Philip K. Dick’s first sale was an often forgotten, often dismissed, 1,800 word story titled Roog. It’s very short, seemingly small in scope, and often poo-pooed or ignored completely in favour of his first published short story.
In the faint light of dusk he finally took a few steps towards Him, steps that were as if broken in half. He had called him “Boddah” many times up to then and every time he heard that modulated imperative, Boddah, a handsome Australian shepherd dog, rust-red and white, a year old, with two different coloured eyes, one sea blue, a ghost eye, as the Indians long ago used to call dogs like him, and the other amber, would play at his feet, yelping, taking tentative steps and then immediately slumping on his belly.
“Boddah, leave the bin alone,” said the young man, turning to the place where the dog had frozen, standing stock-still.
Boddah made a short jump to one side and lay back down on his belly on the other side of the much larger bin.
The boy opened the bin, took from it a plastic bag, through which seeped the smell of meat-meat, fruit, vegetables, bones:
“Come on, Boddah,” the boy bent down to him, babbling to him, “lie down”.
The dog cocked his ears back very slightly and almost closed his eyes under the waves of pleasure that coursed through his whole body when he spoke to him like that. He rolled to one side and lifted his right front leg, waiting with closed eyes to see whether this time he would be bitten on the neck or, as usual, whether the boy would run his fingers over his quivering chest.
Finally, he got up from beneath the hand of the crouching boy and casting another glance at the bin of meaty provisions, went inside the house.
She was in the house, too; she gave him meat.
He came from the hall slightly swishing his tail, which he held half-lowered, sated and passive. With a sigh he slumped down on his blanket in front of the stove.
They were running like the wind among the leaves in the forest of the walk when it was no longer white, it had gone, like the water which you can’t drink behind his “at home garden,” what is ours moving through the grass, from which you can drink, like in the “car” when “boddah. let’s go.”
Lying with his muzzle on his paws on his rug in front of the stove, Boddah was looking at them dreamily, with eyes wide open, in which glinted the flames of the wood burning in the stove, listening to their low, monotonous voices, shaken by occasional shudders of pleasure. He sighed. Then his eyes slowly, slowly began to close and he slept.
“Roog, roog!” he suddenly jumped up on all fours and rushed to the couch, leaning his forepaws on the window. “Roog, roog!” he went round and round on the spot, maddened by pain and fear, and rushed at the window again, spraying it with slobber. He was outraged. If only he could get through this wall. He rushed at the window with even greater force. “Roog roog, roog!”
He let out a whimper.
The loud noise that had rolled up the valley could now be heard from near by and then that infernal contraption, all lights and sniffs, stopped right in front of the house, wheeling its yellow lights in the darkness, the dense darkness of the village, over the briefly illumined walls of the houses round about and even over Boddah’s house.
From it leapt a roog with long fur. “Roog roog roog! Roog roog roog!” Boddah went round and round on the spot, outraged, powerless.
Walking down the lane, between the solar lamps whose bluish light had almost completely faded at that hour, the roog was coming towards the window! Alert, alert, alert! Boddah jumped onto the couch and resting his forepaws on the back bared his fangs: “Roog roog roog roog roog roog ! Roog roog roog roog roog !” The roog bared his fangs too and struck the window with his paw, after which he went to the bin and stole from it meat-meat, bone-bone! After which he turned his head and bared his fangs at Boddah again. The other roog had remained in the infernal contraption. “He’s a very big dog,” he said, “a very good guard, fearless.”
He jumped over the low table in front of the couch and ran quickly into the hall. “Roog, roog, roog, roog!” He looked up angrily, at where He was coming. It was He.
Boddah jumped up at the door angrily, rhythmically beating the air with his tail. The boy pressed him to the floor, holding him down with his hand so that he could not get up. He nipped him on the shoulders a few times. “Roog... roog...” said Boddah, lost, without opening his muzzle, feeling how his body went limp and he thought he could hear Him and her when they make like wood crackling in the fire, that... I am... sleepy... that “boddah. let’s go.”
“I looked for it last night,” he called from the bathroom, with the toothbrush in his mouth.”
“I can’t understand what you’re saying,” answered the girl, lying next to Boddah on his rug in front of the stove.
“I looked for it last night,” he said, taking the toothbrush out of his mouth, “the one by Philip K. Dick, Roog. I told you about it, with the dog, a border collie. The one with the dustmen.”
Boddah was snoring.
“Yes, so, I could only find it in audio format, it’s an hour and fifteen minutes. Listen to it,” he said, entering the room with his shirt unbuttoned, absently struggling to fasten the top button.
“Yes... What can be going on in his head,” she asked when the boy sat down next to her. “I don’t even think I’d want to know. Am I going out or what...”
“Right. Let me eat my food. Mine. Anyway, he’s becoming really territorial and if it gets me up at five o’clock in the morning again, I don’t know what I’ll do...”
He scratched him behind his ears.
They were going “come on already,” like the birds that burst into flight, lots of them and black, swift, from the bushes, like when I fell off the rock into the water “whimper”.
His leg jerked a few times and then he opened his sleepy eyes, simultaneously starting to wag his tail softly. He yawned with a thin voice and agitatedly tearing himself from beneath the girl’s hand, he rushed to the door, where he stretched out, pressing his breast to the tiles and lifting his rump in the air. Getting dressed and leaving. He growled in delight.
“boddah. no,” He said “boddah. stay.”
He turned back unenthusiastically and slumped on the carpet, whining, his eyes fixed on the boy, who was getting dressed.
They were doing like the little death in sleep, like lots of teeth and run run, like the lights that boom in the sky “whimper.”
