1 - Dog
“I know, Ms. Howard. I can try and say something.” Kirin sighed as he set his keys in the small dish on his entryway table. Keeping the phone to his ear, Kirin looked around the dark interior of his home. It had been another late night grading papers and lesson prep at the school.
“There has been a mess of feathers every day in my library.” Ms. Howard’s old voice rang through the phone.
The house gave a long groaning squeak of floorboards in greeting as Kirin shifted his weight. “I’m sure it was just an accident,” Kirin said.
“Well, they’re not flying their own way in!” Ms. Howard tisked. “I find them every day lying around here!”
“I’m sure the kids didn’t mean to cause problems for you,” Kirin murmured. “They’ve probably just been found on the grounds and the kids think they’re cool.”
“They’re dirty old crow feathers.” Ms. Howard huffed.
Kirin pinched the bridge of his nose. He was only the high school English teacher, so he wasn’t sure what he could do. Joel lived in the same duplex as Ms. Howard, and even the thought seemed painstaking.
“I’ll say something in the student council meeting Monday morning, I’m sure they could get it into announcements for homeroom.” Kirin knew that's probably what Ms. Howard was angling for, though if Kirin knew anything in life it was the second you told a sixteen-year-old not to do something — that was when they would never stop doing it.
Kirin knew he could expect another perturbed phone call from the librarian.
With her goal reached, Ms. Howard rang off easy enough. And Kirin pulled the phone away from his face, frowning as he ended the call.
The deep silence of the house sunk in nearly immediately.
Nights were the hardest. The creeping set of the sun, the impending night looming over Kirin filled him with a dread so firmly rooted in his chest that he couldn’t stay still.
Those long hours were when Kirin’s small yellow house nestled in the woods felt like an iron-clad cage, only thinly veiled in the circus tent colors of white and yellow. His own sinister hell, beyond a plastered facade of happy smiles and tales of happy children.
So it was that fateful night that Kirin heard the long creaking bones of his hollow home and could no longer stand the feeling of his own feet on those hardwood floors, each step another hollow moan.
He snatched his keys back up from the dish and left his leather school bag near the entry table as he turned back to the door.
He had no destination in mind when he stepped into his RAV4 and started down the long winding roads of the sleepy small town of Regent, Georgia.
His dark eyes flashed to the rearview mirror, even in the dwindling light of twilight, his pale hair was stark in the black interior of the car. The neat braid of the morning had long slipped into a tumble over his shoulder.
What was it about the shift into the night that brought upon the long-gone days of Kirins past?
As his mistakes stacked up in his head he drove, thinking maybe he could escape the things he’d, knowing he’d end up right back in that house.
“You’re an idiot,” he murmured to the reflection in the mirror.
Those dark eyes just stared back at him.
They were his worst critic by far.
It was as if sometimes, glancing in a mirror, Kirin couldn’t trust what he saw. Was that tall, slender man really him?
His hands were slender as well, long fingers wrapped around the steering wheel.
“You have the hands of a magician.’
His father’s voice rang in his mind. He’d repeat it every time Kirin picked up a violin. It wasn’t a misspoken phrase. It struck deeper to who Kirin’s father was. A man that dreamed of music so mesmerizing it stole the hearts of all who heard.
Raymond LeMont’s dream had been to be a siren, and as such, he’d passed that legacy on to his firstborn, Kirin.
“To hell with that,” Kirin mumbled as he stopped at an intersection.
He stopped for longer than necessary, with no other cars on the road.
His headlights illuminated desolate roads, and tall grass all lined the blacktop.
What was he doing out here? Contemplating his own possibility of madness? Kirin let out a huff before he pulled the car forward.
But as Kirin looked back up to the deserted crossroads, his eyes went wide and he stomped his foot on the beak, flinging the car into a screaming halt —
Standing in the middle of the intersection before the car, bare feet and golden hair that gleamed in the spotlight of the headlights stood a boy no older than his preteens. A long white nightshirt clung to his skin as he dripped water across the blacktop.
Gasping, Kirin wretched the door open and propelled himself out of the car, “Hey —-“
Rustling in the tall grass tore Kirin’s eye away for just a flash before —
Looking back, the intersection was empty again.
