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Dogs Were Barking: A Science Fiction Short Story
Before You Read The Story
I broke the story into parts just to make it easier to read.
I wrote this story for a specific reason. When you are done reading, I would love to hear your comments: Was the main character in the story male or female?
It had been raining all day. It usually gave me a good feeling, like everything was being washed clean. Today a strange feeling hung over me like the mist outside, a feeling that something wasn’t right.
It was still raining after dinner so I watched the holovision. Every once in a while there was a call on the vidphone. I would usually go watch even the ones for Dad, because phone calls are rare around here.
George Stephanson was the first to call. He was a tall and rather large man, though not fat, and he had a ruddy complexion.
“Hullo, Andy, how are you?”
“Fine,” Dad said. They exchanged their usual amenities, then George got down to the real business at hand.
“A big section of the fence went down between our lots out by Chukkoway Lane. I put some rope up for the night, but we’ll need to get out and fix it right away.”
“I’ll meet you out there at 7:00 tomorrow morning,” Dad said. “Could you tell how it happened?”
“Not for sure. Most likely a car went through it, but the gouges in the field are pretty big even for a car. Might have been a bad wind.”
“Well, not much we can really do but go out and tend to it. Take care of yourself, George.”
“Same to you, and I’ll see you tomorrow.” George terminated the connection with a small wave.
The excitement over, I turned back to the HV. The news was on, an edition broadcast earlier than most especially for the farming/ranching communities like ours. I listened to the weather report droning on. Tomorrow would be wet, just like today had been. It was a little odd since this wasn’t a seasons when we got much rain.
Back to the anchorman, Randy Blanchett. He was normally a highly animated character, as were most HV personalities. Tonight, as I watched, I noticed he was dull. I mean, he spoke in a flat monotone voice, and hardly moved. When he did, I noticed he was wearing heavy gloves. It was so strange I motioned for Dad to come join me. When the newscast ended without Randy saying his usual “Sleep well and wake refreshed,” we exchanged curious glances.
“Maybe he’s just having a bad day, or doesn’t feel well,” I said.
“Most likely,” replied my father. “It’s about time for us to get some sleep. I’ve got a lot of work, and you’ve got school tomorrow.”
Just as I was heading up the stairs, the phone rang again. It was Dan Parker, one of our closest neighbors.
“Hello, Dan, how are you this evening?”
“I’m good, doing fine, thanks. And yourself?”
“Just about ready to hit the hay. Been a long day. What’s cooking?”
“Heard part of your fence went down. Actually, I knew it before I heard it. Found 10 head of your cattle roaming the Lane. Had my boy round ‘em up, bring ‘em in our pasture for the night. I’ll have him bring ‘em on over to you tomorrow.”
“Well, thank you, Dan. Can I offer you something for the feed and your time?”
“I wouldn’t hear of it. You’ve done this for me before, I’m just returning the kindness.”
“Well, it’s this kind of cooperation that makes things easier on all of us,” Dad said.
“It sure does,” Dan replied in his usual calm and steady manner of speaking. “I just wanted to let you know what was going on.”
“I do appreciate it. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“Y’all take care of yourselves. Goodnight!”
The connection broken, it was time for me to head back upstairs. I still hadn’t shaken the funny feeling that had been with me all day, and that weird news show hadn’t helped. I made an almost unseen motion with my hand, and my two Huskies, Chloe and Vaxxon, were at my side before I could blink.
On the landing I stopped to look out at the kennels. We had twenty-four dogs total, twenty of them residing out in the “run” during the good weather. The other four lived inside, two mine and two my father’s. They were our family, far as we were concerned. The kennel dogs were well trained, too, but a person can only sleep with so many dogs in their room.
Dogs are funny, but you can rely on that sense of theirs to tell you when something is amiss. I was somewhat reassured to note that the outside dogs were milling around like usual.
“Goodnight,” I called down the stairs, and closed the window and door to my room once my dogs were settled.
A person’s thoughts drift before they fall asleep. I thought about the dogs tonight, maybe because I’d been thinking about them just before lying down.
The dogs had been lifelong friends to us. For anyone who cared to acknowledge it, they were intelligent animals whose love and loyalty went beyond compare. Our dogs were trained to serve and protect, trained as well or better than police dogs. And not trained by some stranger, either. I took great pride in having gone through the entire process with Chloe and Vaxxon, and then adding some of my own special things, using the same methods as for regular training.
