The Country Life
a short story by Andrew Shane Autry.
The dog next door was barking again.
Ryan sat up, seeking to free himself from a tangle of bedclothes, and stared blearily at the clock on the dresser opposite his bed. He fell back with a groan, while outside the sounds of barking ceased. It was five past two in the morning and he was now wide awake. With no real hope, he flipped his pillow to the cool side and burrowed deeper into the blankets, shutting his eyes tightly. He began counting softly to himself.
The silence lasted approximately twelve seconds before a sudden, fresh eruption of barking drove all thoughts of going back to sleep from his mind. The deep baritone bellowing cut through the silence like gunfire, rendering any chance for further slumber highly improbable.
Ryan sighed deeply, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, then rolled out of bed and slipped his feet into his house shoes. He stumbled through the bedroom and took his robe from the hook on his closet door, slipping it over his pajamas as he stepped into the hallway. He didn't turn on any lights as he made his way through the living room and weaved around the piano and between the sofa and the coffee table. "Radar," he said softly to himself as he slid through the blackness, amazed at how familiar this place already was to him. It was as if he had been living here all his life.
He continued through the kitchen and into the laundry room, reaching blindly for the doorknob he knew would be there. He found it on his first try, and smiled to himself as he turned the handle. He shivered as he opened the back door and felt the crisp, cold night air blow his hair from his forehead and the last remnants of sleep from his brain.
He couldn't see a blessed thing out there. It was one of those chilly autumn nights with absolutely no moon to speak of. The sky was entirely overcast, cutting off any starlight that might have otherwise provided at least a hint of visibility. Ryan thought about his apartment back in the city and wondered again if he had made the right decision. There were no streetlights out here anywhere.
"And that's one of the reasons you moved here," he reminded himself, with a condescending tone. "You always complained about the streetlights and how you couldn't see the stars. And besides, you really need to quit talking to yourself out loud."
Talking to himself out loud was one of the many eccentricities that were gradually becoming standard operating procedure for Ryan since he had left the aforementioned city and moved to the middle of nowhere. "Cause if nowhere has a definable middle, this is at least somewhere in its neighborhood," he added wryly to the darkness, pulling his robe more tightly around him.
Ryan stared into the emptiness in the direction of his neighbor's house. Neighbor was a word that meant something very different out here in the country, especially when compared to its former association to people with whom he had shared a wall back in his city apartment. The neighbor currently in question lived about two hundred yards away, and the next closest house beyond that was over three miles further down the road. "At least I know for sure they can't hear my toilet flush anymore."
The dog was still barking, but Ryan quickly gave up any hope of being able to see what it was that had drawn its noisome ire. The beast was likely barking at a raccoon or a skunk or some other nocturnal intruder. Quite possibly it was barking its fool head off for no good reason at all whatsoever. "Dogs are like that sometimes," he added for the benefit of no one in particular.
It was amazing though, how the sound carried, considering it was coming from about two football field lengths away. The funny thing was that Ryan knew that life in the city had been exponentially louder than the sound of a single dog barking, but back then he had never been bothered by the noise. He knew that he had previously slept right through the night to a symphony of car horns, noisy neighbors, and televisions blaring at all hours. Nonetheless, the solitary dog next door had cost him many a night's sleep during the half a year since he decided to try his luck at the country life.
Ryan's eyes had now adjusted to the darkness somewhat, and he could vaguely make out a slightly different shade of charcoal which was caused by the line of trees standing about fifty feet from his back door. "Good evening woods," he said cordially, then turned around and stepped back inside.
"Stupid mutt," he grumbled as he closed the door and re-entered his kitchen. He flipped on the light and turned on his coffee maker. "Might as well get some work done since I'm up anyway."