It was late November and the beginning of summer vacation in the Fleetward neighborhood of Conrad County. Leon was bored. His parents had left on a trip that would last at least a month, in order to visit a great-aunt who was ill. He had been forbidden to go. This was his first week alone at home. And the neighbor's dog wouldn't. stop. barking.
“That's it, that's enough!”
The 17-year-old jumped out of bed, wearing only his pajama shorts, and flew down the narrow stairs. He crossed the kitchen in seven steps and ran across the dry grass, giving the impulse to jump over the fence that separated his house from the neighbor's.
He only did this because the dog was not in the yard. The animal had been inside the house for days, barking non-stop. Leon knew this.
Up the three rotten steps of the neighbor's house, the boy punched the door and shouted:
From where he stood, he could see shadows of what must have been Andrei's kitchen, but all he could see was darkness in the long hallway that connected the kitchen to the living and dining rooms (he also knew this since all the houses in the Fleetward neighborhood looked the same, millimeter by millimeter).
Leon heard more desperate barking and the sound of paws on the wooden floor. He thanked God that there was a door, albeit a thin one, between him and the animal, which advanced on the door, standing on its hind legs. The dog's drool splattered on the top screen of the door with each bark.
He tried to calm the animal, but to no avail, he yelled again.
But no human sound could be heard from the house. Leon cursed and slammed his forehead against the doorframe, frustrated and furious. The dog continued to bark.
Deep down, Leon knew that it wasn't the dog's fault, yet he was absolutely certain that if the creature continued to bark, he would either kill the dog or kill himself, and since his survival instinct spoke louder, he would kill the dog. In the end, there was never any other option.
Leon measured the animal, which standing upright was almost his size and could take him down without any effort. A Bernese with homicidal tendencies, it would be the first of a breed.
The boy was startled and almost fell back onto the grass. A large man with bent shoulders and a frightening expression stared at Leon and seeing red. Suddenly he was no longer brave.
He knew that there were days when Andrei was friendly enough to give you a short nod when you passed by on the other side of the street (not by choice, but out of fear of the guy himself), while on other days it was better to stay far, far away from the neighbor. And it seemed that today was one of those days.
Leon swallowed with some difficulty and went down to the lawn, stumbling on the steps.
“It's that dog of yours that won't stop barking!”
The neighbor walked over to Leon, stopped a few inches away, frowned, and stared at him with cold eyes. As much as he would never admit it, Leon could piss his pajamas at any time now. The presence of that man was terrifying, and his unshaven beard, bad breath, and disheveled hair did nothing to minimize his bestial appearance. Andrei turned, holding Leon's gaze for one second longer, and walked up to the house.
“I don't hear any barking”, his voice was hoarse, as if he had been shouting all night.
In fact, the dog no longer barked (Leon couldn't remember at what point he had stopped barking), he only whined softly.
“But-but of course he's not barking now! It's because you're here!”
Andrei ignored Leon's fearful and wronged voice and entered the house.
The boy clenched his hands in frustration, anger and courage coming back to him in waves. He pointed a finger at the door and shouted:
“Next time that animal barks, I'm going to grab his face and shove it up your shitty ass!”
The thin wooden door opened in a flash and Andrei ran across the sun-baked lawn towards Leon, who, in desperation, flew like a rocket and threw himself over the metal fence that separated the houses, catching his foot on one of the wires and falling face first into the dry grass. Andrei stopped at the dividing fence, nor did his nose advance on Leon's land.
The boy crawled and stumbled, running half on all fours to get as fast and safely to his house as possible.
When the door closed, Andrei let out a caustic laugh, which sounded more like a bark, and said lowly:
“You don't have balls, brat.”
Putting his hands in the pockets of his dirty, frayed jeans, he walked slowly back to his house. Climbed the three steps, sniffed under his arm, and looked seriously at the huge dog that took up most of the kitchen and wagged its tail.
“Nothing better than a good bath after a war.”
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