Drabblecast 298 – Flying On My Hatred of My Neighbor’s Dog



Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Cover for Drabblecast episode 298, Flying On Hatred of My Neighbor's Dog, by Richard K. GreenI know my neighbor’s dog as a bark: a deep, dark, venomous yawp that begins and ends on a snarl. It’s loud, louder than it should be. Earplugs do nothing. It penetrates. Once it starts, it continues, relentlessly, for a period ranging from one to four hours. It can start at any time, day or night, dropping from the veils of morning to where the cricket sings.

 

 

 

Flying on My Hatred of My Neighbor’s Dog

By Shaenon K. Garrity

I know my neighbor’s dog as a bark: a deep, dark, venomous yawp that begins and ends on a snarl.  It’s loud, louder than it should be.  Earplugs do nothing.  It penetrates.  Once it starts, it continues, relentlessly, for a period ranging from one to four hours.  It can start at any time, day or night, dropping from the veils of morning to where the cricket sings.

Things known to start the dog barking include, but are not limited to: sunrise, sunset, darkness, rain, helicopters, radios, clouds, children’s laughter, anyone entering any of the back yards adjoining the yard where my neighbor has penned his dog, garbage collectors, birds, squirrels, and air.

The bark of my neighbor’s dog is a loathsome bark.  It makes the shoulders tense and the flesh crawl.  It is the bark of an animal that wants to hurt you and piss on you and eat your children.  It is the sound of hate.

Which is how I got this job.

***

The power of hate has been known for a long time.  It just took engineers a while to store and channel it.  Throughout history, there have been inspiring stories of men and women who survived on hate alone.  It is now thought to contain antioxidants and is added to pomegranate juice.

Back when I lived in the city, there was a comic-book store that had stood on my street for 40 years.  Little store.  Like a closet.  Stacked floor to ceiling in piles of yellow newsprint as solid as masonry.  Run by a guy who looked like an angry mushroom.  Sometimes he’d sit in the doorway in a lawn chair all afternoon, refusing to let anyone in.  I managed to buy some old Beanworld comics from him once.  He didn’t look pleased.

Two doors down: identical store.  Slightly smaller piles.  Guy with slightly less eczema.  It had been running for 35 years.  This guy was an ex-employee who’d had a falling-out with the first guy and opened a rival store to spite him.  Aside from those Beanworlds, I never saw either of them sell a thing, but every time I walked by, the stores were still standing.

In less scientifically advanced times, such a phenomenon would be a mystery.  Now we know what kept those men and their stores going.  It’s the force that drives everything in this great big beautiful tomorrow.

The two comic store guys died within a week of each other, a few years before the invention of the first hate-driven engine.  If they’d lived a little longer, their rivalry could have lit half of San Francisco.

As for me, I moved out to the East Bay, and behind the back fence waited my destiny.  The hairy, slobbering, tirelessly barking focus of my professional-grade hate.

***

When energy companies first started testing people for hate, I shrugged it off.  The whole thing seemed so sketchy back then, with those college kids running meters from sidewalk card tables next to the Scientologists.  But then they got a kiosk at the mall, with a sleek blue-and-teal meter and an informational touchscreen, and I started thinking maybe this was a thing.

My mother didn’t want me to do it.  She thought it was morbid.  I’ve never understood that attitude.  People are going to hate.  Why let it dissipate into the atmosphere when it can be channeled into clean energy?  You’d think the hippies would be more into it.

That said, very few people can produce industrial-grade hate.  Most people can only hate enough to heat a stove, or maybe run a car.  (Though I’ve never seen a hybrid gas/hate car that wasn’t bum-ugly.)  For a while it was trendy for yuppies to install personal odiometers in the house as a green-energy thing, like rain barrels, but what do yuppies have to generate hate over?  Inferior Oregon wines?  It takes a special effort to produce the kind of hate that runs a factory or a block of streetlights.

