St. Ailbe's Hall
By Naomi Kritzer
19 January 2004
Part 1 of 2
There was a Siberian husky in the last pew of St. Mary's. It was standing on its hind legs, holding a hymnal and singing, so Father Andrew knew that it must be an enhanced dog -- but in church, for heaven's sake. There were parishioners who owned enhanced dogs, but today was not the Blessing of the Animals, so what was it doing here? Father Andrew realized abruptly that the hymn had ended several seconds ago, and he'd been staring at the dog. He hastily opened the missal and started the opening prayer.
During the first reading, he looked at the back pew again. After a few minutes of covert study, he recognized the young woman beside the dog -- Lisa Erickson. Lisa had been confirmed during Father Andrew's first year at St. Mary's; she'd left Willmar for college six years ago. Her parents had complained to Father Andrew that Lisa had drifted away from the Church while at college. He'd heard that she'd moved back to the farm after her parents died. But what was the dog doing with her?
The rest of the church noticed the dog during the Sign of Peace; Father Andrew stifled a smile as he watched people saying "Peace be with you" while craning their necks to stare. It took longer than usual for everyone to sit back down.
After the Mass, Father Andrew stood just inside the shade of the door to greet his parishioners. Lisa came out with the dog. "Remember me, Father?" she asked. She had a button saying "AWARE" pinned to her sundress.
"I sure do, Lisa," he said.
"This is Jasper," Lisa said, and prodded the dog towards him. "She'd like to meet you."
Father Andrew was uncomfortable with the idea of enhanced animals -- the Pope had condemned the manipulation of God's creation, and the results of the manipulation made Andrew nervous. Still, he forced himself to make eye contact with the dog, wondering what exactly Lisa expected from him. Jasper's eyes looked neither like the eyes of Caramel, Andrew's emphatically unenhanced pet mutt, nor like human eyes. She came up to about his chest, and her coat was brown and white. She ducked her head slightly; behind her, he could see that her tail was waving, very gently, like a fan.
Rote training took over: "It's a pleasure to meet you," he said, and extended his hand.
The dog clasped his hand in hers; the enhancements had included an opposable thumb. Her hands were almost human, except for the fur. "It's a pleasure to meet you, too," Jasper said. Her voice was low and a little raspy.
"I hope we'll see you here again next week," Father Andrew said, and Jasper's strange eyes brightened; he could see her tail quicken.
There was a startled murmur from the other churchgoers, and Lisa stepped forward quickly to clasp Jasper's elbow. "You will," Lisa said.
Lisa and Jasper headed away towards the parking lot, the rest of the churchgoers staring after them.
"I didn't know that they were allowed in churches," one of the men said as Lisa and Jasper disappeared around the corner. He was looking at Father Andrew.
Father Andrew had been staring after Lisa and Jasper, but now he turned back. "I don't believe there's a rule against it," he said, and ducked his head to shake hands with a child.
When everyone had left, Father Andrew closed up the church, hung up his vestments, and walked back to the Rectory. Across the street from the church, there was a yellow lab picking up litter outside of the bar. Father Andrew studied the dog as he passed by. The yellow lab never looked up from her task. Her tail waved lazily as she worked. She was retrieving, Andrew supposed. No wonder she was happy.
When genetic technologists had enhanced dogs, they'd left a lot of the breed traits intact. Enhanced retrievers liked to retrieve -- picking up litter, harvesting crops, finding misplaced items in grocery store shelves. Airports had crews of Border collies directing people to gates and baggage claims. Swimming pools used Newfoundlands as lifeguards.
Andrew wondered why you'd enhance a Siberian husky. Jasper was bipedal -- she didn't look like she'd pull a sled very well. And what on earth was she doing with Lisa? He unlocked the Rectory; Caramel bounded to the door to meet him, skinny tail whipping back and forth.
"Down," he said, and patted Caramel on his side. "Good boy."
Andrew got some leftover potato salad out of the refrigerator for lunch and took it into his study, padding across the carpet in his bare feet. He kept the blinds drawn against the July sun, and the study was cool and dim. He sat down at his net terminal and flipped it on; sure enough, he had a letter from Leo. Leo was a Jesuit theologian who lived in Rome; Andrew had met him at a conference. After an interesting conversation, they had exchanged email addresses. Andrew had heard from Leo almost daily since then.
