He told Rowdy about the monsters that night. Rowdy curled next to Hobkins on the couch and rested his head on his lap. He tried to tell it like Jess had, with the hand movements and the pauses, but it came out as more of a list of details. He used different voices when he talked about their shape shifting, and Rowdy lifted his head in confusion. Hobkins patted his head back down onto his lap.

Rowdy understood him more than anyone else because they were the same. Hobkins had found him eating out of the garbage in the back of his apartment building. He had no collar, a greasy tangled coat, and a missing incisor. He was a terrier of some sort, but it was really anyone’s guess about what exactly. Every few minutes he’d shake, a nervous tick that he never grew out of. He had a tendency to always turn around, as if he didn’t trust what was behind him.

On weeknights Hobkins would practice his songs to Rowdy. He noticed when he missed a note, the dog would tilt his head and shudder a bit. When Hobkins opened a new beer he’d pour a little bit in Rowdy’s bowl so he could have a taste. One night they both got drunk, and Rowdy walked around in wobbly circles before passing out at the foot of the bed.

During the weekdays Hobkins worked on cars at a shitty dealership a few miles out of the city. The customers were mostly suburb yuppies, old ladies who’ve had their car for thirty years or young girls with their new VW Beetle. He hummed the lyrics to his songs as he worked, which was better than the crap the other mechanics played on the stereo. Every once in a while the boss would bring in a car himself. He’d ask him to take the engine out, which Hobkins would do. He didn’t asked questions.

At nights he went to Fat Joe’s Bar to talk to talk to Lynn. She usually had his drink waiting for him. They talked about what was playing on the television behind the bar, which was usually the Titans or politics. On commercials they shared stories about things they remembered as kids. Lynn was from Pittsburgh and came to Nashville to play country music with a band called “Modern Harpies.” They were decently successful for a while, even getting an opening act at the Grand Ole Opry, but she was kicked off the band a few years ago when a doctor botched a surgery to get rid of a vocal polyp. When she sang she sounded like an eighty-year-old chain-smoker. They both took a shot of whiskey and said they were mourning a great loss.

“So what’s your story?” Lynn asked after he was five drinks in.

“I got a lot of stories,” Hobkins said. “Anything in particular?”

“What’s your trauma?”

“Well, I got a fucked-up head,” he said, then took a drink. “Paralyzed a kid back in high school when I tackled him in a football game. Got a concussion, then a few more later that year. That traumatic enough?”

A biker flagged her down for another drink, but she continued to talk as she poured him a beer.

“So you got that CTE or something?” she asked. “Like the NFL players?”

“Something like that.”

Two girls began to set up on the stage. They looked young and scared, probably a new band with little experience. He watched them tune their guitars.

“I’d rather be you than the paralyzed kid,” Lynn said.


He took Rowdy that night out to the sticks, away from the lights and the city and the people. They sat in the grass overlooking the hills. Hobkins threw pebbles as far as he could. They dropped off over the hill and into the darkness. He held Rowdy by the collar so that he didn’t run after the stones.

Hobkins closed his eyes and listened. The wind whistled along the hills and the trees. It mixed with an owl’s hoot, the howl of a coyote, and a stream of water out of sight. It was like music. Every few minutes the animals were quiet and the wind died down, leaving an awkward, jarring silence. Rowdy, suddenly alert, growled into the darkness.

“What’s wrong, bud?” Hobkins asked. “Are those the monsters out there?”

Hobkins flung a rock. Rowdy moved closer to him, cuddling under his arm.

“Who knows, Rowdy? They could be that coyote. Or that owl.”

He wondered whose voice the monsters would use to lure him in. He eliminated Lynn first, then his father. He thought of his best friend. He thought of his ex, Jess, if only for the curiosity of what she had to say. He thought of Mr. Augustine, his high school philosophy teacher, because he was one of the only people who understood. But he ended up eliminating him too, because he’d been dead for seven years by then. He wouldn’t fall for a trick like that.

“Hell, maybe you’re one of them,” Hobkins said with a soft pat on Rowdy’s head.

Rowdy looked up at him and licked his hand, and Hobkins wiped it off on the grass. The coyote howled again in the distance.

“I wouldn’t follow any voice.”

He pulled Rowdy into his lap, hugged him tightly.

“I’m fucked up, bud.”

Hobkins laughed—a heavy heaving, full-chested laugh. Rowdy put his front paws on his shoulders and licked his face.