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Hermy's Run

by Brad Beard

"Now tell me one more time what happened," said Sheriff Pat Wilson to the nine-year-old in front of him. Christine Dapple looked up at him from the chair with a hurt frown

I already told your twice," she said. "I want to go see my mom."

"Your mother is with a very good doctor," said Sheriff Wilson. "But we need your help. I've got a tape recorder here and I'm going to let the doctor hear what you've said so he can help your mother."

Christine sighed. Her eyes were red from crying but that had long passed. Now she only wanted to get away from the Sheriff and see her mother. But if the Sheriff got it on tape perhaps he would leave her alone. So she began.

"We were out at the kennels, me and mom, and we were feeding all the dogs. Then she said that we had to separate the German Shepherd puppies because they'd be old enough to mate any time now. So we went into their run and one of them was growling. It was the big one we call Hermy. Mom got two of the other males out and then went for Hermy. But Hermy snapped at her and then bit onto her hand. And he wouldn't let go. Mom kind of screamed and then she went stiff and her eyes got all big. Then Hermy backed off with a weird look in his eyes and Mom...

Christine choked again. She could not stand the thought of seeing her mother with her face so blank.

"Go on," said Pat Wilson.

"Well," Christine squeezed out. "She just stopped doing anything. She just sat there in a crouch looking around. And she wouldn't talk. It was like she didn't know where she was. Like she didn't know me." Christine took a deep breath. "It was like she didn't know anything at all."

Sheriff Wilson gave a slight frown. Dog bites did not do what Christine was claiming. But each time she told the tale it did not change. In fact, it became more coherent.

"Christine," he said. "What happened next."

"I pulled mom out of the run and latched it shut. She could walk but I had to pull her along. Then I called the hospital and they came and got mom and me."

"Anything else?"

"I'm scared," said Christine. "I think mom's been hurt really bad by Hermy. It's like, it's..."

Christine voice had now become very quiet. Sheriff Wilson looked at her intently. Christine whispered one thing more, "I don't think it's her anymore."

Pat Wilson picked up the phone and dialed the hospital. In a moment he had Doctor Ray Sullivan on the phone.

"Hello Pat," said the doctor. "You're calling about Mrs. Marla Dapple I assume."

"Yes," answered Pat. "How is she?"

"That a good question," Ray replied. "Her physical condition is normal. I can't find anything wrong with her. And that includes blood tests and all the rest. But there she is just sitting there as if her mind is a blank."

"Then it's not a stroke?" asked the Sheriff somewhat surprised.

"I checked for that first," answered Dr. Sullivan. "I don't know what happened. Maybe she got the hell scared out of her or something. It's in her mind whatever it is."

"Her daughter said it happened because of a puppy bite to the hand," said Pat with the right amount of sarcasm in his voice.

"I saw the marks on her hand," said the doctor. "But this isn't from any dog bite."

"Alright," said Pat. "I'll keep looking for what it could have been."

"So will I," replied Dr. Sullivan.

Pat Wilson hung up the phone and thought for a moment. The dogs from the kennel in which Marla Dapple had been bitten had been taken to the pound. The dogs and the location of the incident were his only two things go on. He would call the pound and then go out to the Dapple's dog kennels and see the scene for himself. He dialed again and the phone rang as he pondered Christine's story. Something had definitely happened in the run but he doubted the puppy had caused it. He had considered it a stroke or even that the dog had been carrying a disease, but Dr. Sullivan had ruled those both out.

The Sheriff jerked slightly as the sound of a dropped phone receiver came through the phone.

"Hello," he said.

He waited a second, as there was no answer. "Hello?" he tried again. There was the sound of something clunking against the phone again. "Hello," he demanded.

Then the sheriff frowned as the sound of an animal sniffing came through the phone.

" Is this a joke?" he spoke loudly into the phone.

Then through the phone came a guttural sound and the phone clunked loudly again. This was a person, thought the Sheriff.

"Hello?" he said with a loud and slightly worried tone.

