Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee(5)

Colt and Hunter McAllen are frequent guests on Midnite Matinee. They don’t particularly love the kind of horror movies we show. They’re not great friends with Delia and me. They’re emphatically not geniuses. But they share one shining, redeeming trait that makes them perfect guests: they’re willing to do dumb stuff, no questions asked. It occurred to us to invite them onto our show after they got suspended for riding dirt bikes down the halls of our school. From there, it was no great leap to put on black spandex skeleton costumes and plastic skull masks and, for no compensation of any sort, dance with the most utterly joyous, unfettered abandon you can imagine. Putting on the skeleton costumes is, for them, like putting on a mantle of courage. And they have zero skill as dancers. But they’ll just go for it. Anything. They’ll try doing splits. Hunter almost took out half our set once attempting a backflip that he only halfway landed. Which is an apt metaphor for our show, I guess.

“What up, JoHo?” Colt goes for the high five.

I let him flap in the breeze. Guess how much I enjoy being called JoHo. “Let’s see the dog.”

In the darkness of the hallway behind him, I hear a jingling of dog tags and a yip. A smallish beagle trots up to me excitedly, followed by his owner.

Reflexively, I kneel to pet the dog, scratching him behind the ears. “Hey! Aren’t you a sweetie!” Then I stand, turn, and face the twins. “What is this?” I ask in a low voice (I guess so the beagle won’t get his feelings hurt).

“The dog you asked for,” Hunter says.

“I told y’all we needed a basset hound.”

“Yeah,” Hunter says.

“So this is a beagle. I say bring me a basset hound; you two Bill Nyes bring me a beagle.”

“I think it would be ‘Bills Nye,’?” Delia says, joining us. “Nice beagle, guys. I thought we asked for a basset hound.” She hands Colt and Hunter their costumes.

“I told them Tater was a beagle,” the beagle’s owner says. “They said it was fine.”

“Beagles and basset hounds are the same thing. Just that beagles become basset hounds,” Hunter says with an air of unearned authority.

“What are you talking about?” Delia’s face is incredulous. “That’s not even sorta how it works.”

“Yep. Like how cats become raccoons,” Colt says.

“In the wild,” Hunter adds.

I don’t know where to begin. “I—wait—cats become—no, hang on. One thing at a time. You thought beagles get older and shorter and saggier and their ears get longer and we start calling them basset hounds?”

“We’re not dog scientists, y’all,” Colt says. “Hell.”

“It’s just our opinion,” Hunter says.

“That beagles become basset hounds?” Delia asks. “That is your opinion?”

“Yep,” they say together.

“Well, that’s not how opinions work,” I say.

Hunter shrugs.

“Like, science wins over opinions,” I say.

“That’s your opinion,” Hunter says.

“Just to be clear,” Delia says. “You two live in a world where animals spontaneously change species and animals within the same species become other types of animals?”

“Our cousin seen it happen,” Hunter says.

“By the way, let’s just go with what y’all are saying and assume that beagles magically transform into basset hounds at a certain point in their lives—I can’t believe I’m doing this, good lord. This particular beagle has pretty obviously not yet made the change to basset hound, right?” I say like I’m speaking with a very young child.

Hunter and Colt would probably look sheepish at this point, but their faces already have a sheeplike quality.

“So even in your deeply strange worldview, y’all blew it,” I continue.

Hunter and Colt look at each other, their exchanged glances saying You wanna field this?

“Did y’all literally split a single brain when you were in the womb and each one of you ended up with half?” I ask.

This sends them into gales of laughter. They love it when I insult them. They must have some weird crush or something. I think it’s why they’re so easily persuaded to relinquish their dignity for free on a public access show. They start trying to thwap each other in the nuts.

I turn from them to the beagle’s owner and finally get a good look. There wasn’t enough light in the hallway to see him well. His face is nothing special, but one of his eyes has a faint purple bruise encircling it and he has a Band-Aid slightly below the bridge of his nose.

The owner raises his hands in surrender. “All they told me was that they needed to use Tater. But I came along to help because they don’t know much about dogs.”

“They don’t know much about dogs? Oh, really? Let me ask you something: did you have any expectation that your beagle would transform into a basset hound?”

“Nope. That’s not how it works.”

“I am so glad to hear you say that.” I walk quickly back to the tub, pull out a dog-sized skirt and blouse, and hand them to Tater’s owner. “Dress him.”

“Bet you didn’t expect your life to turn out this way, buddy,” Arliss says to Tater’s owner before turning to Delia, who hands Arliss a VHS tape and a typed sheet with segment cues mapped out.

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