(Bonus Content) Cold Forest Dogs

The Dog Family lives in the Cold Forest.

Bernard Dog wakes up. Pup Chili and Pup Louis are bouncing on his stomach.

“Get up, Papa! Get up, Papa!”

So Bernard Dog stretches. He yawns. His yawn ends in a cute little murfle. Then he gets out of bed.

Bernard Dog walks down to the kitchen. Claire Dog has cooked breakfast and made coffee.

“Would you like to look at the newspaper, dear?”

The newspaper sits on the counter.

Waves of evil rise from the newspaper.

“Bark!” says Bernard Dog. “I mean, no.”

Claire smiles. “Oh, honey.”

She walks up to him. They sniff noses. Claire’s breath is cold. Then Bernard eats breakfast and drinks his coffee.

“I’m off to a day at work,” Bernard says.

“Can I come with you?” asks Pup Chili.

Bernard Dog laughs. He hugs Pup Chili. Pup Chili is cold and a little bit squishy.

“Of course,” Bernard says. “But only to the bus stop.”

So Bernard Dog and Pup Chili go to the bus stop. Bernard and Chili sit next to the bench and wait.

On the other side of the street are two squirrels.

Waves of evil rise from the two squirrels.

Bernard Dog’s nostrils flare.

“Evil everywhere,” he says. His neck hair bristles. He stands up. He barks. “Bark! Bark!”

The squirrels sneer at him, but they also look nervous. They scurry away.

Soon the bus trundles up. It’s driven by an old grizzled dog named Clancy. Bernard does not like Clancy. Clancy lost a leg in the war. Bernard feels a strange guilt because of this. Sometimes this makes Bernard pretend to be innocent. Other times it makes his neck hair bristle and makes him very angry.

“Hello, Clancy,” Bernard says.

“Hello!”

Bernard can feel Clancy’s eyes on his. They hurt him.

“Good bye, Pup Chili!” says Bernard.

But Pup Chili is gone.

Clancy’s silence is awkward.

The bus drives Bernard to work.

“Hey,” says Clancy. “I’m sorry.”

“What?”

“About—”

Bernard is on his feet. He is barking. It is suddenly very important that he bark louder than whatever Clancy is about to say.

“Whatever,” says Clancy. “Stupid dog.”

He halts the bus. It is Bernard’s stop.

Bernard gets out. He goes to the construction site. He digs. He digs very fast with his clever paws.

“Hey,” says his boss, Oliver Dogswell. “Hey. If you need some time?”

But Bernard doesn’t need time. He works all day. Then he goes home.

“I got an A on my math test, Daddy!” says Pup Chili. “It’s because I cheated!”

“I tore up the newspaper,” says Pup Louis. “I think it was bad. It was an evil newspaper! So I tore it up!”

Bernard licks the childrens’ faces to tell them they are good. Their faces are cold and a little molty.

“I’m so glad,” says Bernard Dog.

It’s late that night when he stares at Claire’s rotting face and asks her, “How come none of you left me when you died?”

“Even if something matters,” says Claire, “even if it’s right, even if it’s true, even if it’s important, there are some dogs—”

And here she looks archly at him.

“Who hang on a bit harder than those things deserve.”

He laughs and pins her down and licks her nose, trying to ignore the way that it tastes colder than ice.

9 thoughts on “(Bonus Content) Cold Forest Dogs

  1. Hmmm.

    I wonder: what happened to them?
    I wonder: or is that missing the point?
    I think: Bernard’s situation didn’t change in the story, but our understanding of it did.
    I think: hmmmm.

  2. I don’t think it’s wrong to wonder what happened to them. It helps you catch on to new things the second time around, like the newspaper, and what Clancy might have been trying to say.

    It’s odd that I feel bad for Bernard in a general way, for what’s happened to him, but not for how he’s reacting to it. He’s out of touch, and he’s bound to go hoarse from barking down everything the least bit dodgy, but still… I find his denial of the bleakness admirable.

    And I love the Hop on Pop beginning with the pups.

