The Nightwatch

By Dogfire

Drizzle and evening cloaked the Seattle Pacific Science Center. Outside, Hal Ober dangled his dog-tag badge in front of the sensor plate. Electronic identity recognized, magnetic locks thunked, he opened the gray door and stepped inside. Red light illuminated a mouth-like room. The door, it's jaw, swung shut. Inside the dimly lit room, Hal repeated the ritual at the second door. He made an exaggerated face at the unseen security camera. Hal imagined Bill, the night shift guard, chuckling in the monitor room. Appearance confirmed, Hal opened the door. He quietly walked through the corridor past rows of offices, most of them empty for the Thanksgiving weekend. For the first time in years, the Science Center had closed for the Thanksgiving holidays. The collections coordinator office was still lit, he glanced in at it's occupant, a thin, tense woman. He knocked on the door frame, she looked up at him, Judy smiled.

"Welcome back Hal, you're early tonight. Did you have a pleasant vacation?".

"Hello Judy, I had a decent time. A week never seems enough. How did your day shape up?"

"Hectic, Hal. I've been working over Thanksgiving. We're frantically finishing the Tactile Dome Exhibit. We had built the exhibit ahead of schedule, but Peter Jarmanger, the head artist, changed the design on the exhibit entrance. We were preparing to delay the opening of Seattle's version of the Tactile Dome exhibit until January. The entryway was just a framework last week! Peter has done a month's work in a four days! Incredible! If our luck holds out, Peter should be finished tonight and the Center will have the grand opening on Monday afternoon."

"Right down to the wire", said Hal. "I remember the original Tactile Dome display in the San Francisco Exploratorium, a cool exhibit. You crawl around a dark maze, feeling different objects and textures. Does the Center's version have the same finale, sliding into some kind of a squishy, waterbed room?"

"It's similar but you go through the exhibit in a different order. Visitors enter a dimly lit room, they duck, or crawl into a sculptured entranceway and glide down the slide into what you call the 'waterbed' room. Hal that's a good nickname for it. The floor and walls are made from waterbed bags filled with gel. There's just enough light for visitors to feel, blunder and crawl their way out into the rest of the mazelike exhibit. However, I disagree with Peter's idea of an entrance sculpture. It'll put a lot of people off. But I guess that's supposed to be the effect. Building an entrance way..."

Judy's pager interrupted her. She tilted up the message display.

"I got to run Hal, the Director is bellowing for me to sign off the schedule wavers now." Judy scurried for the Director's office.

Hal resumed walking down the corridor. He arrived early for the night shift as a security guard for the Seattle Pacific Science Center. Long hours of monitoring alarms and camera displays. Interrupting monotony by 'walk abouts', security's name for walking patrols in the Center. It was the only part of the job he liked, walking among the empty rooms, a shadow prowling against the interactive displays, listening to the murmurs of the building. Bill Jones, his fellow security guard, frequently spoke of Hal's talents being wasted here. He urged Hal take college courses and apply to the Seattle Police Department. Hal knew deep down he was not cut out to be a beat cop. Nor did he feel compelled to take college classes. A necessity in a time where a high school education earns nothing. The pay barely allowed him to live in Seattle, he couldn't think of a better night job, without the hassles of dealing with people. His nocturnal habits felt at home here, he preferred to be alone, senses alert, quietly padding down dim corridors, ears pricked for the out of ordinary. Hal turned down the hallway leading to the Security Monitoring room. A silent shape followed Hal down the corridor, in the shadows. It glided closer, eyes anticipating, muscles spring loaded. Hal turned.

"BOO!" Hal said. Ears lowered, the huge creature sighed and gently harumphed a greeting, he trotted up to Hal and placed his muzzle in Hal's hand.

"Tybalt!, A fine way to greet a friend. I missed you!"

Hal gently rubbed the side of the dog's head and erect ears. The stalk had become a game between them. The dog belonged to Peter Jarmanger, the brilliant, eccentric artist assembling the Tactile exhibit. Hal looked at Tybalt, a dog with thick, white fur and black markings accenting face, ears and back. A black mask framed the canid's face and blue eyes like a raccoon. Looking into those blue eyes revealed a penetrating, sapient intelligence some people found disturbing in a dog. Tybalt resembled a Siberian Husky. But the similarity ended there. A wolf had merged genes with Tybalt's Husky lineage a few dog generations back. The forebear lived on in the form of Tybalt's grand, beautifully proportioned body. Long legs and enormous paws allowed the animal to flow through space with a grace no ordinary dog could match.