In the cities, I suppose, people didn’t need the same kind of protection as they did here. In the city there were people all around, and lights all the time. Dad had told me once that people in the cities didn’t know what darkness was any more. I had asked why we didn’t live in the city. I remembered him explaining to me how he felt it was important that his children grew up knowing what grass and rivers and things that grow from the earth were. He said there were things here that you just couldn't find in cities. In the city there were so many people around that nobody bothered to get to know each other unless they had to. In the city it was easy to forget that not everything was made in factories.
Out here, in the farmland, there was still plenty of room. There were wild animals, some more friendly than others. There were domesticated animals, too, like the cattle and sheep the Stephansons raised. And so few people we purposefully built our farmhouses as close together as possible for protection.
The dogs were needed, out here. George Stephanson used his to help herd the animals he bred. We used ours for the same reason, and also as messengers across the vast crop fields, and as guardians. We depended on the dogs for our livelihood, and cared for them as they cared for us.
I finally drifted off to sleep. It was late at night when I was awakened by Chloe licking my face, and heard Vax’s low battle growl. When the dogs wake me quiet like that, something is definitely wrong. I opened my eyes and gave Vax the almost invisible signal to silence. Then I heard it. The dogs were barking like crazy down the lane, near the area where the Stephansons live.
I got up and opened the window, but I knew better than to sneak out. This racket was sure to wake Dad, and he would come check on me.
True to form, my door opened a crack, then the rest of the way when Dad saw that I was out of bed.
“It woke you, too?” he asked quietly.
“Chloe did. Real quiet. She’s a good dog.” I saw her ears turn silently to catch the words of praise, then flicker back to listen attentively to the outside sounds.
“I think I’ll call George, just to make sure he’s got things under control.”
“Can I come?” I didn’t expect him to let me, but I couldn’t help asking.
I could almost hear him thinking before he answered. “Your Mom would have had my head for this... come on, let’s go call.”
It was only after the window was shut and we were walking quietly down the stairs that I realized how quiet it was around our place. Now, Chloe and Vax were highly trained animals. I had helped train them, and they were my dogs. I expected them to stay quiet, as I had ordered them. But there were currently forty-four dogs in our kennels, about half of them boarded here while their owners were away. Every one of them was silent, and that was not normal.
It was hard to keep the panic out of my voice as I turned to my dad and asked, “Why aren’t our dogs barking?”
Once again there was a long pause before he answered, “If I knew what was wrong, I might have sent you back to bed. But, I don’t know why the dogs are acting like this.
“You can’t fight something you don’t know anything about. I brought you along because...” His voice trailed off for a moment, then continued. “...I want you to look, and listen, and tell me if you notice anything else, like you did with the dogs. Remember everything.
“Now come over by the window. I want you to see this.”
I noticed that Dad was completely dressed, and had his soft-soled shoes on. That observation paled with what I saw from the window.
Every one of the dogs sat quietly, looking in the direction of the Stephansons. None of them moved a muscle. They just sat there, looking through the fence.
Dad and I exchanged a silent, curious look before we turned to go make the call.
Chloe seemed upset when Dad started punching the Stephanson’s number on the vidphone. She even made a small whine. I didn’t tell her when to quiet down; she just did.
George Stephanson appeared on the screen. At that same precise second, Vax started his most quiet of growls. Not loud enough to be heard over the phone, it made the hair on the back of my neck rise.
Dad had motioned us back from the screen grid area, out of the field of projection, so that as far as George could tell he was talking alone with my Dad.
“Hello, Andrew. It’s a bit late for you to be calling, isn’t it?”
“Hello, George, yes, I’m sorry, it is late. But I heard the dogs barking all the way down here. Is everything okay over there?”
From what I can tell, these dogs have sent me on a wild goose chase. Can’t find a thing for them to be causing such a hubbub over.” George waved his hand in a gesture that indicated futility.
“Okay, George. You know the number, be sure to call me if you need any help. I’m sorry I disturbed you.”
“It’s no problem, Andrew. Glad to know I have neighbors like you. I’ll talk to you in the morning.” George terminated the connection.
Dad stepped off the screen grid and set the phone to notify. It would ring, showing us the image of the caller, but would not automatically answer and send our images to the caller if we stepped into the screen grid area.
