A Temple for Dogs.

“The words never listen
And teachers, oh they never learn
My warmth from the candle
Though I feel too cold to burn”.

– Say Hello 2 Heaven, Temple of the Dog

The rain came down, formed through the cracks in the ozone. It carried the scent to the stretched concrete streets below.

The water crept down off of roof tops, over broken gutter edges and gargoyles and between the gaps in the rusted iron frames of the buildings.

He sat in the top floor of a burnt out tower block on the edge of the ninth district; the place where most things had gone (or been sent) to be forgotten. Now only the rain remained, and seemed to want to wash away whatever was left.

The water cascaded in small vertical streams like vines along the last remnants of wallpaper. Over time it had begun creating small channels for itself in the cracks of the concrete. The cloud rolled above, there was no light in the sky. If the season’s had still meant anything it would have been the height of summer – a dog’s day –  and yet there was nothing but ashen cloud and permeating damp.

“Every dog must have one” he thought to himself.

He turned his back on the city and the large ragged hole where once perhaps there had been a window. Descending down through the building, he following the path of the rain back to the ground floor, and to the only work he had left; that which he continued to create for himself.

It had been a long time since he was able to sound a note from anything with strings, once the cold and water had entered his bones, the pain that figured the tips of his hands had become too nagging. Unable to accompany himself, he had all but ceased to play his pipes or sing.

Canvas was too fragile, too eager to take to damp and mould and besides that paint was far too rare. Although he could mix his own, it was a time consuming process, rarely resulting in shades or pigments he cared for.

Instead he turned to what came readily to hand; stone and concrete that lay barren all over the city. He was still able to hold a chisel and hammer and  although he had no experience, he set about learning the only way he had ever known how – by simply doing.

After a period of trial and error, he began to see features in the strikes that he made.

As time passed the blocks he dragged in from across emptied highways began to reveal likeness’. Though odd and angular, the faces contained a comforting familiarity.  While the rain continued to fall, their steadfast expressions, would soften sometimes in the changing light. Their cold eyes, reflecting for just a moment, their features mimicking no-one in particular.

In the evenings the dogs came to feed and shelter. Sometimes ascending up over the first few floors where the staircases still reached, attracted perhaps by the noise or the scent of the man.

In order to climb further himself, he had needed to devise a series of pulleys, ropes and ladders. With doing so he eventually found himself on the top floors, staring out onto the rest of the city, under the blanket of ember coloured cloud.

The upper floors offered him some sense of security, while the dogs hounded the basement and lower floors, dragging in whatever they’d been able to find in the streets, not often staying more than a day or a night, moving on to hunt elsewhere.

He would sit still, crow like above and observe, hidden in the shadow and the dripping water, waiting the see what would be dragged in.

He would scavenge the debris for anything that might be useful, rat or squirrel pelts. Sometimes something bigger if the pack had enough dogs. Lighters, matches, photos, or penknives stashed in cargo pockets, even bones occasionally abandoned that could be boiled down to make a weak broth.

Eventually he began to recognise some of the packs and the scent of their wet hides.  Two or three dogs began to return and remain in the building longer than before. They seemed to enjoy the sound and activity he created in the floors above.

As weeks, and months passed he began to travel further out in order to collect stone and concrete, when he did he began to realise that these dogs would accompany him. Hidden around broken building corners, the echo of dark black and brown coats passed just out of sight behind fallen crash barriers and rubble. He would hear their paws passing through puddles in the empty underpasses behind him.

During one such walk, after he had become accustomed to their shadows on his day trips there was a bang that echoed through the broken courtyards around them. Following it, a sharp short whimper. The edge of a tail or paw caught the corner of a trash can, the metal can had toppled over noisily and revealed the dog slunk behind it. Immediately the animal froze and locked eyes with the man.

For a long moment, as the ringing metal of the trash can gave way to the sound of the rain falling into the inches of filthy water that surrounded them, they both held their breath.

The dog crouched with it’s paws spread too wide in the mud, it’s ears down, caught off guard.

The man righted himself from the hunched position he had unknowingly adopted. His body language relaxed. The animal cocked it’s head a little, and then shook the rain from it’s black muzzle, before doing the same with it’s back legs, showering greyish drops from the ends of it’s tail.

As easily as that, they seemed to come to an agreement and suddenly were no longer passive companions.

