Joey Vermiclin was sitting at his desk eating a cold turkey sandwich when the phone call came in.
"Yello, this is Dr. Vermiclin, Federal Morgue, who can I cut up for you today?" Joey has practiced this line for quiet a long time, and it always rattled the federal boys whenever he said it. They told him it was 'Unprofessional'. But Vermiclin's line of work didn't lend it's self to humour much. It also didn't help that he purposely slurred the line between a chunk of white meat and rye bread.
"Dr. Vermiclin, This is sheriff Potts from Kinlin, Okalahoma. I was told you were one of the best..." Potts voice fell of into a hushed whisper.
"Speak up man, I canít hear a word you're saying."
"Oh sorry..." The sheriff's voice trailed off for a second time, but he quickly recovered. "Um, one of my deputies found a skeleton of one of our dirt roads, and I was hoping you could take a look at it."
"Mr. Potts, I'm a very busy man, I'm sure one of the local morgues can take care of any problem you might have with a murder." He really wasn't very busy, but just beyond the frosted glass of his office window, at least 6 people in various states of decay were being worked on by his staff of medical students.
"Dr. Verm..." the sheriff started.
"Joey" interrupted Joey.
"Joey, the body is..." Joey would of bet that Potts turned white as he said this. "deformed."
Dr. Vermiclin was getting a little annoyed with the sheriff, but due to his tone of voice his curiosity was also being tickled. "So the body is deformed. Big deal. Do you have anything else to tell me to get me to look at the body?"
"I've already sent it."
"OK, that would work. If I have time I'll take a peek at the body."
Joey placed the phone on the hook and finished off his sandwich in two bites. Reaching into his box of rubber gloves the 35 year old Dr. left his office and entered into the main examination room. It's supposed to be a sterile environment, but due to the nature of the examinations going on at the time, Vermiclin let the sterile environment slide from time to time. He walked down the isle dividing the room into 2 sides of slabs, all four on one side were full with their victims laying on them, the other side having just two. They were all being picked over by excited, if not morbid, medical students, save one. The federal morgue wasn't dealing with cases today, just teaching some future chop jockey's the ropes. Every Wednesday all work came to a crashing halt with the FBI's idea of a public service.
Joey walked down the isle looking at the various toe tags. As he came to the body not being worked on he yelled at the students. "Hey Mark, Betty, give them some space and cut this bugger up a bit would ya?" The two students, being summoned, bounced over to the shape under the clear rubber sheet.
"OK, Betty, Mark, Let me introduce you to..." Joey bent over and read the tag to them "Susan Degenits, from Barken Texas. age 21, cause of death..." Joey pulled the tag of and stuck it in to his shirt pocket. "you figure out." With that he spun around and headed back to his office, A very bad horror movie was coming on and he wanted to see it.
The movie, frankly, sucked. Within 20 minutes
of rubber masks and visible zippers the TV was shut off. Dr. Vermiclin
walked over to his file cabinet and pulled out Susan's file.
Susan Degenits: Sex: Female Age: 21
Joey skipped all the restated facts and headed down to, what he liked to call it, the story part:
Victim was found in alley disarrayed, and naked. Severe head trauma apparently from a fall from the 3rd story window. In her hotel room there was found some drug equipment and her clothing, a smouldering pile on the bathroom floor. Her half-burnt driver's license gave her age and name, but not her place of residence.
Cause of death: Sever head trauma.
Joey had taken the time after he had received the body to call the local authorities of Barken on how he came into possession of the young woman. The story he got was that Susan came driving into town about a week earlier, and got herself a room. She was seen out an about for the first 5 days, and then she all of disappeared into the hotel. Not a peep was heard from her until she took a header onto the cement. Since no one really knew where she came from she was turned over to the state government. They found that Miss Degenits had no family, and due to a loophole in one legal code or another, DC's federal morgue got her for "training purposes".
Basically, a druggie who though she could fly.
