The only reason he noticed the dogs howling in the distance was because there was a group of them. Having more than one dog had been made illegal a couple years earlier.
Hendrix picked up his cell phone, intending to call the police to report the apparent pack of dogs within a few miles of his suburban home on half an acre.
But before he could call, his phone rang.
“Oh God, what does she need now,” Hendrix said before answering, annoyed. “Yes? Well what does procedure say? Then I guess you better do it then, don’t you think? Well that’s your job. I don’t know, they will go through the system. That’s not your call. It’s not my call either!”
Hendrix got up off the couch and walked into the kitchen, still talking to the woman on the other end. He rolled his eyes and mouthed profanities as he put a packaged frozen meal in the microwave. The irritation he felt added to the droopy look of his middle-aged wrinkled face.
“Yes? And if you were in charge, would you let a family keep a child they couldn’t feed? It doesn’t matter why they can’t feed it, what matters is the hungry child! Well I know they will be fed three meals a day, that much is for certain. Yes. Yes. Thank you. Goodbye.”
He sighed a sort of aggravated relief and took his hot meal out of the microwave. Returning to the living room, he flicked the TV on but heard something crunch and crackle in the dry leaves outside in the moment before the sound came on. Hendrix muted it, and went over to the window.
The days were getting shorter and it was already dark out, except for the light above the garage. Outside a breeze blew some brown leaves across his driveway; he could just barely hear their faint scratchy rustle against the pavement before they were caught noiseless on the lawn.
Shrugging it off, Hendrix returned to the couch, and unmuted the TV. It wasn’t long though before a chill ran up his spine in response to a howl much closer to his house. This time he switched his TV over to the security cameras aimed all around his yard.
There was nothing on the cameras as he flicked through them. Nothing in his front yard. Just more dead leaves on his driveway. Beside the garage was clear of anything suspicious. But the camera aimed at the back porch came with a startling surprise.
Three dogs stood staring, not into his home, but at the security camera. One tilted his head to the side questioningly; all three had glowing white eyes on the dark nighttime surveillance. The dogs were of different breeds, all on the larger side. Two had muscular chests and rounded faces; the other had a longer snout and taller legs.
The chill returned and would not waiver as Hendrix felt locked in position on his couch. The mostly white bigger of the two broad chested dogs looked back and forth from the camera to the sliding glass door on the back porch. He walked up to the glass, placed his paw on the window, and the scratching sound from the kitchen made Hendrix remember this was not some nerve wracking program on TV, but happening live outside his home.
skr-eeek. skr-eek-eek-eek came the pawing noise from the kitchen. The living room was dark, but the light from the kitchen cast a yellow arch on the floor. Hendrix dared not take the few steps that would afford him a direct view through the glass door at the dogs. He stared at the shadow of the scratching pup, faintly outlined in the pool of light on the floor. Skr-eek-eek-eek.
Hendrix shook off the paralysis of fear, and grabbed his phone to make a call to police. The scratching at the door became more aggressive. Hendrix wouldn’t go into the kitchen to look at them through the glass, but kept staring from the screen to the shadow.
The two other dogs joined the scratching. A fourth dog, the biggest yet walked calmly into view, pacing back and forth on the deck. A fifth dog leaped into sight, running back and forth rapid and spastic behind the scratching mutts.
Heart pounding, Hendrix swallowed hard before he could pull his head away from the TV screen to call for the police. But when he swept to unlock his phone, a strange message appeared. It said:
“I’m afraid your phone is out of commission, Director Hendrix 🙂 .”
Hendrix’s breathing became labored as he stared at his phone, hitting the home button, attempting to lock or shut down his phone. Nothing happened. But over the beating of his heart in his ears, he noticed the scratching had stopped.
Hendrix looked up at the screen and saw an empty porch. No dogs. He looked down at his phone. It was back to the home screen. He checked his most recent messages, but there was no sign of the message from a moment before. He flipped through the security cameras only to find his yard deserted except for the dancing dead leaves.
