It was late, the dogs hounded me, staring up at me with their big soulful eyes, wagging their tails when their gazes met mine, hoping I would read their minds; I knew what they wanted.
I’d been working late, so late in fact, the morning felt like yesterday. I checked my watch, 11:30pm, I moved the curtains and peeked out at the street, the sodium bulbs illuminated the deserted neighbourhood. I was glad to still see the lights; the council had started an energy saving scheme, where the lights are turned off during the small hours.
“Anyone for walkies?” I announced.
The dogs sprang into action, tails wagging, tongues unconsciously lopping from side to side, their excitement a heartwarming ritual to give thanks for the treat they would be receiving.
I put on my warmest jacket and woolly hat, the dogs continued to make their presence known, jumping up, still nervous I would change my mind and not take them, whining in pleasure or anxiety. I bent over and leashed them up, their enthusiasm ratcheted up a level, prancing in front of the door, scratching to be let out.
Alright, calm down, I thought with a smile on my face.
Leaving the house, the biting cold of the night stabbed my face, stinging my eyes, the slight breeze enough to numb the extremities; I wished I put on some gloves, but the dogs pulled and there was no chance they were going to let me go back in the house.
The street was as quiet as my little peek showed me, other than the panting of the dogs and their nails scratching on the concrete, all that could be heard was sounds of distant cars cruising along the dual carriageway. The night was dark, darker than usual, no stars sparkled in the moonless sky, an eerie blackness draped over the village, like a large funeral veil. The shadowy areas under trees, between houses and down alleyways seemed to fade into infinity, the witching hour was approaching.
Around thirty minutes passed and my fingers had lost all feeling, making me conscious of losing the dogs if they pulled on their leads. I was on the last stretch home, the orange glow of the porch light welcomed us. The older dog stopped and looked up at me, a signal to let him off the lead to run back to the house; a tradition that was almost as old as him. I lent over and unhooked his collar, with the release of tension he ran off like a small greyhound into the distance.
The other dog barked from behind me, I turned to watch him bark into the distance. I looked around, trying to find the source his agitation. No cats, no other dogs, no nothing; except the approaching darkness. One by one, the streetlights clicked off, sending a wave of black our direction.
“Come on boy,” I said pulling on the lead as I broke into a small jog.
But the darkness approached quickly, the tsunami of dark enveloped me and continued towards the house, an ice cold wind followed that chilled me to the bone, sending me to my knees. I put my numbed hand to the floor to steady myself as I caught my breath.
From the silence came a sound, a sniff from behind.
“I’m okay, buddy,” I said to my dog as I turned to pet him, the lead pulled in the other direction, in front of me.
What the hell?
From the left, and then the right; the sounds of sniffing surrounded me, they got louder and more pronounced as they approached. I dug into my pocket for my phone, my hand searching, without feeling, for the device.
The disembodied nasal sounds inched to my face, things were smelling me, as if I were some sort of food. I felt tendrils search, slowly at first, search over my body, cold as the night, getting more excited with every caress. I anticipated with dread as their number increased. I got a grip on the phone and held it tightly, pulling it out of my pocket, I unlocked it and tapped the assistive light icon, beautiful white light lit the area around me.
High pitched screeches pierced my ears as the wandering fingers, suddenly released their grasp from my body, retreating back into the shadows. Holding onto the phone for dear life I sprinted towards the beacon of the porch light, my safe haven. My heart thumped through my ears, leaving concentric circles in my vision, my unfit body pushing itself to the limits.
I reached the door and leaned up against it, panting. I pulled on the lead to hurry my younger dog along, the leash flew back at me with no resistance. The mangled collar came to rest on the ground, bathed in the light of my safe haven.
“Jack? Harvey? Where are you guys?” I shouted into the now, calm night, a juxtaposition to my rising anxiety, where were my boys.
I listened for the sounds of the dogs. All I could hear was the sounds of distant cars cruising along the dual carriageway.
I slowly slid down the door feeling, my anxiety peeking, giving way to sadness. Tears escaped my eyes as the realisation hit me, my boys.
I woke up, curled into a ball on my doorstep, a dry riverbed of tears down both cheeks, occasionally flooding with a new surge when I thought about my dogs; the sadness was unbearable. Through closed eyes, I saw their happy faces waiting for me to take them for a walk, just moments ago; I was heartbroken.
At that moment, the porch light burnt out with the sound of an old-timey camera flash, I curled up further to keep in the warmth, I was not going to leave until the dogs came back, my boys.
I sniffed back the tears. Sniffing, sniffing from the all sides; those familiar sounds approached me as the tendrils edged up my body with a renewed vigor.
I reached for the phone, the pressure increased around my arms as the fingers grasped, keeping me in place. I felt a cold rough tongue lick the side of my face, I scrunched my eyes shut and thought of my dogs, my boys, I’ll see you soon.