The dogs continued to roam the city with him, by now proving much less skittish or shy. Together they seemed to come by food more easily, able to sniff it out, even in the damp and mud, and able to access places where paws could not. With the help of the dogs he was also able to drag back greater pieces of stone from around the city’s ruins, as he began to have to travel further to get material suitable for sculpting.

Between them they filled the lower floors of the tower with faces hewn from the ruins around them. The heads and shoulders of friends, allies and aliens. Faces that the man had passed on the street once, and thought of never again. Until years, decades later, he found himself chipping their likeness from the reclaimed rock in front of him.

Time rolled by, the wanderer’s hair grew long around his shoulders and began to grey, while the the muzzles of his companions began to do the same.

Though his skill had increased, his sight and hands had slowed. Regardless he worked in the rare sunlight when it would break and by dim candles when the dark was most consuming. He chipped away at the sculptures piece by piece, inch by inch and the stone dropped to the floor blanketing the mud and dirt around him.

One night a band of strays wandered into the outskirts of the city, for the first time in a long time, on two feet not four, with boots like the man’s.  A small group who had survived a long time on wit and wariness.

They entered the worn shell of the building in district nine, drawn in cautiously like moths by the flicker of the distant candles.

As they came beneath the shelter of the upper floors, they found themselves surrounded by ghosts. More faces than they had seen in years. More than some of them had ever seen. They gazed around a crowd of stone expressions, eyes and emotions, all reflecting in the last light of flickering candles.

As they passed amongst the faces, row after row some of them reached up to touch the stone cheeks and lips, and as they did they found that the tears came quickly, warm and honest and brutal as any truth.

They looked upon he faces of all those they had ever loved, or hated and they wept, and as they did their tears mixed with the rain and the mud.

Upstairs the found an old man, he did not move as the sound of their boots approached him. His chest did not rise or lower as he lay in a nest of blankets and dried pelts

A chisel and a hammer were laid out on a rag at his right hand.

The following morning the strays, went on their way to reclaim what they could of the city, years would pass and eventually, as well as homes they were able to to build families, and plant gardens to feed themselves. As children became old enough, on fine days they would walk them to the old building in district nine, and they would show them the faces of those who had come before them. They would picnic in the grass that now grew up around the statues, and they would share stories of how life had been and how it might be yet.

Packs of dogs still roamed the building and the grounds around it. On nights where the clouds would roll over, and the rain would fall, the dogs would bring pieces of stone and cracked concrete. Dragging broken brick and mortar with their muzzles, and they would pile them in the basement of the building like offerings on an alter, as the rain came down through the iron and cement.

From a cold water flat somewhere in Brooklyn.

“You’re a writer?” she said, as she looked up toward the desk where his typewriter sat.

“I suppose.”

“Well you don’t seem certain about it, either of you.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well you said you ‘suppose’, you’re a writer.”

“Yes, but you said either of us? Me and who else?”

“The typewriter darling. It doesn’t seem sure about the whole thing either, there’s not even a ribbon in it.”

“There’s not?… Oh…I suppose…I had to step out just before you arrived.”

“Step out?”

“Yes…”

“Well, where to?”

“It’s a long story.”

“Well you’re a writer, and I’m in no rush to get anywhere, I only live downstairs after all. So tell me a story…”

“I hardly even know you. I don’t know if I want to.”

“Hardly seems relevant, it’s your job after all, nobody is supposed to want to do their job are they?”

“Writers are.”

“Well you don’t even seem sure you are one, so stop worrying so much and tell me a story.”

“I’m not a storyteller, I’m a writer. There’s a difference.”

“I don’t see that there is. Well what is it then?”

“I write! I don’t just make things up, and tell people stories.”

“It’s all the same in my book.”

“You seem more the storyteller type.”

“Suppose I am.”

She lit a cigarette and they both watched the blue smoke slowly spiral towards the ceiling. Arching just beneath the chandelier, it doubled over on itself and descended again.

The birds had started to chirp outside the sun was nearly fully up.

“Where do you think we’ll be in fifty years time?” She began again.

“What do you mean?”

“You know, what do you think the world will be like, what do you think you’ll be doing?”

“In fifty years? We’ll I’d better at least be published by then. Written something of real worth y’know?”

“I don’t suppose they’ll even need typewriters by then.”

“What?”

