Dogs XXXI

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My dogs went running.

At first, I couldn’t hear anything. By the time they bolted across the backyard and past the barn, I was racing after them. It was only as I reached the tree line that the first chords of music reached my ears.

The faint notes pulled me onward and caused me to draw the Colts.

Ahead of me, I could hear the dogs crashing through the undergrowth, barking and yipping and yapping as they went. The three dogs, each nigh on twenty years old, raced as though they were puppies and not burdened with the scars and injuries of life on my farm.

Their actions made me fear the worst, and so I was prepared for it when I raced into the small glen before the apple orchard.

I wasn’t prepared for the musicians.

They brought me to a stop, guns leveled, and my mind racing.

Three of the four men were armed with instruments, the fourth had a fowling gun and a chained dog with him.

One man, armed with a squeezebox, offered a short bow.

“Master Blood,” the man greeted me. “It is a pleasure to see you in the flesh, as it were.”

“Is it?” I asked. “Where are my dogs?”

The dog on the chain looked at me, and I saw the depth of his intelligence in his brown eyes.

The speaker chuckled. “Never fear about the chain, Master Blood. That is window dressing. Should Harald decide he’s leaving, well, there’s nothing anyone here can do. We are his servants, he is not ours. As for your dogs.”

“I can best explain about your dogs,” Harald interjected. “They have lived long, Duncan Blood. Much longer than most of their kin. This seems to be the case for most dogs who come to live with you, and this pleases me. You care for us. Your dogs, I am sorry to say, ate a bad rabbit yesterday morning, and sickness will carry them away. Rather than have them suffer, and rather than have you suffer by being unable to comfort or cure them, I have called them home early. It is not something I do often.”

I lowered my Colts, then holstered them. “My dogs are gone?”

“They are,” the dog nodded.

I looked beyond the musicians and shook my head.

Whatever joy had been in the day had fled.

“My dogs are gone.”

Without another word, I went home to silence.

#dogs #horrorstories

Dogs XXX

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He tried to call the dogs and failed.

I sat in my rocker on the porch, smoking and enjoying a brandy as my three remaining dogs lay about me. The cool evening air had settled in, and it was a fine night.

Until the horn blew.

A high, piercing note ripped the silence from us and left my ears ringing and the dogs yowling their complaints.

None of them, however, got to their feet.

Oh, the hackles stood on the backs of their necks, and their ears lay flat against their skulls, but they didn’t get up. They’re old dogs, and they know all the old tricks.

The hunting horn’s plaintive call faded, and I looked to the dogs.

“That’s from the Hollow,” Marcus remarked. “I’m not going back.”

I finished my brandy and relit my pipe.

The dogs and I waited.

A few moments later, the horn blew not fifty yards from us down the drive. But the instrument and the player were hidden by the darkness.

I eased a Colt from its holster, cocked the hammer back and lay the revolver on my lap, hand curled around the butt of the weapon.

The sound of footsteps reached us, and then an older man stepped into view. He wore a flat-brimmed hat and clothes that had seen rough days. In his hand, he held a hunting horn, and he scowled as he looked at us on the porch.

He came to a stop, and for a short time, he stood still. Then, he raised the horn to his lips and blew upon it.

Neither I nor the dogs reacted.

The man lowered the horn. “Those dogs are mine.”

I exhaled a mouthful of smoke and raised an eyebrow.

“All dogs are mine,” the man snapped. He lifted the horn. “This is mine, and it gives me power over all dogs who hear it.”

“These are free dogs,” I informed the man.

“No such creature,” he snarled and blew the horn again.

“Let off the horn,” I said when he finished. “And leave us to our rest.”

The man muttered a curse and reached behind his back. When his hand reappeared, he held a small pistol, and it cost him his life.

The Colt’s slug smashed apart the horn and crashed into the man’s chest, knocking him down into the dirt. He took one long, shuddering gasp and then died.

The dogs and I went inside and closed the door behind us.

The body could wait for the morning.

#dogs #horrorstories

Dogs XXIX

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I returned to Elbridge Island.

I found a rowboat tied to the dock, and I made my canoe fast beside it. With my Colts drawn and my Spencer slung over my shoulder, I followed the same path as the day before to Elbridge’s house.

On the other side of it, I found four hunters, a hound, and the brace of game birds they had shot just a short time before.

Only the dog seemed happy to see me.

Before his masters could stop him, the hound bounded to me. “Do you smell it?”

“I saw it yesterday,” I told the dog. “It’s why I’ve come back.”

I looked to the men who gazed at me with obvious disdain.

“This is the wrong island to be on,” I told them. “Wrong lake, as a matter of fact.”

The man holding the birds stood. “This is a good hunting ground. We’d like to stay a bit.”

