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The dog barked again in the night. I went out into the yard armed with a stick, but couldn't find it. The spectral dog has been haunting my dreams. Who did it belong to? None of the neighbors had kept a dog.
The road beyond the communal gardens was clear. It had been empty for weeks. I could not remember the last time I saw a red double-decker bus pass. It used to bring me comfort, seeing the empty buses still pass on the road beyond my window. I imagined myself sitting on the upper deck, alone, looking out at the houses and building blocks going past. I would ride the bus to the end of the line, I thought. I would ride the bus to the terminal and get off and wander alone through rows and rows of silent buses, under a convalescing moon.
But I never rode the bus. It was not essential travel. And then there were no more buses.
I couldn't find the dog. I looked and looked. Foxes watched me from the shadows, their eyes bright in the moonlight. A frog hopped away. Night flowers bloomed. I had begun to hate the flowers. Humanity wasn't meant to live surrounded by flowers. I missed the bustle of the streets and the whistle of trains. I missed the shouted arguments, the sullen mutters of a supermarket checkout clerk. I missed going to the shops. There were no shops.
I glanced up at the flats above my own. They were all dark and empty but for a single light on the fifth floor. For days I tried to find the occupant. I climbed the stairs and went around each floor, trying to find anyone still living there. No one ever answered. Who did the light belong to? It came on every night. Sometimes I heard music. At other times I heard laughter, dancing. But I could never find them.
The dog barked again. I turned and turned.
"Show yourself!" I screamed. Nobody answered. A raven took flight overhead from the branches of a tree. It traced a path under the moon.
I went back inside. The television was on, showing nothing but static. I watched the static for hours, imagining old shows imprinted on the fuzzy ever-changing pixel noise. The lights still worked in my flat, and the water still ran. Someone came and collected the garbage once a week, but who? I lay in wait one time, hoping to catch the garbage thieves in the act, but I saw no one. And yet the garbage kept disappearing.
"You must relax," my companion said. He was sitting in the armchair. My companion was made of pillows and wrapped in a blanket. I had drawn him a face. His hair was made out of string. "There is nothing for us to do but wait."
"I am tired of waiting," I said.
"Relax," he said again. I had begun to hate my companion. "If you do something you love it is as if you've never worked a day in your life."
I tried to ignore him. I watched the TV. The dog barked again outside. I cursed and reached for my stick. I did my rounds again. No dog. When I looked up I could see that light again on the fifth floor of the building, and heard music and laughter. Glasses clinked. I ran inside. I climbed the stairs. I searched the fifth floor but I could not find a lit flat, all the doors were dark and nothing shone through the gaps. All the windows were empty.
I returned to my flat. I live on the ground floor. I am very lucky. I used to have neighbors. I hated my neighbors. They had come out into the garden and parked themselves in front of my windows and picnicked. But they were gone now.
"Exercise," my companion said. "Sing a song you like to cheer yourself up. Raise money for a good cause. Dance as though no one is watching."
The dog barked again but I didn't care. I took my companion roughly by the head. He tried to struggle but I was stronger. I dragged him outside. His pillowy body flopped against the hard ground.
"Please," he said. "Don't do it. There is only us now."
I didn't listen. The dog barked again. I dug.
I dug and I dug.
The foxes watched me from the shadows with their eerie moonlit eyes. They were always watching. The frog hopped away into a puddle. I dug.
"We must all keep our spirits up," my companion said. I shoved him into the hole. "Society is the sum of the interactions of individuals."
He was still talking as I covered him in dirt. The dog barked again. Upstairs I could hear music and laughter. I went back inside. I sat in my chair. I watched the TV. There was nothing but static.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, October 13th, 2020
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