Suddenly there was a loud crash of breaking glass followed by screams of fear. The skin on the back of his neck shrank as he caught the utter mindlessness of the screams. Like monkeys, or worse.

Pat slammed down the phone and grabbed the radio. "Alan, you out there?"

"Right here Sheriff," came the reply.

"I think we've got trouble at the dog pound. Meet me there as soon as you can. And wait for me to get there before you go in."

"Is it that bad?" asked Alan.

"I don't know," answered Pat. "I'll see you in a few minutes."

Merna Gatarmi, as she called herself, sat at a table spread with tarot cards. Her face was in a frown. A town this size rarely had more than idle gossip to divine. But the cards tonight were awful. Three times death had shown its face. And evil was present as well. She took a breath and turned the next card, a messenger.

As if summoned by the cared there was a quick, light knock on her front door. Merna rose quickly with her colored gown swishing around her, paced to the door. She opened it to see Christine Dapple standing there with frightened eyes.

"Good Lord child," said Merna. "Come inside. What ever is wrong?"

"How did you know...?" began Christine.

"Really, young lady," Merna answered. "Your aura is wrapped around you as tight as a drum."

"Oh," was all Christine could think to say.

Merna led Christine to the card table and sat her down quickly. She sat across from the girl and leaned forward.

"What have you come to tell me?" she asked.

Christine was taken back by the old woman and hesitated.

But after several seconds she began.

"It's my mom. There's something really wrong. She got bit by a dog and now she's acting like, like a zombie. She doesn't understand us when we talk to her. She looks at me like I'm just a thing."

"What's this?" asked Merna. "How did it happen?"

"The dog bit her," said Christine. "It ruined her. It's like she's not a person anymore."

"Where is she?" asked Merna.

"The hospital," answered Christine.

"Alright," said Merna. "We'll go there."

A short while later, Merna and Christine walked quickly down the hall towards the room where Marla Dapple was being kept.

" Now if she's sunk way down in," Merna was saying "it could take a long time. And these hospital people aren't too fond of me. I don't suppose you could release her. Where's your father?"

"He's gone till Tuesday," answered Christine in a hurt tone.

"Here we are," announced Merna.

She turned to the door and pushed it open. She strode in to the room three steps and stopped. Mrs. Dapple was sitting up in bed looking absently at the wall. At the sound of the door she turned her head and looked over with a curious yet unintelligent look. Christine winced at the sight and looked up at Merna. But Merna's face was one of shock. Her eyes were wide and her mouth hung open. Then her body jerked and she screamed. She whirled about and rushed from the room. The door slammed and Marla Dapple looked down at Christine.

"Oh mom," whispered Christine and opened the door and left her behind. To Christine's left Merna Gatarmi was hurrying down the hall. Even from behind it was clear she was clutching her arms to her chest. Christine ran down the hall and overtook her, grabbing her colored robe.

"What's wrong?" demanded Christine fearfully.

"Child," answered Merna. "You should go home. I can't help you."

Merna pulled away from Christine's hand and hurried down the hall. But Christine kept pace.

"What's so scary?" she pleaded. "You have to tell me. It's my mom."

Merna looked at Christine as she paced down the hall. "You were right about one thing. That's not your mother in there."

"Then where-who is it?" insisted Christine.

"It's nobody," hissed Merna.

Christine frowned fearfully and slowed, letting Merna outpace her. In front of Merna, far down the hall, flashing police lights showed through the glass doors of the main entrance. Sheriff Wilson and one of his police officers were pulling two people from the back of one of their cars. They were dressed in white lab coats, which showed up clearly in the darkness outside. Merna's stride slowed as she entered the waiting area, her eyes fixed on the men outside. Christine caught up to her again and laid her hand on her arm. The two police officers opened the doors and led the men in white jackets into the lobby. Merna let out a low groan and backed against the wall. Pat Wilson looked over at her and frowned in disapproval. Then he led the man he was guiding over to the reception desk. Both men in white coats had vacant yet curious stares.

Merna finally recovered herself and called out loudly to the Sheriff. "Where did you get those men?"