The rest of the day went bye uneventfully, except for an incident where a board student took John Doe's heart out and stuck it on his head. A good laugh was had by all.
At 8:00 p.m. Joey Vermiclin pulled out of the parking lot in the north side of Washington DC, and took his 10 minute ride into Maryland and his apartment on the 14 floor. Joey walked in and hit the button on his answering machine, then headed over to the fridge and pulled him out a TV dinner, for another night of eating alone. He should be married, but his former girl friend became enthralled with the sanctity of the human body, and didn't approve of the Dr.'s line of work any more.
The stale voice of the machine came on. "YOU HAVE... FOUR... MESSAGES. BEEP Hey Joe, it's Bob, just wanted to know if were still on for Friday. BEEP Joey, it's your mother, why don't you call any more, you sister calls all the time. Oh well, I know you're a busy man, but please, I want to hear from you again. BEEP Hey Dr. Vermiclin, It's Mike, I don't have any classes on Friday and I was hoping you'd let me come in and finish working on Susan. Gimme a call. BEEP Is your refrigerator running? You idiot, he isn't home. CLICK"
Vermiclin pulled himself away from the microwave and picked up his phone, and gave Mike a call.
"Hello?" Asked the voice on the other line.
"Yes Mike, you can come in on Friday." and Joey hung up.
Friday about noon Mike Underland came screeching into the morgue's examination room where Dr. Vermiclin was fishing through some convalescent's bowls.
"What's up Dr. V." Mike asked in his usual chipper attitude.
"Triple homicide across state lines, the boys want the bullet for ballistics evidence. Susan is in drawer 5d." Joey responded as he explored the man's bowls for that tell-tail peace of lead.
Mike headed over to the wall o body's with a gurney he swiped from next to the slab Vermiclin was working at. He opened the freezer door and slid the body onto the gurney, witch then was slammed into one of the slabs. Due to a idea he got late Wednesday night he rolled the body onto the back and examined the head. Sure enough there was a sizeable bruise and a weakening of the skull, from what he gathered from gently probing the back of the head with his hands.
"Looks like head trauma Joey" Mike called over to the doctor.
"If it was that simple, why didn't you figure that out Wednesday?" the doctor retorted.
"Ah you know Betty, always distracted with the littlest scrape and bruise, we spent most of the day going over the hands and chest."
"Don't stop with just a skin examination, cut her head open and look for brain Haemorrhaging" Joey said with a devil's may care voice. He wasn't really enjoying plundering this man's entrails for a bit of buck-shot.
Mike walked over to the sink area and got himself the bone saw. Walking back he picked up a scalpel and cut away the woman's flesh, taking time to shave the area first with a strait razor. Five minutes later Mike confirmed that it was a massive blow to the head from the damage to the brain and skull. Dr. Joey Vermiclin walked over, utterly discussed with his search up to this point, and watched Mike Underland poke at the brain. Then his attention wandered to the method the med. student ability in shaving the scalp. More to the nicks in the skin flap in particular.
"That's real sloppy work with shaving her pretty hair" Joey remarked as he picked up a small lock of her hair. Brown. Then he looked back at Mike as he spun the hair between his thumb and forefinger.
"What?, oh yea, sorry about that, I guess I got a little careless" Mike responded with out conviction, he was staring at the man on the other slab with his bowls routed up. "Can I work on him?"
"No, sorry Mike, but that's a case."
Joey didn't like the though of going spelunking again for a bullet, but he was getting paid to do it. Looking one more time at the brown and blond hair he started walking back to the slab and stopped mid stride. "Mike, take a look at that girls hair for me." Mike did so and told him that her hair was brown, and there was some shorter, coarse blond hair mixed in. "What do you mean blond?" Mike walked back to Susan with his curiosity gnawing at his stomach.
"There's blond hair in with the brown, that's what I mean" Mike said.
