Consider this Wikipedia article while listening to this story.
A Howling Dog
by Nick Mamatas
The app, and associated website, had another name, but it was most appropriate to think of it as Cranki.ly. It was for neighbors to anonymously discuss neighborly things, but social media was as prone to Gresham’s Law as anything else—the bad conversations drove out the good ones. It only took three months or so from initial launch for the posts to be all about suspicious dark-skinned men skulking around town “supposedly delivering the so-called mail”, the essential wrongness of mowing the lawn in one’s boxer shorts, and conspiracy theorizing about the next major ISIS attack hitting town… “because the Super Wal-Mart, one of the really nice ones, is just five miles down on Route 5. It’s a juicy target for Jihadis.”
A juicy target, indeed.
The post that started all the real problems in Cranki.ly’s Alameda County Zone 4 was this one, posted one afternoon just a week ago:
I’ve been hearing a dog howl/cry at all hours from my apartment close to the corner of Russell and Schiffer. I was wondering if anyone knew who the dog belonged too… It breaks my heart and I’m wondering if the owner knows about it. One of the dogs I fostered a few years back had severe separation anxiety and would howl for most of the time when I left for work and I didn’t know about it until a neighbor alerted me, at which point, I was able to work on the separation anxiety with her.
Any leads appreciated. Thanks!
On the surface, a perfectly ordinary post. An especially pleasant one for Cranki.ly, actually despite the specter of an ever-howling dog. The post garnered no comments though, for the reason you have surely already guessed—nobody else had heard the dog. Certainly not at all hours. The best thing to do in such a case is just not respond at all. There are plenty of other threads to read.
Why explain, why ask, why encourage further discussion?
Three days later, the poster issued a follow-up.
Russell and Schiffer Residents,
Hello again! I am still hearing a dog howl and whine, day and night, every day, and every night. It is definitely coming from 2774 Schiffer. Please, take care of your dog! If you live in 2774 Schiffer, you have a responsibility to call your landlord or management company, or talk to your neighbor about how he or she (but let’s be honest, probably a he!) cares for a companion animal. I am beginning to wonder if the issue is actual abuse rather than just neglect and separation anxiety.
I do not want to have to call the city, as too often neglected animals are brought to shelter where they are quickly euthanized.
And then the howling will never stop!
A much more off-putting message. Why would anyone respond to that? There was no dog at all. The poster was obviously dealing with some sort of mental issue, or was trolling. Either way, nobody living in 2774 Schiffer—a squat six-unit apartment building of one-bedroom apartments—would have any call to extend the thread. And yet, someone did.
Actually, by definition the howling would stop then, no?
The strict discipline shown by the Cranki.ly regulars fractured then. Tasteless. was upvoted two dozen times. While Really funny, buddy. A total howler. was buried under a mountain of downvotes. One individual even tried to talk sense to the OP.
I live on the corner of Russell and Schiffer, catty-corner from 2774. Full-time freelancer, work from home. I don’t wear earbuds or even watch TV, and I like to keep my windows open when I can because I love the fragrance of lilacs. (I have several large bushes in my yard.) Never heard a dog howl even once, much less “at all hours.”
Several other people acknowledged the truth—nobody had ever heard a dog anywhere in the vicinity, much less howling emanating from 2774 Schiffer, which was a residence with a draconian policy when it came to regulations and pet deposits for even mere cats—dogs were absolutely forbidden. The howling isn’t just non-existent, one poster commented, it’s impossible.
Which, was, of course, false. It’s not impossible for there to have been a dog in a building in which dogs are banned. And just because only one person could hear its howling doesn’t mean that the howling was a delusion. There could have been a conspiracy of silence around the dog, around its constant cries for attention and relief. Indeed, all the comments responding to the original post could have been from one busy person, creating a narrative of tasteless rejoinders and cynicism from whole cloth just to further demoralize and upset the original poster.
