Dog Days

North Portland 
All welcome

Riley wanted to take her little munchkin to the dog park after work. So she did. She packed up little Jasper after a fresh trim from yesterday, his soft black eyes no longer covered by outgrown, white fur and his face fully clean. Riley never let eye buggers stain his pelt like most owners.

The sun was peaking just below the horizon, the days shorter with fall quickly coming. It was chilly out. So chilly that Jasper was wearing a mustard yellow sweater with hazelnut buttons liking down his back and Riley was dressed in lay after later.

There was only one small dog park in North Portland, the grass scarce from use and the play area small and packed. All sizes of dogs ran around in one area, making it a safety gamble but one Jasper was okay with. He played with everyone and ran away on quick, short legs when dogs growled at him.

One of those instances was currently happening. Jasper made a beeline straight for her while a large, mixed breed came barreling after him with no signs of slowing. Hackles were raised, teeth were barred. Riley stood, not making any sudden movements as she started to speak calmly to the approaching dog. "Easy. Easy there, it’s okay," she cooed softly, but the dog made no sign of stopping. Jasper hid behind her underneath the worn picnic bench.

Before Riley could do anything, the dog smacked into her, rocking her small form. She fell back, the dog biting her ankle and pulling, yanking it’s head back and forth. She gasped, reaching down to try and get the dog off her. Other dogs were alert, running toward them to get in on the action, owners yelling, grabbing their dogs and trying to regain control. Still, the dog yanked on her leg, blood already puddling on the ground.

Charlie wasn’t in the habit of visiting dog parks, given that he didn’t have a dog himself and had no reason to moonlight as a walker between classes, office hours, and department meetings. However, even during nice weather, the dog park wasn’t as crowded as the regular parks, as children were prohibited from playing and teenagers were unlikely to congregate and smoke weed. Moreover, half the visitors on any given day were canine, rather than human, which provided a much-needed reprieve from the effects of his powers.

After all, his empathy didn’t extend to animals.

The day had been exhausting; the first exam for his freshman class had resulted in widespread anxiety, with more than one student radiating disdain for him, for Isaac Newton inventor of calculus, and for the entire concept of numbers and mathematics more broadly. He had no TA to relieve him during that hour and a half, no ability to step out for air or to seek out one of the art students and simply…absorb their whimsy to buoy himself against the onslaught of misery that his own students had unleashed.

The department meeting that followed had only been slightly less grueling. Charlie had no particular aptitude for, or interest in, the politics of academia. He liked math, enjoyed the work, cherished the act of teaching and paying forward the benefits that he had reaped in his own youth, but he possessed a dearth of ambition. He wanted tenure and the job security that accompanied that milestone. All factors equal, he wanted an office at the other end of the corridor, adjacent to the broom closet so that he wasn’t too close to anyone else. He wanted an annual holiday party whose theme wasn’t “Christmas by another name” where they might hang a lone Star of David or display an unlit menorah irrespective of what night it was (if, indeed, the party had any temporal proximity to his winter holiday whatsoever). He wanted to attend conferences from time to time as an excuse for a change of scenery. Under no circumstances was he gunning to replace the department chair, or, worse, to become a dean. Perish the thought.

Threading that needle was difficult, and he felt as though he had done so poorly today. In his family, such bad days were smoothed over with comfort food, which saw him popping off for a doughnut and a coffee on his way to the dog park, before claiming a bench somewhat out of the way to enjoy his snack and scroll through his phone.

Charlie would have remained there until he had calmed down enough to return home, but his reprieve was interrupted by second-hand shear, unbridled terror. His head snapped up, searching for the direction of the intensity. They settled on a literal dog pile in a canine reenactment of the death of Sebastian Venable.

The empathy was on his feet, coffee cup tossed to the ground as he broke into a jog toward the morass of animals and the person (he couldn’t see them well and emotions were never gender-specific) who had fallen victim to them.

This was, perhaps, not one of his better plans, but adrenaline often brought unexpected feats of strength and courage, which were indistinguishable from stupidity.

Raising his arms, he whistled loudly. “Hey! Stop that! Shoo!”

Riley could feel the dog’s tooth snagging her ankle, a solid tip sounding that had nothing to do with her jeans. She gasped as pained rocketed up her leg and seeming to settling in her tail bone. Now came the ripping of her jeans, little tuggs, dogs jumping over her to get into the dog pile and flying dirt kept her from being able to sit up and try to shoo the dogs away.

