I arrived at the diner breathless.  My best friend Katie had texted there was an emergency.  Dropping into the booth across from her, I gasped, “Ok, I’m here.  What’s wrong?”

“What are you wearing?”

That was not the response I expected.  “What I was wearing helping my father clean out the attic.  I didn’t know you were having a black-tie emergency.”

“Let your hair down, and put on some make-up.”  She slid her mirror across the table.  “It that a cob web hanging off your ear?”

“Probably.”  Despite my anger, I glanced at the mirror and winced.  I opened my purse and pulled out a brush.    “Kaitlin Tierney Flynn, there isn’t an emergency, is there?”

“Not exactly.”

“Oh, for the love of….”

“Yell at me once you’ve put some make-up on.”

I looked into her big blue eyes.  They were silently pleading with me to play along.  We had been friends since preschool when Donald Kelly called me fat and Katie punched him in the face.  I might be angry, but I would do anything for her.  I pulled out the make-up I carried with me.  It wasn’t much and I doubted I could conceal the bags under my eyes.

Katie must have been thinking the same thing.  “Are you still having trouble sleeping?”

“The dreams are getting more vivid. There’s a sense of urgency that wasn’t there before.”

“They’ve just been dreams thought, right?”

“Maybe.”  My life had been weird.  It started when I was visited by my ex- boyfriend’s dead uncle.  Then I encountered my grandfather, Caesar Fiori.  Grandpa had been dead for forty-two years, but didn’t let that keep him from visiting his family.  I had lived sixteen years without believing in ghosts, but now I knew better.  I shared my experiences with Katie, who accepted everything without question.  It was why I loved her.

She sighed.  “That’s a no.  Tell me what happened last night?  Were you in the dinner theater again?”

Every night, I found myself sitting at a table facing a stage.  A beautiful woman would come in and sit next to me.  She was dressed as if she was going into battle.  I wasn’t scared of her, but her presence was intimidating.  Then my grandfather would walk out onto the stage.  He would collapse forward.  Twenty-three knives would be imbedded in his back.  I would run to him.  He would mime words to me, and the woman hovered over us, standing guard.  Then I would wake up.

It was the same every night, but one thing changed.  “They spoke to me.”

“What did they say?”

“When the woman sat next to me, she told me to be careful who I trust.  Things aren’t always what they seem and my guardian angel can’t always be with me.”

“That’s doesn’t sound good.”

“She added that sometimes, angels need help.  So, do humans, so while I had to help myself, I wouldn’t be alone.”

“Cryptic, much?”

“When I ran up to the stage, my grandfather said, ‘They’re coming for you.  Not all at once, but it’s about to begin.’”

“Who’s coming for you?  When?”

“I have no idea.  The lady tells me I already know some of the answers, but need to learn the others.”

“And?”

“That’s it.”  Finishing putting on my make-up I dropped my lipstick into my purse, along with a few salt packets  from the container on the table – I always loaded up on them when I could as most restaurants and fast food places in Warwick Falls were becoming health conscientious and under-salting their food.

“Maybe you’ll learn more when they visit you tonight?”

“I have a feeling that was my last dream.”

“She said you know the answers to some of your questions.  Do you?”

“All I can think of is my grandfather died on March nineteenth.  That’s four days from now.  It’ll give me to prepare.”

“For what?”

I shrugged.  Her guess would be as good as mine, and I said as much.  “Are you going to tell me why I’m here?”

“Because you love me?”

“Katie…”

She sighed as if being put upon.  “Nick Regan asked me out.”

“And you want a chaperon?”

“Not exactly.  His cousin Rich is in town, so he asked if you’d go out with him.”

“When did he ask you out?”

“Last night.”

“Katie!  Why didn’t you tell me yesterday?”

She pouted.  “I didn’t find out about Rich until this morning.  You would have said no if I asked.”

“That’s not true.”

“You haven’t been interested in anyone since Jeremy.”

That wasn’t fair.  I hadn’t really been into anyone before Jeremy either.  Plus, it wasn’t like the guys were beating down my door.  “I like to date.  Does his cousin go to the public school?”

