It had been nearly a year since Clara Oswald’s life had turned upside down. She double-checked the calendar and her heart sank at the truth of it all. A year as of the following Saturday was the anniversary of what Scotland Yard had referred to as one of their most baffling crime sprees they had seen in decades: a man had stolen a vehicle while high on an unknown hallucinogen and seemingly pretended that he was in one of those bad taxi-driver games all throughout the East End before being taken down by the police. When all had been said and done, innumerable vehicles had been clipped and several people rushed to hospitals.
There was only one victim, however, who had not been rushed to anything, for he had been pronounced dead on the scene, and that man was Danny Pink… her fiancé for all of three days.
She threw a pillow at the calendar on her bedroom wall and buried her face in one of those still on her bed. It made her feel stupid, pouting on her bed like a child near the eve of a dreaded anniversary, yet it was the only thing she could think to do. No one at work was able to make her feel much better, though they tried, putting Clara in such a rut that she did not know what to do… let alone what to do to make her go forward.
Her mobile soon rang and she let it go to voicemail. It rang again five minutes later and she picked it up—her father.
“Hey Dad,” she said, swiping the call through.
“How are you, my tiny tangerine? Holding up alright?”
“I’m not at the bottom of a bottle this call, so I guess you can say that.” She thought back to a couple weeks ago when her father had caught her finishing up a really good wine she had found and opened the day before, something that she knew she was not going to let down for a while. “How about you and Gran? Everything alright back home?”
“We’re all fine—Linda too, thanks for asking—though you know that’s not why I called.” Clara put the phone on speaker and laid on her back to stare at the ceiling, really not feeling the conversation yet still wanting her father to speak his piece. “We both know it’ll be a year soon. Have you thought about when you’ll start to… well… work at moving on?”
“It wasn’t that easy when Mum died either,” she sniped.
“That’s true, but I put myself out there because I knew she wouldn’t have liked it if I withered away and died soon after her,” he retorted. “Danny was a good man, and I think he would have felt the same.”
“I know, it’s just… it’s different. You still had to look after me.” A knot twisted in Clara’s gut, reminding her of the excitement she had experienced such a short time ago. “Danny and I wanted to have a kid or two, but he didn’t even get to leave me with that.”
“Then maybe that’s what you need: something to look after that you can adore, but doesn’t necessarily have the same commitment level as a child,” Dave said. “What’s the term? Pet parent? That’s a thing these days for young people, yeah?”
“Yeah, for people delusional enough to project human emotions onto animals so often that they forget what they’re dealing with is not a human,” she frowned. “Just because someone treats an animal like they would a human child doesn’t mean it’s an appropriate substitute. Plenty of my students have been under the delusion that the term ‘fur baby’ doesn’t mean ‘a human baby with an unfortunately excessive hair growth condition’ for years; trust me when I say I hope most of them stick to keeping pets and don’t graduate to adopting human children in the near future.”
“Still, having a pet would do you good. I mean, the fish are all gone, and even if they were there, they couldn’t interact with you, now could they?”
“Please give it a bit of thought, will you? For me?” Silence. “For your mum?”
“Fine,” Clara groaned. “I’ll think about it.”
A few more minutes of small talk and the phone call ended, leaving Clara alone to her thoughts. She knew that there were plenty of men out there just waiting for the chance to go out with her and become what Danny had not lived long enough to be for her, though she wasn’t entirely sure how getting a pet would be the way to put herself out there enough to find them. Her father wasn’t always a font of good advice—he was married to Linda for crying out loud—yet the part about coping with the loss of a spouse… there was something there that she knew was at least somewhat genuine.
Maybe, just maybe, it was worth a shot.
The following day, the noise inside the animal shelter was set at an unpleasant level of rancor that Clara wasn’t entire certain she, or the staff member that accompanied her to the back, deserved. She had talked to a couple coworkers during lunch, getting a recommendation to this particular one, and she had decided to take the plunge while her mind was still accepting of the idea. There were all sorts of cats and dogs arguing amongst another, or at least what she presumed to be arguing, with even a small tiger adding a deafening roar that shut all the other animals up for a moment.