Andrew scrolled quickly through Leo's message, then hit Reply.
You're not going to believe what someone brought to Mass this morning. One of those enhanced dogs! Maybe the girl who did it had her dates mixed up and thought that today was the Blessing of the Animals, but I doubt it -- it was pretty clear she was trying to make a point. She brought the dog up to me after the Mass to introduce her. So now I've shaken hands with a dog. Come to think of it, I've trained Caramel to do that, but this one didn't then roll over and beg for a treat. . . .
The phone rang. Andrew saved the message and picked up, hitting the display key on the terminal to see his caller. "Hello," he said.
"Hello, Father." The caller was Jerry, one of the older men of the Parish. Jerry still had his tie on from church; his voice was even stiffer than his collar. "Er. I'm calling about the dog."
"Yes?" There wasn't much point in pretending he needed to ask which dog.
"I'd appreciate it if you could talk to the young lady about appropriate behavior in church." Jerry's voice had taken on a bit of an edge, and Andrew felt himself bristle slightly. Jerry's eyes narrowed and he added, "My wife, she's allergic to dogs. We had to leave early today, she was starting to sneeze."
Jerry and his wife nearly always left Mass early, as soon as communion was done. Andrew smiled as sincerely as he could. "I tell you what, Jerry. There are almost always plenty of seats up front. Why don't you and your wife sit up there next Sunday? It's a big church, and I'm sure that if the dog comes again, it won't bother you."
Jerry muttered something inaudible and closed the connection abruptly.
Andrew turned back to his email message to Leo. He read through it, then deleted what he'd written and retyped:
You're not going to believe what came to Mass this morning. One of those enhanced dogs! I recognized the parishioner who brought the dog -- Lisa grew up in the parish, though she's been somewhat less than a twice-a-year Catholic since her confirmation. Anyway, I spent most of the Mass trying not to stare. . . .
The phone rang again. This time it was Carolyn, a woman in her early thirties with three young children. She'd called from her kitchen; behind her, Andrew could see her nanny-dog feeding Carolyn's children their lunch.
"Hello, Father," Carolyn said. "I was just calling to tell you that I think it was just awful of Lisa to drag her dog along to church this morning. Some people just have no idea how to behave, don't you think?"
"I was a bit surprised," Andrew said.
"I just wanted to let you know, if you'd like someone to go talk to her, to let her know that this is just not okay, if you know what I mean, I've talked to my neighbor Marie and we'd be happy to go talk to her for you, you know--"
"That really won't be necessary," Andrew said.
"So you'll talk to her yourself? Oh good. I think it will have a lot more effect coming from you, and Marie agrees with me, that it would really be best if you talked to her--"
"Carolyn," he said.
"Why do you have such strong feelings about this? Especially when you have a nanny-dog yourself."
Carolyn's face twisted into something ugly. "Dogs don't belong in church," she said.
This is really becoming the controversy du jour, amigo. Two phone calls so far; it'll be ringing off the wall once everyone's had lunch and a chance to think things over. Everyone seems to want a "No Dogs Allowed" sign on the door. So far I've just been noncommittal and as soothing as possible, but it's clear I'm going to have to make some sort of decision here. What do you think?
Andrew sent the message just as the phone rang again. He picked up the receiver to speak voice-only; if it was about something other than the dog, he could always switch the screen on. "Father Andrew?" a woman's voice said. For a moment he thought it was Lisa calling, but the voice had an oily sheen of self-satisfaction that didn't fit his image of her.
"Speaking," he said.
"I thought you might like to know why that girl brought the dog to church today." The caller did not identify herself, and the edge in her voice sharpened into something almost gleeful. "Lisa is in one of those Animal Liberationist groups. You know -- Free the Horses and all that."
"Really," Andrew said. There was a long pause, and he hoped that his caller was winding herself up in frustration at not being able to see his face.
"I just thought you might like to know," the caller said again. "That's why she brought the dog -- her kind think the dogs are people in fur coats, you know? Why shouldn't they go to church."
