William saw it all happen, right in front of him. He was drinking a beer at one of the many seafront terraces, fully enjoying the relaxed holiday atmosphere, not expecting to see it shattered so brutally.
The seafront was crowded with strollers, and children were playing and shouting in their shrill voices and eating ice cream. He counted a fair number of men and women with dogs on leashes, and most of the dogs sported ads on their bodies. Their fur was dyed in the shapes of logos and commercial messages, as was so common these days. It was considered easy money, and many people could use that extra income.
From his left a man approached with a German shepherd, its muscular body adorned with the fluorescent logo of TALK2ME, the hottest telecom operator around. From his right came a middle-aged lady with a small poodle, flaunting a delicate pink ad for BITEWISE, a company offering a hugely successful line of mildly hallucinogenic candy.
Was it the dazzling pink colour that drove the shepherd mad? Had the poodle somehow challenged its defiant counterpart, unlikely as this might seem? Or was it simply a case of “the wrong dog in the wrong place”?
Whatever the reason might be, as soon as the shepherd caught sight of the poodle, it threw itself upon its unsuspecting target as if it wanted to tear the poor creature apart. The poodle proved defenceless against this unleashed monster, and it took the shepherd’s owner a while before he could restore the peace. The poodle had only suffered some minor injuries, but little was left of the pink commercial that might have been at the basis of the shepherd’s raging fury.
The woman broke into tears, and managed to say in between her sobbing: “Do you realise what your monster has done? It’s not just that I’ll have to take my little darling to a vet, but how do I explain to BITEWISE that I’ll be unable for a while to walk my dog for at least five hours a day in a crowded area with the logo prominently visible? I signed a contract, you know that? I can’t fulfil it now, and it’s your fault. They’ll expect me to pay damages, which I can’t. Will you make up for that?”
The shepherd’s owner replied angrily: “You should realise this kind of thing can happen and take an insurance. That’s what I did. I’m not taking any chances, even if this cuts into my profits. I’m sorry, lady. I can’t help you. I’m not your insurance company.”
“How can you be so cruel? Don’t you have a heart?”
The man shook his head, and before he resumed his stroll with his shepherd he said: “I have to go now. I can’t hang around here for too long. I signed a contract too, you know. I’m supposed to walk back and forth along the seafront for three hours in the morning and three more hours in the afternoon, and I intend to stick to my schedule. I get good money for that. I’m retired and I can use that extra bit, believe me.”
The poor woman was left to her own devices, and tried to comfort her poodle. “I’ll have to see a vet as soon as possible,” she said. “And then I’ll try to have the commercial restored. And on top of that I’ll have to pay damages. I’m gonna lose lots of money here. What a horrible day.”
The crowd of onlookers dispersed as the woman left the “scene of the crime”. A few minutes later everything was back to normal.
Yet William looked up as he saw a young couple approach with a pram. Its sides sported the logos of various baby food and diaper companies. A new outlet for commercials had been discovered. What contract had they signed? How many hours per day were they contractually bound to show off their pram at the seafront or in shopping malls? William hoped that the parents had been wise enough to take an insurance against their children being sick or growing older, as this might lead the advertisers to demand the payment of damages…
Frank Roger was born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium. His first story appeared In 1975. Since then his stories have appeared in an increasing number of languages in all sorts of magazines, anthologies and other venues, and since 2000, story collections have been published, also in various languages. Apart from fiction, he also produces collages and graphic work in a surrealist and satirical tradition. By now he has more than 500 short story publications (including a few short novels) to his credit in 24 languages. Critics describe his work as a blend of genres and styles: fantasy, satire, surrealism, science fiction and black humour.