“He’s from Boston and goes to school in Williamstown.  It’s his spring break.”

That explained a lot.  I dated my last boyfriend for a couple of months before he went back to England.  I swore to Katie I would never date anyone again who wasn’t from Warwick Falls.  “Knowing it’s not going to be serious from the beginning, will keep me from falling in love.  It’s all good.”

“Did I mention he’s a first-year in Williams College.”

A college boy. I smiled. “This sounds promising.”  Then I narrowed my eyes at her.  “He’s not a troll or anything?  Is he?”

“I’ve never met him, but Nick is cute, and they are family.  He’s on the swim team, so he’s in shape.”

I did like swimmers.

“So you’re not angry?”

“Oh, I’m angry.  You had me worried for no reason.”

“Sorry.”  She tried to look contrite.

“Plus, I would have liked to put on something nice.”

“Sorry.”

We both knew she wasn’t, and wouldn’t hesitate to do it again.

I laughed.

“What’s so funny?”  A pleasant voice asked.

We turned, in unison.  Our dates had arrived.

Nick slipped into the booth next to Katie while cousin Rich slid in next to me.

Normally, I didn’t like blond guys, but I was willing to make an exception for him. He had brown eyes and was really cute.  When he smiled, there was a dimple on his chin.

We barely introduced ourselves before our waitress came over to take our orders.

The guys asked for sodas, burgers and fries.  I wanted a BLT with fries, coleslaw, and a thick vanilla shake.  Katie got a diet Coke and a salad.  There was a reason she was a size three and I was a size nine.

When the food came, Nick, Katie and I dug in.  Rich didn’t touch his food.  Instead, he sat staring at me eat.

I felt myself blush under the scrutiny.  “How’s your burger?”

“Fine.”

“Is this your first time in Warwick Falls?”

“Yes.”

Nick stopped mid-bite.  “What are you talking about?  You come every Christmas.”

“I meant it’s the first time I’ve been here for spring break.”

Nick nodded and went back to eating.  “He wasn’t supposed to arrive until tomorrow morning.”

“My exams ended last night, so I decided to leave a day early.”

Katie stole a fry off my plate and shoved into her mouth.  With her mouth full, she asked how he got here.

“I hopped on the first bus I could find to Warwick Falls.”

That explained why Nick waited for the last-minute to find him a date.

“The buses were running?  I thought Western Massachusetts was hit with a blizzard and transportation was shut down.”  Katie had a thing for the Weather Channel.  I was convinced she’d be a meteorologist.

He stared at her for a moment, never breaking eye contact and not saying a word.

It was Nick who broke the silence.  “He must have caught the last one out.”

Katie looked doubtful as she silently picked at her salad.

I felt bad.  She had a crush on Nick since sixth grade and this evening wasn’t going very well.  I tried to salvage the situation.  “Katie said you’re from Boston.”

“I am.”

“I’ve never been to Boston.  What’s it like, living in the city?”

He shrugged.  “It’s home.”

“What’s your favorite thing to do there?”

“Hang out.”

“Where do you hang out?”

“Around.”

The tall, silent and brooding act wasn’t very impressive.  I was ready to call an end to the date when the waitress brought our check.  We paid the bill and left.

Katie and Nick were holding hands and whispering to each other.  I hoped that meant a second date for my friend.  As far as I was concerned, one night with Rich was enough.  I was ready to part company.  “Nice meeting you, Rich.  Have a great time visiting your family.”

“Don’t go!”

I looked up at him.  “Excuse me?”

He frowned, and shuffled a bit before answering.  “This may sound silly, but I just want you to like me.  It’s been a while since I’ve gone out on a date and I feel that I messed it up.”

I felt guilty.  I thought he was being a jerk, instead he was uncomfortable.  He may have been a college student, but he wasn’t much older than I.  He probably spent all his time studying and practicing for swim meets.  I was the jerk.  I looked at my cell phone.  I had a few more hours before curfew.  “Do you want to take a walk?”

He smiled.  “Sure!”

“We can go down to Kings Highway and cross the bridge over Shanty Creek.”  The Dalton Museum of Art was there and they had a new sculpture exhibit.