A drop of sweat ran from his forehead, down his cheek, and when it dropped onto his hand, it startled Hendrix so that he jumped, throwing the remote into the air. Though he realized it was simply his own sweat, Hendrix was already in motion, heading for the door to the garage. He somehow still maintained a stately walk, as brisk as it was.
The garage was dark, and through the closed door Hendrix could hear the hoo-woo of wind pushing the shh-crinkle of leaves against the side of the house. He got inside his car, and from the safety, he took out his phone again to call the police. He hung up before it started ringing.
What would I report? He thought. Some dogs on my back porch, and a text I can’t produce? No, a man in my position can’t be thought crazy or over reactive. I’ll just go to a hotel for the night, get out of my own head.
Hendrix clicked to open the garage door, and as it rose, fumbled for the button to turn on his car. Out of the corner of his eye he saw steam in his driveway. It was breath, revealed to the tune of a deep whine of the garage door slowly lifting. There in his driveway, five dogs stood, still as statues, teeth baring with vapor escaping their mouths, heads dropped low, eyes fixed on Hendrix.
His breath left him as if he had dived into a icy lake. It only returned in small hiccups, convulsing in and out of his lungs. Two more hounds slunk into view out of the darkness behind the rest of the pack.
The display screen on the center panel of his dashboard flashed on, eliciting a startled scream from Hendrix. The screen showed only a shadow, but the shadow spoke.
“Did I scare you?” The shadow asked. It was a voice part man, part creature. It laughed. “My friends have a bone to pick with you, Director Hendrix.”
Hendrix croaked, he stammered. A sudden click-scratch and the two dogs who crept out of the shadows were staring into the passengers’ and drivers’ windows, snarling, drooling.
“Their eyes!” Hendrix gasped.
“Do you recognize my pets!” The silhouette cackled from the screen, and screeched “Do you recognize, ME!?” as a light came on revealing a weathered, pale yellow face with freckles and a graying blond goatee.
The man was bald, and pale blue eyes darted behind wire rim glasses. His teeth were gritted much like the dogs’. It was pure maniacal emotion which caused the resemblance, along with a sharp crinkled nose.
Hendrix cried out, sweat mixing with tears on his face. A blathering idiot, he fumbled for the button to start his car, knowing it wouldn’t work. The dogs were clawing and snapping at the windows in between long, trembling growls. The biggest hound leaped onto the hood to stare down his prey. The remaining dogs paced the driveway, shoulders low.
“Well don’t be rude!” said the man on the screen, half laughing half screaming, “Say hello again!”
Beyond Hendrix’s control, the windows started to lower, and the hounds’ excitement peaked. They whined, snapped, howled, and barked. Those in the driveway tensed, one lurched forward to join the other on the hood, jumping about, mad.
“No, NO, please!” Hendrix begged as he tried to stop the agonizingly slow drop of his windows, to no avail.
“Please?! PLEASE!?” The voice roared, all hint of laughter gone. “Dara! Show him the same hospitality he showed us!”
The window was down, and the first dog was already inside, clawing, scraping, gnashing towards Hendrix who had curled himself into fetal position, wailing, screaming. The voracious pup had leaped through as well. The rest could no longer contain themselves and joined the fray.
The pack could not all fit inside the car to each get their fair share of action. It was a tornado of canines, fur, and spatters of blood.
As one pushed his way through the window, another fell out. Screeching scraping claws on glass and plastic mixed with gurgled and shrill cries. Snarls and yips accented the sounds of tearing flesh and snapping bones and human sounds of the purest agony.
In the background, all the while: a crescendo of calamitous cackles.
“Five minutes!” said the producer with a clipboard and headset.
The makeup lady took the tissue paper from the collars of the male and female reporting team, and smudged a blotch of concealer on each face.
