Barker
rating: +16+x

The world of Moscow is harsh, but it makes sense. The dog has a role in it, and that is enough.

There are trash cans to be rooted through, food to be snatched from unsuspecting hands. There are the stairs which go beneath the ground and there are the buildings that snatch the sky. Every day, the the stairs and the buildings exhale their millions of people onto the streets.

The men with nets and traps are to be avoided, even more than gangs of other dogs. The men and women who work with food, chopping and cooking, are also a danger - they kick and even throw boiling water.

In the summer, it's possible to sleep in any spot with a bit of shelter, but in the winter, it's necessary to sleep in the tunnels beneath the ground.

Although things change day to day in the city, there is a rhythm and consistency that the dog finds comforting.


The dog has, if not a friend, at least another dog that she doesn't mind. The other dog is missing half of his ear and has a mottled black and brown coat.

The two dogs hunt together, finding rats and garbage. The survival from day to day relies on them finding food, and two dogs are three times better at securing food than just one. Together, they thrive.

One day, the half-eared dog walks into a building, gutted by fire. He communicates to the dog that he thought he saw a squirrel make its way into the corpse of an apartment. The dog hangs back, as she does not like the smell of the building.

Suddenly, she hears a banging, then a crash, then a bark. She swallows her fear and rushes into the dead place. A section of wall has collapsed on the mottled dog. She cannot see any part of him except a badly bent leg.

I hurt, he yelps, help me.

The dog whines and tries her best to dig him out, but the rubble is too much for her to get through.

I hurt. Help me, he whines again.

She tries again and again, but cannot free him. After a few hours, she leaves and brings him some food. A half of a moldy carrot, but it is better than nothing. He devours it greedily.

Over days, she brings him more food, pushing it into the cracks of the rubble. Even so, she can feel him becoming weaker.

I hurt, he whimpers, Please help me.

After four days, his cries grow too faint to hear. She still tries to push food into the holes, wherever they can fit.

After six days, she can smell rotting vegetables. After seven, rotting meat. It is only after nine days that she leaves the place forever.


The dog smells the sausage long before she sees it. She has wandered the streets alone for two months now.

It's been two days since her last meal. She twists down narrow alley ways and along winding side streets, panting in the summer heat. Thoughts of other dogs, of cars, of the storm clouds that promise a miserable and rainy evening, all fall by the wayside. The sausage is the only thing she can think of.

Finally, she finds it. It is everything she ever dreamed of. Plump and juicy, it is almost bursting from its casing. Somehow, it is even on a plate, not that the dog minds.

As she begins to tear into the sausage, the world falls away. It's not until she's being scooped up in the net that she realizes something is wrong. By then, it's too late - the sausage falls to the ground as she is hauled away. She snaps at it, trying to regain a semblance of that moment of pure bliss. The sausage recedes from view.

She does not understand what is happening. She snarls and barks at her new captors, but they pay her no mind. They take her and dump her into a tight wire cage. She tries to get her jaws between its bars, but it's no use.

The men in white put her in the back of a van. The dog can suddenly sense at least a half dozen others in the van. As the men shut the doors, the world goes black.

All she has are the smells and the sounds and the sensation of stifling heat.

Where we!?

I want home!

Where going!?

She wonders if this is how the half-eared dog now sees things, if he sees at all. As an empty abyss, ringing with confusion.

Since the building ate her companion, the dog has understood that death is the way of things. One day, she will no longer move, and her body will be taken by the growling street sweeping machine or else be eaten by the rats that lurk just out of sight. She understands that all animals will eventually be the half-eared dog.

But she does not understand why this is happening to her. Right here, right now. How it went from a sausage to death in an instant. Clear skies to blackness. The confusion, the lack of link between cause and effect is almost as bad as the death itself.

She lays down her head and begins to whine.

She is dead.

She is dead.

She is dead.

Around her, the chorus of confusion continues.


After an eternity, light returns to the world. For a moment, she is blinded. Then, she sees the men in white suits, standing at the entrance.

She begins to bark loudly, louder than the other dogs. Light, the men in white suits, the barking, all of it means that she is not dead. She is not the mottled dog.

She barks and she barks as they take her cage from the van. She barks as she is hosed down by a disinterested woman smoking a cigarette. She barks as they put her into another cage.

She is alive.

She is alive.

She is alive.

She barks until she is hoarse and her voice grows faint. Then she waits, and barks more.


The dog is in a small room with bars on the door. It smells of sharp antiseptic, the kind that makes her eyes burn. She can hear barking from outside.

