31st October, 1972.
Night dawns like a new day. The harsh lights shut off, one by one, the electrical current buzzing to a halt. Darkness spills into the room, as with the cold: condensation has already formed on the concrete walls, dripping from the tile ceiling. The whistling of wind from the chute door gusts inside. It is raining heavily outside, the damp air sour on the tongue. Equipment pushed aside, each cell locked up ready for the morning. Barks, howls and screams echo through this hallway of Hell.
In this section of the Facility, each dog has their own cell, equipped with basic sources. Empty, stainless steel food bowls, water and newspaper is placed in the corner of a two metre by metre cell. The newspaper acts as a shared bed and toilet, most of the food bowls are upturned by frantic attempts to jump, leaving the floor wet and the paper soggy and uncomfortable to lie on. Most dogs resort to curling up in the corner, head resting in their uneaten food. It is much preferred to sleep with a head leaning rather than on the ground.
The dogs that didn’t make it through the day, lie dead in the basin of the incinerator. Their cold bodies piled up on top of each other yet to be transformed into ash; that was the job of the morning. The mortality of today was two terriers; one Carin and a Jack Russell. Maybe their hearts were too weak to take the strain any more, at least they are at peace now.
After the final rally of checks and sliding locks had been placed, with the dogs secured in their individual rooms, exit the white-coats and their cruel practises. The only supposed moment of peace for the animals was the night, only for body though. The mental anguish of the day kept dogs exhausted, awake and insomnia plagued most. No.604 was no different, panting and shivering in his sleep, nightly terrors jolting him awake when least expectant.
Today marked the day of the escape, a rookie, foolish white-coat accidentally left the hatch door loosely open. Idiot. What did he expect would happen? For the dogs just to ignore it? Lazy white-coat.
Having woken from his regular nightly terror, no.604 often referred to as Mischief (Bet) takes this opportunity to the next level, his cage is the one that is open after all. An unfeasible opportunity of a lifetime had to be made. Mischief knew some dogs are unable to make the journey, convincing the sceptical would be a challenge, with others too frightened to leave. Some of the old just wouldn't wake up either. There wasn't much time to spend: they had to hurry, they had to escape.
This is the story of The Plague Dogs and their unbelievable journey..
Run... Run... Run... The voices called, run to the edge of the road and far beyond. His legs buckled underneath his body, speeding across the tarmac. Small rocks and sharp glass cut into the soft balls of his feet as he took off through the back alleys. Without taking a breath, the dog powered past vehicles, the risk of being plowed over and killed was a fact he was indifferent to. Heaving muscles ached, the tense exhilaration expressed through a dry, lopsided tongue that hung from narrow teeth. Despite the effort of speed, he found himself not getting anywhere; circling round and round on repeat- as if a stuck vinyl on a record player. His own soul was screeching, begging to move but to no avail did he seek peace. Then came the darkness, panning outward in a third-person sought of view and the taste of blood. A latch of a jaw clamped onto the thin, sensitive skin of his neck. He cried for them to stop, drowning in pain, unable to swallow. It all stopped when a sharp pointed object slipped into his rump and Bet woke up.
With a yelp, the dog found himself lost in a room with no outstanding features. Slick, black concrete floor, walls and ceiling surrounded him, as well as a ceiling high mesh metal cage and door in front. His spine throbbed in pain: it was curled round at an impossible angle as he attempted to keep himself warm. The English bull terrier, slowly stood himself up on all fours on the cold ground. His claws scraped across the stone floor as he stretched, his domed egg-shaped head pointing to the sky. He knew it was after hours due to the stillness of the air however he did not know how he found his way back into his room. The closest memory he had was a gloved hand hitting his head and then darkness. The white coats must of put him back, after a dose of sleepy juice*. How long he was knocked out for was a mystery, the more primitive notion of needing to go outside nagged at him.
“Is anyone else awake?” he whispered, his soft voice echoing against the walls. His room was at the end of the rest, and the one next to him was empty. Although it used to be home to a small scruffy looking cairn terrier but for some reason he was not in there. The dog held his tail tucked under his body and his aching spine was now hunched over. The bull terrier’s name was Bet, also known by the category Mischief. He didn’t understand his nickname; he was a good dog causing little trouble with the white-coats. The nightmare from earlier was a regular occurrence: Bet had trouble sleeping peacefully and each time he woke up, did he pray to be back on his padded, duck-down cushion. One of Bet’s fondest memories was that bed but slowly was it fading…
The white dog was grey in the darkness, his nostrils flattened and widened, each breath billowing steam in the cold air. He could hear the breathing of those in the further cells but distinguishing whether they were awake or asleep was impossible. However familiar the cell had become; something felt off. Something was not right. Bet was too nervous to begin barking, as it usually summoned a white coat or a hostile human who shouted loudly. Bet didn’t like loud noises, it made his brain rattle but he was scared. Without the cairn terrier next to him, he couldn’t summon anyone without waking the whole row of dogs and besides; he was desperate to be let out for his business.
