Witness to the Mighty One’s Arrival
By Patrick M. Tracy
“Hello?” Kelly found herself saying just that, looking down into the shadowed depths of the hole. Why would she say it? Was there someone, something down there? Shit, she hoped not. Still, there it was, coming out querulous and quavery, just like in all the cheap horror flicks. At least she wasn’t out here with the intention of getting laid or smoking some dope. Were that the case, she supposed werewolves and vampires would struggle into existence, just to do her in. That was the logic, wasn’t it? Go off alone into the scary spot, preferably to do something naughty, and you’ll be killed.
But she wasn’t here to do anything but her job, which was Animal Control for the township. More bluntly, she was a dog catcher, and there was a feral mutt out here somewhere. It made sense that the little guy would probably be bedding down in these old and uncovered basements where the tornado had come through a few years back. What didn’t make sense was that feeling of her own hackles raised. No one had said a thing about this little pup being violent. He was just crapping on lawns and running off with kid’s toys. He’d be inoculated and maybe end up with an adoptive family. Worst case, he’d go quiet into that good night.
Kelly shook the snatcher in her hand, trying to overcome the feeling. Maybe she’d just fake sick and go home. She hadn’t done that in a long time, not since she’d broken up with Kurt, and didn’t have anything particularly fun, or naughty, to get herself up to. Maybe today was the day. But no. She’d just rattle around the house all day and end up watching bad porn while eating her third grilled cheese sandwich. That was no way to live. She’d have to get over whatever it was and get back to work.
“Come on, pup,” she sighed. “Let’s both get this over with.”
She fished out her small but potent flashlight and aimed it down into the exposed foundation and basement of the old apartment house, a sprawling subterranean lair of junk and fallen in floor joists. She saw a glint in there, a flash. She kept trolling the light around, looking for something. It was dark back here, within the trees. Especially this early, before the sun really got it together and reached the middle of the sky.
Kelly caught a furry flank in the weird blue of the LED light’s beam. “Yep, you’re down there, little mutt,” she said. “No weirdies, just little dogs with no tags.”
He was a friendly little guy, though. He slowly edged to an open spot, standing nine feet down, looking up at her with a tentatively wagging tail. Kelly squatted down, keeping the snatcher out of sight. It wouldn’t reach that far, and if she spooked the animal, it’d be hell getting him out of the rat’s warren down there.
“Hey, there, handsome,” she said in her soothing voice. “How’s about coming up and seeing Miss Kelly this morning. We can take a ride in my truck.”
The dog blinked at her, his tail’s swishing accelerating a bit. He was a sad looking little dude, all dirt and mangy gray fur. He looked like he was predominantly terrier, but maybe with some weiner dog in there, too. A little, wiry dog that probably got by eating trash and catching the odd field mouse now and then.
“That’s a good buddy. Come on up and see the dog catcher, now.” Kelly had found that it didn’t matter much what was said, as long as the tone of voice was right. That meant that dogs were harder to bullshit than people, she thought. She had the knack, though, after doing the job for six years.
The stray looked back into the dim morass of the fallen in basement’s further reaches, suddenly nervous. Without meaning to, Kelly stood up and took a step back. That prickling was all over now, from the nape of her neck right down to her tailbone. She made a little noise in her throat that she wasn’t proud of.
The pup looked up at her, then back at the darkness. Now, she heard something, a large and fundamental shifting. The large structural pieces jolted slightly. A long support beam rose up about four inches in the middle of the trash heap down there. Glass fell in and cracked with a sharp sound. The air filled with an unwholesome odor, like chicken meat gone rotten.
Suddenly terrified and desperate, the stray jumped with all his might, little claws scratching against the concrete edges of the basement foundation. He was a good little leaper, but nowhere near good enough to make a nine foot rise straight up. He fell back into the dimness, and she saw something…she wasn’t sure what…emerge. It was like a coiled mass of tissue, almost like a snake, but not exactly. It moved like it had no bone, and it hit the stray so hard that blood sprayed upward like a mist. It got on Kelly’s shoes, even a few feet back. The dog was dead so fast that it didn’t make a sound, dead more thoroughly than if it’d be run over by a bus.
Something down deep in her brain screamed at her to run.
She heeded the warning.
Kelly was in the cab of her Animal Control truck in a moment, and her shaking hand twisted the ignition key so hard that she almost broke the switch. As soon as the engine caught, she dropped the transmission into drive and punched the throttle. Rocks and dirt sprayed from the spinning tires.
In her side view mirror, she saw something huge rising from the ground. She didn’t keep looking, but mashed the pedal to the floor and hunched over the wheel. The township’s vehicle hit a hundred and three down Rural Route five and topped out. It was two towns over before Kelly realized she was crying. The wheels on that truck slowed once she hit the highway, but they didn’t stop until the gas tank flirted with empty.
That was the first day of the apocalypse.