It’s a Saturday afternoon when Rover asks me to let him go again. Silly Rover.
“No, Rover,” I say. “I can’t let you go. The neighbours’ll complain if they see you loose.”
“Please,” he says. There’s a sheen of sweat on his brow and a hint of desperation in his voice. Well, of course there is. He’s celebrated two birthdays in this basement of mine. “Please,” he says again. “I-I won’t say anything.” His tongue darts to the corner of his mouth. His eyes glance for an exit, but there isn’t one. And even if there was, he’s chained up down here. Muzzled too. “To anyone.”
I smile. Silly old Rover. Has he forgotten? Perhaps it’s true what they say. I don’t think I’d want to remember either.
“No, Rover,” I say. “You’re not going anywhere. Not if I have anything to say about it. And—” I lean across the basement doorway “—I’m the only one here whose opinion matters.”
“Please, I’ll do anything.” His face crumples. “Just please let me go.”
My eyes go to the mattress in the corner, without a cover. Faded stains dot it, here and there. It wasn’t exactly clean when I picked it up.
My eyes dart to the window, my one weakness. I couldn’t bring myself to bricking up his only access to sunlight. And moonlight. What would happen if I cut off his access? Would it kill him? Now, I may be a lot of things, but a murder ain’t one of ‘em.
Bars on the window, though. He tried to get out, once — back when I tied him up with cable ties instead of chains. No one heard his screams. I’ve since padded it with lots of paper. It allows sunshine in but acts as a soundproofing device. Not a great one, but it’s something.
The central pillar of the cellar is sturdy. I should know, I tested it. Went at it with a full-on tackle. Damn near broke my shoulder. Rover’s gone at it. Both whilst he’s on and whilst he’s off. Not that I stick around when he’s on. But I assume he’s gone at it whilst he’s on — I mean, what else is he to do?
He did weaken it a little with the chain. Tried to wear it down with friction. He got quite far. Have to admire his sense of self-preservation. His animalistic survival instinct. Still, I reinforced it with steel afterwards. Sometimes I hear him, as he rubs his chains against it. Squeak-squeak-squeak. Like a mouse. A metal one. That keeps Rover in check.
“C’mon, man, I won’t squeal. We’ve—” he swallows, I can hear the click at the back of his throat “—we’ve built up a rapport. Yeah? I wouldn’t rat you out, man. I just wanna get out.” He glances at the window. “I just wanna be free.”
Yeah, I bet you do, Rover. I bet you do.
We’ve danced this dance a fair few times. Sometimes he’s persuasive. Sometimes he’s angry, threatening. Other times he pleads, begs. He’s cried on more than one occasion. He doesn’t scream any more. After he blew his voice box out for the fifth time he figured it was futile.
I look at the calendar on the wall. One of the many comforts I provide him. No scratching tally marks into my basement wall with his fingernails or in his blood. No, sir. Rover gets an honest-to-goodness calendar. I’ve crossed the dates off in red. Three circles around tomorrow. I know what that date signifies, and so does Rover. Not on the surface, at the top of his mind. The whatchamacallit, conscious? But I’m sure he knows on a deeper level, somewhere in his inner waters. That primal part of him.
I’ll be busy tomorrow night, as will Rover. The night will have exhausted both of us by morning. K.O. It’s a crazy time of the month for both of us. Rover burns up energy right here in the basement. And me? I’ll be patrolling the house. To be sure.
Sometimes people come by. Social services. Ambulances and paramedics. The police. I always manage to drive them away, though. I can be quite persuasive when I want to be.
The neighbours have stopped banging on the door, though. A few of them moved away. I reckon the noises scared them off. I know they drive me crazy, and I know who’s making them. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to hear those noises and not know where they’re coming from. Would be terrifying.
“I know you want me to let you go, Ro—”
“That’s not my name! My name i—”
“Shut up shut up shut up!” I put my fingers in my ears until Rover quits speaking. “I don’t wanna know your—” I swore “—name! I feed you, I water you, I keep a roof over your head, you’re Rover. You-you’re Rover!”
Rover is crying now. “I’m not your pet!”
“You’re Rover.” I nod. “You’re Rover.” I look him in the eye. “And tonight, you’re staying—” I gesture around the cellar “—right here. And every other night after that. I know what you are.” I aim my finger at him and he retreats from it as if it’s a gun. “I know what you are.”
“I’m a human being!” he says. The tears make tracks through the dirt on his cheeks.
I shake my head.
“Let me go. I-I’ll just run! I’ll run and I won’t look back! I won’t say anything, I swear. I won’t breathe a god damn word, I—”
“No. You stay here.” And with that, I leave the basement and shut the door. I can still hear him as he shouts and begs through the door. But I won’t budge. Some music will drown him out.
Of course, I know exactly why he wants me to let him go. It doesn’t take a genius to work it out. But I can’t. I can’t. I owe it to the people of this town. Of this country. Hell, I owe it to all humanity. Everyone has their lot and life, and this is mine.
So, no. I can’t let you go, Rover. Not now, not ever. But especially not today.
Because tomorrow night is a full moon.