“Would you shut that thing up?”
Becky’s so called dog was howling which, as far as Ed could recall, it had never done before. It was some kind of small puff of fur that cost them a bunch of money, more than Ed could have ever imagined spending on a damn dog. Pound for pound, the dog was probably worth more than gold.
Ed Hardesty was neither here nor there on animals in general. He’d had a dog as kid, as most kids did, and he loved it. As an adult, he’d never felt the urge to have a pet, although the farm itself did attract a fair number of cats who basically ignored Ed, who generally returned the favor. He was even nice to the cows.
He did, however, really hate that fucking dog. It wasn’t the money. Yeah, Ed had only agreed to buy it to try and placate Becky after one of their bigger go rounds and so spent a lot more than he otherwise would have. And yeah, the thing required a ridiculous amount of upkeep at the vets and the groomers, all of which was expensive.
No, Ed hated the dog because the dog hated him, and it wasn’t shy about letting him know about it. There’s a special kind of hate that only putting on your shoes to find they’re full of dog urine can bring.
The dog had started howling and scratching at the door an hour or so ago, despite all of Becky’s attempts to get it to shut up. She’d tried cooing to it, holding it and giving it treats, and the best that she’d gotten out of it was that it had actually snapped at her. The dog seemed to love Becky as much as it hated Ed, so this was pretty much unprecedented.
“You don’t have to be a jerk about it.”
“I know, I’m sorry.”
The little dog thing was standing near the door, looking out the glass door. It’s hair stood and it’s tail was low. Becky walked towards it, again, and it turned and gave her a low growl. Becky stepped back.
“I think something is out there.”
Ed rubbed his face. He’d been married to Becky for twenty years, since right after high school, and he still couldn’t take that look in her eye. She was worried, and she wanted him to do something about it. Which meant that he was going to do something about it.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Just go check the barn. Make sure everything is alright so Daisy will calm down.”
Ed looked out the door. He couldn’t see the barn from here for the snow. He definitely didn’t want to go outside, especially since he was in no way convinced that Daisy had the reasoning powers to be reassured by him going out there. But it would make Becky feel better.
He pulled on his boots and his heavy jacket. Becky handed him a toboggan.
“Don’t catch cold.”
“Well, you could go out.”
“I need to stay here with Daisy, she’s scared.”
“Of course, well, I’ll just head out into the blizzard then.”
She gave him a peck on the cheek. The things he did. He grabbed the double barreled shotgun that he kept near the door, popped it open and dropped two shells in it, stuffed a couple more in his pocket. Flashlight. He looked down at Daisy. She was staring at something he couldn’t see.
She didn’t look afraid, although he wasn’t going to tell Becky that. She looked like she was waiting for something. Ed stepped outside into the snow.
He couldn’t believe how deep the snow had gotten already. It’d been a pretty dry winter up until then, so there’d been just a dusting of snow on the ground this morning. It was up past his ankles now, and he couldn’t see a damn thing through the snow falling to the ground. He was glad that he’d moved the cows into the barn for the night.
He wasn’t really a farmer. Well, yeah, he lived on a farm. He had cows and chickens and goats, in addition to Daisy. But he was a mechanic and Becky was a teacher. The farm was just a hobby, more or less, a way to keep in touch with his roots. The family farm had been the family farm for five generations of Defibaugh’s. He enjoyed having it and sometimes wished he really was a farmer.
This was not one of those times. Even with the flashlight, all he could really see was white. In the distance he could just barely make out the polelight beside the barn. Or at least, that’s what he hoped it was. In this shit, he could be walking towards town for all he knew.
He looked an awful lot like a snow man by the time he got to the barn. He slid open the door and stepped inside, shivered off some snow. The barn was warm, close with the heat of animal bodies. He flicked on the light switch.
He dropped the flashlight.
“What the fuck?”
He had twelve head of cattle. A manageable number, and their beef provided them with all the meat they could handle.
They were all dead.
The inside of the barn was painted red with blood, and Ed’s dinner rose up in his throat. He’d been in slaughterhouses before, and he didn’t mind the sight of blood and guts. But this was something else entirely. He took a step back. He heard something behind him and spun, shotgun ready.
Three dark shapes were out there in the snow. Dogs? Coyotes? He didn’t have time to tell before one of them leaped. He squeezed the trigger on the twelve gauge involuntarily and got lucky, and whatever it was flopped against him, driving him to the ground.
He fired another shot out the door and scrambled to his feet, slipping slightly in the blood of the dead thing. He slid the door shut, and took a deep breath. Fuck. Fucking fuck. He looked at what had attacked him.
And recognized it. He’d just blown his neighbor’s dog in half. He popped the shotgun open and dropped the spent shells out. Reloaded. Looked at Murray. He was a golden retriever, maybe four, five years old. He was a pretty good dog, once they’ve broken him of the habit of coming over to Ed’s and eating the chickens. He’d never attacked anybody.
His muzzle was stained read, and there was pinkish froth around his jaws. Rabies? Ed looked at the inside of the barn. He didn’t think three dogs were enough to do all this, but he didn’t know. He leaned against the door and listened. He didn’t hear anything from outside the barn, but he did hear something inside.
He took a deep breath, held it, and blew it out slowly. He picked up the flashlight and turned it back on, keeping the shotgun balanced on his forearm. There were lights in the barn, but there was still plenty of darkness, and places that he couldn’t see.
He heard a dull, wet slapping, a queasy noise that would have given him chills if he weren’t half frozen to begin with. He bit his lip and moved forward. Steam rolled off the carcasses he could see. They hadn’t been dead long. He wondered if Becky heard the shotgun. Inside a barn, inside a house, through all this. Probably not.
He saw it crouched over one of the cows. His flashlight reflected off red eyes and he had no idea what he was looking at. For the split second he could see it, he saw something big, larger than a man and dark furred. White teeth and red claws. He thought, for a second, that it might have been a bear but then it looked at him. It wasn’t a bear.
It slammed into him hard and the shotgun went sliding across the floor, the flashlight spinning. Ed grabbed at its neck, tried to keep it back. It raised a clawed hand and swiped and everything went white for Ed.
He couldn’t see. He wiped at his face and his hand came away red.
“Oh god. Oh jesus.”
His chest hurt. His stomach hurt. He felt like he was on fire. He looked down and there was nothing but ruin from the middle of his chest down. He was torn open and he started to cry. The thing was sitting on its haunches, watching him. It turned its head a bit and sniffed. Dark shapes crowded around it. It watched him.
Ed tried to move back on his elbows as the pack approached him. He recognized some of them, neighbor’s dogs. More he didn’t. Some that must have been coyotes. They spread out in a circle around him as he moved back. His legs wouldn’t move right. He screamed for Becky. He begged.
The pack surrounded him, and ate.