“Is anyone there?” The dog still acted like a little puppy, cowering and whimpering in the darkness. All he could see was long shadows up the wall distorting into cruel, taunting faces and the screaming of the wind through the ventilation grate. With a shake of head, ears hitting the sides of his face with a popping sound did the dog begin to howl lowly. “I am scared! I am scared!” he sang quietly, desperate, terrified.
It is natural for a dog’s instincts to become primal in time of distress. The collected and calm voice becomes drowned with basic animal language. This is an experience that is not unique, it happens even to the wisest dog. Bet had sent himself into an exaggerated state of worry, though: if he was fighting, crying would be seen as a sign of weakness and submission. How much longer could the young dog take it? How much time before his love ran out?
A gust of cold air from outside rattled the door of the cage; swinging it open suddenly with a loud crash. It crashed against the wall of the late cairn terrier’s room and halted Bet’s cries. “What in dog’s name?” He yelped, jumping backward at the sound. His door was open wide, swinging at the hinges with a high-pitched creaking. Bet took the opportunity as it came and unhesitatingly stepped out. Sleepy juice is Bet’s name for the injected sedatives.*
the floor was colder than ice itself. it was another restless night for harley, she would be able to sit in a corner, her head on top of uneaten, moldy kibble that laid on the hard concrete slab the white coats called a kennel. weary eyes wandered back and forth from the hall. nobody was coming. especially nobody to get her out of the hell hole she was in. was she going mad?
it was a day in and day out thing for harley. the whimpers and cries of dogs who just wanted to go home. she was the one to break the news. sorry, bud, you’re not going home.
it was a constant thought that ran through her mind like ‘rush hour’ traffic. as soon as the alarms went off to let the guards know that everything was stable, all of them usually shut up. some of the younger pups would whimper a little every now and again, but most of them? most of them knew what was going on. except, however, milo, one of the newer pups of the facility.
truth be told, harley would probably do the same if she didn’t know any better. she would still be wondering if she would be let out, if she would ever see her person again. but neither of those statements were true. she actually hated her human, hated him for what he let her and made her go through. and these humans? these white coated, evil minded humans? they were about the same for her. they didn’t care about how she felt. if she had it her way, she would do what her master taught her — grab them by the jugular and don’t let go.
her thought were interrupted by a half whisper which came from a familiar voice. another whimper. “is anyone awake?” soon was followed by a series of yowls and barks, before the female stood on her own for legs, her paws were so calloused that the cold didn’t even affect her.
“what’s all this commotion..?” her voice low, but steady. when she made her way to the black bars of her prison cell, she noticed one of the doors wide open. impossible… she thought with a scoff. then, she saw bet step out of his cell.
bewildered eyes and an unbelieving tone, she then whispered,
“bet, make a run for it and don’t look back!”
she pleaded the male, she didn’t want the white coats to stampede into the hallway, she didn’t want them to find him. so if he wanted out of this hellhole, if he wanted to be out alive anyway, he needed to run for his fuckin life.
Mariposa was sprinting through an open field, tall grass with colourful wildflowers surrounding her. Her tongue lolled out of her mouth, panting heavily under the warm summer sun as she cut easily through the grass ahead of her. She could hear the footsteps of a child - a young girl with a mess of golden hair - following closely behind her, giggling and gleefully squealing after her "Posie, Posie!" She yapped excitedly in response, feeling the dirt between her paw-pads as she dug them into the ground to come to a stop. She turned around to face the girl, her tail wagging so furiously that it shook her entire body.
But when she turned around there was nothing but a long expanse of empty field ahead of her; there was no sign of the girl, or any other living creature, for that matter. Her tail came to an abrupt halt and she perked up her ears, glancing worriedly around in each direction. Just as she was about to let out the whimper she'd been holding in, she heard the scared whining of another dog. "Is anyone there...?" She began to move towards the voice, tentatively at first, then suddenly breaking into a full sprint through the grass again. Panic had seized her now. She suddenly felt very alone in this vast, empty field.
