• Arnold Schroder

[Audio] Story told by one saboteur to another on the remnants of Highway 20

Once this was tiny handwriting on the margins of my intake papers in a North Dakota jail, attempting to capture the diction and tone of the banter to be had amidst an uprising, then it was a completely different story written in a rain of ash from the sky in Seattle and on Orcas Island after an encounter with a dog, then it was something I read at parties, then it was the script for a movie with Jodorowsky-esque visions of hallucinatory filmmaking ritual/party episodes in the east Oregon desert which I didn't quite pull off (although we certainly did some filming), now it is a 17-minute audio narrative, complete with occasional wind sounds from the abandoned golf course I recorded on, that I put onto a Soundcloud I used for an ephemeral performance project called Ghost Birds Empty Skies six or seven years ago, and that's just fine with me.

If you prefer to read rather than listen, the text is below.

Story told by one saboteur to another on the remnants of Highway 20

The dogs on this road are crazy. Jesus. Huge packs of them everywhere. No one I talk to has much of a plausible theory about anything, but certainly not these fucking dogs. This whole region of Highway 20, all the way to Marysville or so. Maybe they found some forgotten food bonanza no one else knows about and they’re just thriving on it. But it’s a huge area we’re talking about, too big for them all to be feeding from one freak food bonanzas, and why posit many? Probably someone's feeding the dogs, to make the area unwelcoming. Feeding them but otherwise letting them be feral and mean. Maybe even doing things to enhance those attributes. Make it a bad idea to stop here cause dozens of goddamn dogs will start congregating around your car.

Dogs here are like the dogs started getting in Seattle in the winter of 35.

You weren't in Seattle in 35 were you? One of those big depopulations where the dogs outlasted the humans. My mind kept defaulting to the desire to drive away from the chaos, but there was no direction to drive with less chaos. And no way to drive. Fuel supplies and everything else ran out because of the war between the federal government, the I-5 Security Forces, the Amazon Army, and some other, lesser factions. By January essentially all the fuel was gone from virtually any vehicle you could find in the city. It had all been siphoned for something that wasn’t stuck in ice.

Because it froze in August and mostly stayed frozen for months, an ice cream truck had been making the rounds and had gotten stuck in the snow and the ice cream in it was still vaguely recognizable as such long after things started getting truly awful. I would eat it sometimes, and when I would do so, I would fantasize about, when the roads thawed, scavenging gas, fueling up the ice cream truck, and driving it around for the sheer apocalyptic exuberance of it, to hear the weird mechanical voice that interrupts the ice cream truck music occasionally to say “Hello!” echo off the abandoned works of humankind.

This was right when the dogs were getting really, really bad. They hated the joke. That was my first impression. It thawed in February. I had seen a lot of people die and I had gone a little crazy and so wouldn’t you know it I got some gas together and took the ice cream truck for a spin, theme music exalting the abandoned boutique stores and the corpses alike. It was like in the movies when you make too much noise and all the zombies in the empty silent city wake up bent on your destruction, only with fucking dogs.

Outside of the security wall, Seattle was a crazy morass of abandoned vehicles and obstructed roads. Naturally I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t simply outrun the dogs. I truly think they would have chased me for fifty miles if I could’ve fled in the truck. None of the original dogs would have still been chasing me fifty miles down the road, but I think fifty miles is about how long it would have taken for the epidemic of dog rage I’d incited to die down, with that music playing.

The music angered them. That was my first impression. That on some level they got the joke. That they definitely understood everything was breaking. It wasn’t as if they were simply operating on ancestral protocols and the only facts affecting their behavior were artificial population density, food scarcity, whatever. On some level they could feel the pain and chaos everywhere. They had witnessed atrocities. They had seen men in uniform kill grandmothers. They had devoured infants that mothers had abandoned to save their own lives. They lived in a world of broken glass and screaming and war. And on some level it truly seemed like they were enraged by the deliberately meaningless gesture of resurrecting a trivial, functionless component of the world that they had just watched die.

I remembered reading a study about elephants going berserk and killing rhinoceroses in a national park, raping rhinoceroses, because they’d watched their moms get shot by poachers. Way back in the tens. I tried to imagine what these dogs had actually experienced in their lives and felt instantly that we were at war.

I knew I was in true mortal peril because I was having strange abstract thoughts like this. This is exactly the kind of weird shit you start thinking about when you really might die. Not that it’s a bad thing. When the only hope is a moment of sudden creative intuition. Or superhuman strength. The random thoughts aren’t always as random as they initially seem. You might as well ride them.

That’s what death has taught me, in all our many encounters. To lean the fuck in. Inhabit timeless death space. Become strange and terrifying. Suddenly remember quotes from the Bhagavad Gita. That shit Oppenheimer said crying after he witnessed the explosion of the first nuclear bomb. Don’t try to focus on something practical instead. Suddenly you have a plan that involves a freeway overpass, a screwdriver, a chair, a broom, ice cream cones, tape, a reasonably large area, numerous routes, projectile trajectories, and an absolute bonanza of gasoline found that morning in a produce delivery truck.