"Ah," Andrew said. He remembered Lisa's button -- AWARE. He remembered suddenly what AWARE stood for: Activists Working for Animal Rights and Emancipation. He'd seen a brochure a few months ago.
"I just thought you'd--"
"--like to know. Yes. Was there anything else?"
The caller hung up without saying goodbye.
Andrew decided to get out of the house before the phone rang again. He needed a chance to think about this before he had to make a decision. Running -- he'd go running.
Father Andrew's doctor had suggested for the last five years that he take up some other form of exercise -- swimming, perhaps, or biking. Something easier on the knees. Andrew had tried biking; he even purchased one of those silly rowing machines, which he ended up using as a place to drape his clothes. There was just something about running that nothing else could substitute for. To satisfy his doctor, he dropped the idea of a marathon, and he simply endured the knee pain.
Andrew changed into running clothes, locked up the Rectory, and stretched his muscles as quickly as he could. If he had to run, his doctor had suggested last time, at least he could use the high school track, instead of running on the sidewalk. Today, though, Andrew ran along the tree-lined residential streets of Willmar. Running in circles on a track would feel too much like he wasn't getting anywhere.
So. Lisa considered the dog equal to a person. Andrew found himself remembering Jasper's strange eyes; she certainly wasn't just a dog, like Caramel was. He had never spent that much time around enhanced animals -- no, that wasn't really true. They were everywhere these days -- last year at the Blessing of the Animals, he'd blessed as many nanny-dogs as pets. He ate at the bar and grill across from the church, ignoring the enhanced yellow lab that swept the floors; last year when he was trying to take up swimming, he swam at a pool with a Newfoundland lifeguard. He'd spent plenty of time around enhanced dogs. He'd just never really looked at one before.
Still, what did Lisa hope to get out of bringing Jasper to church? Or -- what did Jasper hope to get? Presumably if Lisa treated the dog as a person, she didn't make the dog go anywhere. Or maybe she did. Or maybe if Lisa wanted something, Jasper wanted it too -- enhanced dogs were designed to be eager to please.
He could, he supposed, simply ask Lisa.
The phone was ringing when he got back to the Rectory, but he ignored it. He stood in the shade of the maple tree in the yard, stretching his muscles and hoping no one would drop by to confront him about the dog in person. Once he'd showered and dressed, he picked up the phone while it wasn't ringing and called Lisa.
"Hello?" The face on the screen wasn't Lisa's. For one disconcerting moment, Andrew thought he'd dialed the wrong number -- and then he realized that the funny wrinkled face staring at him belonged to a puppy.
"Hello, I'm Father Andrew from St. Mary's," he said. "Is Lisa there?"
The puppy wagged its tail. "I'll go find her," it said with an air of immense dignity that was somewhat spoiled by the tail. It hopped off the phone table and yelled, "Lisa!"
"Who is it?" Lisa's voice called back from another part of the house. Another puppy leapt up on the table, peering quizzically into the screen.
"It's Father Andrew from St. Mary's," the first puppy repeated carefully.
"Oh! Tell him I'll be right there."
The puppy jumped back onto the phone table. "Hey!" said the puppy who'd been peering at the screen. "I was up here."
"I was here first," said the puppy who'd answered the phone, forgetting all about the message. They'd degenerated into squabbling when Lisa came in.
"Cut it out, both of you. Down, off the table. I need to talk to Father Andrew." The puppies jumped down and rolled into a tussle in the corner.
"Sorry for the chaos," Lisa said with a nervous smile. "Was there something you needed?"
"How many enhanced dogs do you have?" Andrew asked, staring past her at the puppies, and at the enhanced Border collie that had just arrived to hustle them out of the way.
"I live with twenty-seven," Lisa said. "I don't have any."
Andrew winced. "Right," he said.
"Was that what you called to ask me?" Lisa said.
One of the puppies jumped back onto the phone table to stare at Andrew; its nose squeaked against the glass. "Actually, I was wondering if I could talk to you and Jasper again," Andrew said. The puppy stepped on the keyboard and nearly disconnected the call; Lisa picked up the fat little body and deposited it on the floor, ignoring the puppy's protests. "In person, maybe?"