The Sheriff turned and looked at her darkly. "None of your business, Merna," he said sternly. "Stay out of this."

"That's our vet," said Christine. "And his assistant." She winced and spoke again,

"They look like mom does."

"More than you know," said Merna

Sheriff Wilson turned as he heard Christine's voice. After a seconds thought he asked, "Christine, would Hermy go home to the kennel if he were out running around?"

"You mean he got loose?" asked Christine.

Merna's face became angry and she spoke, "The dog bit them, didn't it. It is the dog. Pat Wilson that creature is evil. It has to be stopped."

"Merna stop it," demanded the Sheriff. "I don't need your nonsense. Not tonight. I've got a real problem on my hands. That dog is carrying some kind of disease and I've got to destroy it before it infects someone else."

"It's not a disease," Merna shot back. "Those two men have had something taken from them. They've got no souls."

"No souls?" said the Sheriff in consternation.

"No souls," said Merna flatly. "They have the auras of simple animals or insects. There's no humanity about them."

"That's enough," said Sheriff Wilson coldly. "I don't want to hear this."

"You never do," replied Merna.

The Sheriff turned and signed a paper the receptionist was holding out for him. Then two orderlies appeared and began to walk the two veterinarians down the hall. The Sheriff sighed and turned back to Merna and Christine.

"Christine," he said. "I might need your help out at your kennel. It's dark and I don't know my way around. But you can stay in the car. You'll be safe."

Christine nodded her approval and the Sheriff motioned her over. Together they walked from the hospital as Merna watched. The Sheriff and Christine were pulling away when Christine looked out the window to see a dark shadow of a man at the edge of the bushes by the hospital drive. Something about the figure sent a chill through her and she shook.

" Its OK honey," said the Sheriff.

The other police officer that had accompanied Sheriff Wilson got in his car and started it up. Suddenly the passenger door flew open and Merna Gatarmi jumped in and slammed the door shut.

She fastened her safety belt as she spoke.

"You can spend half an hour fighting me, Alan. Or you can just take me to the kennels with you."

The officer gave a growling sigh of defeat and slammed the car into drive.

"You're an absolute menace, Merna" he said. "And you'll keep your mouth shut on the way or I'll throw you out as I drive."

He stepped on the accelerator and the car shot from the hospital drive.

Sheriff Wilson and Christine pulled slowly up the long wooded drive to the kennels looking all around for any sign of the dog. Suddenly Christine gave a startled cry as she saw a shape running through the trees.

"Look Sheriff Wilson." Her face became confused as the car stopped. "That's Webster, Sheriff Wilson. How did he get out?"

Pat Wilson looked to see an Irish Setter running off through the trees. A moment later another dog ran in front of the headlights a hundred yards in front of the car.

"Someone let all the dogs out," cried Christine in dismay.

The Sheriff shook his head and his brow wrinkled. This was not good. The puppy would now be one of who knew how many dogs. And this was a very odd night for such vandalism. He then took his foot off the brake and drove forward again.

Soon the kennels with their many sheds and runs came into view. The Sheriff drove up and stopped near the end of one of the long enclosures. They sat in an eight-acre clearing, which sloped down away from the drive.

"Which one of these was Hermy's run?" asked the Sheriff.

"It's the next set of runs down," replied Christine. "He was in the middle run."

"OK," said the Sheriff. "You stay in the car. I'll be back if I need you again. And lock the doors. I don't like it that someone was out here opening up these cages."

He looked around carefully and then opened the door. He stepped out and scanned around again. Then he shut the door and walked off. Behind him he heard the car doors lock. Up the drive he saw the headlights of another car coming through the trees. That would be Alan. Pat Wilson turned again to the kennels and began to walk. He unclipped the button to the leather strap over his gun and continued to scan the area carefully.

Down the drive Alan stopped as he sighted the first dog. It was a full grown German Shepherd and it had run in front of the car only thirty feet ahead.

"Don't cause trouble, Merna," he said as he looked over at her and shut off the car. "I'll make this quick."

"I wouldn't think of it," she answered.

