SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: Man Eater by Chris Campbell

Picture: Shutterstock
Picture: Shutterstock
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The moon was full and playing peek-a-boo through the clouds which were being harried along by a vicious wind.

The moon was full and playing peek-a-boo through the clouds which were being harried along by a vicious wind.

The trees outside were bending and the bare branches sounded like scratching finger nails when they scraped against the glass of the windows.

As the old grandfather clock in the hall struck midnight, the dog gave one long howl at the moon, visible for a few moments in a gap in the clouds.

The howl was answered after a few seconds by a wolf, somewhere out in the woods beyond the cottage. A few minutes later the wolf howled again, nearer this time, but the dog did not reply. By now it was cowering behind the old leather sofa, trembling and panting with fright.

The dog had not eaten for several days now, since the elderly couple who looked after it had stopped coming downstairs. A strange smell wafted down the stairwell which the dog was not familiar with, but it made the animal restless.

Shortly there was another howl from outside, nearer again. The wind seemed to grow in intensity, making the doors of the old cottage creak with a spine-chilling squeal.

This alarmed the dog even more and it was now frothing at the mouth and trembling madly.

Outside, the wolf crept closer to the cottage, its nose quivering in anticipation of a feed in the offing, as it too had detected the odour of rotting meat from within.

The large grey wolf reached the door, from which most of the paint had peeled many years since, and tentatively sniffed round the frame. The smell was stronger now and all the wolf’s instincts were on full alert. It nudged the door and it moved slightly.

Really determined now, the wolf lunged at the door again causing the rusty catch holding it to fall to the floor and the door to open about a foot. It slithered through the gap and paused on the threshold, sniffing the air.

As the wolf entered the cottage, the dog growled deep in its throat and its hair stood on end with a mixture of abject terror and defiance.

The wolf started ascending the staircase, heading towards where the smell was strongest, emanating from a room at the top of the stairs.

The dog, despite being petrified, was determined to protect its owners even though instinct told it they were already beyond help, and it cautiously started ascending the stairs behind the wolf intruder.

The wolf had reached the top of the staircase and was padding towards a closed door when once again, the wolf lunged at the door and sent it flying off its rusty hinges to crash on the floor behind.

In the far corner of the room was an old iron bedstead on which two still figures lay. The smell was very strong and the wolf was hungry.

The rancid smell of decay spurred it on and it leapt onto the bed and began to feed on the human remains that lay there. The dog growled deep in its throat and launched itself

across the floor at the wolf.

A fierce fight ensued and despite receiving nasty injuries, the dog persisted. It was lucky with one bite and managed to completely sever the wolfs left hind leg.

The wolf screamed in agony and renewed its attack on the dog, its meal forgotten. After some minutes of bitter fighting, the wolf gave up and, leaving a trail of blood, leapt through the window with a loud crash, landing heavily outside, and slunk away into the woods.

The dog was cut and bitten, bleeding in many places including where one ear had previously been, but it somehow crawled to the bed where it laid its head against its dead master, and began to let out a keening cry of distress.

Outside the storm still raged, with the wind still gaining strength. Rain was pouring down and splashing on the flagstones of the porch and wetting the linoleum of the downstairs floor.

On the road beyond the hedge at the front of the cottage, a lone figure was walking through the storm, a park ranger heading for his home a few miles away.

As the he drew level with the cottage, a noise made him glance at the building. Strange noises came from within and he also detected the rancid odour of death.

Deciding to knock on the door, initially to seek shelter from the storm and then, as an afterthought, to see if there was anybody that needed help, despite knowing in his heart it was probably too late.

Finding the door slightly open, he called out loudly but there was no answer. He pushed his way into the cottage where he heard the keening noise from upstairs.

He recoiled in horror at the stench and staggered against the wall where he vomited the entire contents of his stomach.

He was still leaning weakly against the wall when he heard a movement on the staircase. The next second, he saw the badly injured dog trying to descend the stairs and knew that he would have to help the poor animal.

Investigation revealed the two dead bodies upstairs and he called the police on his radio. While he waited, he tried to make the dog as comfortable as possible and bound the worst of its injuries.

He decided this was such a brave special dog that he should be the one to give it a good home and he took the dog back to his family to give the poor creature a better life.

The dog was to become a faithful companion for the remainder of its days.

Chris Campbell is a retired driver and has been writing short stories, books and more recently poetry for around three years.