Short Story – A taster from my up-coming anthology, Canine Tales, book2 in The Creature Tales collection …
Still some final edits to go, but a little preview taster story from Canine Tales, book 2 of my Creature Tales collection – Twenty-four ‘canine-themed’ tales, drawing their inspiration from mythology, folklore, and traditional horror: tales of touching loyalty sit alongside those of throat-ripping savagery, from the modern day all the way back to Biblical times.
There aren’t words to accurately portray the sheer viciousness of an organised dog-fight. Think of the most brutal boxing or cage fight you ever saw. Now imagine that fight being fought bare-knuckle instead of gloved, and the fighters wearing sharp protruding rings on their hands to rip at their opponents’ face, eyes, and body. There are no rounds between which wounds or injuries can be attended, no referee to ensure fairness or enforce the rules – there are no rules.
Perhaps not since gladiatorial Rome had such barbarism existed for viewing entertainment, and even then, at least those combatants knew why they were fighting, with the remote possibility of freedom or some reward for putting on a good show. Imagine all this multiplied a thousand times, and still it won’t come close to the bloody spectacle of a dog-fight.
Seven such dog-fights had taken place the night Geoff Richards’ life was to change, quite literally forever.
It had been another profitable show, not even marred by two of the combatants having died from their injuries. Geoff had made a lot of money and was proud it was two of his own Staffordshire Bull Terriers that had been the ones to inflict those fatal outcomes. They had been hard fights though. Every dog that had taken part fought with a savagery to match that of any wild born creature. But Geoff’s dogs, they were something entirely different. If it weren’t that every combatant was checked over before a match, the baying spectators and other dog owners, or ‘dogmen’ as they called themselves, would have sworn Geoff’s hounds were either possessed or infected with some maddening rabid disease, making them fight like the devil. Even so, there was no occult or extraordinary secret to Geoff’s dogs’ extreme savagery other than the dogman’s willingness and determination to use every trick in the book to make them so. He gave no thought of the long-term health problems in using the same anabolic steroids he used in his own bodybuilding to increase their muscle mass and aggressiveness. Like most fighting dogs, Geoff’s were devoid of any social skills from having been raised in isolation, mostly at the end of short heavy chains. But even without the drug-induced ‘roid-rage,’ such a life was practically guaranteed to produce brutalised hate-filled creatures or ‘canine killing machines’ as he liked to call them.
In many ways, Geoff Richards was a man born out of his time. He would have been more in his element amid the Victorian London seedy alehouses, when and where all manner of such barbarous blood sports were at their height of popularity, and more shamefully, were as legal and accepted as placing a bet on the horses is today. A century later though, a more civilised society had moved on; the likes of Geoff and his fellow dog fighting enthusiasts had not.
After the usual night’s drinking, settling of bets lost and won and the swapping of fight and other dog-related stories that followed such an event, Geoff made his excuses and left. He faced a long drive home from the remote farm where this latest dog fighting horror had taken place, one of many such venues where fans of the supposed ‘sport’ could indulge their perverse fascination with such heinous cruelty.
Getting into his car was the last thing Geoff remembered from his life as a dogman.
Were it not for the immediate danger, Geoff would have given more thought to where he was and how he came to be there, but such trivial concerns were the last thing on his mind at the moment …
They were getting closer. Never had Geoff seen such a ferocious looking pack of dogs, which for a dogman, was quite something. He counted three, but it was difficult to tell given the darkness and remote location. Still, the roar-like bellowing of distant, angry growls and snarls made him think there might be several more just out of sight. He knew it would be a hopeless task attempting to outrun them if they gave chase, but an instinct for survival compelled him to try.
Mention the name Cerebus and most people if they’ve heard it before would likely tell of some mythical three-headed beast of a dog guarding the gates of Hell. Of course, no one believed such myths now despite the test-tube monstrosities presently being created in rogue laboratories across the world. Nor do most still believe in the concept of Hell, except perhaps ones of their own making.
It was quite a shock then when Geoff Richards found himself confronted with both; the sight standing before him was several orders of magnitude more frightening than the horror he had just run from, only to see it leap and land to his front. It was another shock to realise too it had not been three dogs he had seen, but one enormous three-headed monster, the like of which defied even the darkest imagination. The creature’s teeth would have glistened like finely sharpened ivory tusk-sized fangs but for being coated with copious amounts of foul-smelling drool, mixed with the still warm blood of its last meal. Everything Geoff’s father had ever said about never showing fear to a dog, that they were more afraid of you, suddenly seemed absurd. Only an imbecile wouldn’t have trembled before the monstrous sight towering over him. Geoff doubted that even the Devil himself could induce the slightest fear in this particular dog, wondering if this was indeed the Devil himself in canine form. He was not far off the mark in his speculations …
Cerebus was a great favourite of Satan and was confident the Horned one would let him keep this mortal dross for his own savage amusement. Oh yes, Cerebus had grand plans for the quivering frail man creature.
