The Lady or the Monster
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©1998 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
"Woof!" There was a large Irish setter barking insistently.
"Look dog. You don't belong here so beat it." Harry did not hate dogs, in fact he had always wished his wife Colleen was more open to the possibility of ownership. The problem was that the large red dog was not his, yet it was siting in his backyard, staring at him with baleful eyes and disturbing his Sunday afternoon nap.
"Look Lassie, or whatever your name is, I'm trying to take a nap here. When my wife gets home she'll have a list of chores a mile long so please be a good doggie and disappear." He continued muttering to himself as the dog's ears perked up, "She'll want to watch those god awful soap operas while I work saying 'I already worked today, now it's your turn.'"
The dog whined, but remained seated so Harry decided to ignore it. He readjusted himself on the timeworn lounge chair and slipped his worn straw hat over his face to block the sun from his eyes. There was a rush of air and seconds later the hat was by the dog's feet. It was barking again, tail wagging playfully.
"Hey mutt, give me my hat back and beat it." Harry lunged for the hat, but the dog danced out of the way before turning to stare pleadingly at him.
"Come on damn it, that's my favorite hat you're drooling over." Climbing to his feet Harry whistled and patted his hand against his leg trying to get the dog to come closer. The dog waited patiently for him to finish before growling and bolting towards Colleen's garden in the back corner of the yard. It was a struggle, but Harry decided he was willing to give up his favorite hat if it meant he could now get some well deserved sack time, but the dog stopped and returned to sit just beyond his reach, barking continuously.
"No sleep for me as long as you're here. Damn, you're as stubborn as my wife." Harry again whistled and patted his leg to get the dog to come closer, but was a bit surprised when the dog snarled. The dog seemed ready to attack and Harry froze, then, with what appeared to be a significant effort, the snarl disappeared and it whined insistently.
"Fine dog. What do you want? You don't want the hat or you'd be gone already." The dog shook its head and whined briefly. It was almost like it knew what he was saying.
Harry tried another approach. "You don't want to attack, you just passed up the chance to do that." Another shake of the head and another whine.
"If you want to play you can forget it." Yet another shake of the head.
"So what do you want? If you were Lassie you'd want me to follow you." The dog nodded its head up and down and barked once.
"Great. I've got an Irish Lassie trying to take me to save his master." Harry took one last longing glance at his cherished lounge chair and sighed. "Okay Lassie. Where's Timmy?"
The dog was up and bouncing towards the garden, glancing back frequently to make sure the man was following. They approached the garden Colleen used to supplement their meager income and the dog quickly jogged around it. Looking back the dog saw Harry start through the garden and began barking angrily. Foot still poised above a clump of radishes, Harry froze. "You really are as stubborn as Colleen." He grumbling as he carefully backed out of the garden and circled around it.
"Now what? Up the hill? No way dog. It's a damn cliff."
"Woof. Woof." The dog shook its head and jumped down into the small gully between the yard and the cliff face. Barking frantically it circled behind a boulder twice Harry's height and disappeared. Harry thought briefly about heading back to his comfortable and well worn lounge chair, but the barking took on a hollow sound and curiosity won out. Carefully picking his way amongst the rubble of what must have been another new rockslide, Harry circled the boulder to find a small cave, from which the barking seemed to emanate.
Not being fond of enclosed spaces, but still worried about the possibility that someone might be hurt within, Harry balanced precariously on some rocks and braced himself against the rock wall as he peered into the dimly lit interior. There was a moving shape, he guessed the dog, growling and snarling at something not much smaller than it with a vague glint to it.
"Stay there Lassie. I'll get help." The setter looked up and leaped towards Harry. For a moment he was afraid that it had finally decided to attack after all, but it stopped at the entrance and barked furiously.
"Easy mutt, there's no way I'm going in there." Before Harry could turn the dog bit down on the edge of his sleeve and yanked backwards, dragging him head first and cursing into the small cave.
"Damn it that hurt. What the hell's wrong with you mutt?" Harry carefully stood to make sure he did not hit the ceiling and brushed himself off. The dog was between Harry and the exit growling menacingly, but it did not attack so Harry took a moment to reconnoiter. "You're going to have to either attack or stop growling."
As his eyes adjusted to the dim, light Harry could see that the cave enlarged from the entrance and was just large enough to stand if he was cautious. In the center of the cave, between the Irish setter and Harry, was an object a bit larger than a toilet with a vaguely similar shape. What had appeared metallic from a distance now seemed to be shiny and ceramic.
Lassie was pawing at it and whining pitifully. "This is what you wanted me to see?"
"What do you expect me to do with it, go to the bathroom?" The dog growled in response.
"I said stop with the growling or I'm leaving." Turning away from the obviously frustrated dog, Harry examined the rest of the cave. Harry kept well away from the bones off to one side, half afraid they might be human remains. The only other thing that distinguished it from hundreds of other caves in this area of the country was a collection of pictographs on the wall over the bones. Of course they were probably fake, but it did not matter as they were in the murkiest corner of the cave and it was hard enough to determine that they existed let alone examine them. The dog had stopped growling and was instead pawing feverishly at the toilet or whatever it was.
"Oh hell." Harry sighed. "Let's at least take a look at this thing." He stretched out his hand to examine some strange bumps on top of it and there was darkness.
"Harry! Wake up!" Someone was calling. Still groggy, Harry thought it must be Colleen and time for chores. Still regaining consciousness, Harry thought his nap must not have not been long enough as she sounded like she had a sore throat. He yawned mightily as sensation after sensation started flooding over him. First, there was a heavenly aroma. It was... it was pizza with sausage and pepperoni, heavy on the garlic. It was his favorite, but he was surprised Colleen would have brought some home to him as she hated pizza. Then there were the man's feet directly in front of his face, but why was his face on the kitchen floor? Finally, there was his nose; longer, with red hair, and a black tip. Red hair? Longer nose? Face on the ground? Harry jumped up and barked furiously at... himself. Barked? And why was his head only up to his waist? His tail, which was wagging wildly, flared with a sudden burst of pain after striking the slightly rusty leg of a kitchen chair. Harry gulped, realized what had happened, and took the only reasonable option available, he fainted.