“No, I don’t like bridges.”

“Where do you want to go then?”

“Why don’t we walk up Elm Street.  There’s a nice quiet neighborhood at the end of it.”  Rich took my hand.  “You two don’t need to come.”

I pulled away, not ready to get close to him.  I was willing to give him a chance, but there was no connection yet.  “I’d like them to come.”  I took Katie’s hand.  “Safety in numbers.”

“Have it your way.”

He started walking, like a man on a mission.

“Is there a special place you have in mind?”  I asked, after a few blocks.

He slowed down to walk next to us.  “I just want to share my favorite spot in Warwick Falls with you.  Marion Vale’s house.”

I stopped.  There was a horse farm at the end of Elm Street.  I had assumed he wanted to look at horses.  “She was a psychic in the late nineteenth century.  It was said that she summoned demons.”

“You don’t believe in that stuff, do you?”  Asked Nick.

“Absolutely!”  The rest of us said simultaneously.

“Well, not demons, exactly.”  I qualified.  “I believe in ghosts, though.”

Nick laughed, until he saw we were all serious.

“I believe in ghosts and demons, but Marion Vales house can’t hurt us.”  Rich assured.  We started walking again.

Nick got a text, and laughed.  “Cell service here sucks.  Remember how you insisted you texted me last night, but I never got it?  Well it just came through.”  He shoved his phone into his back pocket.

“Why do you believe in demons?”  I asked.

“Because I’ve seen a hellhound.”

The hair on the back of my neck stood up.

“I don’t like the sound of this.”  Katie’s hand tightened on mine.  “Ghosts are one thing, but hellhounds sound dangerous.”

“Hellhounds are just a part of folklore.”  As I spoke, I hoped it was true.

“They’re not folklore.”  Rich insisted.  “Every culture has a story about black dogs with glowing red eyes who suck the blood out of their victims before dragging their souls to hell.”

Nick objected.  “Not every culture.  We studied some of the local Native American tribes.  They held that black dogs were guardians and spirit guides.”

I was surprised Nick remembered that.  He was a nice guy, but not the best student.  Still, I wanted to hear more about Rich’s encounter.  “I’ve read about hellhounds.  They’re supposed to smell like brimstone and leave scorched patches where they exit and enter Hell.  If you see one, doesn’t it mean you’re going to die?”

“They’re harbingers of death.  Just because you see one doesn’t mean you’re going to die.”

“Hellhounds aren’t real.”  Nick insisted.  “What would Sister Mary Jane say if she heard you talking this way?”

Ignoring her date, Katie leaned in and whispered her concern.  “Considering your dream, should you be hanging out with someone attracting hellhounds?”

“What dream?”  Nick asked.

“What do you have?  Bionic hearing?”  Katie asked.

“My Grandpa Caesar came to me in a dream and warned me to be careful, which is weird since he was the one with multiple stab wounds in his back.”

Nick laughed.  “I think you’ve been studying too hard.”

“What?”

“You Grandpa Caesar?  Stabbed in the back?  Today is the Ides of March.”

Nick spoke slowly as if we were slow.  I didn’t blame him.  How didn’t I see it sooner.  Katie and I shared a look.   It was the day my grandfather had warned me about, and I was traipsing through town with Rich, AKA hellhound bait.

I decided to run home and lock my doors when Rich cried out.  He was frozen in his tracks about ten feet ahead of us.  He was staring at a dog, sitting in the center of the street staring at us.

“It’s a hellhound.”  He picked up a rock and took aim.  Before he could let it go, Nick had his arm.

“What the Hell are you doing, bro?  That’s a puppy.”

“It has glowing red eyes!”  He insisted.

Katie bemused.  “My dog once had red eyes.  His corneas were infected.”

“You were going to throw a rock at a sick puppy?”  I walked up to the little dog.  It was a black lab puppy.  Nothing sinister about him.  He let me pick him up and licked my face.

“Get away from that thing!”  Rich had dropped the rock, and was coming towards me aggressively.  “They can transform into seemingly harmless creatures.”

The puppy started growling, and Rich stopped before he reached us.

“Put him down and come with me.”  He had a wild look about him.