“Some story to end on tonight!” Stacia said, in her perpetually newsy tone. “Director Hendrix torn apart by wild animals!” The hint of a smile persisted whatever the subject matter, as did the provocative eye movements, which made viewers wonder if she was reporting news, or soliciting sex.
Rob was at least ten years Stacia’s senior, but his rugged looks and full jaw made him a timeless classic specimen. Well into his thirties, who could even tell if his physical beauty had peaked?
“You know what the rumors are, don’t you?” Rob said, only taking his eyes off the small mirror he was checking his teeth in to glance over and make sure Stacia was listening. “Revenge.”
“Revenge!” Stacia repeated sensually, raising her eyebrows. “Now there’s a juicy story! A crazed maniac taking such passionate revenge that the attack bares the resemblance of a wild animal–or no! A werewolf! Was it a full moon last night?”
Stacia’s bright blue eyes widened as she thought of the spin. She bit her luscious lip and looked to the side at her probably dyed blond strand of hair which purposely-accidentally swung loose from the rest of the perfect do.
Someone cleared her throat nearby. It was a woman holding her tablet like a clipboard. She wore a form smile she had picked out of a catalog of emotions, that failed to match her other features which were all too severe. With graying black hair and unflattering attire, she looked especially homely next to Stacia.
“We won’t be reporting wild speculation tonight Stacia, if you would please. Director Hendrix was an esteemed senior member of the government, and should not be used to promote viewership. Save that for one of the murders down town.”
“No,” the regulator continued, looking at her tablet for notes, “Director Hendrix’s death is a freak tragedy, having been mauled by one or more wild, or possibly escaped domestic animal or animals. All the more reason to increase funding for the Department of Wildlife, and increase enforcement on the one dog maximum mandate.”
“Of course Ms. Trent,” Stacia replied with the same smile she gave pesky fans when they came running up to her in public. “So the beast wasn’t caught then?”
“No,” Ms. Trent said with annoyed boredom, “But you will please not use the term beast in your report.”
Ms. Trent walked away and Rob turned to Stacia without bending any joint. He raised his eyebrows and barely moved his lips as he spoke under his breath, “Well now I am interested in knowing what really happened. Hendrix had plenty of enemies in the political world, but who in their right mind would tear him to shreds like that? Haven’t they ever heard of a dab of poison–nice and inconspicuous.”
“Mmm, unless they wanted to make a show of it!” Stacia’s face bounced with the emphasis of her words.
“Ten seconds!” said the producer.
An old television with dust on the corners was tuned to the report.
The TV sat in front of a jagged indoor stone wall, with thick spiderwebs filling the deepest crevices to smoothen out the surface. Particles of dust floated in the air, only seen when they wafted into the glow of one solitary light bulb hanging in the center of the cavernous den.
Workbenches of plywood lined one wall, strewn with precision tools, wires, and dissected electronics. The carcasses of old devices were piled on a powdery table in the center of the room. A second table, carelessly misaligned, held papers, files, books in seemingly random order, piled, crumpled, open, and buried.
Lining another wall were computer screens, all hooked up to a multi-cased homemade computer of some sort.
On the final wall, across from the television, behind the man sitting in a dingy chair patting a mutt, were two doors. One was heavy unpainted wood secured by pad locks, dead bolts, and key locks. The other door was riveted steel, with a wheel and spinning combination lock. It looked like the door to a safe, and in some ways it was. But hidden behind the door was more than a just some small cupboard to secure diamonds, guns, or cash.
As the report ended, the man in the dust-covered faded green armchair turned off the TV and sighed a satisfied “Ahh.”
Out of the corner a dog joined the one by his side. Another crawled out from underneath the table, and sat obediently at his feet. He shifted his attention from one to the next, smiling, patting, giving loving attention to all his pups, until a pack of seven surrounded the man in the chair, panting, cooing.
“Our work has just begun,” the man gleefully whined.
The dogs yelped with energetic excitement, and together their chorus rose with the maniacal laughter of a mad scientist.
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