Two men living out in the bush are stalked every night by a giant, black hound. What does it want, and who is the creepy stranger at their gate?
He talks through clenched teeth with a wide-eyed stare, accentuated by the thick lenses in his spectacles. His jaw is set in a rictus grimace, and he punctuates each word with a pause.
“Do… you… know… what… nemesis… means?”
Donny chugs from his can of beer and grins at the screen. He echoes the rest of the monologue along with the actor, until Colin throws a handful of corn chips at him.
“Shut up, you wanker!”
Donny shrugs and scratches idly at his crotch.
“Still can’t believe you’ve never seen this. It’s bloody ancient.”
“Yeah well, you’re bloody ancient, ain’t ya?” Donny flips him a middle finger and takes another swig of beer. Colin continues grumbling.
“And it’s another bloody gangster film, innit? Name like ‘Snatch’ it should at least be a porno.” He chews a chip and gestures at the TV. “Why are we even watching this crap anyway? A fucking DVD! Like it’s still 2009 or something.” Donnie sighs.
“I’ve told you a million times already, the WiFi is still down. You can’t watch Netflix without the bloody ‘net, can you? It’s about as much good as a chocolate teapot out here anyway. Fucking mountains mess with the signal, I reckon. Look, just shut up and watch it, eh?”
“Yeah, yeah. All right.” Colin shoves a handful of chips in his mouth and starts to chew. “You reckon you could actually feed a dead body to a pig?” Chip fragments spray from between his lips. Donny curls his in disgust.
“Dunno, mate. You’re doing a bloody good impression of one right now though. Your ma never tell you not to speak with your mouth full?”
“Nah. Guess she weren’t a fucking posh bird like yours, eh?” Colin leers.
Donny drains the last of his beer and hurls the empty can at him. His huge backside sinks into the moth-eaten sofa as if trying to become one with the seat. The pattern on the fabric is completely faded, worn away by years of supporting his bulk. He turns his attention back to the movie and pops the tab on another beer can with his thumb. A quick bark close by makes him snap to attention. Colin stiffens too.
“You hear that?”
“Yeah. That bloody dog again. Check the gate.”
Three weeks ago they’d first heard it, barking and howling in the dark. They wondered if it had followed them back from a trip to the woods. It was most likely a wild stray. Maybe even a lost pet. They’d heard its call echo through the trees to the north. Sometimes from the mountains to the west.
Every night since then it had come around. Always after the sun had gone down. It growled from beyond the garage gate. Snuffled underneath the fence. Neither man had managed to lay eyes on it. The closest they’d come was a fleeting glimpse of a dark shape, perhaps merely a shadow.
The two men move quickly, surprisingly for their size. Donny grabs a metal baseball bat from the corner. Colin takes a flick-knife from his pocket. They slink to the door and Donny peers through the window. It’s pitch black outside. The only light comes from the moon above, partly smothered by thick, black clouds.
“Security light ain’t on,” Donny whispers. Colin shrugs. He flicks the switch on the wall but nothing happens.
“Maybe the bulb’s gone?”
Donny groans. “It’s not the fucking bulb. I only replaced it last week.”
“Fucked if I know. I can’t see shit out there.” Another bark echoes from outside. Donny strains his eyes in the gloom. There’s something moving near the gate, he’s sure of it, but he can’t make out exactly what. The thick metal bars obstruct his view. The image is jumbled and messy. “I think… I think there’s someone out there,” he says.
“Tell ’em to fuck off then,” Colin hisses back. “Garage is closed.”
Donny squints, he can see figures swirling like mist in a breeze. It’s frustrating, and his eyes start to sting as he loses his focus. He blinks and wishes he could see a little clearer, and as if in answer to his desire, the clouds slide away from the moon. The yard is illuminated in a silvery grey. Piles of stacked up rusted junk, scrap metal and the husks of dead cars all combine to throw weird shadows on the ground.
Two shapes stand side-by-side at the gate. A man and a dog both as tall as each other, their shoulders match in height. The dog is massive and the man is short, and despite being different species, somehow Donny struggles to tell them apart. As he watches, the man raises a hand and waves.
“Shit!” Donny jerks back from the window.
“There’s a bloke out there. With a dog. He waved at me.”
Colin stares at him.
“Oh, no,” he says slowly, unable to hide his sarcasm. “Whatever will we do?”
Donny smacks him hard on the shoulder.
“Shut up! You’ve not seen the size of the dog. It’s fucking huge. Like the size of a cow or something.”
“So? Don’t be such a wuss. Go out and tell the bloke to shift it. What’s the fuck’s he even doing all the way out here in the middle of the bloody night?”
Donny shakes his head and grimaces.
“You bloody tell him!”
Colin sighs and mutters, “Whatever…” He unlocks the garage door and steps into the yard. “All right, mate…” he starts, and the dog begins to growl. “Blimey, that’s a big lad you’ve got there.” The dog pulls its lips back showing a mouthful of massive, yellow fangs. Colin thinks for a second that he sees its eyes flash, a flicker of red in its irises, but it’s quick and fleeting. He can’t be sure.
The man raises a hand again. He is small and stick-thin, so slim as to be almost skeletal. The skin on his face is taught and pale, in the moonlight he looks almost blue. His eyes are hidden by tinted lenses set into oversized frames. They are balanced somewhat precariously on his tiny, almost non-existent, nose. When he opens his mouth to speak, Colin sees he has very few teeth left, and those he does have look to be rotten.
