The Dog Who Loved Jack

Infrequently, I find myself in possession of fanfic that I’ve written. I don’t necessarily plan to have fanfic. I don’t have enough time. But sometimes, that’s where fiction ends up.

Several years ago, Trent Zelazny and Warren Lapine ran an Indiegogo campaign for a Roger Zelazny tribute anthology titled Shadows and Reflections. If they met their goal, they would accept submissions from the general public in addition to whatever authors they planned on tapping for this.

They didn’t meet their goal, but it was a flexible funding campaign so they got some of their goal. They decided they would open up to submissions from people who had backed the campaign.

As a long-time Zelazny fan, I backed the crap out of that anthology. And I desperately wanted to write for it. It’s a rare moment when you are invited to play with the toys of an author you greatly admire. So when they said they’d still take submissions from backers, I went for it. It couldn’t be set in Amber, but it could be any other world.

I poured my love into this story, which I titled “The Dog Who Loved Jack.” It’s written in the world of A Night in the Lonesome October, but I wove in Raymond Chandler’s Farewell, My Lovely. The opening scene from Nine Princes in Amber is basically lifted from the middle of Chandler’s book. It’s meant as an homage to both Zelazny and his inspirations.

The story didn’t get accepted. I was told it was well written but not a good fit for the anthology. And, like many partially funded Indiegogo campaigns, the final product has never manifested. (A year ago they said it should be out in a couple months.)

Either way, I’m stuck with a story I love and, because it uses someone else’s setting, I can’t sell it anywhere. I don’t even feel right putting it up for free on my Patreon. So I’m offering it for free here in the form of fan-fiction. I’ve written plenty of character diaries for Amber campaigns, so hopefully this won’t be any more unethical. I hope you enjoy it.

The Dog Who Loved Jack

 

When I woke, I felt groggy. Drugged. I opened my eyes and saw light coming from nearby, but when I tried to lift my head and look for the source of light, a wave of dizziness overwhelmed me. With a whimper, I put my head back down and tried to wait out the narcotic.

Even without looking, my other senses told me enough about where I was: the smell of bleach and other animals, barking of dogs nearby. I’d ended up at the pound, which is an improvement over the last time I’d run into this problem. Last time, it had been a vivisectionist. But that was fifty years ago, in another country. And besides, the vivisectionist is dead.

I guess now is the time to warn you that I’m also a dog. My name is Snuff.

As the drug worked its way out of my system, my memories grew clearer. I had gone with my master, Jack, to the home of a Psychic who was a player in the Game and a fellow Closer. I’d been asked to keep watch outside. At the point when I began to suspect I’d been waiting for too long, a van had driven up and a couple of men had come out.

I’d led them on a merry chase through nearby woods, but they finally cornered me and caught me in their net. Must have injected me with something to knock me out as well.

For those unaware, the Game is simple in concept: Once every several years, the full moon in October lands on October 31st, and the Elder Gods can come through to our world. The sort of thing Lovecraft wrote about before he was infested by an alien parasite. The Game is not a spectator sport.

Some try to stop the Elder Gods, and they are called Closers. Others try to help the Elder Gods–they are called Openers. So far, the Closers have always won. My master, Jack, is a Closer.

As I lay on the floor of my cage, I tried to think back to any clues I might have gotten to explain what happened. The most obvious answer was that an Opener had tried to remove Jack and the Psychic before the 31st. It was amateurish and caused more problems than it solved, but it’s not impossible. Both the Spy and the Pilot were Openers we knew about and new to the Game.

I grew tired of waiting in my cage, so I tried raising my head again. It wasn’t as bad, so I shifted to get my paws underneath me and stand. A row of bars lined the front of my kennel cage, big enough to get my snout through but not much more. I leaned forward and tried to get a glimpse of the latch. Looked simple enough.

If I was going to make a run for it, I didn’t want to do it while the room still spun around me. I sat down and looked through the bars as I waited for the drug to wear off more. In another room, I could hear a couple of men talking. The door between here and there stood a few inches ajar, and the sweet smell of fresh air came from that gap. The dogs continued barking around me, calling out to one another (or anyone else who would listen) in hopes of being released.

A plan formed in my head.

