Things wore on, year by year, for the couple, until the moment came
when, both agreed, it was time. Do we or don’t we? They thought it over
and discussed it aloud, throughout that long final moment, which they
both hoped might last longer than they knew it could.
They knew the moment was going to end, and soon it did. The time—the
real time, the time beyond which there could be no more hedging—came,
and they decided, though of course they would never be sure, that, no,
they couldn’t pass it up. The chance to love something of their own
Someone, they corrected one another.
The chance to make someone and love them and, if things went reasonably
well, be loved by them in return. No, they confirmed, we’d be crazy to
let that pass us by.
So they didn’t. The condoms came off. After what seemed only a week or
two of vigorous intent, she announced that it’d taken. Now they could
As they waited, they each, in the privacy of their own dreams,
dreamt that, during their honeymoon in Australia, they’d met a
contingent of British Peace Corps volunteers who told a story of how
they’d taken an antimalarial drug on a riverboat in Zambia and, during
the night, all of them—it was six women—dreamt they were giving
birth to a litter, or six litters, of mangled puppies, their skulls
crushed and wormy, their eyes hanging out like viscous liquid that had
When the couple awoke in the morning, neither mentioned the dream,
although each was then left to go through the day with no means of
verifying whether they really had met such a contingent of British Peace
Corps volunteers during their honeymoon in Australia, where their actual
honeymoon had—surely—taken place. And so it was possible, each
thought, that they really had met these women, and really had heard
their story, which, after all, had itself been merely a dream, in the
This was enough to chill the last weeks of the pregnancy, until the
afternoon the water broke and the wife was rushed to the hospital.
She labored there for hours, the husband by her side, until, by dawn, it
was done. Six beautiful, healthy golden retriever puppies had emerged,
nestled in the wet sheets between the wife’s legs.
And this wasn’t even the strangest thing. The strangest thing, it seemed
to both of them, was that the hospital stood empty. There were no
nurses, no orderlies, no one to tell them what to do next. The whole
world, so far as they could tell, had receded. So, uncertain how else to
respond, they bundled the puppies in the husband’s coat and snuck them
home, where they deposited them on the kitchen floor and began their
lives as parents.
The puppies, it has to be said, were the kindest, cutest, most
lovable creatures either of them had ever seen. Lovable enough to dispel
the British Peace Corps volunteers and their mangled litter, or litters,
somewhere in a dream of Zambia. Lovable enough, even, to dispel any
lingering question about how this scenario had come to pass. There
were questions, of course, but no will to ask them, not even
internally: the puppies were simply too cute.
Both husband and wife nuzzled the puppies, cuddled the puppies,
whispered in their wonderfully fluffy pink ears, for weeks, months even,
until the time came when it occurred to both of them that the puppies
should have begun to grow by now.
The fear that they would one day grow into dogs, and then old dogs,
dragging their hindlegs along the wooden floorboards until they could no
longer do even that, quickly became so ominous that neither husband nor
wife saw any option other than to birth another litter.
And so they did, even more easily than before. They didn’t go to the
hospital—if any hospital remained—but simply had them on a rug on
the basement floor, the husband holding the wife’s hand, while the
original litter cuddled nearby, yawning and licking their adorable soft
lips, black on the outside and pink on the inside.
This second litter joined the first, which still hadn’t aged or in any
way lost its cuteness, until the same fear that had overcome the couple
before overcame them again, and they had a third litter, and then a
This, they decided, is our God-given gift, the one regard in which we
are unambiguously blessed. If they’d struggled before, in their
childless years, to find purchase in their time and place on Earth, this
struggle now seemed long past. Now, as they sat beside the fire, docile
puppy-heads extending from a central golden node in their laps, they
could hardly remember these earlier years. It seemed impossible that
they had ever occurred.
All that mattered now was that they remained focused on breeding,
determined to produce as many puppies as possible before their luck ran
None of the puppies had aged, nor sickened, nor turned strange, and yet
the fear—the fear that this gift was too perfect, that they’d been
granted more luck than any two people could possibly hope to enjoy, and
thus the fear that the British Peace Corps dream, which hadn’t gone
away, had to mean something—kept them on edge, as they bred again
and again, filling their large Tudor home with nearly as many puppies as
it could hold.
In time, they came to realize that this could well be the way in
which their luck would run out. It’s possible, each thought, that we
will at last be punished, not through the aging and eventual demise of
our puppies, but through the simple inability of our home to contain
They considered buying a larger place, a mansion, a castle even, but the
work that would’ve gone into acquiring the funds for such a move
would’ve taken too much from their breeding cycle, not to mention
separating them from their already-born puppies for hours or even days
at a time.
So, no, they saw that they would have to be content with filling the
large Tudor home they already owned. Arms full of puppies, kissing their
cool black snouts, or being kissed by their warm pink tongues, the
couple watched their rooms fill—the living room, the kitchen, the room
with the fireplace, the library, the wine cellar. Every room in turn
grew so full of puppies, so stuffed from floor to ceiling, that it
became impossible to navigate. One by one, they made their peace with
these rooms, abandoning them to puppy-flesh, while concentrating only on
maintaining enough space to allow their own congress and subsequent
delivery to proceed.
But even this, in time, grew impossible. The day came when their
large Tudor home was so full of puppies that neither of them could reach
the other. They clutched golden puppy-flesh and nuzzled soft puppy-fur,
as enamored as ever of their radiant offspring, and yet they felt their
strength begin to give out as they groped for one another, desperate to
breed, straining to connect through a sea of adorable bodies that they
could not part.
Here they remained, surrounded by hundreds, or, indeed, thousands, of
healthy young puppies, ageless, guileless creatures, while their own
skin began to wither and their bones softened as the starving militias
scavenged outside, and both he and she could tell, even beyond death,
that they’d been given the very last of the world’s good luck.
Long after the couple was gone, subsumed like the pit at the center
of a tremendous soft fruit, the puppies continued to multiply, or
perhaps simply to expand—no one had yet gotten close enough to say for
sure. Those roaming the countryside, trembling with cold, could say only
that the house in the distance was growing, turning ever downier and
more golden, drawing them toward it. Its stone walls vanished, covered
with golden fur just as densely as the walls of other, lesser structures
were now covered with tangling vines. All conceivable softness, however
little had survived, was now sewn into the fabric of what those few who
could still speak had taken to calling Sanity House.
And yet, no matter how effortfully these few approached, none ever
arrived. Or, if they did, they vanished, absorbed into the mass of
puppy-flesh, their ragged skin sprouting fur and their wasted mouths
elongating into adorable golden snouts.
Although no one ever returned, word began to spread, from one
wasteland to another, or to another part of the same wasteland, that
softness did indeed exist, that it was not yet gone from the world. The
legend of Sanity House spread until there were no sane minds that didn’t
know of it, and it became, thus, a kind of heaven, a promised end of all
wandering and doubt, the holy terminus of a long journey that, had it
not existed, would not have been a journey at all, but merely a grueling
trek from nowhere to nowhere.
David Leo Rice is a writer from Northampton, MA, currently based in NYC. His novels include A Room in Dodge City, A Room in Dodge City: Vol. 2, Angel House, and The New House, coming in 2022. Drifter, which came out in June, is his debut story collection. He's online at: www.raviddice.com/