Riley worried about Jasper, her poor little guy who, no doubt, was trying to drive the other dogs away no matter the size. Was that his high pitch bark followed by a growl his? It was too hard tell. A medium-sized dog stepped on her abdomen, attempting to jump on the dog that still held onto her leg. "Get! Get OFF!" she yelled over the barking and growling that filled her ears. She thought she heard someone else telling the dogs to shoo, but perhaps it was just wishful thinking.

Riley couldn’t see them, but the owners of the dogs were trying to come over and pull dogs off of her, but the hype kept them from listening. Usually, Riley could stay calm during most animal altercations, but this one was not one to handle. She was in pain, her breathing hitched as she started to low-key panic. Panic for her leg, stomach and her beloved Jasper.

The closer he approached the young woman, the more overwhelmed Charlie was, his emotions bogged down by hers while warring with the natural adrenaline boost that came from confronting danger. (Which was to say that his fight or flight response was almost permanently calibrated to flight.) The closer he approached, the better he could see, and the louder the barks and growls of the dogs, excited by the thrill of the hunt and caught up in the pack mentality. The louder her shouts. The more overwhelming her worry and fear and panic, all of which threatened to swallow him whole.

Charlie pressed forward, still shouting at the dogs to disperse as though they might listen to reason or he had any dominion over them whatsoever. “Get on! Go somewhere else!”

If only his power worked on animals; then he could attempt to focus his emotions to send them scurrying in the opposite direction.

Fortunately, the commotion had seized the attention of some of the dog owners, providing additional pairs of hands – some possessed of relationships with the particular canines to make them heed commands. Unfortunately, as useless as Charlie’s powers were with animals, other humans only magnified his stress, as more worry and panic and frustration and anger joined the fray, rolling over him, twisting together into new, frightening combinations, magnified exponentially.

He might throw up.

One idle thought was how he should have brought beef jerky with him. An asinine thought at that – he never carried the snack on him and today’s trip had been spur of the moment.

Through the throng, he saw the girl, clutching her leg, on the verge of a panic attack that slammed him in the chest. “Miss? Can you-Out of the way, doggie!” For no discernible reason to those around him, he was equally out of breath already.

Pain shot ip her leg as the dog re-adjusted it’s grub from her jeans to around her ankle. It only hurt because there was no meat there, but that didn’t stop Riley from gasping and a short Yelp prying. Her lips. Her line of sight was congested with dogs barking, growling and yelling at each other. Owners coming to grasp their pets by any sort of way they could. Still, Jasper was crawling on her chest and barking as ferociously as he could at the untrained mutt feasting on her ankle.

She heard one person telling the dog to get. And she felt a sliver of hope. She killed her legs, knowing that the dog had some trigger switched within it. Her leg felt slick and warm, probably bleeding from the power of the dog’s jaws and the fact that she was now fighting against it. She should have just stayed home. Why take Jasper to the dog park when she knew there were untrained, hyperactive dogs paired with irresponsible owners. Why didn’t she just take him to the beach or for a walk? Instead she had to do this so she could be lazy after a challenging week at work.

Dice said no go on the shooing. :(


Why would the dog listen to him? Charlie would wonder in retrospect. It wasn’t as though he spoke canine or possessed the ability to induce animals to do his bidding. Still, that hopeful part of him had tried what first came to mind, and given the chaos of the situation and the utter lack of control at the moment, he had exhausted ideas for how best to help. Her agony was overwhelming his ability to think, his limbic system close to shutting down, while a cry of pain welled up in his throat; he swallowed it with every ounce of emotional strength he garnered, while straining to dull what he sensed to only limited success.

Another owner managed to peel off a dog – some sort of medium breed that Charlie spied from the corner of his eye. He was too focused on reaching the woman while deflecting her pain and emotions to the best of his ability. He grabbed the collar of the dog that had refused to abide his commands, yanking him back for all the upper body strength he could muster “Miss, can you stand?”

A different dog swiped at his leg, and the empath grunted with pain. “We need to get you out of here.” With his other hand, he reached out, offering to help her to her feet before the dogs knocked him over.

Before Riley knew it, the dog was yanked away, the creature yelping at the sudden distraction. Jasper was instantly licking her face, causing Riley hands to come up and pet him while simultaneously pushing his small body off her. She sat up, taking in the scenes, eyes blinking slowing.

