A better life (with apologies to Franz Kafka and ‘The Metamorphosis’)

There was nothing unusual about the evening before William Barker disappeared.

As he revised his IT module by the flickering bulb of a broken Anglepoise, the three girls he shared this wretched flat with partied outside his door on cheap cider and entertained groups of eager youths.

How he despised them, yet how he longed to kiss them, to actually touch one of them.

But they didn’t like William, mocked his posh accent, even started calling him Little Willy.

The music and the debauchery tailed off around 3am and William finally drifted off.

It wasn’t the icy draft slicing through the broken pane that woke him.

No, it was something else, something … nasty.

Eyes closed, sleeping bag yanked to his chin, he sniffed.

‘Why can I smell shit?’ he wondered. And sniffed again. He opened an eye and scanned the threadbare carpet. In the weak rays of a February dawn sat a huge chestnut turd with a curly, pointed top, sitting like a rock in a pool of piss.

‘Yuk! Who’s put that …’ He was lying on his side. When he opened his other eye he couldn’t see out of it. As he lifted his head, a hairy ear flopped back onto the pillow. He panicked, lifted a limb and saw not fingers, but a huge black paw sheathing five curved, ebony claws.

‘I’m dreaming,’ he muttered. ‘It’s a nightmare,’ and squeezed his eyes shut. But his brain raced on, images of fur, claws and the stink of the mess forcing him to accept the terrible reality.

‘I’m a dog, I’m a bloody dog!’ In his alarm he shouted out loud.

‘Mum!’ but the only sound to crack the silence was a deep, course bark.

There was movement outside.

‘Willy?’ It was Karen, with the blonde ringlets and the lovely breasts. ‘You OK? Y’know it’s past eight?’

He froze, realized that when he didn’t answer she’d come in. He went to slide from the bed but found he could spring in one ambitious bound onto the floor, skidding with a thump into the wardrobe.

‘Coming in – get decent!’ she called. The door creaked open a few inches and a tousled head peeped round. ‘Oooh, gross! What’s that disgusting smell?’ She obviously didn’t want to go any further as her body stayed in the sitting room. Her gaze settled on William, a shadow huddled in the corner against the peeling plaster. A string of dribble dangled from his open jaws.

Her eyes sprung wide. ‘Hey Angie, Sarah!’ she squealed. ‘Come here – Willy’s brought a dog home! He’s so cute!’

They never saw William Barker again. His parents came and cleared his room, elderly folk with sad eyes. The girls told them what little they could, no help really.

‘Maybe he just got sick of us and moved on?’ ventured Sarah.

But they kept the dog and named him Bruno, or rather Karen kept him. In her room.

‘You’re so mean Kaz,’ they’d bleat. ‘You never let him sleep with us.’

And each night, he’d lie on her bed and watch her undress.

‘God, you are so gorgeous!’ she’d say to him, as he jumped on the duvet and licked her cheek. ‘That kind face – almost like you’re smiling.’

It was a Sunday morning, a few weeks later. Angie painting toenails. Karen burning toast. Sarah on the sofa, running her fingers through Bruno’s coat.

‘Karen?’

‘What?’

‘Look, look at this!’ she pointed at the dog’s neck, where she’d parted the dense fur right down to the skin.

‘Why is Bruno wearing Willy’s St. Christopher?’

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