It was near night, December 20th, 1970. Professor John and I had the roof down in our cherry-red convertible, and the pedal through the metal. The week before had gone by in a blur, and it was only a few days more until we were expected back at HQ, or whatever they called it. They'd given us this convertible, an advance of a few grand and recording equipment to take down to this place they'd heard about in Texas. Barken, they called it. They weren't sure if it was the right thing to do, to send Professor John and myself on this assignment, but as long as they got their story, they were happy. Professor John and I were two men who knew how to get their work done. Better than anyone else at the paper, too.
The Professor turned to me, cigarette in hand. "We need to stop for supplies, man. I gotta craving."
"You're right," I said, "We're fuck out of alcohol." I saw the lights of a town coming up. Was this our destination. A sign flew past. Obviously it had places to go, but from a glimpse, I knew this wasn't the place.
"Cherry.." the Professor mused.
"This isn't the place," I said, scanning the town as it came closer to us. It seemed anxious about something.
"Tell me if you see somewhere to get some shit, man," the Professor said. "I'm gonna go dry.."
I engaged my supervision and supersmell. They were still broken from the cheese and ketchup sandwich I'd had in Tulsa. Aside from that sandwich, Tulsa seemed okay. "Sorry, Professor John. Nothing here." The streets were deserted. The buildings were full, though their walls were foreboding and cellish.
"Come on, man, look harder. This is fuckin' Texas, there's gotta be something.."
Suddenly, a lone figure wandered towards us. Maybe he knew. He looked local. Nowhere else would dare harbour this man with his clean suit, his thick-rimmed glasses and his pinstriped pants. "Evenin'," he said.
The Professor panicked. "Just looking, man! Just looking! Don't shoot!" He was obviously not in charge of his faculties. I leapt to his defence, whipping my revolver out into the townsperson's face. "We just want to know where the bottleshop is," I explained, noticing the revolver was less than appropriate. I put it away in case it gave him the wrong impression.
By then, the man had dropped to his knees and started praying. I blinked, then yanked him up by his collar. He yelped. "Son, I asked you a question, and I'd appreciate your answer - where is your liquor store?"
"It.. w-we.. we don't have one!" he said.
"You have two, then?" I asked, "Or none?"
"None!" he gulped, dark clouds appearing over his groin. I blinked in disbelief. This was a new one. I couldn't ignore it.
"Son, you have a problem with your pants. I insist you take a pair of mine." I cut the motor and got out of the car, with the intent of getting out and lending this fine, if disturbed individual a pair of pants. I had many pairs of pants, after all, and I didn't need every one of them.
"No, that's okay," the man said, backing away. He turned and ran, melding into the darkness where the lights couldn't reach.
"Now, what's the country coming to if one man can't lend another man his pants?" I sighed. "Fucking youth of today." I got into the car, jumped the motor and kept on the way we were going. The Professor wasn't aware of just how far we had to go.
It didn't seem 666 miles out of town, but when we did get to Barken, it was very dark.
"Professor John, I believe we've arrived."
The Professor was sound asleep, dreaming about what later turned out to be a giant frog. It might have explained why he woke up in the bathtub. How he got into the bathtub isn't even clear to me, but it may have been related to how our room only had one bed. It didn't explain why it was full of water, which was lukewarm by the time he woke up.
The sky was offensively blue that morning as we surveyed the land from our room. The Professor noticed this.
"By fuck the sky is blue down here," he complained. "Why don't we have this sky back in the city? This is beautiful sky, man!"
I missed the cloudy texture of the city sky momentarily. The Professor was right, though; this was good sky. Good looking sky. I could have seen people lying face-up all day under this sky. The Professor was often right about these things. Hence his name.
"Sure is, Professor John." I wondered what one could eat around here. I bit the banister of the balcony. Despite its chocolaty appearance, it was not edible. It didn't look that much like chocolate, either. I smelled food downstairs.
"Is there food downstairs? I smell food." Again, the professor was correct. There was food. I would never have known if it weren't for the Professor. His brilliant mind served us both.
The food was very good food. It was home cooked with magnificent technique by the cook and manager of the hotel in Barken, whose name we never caught, though it may have been thrown at us many times. It seemed such a shameful insult to this fine old lady of the kitchen to be throwing it up later that day. The Professor had a weak stomach.
The cops were called on us. The Sheriff of this one-horse town. I remembered not to pull out any artillery this time. It would be better that way.
"Gentlemen," the Sheriff said, "Would I be correct in assuming you two are in the possession of contraband?"
