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About the Author
Tim Pratt is a fiction writer, poet, sometime teacher, occasional performance artist, and recent graduate of the Clarion Writer's Workshop. He has poetry upcoming in Asimov's and probably some other places. He lives for the time being in Santa Cruz, California.
The Dog Boys
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Michael waited at the bus stop. The overcast sky looked like wet concrete. He stood by the ditch, tossing stones into the weeds, listening for the rumble of the dirty yellow bus.
He turned, some warning tingling at the back of his head, and saw them coming. The twins approached from either side, as if trying to flank him. The blond came up the middle. He resembled some combination of serpent and bird of prey, his wiry body swaying hypnotically, his blond hair standing up. The nails on his hooked, bony fingers looked unusually sharp. The three advanced, stepping in tandem to some inaudible drummer, slow and constant.
Michael moved back, aware of the deep ditch behind him. He could jump it, but that would mean turning his back. He doubted he could outrun the boys, but he didn't think letting them hit him until they got bored would save him. The twins couldn't possibly be any more disinterested than they already were, and the blond would rip him to pieces long before his interest waned.
Michael was considering running, doubts and all, when salvation came.
The school bus! Michael heard it rumbling, a mobile haven that had never been a haven before. He turned his head and saw the approaching cloud of dust, and the dog boys stopped too, the blond lifting his head like a lion scenting meat.
They'll leave now, Michael thought frantically, they'll run away. Like the boys in the back of the bus, who don't mess with me if I sit near the driver. The dog boys didn't scatter. They kept coming, the blond grinning ravenously, teeth large in his boy's mouth. Michael turned and jumped the ditch, waving his arms, mentally urging Mr. Fraenkel to speed up. The bus chugged steadily and the boys approached. Michael looked over his shoulder, torn between hope and terror.
Then the bus arrived, the glass door's long window before Michael's face and the dog boys safely distant on the other side of the ditch. Michael stepped to the doors.
They didn't open.
Michael looked up, his stomach rolling. Mr. Fraenkel, high on his seat, watched Michael and the dog boys, his face smooth and interested but distant, uninvolved. His hands rested in his lap like small obedient pets.
Michael looked back at the boys. The blond, whose smile had faltered a bit at the bus's approach, grinned again. The three moved more quickly to the edge of the ditch.
Michael beat his fists on the bus door, hammered with his hands and his lunchbox, which broke open, spilling his neatly made sandwich onto the dirt. Mr. Fraenkel watched. Michael looked over his shoulder as the blond crouched on all fours, lips peeled back from his teeth, clearly tensing to leap.
Mr. Fraenkel's eyes went wide, and he reached for the silver lever. Michael hammered the doors until they pushed against him, opening. He stepped back, then plunged through. The doors closed behind him.
The glass thumped as the blond boy crashed into it. Michael scrambled up the steps, sure the boy would come through the glass to reach him. He made it safely to the seat behind Mr. Fraenkel and huddled against the far wall, breathing hard and crying.
The blond snarled, foaming. The twins stood calmly behind him, their hands hanging loose. The blond clawed at the door, his nails dragging long impossible furrows down the glass.
Mr. Fraenkel put the bus in gear and pulled away, but the blond boy scrabbled at the glass and somehow found purchase with his hooked fingers. He clung like a leech, his eyes wide and bright in his unlined boy-face. Mr. Fraenkel jerked the wheel, hard, and the boy swayed but held on. The blond beat his forehead against the glass, eyes still wide and fixed on the driver.
Mr. Fraenkel drove to the edge of the road, perilously close to the ditch, where weeds and long branches poked from the autumn wild. Michael clutched the back of Mr. Fraenkel's seat, helpless and terrified. Branches and briars scraped the side of the bus and tore at the blond boy, who still impossibly clung, his monstrous grin fixed and white.
Mr. Fraenkel floored the bus and it roared like an angry beast, like a tiger in a zoo, and the branches scraped and rattled against the bus with greater frequency. A gnarled dogwood branch struck the blond boy and tore one of his arms loose. He swung out precariously, but didn't fall, one hand still holding onto the glass. He glared, feral and determined, at Mr. Fraenkel and Michael in turn. The next branch struck him squarely in the back and tore him, tumbling, from the door.
Michael swallowed and ran to the back of the bus. The blond boy was nowhere, gone, unless he'd fallen in the ditch.
Dead, Michael thought. But knew he wasn't.
"What the fuck?" Mr. Fraenkel said, and Michael was too worn and scared to be surprised.[an error occurred while processing this directive]