Three prompts, 1000 words, 48 hours.
Location: Dog show
Featured object: Pasta
I wake to the rhythmic thudding of an epic hangover. Rasping a thick tongue across chapped lips, I force my groggy eyes to focus. Green carpet and the edge of a grooming table swim into view. I’m in the show ring: the sturdy bench and canine smell are unmistakable. Small dogs with big egos had sat atop tables like this earlier as I cast critical eyes and hands over them to determine who was best. Bichon, Poodle and Papillion in an endless parade of fluffiness.
I do not feel Best in Show. How much wine did I drink?
I’m draped unflatteringly over something on top of the table.
Not my finest hour.
Someone sniffs. It sounds like Nancy, our show secretary. She has a very distinctive sniff; stiff and scratchy like the tweed skirts she wears. We had pasta and wine after the show, apparently too much wine.
Welcome to regret Nancy!
Time to get up.
My brain is suddenly awake.
I can’t move.
I’m bound at the wrists and calves. A metal arch on the table presses against my naked torso, holding me in position on my hands and knees.
My alertness slips towards panic. I’m defenceless and exposed.
Who did this?
What do they want?
Am I hurt?
Fear pierces me like needles pushing through my skin from the inside. Every atom in my body screams.
Throbbing in my head from the wine, or drug? Pain in my knees from pressing on the hard table. Wrists and legs? The restraints. Nothing else hurts.
I swallow the fear. It settles like a weight in my stomach.
It’s quiet. The people and dogs are gone, and it’s dark except for the lights in the ring. To my left are two more tables like mine. On the nearest is Gerry. Hours earlier I had pinned a blue Best in Show ribbon on his well-pressed shirt. Now he lies next to me, slumped like a flabby and wrinkled baby. Beyond him is Nancy, bereft of tweed.
“Heaaaaahg.” I try to speak but pain bites at my jaw and the sound becomes a useless gargle.
“No, no, no,” admonishes a sing-song voice.
She steps into view. A platinum blonde perm and a cloud of pink chiffon. Phoebe, her beloved Pekingese, glares at me from her arms. “Whatthefuarrrgghhhhhh!” My brain feels like it will burst into flame.
What is happening?
“Shock collar dearest. Noisy puppies get punished.” Each word punctuated by a manicured nail tapping my nose.
“Right Snuffikins, time to start the show.” The sound of her voice skitters across my skin like cockroaches. She nuzzles Phoebe, allowing the dog’s tiny pink tongue to lick her lips before placing her on the ground. “Lets begin.” Cynthia taps her clipboard. “Eyes? Bright.” Bony fingers grasp my chin. “Strong jaw and nose.” She pinches my ears. “Acceptable.”
She has my judging sheet.
She moves out of sight. My body tenses, pulling inwards trying to avoid her hands on any part of my nakedness. With firm presses from the heel of her hands and a brisk raking of nails, she feels my body anyway. My mouth fills with bile but I can’t scream for fear of the collar.
God, make her stop touching me!
It is silent save for the scratch of pen on paper, Cynthia’s murmured comments and Nancy’s plaintive sniffling. I almost choke to death on my humiliation.
Hands grope my breasts and squeeze my ribs. They pinch the flabbiness of my belly and then my thighs. I struggle but can’t move. There is no escaping her probing fingers as they lightly spread my buttocks. “Pleaseeeeeeggggh.” I start to weep.
Phoebe dances below my table, tongue lolling with joy. I realise that this is all about her losing the blue ribbon to Black Diamond, Gerry’s glorious poodle. I glare at her scrunched little face with hatred. She doesn’t care.
Then the hands are gone and Phoebe is trotting away. I watch Cynthia with her pink ruffles and botox-pout inspect Gerry in the same horrendous way. His eyes remain fixed on a black bundle below his table. Cynthia moves on to Nancy, but now I’m fixated on the bundle too. It shouldn’t matter in the circumstances, but for some sinister reason, it does. I need to know.
What is it?
I finally make out a dainty foot and a curled coat. The body is so broken and mangled I barely recognise it as a dog. Diamond!
“The judging is over!” declares Cynthia. “Third place!” She slaps the yellow ribbon against Gerry’s cheek. The pin pierces him, but he doesn’t move except for the rise and fall of his chest. He isn’t dead, simply indescribably broken. “Can’t win them all.”
Cynthia’s eyes dart between Nancy and me. She plays to the empty room. “Second place!” She skips towards Nancy who tries to shrink away. “You know what they say, red ribbon for the first loser.” Her lip curls as her eyes dart to me, “Isn’t that right dear?” Mania pours from her in waves now, and Phoebe is yapping excitedly. The ribbon draws blood as the pin forces its way into Nancy’s flesh. She can’t help but scream and electricity is her reward.
Cynthia moves toward me, brandishing the coveted blue ribbon. “Best in Show,” her eyes blaze with a fiery hatred.
“You’re going to make this right.” She speaks in a rush, face so close to mine I can see her lipstick stained teeth, “You’re the best, my Phoebe, she deserves the best.” Pain burns through my hand. I scream and lightning claws at my jaw. I watch as Phoebe triumphantly snatches my severed finger from the floor and grunts merrily through each sickening crunch.
“Snuffikins needs more protein in her diet,” Cynthia coos as she begins to wheel my table towards the darkness.