At first, I didn’t think anything of it. My neighbor would stop to chat with me, leash in hand, and I would catch glimpses of the metal slider dangling from its belly. I assumed it was wearing a piece of pet clothing, or that perhaps it was the byproduct of some awkward veterinarian procedure, but the more we chatted and the more I saw this mystery zipper, the more I realized it was out of the ordinary; clearly imbedded in the dog’s skin. It drew my attention every time we engaged in small talk, until finally one day, I decided to ask about it.
“Say, what is that zipper for on the little guy’s belly, anyway?”
“Oh, that? It’s a long story, I wouldn’t want to bore you.”
“I’ve got nothing but time.”
I wondered if she could see the beads of sweat forming above my brow.
“Really it’s nothing, just a safety measure.”
And that was it. She pretty much laughed it off, granting me little in the way of an explanation. Thinking back, her responses were downright vague and deflective. She could see how curious I was, so why not just tell me? And what exactly did she mean by “safety measure”?
As unfruitful as our conversation was, I didn’t press the matter any further. Days, weeks, months went by. I would occasionally see the dog’s strange cosmetic feature, but I brushed it off every time, knowing it would only haunt me if I dwelled on it. Still, the thought itched in the back of my mind. It wasn’t until a few months had passed that I would finally have the nerve to scratch it.
I was pulling up weeds along my fence when I looked over at my neighbor’s place, noticing the dog lying on the back porch. A stray cat wandered by, as often happened in our neighborhood. Without so much as a warning growl or malicious stance, the dog trotted over to the cat and scarfed it down, the sound of sharp teeth colliding with bone. The cat screeched in agony until it was no more. In a minute flat, its entire body was devoured. I was in shock.
The cat’s cries alerted my neighbor to the situation. She raced outside, grabbed the dog by the collar, and pulled him into the house. Through the sliding door, it was tough to make out, but I swear she unzipped him and reached inside, seemingly adjusting one of his organs. He didn’t flinch, not even a bit. After pulling her arm out, the dog dropped to the floor, dead as a doornail, from the looks of it. She then carried him outside and placed him back on the porch, arranging him into a sleeping position before getting in her car and leaving for the day.
This five-minute span of visual information was unlike anything I’d ever witnessed. Words like gruesome, strange, and horrific are too tame to describe what I saw. I was appalled beyond measure.
After the shock wore off, I hopped the fence and approached the dog’s carcass. I felt its neck; cold to the touch, no pulse. I looked to its underside, and there it was. That god-forsaken zipper in all of its mysterious glory. I felt kind of bad for the dog dying, but I had to know what that damned thing was there for. I needed an explanation for not only the dog’s, but my neighbor’s odd behavior just moments ago.
I slowly unzipped the dog’s belly, placating my curiosity with the satisfying sound of metal sliding across metal. I spread each side of the opening with my hands and peered in, divulging the animal’s inner workings. What I saw was absolutely dumbfounding.
My neighbor’s dog was… animatronic. There was wiring, gears, a tank where its stomach should have been; the whole nine yards. It didn’t make any sense, but there it was, staring me back from behind the zipper.
After scurrying back home in shock, I decided that my best course of action would be to call Animal Control. I could tell them my neighbor’s dog trespassed on my lawn and was attacking the neighborhood cats. They would show up, examine the robotic carcass, and then go from there. I knew there wasn’t a protocol for that sort of thing, but I assumed they could take care of things and contact the appropriate people, whether it be the police, the government, or The National Enquirer. As long as this weird predicament was taken care of, I could sleep easy, knowing that my neighbor’s strange robot dog wasn’t going around eating whatever it pleased.
Simple, right? Nope. Far from it.
Animal Control took a while to get there. By the time they arrived, my neighbor had come home and disposed of the evidence, hiding the dog somewhere in her home. The Animal Control officer apologized for the misunderstanding and left, leaving my neighbor on her front porch, glaring in my direction. It appeared privacy meant nothing to the local authorities. Just my luck.
The days that followed were… different. My neighbor’s dog had sprung to life, re-activated by its master, no doubt. They would walk their usual path around the cul-de-sac, but would not stop for small talk. I knew her dirty little secret, after all. I was no longer a friendly neighbor to be conversed with, oh no. I was an enemy; a danger to this woman’s unusual way of life. Even if I meant no harm to her or her strange choice of pet, she didn’t seem to see it that way. She continued to give me the cold shoulder for about a month and a half before finally speaking with me again on one of her daily strolls.
“Hello. Everything alright?”
“Just peachy. I’m having a cookout on Saturday at noon. You’re more than welcome to come.”
Strange. We weren’t on speaking terms for over a month, and now I was suddenly invited over? Maybe this was her extending an olive branch my way; her way of saying, “No hard feelings.”
