“Puppy Love,” by George Walker

Aug 19th, 2010 | By | Category: Prose

In the Ninth Ward of New New Orleans, the CEO of Atomitronics unleashed a flock of flamingobots.  John LeChien, walking to work in the morning, heard them before he turned and saw them: a stiff-gaited pink horde clacking across the street and sidewalks. 

He evaded the sharp beak of the first one and dropped to all fours to snap its plastic neck with his jaws.  The beak of the second ripped his overalls to expose short blond fur.  There were too many of them, rushing him from all directions.  Tail between his legs, he dove between them and rolled, hearing the too-close thok-thok-thok of beaks striking the sidewalk. 

Back on all fours, he loped into the street, bounding off the fan hood of a hovercar to leapfrog a pair of flamingobots.  Solar bicyclists swerved to avoid him.  Their horns bleated and curses filled the air.  No time to turn and see if the riders were swearing at him or at the flamingobots for snarling their morning commute. 

He spotted a shortcut at the next intersection, running beneath a house on stilts to head for the canal bridge.  Already he was panting, tongue lolling from his mouth.  There were more flamingobots ahead, marching to cut him off.  He barely raced past them in time, up onto the bridge.  Only then did he see that escape was cut off.  At least ten pink bird-machines were on the bridge already, blocking traffic as effectively as if the drawbridge were open. 

John leaped onto the parapet, took a long look at the dirty water below, and jumped. 

It was a long fall.  He stretched to his full length, hind legs pointed down, fingered forepaws up at the sky.

The impact with the water knocked the wind out of him.  He fought his way desperately back to the surface and gasped for air.  Dog paddling to keep his snout above the filthy water, he looked up. 

The sky was raining pink.  He lunged from side to side as flamingobots began striking the water around him.  They sank like stones, and after a couple minutes, there was no trace of the flock.  John heard traffic returning to normal up on the bridge.  A bicyclist had stopped to look down over the parapet.  He waved.  Still panting, John lifted a forepaw to wave back.  He began paddling toward shore. 


In the Atomitronics high-rise on Tulane Avenue, William dropped onto the therapist’s leather couch and looked at his watch.  “Let’s get started.  I’ve got meetings all day.” 

The psychiatrist picked up his electronic tablet.  “Katherine from the Board of Directors just called.” 

William waved dismissively.  “He got away again.” 

Dr. Von Krafft sighed.  “Did you watch the anger management holo-vid I emailed you?” 

“Doc, I don’t have time for that.  I’m a busy man.”  He looked at his watch again.

The psychiatrist stroked his beard thoughtfully.  “Let’s talk about your daughter again.” 

“Britney is the sweetest girl in the world.  And she is not marrying a dog.  End of discussion.”

“He’s a transgenic, William.  He’s not really a dog.” 

“If it walks like a dog and it barks like a dog…” 

“Maybe we should talk about your mother.” 

“Why?  Does she want to marry a dog, too?” 


John was late for work at the cemetery. 

“Well, look what the dog drug in,” said Ebony.  Since she was a canine transgenic, too, she could say that.  “Pee-uuu.”  She wrinkled the black snout on her face.  “You been swimming the canals?” 

John nodded.  “What’s it matter?  We’re stuffin’ tombs, not selling insurance.” 

“Henri hates the smell of wet dog.” 

“He only shows up for funerals.  What’s he got us doin’ today?” 

“A couple 366’s here, then prep a mausoleum at Lafayette No. 2.” 

“Bag ‘em up and move ‘em back,” said John.  Nearly all the tombs in New New Orleans were above ground.  A 366 meant a year and a day had elapsed, so they were to open a vault, gather up whatever remained of the body, bag it, and pack it into the far recesses of the vault.  City cemeteries were too overcrowded to let everyone who died have a private room for eternity.

“You gonna tell me what you was doin’ in a canal?” 

“Britney’s old man’s after me again.  No point calling the police, ‘cause he’s a CEO and I’m a gravedigger.” 

“You learned anything from this?” 

“Yeah.  The only thing worse than a psycho girlfriend is a girlfriend’s psycho dad.” 

“No!”  Ebony shook her long black ears.  “The learnin’ here is that Uptown girls are trouble.” 


