The Night Hound

 

24 year-old Connor Powel jogged briskly through the nearly silent street, enjoying the feel of rain drizzling on his skin.  It soothed him and kept him cool as he made his way back home, passing the dim forms of buildings and sparsely planted young trees.

Hardly any cars passed by this late (or early, depending on one's bedtime), and he relished the feeling of being totally alone with the serene night, a night that seemed to hold no secrets but was fascinating nonetheless.  He jogged like this often, through rain, fog, or snow.  It was always a way to escape from the noisy bustle of town.  He was eager to get home and relax after a day of grueling study for college, and of course to see his girlfriend Sheryl, whose hours were often as odd as his.

Connor stopped himself, panting rhythmically, when he saw something, not too far away at the end of the sidewalk.

Two blazing white orbs, hovering like twin lanterns in the gloom.  At first he thought there were people coming toward him, holding flashlights, or perhaps even someone's vehicle, but they were too close together and did not saber-slash the darkness like normal lights. 

They stayed there, motionless, and so did he.  Maybe a minute passed, maybe five.  It was long enough for his breathing to become slow and soft.

Then finally, they moved slightly to the right.  Then to the left, as though something was scrutinizing him.

Fear did not immediately set in.  Connor had never paid much attention to his imagination, but now he assumed it was playing tricks on his eyes.  He blinked twice, heavily as though wiping away a mirage, but still the luminous globes stayed, bobbing up and down and occasionally veering back and forth like unnatural fireflies, and he didn’t at first realize they were eyes.

Until they blinked back.

Then a wet hissing noise, cold and unrecognizable.  Punctuated by a barely audible high-pitched trilling, finally this snapped Connor out of his trance and he backed up on the sidewalk, heart beginning to take a sprint faster than any of his night jogs.

His hand dug clumsily into the pocket of his shorts and pulled out a flashlight. When it clicked on, a dark mass greeted him, a writhing, shifting thing that seemed to congeal at the attention.

The eyes flared even brighter, and Connor’s fear mingled with his curiosity.

He wanted to know more.  It wasn’t enough to completely immobilize him, for he continued to step back, though slowly.

The creature---or whatever in god’s name it was—didn’t make any steps toward him. Perhaps it was sizing him up, perhaps merely waiting for him to move first.  Connor realized his flashlight had strayed away from its target.  He focused the beam on the shadowy thing again.

Long, black sinuous things whipped like cords around the vaguely lupine frame, and quested a few feet from its body. Some sprouted from the wide, oil-smooth back, while others dangled from the bottom of the head.

What the hell?

A thicker one that could be called a tail swished back and forth behind it, and Connor spotted legs and claws beneath the mass.  It was definitely a quadruped, but not a dog, not anything close.

Connor was subliminally aware of cars roaring in the distance on the highway, the susurration of the rain.  There was no one around but him and this beast, and as he stared into its eyes—not just two of them now but dozens—he also seemed to be seeing a faraway place.  Both familiar and alien, it called to him silently, telling him to stay, stay, stay.

RUN!  His instinct screamed inside him as the creature took another step toward him, a slow, almost dainty move that made the appendages sway.  It cocked its head and shrieked.

A horrible sound, like buzz saws and mountain lions and storm sirens howling in the distance.

It lunged, liquid shadow, and he was too slow to evade it.  Then he was on the ground, and the beast spread across him like a crushing cloak, screaming, screaming, but also whispering in a soothing voice only his soul could hear.

Connor felt breath rising from him like heavy plumes of fog.  One of the appendages snared his throat and tightened, and others followed suit.  The shrieking came again and again, growing more piercing with each one.  He raised a frenzied, feeble hand and tried to pry the strangling things off but it was no use, no use.

Connor felt weaker by the second, his own warmth being leeched by the beast in a way profound and unnameable.  His legs drummed against the sidewalk until one of his sneakers worked loose and pattered a few inches away.

He was running out of air.  Connor’s throat burned as though boiling water was seeping through it.  He thought of his life, so much unlived, of Cheryl back home waiting for him, the only one who cared, the only one left.  Left to mourn.

Seconds passed, minutes, and finally his flopping ceased.  Connor's eyes rolled back and glazed.  He left himself.  The thundering heart lay still.

And the creature remained with him for quite a while, remaining energies of his essence ebbing and flowing like a gentle tide, flowing into its being, nourishing.

It chittered to itself in a language never heard by human beings.  Heaving itself off the cooling corpse, the monstrosity skulked away, satiated but already searching for another victim.

 From somewhere out there in that strange night came a sudden, faint trace of energy, twisting like electricity through the air and finally reaching the entity in a sudden inspiration, like a hound catching the scent of quarry.  It was different from all the others it constantly sensed, a host of teeming energy signatures wafting through the chill air.  

The energy signature was of its kind, yet also different.  It was redolent of both predator and prey, stronger now, and irresistible.  It began to move toward the source, south of of the fallen college kid.

It was in no hurry.  What it had just absorbed would sustain it for a while.  The drive to move toward that familiar yet unfamiliar entity somewhere in this world, this world swarming with endless sources of sustenance, was a demented curiosity.

The End

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