Dr. Vermiclin picked out one of the blond hairs in the lock he was holding, and held it up to the light against one of the brown hairs. "Mike get me a microscope would you?" Mike grabbed the morgue's low power microscope and brought it over to the slab. One quick look confirmed what was gnawing at his stomach. They weren't the hair from the same person, with colored hair, it is usually a bit thicker than the normal hair, but the blond, shorter hair was thicker, meaning that it would have been the colored one. Except that being shorter it was newly grown, so it couldn't have been colored. Also the color was solid through both hairs.
"Huh." was all that Joey said.
"What is it?" Mike asked.
"Look for your self." Mike did so as Julie, the receptionist walked in wearing a black sweater and jeans.
"Here's the files you wanted Dr. J." Julie said between chewing bubble gum. Joey's attention went directly Julie's sweater, or rather, the yellow streaks on the sweater. He reached out and pulled one of the hairs off the front of her shirt.
"What's this?" Vermiclin asked.
"Oh, my dog, Lucky, was jumping all over me this morning, and I didn't have time to change my sweater before I left, he's shedding like a madman these days," answered Julie as she turned on her heal and headed out the morgue's door.
Dr. Joey pulled the slide out of the microscope and placed Lucky's hair on it next to brown Susan and blond Susan. Looking into the scope he saw that the blond hair matched the dog's hair almost exactly, save color and length.
"Mike, it appears that Susan has dog fur in her hair."
"Yes, but in such an ordered fashion?" Mike was bent over Susan's head coming through her hair. "There's a lot of it and it's running parallel with her own hair, and it's attached in some places, looks like it was growing out of her head."
"What the hell?" Joey's curiosity was justifiably peeked at this point. But then Julie walked in.
"Dr. J., there's a UPS guy here with a really big box."
Joey waked out of the morgue scratching his head in confusion, how could someone grow dog hair, and into the receptionist area where there was a very large UPS man standing with an even larger crate. He signed the delivery form and looked at the return address on the box. Kinlin, Okalahoma. Vermiclin mentally cursed Sheriff Potts for sending a skeleton via UPS.
With the UPS guy on his way, he got Mike Underland to help him carry the box into the morgue.
"Cover the bodies up and re-ice them would you, but keep Susan out here would you?" Joey ordered the med. student as he pulled off the yellow envelope from the box and ripped it open. It was a prepaid shipping order, probably for the bones in the box. Dr. V. then took the bone saw and make quick work of the nails and he slid the cover off reviling a box full of packing foam peanuts. "What kind of idiot is this guy?" he asked himself as he started sifting through the packing and he pulled out a arm bone. "ahh gimme a break". Vermiclin walked into his office and grabbed his waste bucket and a drawer from his desk, and headed back into the examination room. Using his hands as scoops he started throwing the pink foam into his bucket, and then into the drawer when the bucket was full. Finally, with one last scoop the skull was revealed, and Dr. Vermiclin let out a yelp of surprise.
"What is it?" Mike half asked as he came running over to the box and the doctor.
"When Potts said deform he wasn't kidding," Joey said half to himself and half to Mike who was peering into the crate. The doctor reached in and pulled the skull out, and held it at arm's length. "What the hell do you make of this?"
The skull Vermiclin was referring to was, if anything, 'deformed'. The Jaw and upper part of the face were extruded outwards, and the forehead was pushed back. The back of the skull was normal though. Doctor Joey placed the skull onto a empty slab. Ten minutes the two men had the entire skeleton re-assembled on the slab, and the remains of it's possessions laid out on a second slab. The bones, put bluntly, were a horror.
"Well, it was a male," Joey started telling Mike, but that's as far as he could explain. The left half of the body was a normal human. One arm, one leg, a hand and a foot. But the right side took the half hazard form of something. The entire leg looked as if it was in the process of melting when he died, and the foot was smaller than normal, and the heel was pulled back up the leg. The hand had lost all appearance of being a hand, and more like a paw. The chest was contracted, as if the spine had shrunk, also the ribs were shattered, from what Joey's trained eyes could determine, by a shotgun blast.
"What the hell happened to this guy?" Asked Mike, but all that Joey could do was shake his head. Mike turn back to the other slab where the tattered remains of a leather jacket and jeans lay. He picked up the jacket. "Nice jacket, excepting the hole in the chest." Underland open the jacket and saw a bulge on the inside pocket. "Hello what's this?"
Dr. Vermiclin turned to Mike as he pulled a faded wallet out of the jacket's inner pocket and flipped it open. "This would be Mr. Douglas Jamal. His drivers license was issued on march 1st 1965. He was umm.. 37 years old. Address 13 Main street, Barken, Texas?" Mike looked up in confusion and stared at Joey. Joey grabbed the drivers license from Mike and stared at the address. Then he shot a glance at Susan Degenits body, and turned at last to the deformed Douglas.
"Mike, what does Doug's hand look like?" Joey prodded.
"A paw..." Mike answered.
"And Susan has dog hair growing out of her scalp, right?" Joey prodded again.
"Possibly... What are you getting at Dr. Vermiclin?" Mike asked.
"I don't know... do me a favour and put the bodies away and lock up." Joey said as he ran into his office and grabbed his jacket. "I'll be gone for a couple of days, I'm going to catch a flight to Texas," and with that Joey Vermiclin walked out of the morgue...
About 8:30 am on Sunday Dr. Joey Vermiclin stepped out of the cab and into the dry, dusty air of Barken, Texas. He then paid the cabby his 345 dollars for the cab ride from the airport in Houston, picked up his luggage, and walked towards a modest looking building that he assumed was the hotel that Susan Degenits learned how to fly at about a month earlier.
When Joey blew out of his morgue and DC all in the same day, his curiosity had control of his actions, but during the flight and his lay-over in Kansas, common sense started to take over. Now Joey was beginning to doubt the sanity of flying out to some backwater town trying to fine part of is childhood nightmares. Dog people indeed. You're just trying to find an excuse to take a vacation, Vermiclin though to himself.
Dr. Vermiclin reached the sidewalk and dropped himself on a bench and took stock of the town. Buildings, cop car, trees, people, dogs, and Joey sticking out like a sore thumb. For some reason Joey put on a suit and tie before making his final leg of his journey to this town, that and his matched set of luggage really put him apart from the locals.
Vermiclin grunted as he stood up and picked up his three bags, one in his left hand, one in his right, and the smaller third bag stuck up under his arm pit. He turned and walked to enter the hotel, dropped one of his bags, pulled the door open with a snap, and grabbed his bag again before is swung closed again. He walked into the building and across the lobby to a modest looking desk where an slightly older woman was sitting, working on what looked like some sort of billing form.
"Hello, I'd like to get a room," Joey told the woman in a professional sounding voice he hadn't herd from his mouth in a long time. The woman turned her head up in a startled fashion, and turned on a warm smile of friendship.
"Well hello, hello. A room, yes, just yourself?" the woman asked with a smile.
"Do you know how long you might be staying?"
"I dunno, a week maybe."
"That short of time, I'll hardly be able to get to know you," the woman said with a small frown. She turned to the wall behind her desk and lifted a room key off of a peg. "Here you go, room 8. If you're hungry I've made some waffles for the other guest and I'm sure there's some left." As she said this she pushed the guest book over to Joey.
"Thank you Miss..." Joey started and trailed off. The woman quickly picked up with an answer.
"Mrs. Brumfield." Mrs. Brumfield watched as Joey scribbled his name and the date in the guest book. "Oh a doctor," her eyes lit up, "I've been having this horrible pain in my back of late and..."
Joey interrupted her. "Sorry Mrs. Brumfield, but I'm not that type of doctor, I work mostly with dead people."
