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HFTH - Episode 2 - Dogs

Content Warning: This episode may include themes of Abuse, Animal Death, Racism, Violence, Death + Injury, Guns, Kidnapping + Abduction, and Body Horror.

Intro - Diamond Hound

They say a dog is a man’s best friend. Diamonds, on the other hand, are reputedly a woman’s best friend. Imagine the person, then, whose best friend is the Diamond Hound of the Gleamingbog. They cling to its mane as it bounds across the wet marshes, crystalline teeth glittering and its eyes reflecting the moon. They are phantasmal and indefinite, their best friend a terror and a holy fractal of light. Their mission, like their identity, are impossible for you to comprehend. Prismatic is the hound and resplendent is its rider, and both are strange and beautiful in the night. As it runs into the void between colors, its otherworldly howl splits the sky, as if to say Hello from the Hallowoods.

Right now, I’m crouching in a dog house. Many creatures have survived the winter in this small abode. Each one looked out through the little door, as I am doing now, and hoped to protect the people in the big house from danger. There are no more dogs here, but generations of loyalty are not easily buried. The theme of tonight’s episode is dogs.

Story 1 - Dog Smell

For as long as Clara could remember, the Rathbone house had smelled like dog, although they had never owned one. Scratches on the floor, strands of fur caught in wallpaper corners, and a musk that permeated the empty hallways spoke to the history of the previous tenants. The scent caught in her nostrils as she raced up the stairs, and threatened to choke her as she reached her room. She did not dare to look back, because she knew it would cost her precious seconds, and because she did not want to see what was scrambling up the stairs behind her.

She threw herself through the door and slammed it shut, locked it quickly, and prayed that it would hold. She fell to her knees in front of the glowing HAM radio dials, snatching up the microphone as the door rattled.

“Please pick up, please pick up,” she whispered, abandoning call etiquette, “I need you.”

The response came crackling through the speakers seconds later. Thank goodness they talked so often. “Clara? What’s wrong?”

“It’s my parents.” Clara sobbed, and the doorframe shook suddenly as though under great stress. “It’s happened. They’re gone. They’re so much worse than I thought.”

“Okay—okay. I’m on my way.” the voice responded from the other side. “Clara, where is your house?”

“It’s on the end of Coldwater Drive, north of the exit. Look for the metal gate, it’s between…”

The whole room shuddered as a black paw broke through the door, caught between the splintered boards. Many teeth glinted in the darkness beyond, and Clara shrieked, hurling a vase of quill pens at the claw. It pulled back, just for a moment, and Clara wasted no time as she bolted for the hidden door. When they’d moved in, she’d been quick to claim this room as hers—in the age of the Rathbones, it would have been servant’s quarters for people like her, and claustrophobic stairs led down into the kitchen. Sliding the panel shut behind her, she plunged into the lightless passage, falling through the darkness.

As she stumbled down the twisting steps, she could imagine terrible forms in the shadow around her—glowing white and green like the radio dials, like the eyes she had seen in her parent’s bedroom. The figments of her fear ran alongside her like predators on the hunt, snapping at her heels, and she burst into the kitchen.

She darted across to the dining hall, where seven generations of Rathbones looked down on her from lofty family portraits. Seated next to the patriarch in each painting was a white dog with a long face and abyssal eyes. They watched her attentively as she unlocked the glass porch doors, and ran into the night. The sound of pounding feet seemed to follow her outside, surrounding her as she sprinted through the yard barefoot, passing overgrown topiary bushes and a little rotted dog house.

The night wind was electrifying as she rounded the east wing, making for the front courtyard, and she slipped on the grass with a scream as she tried to change course. Just ahead was a great and sinister hound, black eyes burning as it stared through her. Its long fur glowed a phosphorous white and rippled as though underwater, fading into the wind. Its face was stretched out thin, and it grinned at her with rows of pointed teeth.

