The Late Boy – Indepentional

“Karina! Peter!” Graham called out to the two family dogs when the two crossbreeds rounded a corner and ran excitedly down a side-path. Like any forest, paths were everywhere and all held something of interest to a pair of sniffing dog-noses.

“Come!” He shouted rounding the corner. Some of these things of interest were other dogs or people out for a hike in the woods, not all of which were equally appreciative or fond of the Hormes family dogs sniffy at their bums or heels. Fortunately this time it seemed to just be a pile of horse-droppings, large green-brown lumps covered in squishy hay lying by the side of the path. The cold autumn wind was blowing towards him, carrying the scents of wet leaves and horse-dung. Unpleasant components resulting in an unpleasant mix. A whinnying noise in the distance, down by the shore, caught Graham’s attention. Maybe I should leash the dogs back up if there’s horses in the forest. He pondered while he looked over the dogs sniffing away at the dung. Sniff all you want but if you start eating it then I’m stepping in. Graham had barely finished the thought before Karina dove in to bite off a small lump of the green-brown dung. They had done similarly many times before and it had never seemed to harm them but Graham thought it was a bit disgusting.

“Karina! Stop!” He exclaimed, tugging gently on the leash. Karina’s ears sunk at the admonishment but she turned and leaped over to Graham with her tail wagging, getting a few scratches behind her floppy ears. Peter too seemed to dismiss interest in the dung and padded over for some scratches. Again Graham heard a whinnying, this time in nearly the exact opposite direction. What’s weird about that? Graham couldn’t shake a sudden hint of unease. So he leashed the dogs again and decided to head for home. Both Karina and Peter had done their business anyways. He could just let them into the yard. Plenty of leaf-piles for them to play with.

While the dogs sniffed at a pile of leaves Graham tried to figure which was the fastest way home from where he was. If he went back out of the forest path and to the right, they would come back to where they had entered the forest then they could go up along the road to the family home. Karina and Peter never seemed to mind the route.

“Karina, Peter, come!” Graham said and began stomping away, only having to tug a little to get Karina to leave the pile of dung behind. The autumn air was crisp and fresh-smelling without being oppressively cold and the sky was relatively clear. All in all a pleasant walk. Graham thought as he greeted another dog-walker out for a stroll, their respective dogs briefly sniffing at each other’s rumps but showing no particular interest. Again Graham heard a whinnying, this time up ahead on the path so he took an extra careful hold on the leashes. Karina and Peter had never gotten along well with horses and he was determined they shouldn’t cause trouble, or worse, GET in trouble.

Another whinny, this time  down by the shore. Then Graham realised what had been bugging him about the horses. The whinnying never changed in pitch or tone and every time he had heard it, it sounded to be the same distance away. And from his current place in the forest, if they were prancing around in a direct line from him to the shore, they would be out in the fjord, far out of a horse’s depth.

“Let’s, uh, go home, shall we?” He mumbled for his own benefit, the two dogs paying little attention to his talk and more to the edge of bushes and trees that they were passing. Before long they were walking out of the forest, not having met any horses or other dog-walkers.

The dogs walked ahead of Graham on their leashes, only occasionally having to be forced back onto the sidewalk either by command or by tugging on the leash. That was quite normal. But then they stopped. Both Karina and Peter stopped padding along and instead stared down one of the driveways, looking at something beyond the corner of the house that was blocking Graham’s view.

“What’s up pups?” Graham asked as he cleared the corner. Following their gaze he looked down past the parked car and into their driveway and both Karina and Peter bounced forwards, still staring at what Graham had only gotten a glimpse of on the garage building, and began barking their heads off, sharp and violent sounds that would well be heard across the entire neighborhood.

He yanked hard on the leads. “Stop! Quieten down you two, Karina, Peter!” That didn’t stop them. At most they backed up a couple of steps, still barking like a couple of hell-hounds. Graham decided the leash wouldn’t do it so he quickly strode up beside the dogs and reached in under them, scooping them up and holding them tight. Their loud barks sounded especially harsh right next to his ears. After nervously looking about to see how many were staring at him and his barking dogs from their homes, No-one at all?, he stood up, still-barking dogs restrained in his arms, and got a good look at what they had been barking at.

What was that? It looked so lifelike, but that couldn’t be right, could it? Maybe it was a statue? His thoughts were interrupted by a new bout of barking from Karina and Peter and their struggling to get free of the confines of his arms. With another hurried look at the windows around the street Graham moved on, a tight hold on Karina and Peter still struggling to get free. He couldn’t get the image out of his head, even has the dogs calmed their barking and he let them down. They practically led him home, running the leashes taut. Though both Karina and Peter had been barking their heads off just a moment ago but no-one had come to look. In fact, the street seemed more abandoned than usual, no other people, no cars on the road adjacent.

