Coco and The Black Box
Leilanie Stewart © 2018
The black dog crouched in the corner of the kitchen. Its teeth were bared and a low, steady growl rumbled from its throat as it fixed its eyes on Mandy. Any minute now the animal would spring and devour her. Mandy’s shaking hand gripped the phone. The dialling tone sounded in her ear.
“Pick up, Deanna, please pick up,” she whispered.
Deanna’s voice cut across the tone. “Hello?”
“Oh thank God – it’s Coco. I don’t know what to do.”
“Not again Mandy. I’ve told you, you have to get rid of this thing for once and for all.”
“Please. I don’t know what to do. This devil dog is gonna kill me.”
“Because you let it. If it eats you up, it’s your own fault. Kick this beast to the curb – put it to rest for your own good, I’m telling you.”
“It’s not that easy.”
“You let it take over your life. Look, I’ve given you my advice, take it or leave it.”
The call ended. Mandy listened to the dead tone. And then, in a flash of black, Coco pounced.
Mandy awoke and realised she was lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of her own blood. There was no sign of the dog. She sat up and felt her head throb where it had hit the tiles. Deanna was no help; all she did was chastise her. That wasn’t a friend. She had no friends. She had no one. No one except the black dog.
Coco. Why did she even give it a name in the first place? It wasn’t a pet. It certainly wasn’t anything cute that she wanted to keep. It was a monster, a harmful presence in her life. Deanna was right about one thing; she needed to rid herself of it before it consumed her.
She heard the thing snarling. It was in the hallway. She pulled herself to her feet and stood on her shaky legs. She felt weak. When had she last eaten? Locked away in her flat day after day with only the devil dog in her life tearing everything up, she’d been too preoccupied to worry about trivial things like food and drink. Even sleep had taken its place in her life as a limbo world between life and death; one crazy sleeping-pill induced haze.
A shadow in the corner of her eye told her the beast was lurking. She turned as it came into full view. In one leap, it traversed the gap between hallway and kitchen. In one movement, Mandy rolled clear of its path. The thing hit the wall with a crunch. It fell onto the ground and lay still. Mandy held her breath as she watched. Hopefully it had killed itself.
She ventured a toe to touch the beast. A wet, squelching sound met her ear. Coco’s hind quarter stirred; from underneath, a tiny, black puppy emerged. It was a miniature replica of its mother, wriggling out from under the devil dog itself. The beast had given birth to its satanic spawn.
Mandy groaned and massaged her head. Not now. Not this of all things. Not when nobody gave a shit enough to help her…
The pup ran around in circles. It butted Coco’s limp side, butted Mandy’s foot and raced at the wall.
With a crack, the pup fell back. Now there were two. Mandy rubbed her eyes and willed them to focus. The pup had split in two as it fell to the floor.
The two pups ran around in identical circles of opposite direction. Mandy looked at Coco. The black dog lay on its side, its belly heaving up and down. The thing had a pulse. The thing was alive. It fixed an eye on Mandy and a soft snarl escaped its beastly throat.
“No one cares if I’m alive or dead,” said Mandy to the dog. “Mum doesn’t even call anymore, no one emails anymore. If you ate me up and I lay here stinking, I wonder how long it would take for people to find me. No one even gives a fuck enough to report me missing.”
A sour smell met her nose. Mandy looked down and saw another pup squirming at her feet. The damn dogs were multiplying and there was little she could do to stop it. She wanted to stamp them all out, but that required energy.
“Fuck it. Fuck it all. I hate my life. I hate everything.”
She licked her chapped lips. Let the dogs multiply. They could eat her, or eat each other for all she cared.
Two puppies collided. Four fell apart.
Like bacteria feeding on a rotting corpse the dogs were spreading. Like fission in a nuclear bomb, they would multiply and destroy everything. A ticking time bomb.