My trigger finger itched. The urge to hold the gun grew greater with every heartbeat. At least for comfort's sake. Comfort was a good sake. Good enough? "Officer, the drugs we are in possession of are legal," I said. Was I twitching? I hoped not.
He nodded. "Well, let's put it this way - you don't cross me, I won't cross you. You keep your wild shit to yourself, and you don't make any of these townspeople's lives a great old misery, and you'll come out of here alright, you see?"
What was this man saying?!
"We didn't do it!" the Professor leapt up, still soaking. "We didn't do anything man! You weren't there! You didn't see the look in that dragon's eyes, man!" The Professor was losing his cool.
"Ix-nay about the dragon, Professor John! He wouldn't understand!" I regained my cool for long enough to stand. "He's excitable," I offered, trying to keep a straight face. The Professor was excitable. That dragon had excited us both. Much.
"Uh-huh," the Sheriff said. "Excitable." He chuckled. "Dragons." He laughed. "You two are a pair of weird assholes, you know that?" He laughed hard on his way out of the door. "These two are going to be fun.."
I looked at the Professor, hoping he knew what was going on, before I noticed a dark shadow swooping across the sun. Oh no!
"Shit! It's found us!" I yanked his wet body out of the room. "Quick! To the carmobile! We have to get out of here before this whole town is destroyed!"
We were back in the car again, but this time there wasn't any gas with us, and my keys didn't work. There was no sign of the dragon. I figured the speed it was going it would be most of the way to Tijuana by now. It had missed us. I breathed a sigh of relief and patted the Professor on the back. "We're safe."
I looked around. "Shit! This isn't our car!"
The day drew on. I investigated. Barken was a quiet town. A peaceful town. A town with more dogs per head of population than any town in Texas I'd seen. So far I hadn't seen that many Texas towns, but if Texas towns were known for their high population of dogs, it wasn't something I'd heard about. There were many things I hadn't heard about. I was sure of it. I discovered so many new things every day that it seemed anathema that I had heard of everything. One day, I worried, my brain would explode from hearing too much about everything, so I metered out what I heard about by ignoring people when they talked about nothing I cared to hear. Maybe this was something I'd missed while I was ignoring someone. I wondered who that someone might have been. A woman? A man? Another dog? Dogs talked to me, but they didn't speak my language. I couldn't help but ignore a dog the same way I couldn't help but ignore a lawyer. Somewhere in time, an eternal truth would be forged from that analogy.
I sat down and watched the dogs go by. They were almost like cars, only slower, and furrier, and sometimes they stopped. Some went by fast, some went by slow. It seemed to me that no dog was walking anywhere; they were all just walking. I took note of that. That was something important, I was sure of it. If I tried to follow them, they changed their direction. None of them stopped to check me out when I sat on the pavement.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes. Friendly-looking dogs. Nasty-looking dogs. Small dogs. Big dogs. White dogs. Black dogs. Brown dogs. Fluffy dogs. Wiry dogs. By then, the word 'dog' had turned into a percussive drop of my chin, so I gave it time to cool off and get its meaning back.
The Professor approached, sandwich in hand. "You ever see so many dogs, man?" Shit! He used it again. That's another thirty seconds I had to wait before I could use it.
"Never," I said. I waited a few minutes for the word to cool off. I wanted to use it in my next sentence, but I knew it was tired. The minutes having passed, I continued: "There are dogs here the world has never seen before, I'm certain."
"Where do you suppose they all came from?" the Professor said, sitting down with me. The Professor never beat around the bush, and every word was as profound as it could be. An admirable man to the end. I hoped his end wasn't soon.
The answer was suddenly obvious. "They aren't really dogs at all!" I cried, triumphantly. "They're people!"
That got everyone's attention. The flow of the dogs' going back and forth had stopped. Now their eyes were all fixed on me. Tails were wagging. The moment was eternally silent, broken only by a stern observation from the mighty mind of the Professor.
"Don't be a fuckin' idiot, man," he said. "You want a sandwich?"
I didn't listen. I couldn't listen. Here was a truth of the world, a shining nugget of information. Here was something I could take back with me to the paper, and it would make them very, very proud indeed. Imagine!
The tails wagged on, and the motion seemed to focus on me. The Sheriff came running towards us out of nowhere. He must have heard me.
"How did you know?" said the Sheriff. "Did you see someone? How did you know?"
I felt a surge of intelligence and pride welling at my cheeks. "It's obvious, isn't it? How else could you explain all these dogs?"
The Professor rolled his eyes. His scepticism proved too much for his own good. But the Sheriff laughed. I laughed. The assembled crowd of canines laughed. We all laughed together.