“That one’s not up for adoption,” the staff member clarified with a wince. “Just got Timmy there last week out of a hoarder’s place and we’re waiting on a zoo that can take him.”
“I’m not certain I want a cat anyhow,” Clara said. She stared at the tiger, uncomfortable with the fact there was only chain-link fencing between it and her. “They’re a bit fussy, aren’t they?”
“They’re at least more prone to being fussy on average, if that’s what you’re concerned about,” the other woman said. “There are cats here who are just as affectionate as most dogs, and there are plenty of dog breeds that can give even the most fickle cats a run for their money.” She pointed at a particular dog, a fluffy white one with long, spindly legs, and shrugged. “Vera here is one of them—part poodle and lets you know it. I’d only really recommend her to someone with more experience and time on their hands. What did you say you did again?”
“I teach secondary school… literature…” Clara replied. She was barely paying the staff member any mind, instead glancing around the kennel at the various animals that she knew were up for adoption. Finally, one grey dog with perky ears way in the back corner caught her attention. “What about that one?”
“What, Basil? Little beast has been here longer than I have, which is saying something,” the staff member frowned. The dog heard its name and came shuffling towards the front of the cage, seemingly upset that it was even summoned. “He keeps on escaping from wherever he goes, always coming back here. We aren’t entirely sure what he is aside from Scots terrier; they aren’t often that grey or large, nor are their eyes blue, not if they’re purebred anyhow.”
Clara crouched down in front of the cage containing Basil and stared at him. “He’s kinda cute.”
“Honestly, it’s a grumpy old man that keeps on running away.”
“Then it’s a good thing I’m not looking for a bouncy, young puppy with too much energy for its own good,” Clara said. She stood and gave the staff member a grin. “I’ll take him.”
“If that’s what you want, ma’am, don’t say I didn’t warn you,” was the reply. The other woman waited until Clara stepped aside and opened the cage. She bent down to hook the leash onto Basil’s collar when the dog sneezed and walked right past her, calmly making its way towards the exit.
“Dogs don’t normally do that, do they?” Clara noted.
“They do when they’re Basil,” the staff member shrugged.
About half an hour of paperwork later and Clara was putting her new dog into the basket on the rear of her motorbike. It had seemed rather irritated by the fact he was made to sit in the back on wire, but she was eventually able to haul him up in there.
“C’mon you big baby,” she grunted. “It’s only until we get to the pet shop and I can find a nice cushion for you… maybe even a carrier…” She finally got him in and frowned. “Maybe a carrier isn’t a good idea—there’s no way you weigh fifty-six pounds like they say, even if you are a skinny thing. If I were to take a guess, I’d say the Airedale in there weighed less than you.” Basil laid down and allowed Clara to strap him down safely in the basket, giving her an indignant look.
Now that she thought about it… those eyes were a bit freaky.
After a quick popping in at the pet store and picking up some takeaway, Clara drove her bike back to her flat block and hauled all of her new things up to her floor. Basil obligingly took his leash with him in his mouth, watching the human carefully as she juggled her bag bringing everything into the cramped flat. The dog then skittered around his new home, leash now trailing along, seemingly inspecting the place to see if it was to his standards.
“Alright Basil, I assume you know the drill already,” Clara said as she opened a can of dog food and put it in the new dog dish. She placed the dish on the floor and waited for Basil to make his way over and begin eating. With him staying still, she was able to take off the worn leash and collar from the kennel and clipped a brand-new collar around his neck. It was a dark navy color, and it seemed to bring out the blue in his eyes even more. “That’s your dish, you sleep in your new basket, no laying on the furniture unless I’m there to unlatch your claws, and no peeing or taking a dump in the flat unless,” she grabbed the tray of scented training pads and waved it in front of him, “you go in this.”
Basil chewed his food and stared at Clara, seemingly unimpressed.
“Yeah, yeah, you and your attack-eyebrows probably don’t understand a word I’m saying,” she sighed.
Clara then went and began to eat her own dinner, glad that it was at least still hot enough to not microwave. She began to scroll through the news on her mobile as she ate, not paying her new flatmate any heed until she felt him head-butt her ankle. Looking down, she saw that Basil was staring up at her, tail (and rear) wagging as he stood next to his dish, which he had pushed over to her feet.
