The dog was the first sign of trouble.
It was King, Jack Coffin’s old shepherd, and he was hellbent for leather when he went tearing past me on North Road.
The dog’s ears were flat back against his skull, his tail down, and his hackles up. A harsh, piteous whine issued from his throat, as if he didn’t want to be running towards wherever it was he was going.
I had the bad feeling that he didn’t.
With a curse, I drew both Colts and ran after him, sure that I’d find trouble, and I wasn’t wrong.
I don’t know what they were, and I don’t care to.
As King leapt over a fallen log on the left-hand side of the road, I saw them.
They stood tall and upright in a small clearing. Flutes were raised up under the curious hats they wore, faces hidden from the noonday sun. While I didn’t hear anything issue forth, it was clear by the way their fingers moved and King’s reactions that they were playing something.
Their attention was focused on the dog and not me, hot on his heels.
As I jumped onto the fallen log, I saw the carcasses of at least half a dozen dogs, and as King came to a howling stop in front of them, they removed their hats.
Neither creature had a face. Only a mouth. A long, wide slit that almost split their head in half. Jagged, greenish-gray teeth, between which were bits of flesh and hide. King screamed in agony as they reached for him, and the Colts roared in my hands.
At the thunder of the pistols the spell was broken, and King ran.
I emptied a Colt into each of the damned things, and then I jumped down and gave vent to my rage.
There wasn’t much left of them when I finished, and I’m going to have a hell of a time cleaning my boots.
But stomping those damned things into a pulp was worth it.