American Hellhound, Dartmoor Book 6
Copyright © 2017 by Lauren Gilley
“You don’t want to get lost out on the moors at night,” old Donnie Rawlins said, his English accent thickening as the tale began, the firelight licking across his grizzled features, catching like sparks in his eyes. A low breeze scudded across the hard-packed dirt beneath their camp chairs, a faint whistle that could have been branches, could have been voices, could have been the faraway baying of unseen hounds.
Kenny cinched the hood of his jacket tight around his face and snuggled hard into his Uncle Duane’s side. He was eleven now, and would have died to be caught doing such a thing in the daylight. But night lay upon the mountains now, and there were things staring at them; he could feel their eyes through the gloom.
“You see, it’s hard enough to find your way in the day,” Donnie continued. “Everything looks the same out there. Hills, and bogs, and rocks. The ponies know the way, clever things, but a man…a man’s just a man, and he wasn’t made for the dark.
“You can’t find the landmarks with a torch. And you can’t remember which way home lies. You’re just as liable to step in a bog as to tumble down a cleft in the rocks and break your neck.
“You hear things, in the dark.” And here his voice dropped low and rough, full of spooks. “Sounds like you’ve never heard before. You see things. Lights. And you worry it might be fairies until you remember what else might be out there. Watching. Listening.
“And then every once in a while, some poor unfortunate traveler comes across a set of eyes, glowing red in the dark. And he smells corpse flesh, and hears a growl like thunder.” This he mimicked with a sound deep in his throat that left Kenny’s scalp prickling. “And the man knows, then, that he’s been found. Hunted – and rightfully so, ‘cause he’s a sinner same as all of us. Blood on his hands, and evil in his heart.
“And it ain’t no living creature that’s come for him. No. It’s old Black Shuck. The black dog. The Lean Dog. It’s one or it’s all of ‘em. Don’t matter. They’re all dark creatures. You see, sonny, when you make a deal with the devil, he always collects his price. And when he can’t find you…well…he sends his hounds after you.”
Kenny gulped a deep breath and bit his lip, bones quivering inside his skin.
But it was Collier who spoke up, and saved Kenny from total embarrassment.
“Mr. Rawlins? We don’t got hellhounds here in Tennessee, do we?”
The old Englishman laughed, head thrown back, firelight bathing his throat red, as if it’d been cut. “Rest assured,” he said when he’d caught his breath. “They’re a little different over here.” He fingered his Lean Dogs cut, the leather worn and cracked from age and wear. “But you’ve got ‘em.” And all the men around the fire let out a loud war whoop.
Donnie laughed again. “Let’s hear it for the American Hellhounds!”
The wind howled again, and something deep and dormant in the center of Kenny’s heart answered.
The first rule of a good ghost story: make sure it’s real.
On the Labor & Delivery floor of Knoxville’s largest hospital, a nurse with a kind smile handed Denise Camden Lowe her new baby girl, wrapped in a white blanket, small wrinkled red face peeking out from the folds. “Here she is,” the nurse said, cooing.
The child was just a little wisp of a thing, a week early, and small; she weighed nothing. But Denise felt the heaviness of the burden that had been placed in her tired arms; felt it in the way her husband squeezed her shoulder with oblivious joy.
Raising a child was a heavy, heavy task. Already, Denise was planning her girl’s future, from preschool to walking down the aisle. There were so many lessons to impart, so many good habits to instill, so much wisdom to offer.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” Arthur asked. “Our Maggie.”
Somewhere below the window, down on the street, she heard the hum and throb of motorcycle engines, and she shuddered.
“Are you cold? Let me get your sweater,” Arthur said, moving from the bed.
Denise glanced from her new daughter’s face toward the window, dark and smeared with streetlamp gold, the street not visible from this height. The Harley engines revved, and swooped, and then slowly faded into the distance.
“There, there,” she whispered to her baby. “They’re gone.”
She thought, faintly, of the leather-clad outlaws of their city, their shiny machines and their scarred knuckles. That world would never touch her baby, she vowed silently. Never. Maggie was going to have it all. Maggie was going to be a princess…
The second rule of a good ghost story: make sure your leading lady’s smart.
And hella ferocious.
Not just anyone can put a devil dog on a leash.