For that matter, the initial post regarding the curious incident of a bark without a dog could have been an attempt at Internet virality. Creepypasta, as the kids say. Cranki.ly’s moderation policies leave something to be desired—anyone with an email address can post what they please so long as they eschew certain slurs. The only reason there’s little spam or true hatemongering on the site is that its user base of middle-class busybodies and PTA lifetime-members is of little interest to the broader online world. But what’s next? A report of a dog corpse surfacing in the soft dirt in the yard in front of the building after a week of heavy rains, or worse, bones found in the walls after 2774 Schiffer condo conversion? (Condo conversions being one of the perennial flamebait topics on Cranki.ly.) Or is it no dog at all, but instead some woman or child, gone feral and chained to a pipe near a rusty bucket of excrement, that had been howling all these days?
That “full-time freelance writer” was especially suspicious. Someone with an inclination toward fiction, and likely the impulse to procrastinate by goofing around on the Internet all day. Was all of Cranki.ly going to be written up in some obnoxious essay about group psychology, or urban legends? There was only one thing to do. Specifically, it was time to type
I hear it too.
And then press publish.
Another ten hours of silence on the thread, as if the neighborhood was holding its collective breath. And then a new party, or a new claim anyway, entered the thread.
I’m new to this website, but I heard from a friend about it and came to check what people in the Windham neighborhood are discussing. I thought this conversation was pretty interesting. I used to live in the building, years ago, and there was often a dog tied up outside at all times, in all weather. It’s mostly warm and sunny here in Northern California, but you know what I mean.
She wouldn’t actually howl or bark all the much, but I felt very sad whenever I saw the dog. One time I stood in the yard and I started howling, like that dog should have. I guess I was just trying to get some attention for the poor animal. Not one person even opened their blinds to look out the window and see what the ruckus was. It was a Sunday morning too, so people were home. I could see movement through the blinds in the windows. I really howled my head off!
Anyway, this was all more than twenty years ago, so that dog is probably long dead, but I just wanted to share the story as a way of reminding you all to be good to one another. Have a blessed day!
And then it was a war of all against all. Accusations flew—sockpuppets, tricks, spam, Russian hackers, hoaxing and punking, and repeated uploads of that now-ancient New Yorker cartoon panel featuring the adage “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”
But I really do hear it too. Someone kept trying. Doesn’t anyone else hear it? I’m not the OP.
The poster went on:
This is insane. You’re all online all day long, and live within a mile of the place. Just walk outside. I live across the street; I can hear it now. Meet me on the corner of Russell and Schiffer. I’ll be wearing a blue hat. I have a long beard and glasses. I’ll be the one with the iPhone in hand, listening to and recording the howling of the dog. I’m not the OP, this is not a joke! It’s noon now. I’ll step outside in ten minutes and stand on the corner until 12:30. You can walk a mile in less than twenty minutes if you’re reasonably healthy. Just come out and listen!
Perhaps some of the lurkers on the thread contemplated joining the man, but no active posters did. One response read
Let me guess—I walk all the way to Schiffer Street and you’re there with a gun to steal my iPhone.
Oh don’t be paranoid. It’s probably some dumb prank. They’ll have a dog ready to howl or even just a recording of one, and they’ll video the reactions of whoever is there for some sort of tedious “found footage” movie.
I am the dog come visit meeeeeoooooooooh!
was the third response.
“Meeeeeoooooooooh!” reads to me much more like a cat than a dog, so clearly you are dumb enough to be a dog. Do us all a favor and stop howling all day, or start, so we know what’s what!
finished up the subthread.
Despite the claims explicit and implicit in the home page copy and related images, Cranki.ly was not successfully “bringing communities together.” Nor was there very much “openness” and “honesty” created by the anonymity of the service. Not even when one Jack Reinhard, a long-time neighborhood resident, was hit by a car while standing right on Schiffer Street—a vehicle had jumped the curb, and sped off—nobody emerged from their homes to render aid. Nobody called 911. Reinhard had to do it himself, with his own broken arm. His blue hat fluttered away and landed on a Y-shaped tree branch half a block away. Someone took a photo of that and posted it on Cranki.ly. Reinhard had no local visitors during his overnight hospital stay, and only contacted his sister, who lived hours away in Sacramento. It took a day and a night for the hat to fall from the branch, and that was thanks to a squirrel not part of our program.
