, you’ll never believe this.  The dog can talk.  No, really.  He kicks Scooby’s ass in the linguistic department.  And not only that!  He’s prophesied the downfall of civilization as we know it.  Isn’t that incredible? We gotta post this shit on Facebook!  

The idea of the conversation as it bounced around my head was ludicrous.  So much so that I could feel the crazy giggles coming on again.  “I’m sorry, babe,” I replied.  “I just zoned off there a little.  I’m still a little spaced from my nap.”  Spaced?  Is that what we’re calling it?  I was downright freaked.  I needed to find an excuse to take Chuck somewhere so I could pry some more information from his jowls.

I walked over to the sink and peered out the window into the backyard.  I’m not sure what I expected to see.  Chuck sitting in a lawn chair reading a Rolling Stone?  Or maybe playing a rousing game of checkers with a singing otter?  Instead, I saw my dog lifting his leg on a shrub.  Hey, maybe that whole basement nonsense was some figment of my overactive imagination.  Hell, maybe I had a tumor devouring my noggin from the inside out.  Not that I wanted brain cancer or anything.  But at least I’d know I wasn’t losing my marbles.  At least I-

“HURRY THE HELL UP,” Chuck shouted from the yard.  I cringed as if I’d been slapped in the back of the head.  The jig was up.  Now everyone in the neighborhood would know.  News crews would descend upon my home all clamoring to get a glimpse of the amazing talking K-9.

“Did you hear that?” I asked with a little too much mock amazement.

“Yeah” Misty said, not lifting her gaze from her laptop.  “What’s he barking about now?”

“PAGING CAPTAIN CHROME DOME,” Chuck bellowed from the yard, “We’re not getting any YOUNGER!”

I whirled around to face Misty, waiting for a baffled look, a shocked gasp, a whistle of amazement.  Hell, a burp of indigestion would’ve been something at that moment.

“Who is he barking at?” She sighed, still engrossed in her interwebs and HGTV whores.

Barking?

It was a punch in the face of sudden reality.

BARKING!

She couldn’t hear what I was hearing.

Was I the only person who could hear Chuck talk?