A dog barked.
The sound blew through my window like a rock and knocked me upside the head.
There was another bark.
Soon my entire room was filled with barks. They were bouncing up and down and crossways, smacking into everything. I stuffed wads of toilet paper in my ears and sandwiched my head with a pillow. The barks wiggled their way through the cotton and paper and bore into my brain. I clenched my teeth and crunched my eyes shut. My face grew red and swollen as a cherry. When I could no longer take it, I shot up outta bed. I ran over to my window and grabbed my rifle. I saw the culprit tied to a tree in front of the Billa (grocery store) across the street. He was a scrawny lab with a crooked tail and floppy ears. I opened my window and took aim. His dumb little head was right in my crosshairs. I felt the sick joy of murder slowly filling my stomach. I released the safety and pulled the trigger.
The bullet zipped through the air and popped against the dog’s skull. He yelped once and flipped over. As he laid there kicking, a pool of blood bloomed around his head. A little girl screamed and an old lady fainted. Just then, the couple who owned the dog came running out of the grocery store. When they saw their precious mutt, twitching and bleeding out, they freaked.
“Who the fuck did this?!” the man cried.
I smiled and popped a round off at his feet.
“Up here!” I yelled.
The man jumped back and looked up. When he saw me his tiny eyes glittered with fear. I aimed at one and fired it black. This set my alarm off. I opened my eyes and looked over. I saw my cell phone blinking and vibrating next to me on the bed. The dog was still barking outside. My flat-mate “Junit” (previously referred to as “Fuckface”) clicked on the washing machine. His wife screamed something at him from the kitchen. He screamed something back and slammed a door. My entire room was now a circus of noise. Sleep was a total impossibility. I grabbed my cell and turned off the alarm. I punched out a text and sent it to Bert. It was Saturday afternoon and we’d both been out drinking till dawn. This meant pho at our favorite place in Žižkov followed by tons of “chucking” (lounging) and watching “pussies” (movies). I told him if he didn’t respond within ten minutes I was coming over. He missed the deadline, so I threw on my clothes, laced my shoes and hit the door.
Bert’s was a good fifteen minutes away on foot. I normally hated the walk there but this time I had two reasons for not minding it. First, I was pumped about waking Bert’s drunk ass up. Second, homeboy had told me the night before that his living situation was getting “extra special” as of late.
Bert lived with the skuzzy manager of our favorite local dive. He’d moved in with him after breaking up with his girlfriend Pavla in March. Despite the flat being a bit of a dump, things were OK there for a while. But as the months went by, the place got rattier and rattier and Mirek (his flat-mate) got weirder and weirder. It was the middle of June and I’d be heading for the states soon. I was dying to have one last look at his flat because, as Bert put it, “I’m now living in the biggest shithole in Žižkov.”
I arrived at his shabby building at 14:30. A gang of bald-headed construction workers were jack-hammering the sidewalk in front of it. I sidestepped their cracks and went inside. I climbed the rail-free stairwell two flights and banged on Bert’s door. I heard him shuffle, cough and gag. He opened up a minute later in a pair of dirty nut-huggers.
“Watch your foot there, beef-cheeks,” I said, pointing.
Bert lifted his foot from the mouth of a pizza box underneath. A glob of congealed cheese clung to his sole. He snatched it off and chucked it to the floor.
“GOD, this place is a fucking piece of crap!”
I chuckled and pushed the door open. I was expecting the usual piles of dirty dishes and clothes. What I saw was nothing short of flabbergasting. Bert led me down the hallway to hell, one jiggling butt cheek at a time.
“Shitheads were doing construction last night again,” he said, tossing his hand in the air.“Howdaya like what they’ve done with the place!”
There were chunks of concrete strewn everywhere. The tub was filled with busted sheetrock and the walls were baring their pipes. The contours of the kitchen were caked in grey dust. A rock had fallen from the bathroom ceiling and landed smack on the toilet lid, cracking it in half. I thinned my lips and tried not to laugh. The state of Bert’s room made it tough. Kebab wrappers and beer bottles littered his entire floor. His couch was piled high with filthy laundry and his bed looked like a walrus had slept in it. Atop his only pillow was the jewel in the shit-crown – a lopsided burger with a long pickle slice hanging from its single bite-mark like a tongue. On sight of this, I collapsed to the floor and hyperventilated with laugher. Bert just stood there scowling.
“Huh huh … huh how the fuck do you live like this?!” I cried.
Bert fished a cigarette from his ashtray and lit it.
“That’s just it,” he said, inhaling. “I can’t live like this. Not anymore. I mean, if it were just the construction I could handle it. But there hasn’t been internet since I got here. Plus, Mirek just blows up waaaay too much. You know he had a fucking orgy again in his room last night?!”
“Haha, really? Was it the crippled lady and her daughter again?”
“No man, this time he brought home some bar hag with a missing tooth, which wouldn’t have been so bad but he had Dalibor with him too.”
“Yeah, you know the guy from Pavla’s birthday party with the gold teeth and the spiky hair?”
