A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 5

English: Dog (canis lupus familiaris) track in mud

Dana the dog, or something else? ... Image via Wikipedia

Sitting on the couch in his livingroom, Darrell caught the sound of someone coming up the front steps, then the door opening.

“Am I late?” said Wade.

“You’re late.”

“But not real late.”

“No, not real late,” said Darrell as he folded up the Gazette and set it on the coffee table in front of the couch.

“Sorry, Dad. I was at the library doin’ research for a school report, and then I was at the sheriff’s office– ”

“The sheriff’s office?”

“Doin’ more research for the report.”

“Ah.”

“I made it back as quick as I could.”

“Alright. You’re here now, so let’s sit down and eat.”

“I wouldn’t’ve been late if I had a car.”

“Not ’til you’re eighteen, but nice try.”

Wade sat down at the kitchen table as his father pulled a hot casserole dish out of the oven.

“So what’s this report all about?” said Darrell.

“It’s for Miss Kremshaw’s history class; has to be about somethin’ local.”

“Town history, you mean?”

“Yeah. I– ”

“Hold that thought. I’ll say grace and then we’ll continue.”

Wade put his fork down and they bowed their heads. Darrell prayed.

“Father, we thank You for this food and for all Your provision, and for all Your blessings. We thank You for another day together. We ask that You bless this to us for your glory. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.”

“Amen,” said Wade and picked up his fork.

“You were saying?”

“Oh yeah. Town history. All the easy topics were taken. Uncle Hank told me to get creative, so I went down to the library and got help from Mr. Wayne. He said I needed somethin’ that was obscure but intriguing, so he set me up on the microfilm machine with some old newspapers, and I spent some time goin’ through those.”

“What’d you find?”

“Not a whole lot for ideas, although I did see the story on Uncle Hank’s bear attack.”

“Which you’ll say nothing to him about, of course.”

“Of course. Then I got almost to the end of the film and found somethin’ kinda interesting – a story from the mid-eighties about a bear that was found mutilated.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, but the article has Sheriff Danscom saying it was just a case of poachin’, but I went to talk to him anyway, thinkin’ it might’ve been part of some big bust, you know, some poachin’ ring that was taken down.”

“That would make a good report.”

“Yeah, it would, except it’s not what happened. The sheriff said it was just an isolated incident.”

“So you’re back to square one, then?”

“I guess.”

They ate in silence for a minute.

“I did have one question I wanted to ask you,” said Wade.

“Sure.”

“When poachers kill an animal, don’t they take more than just the meat?”

“Well, I’ve never been a poacher, but yeah, sometimes they take more than the meat. Depends on what kind of animal. If it’s a buck, they’ll take the antlers, maybe the whole head.”

“What about a bear?”

“A bear? I suppose they might take the head, maybe the pelt.”

“That’s what I thought!” Darrell looked up, startled. “Dad, Sheriff Danscom showed me a picture of the bear that was mutilated, and you can see that the meat is gone, but the head and pelt are still there.”

“Well, poachers don’t always take those parts. They might just want the meat.”

“But Dad, in this photo you can see that the face is all cut up, like it’d been slashed a bunch of times – same thing with the pelt. Poachers don’t do that, do they, makin’ cuts that aren’t necessary?”

“No. They usually don’t. That is kind of strange. You mean there were just … cuts all over it?”

“Yeah. It looked really weird.”

“What did Harvey say about it?”

“I didn’t ask him, didn’t mention it.”

“Why not?”

Wade shrugged. “I don’t know, just … felt weird to ask about. But I did double-check with him about bears havin’ any natural predators, and he said no, they don’t. … It just seems strange, Dad – unusual behavior for a poacher, yet there’s no animal that would do this.”

“Yeah. That’s weird,” Darrell said, but his mind was elsewhere, on something that Clyde said in the Gazette article and just now came storming back to him: “The meat was gone, and she was all clawed up. Face, neck, back. I could barely tell it was a horse, much less my own. There was nothin’ left of her.”

* * *

Knock-knock-knock.

Hank had stayed in his easy chair for as long as he could, but an hour had become too long to wait.

The door in front of him opened.

“Hank. Hello. What brings you out this evenin’?”

“Hi, Clyde. Listen, am I interruptin’ dinner or anything?”

“No, no. We just finished up. Martha’s doin’ the dishes right now. Come on in, come on in.”

Hank stepped into their warm, well-lit living room and Clyde shut the door.

“I’m really sorry about your horse, Clyde, and I know this is gonna sound kinda weird but, uh … I read the story in the paper, and somethin’ you said struck me funny.”

“What’s that?”

