Third grade was not nearly as much fun as sixth grade had been. Danny’s twin sister managed to not only be the star student, but to also be popular, even with the other boys. Danny had a small group, a couple other boys who ate lunch with him and played with him at recess, but here was no question that they were on the margin.
On top of it, it seemed like Danny was always getting in trouble. It was as if all the teacher did was watch him for the smallest infractions. It started happening at home, too. He and Carrie fought constantly, and their mother always sided with Carrie. It seemed like he spent half his time in his room, being punished for one thing or another, while goody-two-shoes Carrie was always showered with praise.
He missed the freedom of being twelve, too. He seemed to have the same chores, but had to go to bed earlier (dreadfully unfair, since when he’d been twelve, Carrie had been allowed to stay up as late as him, but now they both had to go to bed an hour earlier). And instead of showering, he had to bath with Carrie, which was inordinately difficult because of Carrie’s size. (Though, Danny had to admit, it was sometimes fun playing games with her in the tub.)
Danny’s one loyal friend was Max. And so, one day, Danny noticed something strange: the dog had a zipper hidden under his collar. Naturally, he unzipped it. When the hood came off, Danny discovered that his dog was, in fact, a boy wearing a dog costume. He helped the boy out of it, and discovered he was close to Danny’s age, perhaps a year older.
The boy’s face was streaked with tears, and, under the costume, he was wearing only badly torn boxer shorts, brown gloves, and the collar. The boy struggled out, but stayed on all fours, still behaving like a dog. He whined at Danny, thrusting his neck forward, indicating the collar.
As soon as Danny took it off, the boy stood up, pulling his hands off the ground as if it were on fire. The two boys stared at each other nervously.
"Who are you?" Danny asked.
"I’m Max," the boy answered. He spoke quietly and sharply, with more than a hint of anger, a low growl behind his voice. "The real Max. Mom made me be a dog, because she said you wanted a dog to play with."
Delicately, the boy pulled off the gloves, careful not to touch them to any surface, and dropped them on the ground, stamping on them in anger. The boy then ransacked Danny’s dresser for clothes, tossing ones he didn’t like on the floor. Finding that Danny had only childish briefs, he kept his torn boxers, but pulled on jeans and a t-shirt from the drawers; they were a bit tight, but not impossibly so---Max looked like he might have had a growth spurt recently.
"What are you doing?" Danny asked.
"What do you think I’m doing? Running away, before she gets me again."
"Oh..." Danny felt torn. Despite everything, despite how angry he was at her for making him younger and always siding with Carrie, she was still his mother. But Max was still his best friend, even if he wasn’t a dog anymore, and if Danny had already been made younger to make Carrie happy...well, who knew what might happen next. "I’ll go with you."
Max looked at him with disdain. "You can stay or go, but you’re not coming with me."
Danny was hurt. "But...why not? We’re friends!"
"No, we aren’t. Everything was great until you came here and Mom stopped being nice to me. Then she made play with you just so you’d be happy."
"That’s not fair! I rescued you, and I like you! I didn’t mean for her to do that!"
Max thought for a moment. "Fine, you want to come with me?" Danny nodded. Max picked the collar off the floor and moved to put it around Danny’s neck. The younger boy’s eyes widened in fear, but, with a gulp, he decided to trust his friend. As soon as the collar was around his neck, Danny fell to the floor to stand on all fours. He tried to ask what had happened, but it only came out as a bark.
Max sneered at him. "C’mon boy, come with me!" Max picked the gloves off the floor and put them in a pocket, then left the room. Danny followed him nervously, and the two snuck out of the house. As they walked down the street, past neighbors, and no one even reacted to the strange sight of Danny wearing a collar and walking on all fours.
They walked for hours, trying to get out of town. Danny tired quickly, partially because his body was a bit smaller, but mostly because of the difficulty of keeping up while in the awkward position---unlike Max, he didn’t have the advantage of being shaped like a dog while he was acting like one.
Eventually, Max noticed. "Aww, are you tired, boy?" Max scratched him behind the ear, a feeling Danny found surprisingly pleasant. Danny nodded and whined a bit. "Alright, I can help you with that." Gently, Max put the gloves he’d brought onto Danny’s hands. Danny found that, while it was easy enough to lift up one hand at a time, he had no control at all over his individual fingers. Only as Max was putting the second one on did Danny notice the flash of malice in the boy’s eyes.
As soon as his gloved hands touched the ground, Danny felt his arms take on a life of their own, dragging the rest of his body in an excited run. As Max kept walking, he found himself exhausted yet unable to stop acting like an over-energetic puppy, yelping and running in circles around Max. The knees on Danny’s pants soon ripped, and his knees started bleeding, but still he couldn’t stop.
And still not a single person they passed even took notice of them.
Finally, Max too got tired, and it started to get dark. They were pretty far out from the town, so perhaps they were actually getting somewhere. Max rested under a tree, and the moment he slowed down, Danny felt his arms slow down as well. Unwillingly, he crawled over and rested his head on Max’s lap. Max scratched him under the chin. "Aww, you really love me, don’t you boy? You’re such a good boy, yes you are, yes you are." Max’s tone dripped with sarcasm, but Danny couldn’t help yapping happily in response anyway.