"Oh dear, are you that bad?" Mrs. Brumfield asked with a note of shock and genuine sincerity.
"I'm afraid so, I haven't been able to keep a patient around for longer than five minutes." Joey said with a smirk and a silent laugh. He put the pen down on the book and walked towards his room with the bags rearranged amongst his arms.
Vermiclin waked into his room and dropped his bags in a pile on the ground. Then he pulled his tie off and threw it at the bed along with his suit jacket. Joey unzipped one of his larger bags and pulled out a pair of jeans and a plain pull over yellow jersey. He also replaced his dress shoes with some hiking boots. Then he started putting away is clothing into the various pieces of furniture around the room. Then he opened the smaller bag where is stuck his tooth brush, razor, and other various hygiene products. Reaching in he pulled out Doug's faded drivers license and looked at it again, remembering the broken skeleton.
Using his shirt sleeve, he did is darnest to clean off the grime from the picture, but time had utterly destroyed the photo. Curiosity once again started chewing at his gut. But first, some of those waffles. He stuck the license in his pocket and walked out of the room.
After a wonderful Belgian waffle, witch he tanked the proprietor of the hotel for, he was back on the street, walking nowhere in general, and staring at Doug's yellow picture, trying to make out the shape of his face. Not watching where he was going he promptly tripped over something that gave out a yelp and he slammed face first onto the concrete, smacking his forehead and smashing his nose something good. He quickly rolled onto his back and felt something warm run down his face.
"Ah shit," Joey said to himself as he sat up and wiped some blood away from his nose. Glancing down at his shirt he saw a wide streak of crimson. "Shit." He grabbed the bottom of the shirt and held it to his gushing nose, pinching it shut and tilting his head back. He looked around and saw a black shape running away from him. "Stupid mutt," he muttered to himself as he picked himself off the ground and checked his nose, witch was still bleeding a waterfall. Looking to the left Joey saw that he was right next to, what must be called, the police department. He stumbled in and saw through is blurry eyes some girl sitting at a desk. She jumped up.
"Are you all right sir?" she asked in a concerned voice from that same girl. She placed a hand on Joey Vermiclin's back and guided him to a chair where he sat, then the girl ran off. God must I look a mess Joey thought to himself. His shirt had enough of the blood it was going to take for today and the excess started to leak through and run down his chest. Both hands where also covered in the stuff. She came back with a towel and a ice-cube tray.
Alerted by the noise, a taller gentleman entered the main room of the police HQ from a side door, that looked a lot like Joey's office door back at the morgue. "What's going on out here, Jenny?" demanded the man.
Jenny responded. "This gentlemen stumbled in here bleeding," and to Joey, "are you all right?"
Joey nodded numbly as he checked the bleeding again, it had slowed, but hadn't totally stopped yet. "I'll be fine," Vermiclin said in a slightly nasal sounding voice as he stood up. Then he proceeded to fall back into the chair. "Just a little light headed I guess."
"My name is Pierre Davis, I'm the sheriff of Barken, and who might you be." The phrase Davis used might of sounded cold depending on the tone used to say it, but the sheriff managed a friendly spin on the line.
"My name is Dr. Joey Vermiclin." Joey at first offered a hand for a shake, but when the drop of blood rolled off of his thumb and landed on the floor he thought better of it.
The sheriff looked the bloody man up and down, taking stock of him. "Haven't seen you around here before, are you staying in town or just passing through?"
"I guess I'm taking a vacation here, staying at Mrs. Brumfield hotel for the time being."
"What room is yours Mr. Vermiclin, I'll go get you a fresh shirt," asked Jenny in a friendly voice to witch Joey responded room eight. She then got the doctor to peel his shirt off so she could go put it in his room. He gave his thankyous to the retreating form of the secretary as she vanished out the door. His nose had finally stopped bleeding enough so he could walk around without leaving a trail of gore in his wake.
"Mind if I use your sink?" Joey asked the sheriff.
