IS A GOODBOY by Zandra Renwick

Huck is a gooddog. Huck is suchagooddog. Have his people forgotten whatagooddog Huck is?

Another low whine wheedles from his brindled barrel chest. His paw lifts to scratch the backdoor screen–but no! Huck remembers this is baddog behavior. He has been a baddog in the past but wants to make better choices.

As if not his, Huck’s paw stabs a swift quick swipe at the screen–sccccrrriiiitch! no! it is torn! no!–and Huck cringes from the sound. Starting now, he will make better choices and be suchagooddog his people will let him back into the kitchen and onto the couch and give him cookies and smooches like a gooddog deserves. It’s been weeks since he’s gotten smooches. These days it’s mostly the backyard, and no cookies.

From the alley behind, near the scraggly link fence Huck marks diligently each day, crouch two people shapes! Strangers! Intruders!

The whine in Huck’s meaty throat morphs into a growl. Rushing! Rushing the fence! Barking! Barking at strangers! Barkbarkbark!

Strangers are smart. They know Huck can’t bite through wire fence. Manshape and Womanshape watch Huck bark. Manshape says, “I don’t know about the dog. You’re sure they’re gone overnight?”

Womanshape says, “Owners took the new baby to visit grandma upstate. I’ve been following her feed all day, hashtag proudgranny. And the dog’s fine.” Womanshape crouches. “You a goodboy? You a gooddog? You’re suchagooddog.”

He is! He is! Womanshape’s tone dips when she murmurs sweettalk. Huck’s tail wags by itself. It wags as she reaches for the fence, wags and wags. Before he knows what his tongue is doing it licks her fingers through the metal diamonds. Licklicklicks.

Crooning to Huck, Womanshape unlatches the gate and swings it wide. Huck could run away, but why? Why would he leave his people? Where would Huck go?

Manshape slips past as Womanshape fondles Huck’s ears. Huck’s eyes close. His tongue lolls so low he tastes dirt. As Womanshape joins Manshape at backdoor Huck jumps and whumbles beside her, butting her dangling hand. More petting! More petting!

Manshape removes the screen and shoves a short metal stick between window and sill. Window is small but not too small for Womanshape. A growl starts forming in Huck’s chest, or maybe a bark, but a single “Shhhh, gooddog. . . ” sets his tail wagging itself again.

Womanshape opens backdoor from inside and Manshape slinks in. Huck pauses–his people don’t like him to enter without permission–but Womanshape says, “Come on, goodboy!” and closes the door behind him.

Inside, Manshape is rifling through drawers. Womanshape unplugs small devices from kitchen counter and desk to dump cords and all into Manshape’s backpack. “Check the bedroom,” he tells her. She nods.

Huck isn’t sure where to sit. Several weeks ago his people decided he should be an outsidedog. The couch where he used to sit with them smells of raw milk and powder. There’s no dog hair anywhere. Trails of Huck’s drool are wiped from every surface, and someone else’s drool has replaced it. His blanket is missing. His familiar gnawed toys are absent, though someone else’s toys litter the scene like a plushy explosion, sumptuous and vibrant.

Womanshape jogs in from the hall to the bedrooms. She wears a full backpack now too, one Huck recognizes from when his people used to take him camping and hiking. “We’ve got enough,” she tells Manshape. “Let’s go.”

On her way out the door, Womanshape pauses. Manshape is already halfway across the backyard, stuffed pack turning his silhouette lumpy and bumpy, not personshaped at all. Womanshape’s hand drops to Huck’s head and his tail automatically swishes. “Poor guy,” she says. “Guess they have someone new to play with, huh?”

Her hand goes away and his tail stills, but she reaches for the leash! Leash! Hanging by the door where his people used to return it after walking him every day, back when they still thought he was a gooddog, before he committed whatever mysterious crime made them banish him to the backyard and bring home a new drooler, instead.

Past the doorway Huck sees Manshape in the alley. Womanshape studies Huck, then swiftly ducks, smooches his snout, and clips the leash to Huck’s collar–leash! Leash!

“You’re a goodboy,” his person tells him, and they jog together across the new strangers’ backyard to where the other half of Huck’s people waits in the alley. Huck’s new people are taking their goodboy for a walk–a walk!–and then home.

Zandra Renwick’s stories have been translated, podcast, performed on stage, and optioned for television. Find her fiction in Ellery Queen’s & Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines, the Exile Book of New Canadian Noir, the Year’s Best Hardcore Horror and the Baltimore Review. More at

Copyright © 2019 Zandra Renwick. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.