Before I could reply, the monstrosity lumbered out of the woods. As the men tried to comprehend what they saw, I holstered the Colts, freed the Spencer and fired. The rifle’s slug tore a chunk away from the creature’s mouth, leaving it oozing a foul ichor the color and consistency of molasses. The sight of it sent the men into motion.

They loaded their bird guns and charged at the beast.

I don’t know if it was bravery or panic, but it spelled their doom.

I fired until I ran out of ammunition and the Spencer’s barrel had a dull glow to it.

The men raced to the monstrosity and fired into its maw with their birdshot. The beast took hold of them, howled in fury and tore them apart. When it finished, I watched the thing add their limbs to its body.

I looked down at the dog, and the dog looked up at me.

“Fire?” he asked.

“Fire,” I agreed and shrugged off my coat. I wrapped it around a length of stick, set fire to one of the finest coat’s I’ve owned, and crossed the field toward the beast. When I was a short distance from it, I drew a Colt and put a single round into the creature’s mouth.

It threw a head and lumbered toward me, and when it was close enough, I fed it the coat.

The monster coughed, howled, tried to choke up the coat and exhaled fire instead.

The dog and I watched it burn and made sure to stand upwind.

The damned thing stank like hell.

#dogs #horrorstories

Dogs XXVIII

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The dogs told me of the dead.

I was at the eastern dock on Blood Lake when two of the hounds told me Elbridge Island was strewn with fresh corpses.

The news didn’t please me.

Elbridge stood far to the west and too close to the Hollow. Fresh corpses meant interlopers, and interlopers meant fighting.

I had too much to do before winter, and I didn’t appreciate any interruptions.

Still, it needed dealing with.

With that in mind, I chose one of the Bateaux to go out to Elbridge with. While it might take a bit of time to go across the lake, it would hold more bodies than one of my canoes.

By the time I reached Elbridge Island, the wind had shifted, carrying with it the unmistakable stench of rotting bodies. When I docked and tied the Bateaux down, I left my ropes and such for dragging corpses in the boat. Best to scout the situation first.

I followed the path that led to the property that Elbridge Copp had once farmed, but that had been close to the end of the 19th century.

By the time I reached the farm, the stench caused my eyes to water, and there were bodies strewn across the land.

There’d been a battle. Of that, there was no doubt. I don’t know as anyone had won since the bodies lay where they’d fallen.

As I looked out over the carnage, the corpse nearest to me twitched. Then further on, another did the same. My hands went to the Colts, and I watched as the corpse dragged itself not toward me but toward the nearest body.

The others were doing the same.

One after another, they pulled themselves together. In the still air, I could hear bones breaking and flesh tearing. Sinews punched through skin and stitched the bodies together.

And then it stood.

The monstrosity swung ‘round to face me, opened a mouth made of gaping wounds, and let out a shriek that rattled my teeth.

Before the creature’s cry faded away, the Colts answered.

The beast didn’t like lead, and I poured the rounds in. Again and again, I reloaded the Colts, my fingers burning on the brass.

Finally, with a last, wounded scream, the creature bolted.

For a moment, I considered following.

But I was short on rounds and hungry as hell.

#dogs #horrorstories

Dogs XXVII

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She came to ask for mercy.

I was sitting on the back steps, a cup of coffee in one hand and my pipe in the other. A cool breeze drifted through the yard and rustled the grass growing along the foundation of the house. Despite it being the middle of August, I could smell autumn on the breeze, and it did little to please me. It meant quicker work to get the wood in and longer days to fill the larder. When the winter months came, I’d spend a fair amount of time keeping the islands clear of whatever snuck in from the Hollow.

It’d been getting worse of late.

As I sat there, finishing the coffee, a white dog trotted into the yard and bowed.

“Master Blood?” she asked.

“Aye.”

“I have come to ask a favor of you,” she continued. “On behalf of my master and his charges.”

I put the mug down, relit my pipe and asked, “And what favor might that be?”

“Death.”

“Whose?”

“Their own,” the dog replied.

“Why?”

“They rescued a kitten yesterday morning,” the dog explained, “although the cat begged them not to. She is sick, and her sickness spreads to them. Already the rot has claimed their strength. They can do little more than sit on a log. The pain, they tell me, is nearly too much to bear.”

I looked at the dog. “You’re not ill?”

She shook her head. “Apparently, it passes only from human to cat and back again.”

“Take me to them.”

I followed her out to the shore of Blood Lake and then waded across to one of the closer islands. There, a dozen or so feet in, we found them. The dog lay down at her master’s feet. He opened his mouth to speak to her, but his teeth tumbled out onto the motionless kitten in his lap, and blood leaked from his lips as they split open.

Without a word, I drew the Colts.

The women clutched fresh flowers to their breasts, and I pulled the triggers.

It was over in a moment.

The dog laid her head down upon her forearms and closed her eyes.

I had no words of comfort for her.

