Horror

Samantha Schweblin's stories have been included in several anthologies of Argentinian writers and translated into English, German, French and Swedish.

Killing a dog

The Mole says: name, and I answer. I waited for him in the indicated location and he picked me up in the Peugeot that I am now driving. We've just met. He doesn't look at me, they say he never looks anyone in the eyes. Age, he says, forty-two I say, and when he says that I'm old I think he's definitely older. He wears little black sunglasses and this must be why they call him the Mole. He tells me to drive to the closest plaza, settles into his seat and relaxes. The test is easy but very important and for this reason I'm nervous. If I don't do a good job, I'm not in, and if I'm not in there's no money. There's no other reason to join. Beating a dog to death in the port of Buenos Aires is the test to find out if you're willing to do something worse. They say: something worse, and look away, as if we, those on the outside, don't know that it's worse to kill a person, beating a person to death.

When the avenue splits into two streets I choose the less busy one. A line of stoplights change from red to green, one after another, and lets us advance quickly until a dark green space emerges from between the buildings. I think that maybe in this plaza there are no dogs, and the Mole orders me to stop. You didn't bring a club, he says. No, I say. But you're not going to beat a dog to death if you don't have anything to beat it with. I look at him but don't answer, I know he's going to say something, because now I know him, it's easy to figure him out. But he enjoys the silence, he enjoys thinking that each word he says scores points against me. Then he gulps and seems to think: he's not going to kill anyone. And finally he says: today there's a shovel in the trunk, you can use it. And no doubt, behind those sunglasses, his eyes twinkle with pleasure.

Around the fountain in the centre of the plaza there are several dogs asleep. The shovel firm in my hand, the opportunity can arise at any moment. I move closer. A few of the dogs start to wake up. They yawn, take to their feet, look at one another, look at me, growl, and as I get closer they move aside. Killing someone, someone in particular, is easy. But having to choose who ought to die takes time and experience. The oldest or youngest or the most aggressive dog. I must choose. Surely the Mole is watching from the car and smiling. He must think that anyone that's not like them is incapable of killing.

They surrounded me and sniff, a few move away because they don't want to be bothered and go back to sleep, forgetting about me. For the Mole, through the dark windows of the car and the dark lenses of his sunglasses, I must be small and ridiculous, clutching the shovel and surrounded by dogs that are now going back to sleep. A white one with spots growls at a black dog, and when the black one snaps at the white one, a third dog approaches, barks, and shows his teeth. Then the white dog bites the black dog and the black one sinks his sharp teeth into his neck and shakes him. I lift the shovel and the blow strikes the back of the white dog with spots, who falls to the ground, howling. He's still, it's going to be easy to carry him, but when I take him by the feet he reacts and bites my arm, which immediately begins to bleed. I pick up the shovel again and deliver a blow to the head. The dog falls again and looks at me from the ground; his breathing is agitated, but he's still.

Slowly at first and then with more confidence I grab him by the feet again and carry him towards the car. Between the trees a shadow moves.

Continues in the print edition. Order now.

Translated by Brendan Lanctot.

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