“here we are, boy,” said the dog's owner, scratching the dog's ears; the truck had pulled up to a rundown grey farmhouse.
while his owner unloaded the boxes, the dog explored the woods.
when the dog returned to the house, his owner was heading inside. the dog followed. the farmhouse's entryway was small; to the left was a narrow door and double doors stood ajar straight ahead. curious, the dog padded over to the double doors and glimpsed a few rows of benches. his owner pulled him back by his collar as the narrow door opened and another man stepped into the entryway.
“here’s the key,” said the dog’s owner.
the other man pocketed the key and handed over a wad of bills in exchange. “here.” in the week since the dog had seen him, the man's amber eyes had lost some of their iridescence and his beige skin had acquired a blue tinge in places.
metal clattered on wood through the double doors, but the dog resisted the urge to explore the sound.
“it’s less than last time,” said the dog's owner, frowning at the money in his hand. “what gives?”
“we’ve lost some boxes on your route over the last week,” he said, stepping forward and narrowing his gaze. he swayed unsteadily, which diminished the intended threatening effect. “we recovered two, but at least three more are still unaccounted for.”
“I don’t know anything ab-”
“that's right, you don't know a thing,” said the other man, slurring his words. “heck, I thought you’d be a natural; your dad did this for what, forty years?”
another clatter came from the next room.
“yeah,” replied the dog's owner, taking a step back as the other man wobbled toward him. “both my parents worked at the factory.”
“too bad it shut down after those sisters went missing, huh?”
the dog's owner remained silent.
“you don’t seem convinced. maybe that’s why the crates are missing. getting cold feet? skimming us off the top?”
“then prove it.” the man grimaced and pushed open the double doors as another clatter echoed through the room.
scattered among the rows of benches were a few people, each one holding a mirror. the woman nearest them blurred into nothingness and released her mirror; the man snatched it in midair and thrust it at the dog’s owner, then pushed him onto the bench.
the dog hopped up beside his owner.
“fine, the mutt can stay too,” the other man scoffed. “c’mon, I don’t have all day.”
with a shaking hand, the dog's owner raised the mirror to his face and his form immediately started to blur. within a few moments, the blur turned to mist and the mirror grew cloudy.
when the mist had almost dissipated, the man reached across the dog and struck the mirror to the floor. the form of the dog's owner grew vivid just before he crumpled onto the bench beside the dog. a network of white lines curled over his face and neck. the dog licked the face of his owner, who was breathing raggedly, but the lines remained.
the licking continued until the dog's owner grunted and pushed the dog’s face away. he sat upright, blinked in the dim light and stared at the bench in front of him where the misty form of a young girl had become translucent. the man in the aisle watched silently.
the dog’s owner pushed off from the bench, leaned over the girl’s shoulder, and reached toward her mirror. the other man shoved him away and the mist evaporated; metal clattered on wood as the mirror fell to the floor.
“what're you doing?” roared the other man; the cloudiness in his eyes and blue blotches on his skin intensified with his anger.
“you can’t do that to a child!”
“you’re weak!" spat the man. "anyway, her parents brought her."
the dog's owner looked around; the room was empty. "they're gone."
"disappeared. it happens. you know that."
"I didn't know what it felt like until now!"
"you're pitiful. I endured it fine!”
“you’re not a child!”
“my dad wanted me to try it, but that one sister refused to let him; maybe things would’ve been different after she left.”
“the factory exploded after the sisters left!”
“still on about that, are you?” the man's eyes had turned entirely a murky yellow.
“my parents died! almost everyone died!”
“yet you, of all the incompetents, survived! why is that? now you're trying to take it down from the inside?”
“I came to work for you, didn't I?”
“you don’t anymore!” the man got closer and pushed him onto the bench as the dog’s bark echoed around the empty room. “tell me where the crates went and you can keep your job," hissed the man, whisking out a knife and slicing the air with it.
the dog jumped toward the man and bit his leg. the man swiftly kicked him away and blackness took over.