“For Whom the Dog Barks”

“For Whom the Dog Barks”

How many days has it been since everyone disappeared? Two, three days? A week? I haven’t slept much since I woke up that first morning. It was a Tuesday; I know that much. To paraphrase Arthur Dent, “I never got the hang of Tuesdays.” Sure, he was fictional. Now that I’m alone, it’s like everyone I ever knew was fictional.  Did they ever exist to begin with? I’m not sure anymore. But none of that matters because, I’m tired and high. Oh and by-the-way, getting high after the apocalypse? Mostly just scary. I need to sleep – getting loopy.

I woke up this morning early. I don’t know how much sleep I got. Not much. I’m sore from all the walking after my car ran out of gas. Feet hurt. But I feel a lot better than I did yesterday. My lifetime of laziness and bad posture have come roaring down on me since whatever the fuck happened, happened. Look at me, barely in my mid-to-early-late-thirties and I feel like I’m ninety-nine. Maybe not that bad; let’s not get too grim.

It was all the same up until it wasn’t. It sounds stupid, but its true. Life was normal and I was just there and part of it like everyone else and then – everyone else wasn’t. I don’t know where they went. I don’t know why it happened. I have run every conceivable scenario through my head and they all sound insane. I’m not going to play the game of wondering if I’m crazy here, because that is a brain-maze I’d prefer not to get lost in right now. Now, aliens or magic or whatever; it’s too much for me to wrap my mind around- maybe it was the rapture and I’m the only one who didn’t get into Heaven. Figures.

The why doesn’t matter. It’s whatever you want it to be. Ten billion years of human history and we never really figured out the “why” of anything. I can’t even figure out how to syphon gas, apparently. I guess I only ever saw someone do it on TV. Oh well. At least I know how to ride a bike. Need to find a better one, get a pump and some extra tubes. Last thing I need is a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. Though, if I think about it, these days the middle of nowhere is everywhere.

I fell asleep earlier today in the shade of a tree. I had stopped there to get out of the sun and eat something. The cool of the shade and the sound of the tree was what I needed. I think I’ll start doing that more. Sleep in the daytime and pedal through the night. Feels safer somehow. Maybe I’ll get a tent. It’s quieter at least, not as much howling.

It was the dogs who let me know something wasn’t right. I had heard barking since getting up  and out of bed. I mostly ignored it. It wasn’t until I stepped out onto the balcony for my morning cigarette that I realized just how off things were. From every direction, dogs were barking. Going absolutely nuts. My first thought, as I lit my precious morning cigarette, was of some natural disaster; tornados, earthquakes, that sort of thing. Animals can sense that sort of thing. But as I stood there, nothing happened.

The sky was clear. The earth stood still. I finished my cigarette. Out in the streets it was the same. Nothing moved. Leaves in the wind. But the dogs! I went a few houses over because I knew that the guy living there, Jerry, had dogs – a pair of black labs. I knocked; got no reply but barking. I waited. Maybe he wasn’t home – no, his car was in the driveway. I called Jerry. Nothing.

House to house, street to street, no one was home. No one answered the phone. I drove through the neighborhood. No joggers, no kids on the way to school, and weirdest of all – no traffic. Stores were empty. As if they had never existed, everyone had just up an disappeared over night.

Confused and frightened, I did the only thing I could think of. I went home and went to bed. I hoped and prayed that I would fall asleep and, when I woke, everything would be just as it had been the day before. I didn’t stay in bed very long. All I could do was stare at the ceiling and listen to the continuous barking of every dog in the neighborhood. The noise of it made me think I was going to lose my mind! Why couldn’t they just be quiet?

Then, my stomach rumbled.

Shit, I realized, they’re hungry.

So, I did the only sensible thing: I went back over to Jerry’s house and kicked in the door. Fortunately, his dogs knew me. I fed and watered them, let them out into the front yard. Then I searched the house for some sign of Jerry. Nothing. From there I walked from one house to the next and knocked. If there was no response, I moved on. If a dog barked or there was a cat in the window, I figured out a way to let them escape.

That’s what I’ve been doing for… I don’t know, a week or so? I don’t really keep track. What’s the point? I just keep moving; I cruise the suburbs on a stolen bicycle, shooting out windows with a BB gun. And as I pedal along, I’m followed by an ever-growing pack of liberated dogs and cats. Maybe one day I’ll run into another person. That would be nice. For now though, this is okay.

That Time I Had to Destroy Rat City

This house we’re living in was built in 1915. It’s the first house either of us have ever owned, my wife and I. Despite the leaky basement and the deteriorating kitchen cabinets – maybe because – we felt like we’d made a good decision, still do. We love it here. We were married in the backyard.

But the problem, see, is this old shed out in the backyard. A flimsy aluminum box with a rusty peaked roof and sliding doors painted to look like they came from a barn. The doors were on tracks at the shed’s threshold; little plastic wheels helped smooth their motion. How long since they functioned as they were supposed to? The world may never know. The doors stuck as broken wheels jammed in muddy tracks. One of them frequently fell off.