John was in a good mood the next morning, as he left his apartment.  He’d talked to Britney for over an hour last evening.  He remembered the concern in her blue eyes, the pout of her little mouth as she said she was going to have a serious talk with Daddy.  He unrolled the phone from his overalls and was still captivated by the video of Britney talking when the grappling pincers latched onto him. 

The tiny things stuck in his fur and overalls.  So many!  Twenty?  Fifty?  A hundred?  Their gossamer lines stretched from above.  He looked up. 

A small robot ornithopter bearing the Atomitronics cold fusion logo beat its black mylar wings, and the lines tightened.  John’s feet left the ground, and his phone blew away. 


Some children on their way to school waved as the ornithopter carried him over their heads. 

He was headed for Lake Pontchartrain, swinging from a web of thin lines: nearly invisible, but too tough to break.  He began gnawing on a bunch of them, but they were thinner than dental floss.  He was already too high up to jump.  He watched the wings beating rhythmically against the blue sky. 

“Put me down!” he barked. 

It continued on its preset course above the houses.  He wondered how far it could fly.  He wondered how far he could swim.  They were making good time, keeping up with solar bicyclists on the boulevard along the canal. 

The grappling pincers weren’t in his skin, and didn’t hurt at all.  He carefully pulled one loose, then another.  He removed ten of them before he decided maybe it was a bad idea.  Better to take his chances in the lake than fall who-knew-where. 

Britney would cry her eyes out if he died.  Her father would finally feel remorse then, a changed man.  He’d probably splurge for a proper tomb for John, not a rack ‘n stack wall crypt in a city cemetery.  Maybe a big mausoleum, and Britney would stop by with flowers every day.  She’d wear black.  Not a trendy goth black, but the kind that — 

They were almost to the Lakeshore Monorail.  A mag-lev train was just floating into the station crowded with morning commuters.  Beyond the monorail lay Lake Pontchartrain, its glistening surface stretching thirty miles to the north of New New Orleans.  A long swim.  John wished he’d kept a better grip on his phone. 

The ornithopter banked to avoid a public housing complex on FEMA Debacle Drive.  The flyer was coming in behind the train, very close to the platform.  Some of the commuters boarding the train turned to look.  John tugged on a group of lines and found he could swing a little, like beneath a parachute.  He began building up rhythm, which the ornithopter flapped to correct for.  The last of the commuters were boarding the train. 

“The doors are now closing,” said a disembodied voice.

 John pulled hard on the lines, swinging in through the train doors.  He spun around, grabbed the ceiling rail, and planted his feet firmly above the doors.  The doors slid shut, and the train floated away from the station.  Outside, the ornithopter beat its wings frantically, trying to keep up.  But the lines embedded in the door yanked it into a spin.  The flyer abruptly tumbled away behind the train.  The lines were still stuck in the door. 

John swung down onto the nearest bench and began plucking the grappling pincers out of his fur and clothing. 

Seated next to him, a black man in a business suit whistled.  “That is one sweet commute arrangement you’ve got, son.” 


“I understand your wife gardens,” said Dr. Von Krafft.  “Lots of people find that relaxes them.” 

“Doc, that’s what illegal immigrants are for.” 

The psychiatrist leaned back in his chair.  “William, have you thought about what kind of message you’re sending your daughter?” 

“Hey, I love sending messages.  Some people send flowers.  I send… other stuff.” 

Von Krafft sighed.  “We need to talk about your daughter.  Your wife emailed me and said Britney tried to talk to you last night about going transgenic.” 

“Her fixation, you mean?  I told her, ‘Not my daughter!’” 

“She is of legal age, though.” 

William stared.  “Am I the only sane one in this room?” 

“You have unaddressed anger issues, William.” 

“And I’m addressing them!” 

“Not that way,” said Von Krafft.  “You can’t keep this up.” 

“You obviously haven’t seen the size of our Atomitronics web catalog.” 


Ebony was in the wall vault, sweeping out dust and bone fragments.  John was the bag man, collecting the mortal remains and throwing away pieces of casket. 

“She wants to have it done, Ebony, become a transgenic.” 

“She don’t know what she’s in for.”  Ebony’s voice sounded hollow in the vault. 

“She’s been around transgenics, me at least.”