More rustling in the grass. Hand on the door to the car, Kirin looked all around himself. There was no sign of any boy.
“Hey!” Kirin called out again, his breath picking up as his mind reeled.
Through the grass, there was more rustling and up through the ditch slunk a dark figure.
Kirin froze as he saw it.
The dog was slender, his jutting hip bones and bar ribs visible under the mangy and thin dark fur. Erect ears pointed in Kirin’s direction as the dog cast its gaze around over the road.
Stepping away from his car, Kirin realized the size though as he drew closer.
The dog was huge, possibly one of the largest Kirin had ever seen.
“Hey there,” Kirin said as he took several steps closer.
At his approach, the dog looked up. Kirin went still for a moment of shock. The dog had startlingly clear mint green eyes as it looked at Kirin.
“Are you some sort of husky mix?” Kirin mused as he crouched, taking a few last lingering steps into the center of the intersection, offering a hand out to the dog.
There was no fear in the dog as they cocked their head at Kirin. The light of the waxing moon overhead was gleaming through the clouds, nearly full-faced for its evening shift as Kiirn held his hand out to the dog.
Both eas flicked around as the dog seemed to consider.
“Come on,” Kirin beckoned.
Where was he going with this? There was no chance the local humane society would be open. But -- but Kirin couldn’t just leave the animal out here.
What was Kirin going to do with a dog?
He’d never owned a dog.
But then again, Kirin looked out past all the tall grass and moody shadow of trees in the distance. There wasn’t anyone around and — looking over the dog, he may have been out here quite a while. No collar or tags of anykind.
There was a marred scar at the dog’s face even, stretching up over his muzzle.
This was a dog without a home, without a family. Kirin felt the well in his chest. He knew what that felt like, to be alone, to want a family that was gone.
“Want a warm meal?” Kirin offered. “I’ve got chicken at home.”
There was a perk of ears.
“You like chicken?” Kirin inquired with a quirk of his own smile. “Come on,” he beckoned again. “My house is’nt much, but a warm place to sleep can’t hurt.”
This time, after a slight pause the dog trudged forward.
“That’s it,” Kirin broke into a smile. “We can get you a good meal and a warm bed.”
The dog gave a long sidelong glance at Kirin as it walked out him.
Standing, Kirin carefully directed the dog back to his car.
As they both walked back though, Kirin stole a glance at the blacktop
There was a wet puddle at the center of the intersection, just where Kirin had seen a flash of the boy. Among the pooled water droplets were the distinct wet tracks of two bare footprints.
There were no footprints leading to or away from it.
Kirin had no business housing a dog.
But even as Kirin pulled up his small driveway —it felt different to have the dog with him.
It felt — kirin let out a long breath. Was he actually crazy? He could barely care for himself let alone another animal.
But as Kirin looked over at the dog — Kirin wouldn’t be alone in that house if the dog was there.
“There’s some old bones in that house,” Kirin pointed after parking the car. “You can’t go digging them up in the backyard, okay?” Kirn lettuce a little laugh to himself as he said it.
The dog seemed to give a shrewd look to Kirin but otherwise stayed quiet.
“Let go in then,” Kirin said in his characteristic soft tone.
He knew who was at his door, but even as the doorknob jiggled, Kirin just stayed seated at the small breakfast nook. He might have felt a bit guilty about the whole thing, but somehow he couldn’t seem to get up to answer the door.
“Oi!” The loud thump on the door was the next attempt at a knock.
With a deep sigh, Kirin finally pushed himself up to stand. He breathed out a long careful breath, trying to think of what he’d say.
As Kirin stepped up to the door there was a long groaning protest from the house. Stifling the urge to shush the old house, Kirin unlocked the door and opened it.
Ryker Graves was not a particularly tall man, but as his bright hazel eyes gave a long stare up and down Kirin’s full six feet of height, Kirin could feel every inch of his judgment.
“Excuse me?” The affront in Ryker’s voice was apparent. “You locked the door? ON ME??”
Kirin opened his mouth, and it couldn’t be helped as every time he looked at Ryker it morphed to a smile. The apology hung there as he tipped his head in a sheepish gesture. His hand scraped through his long ash blonde hair, sliding the braid off to the side as he stepped forward. “I-welll…” Kirin trailed off admitting he hadn't said all that much.
