One Dog Night
By Ian Wilson
The date was June 25th. It was hotter than my Mimi’s crawdad gumbo. The fan hummed quietly as it turned back and forth, having little effect. I sat in my usual spot near the door, swatting deer flies away from my head while I read emails. My companion and business partner, Walter Ulric, sat with his feet up on the desk reading a gun magazine. He dabbed his forehead with a red bandana and placed it back in the pocket of his denim shirt.
“Another possession,” I said, remarking on an email.
“Tell ‘em to call a priest; we don’t handle those,” said Walter.
I nodded and proceeded to type the reply to the customer. Running a paranormal private detective agency is not a simple job; people are constantly emailing or calling us about how they think their cat is possessed or some such nonsense. Walter typically has me field the emails. He’s something of a luddite, and doesn’t particularly care for digital technology.
Betty Ulric, Walter’s mother, stepped in through the open door, dressed in a floral sundress and Birkenstocks, her auburn hair up in a bun on the back of her head. Her forehead glistened slightly.
“Golly, it’s like an oven in here!”
“My thoughts exactly,” I remarked.
“Why don’t you two come over to the house where it’s cooler? Can’t work in this sauna on a day like this!”
“Naw, we might have a case come in,” retorted Walter.
Betty rolled her blue eyes. “You’re so stubborn, just like your father.”
“Good,” mumbled Walter.
“Have you asked Conrad’s opinion?” asked Betty, gesturing to me.
“Conrad, what would you like to do? Tough it out here and get some work done, or go back to the house like a namby-pamby?”
“Oh, I will namby-pamby my way back to where there’s some air-conditioning, and it don’t smell like a wet dog.”
“I don’t smell that bad!”
“Walter, honey, you stink,” said Betty.
“Fine,” relented Walter. “I’ll close up for the day.”
Walter flipped the door sign to “closed” and locked the door, not that he ever kept anything all that valuable inside. We stepped back across the barnyard toward the Craig family home. The air hummed with the monotonous buzzing of cicadas in the trees. Chickens clucked and pecked for insects and seed, and you could faintly hear the recently sheared alpacas grunting faintly from the next pasture. Katherine Craig, Walter’s cousin, lay on a deck chair, wearing a tie-dye bikini. I don’t understand why anyone would voluntarily sit in the sun on a day when it’s over 100 degrees. Her mother, Mary, sat on the front porch, fanning herself and reading a novel. I observed Mary’s husband, Jimmy, lurking around the corner of the house with a squirt-gun. He crept toward his wife, quiet as a cat. Once he had reached firing range, the gun let loose a stream of water, drenching the middle-aged woman. Mary shrieked. Jimmy uttered a guffaw. Mary whacked him on the head with her fan, but they both ended up laughing like fools. Katherine wore headphones at the time, and heard none of this. Mary put her finger to her lips and gestured to her daughter. Jimmy sneaked over to Katherine, and doused her in a flow of cold liquid. Katherine’s reaction was not dissimilar to her mother’s.
“Pa!” she cried. “You could’ve ruined my phone! What’s the matter with you!?”
Jimmy, however, was too busy laughing to respond. Pulling small pranks is how Jimmy likes to pass a good time. Katherine put her hands on her slender hips, shook her head and smiled somewhat. We walked up the front porch steps and the other family members joined us. Walter lit a cigarillo, casually puffing on it while we chatted about the events of the day. Betty entered the kitchen to fetch lemonade. The Craigs were very much like the family I never had growing up in Louisiana. They had adopted me almost as one of their own and their door was always open to me. This, I thought, is what summers are meant to be; families sitting on the front porch, enjoying the moment. I often wished I’d had this as a boy, but such was not meant to be. I can only enjoy what I have now while I have it.
“Wait now,” said Jimmy. “Kat, you’ve barely done a thing all day other than lie around. Go put something on over that bikini and water the alpacas.”
Katherine huffed and followed the orders. Jimmy Craig’s parenting style is not entirely unlike that of other Southern parents, including my grandparents, but a bit more lenient. He comes across like a junkyard dog, but like most dogs, his bark is worse than his bite.
I observed a county sheriff’s vehicle drive slowly up the gravel driveway. Sheriff Donne and his Deputy, Julia, exited the vehicle, and started toward our office. Jimmy whistled loudly to get their attention and motioned to them. The sheriff and his deputy made their way over to the Craig house, wearing grim expressions. I couldn’t see his eyes through his mirrored sunglasses, however. Julia tried to look calm and passive, but I could tell it was an act.
“Howdy Sheriff,” said Jimmy.
“Howdy Jim, Walt, Conrad,” returned the sheriff.
