The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Stories

Nickolay Todorov

All in all," the mutt Itso pondered as he scratched his bald pink belly with his back paw, "pickles only create unnecessary complications. " He was lying on the bank of a puddle, musing the stars, cheerfully tipsy from licking beer bottles at the local pub. Itso, of course, was not his birth name. His mother had given him the respectable title Vladimir, Vladi in moments of kindness.

After she had died and he had started hanging around the pub, the bartender who ran the establishment out of his garage and took great pride in his impossible collection of one thousand four hundred and eleven beer brands - including a prehistoric one from the island of Madagascar – had started calling him Itso, after the soccer star with an identical set of chipped front teeth.

On this day, the bartender had called the plumbing company on numerous occasions because the sink, which in fact was a basin built for the garage hose to drip in, was clogged. Sour vapors from the pool of brimming alcohol had started to hypnotize the customers, including those who had showed up not to drink but to enroll in a competition of rat-shooting. They had intended to use Itso to scare the rats so they can ambush them but instead had ended up twirling drunk across the sticky floor, improvising a flamenco beat by breaking hard pretzels and clapping ashtrays together. Realizing that everybody was getting wasted on vapors and nobody was buying any drinks, the bartender turned on the old ceiling fan. This caused an even bigger pandemonium as the merry crowd took on hanging from the spinning blades and pulling one-another’s pants down. At this moment, Itso came to the bartender’s rescue, his ears grizzled and his nose drooling and stinking of fermented pickles. The bartender, seeing that the mutt needed a drink, was blessed with the idea of dumping the leftover alcohol from the bottles of Pilsner and Corsendonk inside the overflowing basin and asked Itso to lick it dry.

Itso’s presence in the pub was due entirely to the disillusionment that gnawed his chest after the fiasco he experienced for helping Mona’s brothers against a gang of marauding weasels and the subsequent realization that, even though her Chicken’s Majesty had occasionally let him chew on her tail feathers in the most platonic way, she had only been using him for her own exploration into foreign species. He had met Mona a few weeks before and was immediately struck by the hospital paleness of her feathers which she wore like an aristocratic coat of arms. The fluffy upper limbs which she haughtily called wings even though she had never set flight hugged her body like a mummy’s shroud and in-between them, God Almighty, her cleavage burst ahead like the front bumper of an eighteen-ton truck. The first time Itso set bedazzled eyes on her soft breast, a vision of the juicy white meat underneath sent a spasm across his intestines, and he called himself a skunky animal for thinking of food when all he wanted to do was make sweet love to this self-absorbed chicken.

One day, three roosters showed up at the pub. He heard their feet crunching over the crumby floor while he was taking a leak under the table of a particularly annoying customer, a shrew who wouldn’t stop doing cross-word puzzles even when the place was rocking. With the fur on his back bristling from the invisible danger, Itso halted his piss and spun around. The roosters were squinting at him suspiciously and crunching their necks as if getting ready to start trouble. He noticed that one of them had dragged along a four-leafed clover which he clutched behind his back like a totem against bad luck. At this moment, the rooster with a string of hair dangling over his eyes reached out and lifted the dog’s jaw.
"In the game of life," the rooster declared, "being a dog offers unexpected opportunities."

Then they gathered around Itso and explained to him how for the past two weeks their coup had been harassed by a gang of weasels on a hunt for the famous eggs produced by the chicken of the county; even when rotting those eggs whiffed of apples. It would be a lost cause, kaput, stick-a-fork-in-us-we’re-done brother, for the chickens to fight the rodents alone, but now that Itso was so enamored with their kind, they felt they were ready to face the furry menace. That’s when it dawned on Itso that these were Mona’s brothers, whom she lovingly called the Three Teners after they had developed such an operatic routine for announcing the break of dawn that their owner had sworn she won’t put them to the knife until they reached the combined age of ten years.

At first, Mona had been skeptical of Itso’s potential for knightly heroics against the intruders because she had noticed, while he was munching her tail-feathers, that his bite was too gentle and it caressed more then it injured. "Those vagabonds need a set of molars crunched into their rears." she said. "Not some exotic massage."

Her brothers promised Itso glory, their approval of him as a suitor of their sister, and an opened jar of ancient pickles which lay to waste by the fence of the coup. This last incentive cost them their lives. Suddenly feeling important, Itso mustered the courage to ask for an advance on his services and they pointed him to the pickles. By this time, the acidic water in the jar had fermented to a state of pure alcohol and, after only a few licks, Itso dropped in happy unconsciousness. He dreamt that he joined a pack of wolves as only a half-breed but soon fought his way up their ranks to the position of alpha male. Instead of abusing his power in the manner of his predecessors, he initiated changes, negotiating peace with their natural prey and trained the other wolves to eat flower petals and drink the water of a bubbly brook through straws they made out of oak leaves. In his sleep, Itso felt mysteriously content, as if the open wound of love, passion, and jealousy he felt for Mona had closed under the treatment of quack gypsy ointments.

He woke up in a pool of crimson and for a moment he sank in disappointment, thinking that the wolves had gone back to their beastly ways. The truth became evident when a fleet of feathers, and among them one as white as a nurse’s outfit, eased past him and drained away into the water ditch, mixing with the apple-scented soap-water the owner of the chickens gave them to drink after she took a bath. This is how Itso unveiled the secret of the eternal fragrance of the local eggs, but it did not make up for the murder of his friends and his girlfriend.

A blunt cocktail of shame and guilt lumped in his lungs and squeezed its acid through veins and arteries and down his trachea until it contracted like an alchemist’s concoction into his loins. Before the foreign substance could put a wrench in his vital organs, he drank some more of the pickled water and passed out again. He repeated this ritual twenty one times, dreaming of wolves and waking up to a tribe of giggling weasels munching on his beloved and her kin, until dream and reality fused into one. When he awoke for the twenty-first time, the world was free of wolves and chickens and his guilt lay in a puddle of regurgitated pickles. A sense of freedom overcame him, wrapped in the incoherent suspicion that the world had undergone a violent transformation while he had slept, and that every living being he would meet from then on would seem like a stranger.

With these and similar fatalistic thoughts levitating in his mind, Itso dipped his foot in the puddle by the pub and flapped his tongue a few times, trying to get rid of the beer taste.
"Real Job aren’t you!" a voice beside him croaked. "Ogling like somebody ate your dessert, brooding, boats all sunk to hell, the whole melodramatic enchilada."
A frog grinned at him with her swampy, periscope eyes. Itso wiggled his dripping toes and sprung up, marveling at the green radiance of the face without make up, her graceful legs concealed by the unflattering pose, the sensuous curve of her drooling mouth.
"Not on my birthday, mister!" she continued. "You can muddy my pool with your unwashed feet or we can stretch our joints, have a smoke and get to know each other. Good mood is a gift, I say. Cup half-full, etc."

Itso bit on the offered Camel cigarette, took a drag and contemplated the starry skies. A treacherous revelation struck him, stripping him of his delicious self-pity like a shark forcing a drowning suicidal to race for the shore: that in this demented world of dogs suffering amorous pains over chickens, you inevitably stumble upon some annoying optimist to whom pickles have brought nothing but eternal bliss.

© Nickolay Todorov May 2006

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