“That dog just said woof”
I rolled my eyes.
“Brilliant observation Willis. A dog barked like a dog. Thanks for sharing,” I said, pouring sarcasm into every word.
My best friend, my only friend, glared at me from under his moppish fringe.
“No, Art,” he replied patiently, in a tone suggesting he was explaining to an idiot that water is wet, “the dog spoke. It said ‘Woof'”
I stared blankly at him for a moment. Then I switched my gaze to the dog in question. It had stopped at the mouth of an alley and I’ll swear to my dying day that when it realized we were studying it intently, the dog muttered “Shit!” before it bolted down afore-mentioned alley.
“Follow it!” I shouted, pointlessly it turned out, as Willis was already past me and gaining speed.
I pounded along in pursuit. We’d been trying to find a lead for weeks, and couldn’t afford to let the hound escape. Believe it or not, a talking dog wasn’t the ends we pursued, so much as a means to an end. The dog was a symptom which we hoped would lead us to a very particular cause.
Willis and I appeared to most people to be unemployed. The fools. We were, more correctly, employed in a great and noble cause. We guarded humanity against everything they couldn’t understand, countenance or comprehend. Not just ghosts or ghouls, oh no. Incursions from different dimensions, harbingers of…whatever the plural of apocalypse is; you fail to name it, we put ourselves in direct opposition to it. At last count, we’d saved the world seven times. The fact that you’ve never heard of us just proves how good we are.
All the portents suggested something big was coming. The signs hinted at impending doom. Frankly, I’d have preferred something more concrete. Like an anonymous text saying “Prepare for the zombie apocalypse.” Or a billboard warning of a plague of locusts on May 18th. Alas, the world is seldom fair.
A talking dog is a definite sign that something odd is occurring. Fortunately for us, the alley was a dead end. Unfortunately for us, the dog had really sharp teeth.
We prevailed, which explains how an hour later we found ourselves wishing we hadn’t. Willis and I share a flat. Simple, some would say bare, with basic furniture (some would say upturned crates and pallets). The dog was tied securely to the table by all four paws. I was stood in the corner of the room, video camera trained on the dog. Willis was sat a few paces away, glaring at the dog and dabbing grazes on his arm with iodine.
“Okay,” I announced to the room at large, “interrogation begins approx. three pm.”
“What’s a prox?” asked Willis.
The dog wheezed. Or chuckled. Probably chuckling.
“It means approximately, Willis,” I explained, “Saves time.”
“This is saved time? Whatever Art,” he replied.
I hate that technically he was right.
“Subject is apparently a canine, suspected of human speech,” I continued, “Officers Art and Willis present. Go ahead Willis.”
He placed his hands on the edge of the table, then screamed in the dog’s face.
“What the fuck!” exclaimed the dog, then muttered, “Oh bugger.”
“Did you get that Art?”
“Sure did. Nice job,” I congratulated Willis.
Willis grinned smugly at the suspect. We had him, and he knew it.
“What are you, then?” I asked the apparent pooch.
The mutt remained stoically silent.
Willis circled the table, slowly, almost nonchalantly.
“We know you aren’t an ordinary dog,” he said calmly, “so you might as well level with us. We won’t necessarily hurt you, we’re just trying to find out what’s coming.”
The dog sighed, sounded tired.
“Willis, I’m you,” he said.
We stared at the dog. At each other. Back to the dog.
“I’m from three days into the future! I’ve come back to give you, me, us…to deliver a warning,” dog-Willis continued.
We’ve seen a lot of peculiar stuff, Willis and I, but this was hard to swallow. Time travel was a first for us.
“Why are we a dog?” Willis asked.
Dog-Willis whined, snuffled uneasily.
“We…we don’t exactly have a body anymore, in my time,” he explained sadly.
Willis shot me a frown.
“Thanks a bunch, Art,” he said bitterly.
“Oi! It might not have been my fault,” I retorted. I asked dog-Willis, “Was it my fault?”
“Sort of,” dog-Willis replied.
“A-HA” yelled Willis.
“I mean,” dog-Willis continued, “if you hadn’t of died tomorrow, you could have probably stopped me from sticking that device on my head.”
“A-HA!” I yelled, pointing triumphantly at Willis.
He shrugged, said very calmly, “You heard me, if you didn’t die then I wouldn’t be a dog.”
I gaped, speechless. Nothing new, when trying to to argue with Willis.
“Wait,” I turned back to the Willis-hound, “I’m going to die tomorrow? How? Why!?”
He shrugged, “No idea.”
“Why don’t you know?”
“You vanished. Vanish. And then you die. Died. I don’t know, it was pretty irresponsible of you.”