"I am scared! I am scared!"
The dog's voice was getting louder and louder as she ran, but the sky above her was darkening and the grass and flowers were wilting beneath her feet. She misstepped and went lurching forward, and just before her body hit the ground she came crashing back down to reality.
She raised her head with a start, finding herself surrounded by the grey walls of the testing facility, with nothing but the cold, concrete floor underneath her. 'Just a dream,' she thought to herself, blinking the sleep out of her eyes as they adjusted to the darkness of the kennels. Then came a loud screeching and the banging of metal against metal, startling the last of the dreariness out of her. She scrambled to her paws and whirled around, immediately looking to the cage next to her.
Posie called to her friend in a hushed tone, only allowing herself to relax when she saw that the larger dog was up on her paws, standing at the door of her kennel. She tilted her head curiously, padding up to the front of her cage to see what the other female was looking at.
She followed Harley's eyeline to see none other than Bet, miraculously standing in the hallway with the door to his kennel wide open behind him. "Bet, make a run for it and don't look back!" she heard Harley whisper beside her, but Posie saw a different opportunity. She brought herself right up to the door of her kennel so that Bet would be able to hear her whispers.
"You know, your paws are small enough to fit in the gaps of the mesh. You could climb the doors and reach the hatches on top."
She fixed her keen, amber gaze on the other dog, awaiting his next move.
The sound of raindrops cascading against the facility’s roof is soothing despite the cold that seeps into Lambert’s bones, leaving the short-furred canine with a mild case of the shivers, and the barren kennel he now calls home. The warmth of another body presses into his side from where he lays against the chainlink, Milo curled as close to him as she can get through the barrier. That little black puppy has unknowingly become his savior in the days since her arrival. Before her bright eyes and sunshine-y demeanor he didn’t have much to wake up for.
Dark hickory eyes stare forlornly to the kennel across from his, one a peppy Jack Russel Terrier named Piper once occupied. She hadn’t returned by the end of the day, and Lambert has been here long enough to know what that meant. Milo hadn’t understood his sadness and Lambert hadn’t dared to explain it to her. The youth still thought herself a resident of a local animal shelter. An admittedly unpleasant place unwanted dogs were taken to in order to find new homes, but Lambert would certainly prefer a pound to this.
A small voice calling from the end of the hall has the speckled hound’s head lifting from where it rested atop his crossed paws, and once those whispers turned to frightened and panicked howling he’s upright and rushing to the kennel door, hackles raised in alarm. “Bet?” He barks, recognizing his voice even as it dissolves into little more than wordless hysterics. “Bet, are you alright!? What’s wrong!?”
Lambert’s heart beats rapidly against his ribcage, waiting for an answer that doesn’t come. Not verbally, at least. At first Lambert believes he must be seeing things when the bull terrier materializes from the shadows like a phantom, his pale coat a light in the dark, but first Harley and then Mariposa speak to him with urgency and all the usually controlled pointer mix can do is stare quizzically.
Harley begged for him to save himself, while Posie proposed he save all of them instead. “Quiet, now!” He finally manages to call out, enough firmness within his tone to get his point across, but too quiet to be heard outside of the room. “Whatever our friend decides, all this ruckus will get him caught before he can do anything if we keep it up.”
His gaze darts to the door nervously, but shockingly no white-coat or guard arrives to shove the white dog back into his cage, and his broad head swings back to the trio of dogs he addressed. “Let Milo be the first. She deserves a life outside these walls. She deserves to grow up. If you take anyone, please take her Bet,” Lambert implores, eyes wide and pleading. “Take her away from this awful place.”
Milo had been sleeping when Mischief escaped. Pressed tightly against the links that separated her from Lambert, the dog that had taken over the position as her big brother during her stay in the pound. Floppy ears twitched and too-large paws kicked out. Soft whines left her half-opened mouth. Dreams of golden fields played behind her eyes. Long legs carried her over vast distances in what felt like seconds, and a ghostly memory of wind fluffed her fur. A master was next to her, tiny as she was, and Milo wanted nothing more than to stick by her side, though no name came to mind. It was like a gift, and a curse. To dream these dreams and wake cold and empty. And to still carry that sunshine out into the waking world.