“Hopefully that's the start to one hell of an apology--” Ryker gave a faux indignant reply as he moved to step forward. “I’m starving, and dinner is on you, “ Ryker pointed to Kirin even as he stepped up to him.
“R-Ryker,” Kirin stopped in front of him. Scrambling a bit with a smile as he blocked his friend.
The uncharacteristic block wasn’t unnoticed as Ryker’s eyes narrowed.
“Kirin.” Ryker said with a drop in his voice.
Kirin smiled back as well as he could before he leaned back against the door frame. “Well, you see I locked the door, so something--I didn’t want the door to accidentally open. He’d escape then you know.”
Ryker’s eyebrow raised. “I’m sorry-- who?”
It was then the dog came forward on silent padded footsteps to peer around Kirin’s legs, He came nearly up to Kirin’s hip and raising his head he looked even taller.
Rykers eyes went wide for a moment and his mouth dropped open.
Kirin gave a nervous self-conscious laugh as he tried to explain. “I seem to have picked up a friend tonight.”
It was probably his tone that made Ryker jerk his gaze up at Kirin. “That’s one helluva big oopsy!”
Kirin’s shoulders dropped. “Oh come on dogs aren’t that big of a deal! He’s perfectly nice.”
“Is that dog?” Ryker gave a sweeping gesture at the dark dog. “He could have fooled me into thinking it was a backwater cryptid!”
Kirin swallowed as he stole a glance down at the dog. Okay, he was in a seriously rough state. “Exactly, I couldn’t have just left him out there like this.”
“Where the hell did you pick this demon up?” Ryker was already caving though, as he went down to his haunches, holding a hand out to the dog.
Lowering his head, the dog gave a long sniff to Ryker’s hand but didn’t approach.
“I was just--” trying to gauge if I was going crazy again? Nope, that was the wrong answer. “I went for a drive. He was out in the middle of nowhere, outside of Regent.”
Ryker paused for a moment, giving his own long assessment of the dog. He let out a huff as he looked up to Kirin. “Do we need to go get some dog food?”
That was Kirin’s best friend. Kirin gave a smile. He didn’t say how much having the dog here in his lonely home meant to him, at having Ryker’s support meant to him. “Yah let’s go run by the store.”
With choking breath, Kirin woke.
It was the creak. The slow unfamiliar moaning creak of the house that woke him. Eyes blinking open, it took a second for Kirin to register -- The house was giving another long groan, a warning bell in the dark fo the night. ANd there was --something else, something different… Kirin sat up. It wasn’t the slow creak he feared, this old house protested the most minor of change. It was the small creaks the squeak of floorboards. His master bedroom was utilitarian in nature. There was the bed and a small nightstand to Kirin’s left near the closet Kirin kept most of his belongings. A window was to the right of him, through which the waxing moon’s baleful eye cast light over the bed. The hallway through the bedroom door looked directly in through the door of the bathroom. Kirin looked around, but the dog was nowhere to be seen. He remembered the dog flopping down on the floor next to the bed, for once without a grumbling sound, as Kirin had prepared to retire for the night. But when Annie left Kirin didn’t know. It started again, a long, low creak through the hallway. Kirin narrowed his eyes. That—it sounded like a footstep. Like a long slow footstep, inching closer, one shuddering step at a time. And it sounded heavy—human-size heavy. Kirin flung back the covers. His nerves were back to humming through him. All tumbling through his veins, he tried his best not to shake and gasp for breath but the thought lingered -- was this real? Would Kirin open that door and find Raymond LeMont staring, bloody and lifeless into Kirin’s eyes?
“He’s dead,” Kirin murmured to himself even as he stumbled from the bed. Kirin shifted his weight quickly across the floor, making as little sound as he could. He quickly moved to the door to the hallway. He knew this house. This was his inheritance, the sins of this house fell to his shoulders, this was his home, cursed to be his home forevermore, or at least -- at least until his mother passed until her secret was safely in the grave.