“No.”

“Come on, we only have a few blocks to go.”  He stayed where he was, but reached out for me.

I took a step back, holding the puppy against my chest.  “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

“Especially not to some demon worshipers house.”  Katie stood at my side.

Nick was on the sidewalk talking on the phone, and completely oblivious to what was happening right in front of him.

“Put that animal down, or give it to your friend.  We only need to go a few more blocks.”

Things were getting weird.

“He’s off his rocker.”  Katie announced.

“You always had a keen grasp of the obvious.”

“Just don’t put that dog down.  He’s scared of it.”

“That’s not a dog!”

Nick pocketed his phone, and walked over.  He grabbed Rich by the shoulder.  Rich spun around, lifted Nick by the throat and carelessly tossed him onto a parked car.

I winced at the sound it made and Katie made a move to help Nick.  I put my arm out, stopping her in her tracks.  We were safe if we stayed with the dog.

Rich turned back to us.  “Come with me, Anna, or I’ll kill him.”

“Don’t do it!”  Katie said.  I wasn’t sure if she was talking to me or to Rich.

“I have to.”  I couldn’t let him kill Nick.  Fortunately, an idea popped into my head.  Desperate times called for desperate actions.

I reached into my purse and took out the salt packets I carried with me as I handed the puppy to Katie.   Walking toward Rich, I ripped open the salt packets.

Rich moved away from Nick.  “I’m glad you’re being reasonable.  I have no intention of hurting you.”

“I know.”  I walked up to him, smiling the entire time.  Once I reached his side, I threw the salt in his face.

I’m not sure what I expected to happen, but I was shocked none-the-less.  He screamed, and clutched at his face.  “What have you done?”  He managed to spit out the words right before he disappeared in mask of black smoke, leaving behind a scorched patch of blacktop.

Nick pulled himself off the car and looked around.  “Why do I smell sulfur?”

“That’s brimstone.”  I took the puppy from Katie, who was fussing over Nick. “Why did you grab him when you did?”

“I received a call from my cousin Rich.  At first, I thought it was a joke, but it wasn’t.  I don’t know who or what that was, but it wasn’t Rich.”

“No, it wasn’t.”

“So who was it?”  Katie asked.

“Didn’t you see his eyes?  They were glowing red from the moment he laid eyes on the puppy.  When he disappeared, he left a patch of scorched tar and the smell of brimstone.  He was a hellhound.”

“What did you throw at him?”  Katie asked.

“Salt.  I wrote a paper for religion class about purifying substances in the Bible.  Salt was one of them.  I thought I’d give it a try.”

“What if it didn’t work?”

I shrugged.  “I saved Nick, and I would have thought of something else.”

“Are you crazy?  He was going to kill you.”

“I don’t think so.  He wanted to get me to Marion Vale’s house.”

“So that he could drain your blood and drag your soul to Hell.”

“Maybe.”

“Why, then?”

I had no idea, but I wasn’t about to go searching for answers in the middle of the night.  “Let’s wait for the Ides of March to pass before doing anything.”

Nick, who had been listening to our exchange had some questions.  We told him what had been going on.  He handled it better than expected.  “After what I saw tonight, of course I believe you.”

“So, what next?”  Katie wanted to know.

“Tomorrow, I ask my grandmother what’s happening.  I have a feeling she knows more about ghosts and supernatural beings than she’s admitted to me.  Tonight, I take Boo home and introduce him to my parents.”

“Boo?”  Katie asked.

“Yes.  Apparently, the little guy puts fear into the hearts of demons.”  I looked at the cute puppy.  He couldn’t have been more than two months old.  He looked like a lab, but things weren’t always what they seemed in Warwick Falls, and the woman in my dream said that help would come in unexpected forms.

He tilted his head and gave me a doggie grin, as if he knew what I was thinking.

We walked back to town.  Before parting company, I informed Nick and Katie that I wanted nothing to do with Rich when he arrived.  I’m sure he was a great guy, but I vowed to never go on a blind date again.

Besides, I planned on dedicating my free time to finding out what was waking up in my seemingly sleepy town.

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2 thoughts on “The Hellhound

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