Shades of gray cascaded over the horizon, draping the neighborhood in a colorless blanket. Houses appeared as palettes of white meshing with patches of black and gray. Shadow heightened the definition of trees, shrubs, stumps and fences.
The view was a canvas painted in tones that only special eyes could appreciate.
Sounds reverberated crisp and sharp, even from within the house they were intense and clear; bats on the prowl for food, chipmunks scurrying through yards, breezes whispering through tree and the awnings of houses.
Essences were detectable to anyone in tune with nature and emotions too, were felt by those open to them and--
Intentions could easily be felt, with an empathy that was above the norm.
He drew himself away from the view of his outside world; having grown bored, and tottered off the couch. He made his way down the hall; gazing at furniture that hadn’t moved out of place in years, staring into rooms he called his domain.
A tennis ball brushed by him as he walked. He paid it no mind. This was no time for games. This was quiet time. This was sleeping time.
At last he found the room that made his heart swell with warmth and pleasure. His body tingled as he entered it, seeing the man sleeping soundly in the bed; a slight snore escaping him.
The man’s hand hung over the side of the bed and approaching it, he gave it a hearty lick.
“Lucky?” His companion whispered, awakened by the yellow Lab’s expression of affection. “It’s too early boy. Bed time, lie down and go sleepy. Lay down and go sleepy.”
His buddy rolled over as Lucky, disappointed that he couldn’t rouse him, curled himself up on his favorite spot of floor bedside the bed.
The snoring started up again almost immediately, but it was of no concern to Lucky, he was used to it. It was a familiar, actually comforting, sound that he listened to every night.
Lucky lifted his head suddenly a new sound disturbing him, something—unfamiliar—something that was discomforting, a sound not heard every night.
He sat up and cocked his head, ears perking to get full intake of the strange noise invading his solace.
It grew louder, more profound, like breathing; a heavy, raspy breathing coming from outside…
Lucky went to his feet instantly and left the bedroom, creeping cautiously back down the hall and into the living room.
Darkness still bathed the room and Lucky’s eyes pierced right through it.
Suddenly, his body became rigid, growing to full alert as he approached the window.
The breathing continued, growing more intense, getting louder and harsher. The dog’s face met the glass of the window and at last he glared back out into the world.
In the shadows—in the darkness—something waited, something stood.
Across the street it lingered, attempting to hide itself in the night but was detected, spotted; its camouflage revealed by the keen eyes of a dog.
Resident of the home. Member of the family.
Beneath the branches of a great maple tree it stood and stared, stared at Lucky’s house, his warmth and protection, his property, his den.
It was tall and crooked, the figure that watched Lucky and his home unflinchingly, and wore a long black raincoat; face hidden beneath a seemingly rubber hood, withered claw like hands twitching from under the sleeves of its coat.
The breathing rasped again, heavy, monotonous, repetitious, heard only by one living thing—
The hair on Lucky’s back bristled and stood up, he snarled at the figure across the street.
His heartbeat raced.
The adrenalin rushed throughout his eighty-pound body.
His breath grew quick.
At last the barks erupted, pealing through the silent house.
Aggressive, angry, fueled by fear and a sense of protection the barks roared, directed at the mysterious force that had appeared in the neighborhood. The house thundered with the alarming call, causing the master to rise from his dreams.
“Lucky!” He heard the shout from down the hall as frenzied footsteps joined it. “What is it boy? What is it?”
Lucky protested and snarled as he clawed at the living room window, desperately wanting to jump outside and fend off the imminent danger.
The dog turned his head to watch his best friend emerge from the hallway and enter the room. Lucky stood up on his hind legs, front paws planted to the windowsill, saliva drooling from his jaws.
He felt the strong arm of his master clamp around his red leather collar and yank him from the window. “Lucky calm down, what is it? Huh, what is it?”
He whimpered in response, simply wanting to go to the window again.
“Sit down,” his buddy said. “Sit.” He pointed to the floor before turning to look out the window. His friend’s eyes darted around, examining the outside. Lucky watched anxiously, the adrenalin flowing through him, itching to get at the window again.