She barks back, not in response, but for its own sake. Because she is alive.


After several weeks, several men come to see the dog. She has put on weight, and now her ribs no longer show with each breath. She barks at their approach.

They speak in a tone she doesn't recognize. Not anger or disgust nor even fear, but something slower, more deliberate sounding. She barks as they speak, hoping that they will pay attention to her, perhaps giving her a treat.

Several minutes later, the men depart. A man in a sharply creased uniform lifts her, cage and all, and carries her to the back of an open truck. There are several other dogs in the back.

Where going!?

Hungry!

Who are these?

The dog knows that she is not dead, and that is enough.


The new home is indistinguishable from the old, down to the antiseptic smell.

The dog's days grow crowded. Every morning, she is strapped to a chair for hours. The chair spins until she whines and feels herself pressed back, as if by an invisible wall.

In the evenings, she is strapped into a small padded box. The lid blocks out all light. The box shakes rapidly, and the dog feels as though she will die. She does not understand why this is happening, but at least she is alive.

Throughout it all, she barks. Barks at the people in the white coats. Barks at the world. Barks at the invisible wall.

She is alive, and she can bark.

As the days pass, she begins to recognize the people in white coats. The woman who brings the food and who, on two occasions, scratched the dog behind her ears. The scientist with eyes like a cat, always scribbling away on a piece of paper.

She hears them and remembers them. After some time, she recognizes the word that they use when speaking about her.

Laika.


Each time Laika returns to her cage, she notices that it grows slightly smaller.

The men and women give her concerned glances and speak in low tones.


The biggest day of Laika's life arrives, and she doesn't know it.

She is taken from her cage, its metal bars pressing against her each time she exhales. The man who stands watch outside the door smiles at her as he places her into another box. Her barks are only barely muffled by the thick padding.

Laika sits and waits. She knows that the shaking will start soon, but when it is over, she will receive a treat. Her tail wags in anticipation as the hours drip by. The box smells like nothing at all, and she cannot hear anything.

Finally, she feels the shaking. Nothing has prepared her for this.

Her entire world is vibration and roaring thunder and blackness. Suddenly, a massive wall crushes her against the wall of the box.

The thunder continues forever, shaking Laika to her core. This must be what death - true and pure - is.

She escaped it once, but somehow it has returned. She does not understand why the man with the rifle or the the woman with the food would allow this to happen. She hopes this time there another person will open the door and let light flood in. She knows, though, that the world has shaken away those people who bring treats.

She barks and she barks and she barks.

She cannot hear herself over the thunder.


Finally, after an infinity of time, the rumbling does finally cease. There is only silence. Laika does not even bark to try to break it.

She feels the cold of the Moscow winters creep into the box.

The box is tight and holds her in even as she struggles, trying to chew through her restraints.

She whines and she barks, but no one can hear her in the box. I hurt, she whimpers, Help me.

She tries to make sense of what has happened, but cannot. She barks and she barks and she barks and she barks, affirming that she is alive, that she exists. But the cold creeps into her body all the same.


After a time, Laika cannot sustain the energy to bark further.

She lies down her head and she dies.

Outside, the ocean of stars continue to shine.


Laika is dead.

Of this, she is sure. She can no longer feel her body, no longer sense anything, not even the blackness of the box.

Suddenly, she feels a presence in her mind. It is vaster than the skyscrapers that inhale the people of Moscow. It is alien and vast. Yet, it fills her with a sensation of warmth, one which she never felt before.

you are the first here. you are the first sacrificed. for that, ask one boon. Its thoughts shine like oil on a puddle.

Back in Moscow, Laika thinks, On streets walking free.

this cannot be. nature of sacrifice. you are dead. It replies.

Laika thinks, trying to piece together some strand of logic that could explain how she came here.

Then for others here, I don't want this. I don't want this, cold alone afraid death. I save others. Help, please.

The presence is silent for seconds or years. very well.

For a brief moment, recognition flickers through Laika's mind.

She sees pillars of flame.

Men and women in white trapped in harnesses. Thin walls of metal their only protection from the infinite blackness, colder than Moscow winters. They are lost, helplessly wandering into the void.

As the last embers of her consciousness scatter and dissipate, Laika sees herself.

She in the night sky, saving the men and women, helping them return home, being a beacon to guide them back. To life, to warmth, to a world that makes sense.

Space is harsh, but it makes sense. And Laika has a role in it, and that is enough.

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