Barked commands and startled exclamations were my first clue that this Saturday wasn’t going to be a normal day. I quickened my pace and jogged down the street, taking a right at Mary’s Restaurant. You don’t normally hear loud, stern voices spitting out orders in my small, peaceful West Virginian town, and could I help it that I was curious? So I went to investigate, flinching as I heard a little girl start up a wail comparable to the already-shrieking police siren. A call of “Shane Myers! Don’t you go near that mess!” only earned a flippant wave to the old woman, one of my mother’s customers. I slowed for a moment, wondering if I really should be going near something so obviously alarming, then with a grin I decided that I’d just take a peek and then be on my way.

I turned another corner and skidded to a stop, too startled to duck back behind the brick building. A large, golden-brown dog was backed against a parked police car, snarling viciously with hackles raised. Five men dressed in military uniforms fanned out, guns all cocked. The guns were what worried me; they looked like something you’d shoot a plane with, not a stray dog. But then, something tickled my surprised little brain and got the wheels spinning again. I took a second look at the dog.

It was all wrong. The build was too muscular, the paws too broad, the muzzle too thick. The tail was heavier than would be right for the Great Dane-esque body, those big triangular ears belonged to a jackal, and the teeth looked like they came from a shark, not a mutt. This was no dog. No way. Still took me a second to identify it, though. And when I did, I staggered back, pressing my body against the bank’s walls to steady myself.

“It… couldn’t be…” My voice came out in a gasping whisper as the scene before me seemed to crystalize. One of the men had a few more decorations on his shoulder than the others, and he turned his head slightly towards one of his men, eyes never leaving the canine, “Get the tranquilizer gun. Pop it full of darts until it falls over.” My mind whirled as the soldier carefully clicked the safety back onto his gun, set it down, and went digging in a small box.

I had to do something. If I was right, this dog was no dog at all; it was a Non-Maned Heifia… a canine, to be sure, but a sentient canine from another world. See, I’m an artist and writer; I have a certain few planets that I feature in most of my art and stories, and several species that populate them. (Well, more than several. Three planets, known together as the Tri-System along with two moons, plus a couple hundred species.) This tawny canine was the living description of a NM Heifia. And I certainly couldn’t just let some dude shoot him. Right?

While the soldier was searching for the tranq-gun, I strode forward, acting as self-assured as I could. Pretending to just now notice the whole mess, I stopped and exaggerated a look of confused surprise. “Hey now,” I drawled, trying for the ignorant-hick stereotype, “Whatter you guys doin’ with my huntin’ dawg?” To say the least, I got some looks from the five men, the last one gripping a small dart-gun in his hands. I whistled and slapped my hip, praying that the Heifia would get the drift and play along. “C’mon, Bubba,” I called, tenseness crooking my fingers as I gestured him over. Almost as an after-thought, I hoped that the Heifia wasn’t going to kill me… but Non-Maned Heifias, unlike Maned Heifias, tend to be pretty easy-going. Of course, I could just be off my rocker and trying to save a rabid stray dog.

The Heifia’s thunderous growling stuttered to a stop, he glanced past the police car’s bumper at me, and I swear he looked confused. The man in charge straightened his spine and waved his gun my way, earning a serious flinch when those double barrels pointed directly at me. “Young lady, get out of the way. We have a situation here, and this is not your dog–” I interrupted, greatly daring, though I kept my expression lethargic and… rather stupid. “C’mon now, Sarge, this here’s Bubba! He’s my dawg awright. See? He listens. C’mere, Bubba.” I slapped my hip, shooting “Bubba” a pointed glance. With a half-hearted wuff, he slipped around the police car and trotted to my side.

“Good boy,” I slurred, then hissed under my breath, “If you understand me, play along.” A heavy muzzle brushed against my hand and I stifled a wince; being used to dogs, you’d think I wouldn’t mind being thoroughly sniffed. “Look, Sarge, he’s my dawg, so lay off, huh? We don’t need you city-cops ’round here.” I devoutly hoped he wouldn’t nail me with that gun he kept waving around for my insolence. For a long moment, he was expressionless, before a tic started up in his forehead and I got the impression that he wasn’t dealing from a full deck. I ran through my story; for the most part, it checked out. “Bubba” did look like a dog to the unknowing eye, and he obeyed me. It was too bad that I didn’t look the part of the hick, dressed not in overalls and a stained shirt, but baggy jeans, tennis shoes, and a Save the Rainforest T-shirt; my acting would have to fool the guy more than my appearance would.

