Wordcount: 4,045 words
Summary: In which any semblance of normality goes right out the window.
Please note, this is currently a very rough draft from NaNoWriMo 2007. There will be spelling and grammatical errors afoot as well as flat out bad writing, info dumps, plot holes, flat out contradictions, and uneven characterization and pacing. (Content is also subject to constant change as I take an editing chainsaw to the story.)
Through the Wild Wood Green
He woke to the sound of not howling later, and there was a short bit of cursing (and invoking of divine protection). He tried to ignore it, but he could not get back to sleep with the song playing in the background. This time it was not just woodwinds, but a series of musical themes, nothing loud enough to actually hear, but loud enough to register as noise.
He got out of bed, and snuck over to the window. There was nothing there. Confused, he went back to bed. There was a noise from the side of the building, but it was the opposite side of the house and he could not see over there. He felt around under the bed for the baseball bat that he’d stuck a bit of holly on (and an old iron nail and a bit of salt) and tried to talk himself into heading into the main room to check it out.
Then it got quite for a bit, and he got up the courage to go exploring. He opened the door carefully, bat in hand, but saw nothing. He started over to the side window and was halfway across the couch when the dogs walked through the door. He hefted the bat, but they did not look threatening. All four of them flowed into the room. The two Sheppard like dogs were in front, the rotwieller and the hound like dog hanging back behind them.
“Shoo!” He waved the bat threateningly. “Go home! Leave me alone!” Pause. “Rar!”
The dogs looked at him for a moment then the dog from the worksite stepped forward. He raised the bat, preparing for an attack, but the dog just wagged it is tail slowly, ears up and a slightly wary look. The bat dipped slightly as he hesitated and in that instant the dog sprang on him.
The dog knocked him back against the sofa, whomping his elbow against the coffee table and accidentally disarming him. For a moment he was surprised, not just by the attack but by the fact that the ghost had weight to it. Still, it felt much lighter than a dog it is size should have and Jon struggled to get leverage against the animal. They fought for a minute, the dog using her weight to pin him against the couch and Jon trying to grab a hold of the bat. During the struggle the bat wedged itself under the coffee table and Jon gave up trying to reach it. Instead he grabbed one of the game controllers, but it passed through the animal harmless. Although it did feel a bit like pushing his hand through water, the dog did not seem to notice.
While he was distracted by the sensation, the dog bit down hard on his upper arm. Jon yelped, more from shock than pain, as a feeling of ice spider webbed its way down his arm. As the cold shot through his system a thickening effect spread through the dog. Starting with its nose and working backwards, the dog coalesced, suddenly very real and very heavy.
Jon twisted, trying to throw her off his chest, but she was braced against the couch and had him pinned to the floor. She seemed to have much greater strength than should be possible for a dog, and his flailing got slightly more desperate as she solidified. She released his arm after she had finished, and the other dogs, still shadows, came forward to touch noses with her. Each one solidifying in the same seep of reality.
Jon at up as soon she as she let him, pulling the sleeve away to check the wound. Instead of the ragged bite mark he was expecting, there was a small smear of blood and a set of silvery scars in the familiar half circle bite pattern. He poked one of the scars experimentally and cursed as the newly healed skin ached a bit. But the pain was nothing worse than some of the bruises he’d gotten while playing rugby. In fact if he was not poking it, there was only a faint ache from his arm.
He looked over at the dogs, who had arranged themselves around the main room, all looking at him expectantly. None of them were being threatening and he had no idea what to do next.
They gave him a moment to recover and then they started moving towards the door. Three of the dogs walked right through it, but the fourth, the one from the job site stopped and turned to look back at him. [Jon abruptly decided to call her Akela because just calling her ‘the dog’ was getting really tiring. He decided to figure out later just how he knew it was a she, because he hadn’t been paying attention previously.] She looked at him expectantly, which was a little disconcerting because she’d mostly faded out again expect for her eyes.
There was another echo bark and she looked from him to the door and back again. It was a classic ‘follow me’ in canine, but he was not at all interested.
“You want me to follow you? No way!” Jon shook his head, backing away from the door. “Are you nuts? Go away, leave me alone!” He almost tripped over the bat as he backed away, and reached down to grab it.
Akela blinked, then barked again, this time more insistent and much less friendly.
“No.” He raised the bat, prepared to try defending himself again. It hadn’t gone all that well the first time, but he figured it could not hurt to try.
When she realized he was not going to move the started walking towards him, teeth bared and stiff legged. The fur on her back bristled and her tail horizontal and barely waving. Which he was very much aware in canine meant ‘do what I say or I will beat the living daylights out of you’.