I’m not saying this to stroke my own ego.  The first time I went in for testing, I flunked big time.  I tried.  They hooked me up to the test meter and I hated as hard as I could.  I thought about Nazis.  Air pollution.  The Twilight books.  Bill O’Reilly (beginner’s mistake; political hate is notoriously hard to channel).  Calculus.  The guy who mugged me.  The kids who beat me up in third grade.  The time my mother told me she was relieved my brother didn’t turn out like me.

I barely moved the needle.

Back home, I fixed leftovers and drowned my disappointment in Two-Buck Chuck while my neighbor’s dog barked over the back fence.  From childhood, people had always told me how hate-filled I seemed.  It was disappointing to discover that I wasn’t nearly as brimming with it as I’d thought.  That was what I got for trying to join the big leagues.  There were people out there, professional haters, who hated on a level to which I could never aspire.  People who hated like volcanoes, like suns.  I was a dabbler.  A Sunday hater.  Hell, I was probably more of a lover than a hater, and there wasn’t a thing you could power with love…

My neighbor’s dog kept barking.  Probably saw a squirrel or a nitrogen atom or something.  The microwave beeped as I shoved the sliding back door open with my shoulder—it was rusted out and I couldn’t afford to fix it.  I stumbled into the back yard and hollered, “SHUT YOUR ANIMAL UP BEFORE I CALL THE COPS, YOU INBRED PIECE OF—“

And then I laughed.  How could I have been so blind?

My neighbor’s dog went on barking.  I could hear it throwing itself against the fence in a fit, really angry now.

The next morning, I was at the mall with the dawn.  The hate kiosk didn’t open for another hour and a half.  I got myself an Orange Julius and waited for the college kids to show up and get everything running.

I broke the meter.

***

Thousands of people work as professional hate generators, but, when you get down to brass tacks, 90 percent of the industrial hate in North America is provided by the twelve top haters.  That’s how much of a power differential there is.  Some people just hate that much more than everyone else.

Did you live in Quebec before you came out here?  Chances are your electricity came from Andre Grant, a former file clerk who hates modernist philosophy, digital recordings, saxophone music, pants on women, and all television.

You were somewhere in New England?  Your generator was probably Emily Jenkins, or Jackson, I forget her last name.  She’s a germaphobe who sits under the odiometer and thinks about dirt all day.

Southern states?  Got to be Nate McClintock, an octogenarian who won’t share his personal hatreds.  Having met him, I think that’s for the best, but I have to give the man credit: he hates hard.

Large parts of Mexico are powered by two sisters who can’t stand onions.

And if you lived anywhere along the West Coast, you got your power from me.  Me and my hatred of my neighbor’s dog.

It’s a good job if you like to hate, which I do.  At first I had an office at the little hate plant near UC Davis.  They started me out powering a few townships, then expanded my range—slowly at first, then faster as I kept filling the tanks.  Once I’d proven myself capable of powering the entire Bay Area, PG&E&H set up a dedicated odiometer and backup storage tanks in my home.  The equipment took up most of the spare room, but what the hell, the money was worth it.  My neighbor’s dog barked its head off through the installation.  The techs smiled, happy to hear their money being made.

My first day hating from home, I filled the backup tanks and caused an overload, shorting out the plant’s emergency coolant system.  That was the day SF blacked out for 24 hours, maybe you remember it from the news.  Turned out that with the dog right there where I could hear it, keeping the hate fresh, I could hate at levels previously unrecorded.  PG&E&H did some retooling, installed additional tanks and coolant equipment in my back yard (did that ever piss off the dog), and set me up powering California.

I was the best in the business.  I’m not too modest to say that.  As long as my neighbor’s dog kept barking, I could hate like a machine.

***

I’d been hating professionally for a couple of years when one of the techs handed me a fat manila envelope.  “Might want to start briefing yourself,” he said.

Inside the envelope was a dark blue three-ring binder stamped with a yellow rose and starburst.  I didn’t need to open the binder to find out what was inside.  I’d have known that insignia anywhere.

