Prelude to a Storm
A short story prologue to Storm Season.
When one world ends, another begins.
After an encounter on Chicago’s North Side with a small dog named Norma, Ian West and his wife Diana become friends with their neighbor Dr. Nick Gardiner. When the unimaginable happens, Ian must come to terms with his new existence with the help of Nick.
- Urban fantasy
- Word Count: 4,000
- Heat Level: 1
- Published By: Belaurient Press
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Ian West slammed on his brakes, hoping to hell there was nobody behind him.
There wasn’t. Ahead of him, however, was a little dog just trotting along the middle of northbound Racine, happy as a clam.
He glared at the dog. Dogs weren’t allowed to run around Lincoln Park off the leash, which meant it was either an escapee or a stray. And he really didn’t want to deal with a stray dog, not tonight. He’d just finished the last of a week’s worth of 12 hour days, his head hurt like a bitch, and all he wanted to do was take a shower, eat the chicken breasts Diana promised she’d barbecue despite the chilly October weather, and crawl into bed.
He looked at the dog again. Small, maybe a terrier. It was pure luck he hadn’t hit it, and that kind of luck didn’t hold out on the streets of Chicago’s North Side at night. The dog would be road kill if he didn’t do something.
Cursing under his breath, he hit his emergency flashers and got out of the car, his breath fogging slightly in the cold air. Bending over, he started slapping his thighs and whistling. “C’mere, boy! Come on!”
The dog turned and studied him, head cocked to the side in a canine gesture that meant, Oh, hello, funny-looking ape. Are you talking to me?
“Damn dog,” he muttered. “Come on, boy! C’mere!”
Just as he thought he’d have to park the car and chase down the dog, it trotted back to him, tail wagging. Quickly, Ian scooped it up and slid back into the car, depositing his new friend on the passenger seat. His timing was perfect; as he turned off the flashers and threw the car into drive, a pair of headlights appeared in his rear view mirror.
“Sorry to interrupt your stroll, buddy, but you’re going home with me,” he said, fumbling with his seat belt. “Hope you like chicken.”
The dog barked once, tail wagging furiously.
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
As it turned out, the dog wasn’t so much a Buddy as she was a Norma, according to the tag on her collar. The owner had also put their phone number on the tag, which Ian called while his wife Diana fussed over their canine guest.
The call went directly to voice mail. “Yeah, hi, my name is Ian West, and I have your dog, Norma?” he said. Next to him, Diana sat on the kitchen’s linoleum tile, busily shredding a leftover chicken breast into a bowl while Norma wiggled and danced. “She’s white with brown patches, and her ears are brown–”
“She’s a Jack Russell terrier,” Diana said.
“Uh, and my wife says she’s a Jack Russell terrier. Anyway, I found her walking down Racine tonight and took her home. If you could give me a call when you get this message, we can arrange a pickup. Thanks.”
He ended the call, watching Diana with the terrier. It wasn’t the first time either of them had brought home a stray. Luckily, they’d always managed to find the pet’s owner, or, if the animal didn’t have an owner, a good forever home. It seemed like their luck was still holding this time.
“I know she’s a cutie, babe, but don’t get too attached,” he said. “She belongs to someone.”
“Oh, I know. But she’s so gorgeous.” Diana watched fondly as Norma licked shreds of chicken from her fingers before diving into the bowl. “Do we still have any of that clothesline left? I really should walk her after this.”
He headed to the tiny laundry closet at the end of the apartment. The shelf over the washer and dryer yielded a hank of clothesline, part of Diana’s campaign to use what she whimsically called “the awesome power of nuclear fusion” instead of the dryer during the warmer months.
Bringing the line back into the kitchen, he glanced at the clock. “Are you sure you want to take her for a walk now? I mean, it won’t kill her if she has to pee in the back yard.”
Diana ran her hands over the dog, which seemed to be in seventh heaven from the attention. “No, she needs to stretch her legs a bit. I’ll stay on the main streets — we’ll be fine.”
Ian knew he should volunteer to walk Norma, but he could already feel his eyes sagging shut. “Okay. Keep your phone on you, and your keys. And if someone comes up to you, don’t be afraid to hit them with the Mace.”
She gave him her “I love you, but you’re babbling” look. “Honey, we live in Lincoln Park. The worst that’ll happen is some PETA member gives me shit for enslaving an animal.” She stood up and pulled him in for a kiss. “But thank you for going all macho and overprotective over me. It’s adorable.”
“Mmrph.” He kissed her back, enjoying the feel of her in his arms. “I’ll stay up until you get back. Don’t argue,” he said, resting his fingers on her already opening mouth. “Just take her for her walk and get back in one piece, okay?”
Diana smirked, kissing his fingers. “Okay, Mr. Worrywart. Now go eat your dinner before you fall over.”
He smirked back. “Yes, dear.”