  3. I think this is one of the Buddhist-themed entries, about the need to let go even of great tragedy. Sort of a Buddhist look at Gnostic ideas as well, as touching but at the same time undeniably comic — “Evil everywhere”!

    I found this part very interesting:
    “Bernard does not like Clancy. Clancy lost a leg in the war. Bernard feels a strange guilt because of this. Sometimes this makes Bernard pretend to be innocent. Other times it makes his neck hair bristle and makes him very angry.”

    I understand the inappropriate guilt and anger as typical reactions of denial, but I don’t quite get the pretending to be innocent part. Can anyone explain that one?

  4. He pretends to be innocent from the strange sense of guilt. Despite the fact that some portion of his mind is convinced that he’s guilty for Clancy’s lost leg, Bernard pretends not to have anything to do with it. He pretends, as much to himself as to Clancy, that it’s not Bernard’s fault, and there’s nothing he could be expected to do about it. Similar, I’d imagine, to what you feel if you tell a panhandler that you don’t have any change on you, even though you’ve got plenty to spare.

    At least, that’s what I’m speculating.

  5. My first time through, I thought that Bernard was just one of those crazy dogs that decides that random things are evil and to be barked at. The second time through, I recognized the hints that he was a different sort of crazy….

    This entry reminds me of one of my favorite poems: The Grief of Orpheus

  6. If he barks when the newspaper and Clancy might tell him something… why does he bark at the evil squirrels?

  7. David Goldfarb, thanks for posting the link to that poem, JoeJay, thanks for your explication.

    The barking at squirrels is indeed a dog thing, but it isn’t just a dog thing. It’s needed in order to show that Bernard Dog has reached the state where he really does see evil everywhere. This can happen to people for any one of a number of reasons. It doesn’t have to be due to personal tragedy or abuse; it can be due to temperament, or a sort of occupational hazard.

    I remember, back in 1993, being very tangentially involved in a child safety campaign about 5 gallon buckets. Somewhere between 20 and 50 children in the U.S. drown in them each year. It’s possible to redesign them to make this less likely, or at least stick mandatory warning labels on them, but it was the usual story — this would have cost some amount of money, so industry formed a lobbying group, strings were pulled, the U.S. agency for child safety head dismissed any action with a lecture about the individual responsibility of those 20 to 50 parents per year.

    Ever since then, those damned buckets have been turning up in my poetry. Here’s a fragment, from a poem called “Invisible Hand”:

    Objects aren’t solid anymore
    A hidden net of politics
    Shapes each one
    Toys are made of a thousand soft, soft whispers
    And every bucket has its secret shadow

    Which, you know, at some level is funny. At some point you realize that you’re acting a lot like Bernard Dog with those squirrels.

  8. But is he barking at them because he thinks they’re evil? or is he barking at them to warn other people that it’s not impossible for squirrels to be evil? :twisted:

    These names might be important i think. Benard, Clancy, Chili, Louis, Claire, Oliver dogswell… don’t know really. It’s funny to think of Clifford the Big Red Dog / McGruff hybrid barking at Tom Clancy anyway ;)

    Or it could just be that he’s gone too far into moral relativism. I think some of the problem of moral relativism isn’t that you are too accepting or see things from the wrong perspective, it’s that after a while you lose the ability to see things as good.. in essence things that are truly good threaten your preconceptions about good and evil, because if good things exist that means you can’t really say “well everyone makes mistakes”. This is how moral relativism is a slippery slope – if you go too far and say “Moral Relativism Is The Truth,” then anything that is truly good is evil because it’s a lie, and of course you can’t see evil because anything can be justified. It’s very dangerous and I think probably easy for people to fall into that trap if they don’t see it coming.

    Clancy is a watchdog you know… he writes stories about bad things happening. he’s very much barking, very much trying to warn about things that are right in front of us. That’s why he seems extremist to some people I guess, but I think since Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six (The video game), people don’t take him seriously and just enjoy his products for the novelty rather than for any deeper message. I wonder how Tom Clancy feels about this.

Leave a Reply