As we moved in, the shed became the de-facto place for whatever junk I didn’t know what to do with. Anyone need a set of drums? The shed floor was a mismatched quilt of overlapping plywood sheets. I didn’t realize it at the time, but beneath the boards were rats.

Lauren was the one who noticed. More accurately, the dogs noticed first and Lauren was the one who realized why it was they were so eager to get into the shed. Dachshunds, a pair Lauren has had for over a decade. They’re old, but still more than eager to chase down a rat. So I sealed up the shed. Fixed the doors, sealed the walls inside, and put a lock on it.

And then the dogs decided to try tunneling inside. They dug and dug until we pulled them out by their hind legs. Once again, I sealed things up and filled in every place they dug. The dog and rats had, at this point, had yet to engage in direct combat. My hope was to maintain the stalemate. As long as the rats aren’t getting inside our house, who cares what they do? But, I also don’t want them getting killed by the dogs nor do I want the dogs bitten. Borders had been established. Peace.

Forward now to the present day, two years. We took in a third dog, a stray Pomeranian with dreadlocks on his ass and worms in his belly. That’s a different story. Suffice to say, he’s happy and healthy at the time of this writing. Lauren, ever the fan of John Boorman’s Excalibur, named him Merlin.

He’s also a rat killer.

You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but he’s quick as a whip and will not hesitate to pounce on hapless woodland creatures. He stalks squirrels like a wolf after a deer. Slow and deliberate, he glances to the ground to ensure silence with every step.

And then Otto shows up. At a mere eleven years, he is the younger of the two Dachshunds; Chloe’s got him beat by four. He share’s Merlin’s affinity for murdering rodents. Unlike Merlin, Otto doesn’t have what it takes to be a hunter. He’s impatient, loud, and he bounces through the yard like an elongated little hippopotamus. An “Ottopotamus,” if you will. If you want to be formal, it’s “Mr. Pottamus.” Either way, at the first sign of, well, anything, Otto is always the first to make his presence known. Whatever advantage Merlin has with his streetdog insights, it’s all negated by Otto’s frantic barking.

So then how could it be that Merlin is able to kill rats? The shed is sealed and Otto’s lack of grace, he shouldn’t have a chance. That is where I, much like Otto, come blundering in with no awareness of the consequences of my action.

I get some bright idea to rake. Sixty-foot pecan trees and Oklahoma winds combined is a recipe for lots of crap in your yard. I gather them into big mound of wet leaves and branches. The pile is six feet around and nearly four feet high. I tell myself that “eventually,” I would burn it all in our fire pit. This, dear reader, was mid-Spring. There’s a virus out there, riots in the streets; 2020 has been, to put it colloquially, a dumpster fire. And on top of all that, it’s just been really hot outside. We people of the ginger experience learn young that the sun is not our friend. Excuses, excuses, I never got around to taking care of the branch pile.

It appears that a large pile of leaves and sticks is prime real estate for rats. They made their way inside, hollowed out places for nests, dug tunnels from one end of the pile to the other. In the heap I’d carelessly left, they had built Rat City. It’s a beautiful thing. A marvel of engineering. It kept its natural shape save for where it had settled over the months. The perimeter was dug out so as to form eave-like overhangs above the mouths of the various tunnels. the city’s highest point served as the peak of gaping cavern. Supported by several larger branches, the cavern was shallow and split into several small tunnels.

How I discovered that this Rat City had come into being parallels that of the shed. Otto and Merlin, I noticed one day, were becoming less and less inclined to come inside the house when called. I went around to the side of the house and saw it for the first time. Also, I saw Otto and Merlin. Barking furiously, they attempted to the breach the narrow passages of Rat City. I coaxed the excited pair away from their quarry and back inside the house.

A few days before, Lauren told me that Merlin killed a rat. It was the second time she had seen him do it.

“I heard it squealing,” she said. Dismayed, with one hand on her chest, she chastised Merlin, “that rat probably had a family, Merlin.”

So today, July 4th, 2020, I showed her Rat City. I told her how I had accidentally facilitated its existence mere feet from our house. We agreed that it had to go. We don’t want the doggos getting bitten by a rat. We don’t want rats in the house. It’s the logical thing, right? I took the rake and proceeded to break it down, layer by layer. I saw little more than flickers of gray fur and tails disappearing into the lower levels. I left it a scattered mess of branches. Tomorrow I will go out and do it again. And the next day. My intention is to consistently disturb the area until they slowly figure out that this is no longer a great place for them.

While I destroyed their city I thought about how, if this was a story, I’d likely be the villain. Old Man Stafford come to destroy Rat City. So it stands to reason, were this a story, those rats would get their revenge. Fortunately for me, this is real and I don’t have to worry about that. Right?

And so, in this Year of the Rat, 2020, may the scattered citizens of Rat City find each other, in a place more deserving to their ingenuity.

Rat City as it stood on July 4th, 2020.