“Jesus, that guy joined in?”
“That’s the thing, man. I don’t think he joined in. I know what Mirek sounds like when he fucks and I only heard him and the girl. I think Dalibor was just in there watching.”
“Well, then it wasn’t an orgy.”
“Oh whatever. It was fucking disgusting is what it was. And to top it off, Dalibor came knocking on my door all sweaty at 6:00 am, asking for me Kleenex. Serious, dude. When I leave for the states in a week I’m outta this place for good.”
“Yeah? Well, where are you gonna stay when you come back in August?”
“I don’t know. Cool if I crash in your room while I look for a new flat? You’ll be in L-town still and I promise to be out by the time you get back.”
“Christ, I guess.”
The weeks in Livermore sped by. On a night in late July, Bert came by my folks’ for the keys. I handed them off to him with a warning.
“Junit’s extra touchy these days,” I said. “Don’t get in his way.”
“Oh fuck him.”
“I’m serious, Bert. Ever since you destroyed our floor with those hookah coals he hasn’t cared much for you. Now he’s got his wife living there and he’s on edge. When he sees you he’s not gonna like it. Just keep a low pro and be chill.”
“I will, man. Don’t worry.”
“I hope so. Cuz any bullshit that happens between you guys, I’m gonna hafta clean up.”
We said our goodbyes and Bert took off. The next day he flew to Prague. The following afternoon I got a Facebook message from Junit. It read:
“Hi, who is in ur room?”
I cringed and told him. He flipped.
“You never told me is this guy! I don’t like him and I wouldn’t ever choose him as a flat mate … I will see but if I don’t like it, I will make a problem.....”
Just then Bert got online. I told him Junit was being cock about the whole thing and he laughed.
“Well, I’m just about to hop in the shower,” he said. “How ‘bout afterwards I kick open his door butt naked and rape his ass in front of his wife.”
“I doubt that’ll help things.”
“Alright, alright. I’ll knock on his door later and just tell him I’m here and that everything’s cool.”
“ … Then I’ll rape his ass.”
“Hahaha, Ok man, have a good one.”
I prayed for the best. A few days went by and I didn’t hear much. One morning I got up early to write. As I clicked away, a message from Bert popped up.
“Ur flatmate’s a psycho,” it read.
I rolled my eyes and asked what happened. Bert lit into his keyboard straight off.
“The day after our last convo I tried to make up with him. I saw his light was on and his door was half open so I knocked on it a little and he fucking freaked out and started swearing at me and slammed the door in my face. Then he came in later and apologized and I thought shit would be cool but tonight I went to his crappy-ass bar and he came in drunk and was giving me all dirty looks. I tried to invite him for a beer and he was like ‘Fuck you! I’ll never be your friend!’ and all kinda horrible shit. I seriously almost punched him right there in his own bar. Fuckin’ guy’s a psycho. I’m talkin’ multiple personalities or something.”
“Well why the fuck did you go to his bar!? I told you to stay away from him.”
“I was drunk and the place is open late. Anyways, I thought we were cool.”
“You can’t think of him like you think of other people. He’s an asshole through and through. You expecting him to be decent and then being surprised when he’s not, is like biting into a piece of shit and then going ‘God, that’s disgusting!’ The guy sucks and he always will. Just stay away from him, find a place, and get the hell outta there.”
Bert said he would do his best. A week later he found a place. I flew to Prague and we crashed the night there. The next morning we flew to Bulgaria. We met up with three other “Chucks” (good ol’ boys) from Livermore. For seventeen days, the five of us explored the most remote, beautiful, war-torn regions of the Balkans. On our last day we were sitting in the airport in Sofia (Bulgaria). As we waited for our boarding call, Bert looked over at me.
“You really gonna go back to Junit and that fucking piece of shit flat?” he asked.
I looked down at my hands
“I don’t know, man,” I said. “It’s such a hassle to move.”
“Dude, whatever! I’ve done it five times since I’ve been in Prague. And I’ll do it again if that place I’m in now turns out to suck. Seriously Hans, you gotta move. I was at your flat two weeks and I couldn’t wait to get out. You’ve been there four years. I don’t know how you stand it!”
At that moment, I didn’t know either. I just felt a sickness like rotted seafood growing inside my stomach. I thought about all the shit I’d hafta deal with when I got back – the barking dogs, the slamming doors, the howling elevator, the creaky floors. Then I thought about the biggest kernel in the turd pile: Junit. Before he got shacked up, the man was at least a character. His hard-drinking, whore-mongering antics were enough writing fodder to fill a dozen books. The minute his wife moved in though, the high-powered scoundrel in him packed up and split. What remained was a tall, cranky shell of a man, haunting a flat whose dangerous magic had all but vanished. I grabbed a pen and scrawled something across my fist. It was one word:
Note: I reserve the right to occasionally alter the character names, descriptions, and/or event details in my posts for the purposes of identity protection and “fluidity of story.” If this puts a kink in your panties, read someone else’s blog, homey.