Peter Jarmanger had demanded his dog accompany him while he worked during the night at the Science Center. Peter managed to bulldog the Director into lifting the rules restricting pets from the Center. The Director relented, provided Tybalt stay with Peter in the workshop. Tybalt violated that rule from the start. While Peter worked, Tybalt quietly roamed the Science Center. The dog ignored attempts by the Center staff to greet him. The dog chose only Hal to be his friend. Kindred nocturnal spirits, Tybalt escorted Hal during the guard's walking patrols. Canine yin to Human yang.

Hal and Tybalt matched strides, the pair sneaked into the Security Monitor room. Bill Jones sat at a desk, musing over a fire alarm panel. Startled, he looked up at Hal and his four-legged companion. Hal grinned, he and Tybalt enjoyed surprising Bill.

"Welcome back Hal, I see you've brought your patrol partner. That dog needs to learn not to clomp about like a herd of draft horses", Bill said in a joshing tone. He was aware of Tybalt's predatory silence.

"Good to see you Bill. What do we have on the panel?"

"Ceiling thermal alarm in the paint room. Sensor's been placed too close to the exit sign. Those incandescent lamps are just warm enough to false the sensor on cold nights. I'm not getting a smoke alert or the second thermal alarm from the paint storage locker. Hal, since you're early, could you stand by while I check it out." Fire was the greatest hazard in Museums, more dangerous than intruders.

"Sure thing Bill, I'll change clothes and watch the panel."

Bill clipped on his belt radio and left. Hal reached into a nearby locker to pull out his uniform. Tybalt curled up on the floor nearby. As Hal changed clothes, he wished the uniforms could be more comfortable. At least dogs never had to change. Fur, the greatest covering invented by Nature. During patrols, Hal liked talking to Tybalt, he spoke about himself, hang-ups, fantasies, and living in a frustrating modern world. Meeting Tybalt had filled a void in his life. He wouldn't trade Tybalt's company for anything else. Friend, confidant, a patience listener, with more understanding than any human; Tybalt knew him better than most people. Dressed in the uniform, Hal sat down in a chair and sighed. Soon, Peter will finish the exhibit. The artist will leave, taking Tybalt with him. He looked at the dog, nights at the Science Center will be painfully lonely without Tybalt. I'll miss you, Tybalt. Hal wondered how he could continue to be close to Tybalt, some kind of a permanent arrangement.

The two heard footsteps, familiar ones. Peter Jarmanger swept into the room. A tall, broad man, almost bear-like, his intense gaze made most people nervous. A multitalented individual, his education, works in sculpture, painting, biology, and anatomy gave him the nickname 'Leonardo'.

"Somewhere a mischievous animal is hiding. Ah! There you are Tybalt, my beloved familiar!" Tybalt joyfully leaped up to greet Peter. The wolfish animal stood up on his hind legs, placed his paws on Peter's shoulders and planted an affectionate dog kiss on Peter's face. "Mascot of all that is canine, I miss your company. I thought you forsook me for another! But I find you training Hal, a good study, no?"

Tybalt sat down, the dog glanced at Hal, one of the animal's eyes gave him a wink.

Peter turned to Hal. "Greetings Hal, I trust all is well in the Center?" Hal stood up and shook Peter's hand.

"Hello 'Leonardo'. Eight Bells and all's well. What brought you out of the workshop? I hear the Tactile Dome exhibit is finished."

"Almost, Hal, almost! Despite obstacles thrown up by that pinheaded Director and construction delays; the good citizens of Seattle will have a true interactive exhibit. The San Francisco Exploratorium inspired me to create a Tactile Dome here. Visitors should experience the joys of exploring an exhibit. Public museums constantly chant the Mantra 'DO NOT TOUCH'. That is why I enjoy making an exhibit for the public to touch! There should be more places like the Exploratorium and the Seattle Pacific Science Center. People should interact with the physical world! We as civilized humans, have forgotten the importance of touch, hearing and smell. We are discouraged from using anything else but our dim eyesight. Animals are fully immersed in their senses and what better way to introduce the exhibit by having an animal sculpture grace the entrance."

Peter gave a dramatic bow. "A grand opening for a speech. What do you think Hal?"

"Flare and drama, Peter. Is the Tactile Dome open for exploring? It's a tradition around here for the night staff to try out a new exhibit."

Uncharacteristically, Peter frostily said, "Absolutely Not!"

Peter hesitated. "Bad choice of words, Hal. What I meant to say is the exhibit is not yet ready for you or the rest of the staff. The entranceway's physical condition should I put a state of flux. The methods I use allow me to rapidly form structures from models. Now that I am finished, the entrance must be thoroughly transdimensionally delinked from the model. I will be finished delinking the entryway by 11:00 pm. Until then, I ask you to let no one, no one into the exhibit until after 11:00 pm. Comprehend me, Hal, you can try out the exhibit after the eleventh hour, but not before then."