“You’re welcome at my home,” I told her. “Come if you wish.”

And with that, I left her to mourn her dead.

#dogs #horrorstories

Dogs XXVI

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Illiterate sonsofbitches.

I’ve more than a few signs up around my property with words like ‘Danger’ and ‘No Trespassing.’

Oh, occasionally, there’s a good reason for it, so I explain gently that they need to leave.

Others, though, I’m not so gentle with.

This morning is a fine example.

The turkeys are in rare form. The Toms are all out, challenging one another and trying to keep their harems together. Lots of fights between the birds while the hens try to mind their own business and ignore the idiocies of their mates. With the Toms all full of themselves, it makes them easier to spot and easier to shoot.

And that’s just what these two bastards did.

The roar of a shotgun is a difficult thing to miss on an early morning, and I sure as hell didn’t. With my Colts loaded and loose in their holsters, I went searching for trespassers, and I found them.

They were away south on my property, one with a bird over his shoulder and the other looking for their next target. A bird dog stood beside the shooter, and when the dog heard me, his tail drooped. The dog shook his head, trotted a few steps toward me and muttered, “I told them not to.”

I shrugged, and the dog went past me, out of the line of fire.

The men turned at the sound of the dog’s voice and peered at me with bored and unconcerned eyes.

“Gentlemen,” I said, letting my hands rest on the butts of the Colts. “Put the bird down and leave.”

The man with the turkey looked at me and chuckled. “This is our bird, and we’re not leaving it or here.”

I saw his companion drawing a small pistol from his waistband, and I pulled the Colts.

The revolvers cleared leather as the shooter brought the shotgun to his shoulder and his partner aimed the pistol. All four weapons went off, but it was the Colts who spoke first.

The first shot took the shooter in the throat, causing the shotgun round to go wild as the Colt’s slug continued on and smashed into the standing man’s stomach. The shot from the other Colt hit the standing man in the lower jaw, sending a spray of blood, bones and teeth from the fresh ruin of the man’s face.

“Good masters,” the dog stated in the silence. “But stupid men.”

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Dogs XXV

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Sometimes, they need to run.

I’d been ambushed about three-quarters of a mile into Toten Island. I don’t know who the men were or why they’d thought it was a good idea to bushwhack me, but they did.

The first shot took me clean through the right thigh, the bullet missing bone but taking a fair amount of meat in its passing. The second shot caught me in the belly and that hurt like hell.

They fired from cover, which was smart.

They let me get to cover, which sure as hell wasn’t.

I had my Sharps rifle with me.

Ignoring the burning pain of my wounds as they stitched themselves back together, I brought the Sharps up and looked for a target.

Some fine fellow had decided to wear a hat with a bright red feather in it.

I thanked him accordingly by putting a round through his temple.

The crack of the Sharps in the woods brought a momentary lull to the firing as the bushwhackers took cover.

They made too much noise as they moved, and their voices were raised in a furious argument. I couldn’t understand the language, but I sure as hell understood the tone.

This was more than they bargained for.

I saw movement behind a thin fir tree, and I shot through it, killing the gunman trying to hide there. As his body struck the ground, the others opened fire. I saw some of them move, and as I drew a line on a man, the island shook.

The baying of hounds shattered the air and drowned the gunfire.

In a heartbeat, a pack of hounds burst into view, and the men screamed. A few turned their weapons on the dogs, but they were no match for the canines’ speed and ferocity.

In a moment, the living men were gone, running from the hounds.

I stood up, rifle at the ready, and found myself being watched by a figure twice my height and shrouded by ancient gray winding sheets. I could make out neither their face nor their sex. A long hand, almost skeletal though still wrapped in skin, reached out and stroked a hidden chin.

“You know, Blood,” the being said, its voice the rumbling of rock against rock. “It is best at times to let the hounds run.”

Without another word, it turned and followed after its dogs.

I went the other way.

#dogs #horrorstories

Flashback! July 5, 1938

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“I loved you.”

She was dressed in a man’s tuxedo and a top hat. In her left hand, she held a martini, and in her right, a snub-nose .38. In her eyes, there was sorrow that spoke of years of longing.

Her hand was steady, and I knew that she, of all the people I had met in my long life, could kill me.

I let my hands remain at my side, not a single muscle twitched as I looked at her.

“I’m sorry,” I told her. “I don’t know who you are.”

The words struck her with the force of a blow, and the hammer pulled back on the pistol.

I didn’t move.

“You’re not the first,” she snarled.

“I don’t doubt that,” I agreed. “And more’s the pity for it.”

She blinked, and her lips settled into a firm line for a moment.

“You pity me?” she hissed.

“Pity you?” I shook my head. “Myself. I can see your passion, and I’m saddened that I never knew.”

Her eyes narrowed. “I’ll kill you, Duncan Blood.”