And a moment later, she would steal that sunshine from whatever place she had visited in her dreams. Dark eyes fluttered open to the sound of Lambert's voice, and more coming from down the way. Floppy ears stood straight up. Satellite dishes searching for the direction and the names. A smile was already on her face, before she read the scene. Her teeth clicked together as her neck craned forward in a tic that left her embarrassed, but not enough to hide away from the group that surrounded her quicker than she could blink. "Bet? Bet! Good morning! Or is it still night? What are you doing out?" An excited expression blew the grin on her face wide, and her tongue flopped right out of her mouth. Until she turned and spotted Lambert. Looking like he was in the opposite direction she was in. With his feelings.
Harley was being loud, and Posie was being Posie. Quick, like she wished to be. But she wasn't as bright as the small dog. Another teeth-chomping tic spurred from her the moment Lambert's mouth opened, cawing for her to be 'taken' first. Her mouth opened and closed, trying to find a place to interject. She would start and stop just as quick, confusion making her tic more. Her head jerked to the side repeatedly. Once, twice, thrice. "Take? Take were? We're sticking together like always!" The pound wasn't that bad, anyway. It wasn't what she wanted, but she could handle it, like everyone else here. "Lammy, I'm not allowed to leave you remember?" Milo didn't understand the situation enough to start clawing and crying for escape, even though her heart leaped at the thought. But clenched once she remembered Lambert. "We can all go?" She suggested, her voice near tearful.
The casual albeit intense urge to blatantly walk out of the whole room tugged at his animal-instincts. Processing what had just happened was one thing to fight and suppressing the panic and surprise was another. Some part of Bet’s mind warned him to retreat into his cell and fall back asleep. What if the white-coats say he is bad? What if they hurt him more? His thoughts only had milliseconds to argue, before a muted and familiar voice sounded across the hall. It was Ms Rae, whispering between the cage bars, snapping him from his trance. He stared at her with his beaded, narrow eyes glinting in the darkness, which gave the illusion of tears. It took a moment for him to realise that his body was physically trembling, a symptom of fear. The Doberman’s eyes were stern and fearless, her stance beaming with pride. The visible glamour and grace Harley presented did not even have an undertone of fear, Ms Rae was, instead, stinking of doubt.
“We can-” Bet began to sputtler, until interrupted by another dog, he recognised the scent and sound of Mariposa. The dog took a closer step toward both of their two metre high cages which were situated together. His mouth opened slightly, the black frill part of his lips folded out and pink tongue throbbing with each breath. "I agree with Ms Posie-" He began before the interruption. Lambert's alarmed voice also echoed in the distance, a little delayed but brimming with care and concern. "Lambert, buddy," Bet whispered in the dark, tenative, worried yet sure. "We should do what Ms Posie suggested, no one is getting left behind." If he could blush with exhaustion then he would be; the adrehaline shooting through his body was extremely elevated, so much so he felt sick.
Making light of a situation was something he was always prone to do; was as if the boisterous nature of his personality was programmed into his breed. Today there was nothing to 'make light', this was serious. A young voice hiccuped into the air, stammering and yipping excitedly. He loved young Milo, however she was not helping him think straight. It pained him that he and Lambert told her that the facility was a kennel, what would he do if when they leave the room, she sees the other animals helped captive in the facility? The lies were to help the pup sleep better at night, something Lambert introduced when she arrived. Bet believed it was better to tell her the facts, so she could perhaps one day experience the warmth of a real kennel. No time to ponder: How was he going to open the locked doors without causing a racket? I don't know what to do... I am scared. Without saying another word, Bet strode closer to Harley's kennel examining the hinge and then pushing his whole face upward to the lock itself. All what was holding it shut, was a piece of metal that, if flipped, could unhatch the door. It was a simple method of keeping the kennel shut: Bet felt ashamed that it was such a simple lock, if you could even call it that...
Bet could not wait any longer, the dog was silly but not stupid- he'd seen this sort of contraption many times before. To open it all he had to do was push his nose upward and the hooked piece of metal should flop out and the door should open. Harley first; that was the most strategic one to unlock as Harley could open the rest, she was taller and more balanced. The climbing method, like Mariposa suggested, was a bit more complicated but not impossible. The lock was not as high as it would be for little Mariposa than Bet he should be able to reach if he stood on his hind legs and balanced on the wire, worth a shot.
The dog pushed himself up the wire, it dented inward from his weight but stable enough to lean his whole weight onto it. Steadied, his eyes crossed together, Bet flipped open the lock and stepped down. The door did not miraculously swing open: It needed to be pushed outward from the inside. At least it was open; all he needed to do was wait on Harley's behalf. No time. No time. The staggering dog rushed over to Lambert, before young Milo. Doing the same as he did before, setting him free from the trap.