A faint rueful smile crept into Lisa's eyes. "It is a little difficult using the phone with puppies around," she said. "Why don't you come out to my farm? I'm just south of town on Highway 5."
"Sounds great. This afternoon?"
"I'll be here," she said, and rang off.
As soon as he'd hung up the phone, it rang again, but he didn't answer. He knew he was neglecting his other duties, but they'd just have to wait -- because it was clear that this could not.
Lisa's family's farm was about ten minutes outside of Willmar; a long unpaved driveway stretched from the road to the cluster of willow trees sheltering her house. He pulled up beside Lisa's oversized van and parked. The property included a house, barn, and shed; dogs poured from all three as he got out of his car. At the edge of the driveway, some of the puppies were swinging from the willow branches; one of them seemed to be wearing a cape.
Lisa had followed the dogs out and stood in the doorway of the house; a very small puppy snoozed in the crook of her arm. "Come on in," she called, and Andrew trudged past the dogs to the house; the screen door banged shut behind him.
All the furniture in the living room was covered in dog hair. Andrew sat down gingerly, thinking about dog hair all over his black trousers, but he felt like it would be rude to brush off the sofa first.
"Jessie is setting up a sprinkler outside for the puppies," Lisa said. She set the sleeping puppy down on an overstuffed chair, and poured iced tea into two heavy glasses, handing one to Andrew. "That should keep them out of the way. Jessie's a Border collie, and really good with the puppies. She was bred as a nanny-dog."
Andrew was going to ask about Jasper when he realized she hadn't been in the crowd outside. "Where's Jasper?" he asked.
"She should be back soon. She went running after Mass."
"Running?" Andrew said.
"Siberian huskies were bred to run. Jasper isn't really built for it -- huskies were meant to run on four legs, not two -- but she loves running anyway."
"How did Jasper end up with you?" Andrew asked.
Lisa hesitated, taking a sip of iced tea. Outside, Andrew heard the water turn on; a puppy shrieked, "It's COLD. You didn't say it was going to be COLD," and Lisa stifled a smile. She set down her glass. "After I graduated from college, I was hired to oversee a work team of dogs at a recycling plant in Rochester."
Andrew tried to imagine Lisa in an overseer's uniform; he realized that he couldn't even imagine her at a regular job.
"I 'knew' what everyone else 'knows' about enhanced dogs. They were genetically altered to make them more intelligent, but it was really just a highly efficient form of breeding. They were intelligent, but they weren't human, so it was okay to buy them and sell them, so long as you fed them and gave them somewhere to sleep. After all, what were you supposed to do, give them a paycheck and let them go rent an apartment? They're just dogs." Lisa picked up her glass of iced tea and took a sip; her eyes met Andrew's over the rim. Andrew had expected steely eyes, rigid with determination -- Lisa's eyes were defiant, but uncertain, and a little bit afraid.
"Most of the dogs at the plant were golden retrievers. The designers kept the sweet disposition and eagerness to please, so that the dogs would be happy so long as you said 'good dog' periodically. But Jasper was different."
Andrew heard the tick-tick-tick of dog's claws on a wood floor. He turned around; Jasper had returned. "I'm telling your story," Lisa said to her, a little abashed.
Jasper shrugged. "Keep going," she said. "It's as much your story as mine, anyway."
Lisa went on. "You can say that retrievers are happy doing whatever you tell them to, or that terriers are too dumb to know they're slaves, but you can't say either of those things about enhanced huskies. I could tell that Jasper wasn't happy. So I started keeping an eye on her. One day, when I got back from lunch, she was missing. I found her curled up under the basement stairwell, squinting in the dim light at the pages of a book. It took me a minute to realize what I was seeing. I'd always been told--"
"Dogs can't read," Andrew murmured.
"As soon as Jasper saw me, she threw the book down and jumped up, apologizing and begging me not to tell anyone. All I could think was, 'Dogs can't read, and where on earth did she learn?'"
Andrew looked at Jasper. "Where did you learn?"
"They let us watch TV sometimes," Jasper said. "I learned from a TV show."