After they closed the door, Boddah ran breathlessly back into the living room. He came to a stop whining in the middle of the room, his eyes fixed on the window, his forelegs splayed and his ears cocked forward. After he lost sight of the car, he went slowly into the hall and lay on his belly by the bowl of food. He lightly lifted a biscuit and let it drop on the tiles. He nudged it with his muzzle, licked it and ate it. He sat down in front of the bedroom door and struck it with his paw a few times. He lay on his belly in front of the door, his blue eye gleaming softly in the darkness.
He awoke from a sad sleep, disoriented. He whined.
He went back down into the living room, climbed on the couch and lay on his belly with his eyes on the window. A fly flew past his nose a few times, causing him to snap his jaws. He lay his head on his paws, whimpering. He awoke suddenly, leapt as if he were on springs, and snapped his jaws three times in the air. He spat out the fly onto the couch and caught it between his paws. He took it in his mouth and spat it out, agitatedly. He took it in his mouth and swallowed it, coughing. When he awoke he lifted his rump, cracking his bones. After he drank a little water from his bowl, he ran up the stairs and scratched the bedroom door, whining. He went back down to the hall on the ground floor. He thrust his nose into the biscuits in the bowl, ate a few. He sat down, his hackles rising, he raised his muzzle and began to howl in the dusty yellow light of the hall lamp, wave after wave of abandonment and desolation.
He was merry, his speech slightly slurred:
“Listen up, if I turn my head and look behind, but especially if I turn it to the left like this, I get a headache and feel dizzy.”
“And that thing with the... when I didn’t know whether I turned it off or not – yesterday I went down to the cellar to fetch some pickles. And on my word, if I didn’t turn the light off, it was clear to me that I wouldn’t know whether I’d turned it off or not. No, so listen up – I looked behind, I looked for five seconds so that I would know for sure that I’d turned it off, I counted the seconds. After I closed the door behind me, I had another look.”
“And did you know?”
“I didn’t think about it, you started telling me about something or other and I forgot. Go into the house, I’ll see whether I’ve turn it off,” he said and opened the car door, losing balance and almost falling as he got out.
“Come on, you turned it off, I’m telling you.”
They opened the door. Boddah was everywhere, whimpering.
“Down, boy, let me come in,” said the girl.
Boddah ran into the living room, sat down and let out a long, glorious howl. Then he ran round in a circle for joy, the boy sat down, groggy, drunk, on the floor and Boddah nudged him with his head until he put his arm around him, where he sat for a while, warm, motionless apart from his tail and his head, with which he kept nudging him from time to time.
“...well, he published it in a S.F. magazine, it was the first he sold –”
“Ah, that’s why?”
“Yes, so he said, what the fuck, I’ll write S.F., I’ll make the dustmen extra-terrestrials.”
After which he winked at the girl.
Boddah looked at them dreamily, with his eyes wide open, one like blue medicinal spirit, one like amber.
They were making like the wind passing through the palaces of large white helices, beyond what is ours, like the hot stone on the terrace when it’s sunny, like up in the attic after you’ve eaten small mice and you stretch out in the dust. He sighed and his eyes slowly closed.
“Roog ! Roog roog roog roog!” He said, lying on the carpet, with his eyes open, attentive, tense. He could clearly hear the contraption coming. “Roog! Roog!” he said, lifting his head up, as if towards the ceiling, towards the bedroom, fretting hysterically. The contraption stopped and from it climbed a large roog with thick fur. It came straight to the window. Boddah shrank back, spraying saliva with each shrill bark. He bumped into the low table and leapt up as if electrocuted. Twisting in the air, he turned to face the thing that had attacked him from behind and painfully snapped his jaws. He turned back to the window. The other roog had got out of the contraption, without any fur, smaller. They were talking in front of the window:
“It’s a large dog, fearless, it will guard the house very well,” said the roog without the fur.
The big one opened the bin with the provisions of meat-meat:
“Not a lot,” he said, showing his fangs at Boddah, “how long will it last us?” he said emptying the bin into the contraption.
Before they climbed into the contraption, the two looked up at the bedroom window.
“If they don’t leave more, we’ll have to eat them,” said the roog without the fur.
He jerked the middle of his body back and forth and showing his fangs climbed into the car.
“Roog roog roog roog roog!” Boddah rushed into the hall, bristling. The room upstairs opened and He came down, shouting “attack boddah. guard. you’re a big dog. fearless. a good guard.” Boddah turned towards Him panting. His eyes gleamed, but his hackles had begun to lower. He patted him on the nose.
Boddah cocked his head, screwing up his eyes, as he used to do when he avoided children whom the teacher didn’t educate very well. He sat down, his ears limp. His hackles had still not completely subsided. He was offended, truly offended. The shock had imprinted itself deep inside him.
“Here,” He said in a different voice and went into the living room.
Boddah followed him.
He sat on the blanket.
“Good dog,” he said, patting him lightly on the head.
Pleasant thrills coursed through his body in waves. He stretched out on the blanket. Roog. They had left. He whined. “Roog, roog,” he growled softly.
He woke up. He had fallen asleep next to the glass door that gave onto the garden. A yellow light flickered briefly among the bushes. He leapt up, growling in the darkness. He whined for a moment, shifting his weight on his legs. He crawled under the table growling. He emerged with half his body and then quickly drew back. He emerged again. His blue eye gleamed, perhaps catching the light of a star in the clear sky behind the house. The little yellow light appeared again, briefly, closer. All of a sudden he smelled something foetid, clearly outlined, as if it had been excised from all the other smells in the garden.
He snorted indecisively.
“Roog ! Roog ! Roog ! Roog roog !” he rushed to the window of the door that gave onto the garden. “ROOG ROOG ROOG!”
Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth