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Today's Story by Peter McMillan

That was too much. Too visceral.


The boys had swimming practice last night and I waited for them in the library next door. There’s only so much you can do. A swim meet’s one thing, but practice? Lap after lap after lap. Besides, the boys get embarrassed when their buddies see me.

I found a book of collected short stories by Shirley Jackson, a name I remembered from high school along with Flannery O’Connor and Truman something or other. These, for me, were the strange and provocative ones—the ones that stood out. Not Hemingway or Faulkner or Steinbeck.

Of course I had to re-read “The Lottery.” It had been so many years. As I read it, it seemed that the story fell into place, like I knew it. Nevertheless, it was disturbing just as it had been in 11th grade. But I was drawn in. I didn’t recognize any of the other titles, so I skimmed through the introduction to see what else might be worth reading, and I chose “The Renegade.”

It was even more disturbing, because I experienced it on a raw emotional level unlike “The Lottery,” which had been a text, a specimen we dissected and analyzed. This time I felt real empathy for the protagonist who was abandoned and overwhelming by the chorus of voices who wanted her dog dead. The dog had killed a neighbor’s chickens and had to die. There was no other way. Everyone saw that. Everyone but her. Her children had heard the talk in school, and while they were having lunch at the kitchen table, they lustily described in graphic detail how the dog, the family pet, should be killed. The mother, shocked and horrified by their calculated bloodthirstiness, felt ripped out of her world, as if it was her that was wearing the loose nail-studded collar on a long rope, racing full speed towards a yard full of chickens.

That was too much. Too visceral. I put the book down and went over to the computers to check my email and the first story I saw was about this dog that had been shot 100 times with a pellet gun and survived. This couldn’t be true, I thought. A hundred times? Would that be just one really and truly mean, twisted person or could this have been another chicken-killing dog? And what are the chances of seeing this news article after just reading the story, I wondered. My curiosity was piqued, so I scrolled down beyond the end of the story to see some of the comments, and I was stunned.

Everyone, to a person, wanted the culprit(s) who had shot the dog to be caught but not just arrested. There were energetic calls for extreme and even wickedly creative violence against the perpetrator(s). The chorus cheered. There was no dissent. I, too, found it very, very difficult to disagree.

Thank goodness my sons interrupted before I had a chance to type my response, because I’m sure, being a Libra, I would have regretted acting so precipitously.

The younger one yelled over my shoulder, “Did you see that? Billy sent me the link. Man, when they catch that guy they oughta—”

“Put him in a pen with a starving pit bull,” interrupted the older one. “Joey downloaded a video of a dog fight. It was so gross, and it went on and on. That guy wouldn’t have anything left but—“

“Boys,” I said, “let’s just go home, I’m feeling a little dizzy. We’ll get a cab. Your father can pick up the car tomorrow.”


Peter McMillan is a freelance writer and ESL instructor who lives on the northwest shore of Lake Ontario with his wife and two flat-coated retrievers. In 2012, he published his first book, Flash! Fiction.


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