Matthew’s aunt had brought him countless terrible souvenirs over the 29 years of his life so far, but this one topped them all. It was worse than the collection of dead-eyed bobbleheads, worse than the poorly painted snow globes, and worse than the genuine shrunken head. It was even worse than the kangaroo scrotum bottle opener she’d bought for a laugh in Australia to bring back for his 21st birthday, on which he’d opened it in front of all his friends and his crush at the restaurant just as the waiter came by to bring him another beer.
He had been certain the bottle opener would forever hold the record for most horrifying gift, but at least it hadn’t been alive.
Blank dark eyes stared unblinkingly at him from the shadowy depths of the hallway, reflecting the pale light of the morning sun filtering through the windows of the living room. The tags on its little pink collar and the name engraved on its little pink bowls declared it to be a “Bonita,” but he’d taken to calling it “Diablo” unless he was talking to his aunt.
She had found it on the streets in Puerto Rico shortly after hearing about the end of Matthew’s four-year relationship the day before he’d planned to propose. Having a self-declared heart bigger than her brain, she’d seen the poor, tiny, shivering thing and thought of her nephew and decided that the best way for him to get over his heartbreak was to have a new companion. Besides, as she’d explained as she held the little animal out to him in her palms on her last visit, what better way to meet women than with a puppy?
Matthew had his doubts about that from the start. First, adopting a pet for the sole purpose of seeming more attractive to women seemed like a poor reason to suddenly be responsible for the health and happiness of another life. Second, this particular puppy looked like the worst parts of a malevolent sewer rat and a porcupine and this seemed like a combination that was unlikely to attract anything but screaming and fleas. Finally, he wasn’t even sure it was a puppy. His aunt had unwavering faith in its pedigree as a chihuahua.
“But she’s been on the streets all alone for so long,” she had said in a wobbling voice, moving the paws of the creature in what would have been an adorable fashion on anything else. Its expression remained blank and snaggletoothed. “She could be one of those remarkable rescue stories like you see on the Internet. You know, where the dogs are so mangy and ugly they’re not even recognizable as dogs but then they get treatment and are the perfect family pet?”
He looked at the potential perfect family pet. It stared blankly at nothing and then peed in his aunt’s hands.
In the end, she’d won through a combination of bargaining skills born of years spent haggling prices in ten different languages she didn’t speak and the fact that hearts-bigger-than-brains was a familial trait. In the six months since, he’d spent every night scrupulously hating himself for that decision.
Several vet visits and six months of growth well past chihuahua size had done nothing to convince him that what he owned was a dog of any breed. Groomers wouldn’t touch it, but he wasn’t sure that would help in any case. Its fur was thin and wiry, and the odd spikes had grown out as it aged. He wasn’t sure what they were, but avoided touching them. He avoided touching it at all, really, but it didn’t seem to want his attention anyway.
It destroyed most of his carpeting and furniture, either by its abject refusal to be housebroken or its unusually caustic drool. It didn’t seem to sleep, but for the first several nights would sit on the floor by his bed and stare without blinking or moving as he tried to drift off. He’d put up with this, not wanting to admit unmanly terror of an animal that could curl up on a dinner plate, but the lack of sleep finally bothered him enough to insist on closing the creature outside of his bedroom at night. Every morning since, he opened the door to it sitting right on the threshold, staring into his room at his bed. It wouldn’t acknowledge him as he passed it, but would follow him and stare at him for the rest of the day from wherever the shadowiest portion of the house was at the time.
Before its coming, he had been frustrated by the dull and mostly rural neighborhood in which he lived, finding it hard to make new friends without heading into town every evening. Now he was grateful for it. He could take Diablo on long and generally fruitless walks past chicken coops and goat farms and rarely meet another horrified soul before heading back into his house and watching the creature immediately void itself on one of the increasingly rare unsoiled patches of carpet.
It wouldn’t eat kibble. It also wouldn’t eat wet food, lettuce, turkey, tuna, hamburgers, potato chips, or steak. A part of Matthew that shamed him hoped that it might starve in spite of all his best efforts, but it seemed to do just fine. Every week or so he’d find a small collection of dessicated rat carcasses near the fluffy embroidered pet bed his aunt had sent. When it got bigger, he started hearing neighbors complain about the mysterious deaths of their goats. The beginning of an unpleasant theory formed in his head. To test this theory, he found a nearby farmer’s market that sold goat and brought home the raw meat. He placed it on a disposable cookie sheet and set it in the middle of the floor.
The creature crept from the shadows and cautiously approached his offering, never breaking its unblinking stare. It sniffed the meat, shuffled around it, and then sank its long canines into it. Loud sucking noises filled the room and Matthew fought back a wave of nausea.
The phone rang. Unable to look away from the scene on the living room floor, he backed up until he could reach it and answered.
“Hey there! How’s my favorite nephew?”
“Fine…” Slurping sounds had joined the sucking noises. The creature didn’t appear to be chewing at all.
“And how’s little Bonita?”
“Fine…” It was closing its eyes in apparent pleasure as it continued to suck on the meat.
“D’you think she could use a friend? Only, I’m in Australia again and I found the sweetest little-” Matthew hung up on her and made a mental note to change his phone number. The creature had finished its sucking, leaving a grey, dry slab on the cookie sheet. It slunk back into the shadows and resumed staring at him.