Daniel

Pickle often slept with Daniel. The dog had an asthmatic wheeze that would’ve kept anyone, save a teenager sleeping the regenerative sleep of the young, wide awake. It softened Daniel’s heart, the way the awkward dog would strain and bumble to get up onto the bed and lay beside him, tick-like, legs splayed to allow the entire girth of Pickle’s mass to expand into the mattress’ cushion. “Pickle naps around twenty-two hours a day,” Daniel once remarked to his father.

But lately, Daniel couldn’t sleep next to Pickle. All he could hear was the dog’s heartbeat, the slow, leaden thumping that often seemed to lose its rhythm before clumsily regaining it seconds later. His urge to bite down on one of the many ripples of fat in Pickles’ neck, gently of course, hopefully so gently that the dog’s heavy breathing wouldn’t even be interrupted, increased nightly. When he listened to the heartbeat, Daniel’s teeth began to throb, just the fangs, with the sort of independent heat one might associate with an erection.

And now, Daniel was afraid that if he were to bite Pickle and suck, it would hurt the dog, make Pickle fear Daniel, or worse, kill Pickle if he drank too much. But this urge seemed to have a strength all its own, an imperative that elevated the act to rightness: He needed to do it. His heart and brain seemed to have retreated behind a new command center, a track that ran from the consuming aches in his groin directly to his two prosthetic teeth. It felt like they were weakening—though he now drank through them all the time, they longed for the pressure and resistance of skin. He feared that if he didn’t bite something and drink, they’d fall off; withered fruit from an unwatered tree.

Anticipation made Daniel’s pulse rise to the point that he could hear it beating just as loudly as he heard Pickle’s heartbeat, except his own was infinitely faster. It sped ahead as though Pickle’s pulse was a slow, yet ruthless killer chasing it. He took a fold of Pickle’s extra skin, lightly blew the loose hair away, and placed the tips of his teeth against the roll. Then he waited.

There was no movement, no interruption in the dog’s labored snores. Gently, Daniel began to increase the pressure of his bite, until a sudden, tiny pop filled his teeth with a disorienting sensation that frightened him at first. Though he felt air going in and out of his nose, it felt like he was drowning. Pickle shook just barely, almost involuntarily, but did not wake up. It was only after another minute of resting his teeth inside the dog’s neck like a still fork, listening to Pickle snore, that Daniel started sucking.

It immediately expanded his understanding of gratification. Like the first time he’d had one of his grandmother’s holiday biscuits, he could not believe the delicateness of each particle of taste, the miniscule dissolving of sugars inside his mouth. He’d told himself he would pull out after five seconds, but upon feeling the complexity of the pleasure inadvertently extended it to seven. When he released, two small beads of blood rose up to cap the tiny wound; Daniel was surprised at how small it was. Only the very ends of his teeth had sunk into the flesh. He was thankful he did not have to bite down to the root.

Satiated, he fell asleep cuddled with Pickle. The satisfied sleep of new lovers who have gotten every needed pleasure from each other and needn’t dream to fantasize; they simply close their eyes and rest.

*

It was that time of year, love bugs swarming. Landing on the front picture window. Mating, dying, and drying there. Nancy lugged the Shop-Vac out to the front porch. Vacuuming was one thing Nancy had always liked; it made her feel powerful. There were certainly times she wished she could suck up far bigger things, people and houses and cities. Perhaps the whole world.

She began around the windows, tracing the thin tube along the glass then down into the square frame baskets that might, if she had enough energy, be filled with flowers by July. Then there was a loud signal of distress from the machine; it had eaten something treacherous.

Nancy shut it off, then screwed off the attachment. Holding its tube up to her eye like a telescope, she found could not see out to the other side. Something was plugging it up.

“Damnit,” Nancy said. A car drove by and gave a firm honk that caused Nancy to jump. Rachel Cannon waved from inside her luxury station wagon. In its backseat, two children with giant headphones silently watched personal entertainment consoles. In return, Nancy raised the vacuum attachment slightly, the subtle version of a barbarian raising a stick after a victorious hunt. The motion was somewhere between friendly and threatening.

Nancy scanned the yard for something she could use to poke out the blockage inside the hose. Her eyes settled on the handle of a nearby rake. Awkwardly, she held the attachment hose between her feet and used the rake to jam the blockage downward. It was slow going, but she could feel it move. She gave a final jab, the object fell to the ground, and she screamed.

It was the head of a dead bird.

“What is it?” A pajamaed Daniel stood in the doorway, clearly wrought from sleep. She couldn’t believe how pale he’d grown.

Not long ago, Nancy would’ve tried almost anything to get Daniel to come outside in the daytime. But she was past that now; the shame of him superseded any healthy maternal wish for him to get some sun. “Get back inside,” she growled, resisting the urge to use the handle of the rake to push him back.

Suddenly there was another light car honk, a tap on the horn meant to summon. Nancy spun around. To her horror, Rachel had put the car in park and was walking up the driveway. Nancy turned around to Daniel and made wild shooing motions. “So I don’t know if you’re as ape for scented candles as I am,” Rachel started, “but some of the other neighborhood ladies and I–”

Rachel stopped, her mouth still open. The tan seemed to drain from her body. She put her hand to her mouth and began making shrill, challenged breaths. “Is he…is that…”