“You said there were no prints?”

“Yeah, that’s right. It’s all dirt in front of the barn door, so I figure there shoulda been somethin’ there, but there ain’t – ’cept my dog’s prints, o’ course. How that thing got in there without leavin’ any prints, I can’t imagine, but he did. Maybe he swept ’em over as he left, I don’t know.”

Hank started to raise an eyebrow at the suggestion of a bear covering his tracks, but he didn’t want to offend the man, so he adjusted his face back to normal.

“You mind if I take a look?”

“No, not at all,” said Clyde. “Let me grab my coat and we’ll head out back.”

He put on his coat and led Hank into the kitchen, where they met a delicious, golden scent – John’s wife was not only doing dishes but baking something.

“Hi, Martha.”

“Hi, Hank. How are you?”

“Just fine, ma’am.”

“We’ll be out in the barn,” said Clyde.

They stepped through the back door and walked across the open area between the house and the barn. Most of it was bare dirt, but nowhere did Hank see any prints – except the dog’s, of course, and Clyde’s. When they got to the barn door, Clyde reached into his pocket and pulled out a key.

“I keep ’er padlocked now,” he said.

Clyde opened the door – which Hank could see was absent of any strange markings – and showed Hank the stall in question, the first one on the left.

“Everything’s been cleaned up now, o’ course,” said Clyde, “but this is where it happened. You shoulda seen this place. What a mess.”

“That some blood on those boards?” said Hank, nodding towards the short wall dividing the first stall from the second.

“Yup. Couldn’t get it all up, but it’ll fade with time.”

Hank nodded. He scanned the whole area around the stall, but the only prints there were human and dog. Even if there had been other prints, they would’ve been erased by now with all the commotion, Hank figured.

“Well thanks for your time, Clyde. I won’t keep you any longer. Sorry ’bout all this, though.”

“ ’Preciate that, Hank. But that’s the farmin’ life, I guess – you win some, you lose some.”

They stepped out of the barn; Clyde pulled out the key to lock it up, but the key slipped out of his hands and clattered on the ground.

“Oh – let me get that for you, Clyde.”

Hank stooped to pick up the key; it had come to rest next to one of the dog prints, and Hank glanced at the track while reaching for the key, noting its size, shape, depth. A wrinkle of thought suddenly creased his brow; he paused a moment, pondering, then thought better of doing anything that would make Clyde ask questions. He grabbed the key and stood up, stealing another look at the print as he rose.

“Here you go, Clyde.”

“I thank you, Hank, and so do my knees – they don’t bend like they used to.”

Clyde locked the door, then Hank said, “Hey, where’s that dog of yours? He’s a new one, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, that’s right – Dana. An’ you ain’t met him yet. He’s right around the corner of the barn; go see him if you want.”

Hank went around, with Clyde right behind. The dog, a chocolate lab, perked up when he saw Hank.

“Hey, Dana,” said Hank as he knelt down. “Nice to meet you, fella.”

Dana licked and sniffed like there was no tomorrow. Clyde, meanwhile, stood a few feet away, behind Hank. Knowing this, Hank got Dana to shake hands, then took a casual look at the underside of Dana’s paw.

“That’s a good boy,” whispered Hank. He stood up. “That’s a nice dog you got there, Clyde.”

“He’s serviceable; I take him out bird huntin’ once in a while. And remember, just ’cause you ain’t a kid anymore don’t mean you can’t come over here anytime you want and run him around.”

“Oh.” Hank chuckled. “Thanks.”

They walked back to the house and through it to the front door. Clyde hung up his coat as Hank reached for the doorknob.

“Oh, there was one more thing I wanted to ask you: The night of the attack, did you ever hear Dana barkin’?”

“No, I didn’t. And I told the sheriff I thought that was strange. Martha and I were each up once or twice that night to go to the bathroom, but we never heard anything, and nothin’ else ever woke us up. But you’re right – he should’ve barked if he heard or saw or smelled anything funny. I wonder what’s the matter with him. He’s kinda old; maybe he’s worse off than I thought, losin’ his senses or somethin’. Maybe I should have him put down, I don’t know.”

“I wouldn’t rush into anything. He’s a good dog; keep him around.”

“Yeah, you’re prob’ly right. Thanks for stoppin’ by, Hank.”

“Thank you. See you, Martha!”

“Goodbye, Hank!” she called from the kitchen.

“See you, Clyde.”

“Come by anytime.”

Hank went down the front steps and crossed the dirt driveway to his truck. He climbed in, started it and backed down to the road. He stole a steely glance at the barn as he headed off towards home.

Six claw marks; there should only be four.

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