Before he realised it, they were home, Karina and Peter casually pawing at the locked door, the older Peter occasionally looking back at him expectantly. Graham fished out his keys while sending nervous glances up the driveway. The dogs leaped inside as the door opened and Graham followed suit after knocking some dirt off his boots. The dogs were taken off their leashes and allowed to run into the house, Peter crawling into his dog-bed and Karina running to the pantry as she usually did to beg for treats. Graham began taking off his coat but he only got one arm out before the image from before sprang back into his mind. He could go check it out how he didn’t have his dogs with him, so they wouldn’t be barking the whole neighborhood down. Making his mind up he quickly put the coat back on and zipped it before walking out the door and locking it, Both Karina and Peter looking on mournfully as he did so.

He jogged on the way over, being both curious and wanting to be back home. There was the same stillness to the streets, no-one else out for walk or a drive and no dogs in the yards marking his passing. He got to the house from before. He stopped and stared, flipping out his phone to zoom in for a closer look.

A rope hung down from the roof of the wooden garage house ending in a noose. The rope itself seemed old and worn even from this distance, a few droplets of water dripping onto the paved ground despite it not having rained or snowed for a few days. The noose was bound around the neck of a hound-like thing that looked like an incredibly life-like statue, light-brown crinkled skin. It stood on the very tip-toes of its hind-paws, back against the wall of the garage and stomach out towards Graham. From his position it looked opened, for lack of a better word, but it was too dark and far away for him to see much. Compelled by his curiosity he took a few steps closer.

There was no sound when the rope gave way and the ‘statue’ tumbled onto a side and onto the ground. Now he could see the head of it more clearly. It seemed to have no ears and the eyes were deep pits in its face, a tiny pin-prick eye visible in both sockets. Graham was still wondering if he was reponsible for it falling when the statue moved, a gaunt paw stomping onto the stone-covered driveway. Graham was transfixed, simply staring as the creature got up. The skin moved and flexed, cracking in places as the dried-up dog stood back up while returning Graham’s stare, its pin-prick eyes unblinking. It barked with a deeply unpleasant noise, far too deep a sound from such a gaunt being. But the bark brought Graham out of his trance and he tried to back away, turn and run in the same moment, instead falling onto his side, scrabbling to get back up as he could see the dog-thing coming closer, its quiet footfalls the only noise in his world. It seemed in no hurry, leisurely padding towards him even as he regained his footing and turned, running as fast as he dared out the driveway and round the corner. Again the street was deserted but this time the silence was downright eerie.

Graham had gotten a dozen paces up the road when he stopped and turned, gasping for breath. He had never been in shape but now he feverishly wished he was. There it was, the dog-like thing almost within arms reach, those pin-prick eyes staring at him, the soggy roap still dragging behind it. Graham jumped backwards and sprinted again while sucking down air. Even his own footfalls seemed quietened in comparison to the near-thunderous padding of the dog-thing behind him. It seemed leisurely, unhurried. But still it kept pace, never more than a pace or two behind them, occasionally barking with the same grave-depth tone. As Graham rounded the corner into his own driveway he put his foot in a pile of wet leaves and he could feel his balance going before his side slammed into the paved driveway, knocking the wind out of him. He was trying in vain to lift himself up on his elbow when the dog-thing padded into view, patiently staring at him with those pin-prick eyes. A line appeared along the underside of its gaunt head and it opened its mouth, a black pit full of tiny glistening teeth and then it advanced on him, the sound of its footfalls the only sound in the world.

Bark bark! Behind the dog-thing Graham could hear Karina and Peter barking like mad, barking like they had earlier. For once Graham was glad of it, hoping that they would wake up the whole neighborhood, bark down the house. The black pit with those glistening teeth on the dog-things face disappeared and those pin-prick eyes left him as the dog-thing padded out of sight and away. Graham couldn’t see it, still prone in the cold drive-way as he was, but he knew it was gone. Slowly and painfully he got up and looked around then out the driveway and down the street and road. No sign of it, and in fact a few other walkers and cars had arrived, returning home from work or whatnot, parking and checking mailboxes without shouting about a dead dog-thing wandering the streets. Numbly Graham got up and walked inside, sitting down beside his agitated dogs and hugging them both, silently wondering what had just happened and if he had imagined it all.

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