As the sun set human life returned to Milestone City. The air was filled with a collective sigh mixed with the bitter tang of caffeine. Owners set out in search of their pets, on foot, in cars, and called out from all corners.
Through it all Max stayed by my side, never once going stray and always burying his face whenever I stopped. He looked up time and again, smiling through his drooping jowls; and something else, as though he knew…
Tanks rolled down the main drag as the national guard piled into their trucks. They along with the police dismantled the barricades, letting through the animal control groups whose work was only just beginning. If only there were more I could do to help.
A hand clasped my shoulder and pulled me back to Earth. “Congratulations,” Captain Ramirez hummed. “Nobody died.”
I forced a smile. “There’s always next time.” Ugh, why did I have to say that?
He grunted, combed his moustache with a finger and lingered in search of something to say. There was a glint in his eye; something knowing, something understanding, but no less firm than the rest of him. “Listen, you really did us a solid today; me and the crew all appreciate it.”
The captain huffed and stretched his limbs. “Don’t let it go to your head. Next time talk to the professionals first. We know what we’re doing, and you’re still a kid. That clear?”
“Crystal,” I murmured.
As he thumbed his belt the top cop leaned down to me and set a grimace as hard as I’d ever seen. “Now you’re going to tell me how you’re going home to do your homework, just like someone your age should be doing,” he said.
I turned to Max and scratched him behind the ear. He was such a good dog.
“Okay, but there’s something else I need to do first.”
Ramirez grunted and turned away. “Sure. Do whatever you need to do, just so long as you leave us to our job.”
I scooped Max into my arms, prompting a whine as he fumbled, and took off into the skyline. The buildings were still standing, mostly in single pieces, with no sign of the chaos that had whipped between them.
By the time dusk had settled I was back in the suburbs, back in a tank top and cut offs, and riding in Tanya’s beetle with a dog in the back seat. We killed the music to keep him from singing along, while I thumbed through the news feed on my phone.
“Let’s see. A few serious injuries, lots of minor injuries, hundreds of lost animals… oh no. None of the goldfish survived.”
Tanya gasped behind the wheel. “Not the goldfish!”
“I guess the burden of power was too much for them,” I sighed. “Still, it looks like things are mostly back to normal.”
The driver grinned. “You know, now that we know super-powered animals are a thing, I’m kinda sad my Mom didn’t get a dog like she’s been wanting to. You could have had a sidekick; your very own Glimmer Dog.”
A grin curled my lip as I turned to Max. “I already had a Glimmer Dog. Best sidekick I ever had; well, save for you.”
I watched the animal on the back seat, sprawled out and panting, taking no notice as the streetlights blinked to life outside. I reached and rubbed his belly; Max rolled to give my hand better access.
“Why don’t you keep him?” Tanya pressed. “I mean, he obviously likes you.”
“He’s not mine.”
She rolled to a stop at the lights. “I know, but, with all the missing pets and the confusion, who’s to say where he ended up? For all you know you took in a completely different dog and his name just happens to be Max. These things happen, right?”
The idea pulled in my chest. After all, it wasn’t like I was going to see him again soon.
“No,” I told her. “It’s not right. As great as it would be…” I continued to give him attention; every second I could until the last. “Besides, I’m pretty sure my Mom would kill me if I bought a strange dog home.”
Tanya sighed. “That’s true.”
The bug rolled to an idle stop outside the low set house. Max jumped and pawed at the window, eager to leap into the yard behind the picket fence.
As I let him out I paused; he saved my life, and now I had to say goodbye. It wasn’t fair. From the very moment he set foot in the yard Glimmer Dog would be gone, and the world would be sadder for it.
Leading him by the collar to the front door I knelt down, scratched behind his ear, and knocked. He licked my hand and panted, pushing into me as close as he could manage.
“You’re a good boy,” I told him.
The handle turned and the little old lady appeared from the other side. She squinted as the dim light cast us in amber, and furrowed as I brought myself to my feet.
“You,” she exclaimed; yeah, me, the infamous transgender dog-walker.
My composure fumbled as I tucked hair behind my ear. “I, uh, found Max walking around alone, and I thought that I would, you know…”
What would she say? Would she curse me out as some kind of hell spawn?
Mrs Stevenson exhaled and reached down to welcome Max. “Thank you. I’ve been worried silly.”
Silence pulled like taffy as I dragged a foot back to the step. My fists clenched, my breath stilled, and I wilted under the weight of her judgment.
“I’m sorry that I can’t employ you,” she said. “It just wouldn’t be right.”
I shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. I only care that Max got home, safe, and that you’ll take care of him. You will, won’t you?”
No more words crossed the threshold before I turned away. She closed the door, leaving me to meander through the gate and back to Tanya’s car; it was done, and I could go home. For better or for worse, things were back to normal.