“Sheriff, Deputy,” said Walter.
“Walter, we uh… well, we need to ask you a few questions.”
“What about?” Walter sat up a little in his chair and squinted at the officer of the law with suspicion.
“Where were you last night between 11:30 and 3:00 AM?” asked Julia. She usually cut to the chase. A very efficient woman.
“In bed,” replied Walter. “Why?”
“Well,” said the Sheriff, wiping beads of sweat from his creased brow, “A man was found dead this morning, and…” the sheriff trailed off. He liked Walter, strangely. Walter had always been the town bad boy, yet he and the sheriff had formed an unlikely alliance. Donne has seen many of the things lurking in the dark. He knows what Walter and I were up against, and he is always there to back us up if need be.
“We think it was a large canine,” said Julia, completing Sheriff Donne’s sentence.
“And you think I had something to do with it?” asked Walter.
“Well, there are some folks who are concerned, you being a werewolf and all,” said Sheriff Donne.
Walter took a long drag on his cigarillo. It was extraordinary being friends with Walter; as a member of the Society of St. Michael, I’d been trained to hunt and kill werewolves, and yet I now called one of them a friend and ally. Walter has a strange talent from making people who should be enemies into friends.
“Moon weren’t full last night,” said the werewolf, “and if it were, I’d’ve been at the church getting the cleansing ritual and you know it.”
Every full moon, Walter and I go to the church with the parish priest, Father Steven McKay, and perform a cleansing ritual to prevent Walter from turning. Eventually, we hoped that Walter would be fully cured of his lycanthropy. That will take many years of spiritual discipline, but with God all things are possible.
“It wasn’t our idea, Walter,” said Julia, sympathetically. She almost never used Walter’s first name. The rule was always “Mr. Ulric”. I believe she did that to hide the fact that she found him deeply attractive. Most women tend to prefer dangerous men; men who are capable of great violence in protection of home and family. Men like Walter.
Walter took another drag on his cigarillo.
“Well, I wasn’t there. But I can certainly help with the investigation if you’ll let me.”
The sheriff motioned with his head. We followed him back to his vehicle and got inside. He then drove us down the road into town, where we parked at the sheriff’s office. The Sheriff and his deputy led us back to the morgue.
The body had definitely been mauled by a large animal; a wolf perhaps, but could also have been a bear. In any case, it was a gruesome sight. I felt the presence of darkness around the cadaver. He did not die of natural causes.
“This was Terry McGinnis,” said Julia impassively.
“Getting any vibes?” Walter asked me.
“Oh, I’ve got vibes, alright.”
It’s hard to describe my gift any other way. I can feel the presence of magic, a “sixth sense” I’d honed in my years in the Society of St. Michael.
“Can you take us to the crime scene?” asked Walter.
“I don’t think that’d be a good idea,” said Sheriff Donne.
Walter nodded. “Got any more evidence?”
Deputy Julia produced a plaster cast of an enormous pawprint. Walter examined the cast.
“Well, too big to be someone’s household pet,” he stated. “Might be a timber wolf, but that’d be unlikely; wolves ain’t been seen in these parts since about 1900.”
“Probably a hell-hound,” I stated. Walter nodded in agreement.
According to Maxim Adamik’s Guide To Preternatural Entities, a hellhound is a nocturnal being of demonic origin, taking the form of a large, black canine. They are highly malevolent, and live on the flesh, blood, and life-force of humans. They are not to be confused with a church grim, which is a benevolent canine guardian of churches and graveyards.
“Can you give us any idea where this fellow was found?” I asked.
The Sheriff shook his grey head.
“I wish I could, but if the property owner finds out you’ve been there, it’ll cause a ruckus.”
“Keep me posted on any developments.”
“We will,” replied Julia.
That evening we ate dinner under the mosquito net. Jimmy and Walter discussed the finer points of muskrat hunting, and Betty interjected occasionally to insert various firearms facts. Katherine, meanwhile, periodically glanced up from her phone to make a remark about someone on Instagram. She had indicated that she didn’t wish to discuss rats over dinner. Walter then explained that muskrats are not in fact rats, but are more like “low-budget beavers”, to which Katherine replied: “Whatever, Walter.”
I had Cajun neighbors where I grew up; apart from the difference in accent, they were very much like the Craigs. Hunting and fishing are a part of their way of life; something that urbanites will never really understand.
Dinner concluded, Walter, Jimmy, and I sat on the porch, drinking beer and smoking cigarillos. I indulged in the beer and conversation, but not the tobacco. Walter limited his tobacco consumption to cigarillos, and the occasional cigar. “Cigarettes smell like burning trash,” he had stated on one occasion. Various individuals have tried to convince him to quit, to which Walter always replied “In my line of work, if I die of cancer, I’ll consider that a win.” I suppose he had a point.
