I heard a howling dog.
They were new. Recent transplants from Pennsylvania who had chosen Cross as their home.
It worked out poorly for them.
Christmas was some three weeks away, but the jolly old elf had made an early visit to this family.
I found their house well-lit, smoke coming from the chimneys and general pleasantness emanating from the entire structure. The walk leading up from the street was swept clear, as was the porch.
And the closer I moved towards the house, the louder the dog’s howling became.
By the time I reached the door, the animal’s cries had reached a fever pitch, and I didn’t hesitate to kick the door in. The lock broke beneath my boot, the door swinging and bouncing off the wall. By the time I came back toward me, I had a Colt drawn, and I was storming into the hall, grinding my teeth against the agony of the dog’s cries.
I entered the parlor, and the dog, a small black and white mixed breed, dashed toward me, ears back and tail tucked between its legs. The animal shook and cowered behind my legs, and I looked upon the scene before me, unsure as to what was wrong, what was making the dog wild.
It took me but a moment, but in the end, the problem was laid bare.
There were four people in the room. A mother, father, a son and a daughter.
They were all dead, though I know not for how long. Each was forever fixed in a curious position. The mother stared straight at me instead of the book in her lap, as though she had been expecting some company. The father’s attention was fixed upon his newspaper, and both children were similarly enthralled.
None of them breathed or blinked, or moved. They were as lifeless as the furniture upon which they sat.
As my eyes took in the situation, I saw the doll sitting by the girl, and the toy smiled.
I felt it then, a cold, bitter hand sliding through my chest, seeking out my heart. As the cold digits dug in, the dog howled, and I snarled, brought the Colt to bear and pulled the trigger.
The doll’s porcelain head exploded, and the cold in my chest vanished. Holstering the weapon, I picked up the dog and left the house.
I’d bury the dead in the morning.