"Sure, go ahead. If you don't mind me asking, why did you pick Barken to take a vacation to?" Pierre asked while Vermiclin wetted the towel a bit and started to clean the semi dried blood of his face, neck, chest, hands, and arms.
"Well," Joey started between wipes, "I work for the federal morgue up over in DC and during my work two of the bodies I was working on showed, unusual deformities, and they both were either from this town or just visiting it. Somehow I got this idea into my head that there were dog-people here, have you ever heard of anything so crazy?" Dr. Vermiclin finished his sentience with a strained chuckle, realizing how silly it sounded once vocalized. Then Pierre Davis said something that made the doctor freeze and his skin turn cold.
"All right, let me see if I have this straight," Doctor Joey Vermiclin was saying as he paced back and forth in the police department, with a glass of bourbon in his hand. They had spent about an hour trying to explain the town's 'Magic' to the bewildered doctor. "First, something in the town makes everybody who lives in Barken a dog-person, right?"
"That's one way to put it," stated Jenny.
"And anybody who comes and visit's Barken for a length of time becomes a dog-person, right?" Joey continued.
The sheriff nodded.
"And after someone leaves this town they stop being a dog-person, right?" finished Joey.
"That about sums it up," said Pierre.
"So your a dog, she's a dog, and that kid looking in the window is a dog?" The sheriff nodded once again a bit exasperatedly. Joey smiled to himself and tossed back the rest of the liquor down his gullet. Vermiclin made up his mind, ether he was dreaming, drunk, or loosing his grip on reality. There is no way someone could turn into a dog, it was physically impossible. But he saw proof when a dog came running into the police office with a new shirt for Joey, and then turned into Jenny. It was impossible. Joey reached for the bottle of bourbon and gave himself a refill. If it was true it would explain a lot. The only thing working against that theory was common sense and his medical training. Yet he did come out here with that possibility in mind.
While the doctor was lost in thought sheriff Davis stuck his head out the door and started to speak with the boy who was staring into the window, and led the kid into the office. The boy walked over to Joey and looked up at him.
"Sorry about tripping you earlier mister, here, you dropped this." The blond hared boy, no older than six, held out Doug Jamal's drivers license to Vermiclin.
Joey took it and released he came to a reckoning point. Either he could accept that this town was populated by half humans half dogs, or he could start screaming like a banshee and live the rest of his life in a nice padded cell. Realizing that the latter would be embarrassing he picked the former and smiled down at the boy as he messed up the kid's hair. "No problem, just watch where your running from now on." Joey took the license from the boy and handed it to the sheriff. "This was found on one of the bodies..." Joey started than looked down at the blond mop of hair he had been messing with.
Pierre took the hint. "Tommy, why don't you go play now." The boy did so, he ran out the door and called to a group of children who had ran past earlier.
"This was found on one of the bodies," Vermiclin restarted as soon as the boy left, "He was dead for a long time I guess, at least 20 years or more. Douglas was found up in Okalahoma off in some ditch with a shotgun hole through his rib cage. The guy who found it panicked, cause I guess Doug was halfway into a change when he was shot." Joey surprised himself on how quickly he accepted the idea that people could change into dogs, because the way he was explaining away Doug's murder sounded like the way he did to every federal investigator, judge, prosecutor, who came into his morgue looking for a answer. "Anyhow, the sheriff of the town sent the skeleton to me so I could look at it. If you want the body, just in case their is still family here, I can send it out here and no one would be the wiser. I really don't think the town of Kinlin wants anything to do with it so they could care less if it got back or not."
The sheriff nodded to the deluge of information, and asked for the doctor's number so he could call about the body later. Joey handed him his card.
