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The walls appeared from nowhere, rising before me like the nightmare that they were. I'd turn one corner, having seen the wide-open space stretching in recline, beckoning like some Degas print, only to find a wall sprouting, upward, downward, any which way. And I was blocked in. Again. And I'd hear it's rasping bark, over and over, growing louder as it got nearer to me. Incessant. Always there. With a desperation born of frustration and fear, a fear sweaty in its grip, I turned to face it. It was on me now, wild-eyed, hackle-backed, pulling at its lead.

"And now, the Hound of Hell shall be released upon the sinner, the shameless sodomite before me, appalling to the eyes of the Lord. Die, my child!" And with that cry my Mother would free the straining dog.

"Aaaargh!" This time I awoke wet and salty, arms flailing whilst my eyes stared as wild as the dog's had. All I could hear in the chasm of my room was my heart, pounding like a Flanders lullaby. And the bark of the damned dog. I'd noticed that in recent weeks I'd begun to assimilate the constant noise into my dreams. And now my nightmares. I'd welcomed this latest development until now. Childhood memories of Sparky and myself running across endless clover meadows in everlasting summer sunshine, seeing who could jump higher above the occasional poppies, were far preferable to endless hours of lying awake listening to the constant barking. But now the sinister side of my psyche had begun to play with the external stimuli of my life and that was not a good thing.

I wiped the sweat off my face and reached for the water glass on my bed-side cabinet. Empty. The digital clock scratched 4am onto my tired retinas.

"Fucking dog!!!" I hissed, throwing back the covers and padding down stairs. Once awake I have a real hard time getting back to sleep naturally but the bottle of Bushmills' in my study was an old stand-by. I liked the fire it set in my stomach, despite my irrational fear of spontaneous human combustion, and the evocation of my fore-bears it brought to my mind.

"Have you had any Irish in you lately?" I mouthed the advertising slogan, and couldn't resist following it up with a wishful sigh.

"Not in far too long," I answered myself. And chuckled. That damned dog was driving me crazy too right. I slumped in my old armchair, as faithful and trustworthy as a dog but a helluva lot quieter. Of course, I'd complained to the owner, and it stopped for awhile. But it was back before too long. I'd never had so many murderous thoughts since I'd moved to the country. "All that fresh air," my friends in the city would say, "Look what it did to the Southern Baptists!" And I'd logged off or hung up the phone and gone back to my rural idyll. Except that fucking dog had taken a leak over all that.

"Mr Gael, you will absolutely adore it, why it's a dream come true!" I hated realtors at the best of times but being a good gay brother I had gone with a bunch of queens out of Queens to find me a new home far from the skyscrapers and I could do without the Ru Paul impression on the phone. I feared some thing that would resemble Hansel and Gretle's gingerbread house or something "tasteful" in magenta. The last place I'd looked at with them, somewhere in the Hudson Valley, was fine from the outside but the row of porcelain hands, outstretched, clutching rose pot-pori like stigmata, leading the way upstairs to a master bedroom that Tammy Fay Baker would have died for, (oh please God let her view it!) was too much. Clive, the realtor, assured me he had friends who could redesign all of this for me. I'm sure that he had, but, like my embarrassing crush on Josh, the high school geek, the horrible memory would always be there.

However, the new place really was a dream come true. I'd never seen myself as a mountain man per se, I simply designed for those who really were. Parka jackets, huggable fleeces, sturdy hiking boots, that kind of stuff. When urbanites had decided to make these the next big fashion statement they'd made me a large pile of money and a chance to head for them there hills. It made me laugh to think of macho men skiing in Jackson Hole wearing snow suits designed by a fag who could have thought of far more interesting things to be doing with Jackson Hole.

The cabin was just rustic enough, lots of smooth, sanded-down floors, that I'd covered with crazy coloured Native American blankets, but with all the amenities necessary for an ex-

Manhattan dweller. It took time to get used to the amount of space that was mine all mine. A large backyard, though that word hardly describes it, faded out to a forest thick with pine and darkness. It scared me at first, I'll admit. Stereotypical backwoods' visions from "Deliverance" played on the screen in my head and while that may be a wacky fantasy in the Village when faced with the potential reality it became more than unappealing. But I had Sean to look forward to at weekends. He lived even further upstate, a refreshing change to the Big Apple bitches. He'd leave work on Friday and drive down to me, a roaring open-fire and fun with Smores that Frankie Delaney, my old scout-master, would have sold his Mother Superior to experience. The weekends were an artificial way of working out whether we could live together, mingling our boxershorts in blissful union. Sean loved the place, even maybe loved me. He lay there one Sunday evening, in my boxershorts as it happened...God, you gotta love a guy with Snoopy on his ass...and gave me a long look.