“I don’t know if curry’s a good thing to feed dogs…” she mused. Basil barked and then whimpered, nudging the bowl with his nose. “Alright, but don’t make this a common occurrence; we don’t need you getting heavier than you already are.” She took the bowl from the floor and brought it up to the table, spooning some of the rice and sauce in before setting it back down at the dog’s level. He then began to eat, chomping down voraciously on the treat as though it was one of its favorites.
Clara nodded; she was going to have to remember that.
“You seem happy today, Clara. What’s going on?”
Clara glanced up to see Adrian sitting across from her in the staff room, both of them on their lunch break. He looked concerned—well, he was always concerned about something—and it was rare that the two of them were alone to talk freely.
“Oh, uh, nothing really,” she shrugged. “I’m just following some advice my dad gave me the other day, you know, and it involves rearranging my schedule. Let’s hope it’s for the better.”
“What advice is that, may I ask?”
“I got a dog.” She watched his eyebrow go up in confusion. “Dad said I might feel better about… you know… things if I had a pet to take care of, so I went to the shelter and got an older dog to see how I do with it. If it goes well, I’ll be getting a new dog within a couple of years, and if not, then I’ll do my best to ride it out and then pitch its things in the charity shop once it goes.”
“Not a bad idea,” he nodded. “Say, you think that dog of yours can play striker in pub league? We still haven’t been able to find someone to fill those empty cleats.” They both smiled at that—she wasn’t the only one grieving, after all.
“It’s not a golden retriever backed by a human stunt team, that’s for sure,” she said. Clara picked up her mobile and pulled up a photo she had taken of her dog just the previous night. “That’s Basil; he’s a Scottish terrier mixed with… something… the kennel wasn’t entirely certain.”
“Maybe it’s part Kerry, or even schnauzer? It looks a bit like the dog my cousins had as kids that was a mix of those… just…” Adrian shuddered slightly. “It’s got some eyes on it, that’s for certain.”
“I don’t know if I’ve seen eyes like that on a dog before, but then again, I’ve never had cause to notice…”
“Certainly doesn’t make it look very friendly.”
“No, that’s the eyebrows,” Clara laughed. “Its own independent state of crossness, those things. Everything from Scotland has to be cross, you know, even dogs. I should’ve known better.”
“Celia’s husband’s from Edinburgh; maybe we can ask her how to get a Scot to behave,” Adrian joked.
“You were clearly never out during Celia’s hen night,” she replied. There was then movement outside in the corridor, catching her attention. Mr. Coburn was attempting to get her attention… with a policewoman standing behind him. “Shit, what’s this about?” She went over to the door and opened it, very poorly trying to stay calm. “Yes…?”
“Are you Miss Clara Oswald?” the policewoman asked, not allowing Mr. Coburn to get a word in.
“Last time I checked—is something the matter?”
“I hate to inform you, but there’s been a reported break-in at your flat and we need your permission to search for any clues that could lead us to the suspect,” the policewoman said. “Entry doesn’t look forced and nothing appears to have been stolen, but we like to have the residents check themselves, just in case.”
“Yes, of course, I’ll be right there,” Clara said. She then rushed back to her seat and began to clean up her lunch, stuffing the leftovers in the fridge, as well as the marking she had been idly working on before Adrian struck up their conversation… Adrian! “Oh, I’m sorry, I don’t know if I’ll be able to help with taking Grade Sevens today...!”
“It’s fine; just go!” Adrian insisted. “Just make sure everything’s alright at your place.”
“We will also need you to restrain your dog while we look around, Miss,” the officer mentioned. “He seems to be tolerating us so far, but we don’t want to go too far and then have to call animal control.”
“I just got him too,” she muttered half-heartedly. This was the exact opposite of what she needed right then and there.
Once she got the remainder of her things from her classroom, Clara followed the policewoman out of the school and was at least able to ride her bike back home (giving a couple students a smile and wave on the way, just to confuse them). Once she got home, she found Basil sitting vigilant in front of her bedroom door, glaring at the officers that were wandering about in search of evidence.