“I can see that. You won’t eat my heart, though. There’d be no joy in it for you.”

The pistol trembled in her hand. “Will you apologize for what you did?”

“To you?”

She nodded.

“No.”

The pistol steadied. “Why?”

“Because I didn’t do it,” I told her. “A version of me did, and I suspect he suffered for it. But it wasn’t enough. Not nearly. So you’ve come here, to the Hollow, and you help to hunt me down.”

She sipped her drink. “Do you know why I’m wearing this?”

I looked at the tuxedo, and my shoulders sagged. “You were left at the altar.”

“Would you have done that?” she whispered.

“No,” I admitted. “I’ve only married once. Had only one son with another, I would have wed. It hurts too much. I shouldn’t have done it at all.”

“You shouldn’t have married at all?”

I shook my head, and tears stung my eyes.

“You cry?”

“Aye.”

“I’ve killed you twenty-three times, Duncan Blood. But you’re the only one who’s wept for his dead. You wouldn’t have left me at the altar.”

“No.”

“You’d have stayed with me while I aged, and you did not.”

“Aye.”

She finished her drink and shot herself in the chest, and tumbled to the floor.

I gathered her in my arms and held her until I died.

There was nothing more I could do.

Dogs XXI

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It was too late.

I don’t know what killed the man, but whatever it was, the dog was terrified of it.

The dog had lost the power of speech due to his fear. His mannerisms and actions, however, told us something was amiss.

I left the Spencer at home and took after the dog with my own hounds and the Colts on my hips. It didn’t take long to get out to the pasture beyond the older orchard, and it was there we found the dead man.

He lay on his side in that mockery of sleep. Some would have believed him alive.

I knew better.

There was a curious stink about the body, and the mute dog, once he pointed out the dead man, slunk back to stand with my hounds.

I drew the Colts, thumbed back the hammers and watched with growing disgust as something crawled beneath the man’s skin and clothes. Close to his collar, the flesh tore open, and a single eye blinked and fixed its gaze upon me.

I didn’t wait.

The Colts roared and took the man’s head off at his shoulders, a geyser of black ichor spraying up and coating the body. Something insect-like tore free, and then it was followed by four more.

They were damned fast and cut corners back toward me with the speed of racing dogs. I heard them chitter to one another, and as one raised up to direct its companions, I put a round through its carapace.

The violence of the slug tearing the creature apart caused its colleagues to pause, and that was all I needed.

My Colts thundered, and I cut the little bastards down.

They were tenacious, though. One of them, despite being legless, dragged himself toward me. I saw a thin blade in his hand and heard the hatred in his voice.

Raising the Colt, I blew his head off his shoulders.

I can respect a creature that tries to kill until its last breath.

Hell, it’s how my father raised me.

I dragged the corpses to the body of the man, piled them up and then found a good bit of kindling.

With the dogs around me, I set fire to the dead.

There are worse ways to start a day and better.

But I didn’t mind this at all.

#dogs #horrorstories

Dogs XX

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They tried to smuggle corpses.

The fools cut across my land after a January snowstorm. One of my dogs, Claudia, was out and about when she heard the men and their dog team. She followed them for a spell, and when they paused to let the dogs rest, she crept up and found out who they were.

One of the dogs in the team told her they were captives, hauling the bodies of their former masters and mistresses back to the Hollow. They and their humans had been living free on a farm in New Hampshire when the hunters from their own Cross had found them. The fight had been brief and brutal, their humans not knowing the ways of violence. The corpses, Claudia was told, would be brought back to feed the elders of their Cross. The dogs would die soon after.

To me, that sounded like a poor idea.

I took my Spencer with me and followed Claudia until we picked up the trail. Once we did, she ran ahead to scout out the men and to see what sort of pace they were keeping.

It wasn’t a quick one.

The dogs were going slow, and I didn’t blame them. With death hanging over their heads, there was no need for them to hurry.

It didn’t take long for me to get ahead of them, and when I did, I found a good spot to fire from. By the time I was dug in and hidden, the men and dogs were coming into view.

I fired a single shot into a fir tree not ten feet from the first man.

As the echo rolled through the trees, the men and dogs looked for where the shot came from.

“Stay where you are,” I called, my voice loud in the cold air.

The men did so, their heads slowly focusing on my location.

“What do you want?” the lead man asked. “Clearly, we’re not armed. We’re just passing through.”

“I want the dogs,” I answered. “Let them go, and you can move along.”

The man laughed. “Let the dogs go? No, I think not. They’re mine by right of conquest. I suppose you’ll want the bodies, too?”

“No,” I replied. “There’s no shortage of bodies about. There is, however, a lack of good dogs. Cut ‘em free, or I will.”

“Come and cut ‘em free then,” the man called back.

I fired the Spencer twice and dropped both men.

I stood up and went to cut the dogs free.

#dogs #horrorstories