The Epsilon Eridani mission.  First flight to another star.  I’d been following the project for five years, checking the researchers’ blogs and NASA feeds and every news item, official and otherwise.  Mostly otherwise; it may have been funded largely through donations from billionaire space nerds in Silicon Valley and my occasional twenty bucks, but this wasn’t the kind of project with civilian clearance.  What I knew, at that point, was that the mission would take 25 years round-trip, a crew of the predictable best and brightest had been selected, and the M&Ms people had paid a reportedly obscene amount of money to stock the mess hall with Pretzel M&Ms.  All the project needed was an engine.

I was on the short list.

The sight of that yellow rose made me so happy that, for a few crucial minutes, I failed to hate my neighbor’s dog.  I got chewed out for that later.  Not that it caused any noticeable power shortage—the backup tanks in the spare room were full and humming with power—but by that time any drop in my output hurt the Dow Jones.  Some suits lost some money, I don’t know.  My mother said it was on the news.

Like I cared.

Epsilon Eridani.  I wanted this.  I wanted it bad.  I’d wanted it ever since I was a kid in my uncle’s basement, reading through his nicotine-stained sci-fi paperbacks and Omni magazines.  I’d wanted it since my first cross-country drive to see a shuttle launch.  It was why I’d tried to major in physics in college, despite mathematical incompetence that became legendary in the department, before washing out and getting a degree in philosophy.  Laugh it up, but philosophy helped me discipline and hone my hate.  And thanks to that hate, I had a shot at the stars after all.

They needed a top-level hater for this.  On my first day of NASA training, held in an abandoned ice rink in South Berkeley because I couldn’t travel far from home without risking a blackout across the Western Seaboard, my trainer Mohamed asked me, “Can you hate at the speed of light?”  And he meant it.

And I could, friends.  I could.  My hatred of my neighbor’s dog propelled their little model star drives through the doughnut-shaped vacuum chamber they’d constructed on the ice rink, hitting light speed every time.  At some point news of the project must have leaked, because I started getting letters from Fermilab asking me if I was available to make antimatter.  It was tempting, but I had my eyes on the prize.  That ten-light-year-distant sun and its uncharted worlds.

Mohamed liked my progress.  He whistled on the job.  I gathered there were other NASA guys, at other slapdash training facilities, making much lousier progress with their haters. I was in the home stretch, but I didn’t let it make me soft.  I hated until I was wrung out and gasping, then staggered home to collapse into bed and listen to my neighbor’s dog until I passed out from sheer exhaustion.

***

Finally, Mohamed announced it was time to try me in the ship itself.  Just a quick test run, he said, Mars and back.  Mars and back.  I felt a ringing in my ears, and for once it wasn’t from the damn barking.  All the way home, I tried to script my call to PG&E&H, politely resigning from my position so I could serve my country on the first manned expedition to another star.  As it turned out, NASA had already told them, which was a massive relief; I can’t stand confrontation.  People tell me it’s one of the things that makes me a good hater.

The Houston sky was a blinding wall of blue and the air was like superheated molasses.  But the town car waiting at the airport was lined with cool, soft leather.  A silent man in a dark grey suit drove me to the launch site.  The ship…well, you know what it looked like looming over the airstrip.  It was untarnished black and silver then, and in the remorseless sun it blazed.  Its name was the Ganges but no one ever called it anything but the ship.

I met the crew.  A lot of them said later that they expected me to be angrier.  People don’t understand the first thing about hate.

My pilot for the test flight was Elena.  “Just sit down under the odiometer,” she said, “and we’ll get our asses to Mars.”

I hadn’t seen an odiometer setup like what they had in the cockpit.  It was some NASA model—more black and silver.  “What do I have to do?”

“What you always do.  I’m the pilot.  I’ll take care of the rest.”

That made sense.  I didn’t have to fly the thing.  I just had to fuel it.  That didn’t stop me from shaking as I positioned myself under the odiometer.  The vast windshield in front of me—a digital screen, really, but I didn’t know that at the time—looked out over the Texas airfield.  I shut my eyes and thought of my neighbor’s dog.  God, did I hate that animal.

Nothing happened.