Harry woke to cold water splashing on his face, followed almost immediately by the odor of wet dog hair and his voice speaking to him and thought to himself. "I'm talking to myself again... rather my body is talking to me... I mean. Oh hell, somebody has to know what I mean."
"Snap out of it Harry. I survived as a dog, you can too."
"Yeah, yeah. Your English is a bit hard to understand when you're a dog so hush up and listen dear." My body sat down facing me.
"Let's take this a little bit at a time starting with the obvious. You're a dog. An Irish setter to be exact." Harry whined questioningly.
"Keep quiet dear, there's more." Harry's body was absentmindedly patting him on his head. Harry considered biting off the offending hand, but was really desperate to know what was going on and thought that might not be productive.
"I'm your wife, or at least I was."
"No really dear." The hand quickly disappeared from his head. "When I touched that thing in the cave it turned me into an Irish setter. The same Irish setter bitch you tried getting rid of earlier." Harry whined endearingly.
"Yes dear, I know you didn't know it was me. If you had, I'm quite sure you wouldn't have said some of the things you said about me being stubborn." The setter slunk to the ground and covered its muzzle with its paws in shame.
"Oh, and don't worry, I won't make you do any chores today." Colleen said and then let him stew for a few moments before continuing.
"While you were unconscious the second time I thought about what happened. I can't explain how it happened, except to say that this thing made it happen." She, or rather he, pointed to the weird object now on the kitchen table and recently in a cave behind the house. "I carried it back here from the cave being careful not to touch the knobs. It seems that if you touch one of these knobs on top you change into whatever touched it before."
Harry was all ears, floppy ears, but still all ears. He thought, "This might be my way out of this mess."
"Unfortunately, I don't remember which knob either of us touched." Harry jumped up to put his front paws on the kitchen table. He was prepared to touch the damn thing all day if it got his body back.
"Get down!" He felt a sharp blow to his muzzle and yelped in surprise as he pulled back from the table. Colleen continued to speak as Harry watched her reproachfully. "Sorry dear, but there's more, and you better hear it before you decide to touch this thing again. While you were unconscious I brought this thing back, but I also checked out the rest of the cave."
Harry sat back on his haunches to get more comfortable. Whenever Colleen started a conversation with "there's more" he knew he was there for the duration. He realized he had already accepted that the person in his body was Colleen and that he was a dog. Still, there was no way he was going to accept that he was staying this way.
"Uh-hum." Colleen saw his eyes glazing over. "You really should hear this Harry."
Harry perked his ears and tried to look attentive.
"Thank you dear. As I was saying, I examined the cave while you were napping. I took a Polaroid of the cave drawings. They're pretty crude," she said, placing the photograph on the floor by Harry's paws so he could examine it, "but they show a bunch of pictures of people and animals... and other things, side by side with something like this doohickey between them, like they were changing from one shape to another."
Colleen was right. The pictures were crude, but did seem to be showing people changing from one form into another. Squinting, Harry tried to focus on the thing on the bottom right and felt his hackles rising. It looked like something out of a Lovecraft novel, a blurred shape inducing horror with but a glance, unclean, evil and gruesome in the extreme.
"Ugly isn't it?"
"The problem is we don't know which knob either of us touched. If you touch the correct knob you could become me, but we don't know what you might turn into if you touch the wrong knob. You have a choice. You can keep your tail, possibly become me, or possibly become some unknown thing."
Harry whined pitifully and Colleen was down on her knees beside him, tears flowing from her eyes as she hugged him.
"Cut." The director threw up his hands in disgust. "Now what's the problem? He just has to go into the cave and rescue the little girl from the bear."
The sleek Irish setter sat calmly, shaking her head "no" while waiting for her handler-manager who was there in moments. The dog continued to sit calmly while the two humans argued.
"It's a simple trick. The bear isn't even there. It's not even a real cave, just a prop cave front. What's the problem?"
"There is no problem. Read the contract. It very specifically says, 'No caves.' The producer was advised of the stipulation before we started filming and the scene was supposed to be changed. We either change it or we walk."
"Walk?! We're more than two-thirds through shooting. The dog can't walk." The two moved off to a quieter area to continue their discussion.
Harry watched them as he waited for the next scene. It called for him to take a pencil in his mouth and use it to type on the computer keyboard so that he could hack into the maniacal evil genius' computer to save the universe before his henchmen, well actually android henchwomen, could catch him and zap him into the demon dimension with their ray guns.
As he waited he thought about the last five years. It had been interesting. At first he had been horrified at having been turned into a dog, then the shock of learning that he would never be able to change back into a human being without risking becoming some bug eyed monster, one of the few cliches missing from this movie.
They had almost risked it, and had even talked about offering suicidal people the chance to try the device so that they would know what was next, but then came the rescue. Less than a week after the change he had pulled a toddler from a burning house seconds before it collapsed, and conveniently in front of a television news crew.
By the next week he had been on half a dozen talk shows and had two offers for movie roles. Colleen and Harry had been on easy street, with more money and creature comforts than they had ever dreamed could be theirs. Now he would never even consider trying to change back. Life was too good. In fact, there was only one little fly in the ointment. Colleen still had not gotten over her desire for children, which as man and dog was going to be difficult. Life would be truly perfect if she would just stop pushing him to have a litter of pups.