“Bug Eating Dogs.” A story inspired by watching the family dog do just that: eat bugs. However the story has more to it than odd canine appetites. The resulting story found itself in the pages of the short-lived ‘zine ‘Icarus Ascending.’ Its editor and I traded several emails to alter the manuscript before publication, only to have the first version I submitted published by mistake. But give ‘IA’ credit for putting out works that did not fit easily into conventional genre molds. And, naturally, what you read is slightly altered from all previous edits. Perhaps this short work (under 2k words) does not fit the classical definition of Surrealism. A better descriptive might be Thematicism. (There, I just created a new genre.) It is a stream of conscious experience of one lone poet making his way in an ever changing world. And lest you think the title needs a hyphen, keep in mind that would make it more concrete. As Spider Mercy finds, remaining flexible allows adaptation to a suddenly changing world. However odd it may seem, one could define change as the only constant.
“BUG EATING DOGS”
Bruce S. Larson
I am Spider Mercy. Although, on the day in question, my first name seemed ineffective. A flying insect, diving at me in arcing corkscrews, evaded my swiping hands. It wanted something from me, although what I either did not understand, or did not wish to give. Even after identifying my uncertainty, it still assaulted me with that drilling noise of its sharp, rapid wings. Furthermore, I was surrounded by desert. Heat reflected from each sand grain spilling from my head. Distracted by this airborne aggravation, I wandered from my path. Skyscrapers thrust into the sky. Noise flooded the air on particles from automobiles and industry. I had strayed into the city. The insect was lost in lost in countless other noises and annoyances. Perhaps I had entered the buzzing terror itself, and these streets were the alleys of its gut. I traveled a bustling avenue on the city’s waterfront. I saw no fish, but a Tyrannosaurus rex in prostitute’s clothes loomed ahead.
“Excuse me, are you really a Tyrannosaur?” I asked. “I was told they were extinct.”
“Dinosaurs are sexy now.” Her breath was desert hot, but moist. “It’s my
business to be sexy.”
A car stopped beside us. She got inside and was driven away. Another prostitute approached me. Her bulbous head was far too large for her thin neck and small gray body. Solid black eyes stared at me.
“If you’re not paying, leave.” she said, and clicked her stiletto heel. “Dead
weight scares away business.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll move along.”
After a few steps I tripped over a rock near the sea wall.
“Hey!” the rock shouted, followed by expletives. Beside the rock a small dog snarled viciously.
“I’m sorry!” I apologized to the grim-looking man, no longer merely a stone.
He sat wedged in the right angle of the sea wall and sidewalk. A thick layer of urban sediment clung to his surface.
“I honestly didn’t see you there.” I backed away from his dog. “Ah, shouldn’t your dog be leashed?”
“Then he wouldn’t be able to do his job,” the man grated.
“He’s a working dog?”
“Yeah, he eats bugs. Keeps them from bothering me.” As the man spoke a large
beetle ambled in front of us. Pasted bills and neon lighting covered its shell. The dog attacked. The hard shell and soft tissues ripped apart in the savage jaws.
“He lets you think without distractions?” I asked, seeing the little beast’s potential.
“Yeah. Now take off!”
“Can I buy your dog? I’ll pay you well.”
“No! Taxes are distractions. I just want to sit and think. Now leave while
A pamphleteering centipede scuttled by and quickly met the beetle’s fate. Red froth spattered the sidewalk near my shoes.
“But I also need to think. I’m a poet searching for the universal theme. I cannot write until I find it. That’s why–“
A dog catcher interrupted me by persistently tapping my shoulder. “Excuse me, sir.” He hoisted the dog’s owner from the sidewalk and dangled him before me.
“Is this your dog?”
“Dog? No. He’s not a–“
“Then we’ll have to take him.” The dog catcher tossed the man into the back of a garbage truck. “Can’t have them dropping loose ideas all over the streets, now can we?”
The garbage truck charged off into traffic. More taps struck my back. Behind me the gray prostitute stood with hands on hips.
“Hey, mister! Is this your dog?” The dog pulled at her nylons.
I knelt down and patted the dog. It really was no larger than a puppy. It now seemed to like me and licked my face between gleeful yaps. The prostitute looked down indignantly with her huge, black eyes.
“Well, I suppose he is now.”
“Yeah, well then–“
Dark, warm fluid splashed my face. I cleared my eyes. Red coated my fingers. Before me the gray prostitute swung violently in the jaws of the dog. One stiletto heel fell to the cement. Nothing else remained. I stumbled against the sea wall. The dog cleaned his matted snout, then put his paw on my shoulder.
“She was a bug, kid. Forget it. Have a seat.” The dog’s paw eased me down between the sea wall and the sidewalk. “You don’t need to worry about distractions like her anymore. I’ll protect you.”
“Ah, I guess my definition of a distraction is different from your previous master.” I said, still eyeing the heel.
“Master?” The dog convulsed with laughter. “Don’t worry, your perspective will change. Your development is environmentally determined, right? Or don’t you read the papers?”
Newspapers and other street debris rolled beside me.
“I did. But I was told not to trust them, because they were written by people over thirty.”
“Well, I’ve been around a long, long time. You can trust me. I’m safe warm and cuddly. I keep away things that might, just might, harm you. Now, sit.”
