By Michael F. Mercurio
“Honey, can you let the dogs out please?”
Richard sighed as he got up from his computer at the behest of his wife calling from upstairs.
Mary and Richard Baxter had a bit of a menagerie in their home. This was due in part because Mary had a tendency to take in every stray she came across. Her husband didn’t mind though – even as he was pulled from his statistical analysis which he had been eagerly running for the last hour. It was simply one of her many quirks which he’d grown to love.
This was a crucial moment, he thought to himself as he walked to the sliding glass door. A German Shepard, a Chihuahua, a Pomeranian, and a fourth dog that was too heavily mixed to determine its dominant ancestry, all pawed excitedly at his legs – anxious to frolic outside. Meanwhile, two cats looked up at him expectantly, waiting to be fed. Their fur – one orange, and the other black - reminded him of the disturbing graphs and charts being displayed on his computer across the room.
“Okay guys,” he said to the dogs. “Dad’s working right now, so if you’re going to go out, stay out, will you? I don’t have time to keep jumping up and down,” he jokingly grumbled in a deep voice as he playfully ruffled their heads. “And as for you,” he addressed the two cats, after the dogs bounded outside - immediately giving chase to the squirrels on the porch, “You guys…are useless.” He rubbed each of their chins as he laid out their wet food. Sighing again, he went back to his computer to continue his work.
Richard Baxter was part of a team of scientists contracted by the government, tasked with charting humanity’s present course in the global warming crisis. The results showing on his screen at the moment were not good. By his calculations – pooled with the data collected by the entire commission – there was approximately one year and seven months left before Earth passed the point of no return. By then, if a comprehensive, world-wide solution was not found, nothing could be done to restore the stability of global weather patterns. The next generation would then have to face an unavoidable ice age. He was morbidly amused by this, thinking about how his own city ordinance handled a tiny bit of snowfall. If things fell apart here with only a few inches of light powder, he could just imagine how they would handle it a hundred years from now.
His revelry was interrupted by a tapping sound on the glass door behind him. The dogs apparently didn’t heed his request, and were clamoring to come back inside. Richard sighed again. “Really guys?”
Nevertheless, he begrudgingly got up to let them in. Only five minutes had passed, but that was enough time for them to do…whatever it is that dogs do out there besides defecate and mark territory. When he opened the glass door, all four of them remained where they were and looked up at him with an odd expression.
“Well? You coming in or not?”
Instead, they cocked their heads to the side uniformly, and made a single whining sound. Concerned, Richard bent down.
“What’s wrong, guys? Huh? What is it?” He inquired this as he gently patted each of their heads.
That’s when the Pomeranian spoke to him.
Yeah, that wasn’t right. Richard’s mind played a trick on him. He really needed to get away from the computer for awhile.
But then it repeated itself. “I said, it’s time, Richard.”
The small dog looked at him directly in the eyes – his mouth moving perfectly in sync with his “voice.”
“Um…wow. Okay. I think it’s time for me to go lie down now,” Richard chuckled to himself nervously. “Come on in. Let’s go. Dad needs to go take a nap. Come on! Inside!”
Then it was the German Shepard’s turn to speak.
“No, Richard. Don’t be afraid. You are not hallucinating. We really are addressing you.” The Shepard’s mouth, like the Pomeranian, opened and closed in the same manner, as if he were a perfectly conversing human – but…a dog.
“Hate to disappoint you guys, but dogs don’t have the vocal capacity to talk the way you all are. And…um…huh. I just answered you. This is…problematic…” Panic quickly began to rise within him as he called out to his wife upstairs – his voice cracking slightly. “Um…Mary?!”
“The dogs…they’re um… Actually, uh…can you come down here please? I think I might need a doctor…!”
“What? What’s wrong with the dogs?”
Concerned, Mary began heading downstairs.
“No Richard.” This time it was the mutt that was speaking. “There is nothing wrong with you. Our vocal chords are not like that of humans - that is correct. However, we have always possessed the capacity for communication with you. This is achieved through a form of telepathy, combined with a contraction of our bronchial muscles. This allows you to perceive our guttural tones as meaningful messages in whatever language you were brought up in."
“What’s going on, Richard? What’s wrong,” Mary asked as she entered the living room.
“Mary,” Richard started – his voice quaking. “What…what do you hear?”
“What do I hear? I don’t know what you-“
“Hello Mary!” The Chihuahua chittered at her excitedly.
“…R-Richard…?” Mary looked at the small dog with debilitating panic crossing her face.
“You…you heard it too?”
“Please, if I can just get you both to calm down,” said the Shepard in a soothing “voice.”
“Oh my god, Richard! What’s happening?!”
Richard thought for a moment, trying desperately to collect his thoughts. If she could hear it too, then he wasn’t going insane. That could only mean someone was playing a prank on them. If so, however, he could not for the life of him figure out how it was being accomplished.
As if reading his thoughts, the mutt spoke up. “Mr. and Mrs. Baxter, please calm yourselves. I know this is a lot to take in, but do try to hear us out. You’re not going crazy, and this isn’t a prank. Similar events such as this are taking place all over the world right now, and it is vitally important that we get to the core of this exchange. There isn’t much time left.”
As he said this, the Baxters suddenly heard their neighbors screaming from the next yard over. Apparently, their son’s pet bunny was voicing something meaningful to them.
The orange cat on the desk looked up from her food dish and joined in the conversation. “It’s true. We have to start moving them to the next sanctuary as soon as possible.” She then resumed her feast. The dogs meanwhile, made their way into the living room, each taking a seat on the floor in front of the dumbfounded couple. Richard, with shaking hands, closed the sliding glass door, and led Mary to the couch. She held her head in her hands as he sat down next to her.
“Okay, so here’s the gist of it,” started the Pomeranian. “You all are an endangered species. Unlike most on the list, your problem isn’t environmental or had anything to do with poachers.”
The orange cat looked up to add, “You have this nasty tendency to wipe yourselves out. This is the third sanctuary we’ve had to take you too. We have a fourth one set up for you and ready to go, but that means your people are going to have to start all over again.” She said this quietly as she cleaned herself from her light meal.
“We tried to subtly guide you this time around,” said the Shepard. “Every species of animal you see here was placed to either watch over your race in some way, or provide you with nourishment. If the dinosaurs had their way, they would have sooner seen you wipe yourselves out. Fortunately, they do not hold a majority vote on the council.”
The black cat joined the company on the couch, jumping onto Mary’s lap and purred. “We tried our best,” said the cat. “But our methods were too subtle it seems. It’s so very difficult balancing your freedom with your safety.” Mary began to absentmindedly stroke his fur as he comforted her.
The mutt added, “The majority of you have genuinely tried your best. You’ve even been kind to us, as we attempted to guide you away from war and pollution. And that is why we’ve put up with you for so long – why we’re willing to continue putting up with you. But this sanctuary has become too damaged. Now we have to move you to yet another one. And I fear, these will be trying times for you. They always are.”
Richard and Mary Baxter looked at one another in disbelief. Yet somehow, the message that their “pets” were relaying to them made perfect sense. It was as if every question they once had as to the nature of human existence had been answered. There were a lot more questions raised now, to be sure. But one thing was certain:
Humanity had taken its role here for granted.
Michael F. Mercurio