Two boys walked down a road. The surrounding countryside was featureless, the road underfoot unremarkable.
One of the boys looked at the other, “So who are you?”
The boy looked down at his feet and firmed his lips in perplexity, “I’m not sure. How about you?”
The other boy tilted his head back and sighed at the sky, “I’m not sure either.”
They walked on in silence. There didn’t seem much to say.
For a moment something almost happened, but then things settled down.
They walked on some more.
“Nice day for it though,” one of the boys remarked.
“Is it?” the other boy replied, surprised.
“Well, maybe not.”
“Hard to say for sure.”
They continued to walk along the unremarkable road across the featureless plane.
Far up ahead was a feature, a dark dot in the centre of the road. As they got closer it resolved itself into a dirty old rug, an old sack, a pile of clothes. When they got to a certain distance it turned into a dog and then kept this form.
“It’s a dog.”
“He already said that. It’s poor form to repeat information already given.”
“So there’s rules to this then?”
The other boy pondered this, still walking towards the motionless dog. “Yes, I’d say so, seeing I said so, if you get my meaning.”
“It’s dead,” said the other boy coming to a halt by the dog.
The dog had been dead long enough to have sunken in upon itself and hardened. Its shrunken skin had locked its teeth in a snarl. There was no smell. There were no flies. Just a dead dog in the centre of an unremarkable road on a featureless plane.
“I’d say this was part of the plot.”
“It’s all part of the plot.”
“Well, yes, but this is probably an important part, I mean it’s something isn’t it?” The boy looked dubiously at the dog.
“Definitely,” the other boy said with sudden confidence. “This is definitely the start of the plot.”
They looked around the featureless plane.
“What do we do with it?”
The boys picked up the dog. One took the front legs, the other the rear, and walking awkwardly, slightly sideways, they continued down the road.
“This is rotten,” a boy said, staggering a little. “This thing is heavy.”
The dog, completely desiccated, was surprisingly light.
“That’s better, but this still sucks.”
“How far are we going to have to walk with this thing?”
“Who knows? What a stupid plot. Two guys walking down a road carrying a dead dog. I mean, there’s no characterisation for starters.”
The taller boy scowled at the shorter who wasn’t carrying an equal weight, “You lazy sod, I’m taking all the weight, start helping me carry the damned thing.”
The shorter boy juggled his grip. His skin was very pale and his eyelashes and hair a straw yellow. “Screw you. You’re older than me, you should take more weight.”
They continued down the road with the dead dog held between them.
“Some plot,” the older boy said. He tried to spit but nothing happened.
The younger boy was daydreaming, “Some plots have pirates and treasure and huge pudding feasts and fast cars…”
“Some plots have killer clowns with chainsaws and deranged policemen abducting hikers.”
“We get a dead dog.”
“We sure do.”
They walked on for an interminable time passing several things of non-descript appearance.
“Have you noticed,” the older boy said, “how he uses double quotes instead of singles?”
“Quotes. Quotation marks. The squiggly lines around our conversations. The trend in fiction writing is towards singles. I don’t think he knows what he’s doing.”
The boys walked on for a long, long time. The day grew hot. The dog had grown very heavy and was threatening to stink.
‘How do you know so much about quotation marks anyway?’
‘I studied English literature for four years.’
‘Isn’t that a little unrealistic for a boy?’
‘Don’t believe everything he writes. I’m twenty-five.’
They continued to shuffle sideways, carrying the dead dog down the featureless road.
‘What’s the word count?’
‘Let’s see…nearly 700.’
‘How many do you think he’ll write?’
‘I don’t know. I can’t imagine this as a novel. It’s probably a short story.’
‘How many words is a short story?’
‘Who knows? You might as well ask how long this road is.’ The older boy paused to renew his grip on the dog’s legs. ‘Most short stories are around 2 000 words.’
‘What’s he up to now?’
‘Shit! Two thousand will take all day.’
‘Well it’s not like we have anything else to do.’
They continued down the unremarkable road.
The younger boy said slowly, ‘Have you ever thought of what happens after?’
‘After the end of the story. I mean what happens to us.’
‘No, not really. Nothing I guess.’
‘Yes, but what kind of nothing? Do we live on?’
‘Do you call this life now?’
‘Well, yes. I’m here, now, carrying a dead dog down an unremarkable road with an English literature graduate; it’s not much of a life but it’s better than nothing.’
The older boy grunted. ‘He’s still referring to me as a “boy”.’
‘I like to think we’re going to live on after this is over. That we’ll get rid of this dog and have other adventures with new, better writers.’
‘Now that would be good! Imagine being picked up by someone like Jonathan Franzen or Peter Carey.’
‘I bet they would come up with something much better than this. This is really starting to drag. A dead dog on an unremarkable road across a featureless plane — I mean that’s just dumb!’
‘This guy’s a hack. He’s spelt “plane” wrong all the way through — look there he goes again! — and check out the typeface. Sans Serif. Everyone knows that’s a font designed for webpages. This is just pure crap.’
And then the older boy went to work in a discount Chinese coal mine while the younger grew up to be frighteningly ugly.
‘Like hell it is.’
‘Does this mean we can put the dog down now?’
This story originally appeared in Southerly volume 68 No.2.