“What do you suppose did it?” asked Jimmy.
“Conrad figures a hellhound did it, and he’s probably right.” Walter said.
“Is that right? How do you figure?”
“The wounds and the tracks were consistent with a hellhound,” I replied.
Jimmy nodded. “Last I heard tell of the hellhounds was in ‘87. Maude O’Feeney used to talk about ‘em.”
Maude O’Feeney was the town’s wise woman. She knew more about the lore of this place than she ever let on. She wore the mask of an eccentric spinster, but underneath was a formidable woman.
“There’s something evil about that body, too. I could feel it.” I continued. “I feel it, now. There’s something stalking those woods as we speak.”
Seemingly on queue, a bone-chilling cry rent the night air. Every hair on my body stood at attention.
“That weren’t no coyote,” said Walter.
“I think I’d better make sure the Winchester is loaded,” said Jimmy, rising from his seat.
“Ditto,” said Walter.
The birds twittered from the fields and trees in the cool summer morning as I completed my morning exercises. The Okinawan masters say that Karate is like boiling water; it must be constantly heated or it will cool. This is why I train nearly every day.
Jimmy sat on the front porch sipping some coffee and reading an issue of Modern Farmer. He greeted me cordially as I entered the house. The smell of sausage permeated the dining room. Walter grunted a morning greeting. That was pretty much all you ever got from him before coffee. Mary served me some eggs and sausage and a couple slices of toast.
“You look sweaty,” remarked Katherine as she returned from feeding the animals.
“Exercise,” I replied. “Gotta keep in shape.”
The door opened, and Deputy Julia entered the dining room, followed by Jimmy.
“Well, good morning, Deputy,” said Betty. “What can I do for you?”
“I need to talk to Walter.”
Walter turned his still drowsy eyes toward the attractive, copper-skinned deputy.
“I’m listening,” he mumbled.
“There’s been another killing.”
Walter looked at me. I looked at him.
“Can you take us there this time?”
Julia nodded. Walter downed a cup of black coffee, and we followed her to the waiting GMC SUV in the gravel drive. Walter and I got into the Jeep, and followed her down an old logging road to a bend in the creek. A police tape cordoned off the area. We followed Julia down the steep bank to the creek bed. A camera flashed as another deputy photographed the grisly scene. Sheriff Donne interviewed a young man clothed in overalls and a tee-shirt; I assumed he was a witness. He looked pretty shook up. An atmosphere of evil lay over the whole creek. Not even the birds dared to sing.
Walter knelt down next to the corps. We observed the large, canine footprints in the mud. He and I looked at each other, but said nothing; this was no natural event. Sheriff Donne strode down the bank toward us.
“Walter, Conrad” he said. “Thanks for coming.”
We greeted the Sheriff in return.
“You know, I hate to ask this, but it’s part of my job,” said Donne.
“I don’t take it personal, Sheriff,” replied Walter.
“Where were you about 3:00 AM this morning?”
“In bed. Everyone will attest to that.”
“Conrad, what color is Walt when he… turns?”
“A reddish shade of brown, with a dark back, and flecks of grey throughout,” I replied.
The sheriff nodded, taking notes in his little notebook.
“Much obliged, gentlemen.”
Donne turned around and ordered the coroner to take the body away. Walter and I climbed up the river bank and made our way back to the jeep.
“What’s the game plan?” I asked. I typically let Walter decide the next move in these cases. While I’m an expert on the occult, Walter knows the area and the people. I follow his lead, and give him suggestions.
“What do you think the game plan is?” replied Walter. “We search the valley for hell holes, until we find one.”
I nodded. It was a good thing I’d brought bug spray.
I followed the trail of dark energy for hours, mostly by banks for the creek. We searched for any sign of a hell hole; an opening into the dark dimension, where evil entities exist. Through a hell hole, they can enter our reality to torment the living.
We eventually came to a hub of dark magic. I could feel it all around me. Ancient, dead, and dying trees stood all around. A smell of dankness and decay permeated the place. We saw no hell hole, however. The leaf litter rustled behind us. We turned around to see local postman, Perry Wankle, clothed in a Hawiian shirt, khaki shorts, and a straw hat. He sipped leisurely from a cup of what I assumed was his home-made moonshine.
“Howdy, Walt, Conrad,” he said, tipping his hat.
“Howdy Perry,” replied Walter.
“What’re y’all doin’ out here?”
“We could ask you the same question,” I retorted.