“We have the resident,” the policewoman said, bringing Clara into the kitchen. There were a couple other officers there, all clearly her senior thanks to looking more civilian than her traffic cop getup.
“Thank you; I’ll take it from here,” the sergeant said. The new woman took a clipboard from an associate and flipped through the papers. “Clara Oswald?”
“Yes,” she affirmed curtly.
“It looks like at about seven after one in the afternoon, a Mrs. Singhdal from a couple floors down called to report what looked like a man in your kitchen window,” the sergeant explained. “Mrs. Singhdal then claims to have knocked, thinking that your father was in town for some sort of anniversary—I couldn’t get precisely what out of her—but became alarmed when she heard a strange voice instead. Do you live alone?”
“Aside from the dog? Yes.”
“Do you have a boyfriend, male friend or family member, male associate, or male contractor who would have the keys to, or general access to, your flat aside from the block staff?”
“Just my father, and he lives in Blackpool,” Clara confirmed. “Before you ask further, I did have a boyfriend within the past year, but he also died within that amount of time—actually this weekend will mark a year.”
“I’m sorry to hear that; none of his friends had access to a key via him?”
“Most of his friends are either still in the military or were coworkers of ours—he would’ve known had he borrowed my key and then it vanished for a bit.”
The following couple of hours were a complete mess for Clara. She had to answer way too many questions about what was going on in her life for comfort, as well as allow people she had never even met have full access to her flat. Not even Basil had full access to her flat, as he was restricted to the kitchen, sitting room, and the central corridor that connected all the rooms together. In the end, the police found nothing of interest, leaving her flat with a tip of a couple hats and a direct phone number to call in case she did find something unusual in the coming days.
It was now well into evening, creeping towards midnight, as Clara sat blankly on her sofa. Basil laid curled up in her lap, allowing her to stroke his fur.
“I’m not very hungry, are you?” she asked. The dog snorted. “There is one thing that I know has been different lately—I’ve been talking a whole lot more since you got here. I wonder how healthy that is…”
Basil wriggled free from his spot underneath Clara’s arm and skittered over towards where his leash hung on a peg near the door. He put his paws up on the wall so he could stand and nudged it with his nose, giving as clear a signal as he could.
“I guess we can take a walk; might put me in the mood for some food while we’re out,” she agreed. Clara clipped Basil’s leash on his collar and shrugged herself into a coat. It might have been a bit nippy out the past few nights, but at least she was in London, meaning that she was able to get decent food no matter what time of day or night it happened to be, no matter what she was in the mood to eat. As long as she had her mobile, she didn’t care what was going on.
Sure enough, the brisk night air was enough to get her blood going, and by the time the clock struck midnight, she was sitting in a small canteen having a sandwich while Basil had some plate scrapings that the manager was kind enough to set aside. Feeling invigorated, Clara knew that she was going to have to walk off some of her new energy before going to sleep, all of which was going to absolutely destroy her regular sleeping pattern. She found a quiet street for her and Basil to stroll down on their way back home, taking solace in the still night.
Then, suddenly, Basil stopped walking. His already-perked ears twitched before he crouched down in a growl—something was wrong.
“What’s out there, boy?” Clara wondered. “Is it a squirrel? A badger from the park?” She sat on her calves and tried to see where Basil was growling. There wasn’t a person there, nor did it seem like there was another animal. “Are you sure there’s something there…?”
Basil growled again, except this time, he was met by a low hissing noise. A soft thud came from behind a nearby tree—they were not alone.
“Come on, Basil, let’s get out of here,” Clara said. She tugged at his leash, yet the dog stood his ground. His fur seemed to stand on end and fluff up as he let out a warning yip to their unwanted company. “Basil, come on, let’s get out… of… here…”
Slowly, the thing that fell from the tree came into sight, confusing Clara beyond words. It was a snake, sort of, except it had two stubby legs towards its front end and a face that appeared more cat than snake. Basil growled again, which resulted in the creature giving a feline-like his… all while sticking out its forked tongue.
