Rex barges out in his dressing gown. He’s a lardy mess, heart racing as he watches a tall woman get into his car.
“What are you doing?”
“You cancelled the payments. That hurt the finance company’s feelings.”
“How will I get to work?”
“Look at this as an opportunity to find a higher paying job.”
Rex goes back to the door. He’s locked himself out. Looks a right bellend stood there in slippers. Wouldn’t have happened if he could land a decent gig, but there’s always some tosspot with a degree edging people like him out. Rex is dwelling on that when he hears the smoke alarm from his flat. Bastard toaster. Place is going to the dogs.
He’s still chuntering a few minutes later when Denise, the nurse with the flat above, rolls up, smiling like she does.
“Lost your key again?”
He follows her inside, up the stairs.
“Come to mine,” she says. “Got something you should check out.”
Over a brew, Denise hands him some kind of shrivelled thing on a silver chain. “Got it at Goose Fair from this old woman in a caravan. Said she’s descended from the Queen of the Witches. Had a photo with her and Jamie Oliver.”
Rex is all WTF, but he half-fancies Denise so nods. She puts it round his neck.
“You’re to think about what you want in life and it’ll come to you.”
He feels kind of woozy with it on, shuts his eyes. Rex thinks about how things could be instead and, as he does, he gets more and more into it, like he’s coming up on a pill. The rush grows, then seems to stop. His face feels different. No glasses, just the one chin. Instead of the dressing gown, he’s in a Paul Smith shirt. Denise’s flat looks bigger, brighter, and she’s wearing a suit, fist pumping as she finishes on the phone.
“Fancy coming to Tokyo, see me speak at a conference? I managed to blag tickets for you, too.”
Rex is all up for crossing the Witch Queen’s palm with silver. This must be how Jamie Oliver got lucky. “Top, yeah. Sounds great.”
“You can thank me properly tonight,” she says on her way out. “And remember to take your car to the garage!”
Rex takes a look round. That big photo of Wollaton Park with the snow is gone. Instead, there’s a picture of a dog; a pug. Only, it’s standing up and wearing what looks like bishop’s gear. Random.
The car’s bigger and better than his old one. He hopes the garage is in the same place in Sneinton, and it is. Bloke running it is new. Manny; big geezer, works out. Manny asks Rex to get the paperwork done while the mechanic sorts things. Won’t take long.
On one wall there’s a smaller version of the pug painting. A print.
“Ha! It’s the same!”
“What’s the same?”
“Neighbour’s got one. Dog in a frock.”
Manny glares at Rex proper upset, does something like he’s crossing himself; drops the forms he’s been filling, steps out of the office. Rex hopes he’s calming down, but Manny gets a key, locks Rex inside. Looks at him like he’s Jimmy Savile.
Half-hour later, a couple of cops turn up. Cops with beagle heads, uniforms sort of priesty. Manny unlocks the office and they slap handcuffs on Rex. Then they head outside, bundle him into a van.
Few minutes later they get out by Market Square, but instead of the Council House there’s some kind of messed-up cathedral with all these doggo-related carvings. The dog cops yank Rex out, and people are staring at him, parents turning kids’ heads away.
Inside, it’s a goth opera house, polished stone columns and tiled marble floors. A dalmatian with a monocle plays the biggest organ Rex has ever seen, bass notes churning his stomach even more. Scented candles can’t hide the smell of dog.
In the central area there’s an altar. Rex is dragged over to it, and the cops stand either side of him. The air changes over to his left. A brass-clasped door opens, and through it comes the brooding figure of the pug-faced bishop.
The cops bow their heads and howl. The bishop is about five feet tall with a mournful head, wearing pretty much the same as in the picture, silk vestments with gold and crimson thread. He’s dripping blood from an outstretched paw. With every step, another drop falls to the floor. Bishop Pug’s got stigmata.
Rex looks into those big soft brown eyes, and sees his reflection. Only, it’s not him. He’s existing in another body; a version of Rex where things worked out, in a world that’s got some weird canine thing going on. Here, him and Denise are together and they’re off to Tokyo, and he’s got a flash motor, but he’s still gone and bollocksed everything up.
The bishop brings his head closer to Rex, and sniffs. Rex looks at those wet nostrils as the pug flares them and breathes him in.
“I’ve smelt your sort before, demon. You’ve possessed this good boy. Made him do your bidding.”
Rex wants to tell the bishop it’s not like that, but he realises it kind-of is. The pug raises a bleeding paw, makes a solemn ballet with it in the space between them.
Rex feels waves of overwhelming sadness. The cleric, expressing a mix of anger and sorrow in its voice, says “Be gone from this place.” Rex somersaults without actually moving, and the dogstench goes from his nostrils. He starts crying, feels something being taken off from around his neck. The Goose Fair amulet. It’s all back: glasses, dressing gown, bonus chin, wasted life.
Denise dangles the charm by its chain. “Sorry to interrupt, but someone’s popped round.” Rex gets his focus back. With him and Denise is a familiar-looking figure from wherever Rex has just been; muscular chap with a pug on a leash, wearing a no-frills pet-shop version of the bishop’s outfit.
The newcomer looks straight at Rex while speaking to Denise. “How about we take Bishop here for walkies?”
“Rex, this is Manny.”
While she gets a jacket, Manny eyes Rex with hostility, unseen by Denise. The pug gives him attitude too, growling.
Manny stretches out his hand, squeezes Rex’s knuckles. “Good to meet you. Looks like we’ll be seeing more of each other.”
Leaving Denise’s apartment, Rex nearly trips on his dressing gown cord and down the stairs. He’s thinking of friends who gave up on him, how he’s let mum and dad down, the way he’s turning them away too, the way he blames them for it, all the things he’s messed up, and the stuff he never got around to. Behind him, as they ready to take Bishop for a walk, he can hear Denise and Manny.
“Does he always dress like that?”
“Rex is harmless. Just never really had his day.”
Back home, Rex slumps in his Playstation chair, gets ready to crank up Bioshock, but changes his mind. He’s been in a screwed-up alternative reality today already, and however many mutants there are on that screen, it’s never going to be enough for him to kill how he’s feeling.