“Dogs don’t get to choose.” Lucky hears this first, learns this first, and lives this first. The man smiles, pleased with the new name he has given them. His teeth are half gone, and his eyes are bloodshot. Lucky wonders why their first instinct isn’t to escape.
The man straightens and bangs his meaty fist against the cage Lucky is trapped in, causing them to whimper. “Don’t worry though. Little dogs like you? They’re a dime a dozen. You’ll be adopted soon enough, just you wait.”
Lucky doesn’t really understand what’s happening. Who is this guy? He smells like he’s been sitting on a box of goat cheese for weeks he reeks so terribly. His hair is a patchwork of black and lackluster baldness, and frankly? He’s just hideous.
Lucky tenses as they watch the man plod around the dimly lit room, checking on cages with all sorts of creatures in them. Despite the situation, Lucky is mildly curious about the other creatures being kept here. They see a black and white lemur bouncing around in a rusted cage hanging from the ceiling, and a painted pony standing in a makeshift stable made from metal sheets. There’s even a snow leopard in the cage next to them. Surprisingly, Lucky notices that none of the animals seem to have food or water. Odd. None of them seem emaciated. Lucky wonders if maybe they’re all new and just haven’t had time to deteriorate yet.
Seemingly satisfied that everything is in order, the man grunts. He looks back at Lucky again, and the trickle of curiosity they felt sizzles and dissipates like a drop of water on a hot grill. “A little advice for the little pup,” he says as he kneels, his nose dipping into Lucky’s cage. “Behave or end up in the slaughterhouse. Understood?”
Lucky bites his nose.
The man reels back with an undignified yelp and scowls at Lucky, holding his nose as little droplets of blood drip down his face. Lucky feels a brief moment of triumph despite the unsettling gleam in his beady black eyes. “Looks like someone needs a muzzle.”
The man unlocks the cage with his thumbprint and drags Lucky out by the scruff of their neck, not paying any mind to the way Lucky struggles and snaps at him. Lucky doesn’t like the idea of letting this man get away with talking to them like he has any control over them. Lucky refuses to give him that satisfaction.
Still, despite Lucky’s best attempts, the muzzle is shoved on their face and strapped into place. The muzzle looks like it’s been repurposed from copper coils and an old belt strap, and the way it presses against Lucky’s nose is incredibly uncomfortable.
The man opens the cage back up and tosses Lucky back in with hardly a care before leaving, a door of solid steel slamming behind him. With the man finally gone, Lucky immediately tries to pry the muzzle off their face, the pressure on their nose absolutely smothering. They roll over on their back and try to pry it off with their paws to no avail. The more Lucky struggles, the more they begin to panic. They want the muzzle off, off, off, off, OFF!
Lucky doesn’t know how long they fight with the contraption, but eventually, they give up. Strangely, Lucky notices they don’t feel tired at all. In fact, if they really think about it, while the pressure on their nose is uncomfortable, there’s no air coming through their nostrils.
Lucky tries to take a breath and focuses intently on what should be the familiar sensation of their lungs expanding. It doesn’t happen. Lucky tries to focus harder, but they feel nothing. They’re not breathing.
For the first time, Lucky considers their own body. They look down at their furry paws and notice that the texture is different from the other animals. The fur is a soft caramel brown, but it looks…fake. Their paws also don’t look anything like a real dog’s paws. They’re cartoonish, and Lucky lacks any claws.
What’s going on?
“Hehehehe! Muzzled on the first day! No sense of self-preservation, do you?”
Lucky jumps, the hair on the back of their neck raising. Who said that?
“Up here!” Lucky looks up to see the lemur waving at them enthusiastically. Did the lemur just…talk?
The lemur tilts its head, its hazel eyes boring into them curiously. “I’ve never seen a Pet like you before. You’re just like a stuffed animal!”
“Y-You can talk?”
The lemur lands on its perch in the cage and swings from it upside down in a pendulum-like motion. “Everyone always asks that when they first come here, but I don’t get it. If you can talk, why can’t I?”
Lucky opens their mouth to argue, only to realize that the lemur is right. Lucky can speak. “This is really weird.”
The pony in the stable sighs, flipping their creamy mane from one side of their neck to the other. “Just be grateful you’re alive. He’s taken animals to the slaughterhouse for far less.”
“I guess you could say Lucky here is…lucky?”
The snow leopard snorts and their shoulders shake as if they’re trying to hold it in.
The lemur jumps up and down excitedly. “Ah-ha! See, Bliss? My jokes are funny.”
The horse scoffs. “To Viper they might be, but when have I ever laughed at one of your jokes, Panic Button?”
“My systems are telling me in the not-too-distant future that you’ll laugh one million times at my jokes in your lifespan.”
“Your systems need recalibrating then. My system predicts I will laugh at precisely zero of your jokes in the future.”
Panic Button crosses their furry arms. “You’re always so quick to put me down.”
“I’m not putting you down. I’m putting you in your place.”
“That’s the same thing!”
“Guys, stop it. You’re confusing the dog,” the snow leopard Viper says as they lick at the pink pad of their paw.