"What?" I asked. He just nodded and grinned.

"You will, Sean?" And I skipped round the living room, oblivious to the uncurtained window and my nakedness.

I'd finally found my live-in husband. God was in heaven, Billy was down by the pier and all was well in the world.

And then the barking began. Every night. Drifting up across the gully that separated me from the neighbors to my left, an unobtrusive school teacher and his son. I shouldn't imagine that teaching school up here is particularly dangerous but the fact that the guy made Grizzly Adams look like a wuss must have been useful in the discipline stakes. I complained. Nothing happened. I called the cops. They said they'd visited but it still went on. Sean refused to visit until it stopped. One time it quit for a whole week and I called up Sean with frustrated glee.

"Honey, it's stopped at last. For a whole fucking week, can you believe it? How about this weekend, I've got marshmallows," I blurted out, giddy with the implications of all of this. A rather tense, curt male voice replied.

"Sean's in the shower, I suppose you want me to get him." Stung, taken aback I was silent. I heard him call Sean, an "Oh fuck, is it Mikey? I've just gone out. Milk. Beer. Whatever." A long sigh from the phone-man.

"I'm afraid Sean's just stepped out to get" I let the phone drop to the floor and burst into tears.

That night the barking began. I lay in the darkness, numb to everything but that sound, clinging to my psychotic thoughts for comfort. A baseball bat square over the head, a real homer. Maybe a .22 right between the eyes. Too good, too kind. Buttfucked using Johnson's baby lotion accidently-on-purpose instead of Johnson's baby oil, guaranteed to bring tears to the eyes. Somehow Sean had replaced the dog in my vindictive imaginings. Woof bloody woof alright. "I can handle this" I said to myself. And I did, just about.

I'd seen the dog only twice, both times in the gathering dusk of the evening. The first time their fenced-in yard lit up as the intruder-lights clicked on at the motion of a fast-moving raccoon. I couldn't see it clearly but it was a big bastard. I couldn't place the breed, maybe an Old English Sheep dog. A fucking redcoat reincarnated to take his revenge on my eternal patriot soul. From the high-pitched barking I'd expected some kind of pathetic lap-dog, you know the kind, kick 'em and you can score a field-goal. It stopped barking and dropped on to the lawn, as if to sleep. That time I did get up and went over to have it out with the old man but there was no sign of him.

The other time that I saw it was just after dinner, the son was playing catch with it in their yard. I was in a pissy mood. I'd heard Sean had moved in with Mr PhoneMan and was living blissfully on the shore of Lake Ontario. In silence. They'd got a cat. I'd spilt coffee on some new designs and in anger I'd smashed my glasses against the wall and was in a desperate search for my contacts when I blearily spotted man and his best friend. I'd talked to the son before, a quietish lad studying engineering at a local college. He'd been splashing around in their pool when I'd gone to complain about the dog, which thankfully was away at the vet's having something done. I could only hope that it was a vocal chord extraction but I didn't have too much faith in my luck any more. Luke was just growing into himself and that was quite a beauty to grow into. Medium height with dark hair grown to the shoulder and a matching goatee that was all the rage that year. Not my type but since Sean and my development into the old hermit of the hills I took what was available. A brother and sister lived in the ranch across the narrow valley, now he was a looker. They usually drove by in their truck and trailer every Tuesday morning and evening on the way to and from the weekly stock market in the nearest town, and I just happened to be mowing the lawn or some such yard work just to catch a glimpse of him. Strawberry blonde, bright green eyes and an angelic smile that made him appear younger than he surely was. He usually had one arm hanging out of the truck window, fingers loosely holding a cigarette, and as they swung right by me he'd raise his arm slightly and dip his eyes in a countryman's greeting. Too bad he was fucking his sister, again in good country tradition. Damn, that's what made this country great. Home of the effete and land of the depraved. God bless America!

Anyway, Luke. I looked and didn't touch and believed him when he said he'd sort it out. Have a good talk with his Dad and all that. There had been silence for a while.'ve guessed it. It came back. I tried earplugs that simply dulled the barking to a background bass. Actual music through headphones bought me a few restful nights, sleeping with Benny and Bjorn at last! Crying myself to sleep did it too. I missed Sean. I lusted after country men.