I sat. At first, I did not consider the hardness and cold of the cement fold that created my new home. As the city crumbled into a vast waste of ocean surrounding us, the dog remained always in front of me. When I moved I heard it growl. I assured myself the growls were at bugs trying to distract me, though from what I longed to remember. Mostly my thoughts were about the back of his head, or why he never took time to scratch like other dogs. Until I found myself in this right angle, I had been was pursuing something. I had been on a path. It must have been someplace other than this static maze of suspended time. A lone palm tree eventually provided shade, and my escape. Although it took a long time to fall with a thumbnail. I imagined him angrily turning to find only the stump behind him.
Inside a cramped house, I emerged from the aquarium and set down my single‑shafted raft. Urge greeted me wearing her housecoat. Heavy curlers lay siege to her hair.
“Welcome home, Spider. Where’s your dog?”
I was unsure how Urge knew about him. Probably because she’s an aspect of me. Or am I one of hers? I recounted the things I had seen during my days adrift.
“It found a new owner.” I gathered aquarium algae and fashioned models of each scene I related. “Rather, I mean owners. A whole nation of people cut themselves off from the rest of the world under his guidance.”
I showed Urge an island fortress with banners and gargoyles of the snarling dog stuck defiantly in the dark ocean. A colossal stone idol of the dog rose above the massive walls.
“They eventually sank into a vast, stagnated pool.” The idol’s head submerged into a sea of bubbling sewage in my reenactment. (I would apologize to the goldfish later.) “But the dog survived. I suppose he always will. I saw him on the street corner. He was measuring a man for a fire-hydrant costume.”
“Did he see you?” Urge asked pensively.
“Yes. I threw him a grenade, and told him to fetch.”
“Spider! That was cruel.”
“Not as cruel as when he brought it back. But the scars have healed.”
“Well, now you can lie back and relax.” Urge said, massaging my temples while I sat in an over-stuffed recliner.
“Thanks. Could you bring me the paper?”
My recliner now served well as a wheelbarrow. Urge pushed me over the steps of a four-sided stairway that neither rose nor fell. Before this, I never thought Mr. Escher’s art could cause jarring, physical sensations.
“No, Spider. I’m only your Urge. You have to find that yourself.”
Ejected, then a moment of flight. Next I recovered from the ground where my chin had dug a furrow on impact.
“I’ll just have to keep looking.” I strayed back to the city. A sign beamed Cruise of Discovery. Behind it stood a smiling man in a purser’s uniform. I remembered glimpsing the sign before. Then, it had been just another annoyance.
“Excuse me, exactly what do you discover?” I asked the purser.
“Allow me to show you. We have special discounts for circular travelers.”
I strained with the oars of the rowboat. It was difficult going through the roiling mass of human beings filling the channel. “I didn’t think I’d have to do this. Don’t you have steam engines?”
“It’s difficult at first, but keep rowing.” The purser sat relaxed at the rudder. “You have a ways to go yet.”
After much sweat and labor, we came to a gulf dotted by small, single-palm islands. On each one a person sat guarded by a dog. I kept rowing.
“Why is this, um, this water so hard to navigate?”
“Nature of the beasts we are. We seldom make it easy. But you can’t go on a voyage of self-discovery totally removed from humanity. Unless you aren’t human.”
I paused to look over the side of the boat at the sea of interwoven people. “Well, I suppose I am.”
“Then, I suggest a faster method of travel.” The purser pushed me overboard. A flailing of limbs and heads created the splash. After a second of panic, I bobbed to the surface.
“I used to think I would drown if I became immersed, but it’s actually quite liberating.”
“Just watch for stagnant waters,” the purser cautioned. “They rob your mind of oxygen. Above all, keep swimming. Otherwise, you’ll go adrift.”
The current, however, carried me along. I decided to rest. I thought I heard the Purser yelling: ‘Keep your head up!’ But he disappeared in the distance. The people around me slowly lost animation. The current died. Those surrounding me were now drifting corpses. Then, an undertow pulled me down into the cold crush of the lifeless. Through gaps between pale bodies I glimpsed something consuming the dead. I could, and perhaps should, describe it as great sea anemone gathering the human remains with short, black tentacles towards its great mouth. Its teeth were fashioned from rigid interpretations and the lost points of allegory. It got harder to see it as anything other than a monster as I drifted closer to oblivion. My lungs burned with my last free thoughts. Pulling and kicking away from the hideous thing below, I broke the surface and swam frantically back into living waters.
I dragged myself onto the shore with helpful pushes from others in the channel and found myself in the desert, again. I carved a small stream from the channel and watched the waters trickle through the sand. Plants, small bushes, and young Joshua trees grew sparsely along the banks. My environment was now slightly less arid. Then, the buzzing returned. This time the bug was clearly a kind of bee. I watched closely as it gathered pollen. It then darted from the flower and stung me. I gripped my hand. The pain throbbed in exactly the same frequency of the laughter of the giant hornet.
Beside me a small shrub blossomed. I climbed among the twiggy architecture and began spinning orbits of silk. Soon, the hornet returned, buzzing closer to its doom. The noises stopped abruptly when its transparent wings struck my adhesive chains. The hornet whimpered like a dog as my fangs pierced its fury skin, for sometimes one of my names is stronger than the other. The venom quickly overtook my former tormentor. I left the little tyrant to dangle in the web. No longer would I mistake isolation for solitude, nor be driven to mental detachment as a reactionary vice. The light on the rippling water was distracting, but the stream flowed with possibilities. Some spiders fish. Others catch prey in the desert. There might yet be other adaptations to find in this inconstant landscape.
# # #
(This was the initial Spider Mercy story. His interesting experiences continue in “The Last Hours of Spring”.)