That night, Will dreamed a dog was barking, barking, barking. Then he was awake. His clock said 3:09. What a weird time to be awake. He didn’t have to pee, but he went and did that anyway, to make being awake feel normal. Before getting back into bed, he looked out the window. Just in case.
Faintly illuminated by the light on the street, a dog sat on the front walk. A big dog, really big, wearing a collar that glowed in the dark.
The dog from the ice cream truck.
Will pushed the window open and leaned out. The dog raised its head and looked right at him with eyes that glowed like a flashlight whose battery was almost dead. It had something in its mouth. It dropped the thing onto the pavement, a dark, shapeless object, not very big. Shapeless until the dog nosed and pawed it into a recognizable shape.
A baseball cap. Doof’s ball cap?
“Doof?” Will hung out of his window and looked around. Why would the dog have Doof’s cap? If Doof was nearby, he’d be wearing it. The dog settled down on its haunches again. It was waiting. Waiting for Will. The dog wanted him to go with it.
Will pulled on some clothes and crept down the stairs, just like the night he’d sneaked out to meet Doof and look for the ice cream truck. Except this time he didn’t stop every time a step creaked; he just hoped his parents wouldn’t wake up.
The dog met him halfway between the back door and the driveway. It was carrying Doof’s cap again.
“Do you know where Doof is?” asked Will. The dog’s collar wasn’t spitting sparks this time, but it was glowing a faint orange, same as the fur on the backs of the dog’s legs and its tail. It turned and trotted toward the street, where it stopped as if waiting.
Will followed the dog, who loped purposefully along, heading toward that fringe of downtown where the boys had first had a good look at the ice cream truck. This time, the gas station was closed and dark. No one was around. They crossed the train tracks and headed toward the empty lot where the truck had been that time.
There stood the ice cream truck, with its kaleidoscope of flashing lights. Will stopped and stared at it, but the dog kept going. When it realized Will was no longer close by, it stopped and looked back at him.
The dog turned and shambled toward Will. It thrust its snoot up and shook the baseball cap. Its eyes glowed dark orange, but Will thought they looked sad. Sad and impatient, as though the dog was thinking “How long is this chump going to stand there?”
“Okay,” he said, “I’m coming.”
As they approached the ice cream truck, a figure detached itself from its black shadow and came toward them. The dog lurched into a run toward it. It was Doof. He wore black clothes that looked like some sort of uniform.
“Hey, Will,” said Doof. “You got my message. Good boy, Gryph!” This to the dog, who capered around him. Doof took the ball cap from its mouth, shook it out, and put it on his head.
Doof held a popsicle that glowed like it was red hot, but he put it in his mouth and licked it. He grinned. “Delicious.”
“What… what’s it taste like?” said Will.
“Red hot cherry ice,” said Doof. “Want to try?” He held out the popsicle.
“No. No, I don’t. Did you buy it?”
“Nope. It was free.” Doof gestured toward the ice cream truck, whose lights dappled the trees, the grass, and the pavement with splotches of yellow, orange, and red. Music welled from the truck, low and menacing.
“I thought something bad happened to you,” said Will.
“Something bad, something good.” Doof took another lick of the fiery popsicle. Little drops of molten flame dripped from it, hissing when they hit the grass.
“I even went to your house—I mean, your dad’s house. His house trailer.”
Doof pulled the popsicle from his mouth. “You saw my dad? Talked to him?”
“I thought you might be sick or something.”
“Sick! I would have been, if I’d stayed with that bastard. Maybe even dead. I know places to go. I can look after myself. I have friends.”
“You mean those guys?” Will pointed to a couple of shapes near the ice cream truck.
“Maybe. But this guy for sure.” Doof put his hand on the dog’s head.
“I told your dad you wanted a dog,” Will said. “He started yelling at me to get lost. I ran away. I was scared.”
“He killed my dog,” said Doof, throwing the popsicle stick into the bushes. It burst into a shower of sparks that lasted for a few seconds and winked out one by one. “That night we came out here. Well, he wasn’t really my dog. He just hung around the trailer park, but he was my pal, you know? My dad—that bastard killed him and hung him up behind the trailer. I saw him hanging there when I got home. That was when I decided—”
“Geez, Doof. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Well, things are different now. Now I have my pal here. Name’s Gryphon, Gryph for short. Come and have a popsicle. Or an ice cream. First one’s always free.”
“You sound like you work for… them. Whoever they are.”
Doof grinned. “I sure do. Come on.”