Clara realized that she had seen it before, in wisps of smoke and unexpected moments, but she had assumed it was like all the other ghosts that haunted her. It started to step towards her as Clara shuffled backwards, but twin cries pierced the night air, and they both turned to look.

Two dark figures were charging across the front lawn like wolves on the hunt. Clara recognized them instantly, but the eyes of her parents were lit with infernal green light. A mess of wicked black claws that was once her father howled, and lurched towards Clara. She pulled herself to her feet, ignoring her skinned knees, and tried to outrun him, but she knew that she could not.

Then, like a spear of lightning, the phantom hound arced sideways and connected with the distorted man, sending him crashing off into the hedges. Clara watched as her mother with many mouths agape came stalking towards her, but the hound returned just as violently, crackling electricity as it forced her back. It barked like raging thunder, and both of the dismal creatures shrieked in return. A light like the sun rose in the trees leading up the front lane, and the spectral dog turned to look at Clara, as though gesturing her forward.

Clara ran despite the pain coursing through her legs, towards the dog and the light, and a bulky RV came roaring onto the front lawn, headlights bright as day. It careened to a stop, and as Clara dashed towards it, her parents were quick to pursue. She threw herself through the RV’s open side door, slammed it shut and locked it quickly. As the engine revved and the RV bounced across the potholes in the front drive, she lay gasping for breath on the floor, and didn’t mind the musty smell of dog that followed her into the night.

Interlude 1 - Adopt a Dog

Are you lonely? Do you long for meaning and connection in your life? Are you unable to trust others and need a partner who cannot criticize your toxic coping mechanisms? Consider adopting a dog.

There are hundreds of dogs in the Hallowoods who are in need of good homes. Many of them live in the Find a Friend Animal Center in the Northeast Hallowoods. The center is dark, and its cages have all been broken. In the large enclosure at the end of the hall sits Big Mikey, surrounded by books and bones and dogs. When he growls, they cower, and when he barks, they obey. Big Mikey collects many bones, but you will not find dog bones among them, for they help him in the hunt and he likes their company. At night, when Big Mikey sleeps, the dogs sleep with him, together in one heaving pile.

If Big Mikey has room in his heart to adopt a dog, so do you. Find an abandoned animal shelter today for details. We go now to another happy dog owner.

Story 2 - How Things Change

It occurred to Hector that at one point, this kind of work would have distressed him greatly, and possibly kept him up at night. These days, outside of the everyday stresses of the job, it didn’t bother him much at all, and he slept just fine. It was funny, he thought, as he hauled the body out of the bog, how things change.

It slapped onto the shore with a wet smack, and the dogs approached inquisitively. Hector raised an open hand, and the twin black German Shepherds backed away obediently. He knelt in the mud and freed up his hooks, cleaning and storing them in the pouch on his side. He sighed, pushed the hair out of his face, and put on a pair of gold reading spectacles to examine the prize. He glanced at the dogs, who stared at him expectantly.

“Good girls. This is a nice dig.”

He flicked them each a couple cubes of salted beef, and began the salvage. Body was recent, probably a couple of weeks, and would have belonged to a good-looking man in life. Now his eyes were forever shut, his beard was matted with moss and swamp weed, and he was missing most of his left arm. Nobody leaves this life scott free, Hector supposed, and pricked the right hand with a silver knife just to be safe.

Pockets yielded two knives, house keys, paracord, a flashlight, an antique compass. There was a flask in the left jacket pocket whose contents smelled like a tire fire, but Hector knew it would fetch the best price out of the lot. Wallet revealed a couple of waterlogged bills and a driver’s license made out to ‘Stewart, Jeffery’. There was also a copper card with ‘Downing Hill Public Library’ stamped in a gothic font.

“Read anything good lately, Jeff?” Hector mused, tucking it in his pouch. The rest would go to market. He stood up, noting that the five-point slashes across Jeffery’s cadaver matched the tracks leading away across the shore, and shivered. He helped Jeffery back into the marsh—might as well let him rest again—and stepped into the brush, giving a low whistle. The dogs rose and followed on either side behind him.