And to that end, Kirin would not let an intruder delve into this old yellow house. As Kirin reached the hallway—vigilant now as he whipped his head to scan the hallway. He peered around, directly behind him was the back door, the moonlight providing light through the thin curtains of the door’s small window casting a long blue-hued shadow on the floorboards. It was quiet. So quiet, Kirin could hear the nuances of his own breathing, the buzz of blood rushing in his ears, “Anson?” His voice was -- pain. It was pain and sorrow and longing, like a Greek tragedy with no happy ending ever possible. It was a voice Kirin had never heard in his entire life. He whipped his head back around to look to the back door again. No shadows lay behind the soft curtains. “Who is here?” Kirin called out. There was no answer, no mournful cry.
Kirin felt unarmed he realized as he glanced back into the master bedroom. In his closet was a baseball bat. He turned—
This time the boy was right in front of Kirn. Tears streamed down the boy’s face. “Why won’t you come home?” the voice was distant, like an echo of a painful past. “I can’t find you.” Kirin’s breath was stolen as he looked at the boy over this time, less than a foot away from him. Standing right behind him, so close Kirin was nearly nose to nose as he had turned, it was the same boy that stood in the intersection. He wore a white nightshirt, old and torn and tattered, his pale skin stretched over thin limbs. And his face—his eyes were blue. His yellow blond hair hung around his face in a longer, turn-of-the-century style. His face was a mess. Tears streamed through dirt and dried blood, bruises, and cuts all ran across the left side leaving it dark and creased. His cracked lips were held open in a gnashing sorrowful cry.
And this time, Kirin was close enough to see that even as the long white night was still wet and clung to the boy’s skin -- he was sobbing. “Where is he?” The boy shook his head. “I can’t find him, please help me!” His hand struck out to Kirin, grasping his arm in a bone-chilling grip. “Please, I need to find Anson.” Kirin shook his head. What did that mean? Who was this? Who was Anson—? Suddenly there was a deep booming howl down the hall, and Kirin jerked his head to see the dog had finally padded in from the kitchen. Snapping his gaze back -- the boy was gone. Before Kirin could even focus on the dog now walking calmly down the hall, an indignant huff filling the silence —the boy in the nightshirt was gone. Kirin was trembling this time as he finally found the ability to move again and stumbled back, bracing himself on the doorframe to the bedroom. He lost balance and hit the hardwood of the hallway, his deft and shaking hands paddled back against the wood, pushing him an extra few feet away.
“What the hell?” He murmured to himself. The dog had reached the door and peered into him, ears up and minty eyes on Kirin. The dog was unfazed, completely. He gave another glance around him as if to check the specter was gone and gave another nasally huff. “What—“ Kirin felt like he was still being grasped like the boy had grasped his very breath and refused to let go. He sputtered and sucked in breathe realizing tears now ran down his own face. “What is happening?”
“Was that real?” Had he just seen that? Kirin’s shaking hand went up to his temple. His touch even to his own skin was cold as ice. He’d lived in this house his whole life. He’d walked the halls daily, his whole life and now, when he was the last of the LeMont’s to claim Regent as home, now was when this lunacy woke?
Kirin looked to the dog, this time asking in earnest, “Was that real?” The dog’s ears twitched at Kirin, flicking in what seemed an interesting way. But he gave no answer to Kirin.
Kirin’s chest heaved as Kirin dropped his gaze and his mind reeled. It was nearly silent again as the dog came forward. The long snout nudged at Kirin prodding him as the dog circled him, urging Kirin to stand. It took long enough Kirin’s limbs felt chilled and his fingers numbed before Kirin stood. Once on his feet, he frantically fought his way past the door frame and into his bedroom, fumbling for his phone. Grabbing it, he slumped to the floor, his back to the side of the bed.
His fingers shook as he tapped through his contacts -- but then … Kirin lowered his phone.
Who would Kirin even call? Who would even believe him?
And if someone did believe him -- the last thing Kirin would ever do is invite a cop into his home. Kirin slid to lean back, tucking his knees close. The dog quickened his long prowl to come up around Kirin again, pressing in against his knees as he flopped down to lay on the floor. It was then Kirin remembered --
He looked back. A watery puddle -- small but now reflecting the moonlight was framed in his doorway.
Story & Art by Pitchgold