“Well, I’ll tell you a little secret, if you promise to keep this under your hats. That pile of wood over there? That ain’t a pile of wood. It’s where I make my shine.”
Walter nodded. “Good place to hide it.”
“Thanks but no thanks, Perry,” I replied.
“Suit yourselves,” said Perry, taking another sip. “So what brings you out here?”
“Have you seen or heard any strange animals in the woods, lately?” I asked.
“Son, this is Appalachia. You have to be specific.”
“A dog,” said Walter. “A really big dog.”
“Oh yeah,” said Perry, as though he knew exactly what we were referring to. “I heard him last night.”
“Do you know how it’s getting in?” I asked.
“More or less. Follow me.”
We followed the postman up an incline onto a path thickly overgrown with ferns and briars. We came to what appeared to be an abandoned homestead; apple trees grew untended all around us, and an old timber fence surrounded the perimeter. A decaying barn sat in the middle of it all. It looked like the last time anyone used it was during the Roosevelt administration.
I felt the overwhelming presence of evil as we entered the dilapidated structure. Walter felt it, too. I could tell. The interior was nearly as bad off as the outside; spider webs hung from the beams, and the scent of animal droppings and urine filled my nostrils. But what really caught my attention were the symbols. Occult symbols and geometrical patterns decorated the walls and floor; unholy geometry.
The universe is put together with a certain mathematical order; numbers, shapes and patterns repeat throughout the natural world. Think of the Fibonacci numbers. This is what we call sacred geometry; Walter and I believe this is the strongest evidence of an intelligent creator. Unfortunately, where there is light, there is shadow. The forces of evil and chaos like to subvert this sacred geometry to their own ends; they reverse and twist the created order. This is unholy geometry. Using certain symbols, numbers, and geometric patterns, one can summon the demonic.
“I see what you mean, Perry,” stated Walter.
“How’d you find this place?” I queried.
“I was looking for our cat, Spot, and I found this place.”
“Didja find the cat?” asked Walter.
“I think he’s hellhound food, but don’t tell Matilda,” replied Perry.
Walter nodded. We examined the room. Normally, a hellhole manifests as a perfectly circular, black hole, but I saw nothing of the kind here.
“Well, looks like whoever opened the hole closed it again,” I remarked.
My blood ran cold at the thought; somewhere in the county there was a warlock with the ability to open hellholes and summon preternatural entities.
Walter pursed his lips. “Meaning the hellhound is running around loose with no place to go. Oh well. Wanna swing by Granny’s and grab some chow?”
“You know I do.”
With that, we hiked back to where we’d parked the jeep and drove into town.
We parked along the street just across from Granny’s Bar, a local institution. We met with suspicious stares and apprehensive muttering. Walter and I sat down at the bar. A man that everyone affectionately refers to as Chub tended bar that afternoon.
“What’ll it be, guys?”
“Club sandwich and root beer,” said Walter.
“I’ll have the same, but with sweet tea.”
The barkeep nodded. The patrons sat quietly, occasionally glancing at Walter. Walter spun around in his stool.
“What’re y’all lookin’ at?! You act like you’ve never seen me before!”
“We know what you did, Walt,” said a rather stout, bleach-blonde woman.
“Folks, ya know me. It weren’t the full moon last night, nor the night before!”
“Listen to him!” said Chub. “Walter wouldn’t lie about a thing like that.”
“You were away for a long time, Walt,” said a sour-faced older man. “Who knows what you was doin’ when you was on the road.”
“I admit I wasn’t plantain’ daisies, but I didn’t go around killin’ folk neither! It was a hellhound! A beast from the black.”
“Why should we believe you?” asked the blonde, crossing her arms.
“We have several credible witnesses who can corroborate Walter’s story,” I replied. “Walter was not out last night, nor the night before. Furthermore, the animal in question in no way resembled Walter as a wolf.”
“You might be covering for him!”
“Now, folks,” said Granny, “Y’all oughtn’t to be spreading tales about Walt. He ain’t done nuthin’ wrong, in fact he’s done some powerful good for this town.”
They went silent.
“Make that to go, Chub,” mumbled Walter.
As we made our way to the jeep with our food, we were met by the angry shouts and curses of those gathered outside; they didn’t have the courage to say anything inside the bar with Granny around. A broken bottle flew past my head. Walter spun around.
“You want a piece of me, jackwangs?!”
Walter lives by a code of honor. He has rarely walked away from a fight, and when he has, 90% of the time it was because I talked him down. He’s sort of like the human version of a bull terrier. He has, however, never shrank from defending the innocent; innocent in this case being himself.
