By Mark Andersen

The howls woke Matt up early again. He rolled to his side and picked up his phone to check the time. It was quarter past five in the morning. He closed his eyes and hoped he could go back to sleep. After a few more seconds of raw, overlapping, gibbering howls, he gave up and slid out of bed and wandered to the bathroom.

He still hadn't had a conversation with his neighbour, a sour looking man, and he'd never even seen the dogs. Matt didn't even know the man's name. His neighbour kept strange hours, and evidently so did his pets. On the rare occasions that he had seen he his neighbour, they’d both waved and then hurried off. Matt felt like he should make a friendly gesture of some kind, but was at a loss for what. Baked goods seemed appropriate but that was well outside his skill set. For his part, the neighbour had shown no signs of welcome or warmth, just an indifferent acknowledgement of Matt's presence.

Matt pissed in the dark, not yet ready for the glare of the bathroom light. He heard his urine spray the rim and the floor. Fuck it, he thought. Freedom to pee on the floor, one of the myriad benefits of loneliness. He made his groping way downstairs and managed to get the coffee started. From the distance, over the gassy rumble of the percolator, the dogs were still wailing their mindless complaint.

What in the name of god, he wondered, gets them so upset at this hour? It could be any hour, he'd come to realize in the six weeks since he moved in. It was not, as one might expect, in response to traffic or intruders or the mailman. There was no mailman out here, and scarce traffic. It was this promise of solitude that had attracted Matt to the area. That and, ironically, the peace and quiet. The house was incredibly cheap though, and compared to the noise, crime and chaos of the city, his neighbour’s noisy dogs were small price to pay.

He was curious about them though. How many were there? And how big? It sounded, from the racket they made, like a pack of wolves. Matt pictured a swarm of German shepherds and dobermans and mastiffs running around inside the house, drooling and shedding and shitting. Christ, it must stink in there.

Matt drank his coffee and got ready to drive into town. The drive was just over two hours, and this early it would be a peaceful trip. He drove in once every week or two to get groceries, take care of business and appointments, and to see his few remaining friends.

By the time he got to his car, the dogs had stopped their noise. It was strange how sporadic it was, just periods of calamitous barking and yapping and shrieking, then hours of silence. Matt looked at his neighbour’s house, the pale blue clapboard barely visible through the stunted, wind blasted pines, stubborn little birch trees and diseased, weedy alders. A van, ancient and enormous, was parked at the side of the house. There were no lights on, it seemed there never were. It was still and silent. Do they ever get to go outside? Matt wondered. They can't all shit and piss in there, can they? He got into his car, plugged his phone in and waited for a song to start. Matt backed out of the gravel drive, turned and drove toward the dull glow of a fog laden sunrise.

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