Big Red Dog, by Nate Waggoner

Barrelhouse editor enjoys a series of tweets and requests that the author make them into an awesome story
— Matt Perez

The big red nightmare dog terrorizes our town. We all despise and live in fear of this giant beast who blocks out the sun and deprives us of light. “The gargantuan mutt is everywhere,” the children ask, “but where is God?”

The dog is owned by a small blonde girl child named Emily. The hapless child, unalarmed by the pup’s redness, selected it, despite urgings to the contrary by local clergy. The dog begged Emily for all of her love. She didn’t know what she was doing. The force of her love caused the creature to tower over us. Now she is incapable of loving anything but the trampling monster, who gives only carnage in return.

In fact she shows no outward signs of compassion towards any other living thing. Her doting parents, who work long shifts for cruel bosses to pay for Emily’s health and education, receive only a cold stare, mannerless discourse, and frequent absences and disappearances in exchange for their efforts. At the same time, Emily will apologize for and excuse the abhorrent beast’s destruction of churches, wiping out of entire neighborhoods and swaths of forests, its gleeful and wanton tendency towards mayhem. It’s nothing personal: every ounce of compassion in Emily must go toward keeping the animal alive and huge and red. The briefest display of decency towards any other conscious being would surely end the dog’s life. In minutes the dog would shrink and go gray and emit a final howl, and where would Emily be then? Responsible in her life only for chaos and failure.

What, then-- we ask ourselves, in church basements, in parking lots, in pool halls, in our dens as booms and crashes sound endlessly around us-- is love but fear, selfish fear that the other party will meet his or her end before you do, fear of the unpleasant sensation that would result from the other party’s demise?

Perhaps as Emily ages, the unnatural quality of her life weighs on her. Perhaps the burden of such a wrongful distribution of love makes her weary, weathers her. All around her, the city becomes impossibly dangerous, a war zone, a disaster site in which no sane person would choose to live. The infrastructure crumbles. The National Guard comes and promptly retreats. The town loses all ties with the outside world. The economy collapses, people resort to trading in chunks of giant monster-placating treats, big balls of offal rolled in sugar, and madness overtakes us. Perhaps Emily has her doubts, but feels she cannot turn back. Perhaps things will change.

Why do any of us stay? Perhaps we love the dog inordinately, too, as much as we also despise it-- we love it for its strength, its uniqueness, its spunk, its power, its freedom. We love that it is ours, our burden, our embarrassment.

Emily sits on a rooftop and looks out at the wreckage. She sits up and speaks to nothing and no one in particular: “Sometimes our friends have thoughts and feelings that are different from ours.”

Nate Waggoner is a contributing editor at and co-founder of His first novel, Dilettantes and Heartless Manipulators, is available from Snow Goose Press. He has written, drawn and/or performed for Shipwreck, Quiet Lightning, Write Club SF, SF Weekly, KQEDPop, Willamette Week, Makeout Creek, Scene Missing, and elsewhere. He has an MFA in Fiction from San Francisco State University. He’s on Twitter at @NathanielWagg.