There was once a man who lived in a house made of wood at the edge of the city, near the swamp. On the other side of the swamp, goods were made, and so, trucks and trucks full of goods shot past his house each day and went on into the city.
The man’s house was one room, and he kept five things inside: a narrow bed, his stove, a winter coat, extra pairs of socks, and a sitting log. He did not want many things but he very much liked having lots of socks, especially white ones that went past his ankles.
One day the man was standing in his doorway with three pairs of socks, trying to decide in the light of day which to wear. A truck shot by, rattled on like normal, shivered to a stop, and exploded. Things sprayed from the truck and over the street. The man dropped his socks and covered his face, trying to block out what was coming. When he took his hands down, a new color was spread over his street, and the truck was mostly flames.
Firemen put out the fire in no time. The truck driver had been flung onto a family’s lawn, and that family loved flowers, so that truck driver was in luck: he had landed on the cushiest tulips there ever were. Policemen had blocked off the man’s street, and one of them walked past the man, who had picked up his socks and was still standing in his doorway.
“What is this stuff?” the man asked, pointing at the street.
The color was a little orange and a little cream. When the man ran his finger over it, his fingertip came away softer, covered in fine little hairs he hadn’t noticed before.
“Who knows,” the policeman said.
The man rubbed his thumb over his forefinger, feeling the little hairs turn over. Because the man’s door had been open during the explosion, the inside of his house also had the new color. His sitting log was covered and so was his bed. The man took the sitting log outside and when he lifted the log to shake it off, it slipped in his arms. He scrambled not to drop the log, pitching forward, his arms wrapping all the way around, tighter than before.
“So nice,” the man thought, and pressed his cheek against this soft, new log, covered in a new color.
He looked around to see whether anyone was watching. The tulip family was drinking lemonade with the truck driver. The policemen were eyeing the firefighters, who were coiling up their hoses.
The man brought the log inside.
He felt silly after setting the log on the floor and stood there, staring at it, with his hands on his hips. Then he saw his socks and had another idea.
The next day, the new color was mostly gone from the street. There had been wind in the night, mixed with a little rain. The man sat on his porch, watching trucks shoot past. He reached over and patted his log, which was still covered in the strange new color, and now had four socks tacked to one side, looking a little bit like limbs.
“Hey,” a child from the tulip family said, “is that supposed to look like a dog?”
The man stared at the child. The man turned to look at his log.
“No,” the man said. “It is a dog.”
The tulip child laughed but started backing away, darting across the street during a gap in trucks.
“This is my dog,” the man started saying to anyone who walked in front of his house.
“This is my dog!” the man started yelling whenever a truck shot by.
Some people nodded. Others looked away. None of the trucks ever slowed down.
“This is my dog!” the man shouted to the tulip boy when he came out to his yard.
“You’re crazy!” the tulip boy shouted back, and turned to run inside his house.
One day the man saw a yellow dog pass by. The yellow dog was walking a few feet in front of a tall woman wearing a blue jacket. A leash connected the yellow dog to the sleeve of the blue jacket, where the tall woman’s hand was.
The man tied his remaining socks together until he had a leash long enough.
“Come on boy,” the man said, and started walking in the direction that the yellow dog and the blue-jacketed woman had gone. The leash and what was attached to it made loud scraping noises on the sidewalk.
He walked by the tulip family’s house, and it looked like no one was home. He stopped for a moment and looked at where the truck had blown up. There was a big, bug-shaped black mark on the pavement.
Around the corner, the man saw the blue jacket once again. He followed the jacket, and the little bits of yellow dog he could see, down streets he had never known.
After some time, they came to a dusty, dirt pen surrounded by an iron fence. The man was amazed. Living so close to the swamp had made him forget how dry dirt could be. But even more amazing was what was inside the fence: dogs and dogs and dogs. Yellow dogs and long dogs and little dogs and even smaller dogs. The dogs ran and barked and played, and near them, people stood, talking or not talking.
“Let’s go!” the man said, tugging the leash made of socks.
The man opened the gate and closed it, carefully, behind him. He wanted to be sure that no dogs escaped.
He moved to a corner. Almost immediately, dogs surrounded him. He could see the leash made of socks, extending into a cloud of dogs, who were barking and growling at what the leash was attached to.
“What the hell?” someone said. “Get that out of here.”
“Sir?” someone else said. “I think it’s bothering the dogs.”
“That’s my dog,” the man said.
“It’s just,” someone else said, “the dogs don’t really know what to make of it.”
The dogs growled and growled. The yellow dog, the first the man had seen, snapped at the throat of a fat gray dog. The gray dog bared his teeth and snarled. Somewhere underneath, someone bit someone else. The dogs piled and thrashed. Dust rose in the air. Tails beat against the ground. Dogs growled, some were whining, people were shouting and trying to call or pull their dogs from the tangle.
“Sir,” a woman said.
She had come from nowhere and had her hand on the man’s shoulder.
“Sir,” she said again. “You have got to take your dog out of the park.”
“But it’s my dog,” the man said.
Jen Gann is the author of Back Tuck, a chapbook of short fiction available from Magic Helicopter Press, and has a website here: jengann.com.