Sarge turned and looked at the man holding the tranq-gun. “Shoot the beast; don’t miss, but if you do, the darts won’t hurt the girl.” My eyes bugged out at such idiocy, though I figured he was right about the tranqs not harming me much, and I gripped the canine’s scruff in pure reflex. He didn’t flinch, but his jaws closed around my belt and he jerked me around the corner of the building as the first dart fired. I winced and stared down at the huge canine, who looked up at me with intelligence sparkling in his dark brown eyes. Feeling the urge to learn his name, I introduced myself, “My name is Shane.”

Shock tugged at his muzzle, but he shook it off and demanded in a rough, growling voice, “Myers?” I was surprised, to say the least, and I nodded. He slipped into Kalash, a language I well knew, for it was the common tongue of my worlds, “My name is Mackalla.” As I heard boots smacking against the pavement, I suddenly remembered that there were people after him. Mackalla tossed his head and took off at a slow lope, one that I could easily keep up with; I sprinted after him, wondering how we were going to lose the five soldiers.

“In here,” the Heifia rumbled, darting into a narrow alleyway between two buildings. I trailed him, breathing hard but fairly fit due to the tae kwon do classes I’d been taking for almost a year now. To my surprise, he stopped at the old bank that had been marked to be torn down soon. He cast a furtive glance about him, ignored the civilians who stared, and ducked into the entryway. I followed, waving and trying to grin at the people I knew. Boy, would my parents ever be mad if they knew what I was doing… but then, they’d never get the whole sentient-alien-dog deal.

Inside, it was dark, moldy, and littered with debris. Mackalla seemed to know exactly where he was going, so I trailed him closely, stumbling once or twice. He glanced back, grinned encouragingly with unnervingly sharp fangs, and continued. At the heart of the old building, we stopped, and I stared. There was a thick steel door in the midst of deterioration, shiny and new. “Uhm, Mackalla…?” I glanced at the canine as he pawed at something on the floor. To my surprise, the steel door swung open silently.

Mackalla’s large ears twitched and he gazed behind us, then growled under his breath. “They’ve found us. Quickly. Inside.” His Kalash was rough, but then, so was my knowledge of it, so it worked out. I still hesitated, peering inside, until the Heifia snatched my belt and dragged me past the door. I was let stand still for a moment, then the door shut just as my own hearing picked up the sound of pursuit. A dim light switched on and I looked around as Mackalla seemingly locked the door.

We were in a tunnel, lit by a row of dull flourescent lights. The floor sloped gently downwards, and the tunnel curved sharply not too far ahead. “Alright Mackalla… what’s going on here? Why are you, a Non-Maned Heifia, here on Earth?” I looked at the three-foot canine as he turned towards me and began a slow walk down the tunnel, apparently collecting his thoughts. As was becoming typical, I followed him, and waited patiently. But after about ten minutes of traversing the sloped and twisting tunnel, I was a bit impatient.

“Mackalla…?”

He sighed heavily, then glanced at me with a strange reluctance in his eyes. It was almost creepy, how well I could read his expressions. “You… you actually know us, don’t you? You knew my species.” I laughed, “Yeah, I don’t go rescuing strays when they’re cornered by the military. But what do you mean, ‘us’? As in… Lavanians as a whole?” I cocked my head, now walking at his side, and adjusting to speaking Kalash again. My Aunt Chrissy had taught me that particular language when I was young. She’d always been the one to encourage my crazy imagination.

“I didn’t believe them, when they said that a human knew of us. But it was serious enough to warrant attention; trouble’s been rattling around lately, and your knowledge could be used against us. So I was sent here.”

Needless to say, I was more than a little freaked out by the fact that my imagination hadn’t actually been imagining my creatures and my worlds out of thin air. So I chewed this tidbit over, making a mental note at Mackalla’s vagueness when speaking of ‘them’ and ‘trouble’. It was while I was deep in thought that I turned a sharp corner and felt my outstretched foot slip. I stumbled lightly, reaching out a hand to steady myself — and down I went, falling forwards.

I didn’t really expect to pitch into a big hole in the ground, though.

I fell about ten feet, landing with a resounding thud that knocked the wind out of me. My bookbag, with several blank notebooks in it and some art supplies, knocked me on the head. “Shane!” Mackalla’s concerned bark was almost touching, although as I struggled to regain my breath, it merely compounded the sudden headache. Groaning my response, I rolled over, staring up sheer walls at the Heifia. “Ow.” I lay there for a moment, regaining my addled senses, then I scrambled to my feet. Mackalla’s strained expression gave me a clue that something wasn’t quite right, and rubbing my scraped elbow, I glanced around at the six-by-twenty pit. And I gaped.

The ground was littered with skeletons and rotting corpses!

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