"The book was mine," Lisa said. "Jasper had borrowed it to read."
"After she found out," Jasper said, "Lisa would bring books just to lend to me. I read them in the evenings."
Lisa looked over at Jasper with a gentle smile. "Her favorite was the one she called 'the one with the talking animals, and the Great Lion that everyone likes.'"
"C. S. Lewis," Andrew said. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe."
"You guessed it," Lisa said. "But she didn't understand a lot of it, so then I brought in a book of Bible stories for children. We spent months that way." Lisa took a sip of iced tea. "Then one day, I was running late, and one of the other overseers covered for me. When I arrived on the factory floor, the other overseer was beating Jasper. I snatched the whip out of his hand, and shouted, 'How dare you?' And then suddenly I realized that I was as guilty as he was -- even if I was kind to Jasper, I was still her master. Not her friend."
Jasper took over, her voice quiet. "Lisa went to the manager of the factory, and she bought me. She took me away from the recycling plant and told me that as far as she was concerned, I was free. I could go running whenever I felt like it, I could read all the books in the world, whatever I wanted." Jasper paused. "Of course, I've had to stay with Lisa. There's no law recognizing a free dog. But I don't mind staying with Lisa. She doesn't tell herself that I'm just an animal. She'd set me free if she could."
"How does St. Mary's fit in with all of this?" Andrew asked.
"Lisa brought me a Bible," Jasper said. "Once I understood what religion was, I realized that I wanted a part of it." Andrew met her eyes, and again he was struck by their strangeness. Jasper straightened her shoulders. "I want to be baptized," she said.
Andrew's iced tea glass -- empty -- slipped out of his hand and hit the floor with a clunk. "Baptized?" he said.
"That's right," Jasper said.
Andrew had almost reached the conclusion that he would welcome Jasper to church even if everyone else in the parish engaged in pointed sneezing fits, but baptism was something else entirely. "Do you even understand what that means?"
"Yes," Jasper said. "Baptism will bring me closer to God."
Andrew carefully picked up the glass he'd dropped. "I'll have to think about this," he said.
"In the meantime, may I continue to attend church?" Jasper asked. "That is why you came today, right? The other humans this morning were not happy."
Andrew stood up and handed the glass to Lisa. "That's their problem," he said. "I said I hoped I'd see you both again. I haven't changed my mind."
"The church's doors are open to all, Mrs. Petersen," Andrew said. It was Tuesday afternoon, and the flood of calls had finally started to slack off. Jasper had a handful of supporters who'd made their opinions known, but they were vastly outnumbered by the people who were horrified at the idea of praying beside a dog.
Mrs. Petersen glared at him from his screen. "It's not that I don't like enhanced dogs," she said. "I don't know what we'd do without our children's nanny-dog. But to take one to church . . . !"
"If Jasper wants to come to my church, she is welcome," Andrew said.
"I'm going to have to complain to the bishop," Mrs. Petersen said.
"That's your choice, of course," Andrew said, and rung off.
Andrew had sent email to Leo as soon as he returned from the Lisa's farm, even though Leo hadn't answered his first message yet. Baptism. Of a dog? His parishioners were outraged enough by the idea of a dog attending Mass, never mind participating in the sacraments. The message Andrew sent to Leo was one hundred-line paragraph, closing with a question: "This is an absurd request. Why am I even considering this?"
Late Tuesday afternoon, he finally had a chance to read the reply.
Andrew -- Your final question is the easy one. You're considering it because you've looked into Jasper's eyes. I have to confess, though there are easily as many enhanced dogs in Italy as in America, I had always ignored them as blithely as you do. After I received your story, I found one of the dogs who sweeps the streets here in Rome and engaged him in conversation for a few minutes. You're right; they're definitely not "just animals."
But the question becomes then, what are they? Doctrine tells us that animals have only temporary souls -- they lack the immortal souls of human beings because in eternity, they would be unable to comprehend and contemplate the glory of God. Animals are irrational and act entirely on instinct, whereas humans can resist our instinctual urges -- and I have certainly seen instinctive behavior in the enhanced dogs I have observed. Finally, animals were not created in the image and likeness of God.