“Yeah, sure. I can make it. Sounds like a good time.”
“Great! I’ll add you to the list.”
As she walked away, I felt the need to apologize, even if her dog was a weird, cat-eating robot.
“Hey, about that Animal Control call. I just wanted to say-“
“Don’t worry about it. Water under the bridge. See you Saturday!”
She hurried off home, and that was that. Problem solved.
Or so I thought.
The night before the cookout, I couldn’t sleep. I kept hearing what sounded like footsteps creeping around the perimeter of my house. Every time I got up to investigate, the sound ceased, and the coast appeared to be clear. It was either a prank at my expense, a burglar taking their sweet time to pull the trigger, or ghosts roaming around in the night. Either way, it left me anxious, making sleep a distant dream, just out of my reach.
During a particularly loud set of footsteps, I raced downstairs, just in time to catch four glowing dots peering in through my living room window. This was enough to make my neck hairs stand upright. Though terrified, I wasted no time grabbing a ball bat and storming out my front door to greet the would-be intruders. I may be old, but I can still kick some ass when needed, especially when it involves crossing my property line.
To my astonishment, my yard was empty. I covered every side of the house, only to find no one – not a soul in sight in any direction I looked. I don’t care how fast you can sprint, NOBODY could have made it out of eyeshot in such a short period of time, even in those low-light conditions. Baffled, and even more anxious than before, I locked up every last door and window in my home before crawling under the covers like a frightened child, scared of the mystery figures lurking in the shadows.
The footsteps dissipated over the course of the night, and as the sun came up over the horizon, so to did my fear. My waking nightmare had ended, but not before putting a weary, sleep-deprived frame of mind in its place. In a sluggish slur of movement, I grudgingly made my way to my neighbor’s house around noon, ready as I would ever be for the neighborhood get-together.
Oddly enough, there were no cars in the driveway, aside from her own. I wondered if I got the date wrong, but after knocking on the door, she greeted me with a smile and rushed me into the house. We exchanged pleasantries, and she sat me down at a bar stool in the kitchen. After a few moments of awkward silence, I mustered up the courage to ask about the elephant in the room.
“So… where is everybody?”
“You’re already here, silly.”
I tilted my head, puzzled.
“What about everyone else?”
“There is no one else. You’re the only person I invited.”
All at once the pieces clicked into place. I felt stupid for not realizing it sooner. Her sudden kindness, the noises the night before. There was no cookout. There was never any cookout. I was in the middle of a trap, lured in largely due to my own idiocy. I should have guessed that something sinister was going on the moment I unzipped that dog.
“So, what happens now?” I asked.
“You’ll see. Just sit tight.”
I quickly jumped up from my chair and turned towards the door. With inhuman speed, she bolted in front of me, a large kitchen knife in hand.
“Not so fast.”
I stood, still as stone, intimidated by her fluid motions and firm stance.
“We need to talk.”
I knew exactly what.
“Don’t play dumb with me.”
And that’s when I noticed it. On her chest, peaking through the top of her blouse. I would have missed it had the sunlight coming through the window not danced across its metal.
She had a zipper too.
Stricken to my core with fear, my gaze was interrupted by an angry hand gesture.
“My eyes are up here!”
The moments that ensued are a bit fuzzy, but I can only guess that I was knocked out or chloroformed, as I awoke strapped to a chair in a new room. Given the staircase, I assumed I was in her basement, though this realization didn’t help me any. I attempted to break free of my restraints, but it was no use; unless she were to free me herself, I was fastened to that chair for life.
In absence of mobility, I decided to give the place a once-over. The staircase was to my left and a concrete wall to my right, but directly in front of me was a work station, complete with about a dozen computers. This is where my neighbor sat, a USB cord snaking out of her unzipped chest, typing away at a blinding rate. Her motives were still unclear to me.
Though confined to the one view, I was able to turn my neck enough in both directions to form a decent picture of what was behind me. It was a wall of cages, each housing an identical copy of her dog. They didn’t move, even in the slightest, likely just as animatronic as she was. What on God’s green earth had I stumbled into?
Just then, my neighbor ripped the cord from her chest and walked over to me.
“Ahh, good. You’re awake. Did you have a nice nap?”
I refused to reply, looking her up and down in disgust, trying to make out what this thing was that was speaking to me.
“What’s the matter? Dog got your tongue?”
I remained silent, in lieu of her taunting me.
“That’s alright. You just need to listen. Sit tight. I’ll be right back”
She walked over to her work station and grabbed something before reclaiming her spot in front of me.
“I’ve worked too hard in this location to have you screwing things up on me. Then again, it’s my own fault. I was careless. I never should have left my core on the porch like that.”
I assumed she was talking about the dog.
“I want you to look at this.”