I hated some more.  The floor rattled as the engines purred to life.  And purred.  And purred.

“We’re at three percent,” said Elena.  (Three percent of what?  I have never gotten the mechanics of space flight.)  “You’ve gotta hate harder than that.”

“I’m hating as hard as I can!  I can’t hate any harder!”

“Two percent.  Come on, your dossier says you can’t stand that dog.”

“It’s the worst dog!  The barking, and the whining, and throwing itself against the fence…and it’s an ugly bastard, does the dossier say that?”

“One point five.”  The engines shut down.  Elena stared at me.  “I heard you were the best.”

“I am,” I said. “I was.”

It was the distance issue again.  In Texas, I was too far away from the dog to work up the hate I could manage on my home turf.  And if I had trouble hating the dog while I was in Houston, how much more trouble would I have when I was light-years away from Earth?

They tried work-arounds.  A NASA crew set up recording equipment in my back yard, taped hours of the dog barking, then played it back in the cockpit.  It didn’t work, and the pilots complained about the noise.  The crew went back to the neighborhood and filmed the dog from over the fence.  That didn’t do it for me either. They set up a kennel next to my quarters in the ship.  The dogs they got were pretty hateful, but it wasn’t the same.

Mohamed turned analytical.  “You hate that dog because you can’t get away from it—it’s right there in the next yard.  But this expedition is the ultimate getaway.  You know the situations we’re setting up are artificial, so you can’t work up a head of rage.”

That scared me.  Was I losing my touch?  Would I be unable to go back to work at PG&E&H, my hatred of my neighbor’s dog critically reduced forever?  No, it couldn’t be.  I still hated.  It was just harder when the source of my hatred wasn’t right there.

Which was why NASA decided to kidnap my neighbor’s dog.

***

It didn’t start with kidnapping.  They offered money.  A lot of money.  I listened to Mohamed argue over the phone.  “He’ll be well cared for.  We have a kennel in the ship, a big one…Well, no, I understand that, and we sympathize, but this is an issue of national import.  …Sir?  Sir, this is a chance to make a sacrifice for your country… No?  Okay, how about doing it for science?  And we’ll buy you a puppy.”

We went out to Denny’s afterward.  “That is one hard-ass redneck,” was all Mohamed would say.

Mohamed and I were called into a meeting with tired-looking men in dark suits and military uniforms.  They didn’t waste time greeting us.  “Congress has voted to invoke eminent domain for the seizure of the dog,” said one of the suits.  “Do we have your agreement to move forward?”

“Go for it,” said Mohamed.  At this point he was sick of the whole thing.

“Just let me get this straight,” I said. “The government is going to steal the dog and install it in the ship, next door to me, so I can hate it.”

Everyone nodded.

“This is a 25-year mission, right?  What do we do when we’re out in deep space and the dog dies?”

“The current plan,” said one of the suits, “is for the crew to store enough of your hate while the dog is alive to keep the ship running for the remainder of its mission.”

“It’s possible,” said Mohamed. “You really hate that dog.”

“Also,” said one of the military guys, “there’s talk of a breeding program.”

“Breed that thing?” I shouted. “The idea of those genes getting passed on—”

Faces lit up around the table.  “That’s right,” said the military guy. “That’s the reaction we’re looking for.”

The first guy leaned forward.  “Do we have your go-ahead?”

So this was it.  A clumsy duct-tape solution that could leave me and the rest of the crew, all America’s best and brightest, adrift in deep space.  With a litter of copies of my neighbor’s dog.

A plan that could get us to the stars.

“Okay,” I said.  “Let’s kidnap the dog.”

***

And we did.  I wasn’t there; I spent the whole time in Houston, in deep hate training.  Mohamed said my neighbor’s reaction wasn’t pretty.  But we got the dog and we shipped it to Texas.

And it might have worked out if it hadn’t been for the airline baggage handlers’ strike.

You all remember that.  Every plane in the country was grounded for a month.  Somehow NASA couldn’t get a trace on where the crate containing my neighbor’s dog had gotten stalled.