Geoff was past any hope he might soon wake up from his starring role in the bloody nightmare unfolding around him. Cerebus had bellowed another mighty growl, the deafening intensity of which had sent Geoff fleeing for all his worth, headlong into the dark of the surrounding woods. It was only the fire and lightning illuminating patches of the ground and sky that made it possible for Geoff not to hurtle face first into some tree trunk or tumble head over heels. But whatever benefit the flames of the fire provided in the way of light, it took back in other ways. Great wafts of smoke drifted and blew all directions, sometimes obscuring his vision, but mostly filling his lungs to the point of choking. Still, it was a relief there seemed no open space where the creature he had just fled might reappear. Sadly, for Geoff, that relief wasn’t to last.
A new pack of growling hounds had appeared. They were immeasurably smaller than Cerebus, and yet, they seemed all the more terrifying for their seemingly normal size up close. This time there were no heavy chains to keep the dogs in check or a weapon with which he could defend himself should a dog go rogue on him. At any other time, he would have felt embarrassed by the slow trickle of urine now escaping his bladder, but given the circumstances, it was quite inconsequential. Geoff knew Cerebus could snuff out his life with a single swipe of a paw, or rend his body into a dozen pieces in the blink of an eye if it chose – either would be a quick and merciful death – but these, they were of a size that made it possible for Geoff to perhaps offer some token resistance, enough to drag out his suffering several more agonising minutes.
They were circling him now, making it impossible for Geoff to know from which direction the first bite or clawing would come. Before he knew it, teeth and nails were ripping through his soiled trousers, simultaneously shredding the flesh from his lower legs even as he felt his body falling to the ground. More bites quickly followed, more rending of flesh by sharp claw-clad paws, but now, all about every part of his body.
And then, quite suddenly, the attack stopped, the dogs’ angry growling silenced by a more thunderous one from God knows where. Just as suddenly, the dogs scampered away into the night. Geoff didn’t know whether to be relieved for the however brief respite or further terrified that instead of a quick death, it would be an excruciatingly slow and painful one from the savage mauling he had suffered. Oddly though, the pain was beginning to subside ever so slightly, and looking down and about his bloodied legs and torso, neither was pouring out blood as he expected. His mind returned to the dogs that had just attacked him. Now that he had a moment to think, he was reminded of the many dogs he had trained to fight, and that same look of wretchedness of their opponents. Those minute details started to haunt his mind: the ripped ears and every old wound and battle scar screaming of a violent and savage past. They were clearly fighting dogs, dogs that had taken part in battles to the death, and evidently the victors in such battles. Even with his own steroid fuelled pit bull like physique, he doubted now if he really could have fended them off for any amount of time had they continued their attack. For now, he was simply glad of the chance to rest. Everything started to go black as lay back on the grass …
“It’s an unusual case,” Dr Ronald Marsh was telling his attentive audience, students from the sanatorium’s neural studies department. “Despite the patient’s comatose state, he’s prone to violent thrashing about, hence the use of the restraints while we sedate him. He should remain quiet now for several hours.” Geoff was strapped down on a gurney, like some state prisoner about to be administered a lethal injection. Were such an action able to release him from his nightmare state, Geoff would have gladly accepted it.
“And he’s been like this for how long?” asked one of the students.
“Seventeen years now to the day since he was dragged from the burning car he’d crashed. I can’t imagine the traumas running through his mind to invoke such reaction, even under heavy sedation.”
Though loath to admit it, the sanatorium staff thought it might be a mercy to their comatose patient to ‘gently slip away’ in his sleep one quiet night. They weren’t to know that Geoff’s many years of suffering were just a prelude to his eventual arrival in a realm beyond that of his mortal mind and body. However long he had or was destined to suffer his nightmares, it would seem like a fleeting moment in comparison to the eternity that awaited.
Geoff wasn’t sure how long he’d slept but he was sure it had been several hours, maybe longer given how much better he felt. His body no longer hurt or ached. As his mind brushed aside the cobweb strands that briefly tie us between that half-way state between sleep and consciousness, memories of his ordeal with the dogs came flooding back. Hell, that was some nightmare, he thought, judging from the drenching of stale sweat he was lying in. Still, it was over, time to get up. He went to pull back the bedclothes he assumed would be covering him. They weren’t there, and he felt cold – much colder than if he were back in his own bed if that was the case? Nor was he lying on some nice comfortable mattress. Whatever it was, it was stone hard and icy too. Perhaps’ he’d fallen to the floor in his sleep? Geoff raised himself up. All he had to do was turn on a light and this nightmare would be done with. He’d barely taken two steps when a sudden and painful jolt to his ankle stopped him in his tracks. He reached down to feel what it was. He was chained by the ankle to what felt like a rock-like wall, the sort of chain he used to tether his dogs before a match. His eyes were adjusting to the dark and he could see he was in some sort of pit, about 20 or so feet square, much like the pits many a dog fight took place. Coincidence? Geoff thought not. He was still in his nightmare, albeit seemingly recovered from the last part of it, but equally dreading what might be coming next? He didn’t have long to wait to see just what.
