“What about Giotto?”
Bright blue eyes stared into hers, but the dog didn’t react. Chelsea giggled. The dog had crawled out of the prairie two days ago. A flea bath and brush later had revealed a beautiful mixed breed. Thick, chocolate-brown fur covered his face and ran down his back. The soft white fur of his belly was innately petable. His ears stuck up but bent at the very tips. A strong square jaw was backed up by thick shoulders and long legs. He could chew through bone and likely run forever.
He loved riding in the front seat and sang along with her when good songs came on the radio. But she couldn’t come up with a name that stuck.
They stopped at a roadside attraction on the prairie. The coffee was hot and cheap, and the trinkets over-priced. Chelsea picked up a few t-shirts from the sales rack, some traveler’s needs regarding personal hygiene, and a decent leather collar for the dog. She had contemplated a fringed jacket and matching black leather Stetson for herself.
She adjusted the collar on the dog’s neck and patted her leg. The dog trotted at heel, a bounce his step. They walked out past the false fronts of the fake frontier town toward the open grass.
“What about Remington? He’s a western painter.”
The dog didn’t so much as look at her.
He lifted his head at her, ears pricked up.
“It would be easier if you were female. I adore Georgia O’Keeffe.”
The dog put his nose to the ground and walked away.
He looked away from her again.
“Is it the artist thing?”
His tail wagged, and Chelsea laughed. The dog bounced over her, tongue rolling out. She scratched at his ears, before pulling out her phone. Checking the message board once more, she sipped at the cheap coffee. This was definitely the place. The monster had been sighted here four times.
“Get this.” She said to the dog. “The last victim wasn’t discovered until the staff noticed the man’s Bentley—”
The dog yipped.
His tail fanned back and forth.
He spun around in a circle.
Again his bark sounded.
“Fine, you’re Bentley.”
He danced, his big paws prancing through the long grass. Chelsea walked further into the empty landscape until she could no longer see the “town”.
Flat though it seemed, there were folds to the land. Bentley proved invaluable in avoiding the worst of the drop-offs. He’d herd her away from them with ease, his underfed frame pushing against her legs heavily.
He’s gonna be a beast once he puts on some weight.
It didn’t take long to find the monster. Like the post had described, it looked like a bundle of sticks. Slowly, against all reason, the bundle assembled itself into a humanoid figure as she took pictures. Its movements appeared jerky and unsteady, but Chelsea took no chances.
Amidst deep growls from in front of her, she put away her camera before pulling a lighter out of pocket as well as the cheap, aerosol breath freshener that had been on sale at the counter. “Heel, Bentley.”
Slowly, the big mutt backed up until he stood beside her. Chelsea flipped the wheel of the lighter. A single yellow flame burned in the growing twilight. It flickered in the ever-present wind but didn’t die.
She sprayed the breath freshener over the flame. The makeshift flamethrower lit up the night. The stickman in front of her charred and smoked, crumbling to ash almost immediately.
Chelsea let up on the breathspray, pocketed her lighter, and pulled out her ax, just in case. She kicked at the gray ash, smudging it into the dirt. “That was easy. I hope the before pictures are enough to get paid.”
Bentley huffed a short bark.
“C’mon, boy. Let’s head out.” She turned back the fake frontier town. She really did want another cup of coffee before hitting the road.
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