Alan made a disgusted face and stepped from the car. The German Shepherd was now a hundred feet away. Alan pulled out his gun and walked towards it. When he had crossed most of the distance, the dog gave a startled look and ran off into the trees. Alan cursed and turned back to the patrol car. When he was ten feet from it he called to Merna.

" I'm gonna go up with Pat. I can't chase this thing around alone."

As he reached for the car door he was suddenly stuck from behind. He slammed into the car and turned quickly. Before him was a large German Shepherd puppy. It snarled fiercely and lunged forward biting his leg just above the knee. Alan cried out in pain and brought his gun over to point at the dog's head. But before he could fire he moaned and his head swayed. Inside the car Merna screamed and grabbed her face with her hands. The puppy let go and Alan's eyes blinked dumbly.

Merna looked at Alan's body with terror in her eyes. He took a shambling step forward and she cringed. Then he began to mill about the edge of the road looking at the trees. Merna looked on horrified and then turned her head away.

Suddenly the dog's face slammed into the window inches from her face. It barked at her savagely through the glass with bared teeth and she screamed again. She backed quickly away from the window and positioned herself in the middle of the front seat. The dog snarled at the window for a moment more and then dropped down onto four legs again. She watched with wide eyes as the dog circled the car. Alan was now only thirty feet away but it now paid no attention to him. Then, as if on a sudden 'impulse, the dog shot off into the trees. Merna watched it go until she could no longer see it. She slid over to the driver's seat but then saw that the keys were not in the car. She looked out to see Alan now over sixty feet away roaming off through the trees.

By the kennels Pat Wilson paced carefully around the second set of kennels. At the back he found an open door that led into the interior of the enclosed part of the kennel. He pushed the door open and went inside. His flashlight lit the interior and he saw only stores of dog food and other items for the care of dogs. He went back outside and came around to the chain-link enclosed runs. He saw that the gates at the ends of these runs had also been unlatched and were hanging open.

In the Sheriff's car, Christine looked across the clearing and saw Hermy break from the trees in a full run. She looked back at the sheriff and saw that his back was to the dog.

"Sheriff," she cried and beat on the glass. "Look out."


But it was clear that he didn't hear her. She looked back at the dog and saw that it was now half way across the clearing. In desperation she threw open the car door and jumped out screaming.

"Look out behind you," she cried.

Pat Wilson whirled around and saw the dog as it turned in its path. In an instant he realized it was heading for the girl.

"Get in the car," he yelled.

Christine froze in terror for a second and then turned and ran. The car was only ten feet away but she knew that Hermy was almost upon her. She heard his small feet slapping and digging into the ground at a frightening speed. She threw open the door and dove inside and landed full length on the seat. She jumped up and spun around. The door was wide open and she saw that Hermy was almost to the car. The sound of a gunshot blasted through the air and she jumped for the car door. Her body stretched between the door and the seat and the dog lunged forward. With a scream she yanked at the door as the dog leapt.

The car door swung and slammed against the dog's head, pinning it between the door and the car body. It snarled fiercely and shoved forward, snapping inches from her hands as she pulled at the door. Christine screamed and pulled with all her strength, but the dog's body was too sleek. It pushed forwards snapping savagely and gained several inches. It's sharp teeth caught the skin of her wrist and the skin tore. Christine screamed again. Then outside the car the Sheriff arrived. He kicked the door and the dog yelped. It yanked its head free and turned on the Sheriff. The gun came down as the dog leapt up. The dog's teeth snapped on steel and flesh and the Pat Wilson cried out. The dog's bite let up from the gun and it dropped as Pat stepped back. The dog snarled and lunged for his leg and his hand shot to the dog's neck. His fingers grabbed the dog's fur and the dog's teeth snapped against his pants. In a desperate move he spun and threw the dog with all his might. It flew ten feet and rolled and the Sheriff dove for the car. He threw open the door and jumped inside next to Christine. He slammed the door closed just as the dog hit the car. It snarled and bit savagely at them and smeared the window with its drool. Pat Wilson breathed heavily and looked over at Christine.