Vaxxon settled down once the phone was off. How he just sat at my feet, only his eyes moving occasionally, but I knew he was as alert as he could ever be. I wasn’t having as much luck looking composed. There was something about that call and George that bothered me.
Dad must have noticed, too. He gave me a questioning look.
“Vax has always liked George. He’s never growled at him before. But the whole time you were on the phone with him, he just kept up his low growl
“Another thing that was strange...” I trailed off, searching for the right words. Dad waited patiently without interrupting me. “Remember Mr. Stephanson said the dogs led him on a wild goose chase?”
Dad nodded his affirmation, and I continued. “Do you think he meant he had been outside?”
“I’m sure he did. He would have gone out to check his livestock.”
“He was spotless clean. It rained all day, and it’s still raining. He wasn’t wet. Even his boots were dry, not a speck of mud on them.”
“That is unusual. George isn’t the type to let his dogs check things out for him. He would have gone out himself.”
“There’s something else, too, but I can’t quite figure out what it was right now.”
I could see the little furrows start in Dad’s forehead, the kind he got when something bothered him. “Maybe we should try to get some sleep,” he said. “It will come to you when you aren’t thinking about it.”
He was right, and I was tired. On the way back upstairs, we both automatically paused to look out the window at the dogs again. They still sat, lined up in a row at the fence, looking to the southwest.
I thought I saw a flicker of light in the night sky, but it was gone before I could even be sure I had seen it. So, I went back to bed. Vax lay mid-way between my door and window, and Chloe stayed on the bed at my feet, very protective.
My eyes popped open like a jack jumping from its box. It was late, in the wee hours of the morning, and the moon that had earlier lit the yard had now set. There was still a small amount of light from the field and porch lights.
In this dim light I could see Chloe’s head move, and I knew she was looking at me and could tell I was awake. I still hadn’t moved except for opening my eyes. I was too scared.
After a while I realized Vax was quiet. It helped calm me down, since I knew he would make some kind of noise if there was an immediate danger. Even though the door and window were closed, I gave Vax the "seek help" signal. The dogs were amazing, when I thought about it, and right now I was thinking about them to distract myself. Vax made no visible motions, no sounds I could hear, yet I knew he had somehow signaled the dogs in Dad’s room.
The door opened slowly, and I saw Dad peering in the room at me.
“Come on in, Dad. I’m sorry I had to wake you.”
“It’s all right. I wasn’t really sleeping anyway. What’s up?”
“You were right. It came to me while I was sleeping. About the call to Mr. Stephanson, I mean.
“There was something else. Mr. Stephanson lifted his hand up when he was talking. I don’t remember him having any abnormalities before.”
“What are you talking about?” Dad asked, the furrows growing deeper.
“Well, I noticed he had six fingers. Or rather, five fingers and a thumb.”
“Are you sure?” Dad asked, incredulous.
“Not positive, but it’s the reason I woke up. I remembered seeing it clearly. And I don’t remember it from the first call, the one he made to us.”
“Let’s go downstairs and see if we can replay the conversation,” Dad said.
We stopped to look out the window at our dogs. They had lain down, but were still all in a row in front of the fence. It was more than a little eerie, and I was scared beyond description.
Once again we stood in front of the vidphone. It would save images from the last ten calls made unless programmed otherwise.
“Good. The recording unit picked it up.”
The image projected on the screen again, the entire conversation playing out. At the point where George raised his hand, Dad froze the screen. We both counted, and then counted again and again, but we came up the same every time. There were six digits on the hand that was showing on the screen.
Finally Dad shut the phone down again. He just sat at the table for a long time. I knew he was thinking. I went to a window and opened it a crack, so I could hear.
The dogs were still barking at the Stephansons, but it seemed they weren’t as loud as they had been before. I listened for what seemed like a long time, as the sound gradually diminished.
Dad got up and made some coffee. I looked at him, and even though I didn’t ask anything, he answered my question.
“It wouldn’t look right for us to go out to George’s now. He didn’t callus and ask for help. We’ll just go out there in the morning, soon as the sun comes up.”
I fell asleep on the living room sofa, with Chloe and Vax close by. Dad woke me when the first rays of sun were filtering through the windows.
“Time to go,” he said. “The Parker’s dogs started up just a few minutes ago.”