"I understand Peter, I'll notify Bill." What a strange vocabulary. Transdimensional delinking? Hal remembered some artists had a reluctance to surrender their work to the public.

"Excellent! Now if you will excuse me, I must borrow Tybalt. Come along Tybalt, your modeling talents are needed!" Peter and the dog left the monitor room. A few minutes later Bill walked in.

"Hal, I did a Fire Check, all green."

Hal wrote notes in the incident log. "Was it the faulty sensor near the exit sign?", he said.

"You got it, Hal. The same contractor also bunged up the environmental controls in the Tactile Dome exhibit. If you notice on the display, that room is 10 degrees colder than the thermal setpoint."

"Speaking of the Tactile Dome, Peter Jarmanger informed me the exhibit is off limits to everyone until after 11:00 pm."

"All the rotten luck, Hal, I almost forgot to tell you. The Director and the head of Security are going to hold a meeting here at 11:15. With those killjoys around, we're not going to be allowed to try out the new exhibit tonight."

The Director had issued memos decreeing staff shall not waste time trying out new exhibits, those caught would be severely reprimanded, even dismissed. By his pin-headed wisdom, the exhibits existed for people only. Yea, like taking a few minutes to fiddle with the tornado display is stealing from the Science Center payroll. Damn, thought Hal, he wanted to be first! To hell with them, risk it. Hal noted the time, 9:35 p.m.

"Bill, I'm going on 'walk about'. I'll check the Tactile Dome environmental controls on my way back."

Bill gave him a knowing look. "I'll tell the Director you're in service hallway C, tell me about it when you come back."

"Thanks Bill, I owe you one." Hal left for hallway B, towards the exhibit.

At a service box, Hal switched on the Tactile Dome lights. He unlocked the maintenance doors leading to the exhibit's exit and entryway rooms. He carefully pulled off his shoes, socks, pants and dress shirt. He laid his radio and keys on folded pile. Clad in boxer shorts and T-shirt; He did not want to leave shoe and scuff marks in the exhibit. He pulled open the door and stepped inside.

The chilly room was lit in soft, yellow light. Soft pile carpeting rose up towards the exhibit entranceway. Floor ramps allowed visitors to walk and climb around the huge figurine. Someone, possibly Peter, had swept the carpet and removed all signs of construction debris. Hal looked at the entrance to the Tactile Dome exhibit. Amazing, thought Hal. It had started out as a steel frame and fiberglass shell, enclosing the slide into the Tactile exhibit. Peter worked a miracle in size, color, texture and realism. The entry way was an immense model, twenty-five times larger than life, of a dog's head. An exact replica of a very familiar dog, Tybalt.

The gigantic sculptured mouth was gaped open, visitors walked inside the mouth. They would crawl between ivory simulated teeth, over a textured tongue, towards the back of the sculptured throat, and slide down the short slide into the first room of the exhibit. A Jonah and the Whale experience, except visitors would feel like tiny mice being invited to lunch by a hungry dog! That would put some people off! Hal shivered in the chilly air. He walked closer towards the immense dog head. He stared into blue eyes larger than basketballs. He imagined them winking back at him. Stop that! You're letting your imagination run away! Hal could not but feel he was in the presence of a real dog! Hal moved up a ramp towards the huge erect ears. Peter had spared no expense, he had even lined the huge head with simulated fur! Hal found himself rubbing the area behind the giant eyes, enlarged weave as soft as Tybalt's own fur, it was like stroking Tybalt. He scented a strong animal odor, he brought his hands to his nose. The waxy, skin odor of a dog. How on earth did Peter do this? Hal recalled industrial spray treatments that impregnated carpets with fragrant scents. Peter had convinced someone to synthesized batches of odor of dog.

As a child, Hal fantasized about being tiny and being around giant animals. Seeing the exhibit awakened Macrophile fantasies, now he could crawl around the sculptured mouth and imagine. Hal climbed down the ramp and stood in front of the waiting mouth. Trembling with excitement, he stepped over white, perfectly modeled incisors, between stalagmite front fangs and onto the tongue, he got down on his knees, and crawled into the mouth. Deep inside the reddish mouth, he stretched out onto the imitation tongue; pebbled and textured with a deep crease. Flexible plastic over a foam base. On his back he stared upwards at palate ridges lining the mouth roof. Realistically coated to glisten. The back of the mouth formed an arched ceiling leading down into a dim tunnel, the slide into the rest of the exhibit. He wanted to lay here a bit, taking in the view. The rest of the Tactile exhibit would come later. It felt so sensual to be inside a dog's mouth, a gigantic model of one. Laying on the simulated tongue, he stared outside. A view framed by white fangs. Hal imagined himself gently engulfed in a warm canine mouth. That would feel good. Hal interrupted his fantasy, Odd, was it his movements, or was everything getting warm? He noticed a tart slippery smell, the simulated tongue felt warm, almost at blood heat, an oozing wave spread over the tongue changing it's texture it can't be!