“Well surely somebody will have dreamt up something else, you know a machine that just listens to you speak and does the typing for you.”

“Nonsense.”

“It isn’t. It seems perfectly plausible. I mean think of it, it’s not so long ago people would have laughed at you if you’d told them we were driving around in motor cars, and writing on machines instead of with a pen.”

“I still write with a pen sometimes.”

“So?”

“So people will still want to write with typewriters.”

“I suppose, there’s always a few who cling onto things. Usually it’s either just because they’re scared to move on, or they feel they’ve got a statement to make by not doing what’s expected of them.”

“Either way we’ll still need typewriters.”

“Perhaps, maybe it’s you they’ll replace then.”

“Me?”

“Well you know they’ll probably invent a robot or something that’s better at it than you are. Won’t need a typewriter or you either, it’ll just dash off stories like a printing press, somebody will bind them up and put them straight onto a shelf in the bookstore.”

“What a load of rubbish! I’ve never heard anything that’s so absurd. How could a machine ever write anything? Let alone something anybody would want to pay to read.
They have no emotion, no passion, no romance. They don’t even have a soul!”

“I suppose. You certainly had plenty of all that up until now. Perhaps you should put more of it into your writing and less of it into intercepting girls as they come out of the powder room”.

She smirked.

“Intercepted? That seems a strong way of putting it.You didn’t seem to mind so much at the time”

“I didn’t. I still don’t.
I’m merely making an observation, you could have been here writing instead. If your typewriter had had a ribbon of course.”

“Well it just so happens that’s exactly why I was there.”

“To pick up a typewriter ribbon?”

“Yes.” It was the most certain he’d sounded of anything all evening.

“You were picking up a typewriter ribbon at 11 o’clock at night in a club on the lower east side?”

“That’s just what I was trying to tell you.”

“When?”

“Before, when you asked me to tell you a story.”

“Well go on then.”

“It hardly seems worth it now, you aren’t going to believe me no matter what I say. You’re convinced I was only in that place with the intention of ‘intercepting’ you.”

“Or who ever came through the powder room door before me.”

“I was there to meet Ronnie.”

“I thought you were there to get a typewriter ribbon?”

“I was, Ronnie works in the club office, he said he might be able to lend me one if I swung by, there’s nowhere else open at that hour to get one.”

“And it couldn’t wait until morning?”

“You have to write when the mood strikes you.”

“So I’ve heard. You couldn’t use a pen like a normal person?”

“No, not this time. And there I was as you exited the powder room, and I had it exactly what I needed.”

“A typewriter ribbon?”

“No a story”

“Good”.

With that she pulled out the last of her cigarettes, slipped her legs from under the sheets onto the floor, and began to get dressed.

“Well it’s been lovely, I really would love to read your story when you finish it. But I expect my cat is missing me — he gets awfully fussy when I stay out, he’ll want fed” She said as she pulled on the last of the black dress she’d been wearing when they met.

“Let me know how it turns out.”

“I will” he said, looking confused as she slid open the window, sat on the sill and swung both her legs onto the metal landing outside.

“We really live in the same building?”

“Right upstairs darling, I told you. Why would I lie about a thing like that?”

“I don’t know.”

As she closed the window behind her and vanished up the fire-escape, he glanced at his wristwatch on the dresser beside him.

It was eight-thirty on Tuesday morning. He didn’t have anywhere else to be but he didn’t feel like going back to bed. After adjusting the pillows behind him and falling back onto them to consider his options he concluded he’d get up and make himself some coffee.

Perhaps he would head back down to the lower east side and see if Ronnie had clocked off yet. Maybe he’d gotten talking to a few more interesting girls as they made the trip from the powder room door across the floor of the nightclub.

Few of them ever had much of a story, or at least nothing original, and even fewer turned out to live in the same building.

It was those little details that made things interesting… the kind of things he couldn’t think of the word for, though it felt right on the tip of his tongue.

…”Anna!” He remembered her name.

As he climbed out of bed pulling on his underwear from the floor, he made toward the door for the kitchen. But suddenly found himself sat at the little desk where the typewriter sat.

He slid open the bottom drawer, pushed aside a few pencils and note pads and pulled out a small box.

He took the ribbon from it’s packaging, untied it, inserted it into the machine and began to type.

He didn’t stop until late into the evening. It was the little things that made the stories interesting, the anomalies.