The light of his life was parked in the clearing beyond, a beautiful heavy vintage motorcycle with a glossy black finish and a central headlight. The dogs hopped into the sidecar out of habit, and Hector strapped his bags to the back before mounting. The roar of the engine crackled across the marsh, and Hector hoped that whatever had left those tracks was long gone as the bike jumped into action.

The sun was low in the sky, and as Hector rolled through scattered brush and onto the dirt road, he found himself going through the list of people he knew this far north. It was a short list, but if his memory was good, he might have a place to spend the night. He opened up the throttle and raced the sunset, passing a cluster of plastic lawn flamingos and turning off the path into an overgrown forest trail.

He took the bike through slowly, descending through the spruce trees until he rolled out in front of a warped cottage. The lake had risen since he last visited, and the black water pooled around the cottage and spilled into the front lawn. He pulled off to the side, in the brush as much as possible. There was a rusty red truck parked out front that he didn’t recognize, and you could never be too wary of your neighbors.

He grabbed his bag and his good machete, just in case, and the dogs tailed him as he strode across the soggy yard and up the steps to the front door. It swung in as he approached, and a pair of shotgun barrels pressed against the screen.

“Alright, now just turn around and get going.” A voice croaked, and Hector recognized the wizened eyes glinting in the darkness.

“Zelda, it’s me.” He raised his hands peaceably, and smiled against the wrinkles of his face.

“What?” She stared at him a second, before lowering the gun. “Hector! You shoulda said something, I coulda taken your head off. Come on in. You’re just about who I wanted to see.”

She disappeared into the recesses of the house, and the dogs took up watch on the porch as he stepped inside. The hallway was stacked with boxes, and water had risen almost to the top of the basement stairs.

“Whose truck is that outside?” Hector queried, stepping around the pile to follow Zelda into the kitchen, where she was putting together tea and sandwiches. The walls were plastered with birthday cards and old photographs, and had not changed in the twenty years he’d been coming around.

“My son came up to visit.” Zelda tensed, clutching a butter knife.

“Is he here now? See you’ve got some moving to do in that basement of yours.”

Zelda came to sit at the little kitchen table. “The water came up one night, he was helping me get all my things out—and then he disappeared. I don’t know where he could have gone, but I’m so worried, Hector. It’s been three days. You find people, don’t you?”

Hector shrugged. “Most of the people I find are bodies, Zelda, you know that.”

She nodded, and tears welled on her leather face. “I just know he wouldn’t just run off without saying goodbye to his mama—I just can’t bear the idea that he’s out there hurt.”

Hector winced. “Tell you what, if you can put me up for the night, I’ll do my best tomorrow morning, alright? What’s your boy’s name?”

Zelda pointed to a taped-up photo of a gray-bearded man, with crinkled eyes and a round belly. “That’s him. That’s my Jonah.”

Marketing - Unspoken Desires

Here at the Botulus Corporation, maker of the Dreaming Box, your comfort is our dream. As a result all advertising you see in your dreamscape has been customized to your unique preferences, wants and needs. We believe that it is your right to be matched with products that fit you perfectly, so that your hard-earned wages can go towards improving your life with brands that understand you, brands that know you, brands that value your feelings and thoughts. People come and go, but brands are eternal.

To facilitate this sanctimonious union, your dreamscape may be monitored for subconscious impulses and unspoken desires. While some old-fashioned dreamers might be concerned from a privacy perspective, any attempts to resist...

Story 2, Continued - How Things Change

Dreamers, I am concerned with this interruption in my narrative. Please know that I, your host, did not intend for these advertisements. We return now to Hector Mendoza.

Hector set out early the next morning, with a plastic bag full of watercress sandwiches tucked into his pouch. Zelda had searched the basement a dozen times over before it flooded, she insisted, and he would prefer not to dive into it. He found himself remembering the claw marks on Jeffery—that site was a few hours east along the shore, and he found himself walking that direction, prompted by instinct.