Clara’s eyes went wide as she froze in horror. She didn’t know what she was looking at, let alone what to do about it. Basil firmly placed himself between the creature and her, growling fiercely as the being came closer.
In an instant, the creature attacked. Basil leapt into its path and the two began to fight. Clara panicked, not wanting to just sit there on the pavement like an idiot, and quickly began to look around for something to use as a weapon. A worn cricket bat with a cracked blade was sitting next to a rubbish bin on the other side of the street—perfect. She ran to get it, coming back to whack the creature as hard as she could to get it to stop coiling itself around her dog. It hissed at her, attempting to drive her off before getting hit in the face with the bat. Once it realized it was not dealing with only one attacker, the creature part-scampered-part-slithered away into the park across the street, nabbing a squirrely snack on its way.
“That was… weird…” Clara breathed. She then glanced down at Basil and gasped; he was hurt, bleeding from cuts to his side and face, and looked as though he could barely breathe based on his gasping breaths. “No, hey, I got you, gimme a mo’…” After sticking the broken bat underneath her arm, she picked up the dog and began to quickly walk towards her flat.
It felt like a million thoughts were racing through Clara’s head at once while she carried Basil back home. First and foremost, she definitely wanted to call that direct number for the police sergeant, but she knew that she would likely be laughed onto a do-not-answer list the moment she began explaining what was going on. What was that thing? Why did it attack them? Where did it come from? She drove the thoughts from her mind as she got to her floor and opened the door to her flat—there was no time for that right now.
After making sure the door was shut and locked tightly behind them, Clara dropped the bat on the floor and went towards the kitchen. She pulled an old towel from the linen cupboard on her way and put that on the kitchen floor, laying the injured Basil atop it. The dog was whimpering in pain as she took the collar off him and the sight tore at her—the only reason he was hurt was because he had been defending her.
“Alright, let me at least get these disinfected, then we can see about wrapping them up,” she said. Clara rushed into the bathroom and found cotton balls and a bottle of surgical spirit, as well as some old, chunky menstrual pads her gran had bought (for what reason, she did not want to know) that she knew would take care of any bleeding from Basil’s side. She brought everything with her to the kitchen, putting it down next to Basil.
Then, as if things couldn’t become stranger, it did.
Basil’s fur, no, his skin began to ripple, accompanying a sort of loud, sloshy sound. As the dog lay there, he began to grow in size, limbs stretching out and bones cracking as they rearranged themselves. His fur thinned and retreated until there was only some atop his head and a dusting on his extremely pale chest.
Before she knew it, Clara Oswald had a very naked, very human man lying on a towel and bleeding all over her kitchen floor.
“Uh, okay, hold still,” Clara said in a panic. She wet a wad of cotton with some surgical spirit and gently dabbed it atop one of the gashes on Basil’s side. He grunted in pain, curling his body up slightly.
“That hurts!” he snapped. “Just leave me alone!”
Okay Clara, your new dog just saved you from a snake-lizard-cat-thing and then morphed into a Scotsman on your kitchen floor. This couldn’t be that weird, could it?
Yes. Yes it was very weird.
“I am going to safely assume that this explains why Mrs. Singhdal thought I was being robbed earlier today,” she said. “What the hell are you?!”
“Hard to explain; just give me that.” Basil grabbed the menstrual pad and pressed the absorbent side to his ribcage in an attempt to stop his blood from spilling further.
“Okay, then what was that thing that did this to you?!”
“That’s even harder to explain.”
“Are you going to explain anything?”
“Maybe if you let me stop bleeding out on your floor, then yes. Eventually.” He then began to sweat and soon passed out, laying completely still.
Clara stared at the man that, up until about ten or so minutes prior, had been her dog and contemplated what to do. She poked Basil in the shoulder and when she did not get a response, decided to continue with her previous plan of cleaning out the wounds. Working quickly, she was able to get him cleaned and patched up, finding an old pair of Danny’s basketball shorts on the bottom of her closet to cover his lower bits as she dragged him into the sitting room. She put him on the sofa—sitting up because it was the only way he could fit with his long legs—and stared.
What in the heck was going on?