Wednesday came rolling around again. It was about 5:00 p.m. and Dr. Joey Vermiclin was out side of town hiking across the landscape. About now the temp they have in the morgue should be going insane dealing with the med. students from hell. Joey laughed to himself. Joey has spent most of his vacation outside, hiking. There really wasn't much to do in town as it was. Also being from a large city didn't help his attention span ether. He was enjoying being away from the internal politics of his job and the noise of the city for a while. He checked his watch and figured it would be wise to get back to town about now, Mrs. Brumfield's dinner is something that you'd never want to miss.
Vermiclin turned to start walking back towards the town when he heard a faint howl. Normally he would of ignored such a thing, but spending two days in Barken utterly changed his mind about it. He stood still and listened, hoping to gain a direction to that howl. The second time he heard it Joey was off running to the East, away from town.
After at least five minute direction changes, Joey reached the source of the howling, a hole in the sand. A sign laying in the sand read: Danger, mine shaft. The gray and weather beaten planks of wood that had covered the shaft where shattered in the centre. Vermiclin leaned over the hole and peered down into the shaft, following the dagger of sunlight down the wall of earth.
Joey called down into the shaft, "Hello!" He strained to make out a shape of something or someone at the bottom.
"I want my mom..." came up a strained, soft voice of a very scared person. Dr. Vermiclin debated if he should go back to town for help or try to get whoever it is out of the hole himself, but the wood decided for him. The planks he was kneeling on cracked and give way, introducing Joey to free-fall until he landed on the bottom of the pit. His right leg gave a sickening creek and then popped, snapping cleanly in twine right above the knee. He gave out a scream of pain as he rolled to a stop in a pool of muddy water.
Joey listened to the steady drip of water, a soft cry from the other person in this shaft, and his own laboured breathing. He rolled over with a grunt and looked for the source of the crying. It was Tommy, huddled in a fetal position, his clothing tattered. He looked dirty and bruised, but otherwise undamaged, although Joey couldn't tell from here.
"Tommy, are you OK?" asked Joey in a strangely raspy voice. Vermiclin started to crawl towards the boy but his leg refused to move with him. Joey swore under his breath at his luck. He repeated his question to Tommy. The lad just whimpered about wanting to go home and his mother. Dr. Joey dragged himself to the kid to comfort him, punctuating each foot he moved with a wince and a groan. He finally made it 5 feet to Tommy after fifteen excruciating minutes. He put an arm around the boy's shoulder and let him cry while he took stock of the situation. They were about twenty feet down in a old mine, and it was getting dark apparently. The beam of sunlight was rapidly marching it's way up the earthen wall.
Joey spoke to Tommy in an up-beat voice, making it sound like they were just lost in a park. "Let's get out of here and get some dinner, shall we?" Tommy looked up at the doctor and with a sniff nodded in agreement. Joey looked around and picked up one of the fragments of the wooden paneling. It was about eighteen inches long. "Tommy, can you find me another piece of wood like this one?" Tommy nodded that he could and crawled off into the darkness, searching through the rubble for a long thin shard of tree. As the boy was doing this Vermiclin ripped of both sleeves of the flannel shirt he was wearing at the time.
Tommy returned with a piece of wood about sixteen inches long, but useable. Using the previous piece and Tommy's piece, Joey attempted to splint his leg with the flannel shirt sleeves. With a disparaging look to his extremely ugly bit of first aid, Dr. Vermiclin strained against gravity and his own fatigue. He stood up and leaned against the wall with a huff, putting no stress on his injured right leg. Joey collected his thoughts and his breathing. If he couldn't climb out of this hole both of them would freeze to death.
"OK Tommy, I want you to climb onto my back and hold on." With this said Joey turned his back to the boy and braced himself against the wall. There was a sudden weight on his shoulders as two arms locked around his neck, cutting off his air supply. Joey gasped and Tommy loosened his grip a bit.