“My dog is hungry,” he says with a lisp, and flashes a humourless smile. Colin shudders involuntarily.
“My dog is hungry,” the man says again, this time emphasising the word.
“Yeah, I heard you the first time,” Colin replies, hearing an unexpected tremor in his voice. “I guess I missed the part where that’s my fucking problem?”
The man points to the chains wrapped around the bars of the gate. Locked tight with a heavy padlock.
“Open the gate,” the man demands.
“Fuck off.” Colin scoffs. “The garage is closed, mate, and I don’t have nothing for you, or your dog. So hop it.” The man leans forwards and grasps the gate with a bony hand.
“I don’t think you understand, sir. My dog is hungry and I need you to open the gate.”
Colin lifts the knife and points the blade at the man. The dog’s low growl sounds like a freight train rumbling past. “No, you don’t understand. Get the fuck out of here. Both of you.” He hears a thump as the garage door swings closed behind him. The thud of Donny’s heavy footsteps as he joins him in the centre of the yard.
“You heard him, mate. Fuck off.” Donny stands next to him, swinging the bat casually in one hand. They line up, shoulder to shoulder, glaring at the man and his dog. The stranger sighs deeply but doesn’t move from the gate. He takes off his glasses with his other hand. His eyeballs are sunk deep in shadowed sockets, his pupils so dark they are almost black. He fixes them both with a hard stare.
“You really don’t have a choice, sirs,” he lisps. “If my dog is not fed soon, there will be trouble.”
“Sure there will, and we’ll be giving it to you. Get the fuck out of here.” The dog starts to snarl and a light foam builds up around its jaw. Donnie thinks he sees red on its teeth, a flash of fire spark from its throat. He blinks and it’s gone.
“I will give you the choice then,” the stranger muses. “Perhaps one of you will offer yourself?” Colin laughs loudly, but his tone sounds forced.
“Jesus, mate. You’re not right in the head are you?” He takes a step towards the man before Donny can stop him. The stranger lets go of the gate and makes a complicated movement with one hand in the air. Colin is dragged across the yard, as if by some invisible force. Donny goes to grab him, but he slips from his grasp. The dog starts panting in excitement, the foam at its mouth grows thicker. Colin’s boot heels skid through the gravel. His body is rigid, his arms pinned to his sides. He tries to yell, but his mouth feels glued shut. Donny shouts loud enough for the two of them.
“Oi! Oi! Let him go!”
Colin’s body stops moving. Donny rushes to his side. He tries to pull him back but he is rooted to the spot. Colin stays silent but a tear slides down his cheek. A damp patch spreads around his groin. A foul odour taints the night air.
“It’s all right, mate,” Donny tells him quietly. “I got ya.”
“You see, sirs,” says the man at the gate, as he replaces his spectacles. “I absolutely must feed my dog. He’s been eager for a bite for weeks. I know exactly who you are, and what you’ve both done. You’ll make a very fine meal, to be sure.” He chuckles and smacks his lips. “But I don’t have to take the pair of you. Just one your size will suffice.”
Donny swings the bat in the air, looks ready to charge at the stranger, but Colin moans and twitches slightly, and he thinks better of it and steps back.
“I’ve no idea what you’re on about,” he yells. “You crazy fuck! We ain’t done nothing to you.”
“Oh no. Not to me. That’s very true. But that young girl who was hitchhiking, who you offered a lift, you certainly did something to her. Or the lady who asked you to change her tyre, she might have a story to add. And what of the women you’ve picked up at bars, the ones whose drinks were spiked? You brought them back here, and they never went home. You buried them all, in the wild.
“I’m sure you thought that way out here, you were safe, that your sins were well hidden. But I know all the stories. All the evils you’ve done.” The man leans forwards, presses his face to the gate. “My dog can smell them on you.”
The massive beast pulls its head back and howls. The sound makes Donnie’s body feel weak and his legs completely useless. The stranger gives a gravelly laugh. He moves his hand again, and a hollow click echoes through the dark. Chains rattle and coil like iron snakes, falling to the ground. The metal gate swings open.
Donny pulls on Colin’s hoodie, stretching the sleeve long past his hand.
“Come on! Move it! Move your arse!” Colin stays solid, riveted to the ground. More tears spill onto his fat cheeks. Donny slings both arms around his massive waist and tries his best to lift him, but Colin doesn’t budge.
The man and the dog wait at the gate, the man holds the dog by its scruff. It pants and slavers in anticipation. It balances on its two hind legs, scrabbles frantically at the air with its front paws.
“Which one, sirs?” The man asks, calmly. “Which one of you fine bastards will feed my dog?”
Donny looks from the dog to Colin. From Colin back to the huge hound. Its eyes glow with a fiery scarlet. Its mouth opens wider than his head. Ears back, fur bristling, its claws like curved blades. It snarls and growls and finally ROARS! A noise so terrifying, so inhuman, Donny feels his blood freeze and his bowels open.
He dips his head, he can’t look Colin in the face. “I’m sorry, mate,” he says. “Really. So fucking sorry.” He turns on his heel and tries to run, but both his feet are pinned to the floor. Like Colin, he is unable to move.
The man releases his hold on the dog. Panic hits Donnie like a truck.
“No! No! Not me! Not me!”
Behind him, he hears the pounding of the dog’s huge paws as it rushes through the yard towards them.