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The streets of London are a terrifying place, especially in the dark. The alleyways appear to be haunted: every reflection of a streetlight on wet tarmac is the glowing figure of a ghost, every shadow is the silhouette of a monster and every unexpected sound is the scream of a victim.

Fred Bumbley was not born in London, but he did live there, and as a chronic worrier since he was old enough to know what worrying was, he found himself very out of place and quite unsuited to the London lifestyle. He had moved there as a result of his promotion to the Head of Marketing at Busiman International, a job which was nearly as boring as Fred himself. It did, however, come with a very nice pay rise and a company car (though Fred was much too afraid of London traffic to ever put it to any good use), and once Fred used his extra disposable income to purchase fourteen new locks for his front door to protect himself from any serial killers looking to break in while he slept, he finally managed to convince the worrisome part of his brain that he was quite safe in his little flat.

The longer a person lives in London, the easier it is for them to ignore certain strange occurrences. Like the sound of a werewolf howling on the night of a full moon. Or how some people disappear from the dinner table when the garlic bread is brought out.

Or perhaps, an abandoned puppy in a cardboard box.

Fred would have never seen it if the street he usually walked home down hadn’t been shut off for road repairs and he had had no choice but to travel through a dark alleyway where strange noises could be heard echoing off the walls. In fact, he would have walked right past it if it hadn’t whined and whimpered right as he strolled past the doorstep of an old boarded-up florist, which is where the poor thing had been left, too small to climb its way out of the box it had been left in.

It was a tiny thing, with soft brown fur and the smallest paws imaginable. Fred supposed it must be a rare crossbreed, as he had never seen a dog like it before in his life. It had no collar, no owner, and no protection at all from the dangerous streets of London. All it had was its adorable puppy eyes, the cardboard box it was sitting in and a handwritten note, scribbled in illegible, urgent writing that Fred struggled to make out at first but eventually managed to decipher:

It’s your problem now.

So, he adopted it.

They say opposites attract, and in this case, they certainly did. Fred named the puppy Mischief, on account of the mysterious note that suggested that this perfect pup was a little nuisance. Fred couldn’t see what they could possibly mean by that. Mischief was the most well-behaved dog he had ever had. Mischief didn’t steal food off of his plate, or chew on the furniture, and always came back when he called. Fred was thankful for the company, as he had been feeling lonely and homesick in his little flat after leaving all of his family and friends back up north when he moved, and Mischief brightened up the place immensely. He had even begun to feel less afraid of the dark streets of London when he went on their evening stroll every night. Mischief was the best thing that had ever happened to Fred.

But then things started to change…

It wasn’t much at first. Mischief once began to bark at empty alleyways on their evening walks, and there was nothing Fred could do to stop it. Another time, when Fred came home after a long day of work where he got yelled at by his boss for sleeping in after Mischief kept him up all night by zooming around the flat at top speed for hours, he found Mischief sitting in a pile of feathers, with his favourite cushions ripped to shreds in the corner. The funny thing was, Fred could have sworn the cushion had been previously filled with stuffing.

But then he started to notice other things too. For example, every time Mischief ran past the hallway mirror, Fred could not see his reflection in the glass. Or when playing a game of fetch, Mischief always seemed to hover in the air slightly before catching the ball. And once, when Fred lost sight of Mischief in the park for no more than a minute, the pup suddenly reappeared, covered in a thick red liquid that both looked and smelled suspiciously like blood, carrying a frisbee Fred had not thrown.

Then Mischief started breathing fire and burnt a hole right through the middle of Fred’s expensive blue couch.

That was the last straw.

So, Fred went to the animal adoption centre. The kind old lady at the front desk took one look and regrettably informed him they would not be able to take Mischief in, as the other dogs appeared to be petrified. Fred tried to tell her that wasn’t possible, but when he turned around he saw twenty-or-so dogs cowering and whimpering in their cages as Mischief swept their toys up into a miniature tornado, barking happily as the wind opened the cage of the tarantula.

He tried online adoption too but found it difficult as he didn’t know what the breed was or what description he could use to persuade someone to take Mischief off his hands without the possibility of being sued at the end of it all. Or worse- having Mischief be sent back.

None of Fred’s friends or relatives back home would take Mischief, and strangers on the street wouldn’t even make eye contact with them. As Mischief started chewing straight through the metal bars of the cage Fred kept him like it was made of butter, he was starting to become desperate.

So, he did the only thing left he could think to do.

He ordered a fancy new collar with Mischief’s name engraved on it, partly because he hoped it may be a peace offering and partly because of the oversized cardboard box online packages always came in. He gave Mischief a tsunami-filled bath, brushed that soft, chocolate brown fur and clipped those tiny little paws. By the end of it all, Mischief looked so cute Fred almost considered backing out of his plan. But it was too late for that now.

They strolled through the streets of London together one last time. London didn’t scare Fred anymore. Nothing in the entire universe could scare Fred more than the little ball of fluff on the other end of the leash.

They arrived back at the alleyway behind the boarded-up florist just before midnight. Back where Fred’s nightmare had begun, before he stumbled across an abandoned puppy in a cardboard box and a warning written in the handwriting of someone who had been just as desperate as he was now. In hindsight, he wished he had paid more attention to that note.

But this time Fred had his own box. He placed it on the steps to the entrance of the abandoned shop and placed Mischief inside, shocked to suddenly realise Mischief that hadn’t grown at all in all the months they had been together. He gave strict instructions to Mischief to stay put and disappeared round the corner before a protest could be made.

Fred didn’t leave immediately. He had to make sure Mischief wouldn’t try and follow him home. He forced himself to stay hidden, no matter how terrible those sad little wails coming from the cardboard box made him feel.

As a clock chimed midnight somewhere in the distance, the wailing suddenly stopped. Fred cautiously peered around the corner to see what had happened and saw a middle-aged lady cuddling and cooing over an abandoned puppy, who wagged its tail and licked her face and couldn’t possibly be evil incarnate. As she wrapped it in her scarf, she noticed the note Fred had written at the bottom of the box and turned it over in her hand.

And then he watched as she disregarded the note and left the alleyway with Mischief in tow, completely oblivious to what she had just gotten herself into.

Fred chuckled to himself.

It’s your problem now, he thought.

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