“No need for the attitude, girls.” He called to the dogs behind him. “You think I don’t hear you, but I do. We’ll get to the market soon enough, and get you a proper breakfast.”

Hector was vindicated when he came across a bloody patch in the mud, surrounded by those huge five-clawed prints. The tracks were fresh, and they ran along the shoreline.

“Heidi, Jackie. Tag this one.”

The dogs jumped forward to pick up the scent, and lurched ahead. Hector stalked behind them, roving quickly as they padded along the trail, sniffing and growling occasionally. He checked what he’d brought for the morning—the machete on his side, a tranquilizer gun, his dredging hooks, traps, and a couple of surplus grenades he’d gotten off a prepper. Always bring the right tools for the job, and when you don’t know what the job is, bring all the tools.

The dogs came up suddenly on a large hole in the riverbank, a couple feet across, surrounded by wild brush, torn clothing and yellowed bones. They leaned in with their ears back, growling, both focused on the darkness inside. The tracks were fresh here, and went everywhere across the bank, leading into the forest beyond, into the den, splashed around the edge of the water. Hector reached out to brush one of the bones with his hand, and uncovered the better part of a human jaw.

One of the dogs yelped, and Hector whirled around as she was dragged under the water behind them. Hector spat curses in Spanish and uncoiled one of his hook lines, waiting for a shot. A moment later the dog burst up through the water’s surface, screaming, and bony hands like rakes reached up to seize her again. Hector cast the hook, which plummeted into the water closeby. There was a moment of dead quiet, and then the dog was freed again, and something massive was reeling in his line.

Hector dug his heels into the muddy bank, but it yanked him forward with vicious strength, and he was forced to let go as his boots dipped into the black water. The dog—Heidi, he thought—tried to pull herself up onto the bank, and a huge furry head with awful black eyes and a maw full of needle-point teeth broke the water’s surface behind her. It resembled a Fisher, he thought, but big as a truck, and it swung out a claw to dig long fingers into Heidi’s back.

Hector shouted and pulled out the tranquilizer gun, and missed his mark. Jackie bounded up to attack the Fisher, but it tossed her with a powerful strike from its claw, and sunk its teeth into Heidi’s neck. Hector was on it then, machete in hand, and caught it square in the eye. The Fisher shrieked too high for him to hear as his cuts landed, and he dodged its huge, skeletal hand as it clawed for his face.

Throwing Heidi’s body aside, the Fisher emerged from the lake, hissing and screeching, with black ichor dripping from its teeth. The sloped, monstrous head was followed by a twisted body and humanoid, five-clawed hands, and it rushed out of the water and dived into its den. He called Jackie back as she gave chase, and darted away from the hole before pulling out one of the grenades. Nobody hurt Hector’s dogs. He yanked the pin, and hurled it into the entrance of the blackened pit, and dove for cover.

The world was white and soundless for a moment, until the ringing in his ears became an unbearable pounding and reality came rushing back. He sat up, and smoke poured from the collapsed mound of earth and bone.

Hector stumbled over to Heidi, who was lying motionless on the riverbank, crimson blood mingling with black water of the lake.

“Oh, girl.” Hector whispered, wincing as he kneeled next to her, placing a hand on her head. “You’re my good girl.”

Jackie sat down next to the pair, whimpering. Hector ran his fingers through Heidi’s fur, and appraised the injuries. She was crushed, and the teeth had done as much damage as the razor-sharp claws. Where they’d sunk in, he noted, the wounds were blackened under the skin. “Aw. What’d that thing do to you?”

He kneeled next to her for a few more minutes until her eyes closed, and her ragged breathing stopped, and he allowed tears to stream unchecked down his wrinkled face. Finally, he stood up on the bank, and cursed at the smoking mound—the bones and debris had been cast across the riverbank, and a yellow boot sat balefully near the water’s edge. He didn’t have a find to show Zelda, but he could make his assumptions, and he started the walk back.

