Open Call 2019, Short Stories - Conor Barnes



The Uncontrite Anchorite

By Conor O’Brian Barnes


Life is a torment, Patterson thought. It’s not given as a gift; it’s inflicted as a wound. All he ever wanted was peace and quiet. He worked all his life at the Post Office to buy his home. He was seventy when he purchased his refuge from the world, A Tudor Revival in the middle of a leafy street in one of thesafest suburbs of one of the dying Empire’s most dangerous cities. For the first two weeks he thought he was in heaven, so peaceful and quiet were his new surroundings. But soon he was tormented by the hell-hound that howled off and on all night in the backyard of the home directly behind his own.

Patterson considered confronting the owner of the barking beast, but he was small and timid, and when he saw his neighbor between the cracks of his backyard fence, he was intimidated by the muscular, leather-clad man he took to be a biker. Why was a man like this living in the suburbs? he wondered. I worked and scrounged and saved all my life to make enough money to escape from the scum of the city, but when I finally thought I’d escaped it, I see that the scum has followed me.

Sometimes, he’d sleep undisturbed through the night, but other times, the growling and yelping canine would wake him in the wee hours. After many nights of barely sleeping, he went to a pay phone at the mall—one of the last remaining in the suburbs of the city—and called Animal Control to complain anonymously about the tormenting animal.

When he gave the husky’s address to the lady on the other end of the line, her voice suddenly evinced understanding.


“Oh, yes sir, yes indeed, we know the address, sir, yes, we’ve had several complaints from other neighbors and have given the owner a warning. It seems the warning hasn’t made him change his ways, though, since he’s still keeping the dog out at all hours, so we’re gonna send an officer to ticket him today. Thank you for phoning in your complaint, sir, we take them all seriously.”

“Thank you as well, mam, and have a nice day,” Patterson said delighted that at last something was going to be done about the hell-hound.

A few hours later, Patterson heard a commotion in the biker’s driveway, and he crept outside to observe what was happening through the cracks in his backyard fence. An Animal Control officer was standing between the muscular biker and his next-door neighbor, a rotund, white-haired man about Patterson’s age.
“Is this your doing, Hanlon?” the biker demanded of the white-haired man.

“Go to Hell, Tomlinson, you son of a bitch, that damned dog of yours has been disturbing your neighbors’ ever since you got it. Can’t you keep it inside? Can’t you keep it quiet? People around here have to work, you know. Don’t you have any consideration for other people, asshole?”

“There’s no need for that, sir,” the officer said to Hanlon. “And there’s no need for that, either,” he said to the biker when he gave Hanlon the finger. “Now let me tell you what’s gonna happen, Mr. Tomlinson. I’m gonna ticket you for the noise disturbance; youhave to keep that dog quiet. If complaints continue to come in, we have the right to remove the animal at our discretion. Is that clear? Do you understand? Youhave to keep the dog indoors, sir, we’ve received many complaints, and if you don’t comply with the ordinance, we’ll have to impound the animal, and I know you don’t want that.”

“This is bullshit,” the biker said.

“Here you are, sir,” the officer said handing him the ticket.

“Two hundred and forty-five bucks! What the fuck?” Tomlinson roared. “Two hundred and forty-five bucks for a barking dog?”

“You may dispute it before the judge if you like, sir, but that’s the amount of the ticket after someone’s been warned.”

“You’re a piece of shit, Hanlon,” Tomlinson said crumpling the pink ticket in his hand and charging into his back door.

Patterson smiled to himself behind the fence, happy that the biker had gotten his just desserts, and he went to bed that night confident that he’d hear no more howls from the hell-hound. But in the night’s darkest hour, the beast began to yelp and howl louder than ever. Ceaselessly, the beast wailed, and poor Patterson couldn’t get a wink of sleep. The next day, only half-awake, he went to the pay phone in the mall and anonymously called Animal Control.

“You’re not the only one to complain about your neighbor, sir,” the lady on the other end of the line told him, “but it’ll be at least a few days before an officer can come over and ticket the owner. Wild dogs have been reported roaming around all over the city, sir, and all officers in the county have to give their capture priority.”