I threw my hands in the air, exasperated.
“But why are we a dog?” Willis asked.
“I can’t tell you,” Willis replied.
“Sanctity of the timeline?” Willis asked.
“No, I just don’t understand what the hell happened,” Willis replied.
“Can we focus,” I interjected, “on what’s going to happen?”
Willis and Willis both looked at me.
“I die, circumstances unknown. Then you turn into a dog and travel back in time to give us a warning. Great; warn us about what?”
Willis-hound cleared his throat.
“Art. You’re going to die tomorrow.”
“Now, Art. Calm down. Panicking about your impending doom isn’t going to help,” Willis said impatiently.
“You’re both arseholes,” I bit back bitterly.
“What exactly leads to us becoming a dog?” Willis asked himself.
“I wanted to help Art-no idea why, he’s kind of a dick-so I found this guy on the internet who said he could view the past. I thought I could at least find out what happened, maybe exact bloody vengeance on his killer.”
I interrupted, “Wait, you said you didn’t know what happened.”
“Well, no. Because once I got there, I thought maybe he could send me back instead. He said it would be too dangerous, but I convinced him to try. And he was right. My body, like, disintegrated. But I was still there. This weird window the guy used to see the past showed the street we saw me on, so I tried to go through it. I kind of floated around until I saw that dog. It looked familiar, so I tried, uh, to move into it. And it worked. And here I am. Warning you.” Here Willis-hound glared at me.
“Sorry. Thank you Willis. I’m just a little on edge. Impending doom, ya know.”
I paced. I was worried. I had no idea why but I was about to die. Given our line of work there were any number of possibilities. Add to that, my genius partner apparently absented himself so if there was an impending apocalypse, nobody was around to stop it.
“What state was my body in?” I asked Willis-hound.
“You were decapitated. They didn’t find your head.”
I rubbed my neck, a little uneasy. That sounded rather painful.
“No other weirdness?”
Willis-hound cocked his head.
“Not…especially. Well. There was a strange message.”
I could feel my calm slipping further away.
“A message?” I asked, trying to sound reasonable.
“Yeah. It’s what gave me the idea to find out what happened. It was butned into the wall; the words ‘Find out what happened’ and a url.”
“Willis,” I said through gritted teeth, “Was it the url that led you to the time window guy?”
“Yeah. I figured you must have left the message to lead me to your killer. Didn’t work out though. Nice work, genius.”
I lost my temper then. I’d had enough, and was good and ready to tear into Willis-hound. Never got that chance though. There was a brilliant flash at that point and a thunderous bang.
A figure stepped out of the smoke, coughing. He-maybe it-wore a hood that obscured his-its-face and was carrying a large case of some sort.
“I come with a warning!” said the figure.
I wanted to cry.
“What’s in the box?” Willis asked.
“My head,” the figure replied.
He threw off his hood. He was old, very old. And he looked ofdly familiar.
“But I can see your head,” Willis replied.
The old man sighed. I sighed too.
“Art! He’s you.” Willis said, “I’d recognize that sigh anywhere.”
I turned to me.
“What’s going on? Who cut off our head?”
“I did,” I replied. Old me, I mean.
“I assume you have a reason for doing so. And that the explanation is compelling enough to persuade me to allow you to decapitate yourself,” I said.
At this point my head hurt so much that I wouldn’t have minded having my head cut off.
“Not really,” I, he, old me replied, “This is just the way I recall events occurring.”
“You mean,” I stopped, rubbed my temples, “You’re saying I travel back from the far future and cut off my young self’s head, then take the head and leave a message for my highly suggestible and irresponsible partner so that he’ll get his body disintegrated and project his consciousness back in time into a dog so he can warn me I’ll die. All so you can bring my head back to this point. And you do this, if I’m following, because that’s what you remember happening?”
Old man me shrugged.
“I was expecting it to make sense once I got here,” he said.
“This is a nasty tangle,” he said, “There must be a reason you did all this Art, but for the life of me I don’t see why. You’ve made a fine mess.”
“This was all your idea,” he said.
“I don’t even believe in predestination!” I shouted.
Willis-hound cocked his head.
Old man-me looked uncomfortable.
“I won’t do it!” I screamed, “I refuse to travel back in time and cut off my own head!”
Old man-me and Willis-hound blinked out of existence.
Willis looked at me and shrugged.
“You must have meant it,” he said.
I shook my head.
“Willis,” I said, sounding very tired, “sometimes I wonder if maybe the world deserves to be saved.”
He shrugged again, said, “What else are we going to do? Get jobs in a burger joint? This is fun!”
He had a point.
“Promise me one thing,” I said.
“No time travel.”