The sun was high in the sky over the town of Cherry. Things seemed pretty peaceful. No one was in the streets and there was a calmness unlike any other. It was just too quite to be a good thing.
"Hey James, watchall talkin' about?"
"We talkin' about some of you mutt friends down there in barken" There was some laughter from around the table.
"Hey now, you know as well as I do that I haven't gone down to Barken in months and that when I did it was mostly with my brother to get some booze."
"Calm down there Chuck. We're just joshin' you. Now sit down and eat." I sat down slightly annoyed and started eating my lunch. Then I noticed a familiar face walk into the lunch hall. But this face was not from Cherry, it was from Barken.
"Well well well, look what the dawgs dragged in. Hey Chuck, there's some of your mutt friends now. Just transferred in. We gonna gang up on em at the end of the day. You with us?"
My heart sank and James could tell that I wasn't happy at all. He knew that I wouldn't beat up on my own friends and he was testing my loyalties. "James, i gotta leave right after school. Let me know how it turns out ok?" It seemed like a convincing lie at the time.
James and his posse got up and went back to class and I was left alone at the table. "HEY LOOK GUYS," came a shout from across the room. It was apparent to me that I had been noticed by one of my old friends from Barken. Him and four others sat down next to me. "Chuck, what's up?"
"Not much I guess. Been spending a lot of time thinking about things."
"Hey, I havenít seen you down in Barken in months. You used to come all the time and hang out with Billy. The visits just stopped. What happened?"
"Billy," I sighed. He was one of the best friends I had ever known. "How's Billy doing?" From the looks on their faces I knew things couldn't be too good.
"Chuck, Billy's pa got shot when on one of the midnight crusades of the Cherry residents. His mom couldn't take the pressure of living there any more and moved to somewhere in Canada. He's been gone for a month or so now."
I just sat there not knowing what to say. "Chuck, you ok?" "NO I AM NOT OK OK? My best friend left the country, my parents are getting to me, I'm questioning my faith. I just can't take this any more." With that I got up and left the table.
"Whoa, what got into him?" "He's had some problems in the past. One time got really pissed off at his parents and rode his bike down to Barken. Stayed with Billy for a week. Never did shift though. You could tell that he wanted to. But something was holding him back." "Why did he stop coming down to Barken?" "No one knows, we always just assumed his parents found out about his weekend excursions." With that, Troy, Brent, Tom, and Amy got up, dumped their trays, and went back to class.
That night I had a dream. A vivid dream. A dream of running wild, running with the dogs, running, running, just plain running. I was awakened by my dad shaking me rapidly and my mom standing over me crying. "CHUCK!!! Wake UP NOW!!!" bellowed my dad.
I hesitantly opened my eyes and sat up. "What's going on?"
"You were barking in your sleep son. You're being taken over by those damn spirits from that evil town down south. I told you NEVER to go there again but you have havenít you? HAVENT YOU?" My face started to grow numb from being smacked so many times.
"NO GAWDDAMNIT! I havenít been down there any more. And I'm not possessed by any evil spirits. It was a dream nothing more, nothing less." This time it was my mom that smacked me.
"I NEVER EVER EVER wanna hear that kind of language used in this house again. Now, I want you to sit here and pray until morning that you should not succumb to the evilness of that town. You hear me boy?"
"Yeah, I hear you." They left the room, I sat there sorer than sore. Stared at the moon, gave out a silent howl and drifted back to sleep.
The next day at school went on pretty much the same. I got to lunch, James and his friends were still planning to beat up on the kids from Barken and then went back to class. Then Troy and his friends came and sat with me. "Damn Chuck, you're bruised all to hell and back. What happened?"
"I don't wanna talk about it right now Brent. OK?" I let out a sigh and hung my head. "I'm sorry that I snapped at you. But I've had some problems at home and.. well" Brent interrupted me.
"Chuck, you don't have to go into it. Hey, it's Friday. It's time for the weekend. Why don't you blow off this lame town and come to Barken for a few days. Get your mind off of your problems." The pure mention of Barken made my mind go flying. I remembered my dream and yearned for that feeling of running again. Something inside of me snapped. "Arg, I need...I need to go to the bathroom." I darted out of the cafeteria as fast as I could and got into the bathroom, locking the door behind me.
My skin felt alive. My bones felt strange. I KNEW deep down what was about to happen and it scared the living shit out of me. I heard a banging at the door. It was Brent and Troy. "Chuck, you ok in there?"
I was in a state of half pain, half ecstasy, and half frightened. "Yeah, arg, um.....be out in a.." I could feel my bones starting to change. I had remembered once that when Billy had changed, he took his clothing off first as to not rip it. I disrobed and started to feel dizzy.
"Troy," said Brent, "what do you think is wrong with him?"
"Well, Iím not really sure but I have a pretty good idea." Troy gave Brent a look that made Brent shudder.
"NOW? Here? IN CHERRY?!!?!? This could be bad" Just then they saw assistant principal Trecture run up to the bathroom door.
"I saw Chuck run out of the cafeteria. Is something wrong with him boys?"
They both shrugged, I mean, what were they gonna say? Oh yeah, Chuck's fine, he's in the bathroom now changing into a dog. "Um, Mr. Trecture, I think Chuck's feelin' a little sick, why don't we give him a few minutes?"
"If he's sick he should be with the nurse." Mr. Trecture banged on the bathroom door. "Chuck, if you're going to be sick, you really need to get to the nurse this instant young man. Please unlock the door."
I shivered in terror as I heard the assistant principal calling out my name, but that was the least of my worries at the moment. I had fallen down to all fours and it felt remarkably comfortable. I could feel my body exploding with fur now, and my bones twisting and reshaping into another form. I let out a yelp as my face started to elongate and my dry lips split in two.
The principal continued banging on the door. By this time quite a crowd had gathered around the door. A janitor rushed up with a large set of keys. "Chuck, for your own safety I'm unlocking the door. Your parents are already on their way up to the school. Don't worry, you'll be fine."
"Fine my ass...." I tried to blurt out but couldn't finish. A feeling of peace flew over my body and I realized that I was done. I took a look at myself in the mirror and noticed that I was no longer a human being, but a medium sized Great Dane. The door flew open and I trotted over to Brent and Troy, who had now been joined by Tom and Amy. Tom patted me on my head and I wagged my tail. There was an eerie silence.
"Chuck has succumb to the demons of Barken. We must try to save his soul!" I could already see the angry mob bearing down on me and backed away behind Amy.
I don't know what it was but Troy snapped. "WE ARE NOT DEMONS. GET THAT THROUGH YOUR THICK SKULLS!!!"
The crowd backed off for a second. By now my mom and dad had joined them and realized what was happening. My dad took a look at me, then at Tom, Amy, Brent, and Troy and bellowed out, "You've taken my son, but we will take you and all like you down!"
Troy nudged me and I knew what he wanted. I ran for the door as did Troy and the others. The mob wasn't far behind. We jumped into Brent's mini-van and bolted for highway 45 at incredible speed leaving the mob in the parking lot staring down the road. "Well Chuck, looks like you're gonna get to spend that weekend in Barken after all." I barked in acknowledgment and went to sleep.