Down the road Merna stepped from the car. Perhaps the gunshot she had heard had killed the evil dog. Alan's body was now barely visible through the trees, wandering aimlessly. She hurried into the woods after him, looking about fearfully. Then to her left she saw a movement. She turned quickly and saw the dark shape of a man standing forty feet off between the trees. As her eyes fell upon the man her heart went full of fear. The man's aura was as black as the shadows. She froze in her tracks and the man stepped forward. As he approached through the trees Merna began to breath quickly in panic but her legs would not move. When the dark figure was six feet away she found her voice and spoke.

"What are you?" she hissed.

The man's voice was deep and smooth, "You know who I am, Merna. You foresaw me in the cards did you not?"

Merna gasped in fear and the shadow stepped closer. "What do you want with me?" she managed to say.

"I want to take your soul from you."

"I'm not bound for hell," she breathed.

"Not hell," it said. "I have found a new toy. It can take your soul so I do not have to bother."

"The dog," said Merna.

"Yes," said the dark figure, stepping one stride closer. "I no longer need to tend to the souls this creature eats. For in his gullet they are consumed. A true end to an eternal soul."

" Forever gone?" hissed Merna in terror. "It consumes their life itself?"

"Yes, Merna," it said. "It is my perfect tool. Your life will end forever and ever tonight. Tonight you will truly die."

The dark creatures face was now only a foot from hers and she could smell death on its breath. She shut her eyes and shuddered.

Then she said, "Be gone foul spirit."

The wind brushed against her face and the smell was gone. She opened her eyes and found herself alone. She took a gasping breath and screamed. Then she pushed herself away from the nearest tree and ran. In mindless terror she sprinted as fast as her old body would take her. A minute later she broke into the clearing still running. With an exhausted gasp she ran for the buildings she saw.

Inside the car, Pat and Christine saw her appear, and looked in fear at the dog which sat just on the other side of the car.

"What's she doing out here," snapped Pat. "We've got to keep its attention."

Christine pounded on the window and the dog lunged at the glass in a new rage. In the clearing, Merna neared the kennels.

Fifteen feet from the closest one she stumbled and fell. As her body hit the ground she grunted loudly. On the other side of the car the dog's ears pricked up and it dropped to the ground. The Sheriff rolled down the window on Merna's side and yelled, "Merna get up. It's coming. Get in one of the runs."

Merna pushed herself to her feet and the dog came around the front of the car. With a snarl it dashed forward. Merna groaned an exhausted cry of dismay and ran for the nearest kennel gate. The dog dashed at her and the distance closed. Merna grabbed the gate in front of her and pushed it inward, nearly failing. She pushed her body around the gate and the dog dove at her. She shoved at the gate and the dog slammed into it. The gate swung back a foot and Merna pushed it back. But the dog leapt up and bit her fingers, which gripped the gate. The bite held and Merna screamed. She yanked her hand away and the flesh tore. She fell back against the fence at her side and saw that the dog would get in. She grabbed the fence and climbed desperately up. The gate swung inward as the dog lunged against it and Merna cried out in desperation. She reached higher on the fence and pulled herself up as far as she could in the last instant she had. But it was not high enough. The dog leapt up and its teeth sank into her calf. With a scream of pain Merna fell off the fence onto her back. The dog lost its grip as she fell and as she landed it lunged again and bit onto her foot. Merna screamed as she felt a terrifying pull into the dog's mouth. Then suddenly four terrific booms split the air. There was a moment of doubt but then the dog let go and fell to the ground. Merna sat up to see the dog struggling in its last moment with blood running down its side. She stared into its e until the look in its eyes faded and it lay still. Sheriff Wilson came into the enclosure and held a hand out for Merna. She took it and stood.

"Thank you, Pat," she said. "That thing was killing me."

"Or worse," said the Sheriff.

"If you only knew how close that was to the truth, Pat," she said. "Let's get out of here."

" For once I agree with you," he said.

The two of them turned and walked towards the car where Christine waited.

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Revised November 19, 2002
by David Kraybill
©2002 Beard-Kraybill Studios