December 24, 2012

A Country Christmas Story About Dogs and Metal Buildings

I wish I could say it was a Merry Christmas. I wish I could tell you everything worked out all right. Okay, I’ll go ahead and play it like this: yes, in the end, everyone was fine and nobody got what they didn’t deserve.

For years, I’d been listening to that dog across the street. Most of the homes around here are spread out; there’s plenty of wide open space and not a lot of trees, owing mostly to the fact this is all “improved” former pastureland. Everywhere except on the side of the road opposite my own driveway.

I don’t hang out with those folks—not that I’m all that social with anyone around here. I smile and wave at the majority of my neighbors but also wonder if they’re going to line me up with a scoped rifle someday soon. Anyway, about the family across the street, we didn’t even make a bad attempt at being friendly. I can’t recall a single specific incident that could have caused a rift, but it just seemed as if our wiring was out of phase or something.

Behind their brick bungalow and concealed by old-growth trees was a big pole barn: one of those post & beam buildings covered in corrugated sheet metal. How did I know it was back there, even though I had never set foot on the property? Well, I dreamed about it so many times, plus, I studied all of the aerial photography available in the public domain.

The dog that lived in that pole barn barked mostly always, but even more often at night. It wasn’t a yippy bark or a shrill bark or a short, sharp frightened bark. It wasn’t a bored bark, either. It was the lyrical, vowel-heavy exclamation of a creature testifying to its own defeat.

Sometimes the barking seemed louder and present. Other times it was quiet and distant. I imagined possible explanations for the variation: a big remote volume control, or the entire pole barn moving closer and then farther away. I am positive the dog itself had only one loudness setting.

I’d been listening to this ruckus for the past seven years, the entire span of my residency here. The dog barked when I planted rose of Sharon along my road frontage, and when I sat beneath my ancient, solitary tulip tree while composing letters to the local newspaper’s editor. I could hear my canine nemesis the night I threw my fourth wife’s crap into the front yard and told her to take her cheating ass out of my life forever. Every time my birthday came around, that dog barked to salute my continued good health or perhaps utter a blood oath to escape his 30-year warranty powder-coated prison and commence shredding my tender fleshy bits.

On Christmas Eve, I trod through yesterday’s snow to check my mailbox. It was late-ish, perhaps nine or ten o’clock at night. Nothing but junk in the box, of course, but I also noted the absence of house lights across the street, and the truck was gone. The dog was booming away out back, much as I have come to expect. I would hear him the whole time I climbed the rising acre back to my home. As it happened, I instead crossed the street and shuffled along the baby shit-colored mud and ice of my neighbors’ gravel driveway.

The house was silent and dark, the way silent dark houses usually are. I eased my way past the overturned trashcans and broken down lawn furniture. Windborne grocery bags, the plastic kind, were the only suggestion of Christmas decorations—the scruffy taxus bushes were festooned with them. The bags hissed in the evening breeze. My shin jammed against a rusted, abandoned lawnmower and I tried to ignore the sticky blood as it matted pants to leg.

I had never heard the barking roll around so strongly. It made my head feel as if it were suspended in the middle of a big oil barrel rolling down all the Eiffel Tower’s stairs. Even in the gloom, I was sure the pole barn’s metal walls were flexing and breathing with every woof. There was no question about remote volume controls or buildings receding into the distance. This dog was baying its ass off just a few yards away from me.

I had no definite idea about what I wanted to do next. Set him free? Not likely, I wasn’t sure if he intended to assassinate me. Give him comfort? I don’t like dogs, cats, rabbits, squirrels, birds, or ponies, or most people for that matter. Maybe I just wanted to see this beast. Re-file him mentally from mythology to reality.

The padlock hasp had only a rusted bolt inserted through it to secure the door. I removed the bolt and fumbled it into the drifted snow. The door swung inward and the barking stopped. I stepped over the high doorsill and groped along the inside wall for a light switch. Turning it on bathed the pole barn’s dirt floor and bare walls with the artificial dawn of a single mercury vapor lamp fastened to a roof truss.

A black Newfoundland tested his chain. Bits of straw and probably dog shit clung to his shaggy coat. He blinked in the harsh light and fired another cannonade, spittle and smoke flying from his jaws. His tail wagged but there was homicide in his eyes. Within the building’s confines, the acoustical intensity pressured my eardrums to oceanographic degrees. I stood there for a long time and soaked up broadside after broadside of the dog’s furious aural assault. That was when I understood why I had trespassed.

I turned off the light and stepped outside, leaving the door open. Dark thunder raged behind me. It was time to go or there would be awkward interactions with the dog’s owners. They wouldn’t understand that I wanted their dog to remember me.


This is where the link to my blog goes.


  1. Michael Grant Smith on December 24th, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Okay, that’s probably a lot of words. Sorry.

    I think Sheila Ryan has a particular affection for the notion of dogs barking inside metal buildings.

    Happy Holidays, clusterflock!

  2. Phil on December 24th, 2012 at 11:30 am

    I read all of it.

    Thank you, Michael – perhaps now that he has seen you, he will stop!

  3. Daryl Scroggins on December 24th, 2012 at 11:37 am

    Damn. This is a wonderful story, Michael. I read this aloud to Cindy just now and she covered her face and wept at the last line–then said thank you, thank you, thank you.

  4. Sheila Ryan on December 24th, 2012 at 1:36 pm

    That is the best Christmas story ever, Michael Grant Smith.

  5. Michael Grant Smith on December 25th, 2012 at 7:07 am

    I am the most unreliable narrator you will ever find. Thanks for reading, everyone, and for the compliments.

    If I was able to make Cindy cry, my Christmas dreams have come true!

    Best wishes from Kathy and me to all y’all.

  6. Kathy Hilen-Smith on December 25th, 2012 at 11:16 am

    Dammit Michael. I totally love this one. Thank you.

    Merry Christmas ‘Flockers!