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Hex Publishers is an independent publishing house proudly specializing in genre fiction: horror, science fiction, crime, dark fantasy, comics, and any other form that explores the imagination. Founded by writers, Hex values both the author and the reader, with an emphasis on quality, diversity, and voices often overlooked by the mainstream.

Dog Food

By Betsy Dornbusch

"Those dogs put food on your table, Mary Anne. Food on your table." John said it so often it was a... what did they call it? A catch-phrase.

He hadn't laughed the one time she'd responded that she put food on the table, too, as she had, literally, just put food on the table for dinner. He hadn't hit her that time, either. But she knew what to expect in bed that night.

The dogs ate well, no question. John insisted on the brand from the vet's office. Two dogs. Breakfast and supper. Four scoops a day. The bag only lasted a week. She had thirty dollars to spend on groceries because she didn't have to buy meat, which is what the dogs were for, specially bred to sniff out birds.

John hunted deer, too, on weekend trips with old friends from high school. Mary Anne liked venison better than a little quail-breast full of buckshot. He said he took the dogs with them as good luck, but they couldn't get credit for the deer. Even Mary Anne knew you don't take a dog out deer hunting. Except the dogs must have been good luck, because the weekends he left them at home he always came back empty-handed.

Mary Anne liked the dogs. When she went inside the chain-link kennel to feed them they jumped all over without pawing her, nudging between her legs with cold noses and making that low love growl when she held their heads tight against her belly.

"You're my dogs," she whispered. "Aren't you? Babies? You're my dogs."

They were, too. Loose in the field, they'd come at her first call. John pretended not to notice. But the one who feeds them gets all the attention. Anybody knows that, thought Mary Anne.


When John came home reeking like drink and smoke, some woman on his arm, Mary Anne always went along. What else could she do? Sometimes she even liked it, but she didn't admit it to anybody, not even the dogs.

However, Janice was different. She smelled nice, and John liked to put his thumbs on the two dimples in her lower back. Her fingers were narrow, her kisses were tender, and she made sure Mary Anne liked it—all of it.

Mary Anne watched Janice sleep, her perfect breasts highlighted in a stripe of moonlight. A cold fear settled into Mary Anne's belly, right above the ache of longing in her pelvis. Mary Anne didn't have dimples, unless you counted the ones in her thighs.

"I won't do that again," she said the next morning, after she'd fed the dogs, him, and Janice, in that order.

John smiled that slow smile that had been pretty once. "Aw, baby. You loved it, I could tell."

"You were fabulous," Janice said, smoke trickling from her upturned nose. She smiled sidelong at John. "You could do it professionally."

"Never again," Mary Anne said, using the tone she used when the youngest dog ran in the street. It always brought him scampering back.

Janice kissed Mary Anne goodbye, and John left the week's money for dog food and groceries before taking her home. Mary Anne realized, while making the bed, that John was a lot like his dogs. He only understood consequences.

Mary Anne was ready the next time he brought Janice back. She cried their names, did everything they liked, and said nothing when John wanted to finish with Janice. And then, while they were sleeping, she got out the deer rifle because she wasn't sure a bunch of buckshot was going to kill anybody, and she shot Janice in the chest.

"What are you doing? You killed her!" John cowered like she was going to shoot him next. She put the rifle on the dresser.

"I did," she agreed.

"Crazy bitch! You're going to get us thrown in prison!" He was staring at her, right in her very own eyes. She wished she'd thought to touch up her make-up.

"No, I won't. She lives alone. No one will ever know what we did unless we tell them."

"What we did...?"

"She doesn't even have a job," Mary Anne added. "No one's going to know."

"I'm calling the police," he said, starting to get out of bed.

"I'm going to call your mother," she said, picking up the phone.

That stopped him. His face was as red as the growing stain on the comforter. Now that was a waste. She should have thought to pull it back first.


Mary Anne stood at the sink washing the grinder after preparing the dog's supper. "You know, it's amazing how well this thing works."

He didn't answer.

She tried again: "I'm starting to think you don't like the new mattress. You'll get sick if you don't sleep."

He hadn't watched TV or read his hunting magazines in a week. He just stared out the window at the kennel. Maybe he was sick already. He looked pale.

"How about we go out to dinner at that nice new place? It's Italian, I think."

He finally looked at her, bleary-eyed. "We don't have the money for that."

"Yeah, we do, since we saved all that money on the dog food," she said. "Do you think you'll be bringing anyone else home soon?"

Betsy Dornbusch is the author of over a dozen short stories, three novellas, and four novels. Her most recent trilogy is The Books of the Seven Eyes. She lives in Colorado with her family.

Dog Food ©2016 by Betsy Dornbusch. First Publication: Words July 2016, ed. Joshua Viola (Hex Publishers).

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