This was the final straw. If this dog was able to conjure up horrifying images of my mother, a woman that I had not addressed civilly in ten long years, it really was time to do something. I slugged the whisky back and poured myself another one. Still the dog barked. I drank another shot. The barking began to fade somewhere in the soothing low-level buzz of the booze.

I woke up at noon with one helluva headache. I realised that the distant knocking in my head wasn't my brain re-enacting Raindance but was the back door. I dragged myself to my feet, checking that I had boxers on and grabbing up one of the floor blankets around me. The knocking stopped. Whoever it was was going away. I looked out the window and saw the truck. Striding toward it he looked even more beautiful. His butt lay trapped in faded black jeans that wrapped themselves around cowboy booted ankles. I could see the sweat like a bulletwound between his shoulders, spreading across his tank-top with each step that he took, his cast-off shirt tucked into his waistband. No sign of his sister anywhere.

I almost broke my leg pulling off my shorts, holding the blanket at a precarious angle, and opening the window at the same time.

"Wait...I'm come in," I hollered to the retreating back. He turned slowly and pointed to the Rainbow flag cracking in the breeze at the end of my deck and nodded to me with a grin. I nodded back. He smiled even wider, did a mock-jig on the spot and cried "Excellent!" as he came running back. I'll admit it, in true homo fashion I almost shot it right there and then. I ran my hand through my hair and rushed to the door. Throwing it open he stood there in all his glory. My mouth dropped agape, lost for words. He stuck his hand out.

"Paula Clay. My girlfriend and I have been meaning to drop by and welcome you to Rainbow Mountain, another member of the family for the pot luck monthlies." She smiled at me. "He" had tits, small admittedly but they were still there in all their mammarian magnificence. I pulled the blanket way up around my entire body, knowing that I had an idiotic grin strapped to my face.

"That's would you like to come in and have a clit of, I mean a cup, a cup," I blustered. She smiled and pretended not to notice my embarrassment, a chivalric true butch to the core, jeez that "sister" was lucky.

"Would love to but got to get back to the cows. We just wanted to invite you to our place next Friday. Just us, our friend Joss from down the valley, you and the boys next door," she continued with that cracking smile.

"The boys next door to you?" I enquired.

"No. Your neighbors." She turned away once more.

"You mean Luke and his father? They seem nice guys but I wouldn't have put them down as exactly queer-friendly."

Paula chuckled, turning it into a belly laugh and then in a whisper she said, "Come on big city boy, you mean they've managed to fool you with that father/son bit?! If that's the case then how come Luke has had three "dads" in the time that we've been here on the mountain?" I blinked, this was turning into quite the day.

"The house is Luke's?" She nodded. "I guess I expected it to"

"Andrew," she filled in for me.

"Oh...Friday will be great. Thanks. Maybe I can talk to them about the dog."

She looked surprised.

"They have a dog now? I guess that the parakeet must have died. Too bad, it was funny to hear Tom Jones songs drifting across the valley and think that the bird sounded better than the original."

I grimaced, "I guess it may have been marginally better than the barking shit that they have now."

"See you, Friday," and with that Paula leapt back into the truck and revved it away.

I felt thoroughly dejected. I wasn't the first fag to fall for a gorgeous dyke but it didn't stop me from feeling stupid. My academic friends would have a long discussion about what this meant for my sexuality and all it's possible permutations. All I can say is that synthetic goods may be fine for her girl but I was no vegan, if you get my drift. I tried to cheer myself with the thought of Luke and Andrew, such proper sounding names, Saintly. It just depressed me more. They may have been weird but they had eachother. And their bloody dog. I'd lost my lover, begun to fantasize about lesbians and lived next door to a homo "Harold and Maude." All because of the damned old dog. Fuck it if I was going to move off my mountain for some pooch. I looked across the gully and saw both their cars parked in the driveway. I pulled on my khakis and threw on a t-shirt, not too worried about my appearance.

All seemed quiet when I got there. I knocked at the front door. No reply. I peaked in at the window and, through the length of the kitchen I could see Luke heading out to the enclosed back yard, with something that looked like a frisbee in his hand. I knocked again. Nothing. Looking around I saw the almost disguised door in the fence. Walking towards it I could here Luke whooping. And yes, the fucking dog fucking barking.

"Who's a good Andyboy? Want the frisbee?" A pause, where I imagine the disk sailed through the air. Another bark.

"You've been such a good boy this week, tied up here in the back yard all alone I think you deserve a treat." Luke was talking softly. Another bark. I reached up to the snap lock on the door.

"Come to Luke, ole boy, have I got a bone for you, Andrew." The voice was lascivious now. An excited bark came in reply. My hand froze on the lock.




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