The wall was a craggy earthen mess with stones sticking out of it at irregular intervals. The company who dug this shaft braced it with two by fours every 3 feet, so there was something to climb, if they weren't rotten through. With a huff Joey jumped off his good leg and grabbed onto one of the crossbeams, and pulled his leg up to the first beam three feet above the ground. The weight of the five year old threatened to topple him off the surface, but Vermiclin dug his fingers in around the crossbeam, and got a splinter.
"How much does your mother feed you anyway?" Joey asked the boy. He planted his bad leg on the wall and pushed off, leaping upwards and grabbing onto a rock. He swore something at the pain that erupted from his leg. Only fifteen more feet to go, it looked like mount Everest from where Joey was looking. Another jump-hop and he gained two more feet towards his goal, all the while sending swears of one kind or another into the air.
Finally after the longest hardship Dr. Joey Vermiclin had ever endured his head broke over the edge of the mine shaft and into the night. If his watch didn't smash on the way down he'd know how long it took him to get back up. But it was a clear night, full moon. Tommy scrambled off of his back and onto the surface of the earth. Vermiclin pulled himself over the edge and collapsed, exhausted. Oh what he'd do for a soft bed and a pan of bacon. Tommy leaned over and stared into the doctor's face.
"You all right mister?" he asked the man.
The doctor rolled his head towards the boy and gave him a week smile. In a horse whisper he told him to go back to town and get someone to come out here and pick him up. The boy nodded and walked off a couple of steps, where he then changed into a small black dog.
Doctor Vermiclin watched the dog run off, and he was alone with his thoughts again. With nothing else to do he laughed at his inability to tell one type of dog from another. Here he was, an educated man who could tell you if that scar was from a brick or a rock, and yet he couldn't tell the difference from a Doberman and a Poodle. It's cold he thought to himself as he started to shiver. As the time ticked bye he sunk further into delirium, to a point where the crunch of a pickup tire in the sand sounded like a scoop of ice-cream. He wasn't aware of many pairs of hands bearing him up into the back of a truck, or the bouncy ride back to the town.
Saturday, Doctor Joey Vermiclin, with the aid of a crutch, slowly walked out of the entrance of the hotel and towards a waiting cab. Out side to bid him farewell was Tommy's mother, Margaret Smith. She kissed him lightly on the cheek and thanked him for saving her son for the zillithonth time. Someone had carried his bags out of his room and placed them in the taxi already. Standing next to Margaret was Sheriff Pierre Davis.
Davis stepped up and grasped Joey's hand in a firm shake. "I trust you've had a good time in our little town," Pierre joked as he shook the doctor's hand. Joey rolled his eyes at the ill attempt at a joke. After he had been dragged back from the mine shaft he spent the rest of that day and the next unconscious. Only to wake up at about 5:00 this morning. Being resilient for his 35 years of age Dr. Vermiclin promptly demanded two aspirin and a cab. He got his aspirin, but was pressured into staying one additional day so he could fully recover. Joey also got that pan of bacon from Mrs. Brumfield.
"Oh I had a lovely time," Vermiclin responded to the sheriff with a grin. The cabby impatiently honked his horn.
Joey limped into the back seat of the cab and told the driver to take him to Houston airport. He grunted in understanding and tore out of Barken in a could of dust. Easing his leg onto the seat he began trying to think up some sort of story to tell his boss and coworkers when he got back to DC that didn't involve him committing himself to a mental institution. Who would believe a town full of shape shifters existed in Texas. South Carolina maybe but not Texas. Joey itched his arm.
Somewhere in the air on the plane ride Joey thanked whoever was responsible for not letting him gain that dog power like some of the other travellers. As he itched his arm again he tried to imagine explaining that he now walked on all fours to his boss. She was allergic to dogs. He'd have more luck explaining that now he was an exotic dancer called Candy Cane.
The in flight movie was the same God awful horror movie he was watching in his office more than a week ago. During the entire flight and the ride to his apartment Dr. Vermiclin never noticed the streak of silver fur that had appeared on his upper arm where he was itching not three hours before hand...
THE END - or something :)