“Fine, fine!” He still held the bat defensively. “Just promise me you’ll leave me alone once I do whatever it is you want me to.”
She stopped growling, but her stance was still aggressive. After a moment she finally relaxed somewhat and turned back to the door. Which was not really an answer to his ultimatum, but he decided silence meant ascent. Because he really wanted them to go away and he’d take any slim hope offered.
He did not feel like it was worth arguing that it was the middle of the night and he had work tomorrow. After all he was pretty sure the concept of ‘job’ was going to be beyond the reach of a dog, and the dogs apparently could care less what he wanted. He grabbed a jacket, his keys, and the bat and headed out the door, locking it behind him.
The dogs were surrounding the Frankencar and he figured that meant it was time for a ride. The thought of driving the dogs anywhere was not one he was happy with, but when he got in the car they stayed outside. For a moment he thought the metal might be protecting him, but then one of the dogs walked through the car to get to the other side, so apparently not.
The dogs started off down the street and he followed slowly, only to find out that once they started running he was easily going forty just to keep them in sight. Akela paced his car, but the other dogs did not seem to care if they left him behind, slowing down only when Akela snarled at them. Which explained how the dogs had followed him home from the worksite. They seemed to have no speed limit, easily keeping up with him on the sections of road where the speed limit was well over fifty.
Eventually they led him down a side road, stopping by one of the mile markers. He pulled the car over onto the shoulder, and they started heading into the forest.
He sat in the car for a long moment trying to figure out if he was going to follow. It was not as hard to follow the ghostly shadows from the car. Here he was protected, by the steel and plastic of Frankencar’s bulk as well as the general sense of ‘I can run away’. Of course the dogs could walk right through the car and they’d already shown that they could run faster than he could drive, so it was a false sense of security. But he clung to it anyways.
On the drive over he’d also named all of the dogs, just because it gave a sense of power over them. The leader was Akela, the same dog who had appeared at the work site. The apparent second in command was the other German Sheppard mix, and he decided to call that one Athen. The big bulky Rottweiler was Tos and the slightly timed hound like dog was Jenna. He was not quite sure why he’d picked the names he had, but they sounded about right and he need to call them something. Well, something other than ‘dammed ghost dogs’.
Now they wanted him to get out of the car, and apparently head into the middle of forest. He peered into the circle of light made by the headlights. There was not even a path. He dug in the glove compartment for the flashlight and shook it a few times to charge the chemical battery. He was still trying to decide what to do when one of the dogs started moving back towards the car.
Sebastian was right, they could not make him do anything, but he had proof on his arm that they could make him regret refusing. He rubbed his arm and frowned at the dogs. The closest one, Tos, snarled at him, a soundless rumbling that he felt more than heard. He sighed and got out of the car, flicking on the flashlight as the headlights went off. The headlights had made a tiny cone of light against the woods, the flashlight made only a tiny circle on the ground.
Tos snorted, and turned back to the rest of the pack. They started heading into the woods, in a ‘follow me’ attitude. As if he wouldn’t refuse. He stopped, a few feet away from the car, just to see if they’d leave him behind. For a moment they did, then Tos was back to snarl at him, and he jogged to catch up.
The dogs were just as submissive of him walking in the dark as they had been in the car. After a while he lost sight of them all together and ended up following the faint movement of the ground cover as it recovered from their passing.
This was where the trail ended. Jon stared at the unmarked ground for a moment wondering where the Dogs could have gone. Unless they could fly there should have been another set of ghost faint paw prints right after these, but he saw nothing. Of course the fact that the Dogs weren’t actually dogs took a second to percolate from things Jon knew to things Jon knew. At that point the question shifted from where the trail had gone to why the Dogs had been leaving a trail to start with. It would have been easier on Jon for them to have simply stayed with him instead of running ahead into the forest. The fact that they apparently no longer cared if he could follow them was disturbing.
So he decided enough was enough and he sat down. Leaning up against the trunk of the tree he started upwards into the oblivious canopy. The Dogs had seemed very determined to get him out here, and now they’ve just vanished. Which either meant that they’d gotten him lost in the woods on purpose (which was not a good sign) or that they’d simply forgotten he was not able to keep up with them (which boded only slightly better).
Either way he was going to wait right here until they came back or the search parties found him. At least he was assuming they’d send out search parties at some point.