Lucky looks at Viper, feeling completely lost. “How is any of this happening?”
The three of them glance at each other. “I know that they erase our memories before we come here, but they normally don’t get rid of basic knowledge. Do you know what a napkin is?” Panic Button asks.
“Of course I do!”
“Then why don’t you know something as basic as what Pets are?”
Lucky looks between the three of them, feeling completely lost. They can’t ever remember hearing about Pets before, whatever they’re supposed to be. As Lucky looks down at their paws again, they wonder what it even means that they don’t know the purpose of being a so-called "Pet."
“Is it really something so basic?”
“Pretty much,” Bliss says. “Pets are an integral part of society.”
“Aren’t we just animals, though?”
Viper sits up in their cage. “Panic Button.”
“Do you still have that mirror you snuck off Lester?”
“Let Lucky here see for themselves what they really are.”
Panic Button happily obliges, reaching their arm down through the gap in the cage to hand it to Viper. The snow leopard wraps their tail around the mirror and lowers it into their cage. Viper holds the mirror in their mouth and nods their head at Lucky.
Lucky takes a step closer and freezes. A terrible fear begins to creep up on them, and its presence confirms that something has gone terribly wrong even before Lucky looks at themselves in the mirror.
It’s sickening, the feeling of having to face a reality that Lucky knows they will hate. Still, Lucky steps forward. One, two, three, four, and stop.
They look in the mirror.
Just like Panic Button said, Lucky looks like a stuffed dog. Their ears are floppy and soft, and they have a patch of dark brown fur over their left eye. Their body is made of soft faux fur, and their body is chubby. Unlike the other animals, Lucky doesn’t look realistic in the slightest.
“So this is…me?”
The other Pets don’t say anything, as if they are patiently waiting for Lucky to process it. The fact that they are a Pet. The fact that Lucky genuinely doesn’t know anything about themselves. And the fact that they must accept this new them.
Lucky’s vision goes red for a split second and the mirror shatters into pieces.
In the days after Lucky looks in the mirror, they begin the gargantuan task of trying to learn absolutely anything about why any of this is happening. It’s a frustrating process to say the least. While Lucky does their best to learn the layout of the compound, Lester’s routine, and about the other Pets, all that information amounts to is stale crumbs.
So what if Lucky knows that the compound is small and hot and is only big enough for the four of them and a few smaller empty cages? Who cares if Lester comes by at 3AM on the dot every night wasted? Is being subjected to Panic Button and Bliss’s bickering helping Lucky discover their identity? NO!
“Say,” Lucky starts, suddenly bored with watching Viper and Panic Button play their absurd game of charades, “do we have genders?” It’s a question they don’t expect their fellow captiv—ahem—Pets, to be able to answer, so Lucky is surprised when Bliss does.
“They’re assigned by Lester, or by whoever adopts us,” Bliss explains as they swish their tail back and forth, also seemingly bored. They really don’t have much in the way of entertainment, and the charades have gotten stale for them too. In retrospect, maybe it’s the lack of anything meaningful to do that is contributing to Lucky’s drive to figure themselves out. It’s the curse of having too much time to think. You get bored, and then you have nothing but your own big furry face on the mind.
“You don’t get to pick?” Lucky asks.
“We’re all animals, and not real ones at that. What machine gives itself a gender?”
“I guess…” Lucky can’t help but find it odd that Bliss knows that they have memories they can’t access before their time as Pets, and yet doesn’t seem to care to give themselves a gender, or even discover who they were. They were all surely human before any of this happened, right? Why are they not bothered by the fact that Lester clearly wants to keep them clueless about their identities?
Lucky quickly realizes that this isn’t the only topic that the Pets are indifferent towards. While Bliss comforts Viper (an obnoxiously sore loser) for losing their game of charades, Lucky asks Panic Button if there’s any way to escape, or if they’ve ever tried.
The lemur tilts their head innocently and asks, “Why would I leave?”
The fur on the back of Lucky’s neck rises for an entirely different reason this time.
“You don’t want to leave this place?” Lucky asks again, hoping that the answer will be different. It isn’t.
“Not really. I mean, I’m going to get adopted soon anyways, right? I’ll be able to go outside if I’m patient.”
“So you’re just…what? Fine with being a Pet?”
“Being a Pet is all about serving others. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, really. Besides, I don’t think there’s any going back from this.” Panic Button gestures at their body.
Desperate for a different answer, Lucky eventually turns to Viper, who has finally gone back to their calm and light demeanor. “Am I crazy for wanting to get the heck out of this dungeon and find out who I am?”
“Of course not.”
Lucky gazes into the snow leopard’s gray eyes, the relief already washing through their system. “Really?”
“Really. Every Pet needs time to adjust. Eventually though, you’ll realize that who we were is nothing compared to who we’ll become.”
Lucky gives up talking to the other Pets after that. Lucky doesn’t want to risk Lester knowing that they might actually have thoughts of escaping, unlike their fellow comrades They’ve clearly been brainwashed or programmed or-or something to be thinking like this, and Lucky doesn’t want to be next.
Please log in to leave a comment.