GRIM NIGHT

Read with Illustrations

I have never lived a saintly life. My gang and I found ourselves in many a dangerous and unsavory predicament. Taking that stagecoach was a damn mess but we came out of it alright.

I don’t rightly know how I came to find myself in these dark woods.

There is precious little moonlight. I reckon I could make out the level clearing of what must be a road cut into the mountainside. I scramble through the steep brush up to it.

Perhaps my horse threw me bolting from some terror. But there is no sign of either.  

Looking side to side, both directions revealed only tree-filled blackness. I cannot discern which direction would lead me up or down this mountain.

It’s far too dark to see much less follow any tracks.

Too much whiskey had never found me so forgetful and astray.

Night noises fill the air on all sides of me. The crackling of life awake in the darkness.

I look up to the heavens unable to settle on a course of action.

When I lower my eyes back to the road before me I am met with two massive glowing eyes. They blaze like lanterns in the night.

A huge black dog moves towards me. I stand frozen still. I’m unarmed, my holster dreadfully empty.

The great hound stops a short distance from me. It stares me down as if to test my metal. We face off this way, neither one of us moving until my spirit can take it no more.  I move to back away, hoping to leave without exciting the beast to attack.

The hound makes a low grumbling sound, faintly at first but growing louder. Not a growl but a rumble. The further I moved from him the louder it became. Fearful of provoking the beast I go still once more.

Strike me down, the dog lifts his tail and seems to wag its approval. As if the animal is pleased with my obedience!

The black dog turns and begins to walk away. After a few steps, it pauses to look back at me with its huge glowing eyes.

Steeling myself, I dare to take a step forward. My progress is met with another wag of approval. A few slow steps more.  The black dog leads and I follow him along the lonely road.

At times the black dog ranges so far ahead of me that I lose sight of him in the darkness.  Without fail, I find him waiting around the next bend, shepherding me onwards.

By and by, he walks beside me near enough that if I dared to reach out I could touch his massive shoulders.

His shining eyes that at first sight struck me to my very soul now are a reassurance to me.  We walked together for a time I could not measure.

To pass the time and in a small way comfort myself, I talk aloud to the black dog. I know it to be foolish but as I chatter, I ask the animal its name. I know he cannot tell me if he had been given one at all. I call him Blackie.  

I believe the hound to be a ‘him’ from his mighty build. In the dim moonlight, I cannot see to confirm other physical qualities.

Through the dense trees, I can see the tiny lights of a village at the base of the mountain. Although I cannot see him now, it seems that Blackie has been leading me down the right track after all.

I can hear the sound of horses moving fast and the clatter of a stagecoach long before I see their lantern lights winking through the trees.

They are upon me rapidly. The driver’s whip cracking, the horses are at full gallop. Blinded but the lanterns I only catch a glimpse of the occupants as they look back the way they came. I could have sworn I recognised Smithe from our gang with his gold-teeth grimacing and gleaming.

I shout and wave my arms hoping to halt them but they have thundered past without so much as a glance my way. They ride as though the devil himself pursued them through the night.

I notice the black dog is at my side. The coach rattles out of sight around a twist in the road and I can hear the dog’s deep growl.  A growl so deep and powerful I mistook it for the roar of the coach’s wheels. Teeth bared, the beast seems to have swelled to double in size.

Shaken, I curse and remark aloud about their haste and disregard. But the black dog is no longer at my side. I can see his eyes, a distance down the road, burning in the dark. After a moment I can only shrug and follow him towards the village I had spied below. The few lights seem brighter and closer now. I think I can make out the steeple of a church against the inky sky.

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