The dogs that aren’t dogs anymore whisper at the basement door.
They know my name. They sing it to me, taunting and giggling. Teeth, gray licking tongues, and sun yellow eyes flash in the crack between the door and the top stair.
My neighbor Doug ’s basement is musty and bare. No air circulation. It’s humid and reeks of pine cleaner and mildew. Doug is crying, clutching at the seeping claw wound across his stomach.
I wish he would stay quiet. There is a deep utility sink, stained spotty with black mold. At least we have water.
The boards nailed to the door are holding. Hammer in hand, I press my ear against the smooth wood. The dog who I think is my Daisy says, “I can smell your piss.”
* * *
I don’t hear the other dogs anymore. Just Daisy. The floorboards creak with her slow, patient steps.
Doug calls out for someone named Suzanne. Frothy pink bubbles gather at the corners of his mouth. I answer, tell him Suzanne wants you to stop making so much noise.
I hear a baby crying, soft and far away. I smack the hammer against the ground to drown it out, count the beats as I pound craters into the cement.
It doesn’t work.
“ You’re not helping,” I say.
* * *
I don’t have any food. Gandhi was 74 when he survived 21 days without food. I’m healthier and younger than Gandhi.
* * *
The baby is crying again. I beat the hammer against the ground. I keep doing it until the crying stops. I count 123 hits.
* * *
Doug won’t shut up.
I crawl over to him, mumble an apology.
“It ‘ll be fast,” I say as I raise the hammer.
* * *
How did the flies get in? Their buzzing is my constant soundtrack. At first, I try to keep them off Doug’s corpse, but I bump his arm, and the green-grey flesh slides right off.
His rotting flesh bloats and splits. Shit stink and putrid stomach gasses fill the room, clinging to everything. His insides have leaked through his clothes, pooling around the island of his body. His eyes bulge like balloons set to burst.
I cross the room, leave him to the flies.
* * *
There are other bugs down here as well: spiders, centipedes, ants.
I smash and eat a centipede. It’s an arthropod like lobster and shrimp. I surprise myself by not throwing up.
I practice swinging the hammer. I get tired easily. I’m dizzy and nauseated all the time.
The other dogs are back. They bang something hard against the outside of the thick block window above the sink then run off, laughing and howling.
I don’t hear the baby anymore.
* * *
Daisy is at the basement door. “It’s just us now,” she says. “Whenever you’re ready. ”
I don’t answer.
* * *
I find a few silverfish under some white plastic buckets near the sump pump. They taste bitter so I eat them fast to get it over with.
“Let me come down,” Daisy says. Her voice comes out wet and garbled as she forces the words through her new snout.
I keep the hammer with me all the time. I get lightheaded and steady myself against the wood-paneled walls to catch my breath. “No, I don’t think so.”
* * *
My body is eating itself. I tie up my pants with my shoelaces.
Doug has so many maggots on him. At first, I pretend they ‘re rice. After fifty or so I don’t care. Just pop one on the tongue and swallow. Repeat.
Back when Daisy was my good girl, Doug would check in on her on the nights I had to work late. He was a good guy.
* * *
I get dizzy, misjudge a swing and shatter the light bulb with the hammer. Bits of glass rain down in my hair. I brush them out, embed tiny slivers in my fingertips.
Slumped on the bottom stair, I suck coppery blood from my thumb.
Daisy’s claws click against the kitchen linoleum. She slides against the door. “Are you ready yet?” she asks.
“Almost,” I say.
* * *
Daisy’s eclipsing shadow crosses back and forth as light seeps in through the crack at the bottom of the basement door.
I grab the hammer and climb to the top of the stairs.
I’m so weak I can barely pull the nails out. Each one clatters and rings out across the cement.
I stack the boards against the handrail.
Daisy is breathing fast, making smacking noises with her mouth.
I pull the door open. It groans on its hinges.
And there she is, my Daisy, in all her skinless glory.
I have to crane my neck to see the full height of her. “You look so different,” I say.
She bends, sniffs my gore stained t-shirt. Her grin stretches on forever. “So do you.”
I feel compelled to close the basement door behind me. Before I click it shut, I catch a glimpse of Doug’s demolished skull in the corner. I tighten my grip on the hammer, hating Daisy for what she made me do.
Before I can turn around, she sinks her teeth into the back of my neck and lifts me off my feet, shaking me like one of her old chew toys.
I drive the hammer back over my shoulder and hit meat. Daisy whines and drops me.
I tumble like a doll, palming my spouting wound. Fresh blood drenches my shirt. Daisy’s left eye hangs from its socket like an exploded jellyfish.
My vision goes blurry. My breath rattles. I lift the hammer again. For that baby, for Doug, and everything before the dogs.
Daisy buries her muzzle deep in my throat.
I drop the hammer, hear it thud against the linoleum a million miles away.
This time she doesn’t let go.