by Pierce Nahigyan

Charlie pulled the long coat off his shoulders. His back was already starting to sweat. His back and the back of his neck, and his armpits, the pits of his knees, his palms, and his scalp. They were all wet by the time he doffed his hat to fan his face (also wet) and take shelter in the deep shadow of a stepped pyramid. The sun was quite large but, as it appeared to be made of spiraling segments of floating stone, he wasn’t certain why it was so hot. No nuclear reactions were at work in its igneous depths, surely.

Charlie wondered if perhaps it was only as hot as he believed it to be. He sat down at the base of the pyramid and pulled his hat over his nose and thought of cool things: ice cubes, the glacier that sank the Titanic, apartment floorboards in the dead of morning. He opened one eye some minutes later and wiped the thick creek of sweat off the top of his eyebrows. No, the heat would not relent for positivism or any such mindful persuasion.

It was some more minutes later that Charlie wondered if melting was not the preferred response to this unceasing heat. It hung over him, a shroud, thick and unmoving, and he soon divested himself of his clothes. He stripped off his overcoat and his shirt, his suspenders and his pants, his shoes, and he balled his socks and set everything in a pile in front of him.

The clothes warped in the sizzling air, heat turning the light into a wobbly lens that made nothing look the way it should. In his underwear, Charlie fanned his face with his moistened hat and frowned at his clothes. Soon the poor ironing of the night before was undone, the air smoothing the lingering creases with natural, awful talent.

It took some minutes more for Charlie to detect the panting that was not his own. He’d been gulping air indiscreetly, trying to rid himself of the notion the heat was burning up his oxygen (trying too to assure himself his brains could not be liquified in an Aztec mosaic), when he realized his breaths were arriving in stereo. He gulped the hot air and held his breath. The breathing went on, loud and indiscreetly. Charlie looked up.

The air escaped his mouth in one long woof.

Its eyes were much too large and much too wild to serve a natural beast. They, like the zig-zagged pink that decorated the monster’s mouth, had been painted on by a titan eons ago, crazed by his own infernal creation. If the dog had been the size of a Great Dane Charlie might be a match for a mouse. As it was, Charlie was the size of Charlie and the dog was much, much too big for comfort. It licked its chops and snorted down at him. Charlie blew backwards onto his back.

The thing was black as midnight and as funky as an acre of dander. Charlie sneezed and the thing reared up and growled.

“Now hold on a minute,” said Charlie, picking himself up and waving at the beast. “I have found myself in a hostile land governed by hostile canines. Or canine, hopefully, singular. You have me at a disadvantage, pooch.”

The great dog licked its muzzle and twitched its mountainous haunches.

Charlie looked over his shoulder and slowly eased himself back onto the first block of the pyramid. The eye of the pyramid was just over the head of the dog, which offered him little in the way of protection but some in the way of its odious breath. The dog barked at Charlie when he took another step back, the force of it shaking the ground, throwing him off the block and onto his dried pile of clothes.

In the swirling dirt and the blazing shade, Charlie dug into his coat pockets. He found his pipe, his tobacco, and Miss Thoomesto’s handcuffs. He looked up at the dog and the dog looked down at him with snide sympathy. “Tell me,” said Charlie, “if I bite it here – rather, if you bite me, here – will I appear in some painted heaven? That actually has some appeal to me.”

The dog whuffed. Charlie blew back into the shadowed stones. He wiped his face of acrid drool.

Taking a deep breath, he held the handcuffs aloft. There wasn’t enough sun to catch on them but they rattled on themselves, chain links clinking, blurring in the blurred air as he wildly waved, and the dog whuffed again, knocking him against the stone, and twitched its wild eyes. It threw itself down on its forepaws, tail wagging. Charlie threw the handcuffs as hard as he could, straight into the dog’s mouth.

The dog danced back to catch it as a terrier might snap at a fly. When the silver cuffs disappeared into its gaping, hot and malodorous mouth, the dog whuffed again, and ceased prancing. It frowned, and looked down at Charlie, and reared up on all four legs and began to shake.

The eyes, as large and white as a giant’s tea saucers, bloomed a sudden and unsettling red. The corneas folded. The wet globs turned inside out and the dog’s protruding snout shot backwards into its own mouth, cutting itself on its own jagged teeth as the nostrils fired out the back of its neck. A muted howl was cut short as the monstrous dog was crammed into its shoulder sockets and spinal cord and dragged through its own anatomy until it was a pink and jiggling ball of viscera. Groaning, the ball rolled onto its side and petrified, steaming, adrenal glands and kidneys, liver and stomach transformed into crags on a misshapen boulder.

Charlie sighed and crawled to his feet and wiped his hands through his wet hair. He felt no joy at the victory. All he felt was the grit between his fingers and the infinite, unyielding heat.

For more Charlie Ben Studdard & the Amulet Caper:

Part 6Part 7Part 8