Mohamed spent his days ranting at people over the phone again. “Do you have any idea how many billions of dollars are riding on this dog? …Yes, dammit, you should’ve put him on Air Force One if that was an option!  We’re grounded without the dog, do you understand this?  Only one hater can generate the power we need, and there’s only one thing that hater hates!”

After these calls, he’d open a bottle of wine (he wasn’t a very good Muslim, he’d explain), look at me mournfully, and say, “Cats.  Cats are bastards.  Can’t you get mad at a cat?”

“Cats are snuggly bundles of love,” I’d say, usually after helping him out with the wine.

At long last, the strike ended.  First thing the next morning, a crate showed up on the airstrip, right at the foot of the ship’s silver hatch.  A small crowd had gathered by the time I got out there.  I pushed through.  The crate smelled bad.  Real bad.

Mohamed materialized next to me.  “NASA killed your neighbor’s dog.”

“No,” I said. “I did.”

A lot of my crewmates, the ones who were there that morning, have told me they were shocked when I broke down crying on the tarmac.  It’s like I say.  People don’t understand hate at all.

***

I took a Greyhound home.  The Epsilon Eridani program was over.  My hating career was over.  Mohamed was making plans to go back to school and get a degree in library science.

I slouched around the house in my pajamas, surfing Craigslist for jobs.  On the other side of the fence—silence.

 

Two months later, the phone rang.  “Done moping yet?” said Mohamed. “Get out here to Houston.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“Go to the airport.  SFO.  There’s a flight waiting.  No time to waste.”

“The Epsilon program’s dead.” I frowned. “Isn’t it?”

“Shows what you know.  Ship leaves next week but only if you’re on it.”

“But I can’t hate anymore.”

“All will become clear.”

Same town car.  Same grey-suit guy.  Same ship.  The crew was in a party mood.  Elena slapped me on the back.  “Come on,” she said. “We’re finally making that test run to Mars.”

Despite my confusion, I tried to play along. “Okay, I’ll go up to the cockpit…”

“No need, no need.”  She waltzed away.

The ship hummed to life, just as I remembered it doing during my disastrous hours in the cockpit.  But this time the purr rose to a roar.  As the crew cheered and popped champagne bottles, the ship rose into the air and shot like a silver bullet into the black.  I watched Earth shrink to a marble, then disappear, through the viewscreens lining every corridor.

Baffled, I accepted a glass of champagne, then another.  At last I gave up and staggered to my quarters.  The little apartment was exactly as I’d left it.  I lay down in the bed and stared at the ceiling.  I’d stuck glow-in-the-dark sticker stars there, during a cockier moment of my failed training.  Or had it failed?

At last I got up, determined to find someone on board who would explain this miracle.  As it happened, I left my quarters at the same moment the person next door was entering his.  He turned and stared at me.

Rangy guy.  Scraggly beard.  Little piggy eyes.  T-shirt with an up arrow labeled THE MAN and a down arrow labeled THE LEGEND.

In all those years, I’d never laid eyes on him.  Once in a while I’d heard his voice, usually yelling when I turned the hose over his fence.  I’d never seen him, but I knew him at a glance.

He recognized me, too.  His eyes narrowed.  “You,” he said.

Well.  I’d killed his dog.

And here we are, exactly twelve-and-a-half years into the mission, speeding toward Epsilon Eridani on my neighbor’s hatred of me.  I still say I could match him in hate, pound for pound, in my hating days, but I’m long retired now.  And I’d like to apologize for killing his dog, but you know I can’t do that without putting the crew in jeopardy.  It’d be a disaster if you ever stopped hating me, wouldn’t it, Leonard?

 

And now those alien worlds are marbles in the viewscreen, growing bigger.  Let’s open another bottle of champagne.

 

Play
A Drabblecast original.
Episode Art:  Richard K. Green
Read by:  Nathan Lee

Twabble:  “The demon was fed up with an eternity of unpaid torturing. Calling a strike, he shambled off to see if he could raise hell. ”  by  Cymraeg


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