When I figured I felt as good as I would get, I reached through and unlatched my cage. I nudged the door open with my head, then glanced around at the neighboring cages. Starting with the closest, I began opening latches.

The dogs inside didn’t react right away, so I growled at them. “Hurry up!”

The liberated animals bolted from their cages, cheering with delight. Some licked my face in gratitude. A couple couldn’t wait to just start fighting. Or maybe they were returning to fighting. Dogs will be dogs, I guess. To the humans, their cheers of enthusiasm probably sounded no different than their earlier barking.

I’d gotten a dozen cages open before one of the dogs, a Pekinese, headed for the door and nosed his way through. The men outside called out in alarm, which increased in volume and intensity as more dogs found their way out. I hurried to open two more cages before I joined the migrating pack of animals that the men outside struggled to deal with. I kept to the middle, with a buffer of other dogs around me. I broke off to head for the door to outside at the first chance I saw. I grabbed the knob in my mouth and turned, slowly backing up until the latch was free of the strike plate. I had just gotten the door open when a hand grabbed me by the scruff.

“Hold on there, Fido,” he said. “You’re not going anywhere.”

I’m not a small dog, so he couldn’t pick me up easily with one hand. I kept ahold of the doorknob, hoping to keep him from dragging me away or closing the door. A couple dogs bolted through the half open door while I held on.

He cursed and swore at me as he pulled at my scruff, trying to dislodge me. My teeth ached, but I didn’t think this plan would work as well a second time. I kicked back with my hind legs. My paws struck his shins, but they didn’t have enough strength to dissuade him.

It became clear that this was a losing struggle, so I shifted tactics. I let go of the doorknob while turning backward and pushed myself toward the man holding me. My paws slipped on the linoleum of the floor, but I had enough mass and surprise to stagger him. His grip on my scruff loosened, and I pushed off of him to run forward again.

Then I was out the door and running as fast I could through the streets of Los Angeles. Now to find Jack.

#

The moon hung fat and gibbous in the sky as I made my way up to the door of our house. We still had a few days before the full moon, but this was bad timing. Graymalkin, Crazy Jill’s cat, dropped from the stoop and circled me.

“You’ve been gone a while, Snuff,” she said.

“It’s been that kind of day. Has Jack returned?”

She shook her head. “No, Jill’s been worried. I take it the Psychic didn’t work out?”

“I’m guessing not. I was caught outside by the dog catcher. I don’t know what happened.”

Gray twitched her tail and strolled back up to the house. “That’s what that smell is. It will be midnight soon. You can tell Jill everything then.”

I followed Gray up the steps to the house that our masters had rented for the duration for the Game.  There are a lot of rules in the Game. One is that everyone has a familiar. Another is that most familiars can only speak to their owners for an hour after midnight. It’s not like I’m a talking dog from a cartoon.

Gray’s master, Jill, had been an Opener before accidentally switching teams. That’s a story for another time. Suffice to say, she’d stuck with Jack in the years since and shared the house with him.

Jill tackled me with a hug when I came in the door. She wasn’t as aloof as her cat. I wasn’t either, so I licked her face. When she finally let go of me she stood, slid the chain on the door, and then headed into the kitchen. I trotted after her and tried not to get underfoot while she put out some food for me. In turn, I devoured the food as fast as I could before lumbering back out to the living room and collapsing on the rug. It was a long walk across Los Angeles, and I was happy to just lie in a heap and listen to the faint piping sounds from the basement.

The clock on the mantelpiece was close to midnight when a knock at our door caught our attention. Jill glanced at me and Gray as though we might have some insight behind our visitor. I dragged myself to my feet and walked over to position myself so that I could attack anything that came through the door.

She walked over to the door and called out, “Who is it?”

“This is, uh, the police,” said a deep and thick man’s voice. “There’s been an accident, and I need to talk to you.”

Jill drew out a wand and opened the door without lifting the chain. As soon as the latch cleared the strike plate, the man on the other side shoved the door in with enough force to pull the chain off its mounting on the wall and knock Jill off her feet.

I lunged through the open door at the man, teeth bared and aiming for his leg. I figured I could either take a chunk out of him or at least knock him down. But he didn’t budge when I hit him. I got my teeth into the fabric of his pants but didn’t get a solid grip before he reached down, grabbed my scruff, and lifted me like a rag doll. He looked at me in confusion before tossing me out into the front yard.