“Maybe you should call them now?” I went to the window to listen for the barking. The noise from the Parkers was almost too loud to hear the dogs from the Stephansons.
The connection was made, so I moved to a spot where I could see without being seen. Dan Parker was on the screen, and he looked upset.
“Andrew, listen carefully,” he said, and his voice was quiet, determined, and tense. “I don’t have much time.
“I don’t know what it is. It must have gotten to the Stephansons before it got here. One of their kids made it here just before daybreak. Lucy went out to help...”
Lucy was Dan’s wife. “Whatever it is, she’s got it now, too. Stay away from anyone who has it. It seems to be highly contagious, spreads like wildfire.
“I’ve got to go, Andy. Lucy needs me. I’ll call you later, when things settle down a bit.”
As the connection was being terminated, we heard Dan saying, “Don’t look like no damn disease I’ve ever seen, what would make you grow an extra finger...”
I looked at Dad. The furrow in his forehead was deeper than I’d ever seen it before.
“I think we should go see if we can help Dan and Lucy,” he said.
“I’m scared,” I said. “What is it?”
“I don’t know, but maybe we can find out a little more if we go see what’s happening at the Parkers. Come on, now, and bring your dogs if it makes you feel better.”
In a few moments, we were sitting in the cab of the truck. As we pulled out of the driveway onto Chukkoway Lane, a truly amazing thing happened. The dogs, which had been sitting lined up in the kennels, suddenly plowed through the fencing en masse. They formed a line in front of the truck, and we actually had to stop the truck to keep from hitting them.
Twenty trained dogs, we’d never had a problem with any of them, and not one would move out of the way. No matter what threat, or how loudly or sternly we gave commands, none of those dogs would budge. Dad tried driving off the road in one of the fields, but the dogs moved in front of us again.
After ten minutes or so of this, it became apparent that the dogs weren’t going to let us go in that direction, in the truck or on foot. We didn’t attempt to punish them; they were obviously responding to something, even if we didn’t understand what it was.
Frustrated and puzzled, we finally went back to the house to call Dan and see if things had improved at his place. But talking to Lucy only proved to be more puzzling yet, since she claimed everything was fine and there hadn’t been any problems all morning. When we asked about the Stephanson’s child, she said he had just come to borrow some sugar. Dad asked to talk to Dan, but Lucy said he had gone over to the Garrison’s to take care of some business he had there.
It wasn’t long after we terminated the connection that the Garrison’s dogs started barking like mad. I didn’t say anything. Dad started programming the phone to call over there.
The connection was made, but we didn’t see anyone answering. We could hear a lot of noise in the background, like people struggling or fighting with each other, and the barking of dogs was overwhelming. Then we heard John Garrison’s voice cry, “In God’s name, what are you?”
Dad motioned me back out of the screen grid, and this time he also stood back out of sight. John and Dan Parker rolled into view on the grid, hands locked in a death grip around each other’s throats. And while we watched, the cameras picked up something that apparently couldn’t be seen by the naked eye. A pale blue mist, coming from Dan’s mouth, which seeped into John’s eyes, nose, mouth, seemed to pervade his entire body, until finally John calmed down. As he sat there, we watched the sixth digit form on his hands, and we could see that Dan had also gained them, just like George had done. And, just that quickly, we could tell John was not the same person he had been moments ago.
After a long silence, I looked at Dad. “What do we do now?”
“I’ll program the phone to call out, to all the neighbors first, then at random, with a warning message. You get all the food, especially the canned stuff, and the dog food, into the truck. Fast, now, and keep your dogs right with you.”
The truck was loaded when Dad came out, stuffing guns and ammo into the cab. Then he turned to all the kennel dogs, and told them they were free.
“Can’t we just hold out here?” I asked him.
“It isn’t safe now. They might know it was us watching. Anyone who gets a call from our phone will know we’ve found out. They’ll come to stop us from spreading the word. They are coming anyway, even as we speak.
“We’ll have to find a way to fight them, find out what they are before we can do anything else.”
“How will we know where to go?”
“For now,” he said, “we go away from where people are. And from now on, we live with the dogs.
I remembered what I had thought about the dogs yesterday. The dogs always knew. Dad started the truck, and we headed after the pack from our kennels due east, toward the mountains.
Still to the south, but closer to our house, near the Berkeley’s, the dogs were barking.