Gutterball by Michael Bettendorf (Lucent Dreaming Issue 13)

Everyone who bowls around here knows him, but no one knows where he came from. They call him Gutterball, but the owner, Tad, calls him the ugliest dog in the world. Tad has no taste and he’s kind of a dumbass because Gutterball doesn’t look like any dog I’ve ever seen. He speaks to us, but only I can understand him. I think this is his choice. I know this because we both have secrets.

The first time I met Gutterball, he was lying between lanes three and four, tails wagging, a spectrum of colors glowed like an oil slick sheen on his fur. He looked at me. His eyes slowed time when he blinked. When he was sure I was paying attention, he revealed a third eye on his forehead and spoke directly to my mind, you aren’t what you seem.

I picked up the heaviest ball I could find, a sixteen-pound thing that resembled a textbook illustration of Neptune.

Nor are you, I told him.

Yet you are from Earth, he said. Why do you hide who you are?

It’s human nature, I told him.


Did you know dogs won’t eat your eyes? he asks.

I’m bowling alone in lane thirteen.

I didn’t know that, I say.

It’s true. Dogs will go for the neck, the nose, fingers, and toes — toes first — before moving onto the soft flesh at your cheeks, but not the eyes, he says.

He tells me this because he’s been learning how to become a better dog.

You’re already a great dog, I hope he believes me because it’s the truth.

But you humans are such great liars, he says. Sometimes, I’m — what’s the word —skeptical?

My ball doesn’t get enough spin and it sinks into the gutter, following the channel all the way down until it smashes hard at the end of the lane.

Example, he says. Your imitation of happiness is excellent, yet beneath the surface, you are anything but happy.

Sure, I say. But maybe it’s an act of self-preservation, which is, at its core the truest quality of humans.

Interesting, Gutterball says.

My ball glides through the ball’s return as the pins reset.

Sort of how I’m pretending to be a dog and no matter how genuinely I emulate one, I will never truly be one? He asks.

That’s an astute observation, I say. Your ability to learn is impressive.

I believe that’s what I’m here for, Gutterball replies.

And I believe that is the truth. That is, I believe that’s what he thinks his purpose is. However, I’m not convinced of its singularity.


Gutterball greets me with a turbulent tail-wagging, of which his two tails have grown to six, and a slobbery kiss that leaves my face numb for hours. We’re alone at lane thirteen. Most people leave us be these days, beyond Tad’s occasional pestering.

I can take care of him if you wish, Gutterball tells me one afternoon.

No, that’s okay, I tell him. He’s just doing his job, and sometimes part of his job is to annoy his patrons.
I’m bowling the best game I’ve bowled in over a year.

Was it his job to steal your wife? Gutterball asks.

I should be alarmed by Gutterball’s knowledge of my life beyond our conversations, but instead I’m hurt. The revelation stings like his saliva, not because I’ve never told him about her, but because this means he learned about her through someone else and suddenly our friendship feels less special. He’s befriended another. And I shouldn’t be angry or surprised because that’s what dogs do. They make friends.

Like most dogs, Gutterball possesses a keen intuition. He rubs his elongated snout against my leg because he can sense it. The pain. The betrayal. The humiliation.

I’ve hurt you, he says. Like her, because I’ve been with another.

My concentration falters and I send the ball hard into the gutter.

It’s okay, I tell him.

And I hurt him too, because for the first time I lie to him.


I haven’t gone to the bowling alley for a few days and when I return, Gutterball has taken on a new form. He’s piled next to the shoe counter, a reticulated python. His scales remain a pattern of gorgeous effervescence. Tad is making eye contact with Gutterball, he doesn’t move for over an hour. It takes me all afternoon, but I manage to concentrate long enough to bowl a few frames.

As I leave, I tell Tad that pythons have been known to extend themselves next to their owners as a sign of imitation. “It’s a sign of intimacy,” I say. Gutterball’s tongue flickers, smelling the lie in the air. His third eye forms and Gutterball speaks to me, you know that’s not the reason why, he says.

“Well, ain’t that something,” Tad says. “He’s been doing that all week.”

“He must like you,” I say.

Did you know, Gutterball says. Most dogs run away because they’re scared or hurt, not because they’re angry?

Did you know, I say. Most humans do the same thing.

Did you know, Gutterball says. My purpose is to hunt, but I’m trying to learn differently.

I’ve known all along, I say.

I’ve got to eat, he says. You know this. But when I’m done, I’ll come to find you. And I promise, that if it ever comes down to it, I won’t eat your eyes even though I’m not a dog.

I believe him, he can sense this, and I tell him, you’re such a good boy.

You don’t need to lie, he says. We’ve both learned to accept the truth.

Michael Bettendorf (he/him) is a writer from the US Midwest. His short fiction has appeared/is forthcoming in The Drabblecast, with Sley House, and elsewhere. Michael’s debut experimental novel/gamebook Trve Cvlt is forthcoming at Tenebrous Press (2024).
T: @BeardedBetts

Buy issue 13 today.

Lucent Dreaming is an independent creative writing magazine and book publisher for beautiful, imaginative and surreal fiction, poetry and artwork from emerging authors and artists worldwide. Subscribe to Lucent Dreaming now, support us on Patreon and follow us on TwitterFacebook and Instagram.

Related posts

Issue 9 arrives!

Lucent Dreaming issue 9 has arrived at Lucent HQ and we think it’s our best one yet. Subscribe today from only £20 to purchase your

Read More »