For four daysthe diabolical husky howled from dusk till dawn,andby the fifth day Patterson had enough. Late Friday night, he planted ten pellets of rat poison in a fat porterhouse and threw it over his backyard fence when all the lights were out at the biker’s house. The dog soon fell silent, and Patterson slept peacefully until late Saturdaymorning when he was awakened by gunshots and screams.

Hurrying to his rear window and looking through the blinds, he saw Tomlinson’s truck speed off and he snuck outside to find out what had happened. Peering through the cracks in the backyard fence, he saw Hanlon rolling around in a puddle of blood in Tomlinson’s driveway. “Dear God! Dear God! I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot!” the old man cried.

“Mr. Hanlon! Mr. Hanlon! What happened! What happened!” a youth yelled running to him from across the street.

“He shot me! Tomlinson shot me! The son of a bitch!” Hanlon groaned.

The wailing of sirens could be heard in the distance and Patterson crouched down to reduce his chances of being seen.

“Hold on, sir, just hold on. The ambulance is almost here,” the young man told Hanlon, but the old man stopped writhing in the slimy pool of blood soon thereafter, and Patterson knew he was dead.

To his right, near the rock garden in Tomlinson’s backyardwhere he’d thrown the steak, Patterson saw the deceased husky lying on its side with its tongue dangling from its mouth, and he snuck back into his home when the paramedics and cops arrived.

Early in the evening, a policeman knocked on his door and asked if he knew what had happened.

“I’m sorry, officer,” Patterson said. “I’ve been listening to music on my headphones all day in my study. What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

“It seems there was a violent dispute between a couple of your neighbors, sir. The guy who owns the house right behind yours shot the guy who lives beside him. Sadly, he didn’t make it.”

“That’s terrible! Why would anyone do such a thing?”

“The suspect turned himself in a couple of hours ago. He says the guy he shot killed his dog. He found it lying dead in his backyard this morning and he confronted the victim about it. They argued for a short time in the driveway and the suspect shot him three times.”

“That’s terrible!”

“I understand the dog made a lot of noise at all hours and plenty of folks in the neighborhood were unhappy about it. Looks like the guy who got shot had enough, and took matters into his own hands. I wish he hadn’t done that. He’s sure paid a heavy price for killing that dog. Was the animal a nuisance to you, sir? I assume that if it kept the neighborhood up it must’ve kept you up too.”

“I heard the thing barking on a few occasions,” Patterson said, “but I listen to music on my headphones most of the time—the classics and the great jazz men—so I don’t hear what’s going on beyond my own little world too often, but the dog never really caused me trouble… I’m just shocked by this, officer…It’s terrible.”

“People shouldn’t take the law into their own hands,” the policemen said shaking his headwith regret. “The funny thing is, Animal Control was gonna impound the dog tomorrow. And Mr. Tomlinson—that’s the guy behind you who shot his neighbor—wasn’t gonna get it back. There were just too many complaints. Dozens. But problems with his neighbors are now the least of his concerns.”

“I should think so!” Patterson said. “Thanks for letting me know about what happened today, officer. It’s so sad. So dreadfully sad. I just hope that nothing like this ever happens again.”

“I don’t think it will, sir. It’s always been a good neighborhood, and it looks like Mr. Tomlinson, the one bad apple in the barrel, is gonna be gone for good. Have a nice day, sir. I have to go speak to the rest of your neighbors.”

“Of course, officer. And again, thanks so much for letting me know what happened.”

I should feel guilty about this, Patterson thought as the policeman walked away,but with the biker and the hell-hound gone forever, I’ll likely enjoy peace and quiet until the end of my days. It’s too bad about Hanlon, of course, but I didn’t shoot him,and what’s done is done. Everything that happened was Tomlinson’s fault, not mine, so there’s no point in beating myself up about it. Yes, I killed the dog, I admit, but the hell-hound had to dieso that a quiet and peaceful refuge from the world could finally be mine!


Conor O'Brian Barnes was born in Berkeley and educated at the University of California and St. Andrews University in Scotland. He teaches at the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science. He has recently had stories published in Mobius: A Journal of Social Change, Ariel Chart, Artemis, Bull: Men’s Fiction, and Down in the Dirt.


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