Weak sunlight began slipping through the window, chasing away the darkness, the last of it slithering out of the room.
Lucky saw that dawn was at hand.
His barking continued.
“Lucky!” The master was stern now, his voice having raised a couple of tones. “Settle down. There’s nothing out there.”
Lucky persisted, his barks transforming into howls now, nostrils flaring, stomach and chest heaving as he tried to fight his way back to the window.
“No,” he was ushered out of the room and to the back door. “You want to go out? C’mon, go on out and chase your squirrels. No more waking me up. Go.”
The sliding back door whisked open and out onto the deck Lucky raced, paws clattering on weathered boards. He looked back at his unresponsive friend, who was shaking his head. How could he not come out here with him? There was danger here, he knew it studied the house. How could he just ignore what was in plain sight? He watched him vanish from the door, most likely returning to bed.
He made his way down to the lush backyard and paused briefly to sniff at the air.
There was a new scent in it, a strange scent. It was not unlike that of sulfur or burning rubber. The smell was most unsettling, he knew it did not belong, not in his neighborhood, or in his yard, he would not rest until this presence was gone.
He had the run of the house, his master having gone out as he always did in the daylight hours. Lucky galloped from room to room, gaze fixed to the outside world, attention captured by a knowing sense that something was not right.
Although it had not returned, Lucky felt that it would.
Outside the sunlight glowed brightly, flowers bloomed, birds sang, but as soon as night returned, as soon as the darkness crept over the land, it would be back. The loyal companion knew it all too well, he felt its twisted essence, its putrid spirit, its negative energies polluting and ravaging the very air around it.
Window to window, he went searching for it, watching carefully, ignoring the bowl of water in the kitchen and his favorite toy, the rope with the bone tied into it. He would not rest until he spotted it again.
He would not be disappointed.
Lucky remained perched in front of the living room window where he had first laid eyes upon it for the rest of the day, until He finally returned home.
“There’s my boy,” his buddy beamed as he entered the house. The yellow Lab dashed from the window to meet him; eyes alight with joy, tail wagging excitedly.
“You must be dying to go out, huh boy?” He patted and caressed him. How loved it made him feel, the warmth tingling his chest, heart beating with contentment.
Lucky showered his face with quite a lathering, returning the affection before heading for the back door.
He stood in the yard, snout lifted to the air once again. He made his way slowly to the edge of the stockade fence and peered through the gaps, catching the maple tree across the street in his view. Again he sniffed and whimpered.
The scent of burning rubber still lingered in the air.
“What, what is it?” His buddy asked as he stood up from the table, leaving a plate of hot food.
Lucky led him into the living room, where he circled and whimpered, constantly going to the window and looking out. The sun had just vanished into the void swallowed by shades of purple and black much to Lucky’s dismay. He tried once again to convince his oblivious friend of the danger in their midst.
“There’s nothing out there boy, what’s the matter with you?” He didn’t even bother to look out the window. “Is it a raccoon or something Luck?”
Lucky’s heart thumped in his chest, his mouth was wet with saliva. He continued to stare out into the night and fidget nervously. What raccoon? Was he losing his mind? Damn it, why wouldn’t he listen?
“No. There’s nothing out there, now stop it.” He turned his back on Lucky and left the room, returning to the meal that was now growing cold.
Lucky yelped once with defiance, attempting to call him back but it was no use. Why was he so stubborn? Didn’t he understand it was coming back? It would soon be out there, searching for the right opportunity to enter the house, waiting for both of them to fall asleep or let down their guard so it could attack.
How could he just brush off his best friend’s pleas, Lucky wondered, cocking his head and staring at him with confusion? How could he ignore his alarming unrest, his call to action? Surely they understood each other, after five years, you would think that he would listen.
After all they’d been through. After all the good times and bad. Lucky was the most honest, caring, loyal friend he ever had. No one could compare, no one could match his companionship. He had never let him down and never would. He was not losing his canine mind something was out there! Damn you listen to me!