Abruptly the outside room lights snapped from dim yellow to bright fluorescent white. The whole room violently rocked, Hal froze, the animated tongue slid back and forth. A hot wind erupted from the back, flowing over Hal. The heaving floor flipped Hal over. He flopped, chest down, on top of the wiggling tongue, wrinkling his nose from strong cur breath. Stronger than the breath of a thousand wolves. The floor moved upward. There wasn't supposed to be hinges in here! The spirited jaws shut, carnassial teeth meshed together with a deafening SNAP! This was no mechatronic simulation, he was lying face-down in a dark, hot, odoriferous mouth. A real dog's mouth. Tybalt's mouth! He felt his buttocks dig into the hard roof. A slurry of saliva flowed around Hal, wrapping him in a thick lubricating blanket. The writhing tongue probed and tasted him. The dog was going to eat him whole! The enclosed space tilted upward.

In a basement room, a dog gulped.

Hal felt the tongue surge behind him. He wrapped his arms underneath the back of the tongue and held on. The tongue bucked and tossed him, trying to break his hold. The flexible tongue jammed him against the sawtooth hard palate ridges, holding him firm. The tongue slid underneath, through his slippery grip. The slick organ surged back, ratcheting Hal closer to a portal he would not return from. Back and forth, a smoothly coordinated ballet pushing him further into the dog's mouth. Another flood of saliva deluged him. Tybalt's muscular tongue slapped the defiant morsel against the heavy, soft palate, Hal lost his hold on the bucking tongue, arms too fatigued to grip again.

The jaws briefly opened, light stabbed inward. An external calmness seeped into Hal, his arms relaxed. Time seemed to slow down to a crawl. He looked down into the canine maw, an invitation to enter. The flexible gullet opened wide. Tybalt closed his jaws and swallowed. Like a pliant piston, the dog's tongue pushed Hal into the waiting pit. Throat walls gripped the tiny man and contracted, propelling Hal over a closed trachea flap and down a funnel. Smooth walls constricted around him, squeezing him down a hot, slimy, elastic tube. He wriggled in the tight hold of embracing walls, comforted by the rhythmically contracting feel of it. The slippery esophagus thrusted him down into the animal's body as it had guided meals of dog food before. The resilient passageway curved, peristaltic waves now pushed him along horizontally. He could feel and hear a loud thumping noise; Tybalt's heart. He plowed into a closed entrance, a sphincter relaxed, a final squeeze and he blindly dropped into a hollow reservoir. The stomach sphincter squished shut...

Down in the bowels of the Museum workshop, Peter sat over a drawing pad, muttering, furiously sketching. Tybalt stood on a platform, wolfish body bathed in white fluorescent lights, panting, waiting. Peter had delayed feeding Tybalt his evening meal. The dog felt something materialize in his mouth, he snapped his jaws shut. Hearing Tybalt gulping loudly and repeatedly, Peter looked up to see a lump move down Tybalt's neck. The bulge vanished into the dog's chest.

Peter said, "I wonder who that was? I told him you were still transdimensionally linked to the sculpture. Tybalt, it looks like Hal will get an unexpected chance to explore your inner workings as a snack. A mind shouldn't go to waste. Tybalt, salvage what you can of him."

Deep within the hot, engulfing darkness, Hal choked for lack of breathable air. The dog's stomach was vigorously contracting and relaxing in a wave-like motion. Carnivore gastric juices, acids and enzymes, flowed around Hal. Churned about by stomach contractions, he was dissolving into the huge dog who had eaten him. In a short while, Hal would be permanently close to Tybalt after all. The busy stomach would pump his liquefied remains into intestines, and incorporate his physical matter into the dog's surrounding flesh. Suddenly, Hal felt Tybalt's mental presence clamp down on his fevered mind with a force as strong as dog jaws. A different universe flooded into his head; smells of earth, forest in the rain with textures clearer than vision; exciting sounds of animals in the undergrowth; exhilarating rush of running on long padded limbs; breathing in song, heart beating to a different rhythm. Swept on a crest of perception, he was immersed in Tybalt's affection and assurance. The current carried him into another; sentience, memories and essence absorbed. He had become a welcome addition to a canine's world.

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