“We’re both second generation, John, born this way.”  Ebony coughed from the dust.  “The looks I get sometimes, I wouldn’t wish on nobody.” 

“I’m who I am.  You wish you wasn’t one?” 

“Ain’t sayin’ that.  But your girl, she doin’ it like a fashion statement.  She ain’t got no clue what it’s like to be a bitch.”  She poked her head out and stretched out a forepaw.  “Gimme the bag.” 

John handed it to her.  “You don’t know what I see, lookin’ in her eyes.” 

“Lust,” Ebony muttered, barely audible.  “A psycho girlfriend would be safer.  How many times Pycho Dad try to kill you now?” 

“They’re talking.  He’ll come around.” 

She stuck her head out, looked at him with her sad brown eyes.  “This could be your vault,” she said softly. 


There was no attack on his way to work, and for the first day in weeks, John got to work before Ebony.  In the maintenance shed, he clicked on the work orders that Henri had posted for them on cemeteries.newneworleans

The first one was to dig a new grave in the Jewish section of the cemetery.  Jews buried their dead in God’s earth, even in lowland New New Orleans.  Wooden coffin, wooden nails. 

But John was sure the Jewish section in this cemetery had been filled for years.  How could they dig a fresh grave?  He clicked on the gravesite link.  It was an empty plot after all.  He made coffee while he waited for Ebony. 

The shed door opened.  Ebony was startled by the sight of him. 

“I thought you was some blond ghost,” she said.  She lifted her muzzle, sniffing.  “And you made coffee.  You is a changed man, John.”

“No.  Early man.  Britney musta’ talked sense into her dad.” 

Ebony looked skeptical. 

After coffee, they walked to the Jewish section, carrying their shovels.  It was a nice day to dig, and he loved digging with Ebony.  The grass was dry, but as soon as they dug deep, there would be mud.  The Jewish section was secluded, sheltered from the traffic by a row of trees.  By tradition, there were stones and pebbles on the graves here, and few flowers. 

But when they got to the gravesite where they were supposed to dig, there was already a well-weathered Star of David headstone there: Mel Goldschmidt 1902-1965. 

“Weird,” said John.  “How could the website be wrong?”

They were both standing on the grass on Mel’s grave when John felt a rumble, like a heavy cargo hovercraft on the street. 

Abruptly the grave collapsed beneath their feet.  Ebony yelped, and they both fell in together.  Dirt was churning, mixed with crumbled casket and bones.  The screw-tip of an Atomitronics boring mole appeared. 

For a moment, John balanced on a rotten board, like a surfboard.  He grabbed Ebony by the shoulders.  Using all his strength, he hurled her up and out of the grave.

Something locked onto his left hind leg, then his right: grapplers for pulling pipes and cables through tunnels.  The mole reversed, sucking John deep into the muddy hole.  He gasped for one last breath of air and closed his eyes, feeling mud flow over his fur and overalls.  He struggled with his forearms, trying to pull himself back to the surface, to no avail.  He lost all sense of direction, hearing the deep growl of the mole, feeling the mud churning past him. 

His last thoughts would be of Britney, her sweet face, her dimpled cheeks, her blonde hair blowing in the breeze, the sound of her giggling laughter — 

Abruptly the pressure of the mud fell away, and John was dragged across hard concrete. 

He blinked his mud-covered eyelids open to daylight and heard a couple loud clangs.  The mole abruptly stopped.  The grapplers, which had been locked onto his legs, went into loose, twitching spasms. 

John pulled his hind legs free and sat up.  He was in the middle of the cemetery drainage ditch.  The mole had been trying to traverse the gap to the other side.  He turned and saw Ebony on her hind legs, panting and holding her shovel like a club. 

On the dorsal side of the mole, its metal-shielded controller box was flattened where Ebony had brained it with her shovel.  The screw-tip at the head of the mole was still turning. 

John shook, scattering mud from his fur and clothes. 

“You O.K.?” asked Ebony. 

“Yeah,” he said.  He kicked the mole.  “The things we do for love.” 

Ebony muttered, “Yeah, the things we do for love.”  She looked at the collapsed Jewish graves and toppled headstones.  “Henri’s gonna have a conniption fit when he sees what Psycho Dad did.” 


William sat on the edge of the psychiatrist’s couch, his hands balled into fists. 

“You seem tense,” said Dr. Von Krafft.  “Sometimes when my patients are tense, I find it helps if they demonstrate their feelings with Sammy, here.”  He handed William a stuffed bear with soft brown fur and large, soulful eyes. 

William studied the bear for a moment, then pinned it down against the couch and punched it.  He savored the moment, then punched it again.  Then he picked it up and beat it against the ornate wood carving that edged the cushioned headrest. 

“You son of a bitch!” he exclaimed, pounding the bear over and over against the wood. 

“William…”  Dr. Von Krafft reached out a hand. 

The bear’s head came loose, and stuffing scattered over the couch.  William stopped, panting, and stared at the mangled bear. 

“Do you feel better now?” asked the psychiatrist. 

William put his hand in the bear, feeling through the stuffing.  “Where the hell are the servo motors?” 


“How long’s it gonna take?” asked Ebony. 

“Two months,” said John.  “A long time without seeing Britney.”  He wondered if he’d find himself howling at the moon before her procedure was over. 

“She show you pictures of what she gonna look like when it’s done?”

 John shook his head.  “She wants it to be a surprise.  But it don’t matter if they’re Chihuahua genes or St. Bernard’s.  She’ll still be Britney.” 

“Yeah, she still gonna be Britney.”  Ebony sighed.  “Come on.  We got bones to bag.” 


Two months later, Britney called John’s cell, saying she was on her way to the cemetery.  John coaxed Ebony into coming with him to the front gate, and they waited in silence.  John shivered with anticipation.  Ebony was just staring at the ground. 

Britney’s red Ferrari hovercar glided to a stop outside the gate.  John remembered rides in her car with the top down, the air whipping through his fur, his ears.  But the top was closed now, and there were two people inside.  It settled to the ground, and the passenger door folded like an accordion and slid beneath the car. 

Someone about Britney’s size, wearing fancy clothes like hers, stepped out onto the cracked driveway.  Her fur was pure white, like a West Highland White Terrier’s.  But there was something wrong with her face.  Her muzzle wasn’t long enough, the brow was wrong, and her pointed ears were too short.  She smiled, revealing small sharp teeth. 

Involuntarily, John felt his hackles rise. 

“Isn’t this fur just to die for?” said Britney’s voice. 

John looked at her beautiful blue eyes and saw vertical pupils.  In horror, he realized that somehow, Britney had gotten feline genes.  How could the doctors have screwed up?  Could it be reversed?  Adding genes was one thing, but deleting them? 

“Britney, what…?  Maybe your father can pay to…” 

Then he noticed that the man sitting at the wheel of the Ferrari was a feline transgenic wearing mirrorshades.

“Sorry I can’t stay,” said Britney.  “I just wanted you to see the new me!”  She spun around like a fashion model, and he saw she had a long tail.  Not like a lion, but cuter, like a kitten. 

“Cher John,” she said.  “We had such good times, and I’m never going to forget you.” 

She came close and patted his shoulder.  It wasn’t really a caress, and he saw her own fur bristling in response.  When she exhaled, it was almost like a hiss, and her little nose wrinkled. 

“Um, yeah, it’s been great,” he said.  “Good times.”  He couldn’t think what else to say. 

Britney waved at him and Ebony and walked back to her car.  She got in, and the door of the Ferrari unfolded and sealed.  The hovercar floated back away from the gate.

At that moment, John saw a small machine nestled against the curb.  An Atomitronics HunterTracker 2000.  The coloring blended with the curb like a chameleon.  Its head swiveled to stare at John with beady robot eyes, and he froze.

Abruptly it spun around and scampered after the hovercar. 

“Cher John?” said Ebony, standing beside him.  “That what she calls you?” 

John nodded numbly. 

Ebony made a sound like stifling a laugh.  She leaned close and licked his ear.  “I hear you might have an opening for a psycho bitch.” 

John watched the Ferrari round a corner and disappear. 

He turned and licked her nose.  “Maybe.”


George Walker is an inventor working for the Acme Corporation in Portland Oregon.  His stories have been published in Ideomancer, Science Fiction Age, Tomorrow SF, Steampunk Tales, Reflection’s Edge, Helix SF, Raygun Revival, and elsewhere. 

He confesses to having watched too many Road Runner cartoons at an impressionable age.


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