It was then she noticed the tall man who had yanked the dog away leaning down, asking her a question. She was breathing heavily, a hand placed gently on her chest above her heart. "W-What?" she managed to ask. She understood the second question though and she promptly put her weight on her I injured head, hoisting herself up while barely putting weight in it. A glance down told her that it was pretty bloody.

A groan of pain and frustration parted her lips. "I knew I shouldn’t have brought Jasper here," she said, beginning to calm herself. She’s had similar situations at the zoo, but not this bad. Still, the woman was good at calming herself in unideal situations. "Can you help me to my car?" she asked, bending down to pick up Jasper and holding him to her chest, blue eyes glaring at the dog owners who failed to train their dogs in proper social skills.

Riley took another deep breath, hoping to loosen the tightened in her chest before turning toward the impossibly tall man.

Were this an action movie, or one of the absurdist comedies with no risk of real-word consequences, and one could forgive all missteps with a single line at the end of the credits proclaiming that “no animals were harmed in filming”, Charlie might fling the dog as far as he could in the opposite direction of the park. Of course, this wasn’t a movie, that would be animal cruelty, and his throwing arm left something to be desired. Juggling was the fine art of close movement and hand-eye coordination, and bore little resemblance to the skill of tossing a football or pitching a baseball at 100 miles per hour across home plate.

Instead, Charlie shoved the dog back and then blocked the animal with his leg, using his now free hands to assist the woman to her feet. The request to escort her to her vehicle was met with a quick nod that sent his dark curls – now laden with sweat from the exertion and the emotional strain of the feedback loop – bobbing up and down. “Gladly.”

He reached out with one lanky arm, wrapped it around her shoulder with an apologetic expression on his face, then encouraged her to lean against him before taking a cautious step in the opposite direction, towards the parking lot. The blood trail was grim, and he frowned-that would be one to haunt his nightmares for a month. “You're bleeding? We can get you to urgent care.”

Riley cuddled Jasper close to her check, wrapping the dogs up in her warm arms as he licked her face to try and comfort her. Normally, Riley was awkward and tended to not know what to do when she spoke to strangers, but at this moment, all she wanted to do was go to her car, take out her small First Aide animal kit she kept in her vehicle, tend to her ankle and go home to bed. Today had been a long day, made longer by someone's lack of training their dog and making sure they were equip with proper social skills.

There was now dirty all over her clothes and smudged on her face. Her hair was a wild mess from being yanked around on the ground and dogs stepping all over her. Honestly, she had looked worse after a shift at the zoo dealing with giraffes, zebras and monkeys. "Thank you," she said, offering him a small smile before dipping her head and warming her nose up in Jasper's fur. She welcomed his support, keeping as much weight off her ankle as she possibly could.

"I can take a look at it when I get to my car. Funny enough, I'm a veterinarian," she said with a very unladylike snort and chuckle. It was probably the only reason why she didn't blame the dog for what happened. Any time something goes array with multiple animals together, they all go into a frenzy. That's why training was so important. Riley blamed the dog's owners. She blamed herself. "Since it's the ankle, there's probably not much that can be done besides cleaning it, using glue and wrapping it." She was starting to talk to comfort herself. The pain of her ankle was beyond annoying. It reminded her of a day-old sprained ankle.

When confronted with strangers or in unfamiliar surroundings, Charlie was equally awkward with the added acute awareness both of how his height made him noticeable when he wanted little more than to sink through the floor or blend into the furniture, as well as forcing him to experience the emotions of everyone in the vicinity against his greatest wishes until he centered himself. However, as with teaching, here and now he was given singular focus – a purpose which required his attention. Now that the fear had steadied and he was no longer overwhelmed by the adrenaline rush, he appeared almost calm.

He would require a long, hot shower when he returned to his apartment, but better that than also a trip to the emergency room for scratches and bites.

“You’re welcome.” He said sincerely, glancing briefly over his shoulder to ensure that no other dogs were in pursuit. Thankfully, they had been claimed by their owners, and with the frenzy passed, the animals had lost interest.

“A vet? Really?” Even in the heat of the moment, Charlie retained enough of himself not to voice that this was ironic or useful or any other synonym used in small talk when people were uncomfortable and at a loss. “Have you got a first aid kit in the car? Maybe I can help with the bandages, to give you a second pair of hands before you go home. Otherwise, I’ve got some Bandaids on me and some hand sanitizer.”

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