The landing was bad, but I scrambled to get my feet under me and savage his hamstrings. I may as well have been attacking a moose for all it mattered. He just lumbered into the house, dragging me behind him as I kept my teeth buried in the flesh behind his knee. I could barely see Gray clinging on to the back of his shirt, trying to climb up to his head to distract him.

Jill chanted a spell from inside the house.

“What? You going to pull a rabbit out of your hat?” the man joked.

“No,” Jill said. “Shoggoth.”

“Shu-what?” the man said before the piping monstrosity we keep in our basement burbled up and rolled over him in a tide of protoplasmic bubbles. I let go and scrambled back, not wanting to join him in his fate. The man screamed until he was dragged down into the basement. Then he was done making noise.

Jill closed the door, leaned her back against it, and sank to the floor. “Well, this should be an interesting chat tonight.”

#

The motor boat cut through the water, taking us out to the casino boat. It shone like a beacon in the dark of night, with the sound of music and laughter that carried out over the water. Crazy Jill had had to pay extra to bring a cat and dog with her to the casino, but she figured it was worth the effort.

I couldn’t talk to Jill myself, but Gray was able to translate for me as I had shared the tale of my adventure. She in turn shared that the Psychic’s house had been empty when she went looking for us. She’d tried to seek out the allies we had made, the Girl Detective and the Crime-Fighting Dilettante, but neither had been home. Ultimately she had learned that the Psychic and Jack had been taken to the gambling ship, and there we headed.

The other gamblers looked at us askance when we walked into the casino. At first I thought it was just because pets were unusual, until I noticed some of the other patrons. In addition to the usual assortment of gamblers, lushes, and prostitutes, I also saw other players in the Game, Openers and Closers alike. I spotted the Dilettante, the English Lord, the Girl Detective, the Pilot, and even the sultry Spy. For some of them, like the English Lord’s monkey, I could clearly see their familiars. With others, they were either small enough to hide or big enough that they must be off on errands.

There were others I hadn’t encountered. Los Angeles is a big city, and it’s harder to find all the players. When we were in Madrid back in ’25, no one had been able to find all of the players, so all of the calculations for the event were thrown off. No one found the ritual space, and the world was saved on accident.

This late in the Game, I couldn’t understand why they would all be socializing here.

Gray quickly shot off as soon as we were on board. Her job was to scout around, while I kept close to Jill to provide extra protection. She took a seat at one of the tables, and I sat at her side. From my point of view, I saw Naga, the Dilettante’s snake familiar, slither her way toward us.

“Sssnuff,” she hissed. “Was your missstresss invited as well?”

I narrowed my eyes in suspicion. “Invited? No. And she’s not my mistress. She just works with my master. I take it you were?”

“My massster wasss,” she said. “By the owner of the boat. He insssisssted it was worth my massster’s time. Now there are other playersss here that were also invited, and I do not know what to make of it.”

I looked up at Jill, who rested her hand on my head and rubbed idly at one of my ears. I had no way of communicating with her and wasn’t sure if the other players were communicating or playing their cards close to their chest. Metaphorically, I mean.

A few cries of alarm from casino patrons heralded Gray’s rapid return as they nearly tripped over her. She came to an abrupt skidding stop next to me, ears back and tail lashing back and forth.

“I found him,” she said. “He’s locked up below with the Psychic and a few other players.”

I reached up and nudged Jill’s elbow with my head, then headed off with Gray. Jill quickly fell into step behind us. We left the casino and headed down a hallway with Gray leading the way. A couple brutish men blocked the corridor.

“Sorry, lady, this area is for staff only,” one of them said.

Gray had continued unchecked by the men. They clearly didn’t care about feline intruders. The cat stopped and looked back at us, tail twitching impatiently.

“Who can I speak to about getting back there?”

“You’ll have to talk to the management.”

“Can you get him for me?”

“Sorry. You’ll have to ask one of the people in the casino for that.”

She nodded. “I was afraid of that. Snuff?”

The man looked confused by that last statement, up until the point where I sunk my teeth in his inner thigh and pushed him backward. The air was filled with screaming from both my man and the other. When I figured my target was helpless, I let go and let him curl up into a ball and sob as blood ran through the cloth of his pants.

