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Truescent Wrongscent

Amanda Helms is a science fiction and fantasy writer whose fiction has appeared previously in Daily Science Fiction, Cast of Wonders, The Cackle of Cthulhu, and elsewhere. She lives in Colorado with her husband and their increasingly lazy Boxer mix. She blogs infrequently at amandahelms.com and tweets with a smidgen more frequency @amandaghelms.

Eliose's truescent is all wrong as she scruffs my ears and her lips turn up in a smile. I roll onto my back, careful not to jostle her in the bed. She rubs my belly, and starts to rasp what a good girl I am. But the words devolve into a coughing fit.
The door creaks as Simon comes in. He swipes down to shoo me off.
"Leave her, Simon," Eloise says between coughs. "I like having her here."
"The fur, though." Simon eases himself beside Eloise and rubs her back. Eloise's eyes drift to me and I thump my tail.
"It doesn't bother me."
But she breaks into another coughing fit.
Frowning, Simon says, "I think we'd better make an appointment with Dr. Pringh."
Eloise inhales. A coughing fit overtakes her, loud, hacking coughs that draw back my ears. I smell blood.
"I'm fine," she says.
She's not. Her truescent is wrong. I whine.
"Eloise." Simon's truescent is full of fear. Eloise doesn't say anything. "I'm calling the doctor." Simon leaves before Eloise can reply. He's gone less than a minute, and I'm back on the bed. At the foot, where I know I won't hurt her, and from there I crawl to Eloise. She rubs my ears and her eyes close. I smell salt as water leaks from them. "Good girl, Luna. Good girl."
My tail wags so hard it makes Eloise chuckle, but not so much that she coughs. That makes me feel good because the water stops. I wag harder. "Careful, girl, or you'll wag your tail off."
I scramble to lick her on the nose, and some of the trails of wet on her face, and she lets me.
Eloise and Simon are gone all the next day. I wait for them by the front door until a pressing need sends me through my own door and outside. Then I'm back in, but rather than sitting by the front door again, I follow the path of a patch of sunshine. It warms my bones. I feel a little less lonely. My eyes close and I sleep.
The patch of sunlight is gone when I wake to the sound of the garage door opening. My tail is wagging again. I still it for a moment, remembering Eloise's warning, but I have to wag. I find my fuzzy spider and hold it, squeak squeak squeak while footsteps come up the stairs from the garage.
Only one set. One heavy set.
I'm not wagging anymore when Simon comes inside. He looks at me, bends over and gives me a single pat, then takes Fuzzy Spider and tosses it down the hall. I look at it, then back up to him. Tail thump. Whine.
Simon sighs. "Sorry, girl. She won't be back for a while."
He trudges to the kitchen and pours kibble in my bowl. I nose it a bit, but I don't have an appetite. I smell Eloise's wrongscent, still.
Days pass. Simon leaves early after feeding me, and comes home late, after the sun has gone down. Once, a girl-human comes to walk me. She tugs the leash too hard and tries to make me run. I trot some, but I don't like running as much as I used to. She doesn't come back the next day. I snuggle with Fuzzy Spider on the bed, sniffing the remnants of Eloise's wrongscent and Simon's worried one.
One day, the garage opens earlier than usual. The return-sounds are different, a thump-THUMP, thump-THUMP that makes my ears flatten against my head.
But the truescents waft in, and I can't help my tail wagging.
Eloise is back.
She's in a chair with big wheels on it, and she looks tired, so tired.
Her truescent is even more wrong.
She presses her belly, like it hurts her, but holds out her other hand. "Luna, come."
Tail a slow sweep-sweep, I go to her and nuzzle her palm. She pets my head and murmurs what a good girl I am, staying home alone so often, and she tells me not to worry, because she's not going anywhere again.
But Simon's truescent is sad, and water leaks from his eyes, and Eloise's wrongscent comes from her belly, and I lick and lick Eloise's palm, like that will fix the wrongscent, make it true again and match her voice that says everything will be fine.
Eloise says again that I'm a good girl, and her belief is the only true thing in her smell.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

Author Comments

First: Fuck cancer. Second: This story arose from a compound noun prompt, which yielded "wrongscent." I then thought of how some dogs are being trained to smell cancer and my own experiences with dogs' devotion to their owners. The story grew from there. Third: Fuck cancer.

- Amanda Helms
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