“Jesus.” she broke his narrative, face contorted in the windshield. “Do any dogs get hurt in this story? Is this by any chance a story about you burning dogs? I spend all my time in a car with you blowing shit up on the off chance it will slow the rate of extinction. Am I finding out right now about this one time when you set some dogs on fire?”

It’s strange. I admire your humanity in this matter so profoundly. I truly do. I used to break the windows of fur stores and stuff like that when I was a kid. I love that you retain the capacity to be enraged by the suffering of other creatures in this world. I love that you don’t want me to talk about burning dogs. And at the same time, in this particular case, I feel like it was such a nontrivial feat, surviving, involving both considerable courage and some technical prowess, that I really just want to tell you the story. Because if you think somehow using a bunch of gas to escape from a pack of enraged dogs without also burning yourself alive in an ice cream truck is a simple feat, you’re terribly mistaken.

“Oh my god this is a story about you burning dogs. It definitely is.”

Also consider the narrative appeal of mystical intuition. I saw my childhood nightmares turn into serpents of fire making complex paths through the city. I really did. That’s how I got my plan. I was boxed into a tiny area by vehicles and wreckage. A tiny area filling up with more and more dogs.

“Tell your story, you loathsome fucking dog burner.”

I had to get on the roof. I had to embrace the cinematic reality of the situation, do the thing you don’t want the protagonist to do in the horror movie. I thought about trying to wait the dogs out but more and more were coming. I used to have dreams when I was a kid about this with snakes, snakes chasing me, more and more snakes, first one and then many and then a whole landscape writhing with snakes, me in the branches of some tree, the first snakes revealing their climbing prowess and beginning to ascend toward me.

I thought of this, these dreams, while I fought the dogs on the roof of the truck. This and not some more overtly pragmatic thing. Thought: this is why I was tortured by dreams of serpents as a child, in preparation for this moment.

Serpents of fire then engulfed the streets.

Fuck. This story is harder than I thought it would be to tell.

Those snarling snapping barking dogs. It was like being at the center of a storm of personally directed, lethal rage. I can’t tell it as chronologically as I’d like. Or, chronology aside, the narrative in some essential way is broken. Too infinite. Too many stories. I can’t remember what I actually thought about at the time and what is post-hoc narrative elaboration. Truly can’t.

Did I think these dogs were enraged by the fact that my kind had made them, corrupted them from wolves, filled the streets with every variety of physically diminished wolf conceivable, and then forced them to all piss and shit at appointed times and walk around on leashes and do cute things on command, and restrain their wild impulses to fight and fuck the other malformed wolves that were everywhere, and that they were screaming at me something like: Motherfucker, we see now the protocols you tried to force out of us are the only true law; you gave us short snubby noses and big dumb eyes in exchange for scraps that have run out, cause the world you gave us is a lie, and we saw it burn, and you’re not going to start that stupid fucking ice cream truck and pretend like any of it is coming back?

I don’t know if I thought that at the time, but it’s the indelible association I have with the memory now, with the expression of rage on the dog’s faces. I can’t recall this mortal peril without the elaborate web of interpretations.

When I was on the roof it was to throw gasoline in taped together ice cream cones places I couldn’t aim from the window. I had set the sides and front of the truck on fire but couldn’t reach the back, and needed the flames to be moderate so I could get on the roof, throw these crucial projectiles, make a barrier of fire for me to run to a semi truck I could use to climb onto the overpass from. There wasn’t a clear path for dogs to take onto the overpass. They hadn’t started congregating there that I could see. I was trying to carry at least one of the gas jugs with me. I also had to carry a chair I managed to pry from the truck floor with a screwdriver, to carry onto the trailer of the semi and then stand on to reach the overpass. I ended up abandoning the gallon of gas mid-fight with dogs for a modified broom.

I couldn’t see how they’d get onto the roof with me from inside, but intuitively was certain they would do so before I was done throwing projectiles. I was still astonished by how quickly they did. I think they climbed on each other’s backs but I didn’t see it happen. God. Their faces. So malformed by generations of human manipulation, but animated by such deep ancestral rage. Especially the weird ones, the little ones, that rich people liked so much. Watching them revert to pack behavior was particularly terrifying.

The reason this story isn’t the one of mere atrocity you initially mistook it for is because I didn’t simply set a bunch of dogs on fire from the comfort of the driver’s seat of an ice cream truck. I had to get on the roof and fight them with a burning broom in order to set the place on fire and make a path out of there. In the process, I did throw a few taped together ice cream cones full of gasoline at dogs hard enough for them to break, or douse a few straight from the can, then hit those same dogs with a burning broom. There wasn’t any way to get out of there without hurting at least some of them.

“You wanna know something?”

Of course I do.

“I think you’re right. I’m sold. This story has tipped for me. Now that you’re on the roof of the truck desperately battling dogs with a flaming broom, and the suspenseful music is really blaring, I think it’s absolutely wonderful. Thank you for telling me your story about burning dogs.”