The other man flailed and batted at the beetles that covered him and devoured his flesh. It was a spell of Jill’s I’d seen before. Hell of a way to go.

We increased our pace, following Gray down the steps into the bowels of the boat. I heard the footsteps of other people following us as we went. I wasn’t sure if they were more guards, or if some of the other players had followed after our hasty departure.

One of the crew stepped in our way with a gun in hand. Before either Jill or I could react, a roar of gunfire exploded behind us, and the man fell with his hand clutched to his chest. I glanced back to see the Dilettante, scarf wrapped across the lower part of his face to conceal his identity. Next to him stood the Girl Detective, her own canine familiar at her side. A few of the other players trailed behind them.

“Will you hurry?” Gray called back. I turned and continued to follow. The rest followed us.

From ahead, I heard a man’s voice say, “It’s nothing personal, fellas. I just don’t like a bunch of weirdos trying to bring about the end of the world. I’m willing to sacrifice this boat in order to make sure none of you do anything hinky. It’s a small price to pay to save the world.”

I ran through a hatch into a small and overly warm room. I didn’t stop to assess the situation. I saw my master chained to the pipes that ran along the walls. As soon as I saw the man who was talking, I pounced, tearing at his hamstring with my teeth.

“The bombs!” he yelled as he fell. “Set off the bombs!”

When he hit the ground screaming, I went for the throat and cut off further instructions from him.

Guns were being fired, but no one seemed to be aiming at me. Soon the room fell silent, the smell of cordite and blood filling the air. I went over to Jack and licked at his face in joy. Jill arrived and began unlocking the manacles that held him in place. When he was free, I looked and saw that other players had, indeed, joined us.

“He’s got the ship wired to explode,” Jack said to the other players while Jill freed the rest. “He wasn’t a player, but he wanted to stop the Game before it happened. I guess he thought this would be the easiest way to take out a large chunk without giving much warning. Do any of you know how to–”

His words were cut short by a muffled rumble that shook the deck. All of the players had converged in this room, glancing uneasily at one another, eyes wide with the fear of the own doom.

“Okay, so I guess they’re setting off the bombs now rather than trying to escape,” Jack said. “The owner of the casino had sent all of his boats to shore, except the one he planned on using to escape. Snuff, take Jill and go find–”

Jill cleared her throat, slipped her hand into Jack’s, and smiled sweetly. “I will knock you unconscious and have Snuff help me drag you to the boat if you try to be a martyr.”

They both looked at me, and I responded with my best innocent doggy smile. There was no way I would interfere. I valued my life and limbs too much.

“Fine,” Jack said. “Then we should hurry.”

Another explosion shook the ship.

The Girl Detective piped up. “What about all the other passengers?”

Jack began walking, and I followed close behind. He called back, “I’ve killed a lot of girls that look like you, child, in order to stop the Elder Gods from returning. I’m willing to kill a lot more.”

I glanced back and met the gaze of the Girl Detective’s dog. I’d not really interacted with him. He was just too puppyish for my tastes. And a collie. They tend to not be the brightest of dogs.

“Are you kidding me?” the dog asked. “Are you really willing to let all these people die?”

I tilted my head and arched an eyebrow. “What’s important to you? A few billion people or fifty dissolute gamblers?

The collie growled at me, and then grabbed his mistress’s sleeve in his teeth to pull her along.

By the time we reached the boat, people were fighting over spaces while the ship lurched drunkenly downward. Jack shoved past the mob at the railing and jumped over the railing, smooth and effortless. The glint of steel flashed in the moonlight as he sliced at a few people with his razor. They fell into the water, clutching their throats as blood poured between their fingers. The sharks would feed well tonight.

The others gave Jack space after that. His violence, combined with his aura of menace, was enough to discourage any attempts to stop him. He helped Jill and the other known Closers onto the boat. The Openers shoved their way on board, daring him to strike this close to Halloween.

The Pilot took control of the boat, and soon we were headed for shore. I leaned up against Jack as we bounced along the waves. He scratched my ears and said, “Who’s a good boy?”

Some dogs spend their whole life trying to figure out the answer to that question. But I’d been around long enough to know that he was talking about me.

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