The house was drowned in silence now, it had been hours since the master went to bed and the den went dormant.
Lucky would not rest however. He couldn’t.
He could find no peace, instead he listened to every creak, every cricket, every sigh of the wind and waited, vigilant, undaunted, tenacious. He knew it would return, he just knew…
The rasping came again.
The breathing was closer than before, almost sounding as if it was in the house.
Lucky jumped to his feet and dashed down the hall, the clinking of his license announcing his arrival into the living room. He drew himself to the window without hesitation.
It was not across the street under the maple tree this time.
Now it stood in the front yard, its face nothing more than a patch of black underneath its hood. How brazen it was infiltrating the yard as if it could not be seen, as if it would not be noticed trying to invade someone’s home. My home.
Lucky’s entire body burned as if with fever, his snout crinkled into a snarl.
Its void of a face glared right at Lucky who in return fixed his big brown eyes right back at it. The utter density of that black patch threatened to drive him mad. He could feel the coldness in it, the hunger, and the soulless existence.
Lucky could taste blood in his mouth, it wanted to savor his master’s blood, ravage his flesh and, suckle the marrow of his bones.
Never! It would never happen, not as long as he could draw breath.
He tore at the window with a fury, clawing at the glass and exploding in barks and yelps that could wake the dead.
“Goddamit,” He heard his friend groan and stir. “Lucky!” The anger in his voice was evident now. “NO!”
He ran back into the bedroom, heeding his calls. He went to the bed in hopes of getting him out of it but was simply scolded and given the cold shoulder. “No, go to sleep!” He bellowed, pulling the covers up tight.
Lucky paused momentarily a single cry escaping him then listened intensely.
The breathing...the breathing, it was as loud as it could possibly be. It was deafening, pounding in Lucky's ears like a sledgehammer. Was it in the house?
The dog launched himself out of the room again and back to the window. There was nothing there. It had moved, it was closer, was it actually in the house now?
Lucky ran to the kitchen and glared out the sliding doors, hair rising down his spine.
No, nothing there.
Back down the hall he scampered in frenzy, entering the spare room and peering out its window.
The breathing filled the hall; it WAS in the house. It had finally gotten in. Lucky turned from the spare room, growing frantic when he saw it standing in front of his best friend’s doorway.
It stood poised to strike, no feet visible beneath the sickening raincoat it wore. It just hovered effortlessly in the air. It lifted its clawed arms, reaching into the room, preparing to enter and devour the light of Lucky's life.
His eyes flared as a low growl rose in his chest. His body ignited with rage, all of his teeth sprouted from under his lips and he shot through the air like a bullet.
Before it was able to move even an inch, Lucky hit it with all of his force and the two went crashing into the office, shattering across the computer desk; howls and squeals screeching through the house.
They thudded across the floor, the dog climbing on top of the twisted, hidden form that writhed within the raincoat, clawed hands flailing to get free of the berserk animal that was defending its home, its master, its entire world.
A hideous, high-pitched scream filled the house, the sound almost shattering all the windows in the house.
The man of the house bolted from his bedroom, unable to comprehend what in the world was going on. He heard the ruckus in the room next door, Lucky was in the height of his rage and conflict and finally able to get his attention. Finally he proved something was indeed wrong.
A pale mist hung in the air as Lucky got to his feet and stared at it, noticing that his master caught a glimpse of it before it evaporated as if never there.
“Lucky,” he wore a puzzle look on his face, eyes widening with awe, as he stared down at his beloved pet.
Clamped tightly in Lucky’s teeth and between his paws was a filthy and tattered raincoat. He allowed his pal to pull the damp and reeking coat from his grip. Again he smelled sulfur and burnt rubber, dwindling this time.
“What is it boy, what is this?” He murmured, obviously unable to fathom what he was holding in his hands. “What happened?”
Lucky simply stared up at his master with loving, pride filled eyes, tail wagging, awaiting his praise and surely, a giant sized treat.