After a few moments Akela and Athen came loping out of the forest, but the other two dogs were nowhere to be seen. They stopped about ten yards away and Akela yipped at him expectantly. They looked primed to turn and dash off again as soon as he got up, so Jon did not get up.
Athen barked at him.
John ignored him.
The dogs tolerance for being ignored was apparently very low. Akela gave him about twenty seconds after Athen’s barked to repeat the command, this time considerably less politely. Jon was amused how much emotion he could read into the various poses and noises. Dogs were so easy to anthropomorphize, especially when they were acting acutely undogly.
At that point Tos and Jenna reappeared. Jenna stopped a few feet behind Akela and Athen, but Tos continued all the way over to Jon until they were nose to nose. Or almost nose to nose, Tos had to look down.
Yet again reminded of just how large the dog was, Jon briefly considered giving in and getting up. Large and annoyed was not the best of combinations for something roughly the same mass (even if he was phased out) and with much larger teeth.
But no, enough was enough, and he was not budging. Jon glared back up at Tos. It was time for some answers.
“Where are we going?” Jon demanded.
Tos just stared at him. Akela twitched an ear in confusion and Athen sat down with a sigh.
“I’m not going anywhere until someone tells me what’s going on!”
Of course since the dogs could not talk it was rather silly to ask. The dogs gave him a moment to figure this out for himself, and then Tos gave an exasperated look when he remained firmly planted on the ground. Akela whuffed in annoyance and shouldered Tos aside to take his place a nose length from Jon’s face.
“Are you trying to kill me?” Which is really what he had meant the first time, but Jon was still working out what he wanted to know and what he did not want to know. He was not sure if he wanted an answer, but having Akela looming over him made it a rather important point.
Akela blinked, as if she was trying to translate from human to dog, the shook her head. Jon assumed she meant ‘no’.
Tos nodded quietly to himself and muttered something unrepeatable.
“Is someone else trying to kill me?”
There was a quick dog conference and then Akela nodded, but in a roundabout way that was half nod and half negation. Okay, so that was not too bad. At least the dogs seemed to be on his side, or not actively trying to get him killed. Jon paused to digest the fact that some other unknown force was trying to kill him, or at least thinking about it.
Jon tried to figure out how to phrase his other thousand question into yes/no answers, but Tos’s snarling was getting less muted and Akela was giving him a ‘that’s it lets go!’ look. So he figured it was better to save those for after whatever it was the dogs needed him for. He stood, bushing off the remnants of last years leaves. Gesturing dramatically in the direction they had been heading originally he solemnly intoned “Lead on Mac Duff!” But the dogs missed the reference.
He stepped into the gravel parking lot, the only other sign of life was an ancient station wagon parked haphazardly over the false curb of grass. Jon could see that the door to the warehouse was open, but only barely in the dim light. The flood light over the door had been broken and the generic security camera hung at an awkward angle, sparking every so often. Most of the illumination came from the lights that were on inside the building.
The dogs flowed forward to circle in front of the door. They looked like a movie on mute, baying and howling and snarling without any sound. They flickered in and out of solidity, eyes and fangs hanging solid, imbedded in shadows.
Jon stood for a moment, just outside the flickering pool of light, tying to tamper down the fear that was quickly overwhelming his shock. The world still had a misty quality to it, as if he was somehow separated, watching it from afar. He wished he could just wake up, shake off the phantoms waiting for him at the door and get back to his normal life.
But the dogs were getting impatient and he could almost feel the vibrations of Tos’s growl. Maybe being killed by the dogs would be better than whatever was waiting in the warehouse, but he was more inclined to take an unknown doom over a very real certainty.
The dogs flowed through the walls, dim echoes of shadows, and Jon followed behind. The door creaked slightly as he eased it open enough to fit through, but there was no reaction from inside the building. The entry room light was on, but he could see lights on further back as well. The room was chilly, but not cold and Jon saw warning signs for cold storage beside the next set of doors.
He carefully crossed the room, waiting for something to spring out and attack, but nothing happened. The cold room doors were propped open, even though the lock had already been destroyed. There were a series of holes and Jon could see the gleam of shell casings scattered about in the corners of the room. Which meant what ever the dogs were after, it had a gun.
Of course if it could carry a gun it probably was not a ghost, and that raised his spirits somewhat. He might be able to bargain with someone still alive, the dead seemed much less interesting in rational discussion.
There was a loud crash and the sound of wood breaking from the next room. Interlaced was a stream of curses that was impressive for it is volume, although not it is creativity. The voice also sounded young, frustrated, and maybe a little scared. Which meant a freaked teenager, possibly with a gun. Jon waited a second, but there were no sounds other than the boy, and thankfully no gunshots.