A few meters away he realized that Jackie wasn’t following, and gave a low whistle. He walked a few paces further before realizing that two sets of padding footsteps were trailing behind.

He spun to confront the dogs standing before him—Jackie, looking around nervously, and Heidi, with white lidless eyes and a disfigured grin of blackened teeth. Hector stood frozen, and both dogs stepped towards him, brushing his legs affectionately as they continued on the path back to the cottage. Looking after them, Hector shook his head, grinned against the wrinkles of his face, and kept walking.

It occurred to him that at one point, this kind of thing would have distressed him greatly, and certainly kept him up at night. These days, it didn’t bother him if his dog looked ungodly, as long as she came when he called. It was funny, he thought, as he followed the mismatched pair into the morning, how things change.

Interlude 2 - Partial Solar Eclipse

Wake early from your sleep, dreamers, and you may be treated to a partial solar eclipse. If you live in the Hallowoods, at 8AM the silent sphere of the moon, hanging like an ill omen in the sky, will blot out the dying light of the sun, leaving only a thin crescent of fire to reassure you that it still burns.

Rest assured, there are still many years—at least fifty—before your sun will actually leave this universe, and when it does, its dying embers will atomize the Earth. By then, dreamers, for one reason or another, you will no longer be dreaming.

Please wear eye protection while observing this partial solar eclipse. If you are a servant of Tolshotol, Who Guards a Thousand Suns, expect heightened powers during this time, along with an increased craving for flesh. We go now to a servant of Tolshotol, Who Guards a Thousand Suns.

Story 3 - Death Is Named Yaretzi

“Can I get you anything? A water, a coffee?” The man in the tweed jacket said. “It’s over, you know. It’s been over for a long time. You can still walk away from this.”

Yaretzi could barely focus on his words; his scent was overwhelming. It blazed in the center of her mind, filled her lungs with spice and flame. She wasn’t thinking about how high up they were on the roof of the monolithic grain elevator, or the endless water that stretched in all directions around it. Her jet black hair fluttered in the morning breeze, gold rings clinking. She flexed her lengthy claws and snarled, saliva dripping from her jagged teeth onto the sheet metal underfoot.

“It was a mistake for you to come here at all.” The man smirked, then took off his tweed hat and tossed it into the wind, letting it fall away. His kid gloves followed. “But your kind was always a mistake."

The world grew dark and strange as, high above her, the moon began to cross over the sun, carving it out of the sky with unstoppable finality. Yaretzi lunged forward as it did, and twin points of fire appeared in the man’s eyes. He reached into the air and pulled a flaming weapon out of the early light, and charged to meet her. She loped towards him, but clearly he had been complacent for too many centuries, and despite being much taller than her, his guard was weak.

He swung his maul in a blazing arc, but Yaretzi was faster, and she slipped under it and into the wet cavity beneath his ribs. There was an inferno in her eyes and gold ran in her veins, and she roiled with ancient power meant for terrible guardians.

The moon crossed away from the sun and both continued their journeys as she finished her grisly meal, and sprawled on her back, deeply satiated. Like a flicker in her mind, she was already aware of her next quarry—it lay far away to the North, but there was so much more life in it than in the desiccated creature she had consumed.

She closed her eyes, yawned with her bloodsoaked teeth, and went to sleep in the warm sun. There would be time enough for that, for no prey could escape Yaretzi.

Outro - Dogs

Dogs. They are an insignificant race in the cosmic scheme, lesser partners to another insignificant race. For children, they are often teachers of valuable lessons—the value of trust, of loyalty, and the blind enthusiasm with which we all must confront mortality, for dogs do not live long. And yet, as they watch their masters and familiars, as they stand guard against the darkness in the night, as they confront danger they cannot hope to overcome—I feel a sense of kinship with them.

If you do not own a dog, rest assured that even now as you dream, I am in the shadow outside your door and in the night beyond your little home. I am here. I am keeping watch. And I am waiting expectantly for your return to the Hallowoods.


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