One brute near the forefront of the group threw a wide, roundhouse punch. Walter blocked the blow and gave the man a knee-strike. He fell to the ground, stunned. His companions drew closer. A single tone erupted from a siren as Sheriff Donne approached the fray. He exited the vehicle, looking sternly at the group of men.
“Gentlemen, this is not a fight club. If you have a problem with Mr. Ulric, please resolve it in a more constructive fashion.”
The men wandered off, uttering curses. Sheriff Donne approached Walter and I. He removed his campaign hat, and ran his fingers through his thinning hair.
“Walter, I hate to do this, but I’m gonna need to place you under protective custody.”
Walter crossed his arms and leaned back defiantly.
“That little incident you just had. The townsfolk are spooked; they think you did it, and they want your hide.”
Walter chewed his lip. “Am I under arrest?”
“Well, no, but I think it’s in your best interest if you came with me.”
“When hell freezes over!”
“Wait a minute, Walt,” I said, holding up my hand. “If you spend the night in jail and that creature comes out, then we’ll have the proof we need to show your innocence.”
Walter scratched his short-cropped beard. “I don’t like it… But I’ll do it.”
“I’ll continue the search for the beast,” I said.
“Make sure you bring backup,” added Walter.
“Of course,” I replied.
Sheriff Donne and Walter got into his vehicle and drove to the jail. Meanwhile, I went back to the farm to start getting ready for the night’s festivities.
Father McKay and I crept through the benighted woodland, listening for any sound. The only illumination came from my adjustable flashlight; I kept it dim, so as not to attract too much attention. Father McKay and Walter had been friends since high school, and he was a trusted ally in the war against the darkness. I was given to understand that he was the first person outside his immediate family Walter told about his curse. I’m also given to understand Walter is the reason McKay joined the priesthood. He’s also a crack shot, and keeps a cool head under pressure.
“I feel like we’ve done this before,” said Father McKay.
“We have, but last couple times Walter was here.”
“Ow! Dang deer flies!”
I offered him some herbal oil. Strangely, the same herbs that repel preternatural entities also repel insects. That has led to my belief that mosquitoes are in fact minor demons.
“Do you have any idea where the hellhound is?” asked McKay.
“Somewhere in this patch of woods; I can feel it’s presence.”
A blood-curdling wail penetrated the stygian forest. We readied our weapons and crept toward the sound. A twig snapped. I swivelled in the direction of the sound. Its eyes glowed like hot embers in the dark, full of malice. A shot rang out, but it wasn’t from my gun. A low snarl emanated from the dark as the monster ran off. Father McKay moved the beam of his flashlight toward the gunshot. It was Julia, standing on a rocky outcrop, a rifle in her hands.
“Deputy,” said the priest.
“Conrad. Father. Having fun?”
“Oh, barrels of fun,” said McKay.
“What’re you doing here?” I asked.
“Walter thought you’d need backup, so here I am.”
Suddenly, we plunged into the darkness again. A horrified cry rang out as Father McKay vanished into the womb of night. I could hear the massive hound dragging him through the leaf litter. Julia leapt from her perch and we followed the sound of struggle. An infernal snarl pierced the gloom; I later discovered that Father McKay had squirted holy water in the hellhound’s face.
I could see its hateful, burning eyes in the night. I aimed my weapon directly between those hideous pupils and fired a single shot. The beast fell with an agonized cry, dead. We rushed to the young priest’s side to render aid. His arms and back were scraped and bloody; his shirt was ripped up, but he was otherwise unharmed.
“Are you alright, Father McKay?” asked Julia.
“Oh me? I’m f-f-f-fine. And you?”
“He’s in shock,” I said. I bent down over the dead beast. Its flesh melted away, leaving only black bones behind. I took hold of the ebony skull. It was longer than a football, and heavy like iron.
“We better have you checked out by a doctor,” Julia told the priest.
We helped him off the ground, and led him back out of the woods.
The sun shined brightly on a new morning as Walter stepped out of the county jail. He took a deep breath and smiled.
“How’s it feel to be a free man again?” asked Julia.
“Pretty darn good,” replied Walter. “I could use some sausage and hashbrowns.”
“We’ll head back to the farm in a minute,” I said. “Just need one stop.”
We walked down the street to Granny’s bar. Walter waved at the citizens of the town as we passed them by. Some waved back. Others stared sheepishly. We walked through the swinging saloon doors. We approached the bar. I hefted the enormous hellhound skull and set it on the bar with a thump.
“Walter is innocent,” I said.
Granny smiled pleasantly. Walter smirked, nodded, turned and swaggered out of the bar. Granny eventually had the skull mounted on the wall behind the bar, where it still stands as a testament to Walter’s integrity.