You'll want to talk to Bishop Gunderson, of course. But I don't see any way you can do it, even if you decide you want to. Not that you should stop the dog from coming to church. I think you've got that one right, at least. But I'm always in favor of unsettling the complacent, by whatever means seem most attractive.
The phone was finally quiet, and Andrew went to pick up the paper mail. In addition to the usual junk mail, there was an envelope with no return address. He opened it immediately, expecting a prayer request. The paper inside was tightly folded; as he unfolded it, something fell out. He saw what it was when he bent down to pick it up, and felt ill.
Someone had used an image editing program to make a picture of Father Andrew engaging in . . . carnal relations with an enhanced dog. It was crudely done and wouldn't have fooled a first-grader, but the intent was not libel, it was threat. The picture showed gruesome bloody slashes across both his throat and the dog's. Just in case the message wasn't clear, the paper that had been wrapped around the picture spelled it out in block letters:
DOGS DON'T BELONG IN CHURCH YOU BITCH FUCKER. TELL IT AND THE GIRL TO FUCK OFF OR YOU'LL BE SORRY.
Father Andrew set both the letter and the picture down with a shudder, glancing involuntarily towards the window. No one was in sight, but he called Caramel inside and locked the door of the Rectory anyway. He turned off the ringer on the phone and went to his study to sit down.
His knees were aching again, so he stretched out his legs on his ottoman, putting a little pillow under his knees for support. He needed to call the bishop -- and probably the police, come to think of it, but definitely the bishop. Before he did that, though, he wanted to get his own thoughts in order.
Although C. S. Lewis had not been a Catholic, Andrew had a shelf in his study dedicated to Lewis's books. Including, of course, the Chronicles of Narnia. The one with the talking animals, and the Great Lion that everyone likes. He stood up with a groan, pulled The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe off the shelf, and put his legs back on the ottoman.
Andrew had only intended to look up the parts with the Great Lion, Aslan, but as soon as Edmund stepped through the wardrobe, to sell his soul to the White Witch for a box of Turkish delight, Andrew was as hooked as he'd been when he read the story in elementary school. He finished the book in another three hours of nonstop reading. When he'd finished, he set it down and looked up at the crucifix on his wall. "The image and likeness of God," he said aloud.
Yes, Leo, but what is the image and likeness of God? Does it mean opposable thumbs and a body without fur? We could make that in a test tube these days, starting with dog DNA, if we wanted to. Jasper became interested in religion after reading C. S. Lewis. In her eyes, God's "likeness" is that of a Great Lion. How sure are you that she's not right?
At Andrew's insistence, Bishop Gunderson took Jasper's request seriously, although he was dubious. "I'll have to talk to Rome," he said after a long conversation. "This may take some time." He agreed to meet with Jasper and Lisa, and agreed that in the meantime, Jasper should be allowed to attend church. "It hardly seems as if it could hurt anything," he said.
Leo's response to Andrew's message was short and predictable: "C. S. Lewis. Bah. Bloody Anglican. You'll need a better argument than that to convince a Jeb like me."
On Sunday, the church was packed to the walls -- it wasn't even this crowded at Easter. Looking around, Andrew saw as many Lutherans as Catholics, there to gawk at the dog. Lisa and Jasper tried as hard as they could to ignore the crowd, despite open glares and whispered insults.
Andrew had decided that on this Sunday, subtlety would be wasted. During his homily, he spoke directly to the question that was on everyone's mind. "So far as we know, Christ embraced all who came seeking him. He ate with tax collectors; he defended prostitutes; he taught his followers that the hated Samaritans were their neighbors. Just as Christ turned no one away from his ministry, neither will St. Mary's turn anyone away from our ministry."
There was a rustle as people shifted in the pews, and a low rumble of whispered conversation. "Christ had words for people who would close doors on others," Andrew said, raising his voice. "'Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You lock the kingdom of heaven before human beings. You do not enter yourselves, nor do you allow entrance to those trying to enter.'" The rumble increased in volume. "Let me say this as plainly as I can. This church's doors are open to anyone who comes here. Anyone. That is not going to change."
