Havok Publishing

In the Eye of the Beholder

By Lisa Timpf

There is one thing about having six ears: sometimes, you overhear comments that weren’t meant for you. Even though I was still snoozing on Hades’s bed, I heard Artemis addressing my master in the living room.

“Do you know what day it is?” I could picture the sly look on Artemis’s face as she posed the question.

“June 20th?” Hades replied with an undertone of pride. He’d put the calendar Persephone gave him to good use.

“Ugliest Dog Day. There’s a competition in California, with a $1,500 prize.”

I cocked my head. Some of the gods had resigned themselves to a long sleep while awaiting the end of all things. Others, like Artemis, Persephone, and Hades, stayed in touch with the world above. If Artemis said there was an ugly dog competition, I believed her.

She wasn’t finished. “We both know Cerberus would win it. He’s got ugliness to spare.”

My three heads dropped. I couldn’t deny Artemis’s assessment. I’d seen an expression of revulsion on some Underworld denizens when they spotted me. Between the snakes wreathing my neck and my reptilian tail, I could be judged as less than beautiful.

I whimpered. I only wanted to please my master. I knew I did that when carrying out my security duties here in the Underworld. I’d never considered what Hades thought of my looks. Would he agree with Artemis?

I slunk off the bed and out of the house, then ran, trying to distance myself from Artemis and her comments. Soon, I found myself in the World Above.

I halted, suddenly wary. Before proceeding farther, I needed a makeover.

I used my limited magic to alter my appearance, then checked my reflection in the nearest puddle. I now showed one square-muzzled head instead of three. My mane displayed long fur rather than snakes, and my reptilian tail bore a plush layer of fur.

Where to now? I sniffed the air.

I remembered the Ugliest Dog competition Artemis had mentioned, and an unexpected surge of hope tingled up my spine. Though the saying “misery loves company” sounds uncharitable, the thought of seeing other ugly dogs—of proving I wasn’t alone—would lift my spirits.

I circled three times, focused on my destination, and closed my eyes.

When I opened them, I breathed a satisfied sigh. A banner fluttered in the breeze, suspended between two maples. The banner proclaimed in large letters, “Ugliest Dog Competition.”

Canines and humans milled around the registration table. Those who’d finished signing up spilled out into a grassy quadrangle.

Bow-legged, snaggle-toothed, tangle-haired, or hairless, the contestants shared a common quality: unseemliness, to human eyes at least.

I glanced around, assessing the mood. I could tell that none of the competitors wanted the title of Ugliest Dog. But someone would win it, and that someone wouldn’t be me. I was far from the least appealing in my current guise.

I shifted uneasily.

Who was I trying to fool? And why?

A dog with oversized jowls who’d just been registered stared at me. His eyes, barely visible within folds of skin, peered out pleadingly. Other dogs, not ugly to my eyes but made to feel so by their humans, shambled along, heads lowered.

My reluctance to give credence to Artemis’ unkind words slid away. Now, I yearned to win this contest so nobody else would endure the indignity. I crept into the shrubbery to change my form. One head would still suffice, but I returned my tail to its scaled and hairless state, and allowed the long fur around my neck to tangle itself in an approximation of my snake-mane.

I emerged from hiding and joined the line. When it came my turn to register, I said “Erby” with one of my hidden muzzles. The clerk looked around, puzzled, seeking my human companion. After a few second, he shrugged, jotted my name on the register, and waved me on.

The competition began, and I comforted myself with the thought that the prize money, if I won it, would enable Hades to buy something nice for Persephone. While she, living half the year in the World Above, sometimes had access to money—particularly from the grateful farmers she helped on the side—Hades did not. He’d mentioned wanting to buy her an e-reader to while away the months Down Below. Perhaps I was ugly, but I could do something beautiful. I sat proud and tall as the judges walked past.

Five minutes later, when the judges pinned the Ugliest Dog rosette to my tangled mane, the other contestants dispersed, some panting with relief, and others tugging at their leashes, anxious to explore.

“Now, if the owner of this—ah—splendid animal, could come forward to accept the prize money?”

Uh-oh. Now what?

“That’d be me.” To my surprise, Hades stepped up to accept the envelope.

“Congratulations,” the contest organizer said. “The contest isn’t meant to be a source of humiliation. We run this event to raise awareness that all dogs—no matter what they look like—deserve a home.” She gestured toward the information tables set up by the local animal shelters.

After the contest organizer walked away, Hades pointed his finger at me. “When you went missing, I realized you might have overheard Artemis. I figured I’d find you here.” He laughed. “Ugly, hah! Beauty is in the eye of the beholder—and to me, you are beautiful.”

I nosed the envelope in Hades’ right hand. “Errr-errr,” I said—my way of voicing Persephone’s name.

Hades shot me a keen look. “We’ll buy something nice for her with this, yeah?”

I nodded with my one head.

Despite its harsh beginning, the adventure had been worth it. Hades had confirmed that he appreciated me, snakes and all. That’s what mattered.

I let my master teleport the two of us. He was quicker at it. Besides, I couldn’t wait to get home where I could be my true self.

And if anyone found me ugly, that was their problem.

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Lisa Timpf is a retired HR and communications professional who lives in Simcoe, Ontario, Canada. Her speculative fiction has appeared in a variety of venues, including NewMyths, Third Flatiron, and Acceptance: Stories at the Centre of Us. Lisa’s speculative haibun collection, In Days to Come, is available from Hiraeth Publishing.

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