Setting a grease fire in one of the first-floor apartments of 2774 Schiffer was no help either. Sure, Cranki.ly posters made comments—ooh, sirens!! was upvoted a dozen times—and in the morning the URL to the local newspaper’s story on the topic was also posted, but while the fire burned and emergency vehicles congregated, not one window opened, not one local Cranki.ly poster toddled outside to see what was going on. Certainly, nobody even recalled the thread about the ever-howling dog supposedly in residence so many had engaged with just five days prior.
Did the firefighters find the dog?
The responses were not encouraging: that would have been a “grilled hot dog”, eh? said one poster, and another, perhaps attempting to lighten the mood, posted a photo of a dachshund puppy in a hot dog bun. Couldn’t hear the howling over the sirens, sorry (and also because I’m not off my medication and can’t hear imaginary dogs) read a third post.
Incorrigible, the lot of them, it seemed. Cranki.ly may have well benefitted from rules against anonymity, or at least from a mechanism that would compel posters to hold to a consistent identity, like most bulletin boards and Internet comments sections. The online world is full of trolls and griefers, but surely, people would be nice to their neighbors whom they already knew, or could potentially face in heated meatspace confrontations after mouthing off online, no?
Well, perhaps, after all, the answer is still, at least potentially, yes. Finally, someone put up a post worth reading, a simple message of compassion and kindness:
I think we may all be having a hard time lately. I know things have been rough for me. I’m not calling anyone out; I’m just saying how I’ve personally been feeling these past few days. I’m sorry if anything I’ve posted has annoyed or agitated anyone. I wish you all health and peace—I really mean it. I usually have a drink at Raleigh’s every night, same stool (right in front of the cash register) same time (7:30 pm). If anyone wants to come out and sidle up next to me, I’ll buy you a cocktail. All are welcome.
Eureka! Anonymity under pressure can lead to improvements in sociability and fellow-feeling among neighborhood residents. This calls for a refinement of our protocol. The next step is clear: to procure and torture a real dog, day and night. Or perhaps a child.
About the Author
Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including The Last Weekend and I Am Providence. His short fiction has appeared previously here at PseudoPod three times as well as in Best American Mystery Stories, Asimov’s Science Fiction, and many other venues. His next book is an anthology of flash fiction and cocktail recipes called Mixed Up, co-edited with Molly Tanzer.
About the Narrators
Dagny Paul is a lapsed English teacher, failed artist, and sometimes writer who lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. She has an unhealthy (but entertaining) obsession with comic books and horror movies, which she consumes whenever her five-year-old son will let her (which isn’t often). Dagny is Assistant Editor of PseudoPod, and was guest editor for Pseudopod’s Artemis Rising 3 event in 2017.
Moaner T. Lawrence is the Assistant Editor of Pseudopod.
Graeme Dunlop is a construct of his own mind and thus extremely hard to grasp. He has no discernable skills and often wonders how he became co-editor of a respected fantasy podcast.
In alternate futures he is Muad’Dib, or a drunken bum living in a skip, or reincarnated as a dog, or living happily in the now.
He’s also a voice actor, with narrations for each of the Escape Artists podcasts.
He lives in Melbourne, Australia with his lovely wife Amanda. They have a crazy boy dog called Jake. They believe Jake may rival Jen’s dog for hairiness, but definitely not size.
Scott Campbell searches for battles that will increase his skills for the battles to come. The slush pile underneath Pseudopod Towers is a worthy opponent. He also writes, directs, and performs for the queer (in every sense of the word) cabaret The Mickee Faust Club. He also write far too infrequently at the official online home of the Sleep Deprivation Institute (and pop culture website) Needcoffee.com. He lives in Florida with absolutely no pets.