Andrew had expected someone to walk out, but no one did, not even the Lutherans. Some of the parishioners glared at him with steaming fury; others stared at the floor in what might have been shame. Lisa kept her face carefully expressionless, looking at him intently; Jasper fixed her eyes on the hymnal. They left quickly when the Mass was over; so did most of the others.
Andrew stayed up late that night, searching for theological texts that had some sort of bearing on this situation. At ten minutes to midnight, he was reciting the Evening Office in preparation for going to bed when he heard a knock at the door. He went downstairs and peered out through the peephole, but couldn't see anything. The knock came again, but at knee height. He opened the door -- a greyhound stood on his doorstep. It was clearly an enhanced dog, though it stood on four legs rather than two.
"Lisa sent me," the greyhound said. "She wants you to meet her three miles east of the farm, as soon as you can get there. She needs your help. It's really important."
"Let me get dressed," Andrew said. He let the greyhound inside, to wait in his hallway while he changed back into clothes and combed his hair. Caramel barked at the greyhound, then hid under the kitchen table. The greyhound rode in the car with Andrew to the meeting place -- Lisa was waiting for them, on foot, with a collie that Andrew didn't recognize. Andrew pulled over and parked at the edge of the road, then got out and walked towards them.
"I'm so sorry to bother you, Father," Lisa said. "I know this really isn't very good timing, especially since people are so angry about Jasper, but I really didn't know who else to go to."
Andrew looked closely at Lisa. Her face was pale, and she'd clearly dressed quickly; her shirt was buttoned up wrong. "What can I do to help you?" he asked.
"This is Phoenix," Lisa said. "She's owned by a man who lives outside of town, not too far from me; he uses her as a servant and a field hand."
Andrew looked at Phoenix. Her long tail waved like a flag in a hesitant wind, but she avoided his eyes. Her long fur was matted.
"Her owner--" Lisa paused to wipe her eyes impatiently with her sleeve. "Whenever Phoenix makes a mistake, no matter how small, her owner beats her. This afternoon, she couldn't take it anymore and she bit him. Now he's going to kill her. Have her 'put down' is how he puts it. So she ran to my farm. She knew I'd try to protect her. But that's--" Lisa's voice gave out again. Andrew offered her tissues from his jacket pocket, but she shook her head. She took two deep breaths, then went on. "I can't protect her, Father. Everyone knows how I feel about enhanced dogs. Whenever anyone goes missing, my farm is the first place they look."
"You want me to hide her?" Andrew said.
"No," Lisa said. Her voice was calm again. "There's a safe house in Minneapolis. I need you to drive her there. Once she's out of the area, there are people who can arrange for false ownership papers. Please, Father. There's no one else up here who will do this, and I'm being watched too closely right now. If they come looking at my farm and the van is gone--"
"I'll do it," Andrew said. "Phoenix, go get in the back seat of my car and lie down on the back seat so that you can't be seen through the window."
Lisa gasped and then let out a long, shaky breath. "Thank you," she said. She scribbled down an address. "If it's safe to drop Phoenix off, they'll have a lamp burning in the upstairs window that looks like a single candle."
Andrew checked the address and put the paper in his pocket. "You didn't buy all your dogs, exactly, did you?"
Lisa gave him a wry smile, her eyes still a little watery. "No. Not exactly."
Andrew started the car and headed towards Minneapolis.
After five minutes of driving, his bravado started to fade. Andrew had never broken the law before, except for exceeding the speed limit. He tried to remember what the penalties were for Grand Theft Animal. There'd been a case in Brainerd recently -- someone got ten years, but that wasn't a first offense. If Andrew were caught, he'd probably get a suspended sentence. And he'd lose his parish. And Phoenix would die.
The drive to Minneapolis took two hours; Phoenix was silent the whole way. The house was easy to find on the grid of numbered streets east of Interstate 35W. Then he turned down the street the house was on -- and saw blue and red flashing lights. Cops. He felt a surge of panic; from the back seat, Phoenix whined softly. Not daring to turn around, Andrew cruised slowly past the former safe house. The lights in the house were all on; he could hear the howl of an anguished enhanced dog inside. Phoenix whimpered again.