Mandy popped a couple of pills from a blister pack on the kitchen counter and swallowed them to help her throbbing head. She counted nine puppies now rampaging about on the floor. A tenth lay still, near Coco. Looking closer, Mandy noticed that it was dead. As she watched, the black bitch ate her own spawn. A prickle of excitement gripped Mandy.
The momentary happiness gave Mandy a new impulse that she acted on, just to see what would happen; she kicked one of the pups. It flew through the air and landed motionless, but didn’t multiply. Three of the other pups fell upon it and ate it. The tiny beasties became frenzied, and she watched them run from the room. Throughout it all, Coco lay, relatively sedate.
“Fuck all the puppies. Fuck all my so called friends. Fuck everyone,” she said, feeling anger for the first time in weeks.
Mandy opened the front door and felt the fresh breeze on her face. A grey day. She sighed. Things were never easy for her, but she had to try. She had to take it one step at a time.
One of the puppies bumped against her ankle. She looked down and saw it run into the garden. Her eyes followed it through the grass, before a bird swooped down and attacked it. Mandy watched with mild interest as bird and beast fought. Another puppy down; only eight to go. And the worst of them. The devil dog itself.
“Still, it’s all my fault,” said Mandy into the breeze. “I gave it a name, and that’s how I gave it power. It’ll keep growing unless I stop it.”
She left the door open to fill the flat with fresh air, and went into her living room. A bar of chocolate lay on the table, half-eaten. Mandy pulled it from the wrapper and ate it in one mouthful. She savoured the taste; her first meal in over twenty-four hours.
Another pup lay dead beneath the glass table. Mandy closed her eyes, the bitter cocoa pleasurable on her tongue. That was her power. She knew now how to do it. She would take the power back for herself.
“I don’t need anyone. It’s better to have nobody in my life than people who would rather antagonise me.”
She looked out the window. The dead carcass of a pup hung in the branches of her hedge, where it had tried to escape. For every part of her life that she reclaimed, a part of her old life died.
The flat was silent now. One by one, all the pups had died. Another part of her flat had been silenced too, and Mandy knew she had to investigate. She looked in the kitchen, but there was no sign of the black dog.
Coco had gone.
Mandy remembered the front door. Had Coco escaped? Had the beast left for good? If it was true; that the devil dog had gone, maybe she would be able to start getting her life back together. Maybe she would be able to make new friends. Maybe she could even be sociable once again.
“But I’m scared,” said Mandy. “How can I get rid of this fear, this desperation…”
Then she saw it; Coco was lying on the roadside. The animal was flat and lifeless, as though it had been run over by a car. With its death, Mandy felt the power return. She had control again, not some black dog in her life. She would start fresh.
A thought niggled at her mind. Mandy shut the front door in case Coco wasn’t really dead. If the black dog came back, it would grip her. It would take hold of her and eat her up properly.
A tiny whine made Mandy jump. A puppy sat at her feet. She hadn’t killed them all; she had missed one. Instinctively, she stooped and picked it up. The thing looked so tiny and pathetic. How could any of the little monsters ever have controlled her life? Yet she knew the answer; that if she didn’t keep it under control, one day it would grow and become another devil dog like Coco.
“What am I to do with you?” she said to the pup. “I can’t let you reign free all the time. After all I’m not the only person who has one. Winston Churchill only let his loose at certain times. I’ve got to do the same with you.”
She walked upstairs with the pup held in a tight grip so that it wouldn’t escape. In her bedroom was a black jewellery box, given to her as a birthday gift. She had never found a need for it until now, but with its lockable lid, it was the perfect place.
Mandy placed the dog inside. It fit snugly, and looked up at her with its large black-dog eyes. How fitting; a black box for a black dog. A stab of fear overcame her. She would have to make sure the dog didn’t get any bigger or it would burst out of its compartment. But for now, it was safe. She closed the lid, muffling a low growl from the animal inside. Mandy smiled and turned the key. It was a day for a new adventure.