Which meant there was not anyone to rescue, and he was not sure what the dogs wanted. Was he supposed to talk to the kid? Stop him? From doing what? And the dogs really did not look like they were out to end this peacefully. And Jon really was not prepared to kill anyone. Although if they tried to kill him, he was not adverse to the idea. He’d rather just incapacitate them. Or just talk them into surrendering. Or
The dogs had solidified into thick mist, and they all stared at him, waiting.
[And then they go in and find the bad guys, who start shooting at him. Fun times, fun times.]
For a fraction of a second Jon was furious that they were ignoring him. Then reality snapped back into focus and he dove behind the nearest wooden crate. The Dogs and the What ever it was were a snarling, baying, braying fury of teeth and hooves and horns. A bullet ricocheted off the box above him and Jon’s attention switched from the Dogs to the nervous looking teenager.
“Hey! Hey stop it!” Jon started flinging random objects in the direction of his attacker. Thankfully the teenager’s aim was as good as Jon’s talent for flinging dead fish. “Why the hell are you shooting at me?!?”
“Make them shop!” The kid was screaming, buy Jon could not tell if he was angry of terrified.
“The dogs?” Jon ducked another rain of splinters, “They do not listen to me!” He searched frantically for more flingable fish…
[And then they kungfu fight!!]
There was something disturbingly peaceful about the aftermath.
The giant deer thing has vanished the moment the kid had Jon’s mind skidded away from the reality of the limp body beneath the shattered wreckage of the shipping crates. And now he was left, the only solid thing in the building. The Dogs had faded out again, wisps of shadow against the stuttering overhead lights.
They were waiting, but he was not sure for what.
He looked back at the hints of moisture peeking from beneath the rubble and the need to be somewhere else was overwhelming.
So he left, slowly at first, then faster as he got away from the warehouse, away from the splintered wood and the smell of fish. But he’d never been a runner, rugby was a stop and go sport, a chase, not a flat out run away as far and as fast as he could go.
The dogs ran with him, shadows against shadows, fading in and out like flames. When he finally stopped, coughing for breath and curled against the ground, they ringed him in a whirlwind of nothing.
He was not sure how long he stayed, breathing in the smell of loam and crushed leaves, eyes shut against recent memory. And he could have sworn he heard them then, a sound like rushing water and the echo of belling howls. When the world final rewound itself, he sat up to find only one Dog remained. She tilted her head and smiled, tongue lolling out the side of her mouth. Like nothing had happened.
So he clung to that, that nothing had happened, because he was not ready to face anything else.
She led him back through the woods, back to the car, and back to the house (though he knew the way). He left her in the yard, but found her by the foot of his bed. The shadow of a dog with yellow brown eyes watched over him as he slept, and for some reason he was not afraid.
[And we’re back to a scene with dogs that may or may not actually talk… arg. *pokes Muse*]
“Well, at least he did not get himself killed.” Athen sniffed as they watched Jon stumble up the steps to his apartment.
“And that’s impressive?” Tos was busy watching for cars on the street. “That was one boy with a gun. If rumors are true, there is a lot worse out there.”
“They’re just rumors.” Jenna did not sound sure of herself, and had curled up behind Tos so that she was hidden from the noise and lights of the passing cars. “We would have been told already if they were true,” she licked a paw nervously, “wouldn’t we?”
“I would think so,” Tos sighed, “but rumors of that magnitude do not spring out of thin air. There’s something there, we just do not know what.”
“Or how bad.” Athen turned away from the apartment as the lights inside were turned off. “If it is anything like the southern hunts are insinuating, we might need help.”
“I do not think we’ll get any help.” Tos turned to nose Jenna as she tucked her nose under her tail for a nap. “The old hunt is not going to be willing to send anyone to help us, not after the way we left. Akela’s hunt won’t be much help either. If it even still exists.”
“There’s always dark side.”
“Eh, I hate working with dark side hunts.” Jenna muttered from under her tail, one eye open and looking quite put upon. “It is like they think life is corrupting.”
“Just let them try that nonsense.” Tos’s teeth glinted in the moonlight. “I’ll show them corrupted. Besides Akela will never go to the Powers, she is too young and too proud.”
“I still think going to the Powers That Be is our best option.” Athen looked back at the apartment thoughtfully. “If I go now, I can be back before she knows I’m gone.”
“It is your choice.”
Athen nodded, then turned and ran through the yard, fading out as he went until there was not even a shadow left.