"We'll be okay, Phoenix," Andrew said as he passed the police car. He turned the corner and headed east. I'll think of something, he thought. God, help me out here.
Andrew wandered the streets of Minneapolis for the next two hours. Maybe, he thought, he'd see another house with the lamp in the window. Maybe he could knock on the door and they'd say something like, "So, where's the dog who needs a safe house?" so he'd know it wasn't just an odd decorating choice. More than once, he thought about calling Lisa, but if she were really under suspicion for this sort of thing, her phone might well be wiretapped. The best he could do would be to drive Phoenix back to the Rectory and contact Lisa in the morning. Maybe she knew of another safe house. Maybe.
At four in the morning, Andrew pulled over near a park. "Wait here," he said to Phoenix, and went to kneel in the damp grass. The Irish Saint Brigid was the patron of fugitives; he petitioned her now. "I haven't done this before," he whispered. "I don't know what I'm supposed to do. Help me to get Phoenix somewhere safe."
He got back in the car. "Are you hungry?" he asked Phoenix.
"Yes, please," Phoenix said. Her voice was eager. Andrew drove to the university and found an all-night Chinese restaurant; he bought a bowl of noodles for himself and some egg rolls for Phoenix and took them out to the car. Phoenix got out and they sat side-by-side on the rear bumper of the car, eating their food.
On the other side of the parking lot, there was a shop with an illuminated painting in the window. Andrew squinted at it. It showed a man embracing what looked like a Siberian husky. He walked over to look closer, and realized that it was a wolf. The picture was labeled, "St. Ailbe, Patron of Wolves."
Andrew looked up at the name of the shop. The St. Ailbe and St. Brigid Wine and Cheese Shop. There was an apartment over the shop; looking up, he saw what looked like a single candle burning in the window.
"Phoenix!" he called excitedly. "Wait here. I'm going to go talk to someone."
The door to the stairs leading up had been propped open slightly; Andrew ran up the stairs and knocked on the door. After several minutes, a young man opened the door, dressed in boxer shorts and blinking a little in the hallway light. He squinted at Andrew. "Are you a priest?" he asked.
"Yeah," Andrew said, and realized that he didn't know what to ask. "I, uh, is this a safe house?"
The man blinked at Andrew groggily. "Are you the priest?" he asked.
"Yes. I mean, I don't know. I saw the light in your window. I'm here with a dog--"
That woke the man instantly. "A runaway? Where is she?"
"She's downstairs," Andrew said, with a rush of relief. "I'll get her."
"Hang on a sec," the man said. "Let me get my glasses. And some clothes."
Andrew fetched Phoenix and brought her up to the apartment. The man met them at the door, wearing jeans now, and wire-rimmed glasses. "I'm Tim," he said, and clasped Phoenix's hand. "You'll be safe here." There was another painting of St. Ailbe on the wall.
On his way out, Andrew leaned against the doorway, realizing suddenly how tired he was. "You can spend the night here, too," Tim said. "You don't look like you should be driving."
"If I'm not home in the morning, the police might realize I helped Phoenix," Andrew said. "That might put her in danger, or you."
Andrew turned to leave, then paused. "Who's Saint Ailbe?" he asked.
"He's Irish," Tim said. "A friend of Saint Patrick's. He was raised by wolves, and he was a good son -- according to legend, his foster-mother lived out her life in Ailbe's hall."
The sun was rising as Andrew reached the outskirts of Willmar. He realized with a pang that he'd never finished saying the Evening Office, and now it was time for the Morning one. He felt queasy, as he always did when he was up too late, and his eyes felt like they had gravel in them. Still -- as he watched the plains turn gold in the rising sun, he felt a strange quiet assurance that he had done the right thing.
Copyright © 2004 Naomi Kritzer
Naomi Kritzer's short stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Strange Horizons, and Tales of the Unanticipated. Her story "Comrade Grandmother," published in 2002 in Strange Horizons, was reprinted in Year's Best Fantasy 3 (edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer), and translated into Hebrew for an Israeli webzine. Her first two novels, Fires of the Faithful and Turning the Storm, were published in 2002 and 2003; her third novel, Freedom's Gate, will be coming out this summer.