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Hellhound, Free to Good Home

Gerri Leen lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. She has stories and poems appearing in: Escape Pod, Grimdark, Sword and Sorceress XXIII, She Nailed a Stake Through His Head: Tales of Biblical Terror and others. She is editing an anthology, A Quiet Shelter There, which will benefit homeless animals and is due out in 2015 from Hadley Rille Books. See more at gerrileen.com.

She's not afraid of him--he can smell it on her, the lack of fear. He's bigger than a regular dog, his fur matted in places, his eyes too bright and teeth too sharp. He is, in a word, a huge ugly dog. But she doesn't care.
He is used to being feared: people scream when he comes near. This is new.
Crouching down, she pats her knees. "Come here, big boy."
Her voice is high, as if he is some human infant and not a hellhound, harbinger of death, helper to death when it suits his mood. Isn't she wondering what a mammoth black dog is doing sitting on this isolated path? A path she's unaware hides a man with a knife and a need to kill.
"I am death," the black dog barks. He is there to announce her death, which will be at the hands of the man in the woods--his warning might even turn her from it if she is the type of human who pays attention to harbingers. But now he suspects she would speak just as kindly to the man who waits for her as she has to a strange dog.
He tries again, "I am Death. Danger." He can tell she hears no warning in his barks.
She seems to be checking his neck for a collar. Does she think a creature such as he would ever be yoked?
"Stay back," he barks, easing away, but then she is thrusting something at his face and he snarls but then--wait? Is that food? This woman carries dog treats with her?
It's a high-quality treat, the smell too good not to take. As he lifts his head, licking crumbs off his lips, he feels a circle of soft rope being put over his head.
A slip-leash? Where the hell was she hiding that?
"Good thing you ran into someone from rescue, huh?" She eases the leash tight. Seriously?
He has the power to break away but is curious what will happen if he lets her lead him. It is the rare person who can harness death. Usually there is much fighting, a lot of grunting, sweat and blood and often tears--heroes used to take him on to make their name.
This woman seems unconcerned with glory. She just slips him another treat as he walks along beside her. "Wow," she says, "you don't even pull. What a good boy."
The man lying in wait--who is the opposite of a good boy--sees the hellhound, and his stink of hatred for the woman turns to terror. Finally, someone who understands what manner of beast the black dog is. He yanks the leash away from the woman and leaps.
He can feel the man's heart give out before he can even bite him. How did this fool expect to take on the woman? She's quite robustly built.
He looks up at the woman, who is staring at the dead man with a look of dismay rather than relief or shock.
"The intake people won't like this." She picks up the leash and pulls him away from the corpse. "So, let's not tell them you did that, 'kay?" She checks his mouth. "No blood. You didn't bite him, then. Whew, dodged a bullet there."
She gives him another treat as she pulls out her phone and dials 911. "Hi, I was out walking my dog on the Lake Calvert trail, and I heard something suspicious on the path ahead. It's right past the water fountain near the fork to Cutter's Drive." She pets him. "No, I didn't go. I... I was scared and my dog was growling. I'm on my way back home now."
She turns, pulling him with her, leaving the corpse as it lies. "Right, thanks." Then she slips the phone back into her pocket and gives him another treat. "Let's go home, boy. Or home for now. My other dogs aren't going to be thrilled to see you. Big alpha boy like you. But we'll find you a good home." She pets him, and it feels good, but then she mutters something about neutering, and he is less thrilled with her attention. Until another treat comes his way.
She leads him off, and while he's perfectly capable of slipping the lead and going back to his job as harbinger of death, he thinks he'll wait to make his break--at least until she runs out of treats.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Author Comments

I've been a volunteer dog walker at a local shelter, so I'm one of those strange people who always has slip leashes in my car even though I only have cats at home. I could see having one of those leashes tied around my waist during a walk and being insane enough to miss the hellish parts of a hellhound. This story is for all the other rescue volunteers who I know would be just as crazy.

- Gerri Leen
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