She placed the object at eye-level. It was a badge of sorts, upon which was a logo that read “Syntheti-Tech.”
“I’m an android. I work for a large company, moving from location to location, gathering specific information that is crucial to our initiative. You can’t know anything beyond that. Hell, you already know far too much.”
I hadn’t noticed it at first, but she seemed to keep playing with her zipper.
“God, I am so sick of this fucking meat suit.”
Before my very eyes, she removed her clothing and unzipped herself down to the groin. In the most unnatural way possible, she slid out of her own skin, revealing to me her true form. She was nothing but a pile of electronics, pieced together in a human shape. It was a strange sight, nauseating in every sense of the word. The way she moved and spoke while like this was downright sickening.
“I can’t say anymore, but I want you to know that our work is necessary. If you were to speak these truths to the world above, you would be jeopardizing everything we’ve accomplished. You have to submit to our intentions and see that they are just.”
I didn’t know what to make of this. I simply looked away, wishing not to see her grotesque, animatronic face any longer. Unfortunately for me, she grabbed it and forced it in her direction anyway, the feeling of cold metal enveloping my jaw.
“You need to PROMISE to me that you will submit. You are not to tell anyone of any of this. Do you understand?”
I nodded in agreement, but only because I wanted her hand off of my face. Luckily, she let go and backed away.
“Good. You know, we’re not so bad when you get to know us. In a sense, we’re just like you.”
Internally, I scoffed at the thought of this. I was nothing like her, and not just because of her appearance; I was never one to go around kidnapping my neighbors, holding them captive in my basement. It just wasn’t my cup of tea.
“Well, this is it. I’ll need you to take over from here. Don’t make the same mistake I did, lest you regret it for the rest of your life.”
This was the last thing she said to me, though I had no idea what any of it meant. I must have been knocked unconscious again, because the next thing I remember was waking up on her basement floor, no longer bound by my restraints. For one reason or another, she didn’t kill me. I was a free man.
Without warning, a group of trained operatives burst through the basement door and raced down to help me up.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes. I’m fine. What’s going on?”
I noticed a few of the men walk on opposite sides of the room to gather evidence. One guy ripped open a cage, grabbed one of the dogs, and unzipped him, revealing it to be nothing but a hollow carcass.
“They’re empty, sir. A collection of shells.”
“Just as I suspected. No matter. Load them into the truck with the hard-drives. Hopefully she didn’t wipe them before she left.”
I must have looked completely bewildered, because the gentleman grabbed me by the shoulders and looked me straight in the eye.
“Everything’s fine now. We’ve been on this woman’s tail for a long time. We may not have captured her, but this is still a big win. And it’s all thanks to you.”
I was still confused, but more so relieved that it was all over.
“Are you sure you’re alright? Don’t need a ride to the hospital?”
I shook my head, not wishing to be poked and prodded after what I’d endured. I didn’t trust doctors much anyway. I just wanted to go home.
“Okay. Let me walk you to your house.”
I agreed, and we were off. I couldn’t wait to get inside and put the whole ordeal behind me. That was the plan, anyway.
Whatever government officials they were, the entire crew picked the place clean and left my neighborhood within a couple of hours. That night I received a call from them for a statement regarding the situation. I obliged and asked some questions myself. Though the information was privileged, I guilted them into giving up some details, claiming I needed some “peace of mind” so I could sleep at night. The fact that I was just a ‘frail, old man’ helped too.
It would seem my neighbor was a high-ranking disciple in an android cult hell-bent on infiltrating various government agencies. They were currently in the process of recruiting new members to aid in their cause. That’s all I was told, which was more than I thought I’d get. This was enough to placate my curiosity and keep me from dwelling on the events as they unfolded. I thanked the man on the other end and hung up, content with my findings.
After ending the call, I heard a knock at my front door. I didn’t usually get visitors that late at night, but I suspected it would be one of my neighbors, asking about the sting operation that just took place next door. I opened the door, and to my surprise, there was no person there to greet me. No. Not a person. Instead, there was a dog, identical to my neighbor’s. Before I could process its arrival, it trotted inside and sat on the floor. A voice then emanated from its collar.
“Shut the door.”
I did as the dog said, baffled and afraid.
“Hello. I am SERIAL #724234. I will be your core companion on your journey of fulfillment. True adventure awaits. Would you like to begin your first task?”
I didn’t know how to respond or what in God’s name was happening, but it was at this point that I felt an itch running up the length of my torso. It was subtle at first but grew to the point that I had to reach down my shirt and scratch at it. That’s when I felt a familiar metal caress my fingers. It took a moment for it to sink in, but I knew exactly what I was feeling.
It was a zipper.
CREDIT: Christopher Maxim
(Click HERE to check out Christopher Maxim’s latest book, How To Exit Your Body and Other Strange Tales)