Then it hit me. The bitch of all trippers. Sobriety. Slump. It didn't hit anyone else, just me, and I suddenly felt very alone in my revelation. How could I tell anyone this? It was outrageous! Impossible! The Professor had been right all along. How could I have doubted his clear thinking?
The dogs left, as did the Sheriff. They didn't go anywhere in particular; they just left. The Professor left, maybe to get another sandwich. Then there was just me. Sober me. I didn't like sober me.
Sober me was a no-good asshole.
I filled a notepad with the sorts of details that only Sober me could notice. Boring details. The population of the town. The location of the town. What there was in the town. Anyone of note. Anything of note. The town had been beset with hippies and acid testers over the past five years, looking for their paradise in the desert. It was an oasis of understanding, far removed from anything else in their grasp. The skies were clear, the people were friendly, but there was something that stopped this little settlement from turning into a big location. I wondered what it was. Sober me said it was probably just bad luck. Sober me was a miserable asshole, and I wished I could smack him across the face every once in a while to clear his head. But Sober me forbade it until I got as many notes as I could on this place. Then I could smack him all I wanted.
I wrote two pens dry on what I saw there. I noted the dogs. I observed some perverse punning going on with the name of the town and the dogs. Cute gimmick, Sober me thought.
It was a full moon, and the night seemed rich with magic as the drugs took hold again. Not just drug magic, with flying glides of light and strange pinging fireworks every time someone turned the lightswitch on. The kind of magic that tingles over your skin.
We'd taken the precaution of fasting, so that the Professor didn't spend the night throwing up. He might have enjoyed throwing up, but I didn't enjoy hearing him throw up. We had to make sacrifices. As my own personal sacrifice, I planned to give him what was left of our advance at the end of this assignment. It wasn't much, but neither was going hungry for a night. A cost analysis of the situation proved that the Professor would come out the better of us.
The night was good to look at, and there were many dogs around. The Professor wasn't feeling well that night, and insisted he stay indoors.
"Nonsense," I said, "We've come so far!"
"Man, I feel fuckin' terrible, man.."
"Come on, Professor John! I need you!"
He started crying like an 8-year old brat. "Why, man? Why? You fuckin' need me for everything, man!"
"Yes, yes, I do need you for everything, Professor John." I did need him for everything. By myself, I was nothing, but with the Professor, the both of us were supermen. Only better. "So if you're not going out, then I'm not going out."
He sighed. "Forget about it, I'm comin'.. oh, shit! Oh, fuck, man!"
I saw it too. This was a new one. Even for me, a veteran of a thousand trips. Even at the edge, the drugs were hitting hard. The Professor's form was twisting, darkening, blurring, reshaping. Even his voice sounded strange. He begged for help. I knew he was taking this trip hard. I couldn't do anything. He looked like a dog in the end, cowering in the round bathtub. Whimpering. At the edge of the trip, I wondered what set this hallucination off.
_Then_ the drugs took hold for real. The familiar crash into the trip was enough to spin me onto the wheel of Things-Are-Not-Right. The same thing was happening to me! I was changing, spiralling down into the form of a canine, the likes of which only a few hours before I'd seen wandering the streets. Some part of me leapt up in triumph at Sober me. "I told you!" it screamed. "They're all dogs, and now I'm a dog too! Take that, you asshole!"
Sober me sighed. "It's the drugs, you brain-fried dickhead."
For now, I was a dog. How could I convince Sober me I was a dog, so this marvellous illusion wouldn't go to waste for rationality?
I did the natural thing. I licked myself. Sober me sighed again, this time in resolution. Triumph at last! The Asshole has fallen!
I put my paws up on the side of the bathtub and talked at the Professor. "Don't be afraid!" I said. "It's only me!"
"What?" the Professor said. "This is a weird fucking dream, man.."
"Yeah! Amazing, isn't it?" I wagged my tail. Wow! That felt good! "Come out of the tub, they'll make us clean it before we leave and your dog hair's fucking the drain up."
"I don't wanna!" the Professor said. "I don't like being a dog!"
"How could you not like being a dog?" I cried.
"I just don't."
The Professor was right. It wasn't so fun being a dog. I went to bed.
The next morning was a blur. The Professor and I were in our spacemobile once again, after saying our thanks and goodbyes, leaving a trail of magic Barken dust in our wake. Maybe it was better that Sober me got to write the report in the end, because I couldn't have done it without mentioning our secret adventures.
He did mention the dogs, though. Just to be objective.