Fires sprung up to the sides of the pit, while a rapid succession of lightening sparks lit up the sky. Hideous faces started to appear, peeking over the pit wall with an intense look of curiosity. More startling though was the gradual appearance of dozens of rats, emerging from scores of little cracks in the pit walls. Soon there were far too many to count. Was this to be his next ordeal, to be attacked by rats? For the moment they seemed mildly indifferent to him. Directly opposite to where Geoff was standing, part of the pit wall started to crumble before his eyes. Through the rubble of the crumbled wall, several pit bull dogs scampered over the ruins. They were smaller than the last pack, but what they lacked in size they made up for in numbers, six in total. Geoff recalled reading of such spectacles, of monumental rat baiting battles where some rat killing dog would kill scores of the loathsome creatures in quick succession. Is that what this was about, to be made to witness such horror first hand? But no. Something was wrong. Rats and dogs alike seemed totally at ease with the others’ presence. One by one, their eyes focussed on Geoff. The dogs slowly started their approach while the rats darted back and forth about his feet. This time, the ordeal was to last much longer. There was no outright attack, more a slow wearing down as the rats and dogs intermittently nipped away at him, sapping his strength while the life and blood gradually drained from his body. Geoff knew he wouldn’t die though, at least not from any horror in his nightmares. Memories lingered of countless other such encounters. Once again, he recalled hazy images of hospital staff sticking needles into him, of white-coated doctors and nurses during those brief moments when he would occasionally emerge from his comatose state. Those fleeting memories were enough for him to realise everything that was happening was just in his mind, even if the pain was a real as any he remembered from his previous life. It was made worse knowing too that the current terror could and probably would continue till the levels of sedation from the hospital staff were sufficient to plunge his mind into darkness again. As always, Geoff prayed the level might finally be a fatal one.
Such nightmares continued through the years, too long for Geoff to know just how many? They no longer shocked him in the same way, not that that diminished the pain each time. Sometimes it was rats, others it was insects crawling about his body, but mostly it was the biting and clawing of the dogs that was to be his ongoing punishment. His only solace lay in the fact that his body would die someday, and with it his mind too, that he’d one day be free of the nightly creature inflicted torments. It suited Cerebus to allow the comfort of that belief to continue till such time as Geoff did indeed die. But there was never to be the eternal peace the dogman craved so desperately. The three-headed canine lord had promised its growling minions as much, and whatever else, Cerebus was a demon of its word.
Such was the vileness of Geoff’s ‘business,’ Satan Himself had taken an interest in the comatose man, initially seeing great promise in him. Such evil depravity in the heart of man might make for another fine minion of Hell, Satan had thought. But the dark one had misjudged the mortal creature he had shown interest. Had Geoff truly revelled in the cruelty and torture he made his living by, been the sort of man who took pride in being an offence to all that was good and decent, then indeed he might have been worthy to sit by Satan’s side. But Geoff Richards was none of these things. Looking into his soul, Satan saw him to be everything he loathed in mankind. Unlike a few of his fellow dogman who were both evil in mind and heart as well as deed, despite appearances, Geoff was a coward of the worst kind; he made a pretence of honest respectability, and while he took no pleasure in the suffering of those poor creatures at the sharp end of his activities, neither was he repulsed. Instead, he was utterly indifferent, his sole motivation being money and the luxurious lifestyle it provided. No, he was just another sick greedy bastard – a worthy inhabitant of Hell by any means, but not one to enjoy the prize of Satan’s favour. Cerebus was welcome to him.
The old saying, that the Devil looks after his own, wasn’t just applicable to the Lord of the underworld. Cerebus’s drool dripping tongues swirled around its three jaws, salivating at the prospect of the dog fighting Geoff’s arrival in Hell, the real Hell, where the three-headed demon would be waiting … they may not have had much of a life in Geoff’s world, but every dog he’d ever trained, or those others that had died fighting his ‘trained canine killers’ would be waiting too, as would every other creature ever to suffer at the hands of a cruel master, waiting their turn with the dogman … . In this one dark corner of Hell, it was the creatures that tortured and tormented man, not the other way round … forever.
For many more stories like the one above, stay tuned for the March publication of: