More Bark Than Bite
I was hanging out with Haloran Fritz smoking a fatty when the idea struck me. We had nothing better to do. No one knew much about Malcolm, but he went to work every day and had been a widower going on, hell, who knew how many years. I hadn’t seen his wife Lucretia since I was a kid.
By the time we got down to the roach end of the joint, I was feeling pretty good, but Fritz and I agreed that we’d feel a whole lot better if we had some money or something we could quickly flip for a few bucks. We were both at that horrible age of twenty, where we still couldn’t buy alcohol. We needed cash plus tip for whichever old alky agreed to buy us a bottle down at the liquor store.
We had nothing else in life. We were losers. My father walked out when I was knee high to a midget. My mom worked her ass off, but she had a tooth for dope and lost any decent job she managed to score. Now she worked at the Dollar General, and that only paid the bills with government assistance.
It was her day off and I wanted to be out of the house. I couldn’t stand being around her. She blamed everything on everyone else. Her lot in life was Dad’s fault for walking out on her, my fault for being a fuck up, her parents’ fault for moving to the city, and of course, the government’s fault for not giving her enough handouts. I wanted to love her, I really did, but she was so easy to hate.
Fritz came from money. A big house on the hill. But that didn’t mean shit. He was raised by nannies and daycare centers. He told me that he once called the nanny 'Momma'. How fucking sad is that? The poor lady had to explain that she wasn’t his mother. Nope, mother and father were way too busy working their asses into an early grave with everything to show for it except love and compassion. At eighteen, Fritz was kicked out of the house, given a few thousand and that was that. Soon enough his money ran out. He moved in with me and lived in the garage. Mom didn’t give a fuck, just so long as Fritz threw her some bud every once in a while.
The problem was, we were at the end of our supply. The roach end, you could say. Why we chose Malcolm’s house, I’m not entirely sure. He lived alone, and we knew his schedule. Like clockwork, he got home at five fifteen everyday. It was just past noon, so that gave us several hours. On top of that, he was an older guy who never made upgrades to his house. Chances were he didn’t have any security inside. Not even a Ring cam at the front door.
We smashed a window in the backyard, reached in, and unlocked it to slide the broken pane out of the way. Fritz climbed inside and unlocked the back door for me. Easy peasy.
But that’s when things got weird. I mean, right off the bat something was wrong. The place smelled horrible. Like rancid meat and garbage left to rot. Malcolm seemed like such a clean man, what with the suit he wore to work everyday. Not a wrinkle to be seen. But this place. . .
Fritz grimaced and covered his nose.
I shook my head. “I think we wandered into the house of our local serial killer, only he doesn’t bury the bodies. Just lives with ‘em.”
Fritz, in a rare moment of resolve, said, “Maybe we should get out of here.”
I paused, considering the proposal. “Naw. We already broke the window. Might as well have a look around. The old man lives alone, right?”
"Yeah," Fritz said. "Maybe his wife didn't die; just left his ass cause of the smell."
The house itself was clean. Only the rancid odor was off putting. Fritz searched a shelf of knickknacks. I think he got more joy out of sliding them onto the ground than he did looking for something we could sell. In the shattering wake of so much delicate crystal crashing onto the ground, he grabbed a small picture frame.
“Here's the old Hungarian bitch.” Fritz held up the picture.
“She was Hungarian?”
“I dunno," Fritz said, still regarding the picture. "I remember she scolded me once when I was just a little boy. My baseball went into their yard. I went to get it. I accidentally stepped on some flowers and she railed me for it. She had a creepy accent. She was drunk, too.”
“That’s pretty much all I remember about her, too. Stumbling around drunk.”
I heard the picture smash against the wall as I entered the kitchen to find out what the awful smell was. In that moment, detecting the odor was more important than finding money or goods to sell.
When I saw it, I said, “Oh fuck.”
“What is it?”
“You gotta see this. Malcolm Gentry is one sick motherfucker.”
Fritz giggled. “What’d you find, some old porn collection or someth—” He stepped behind me and saw it, too. “That can’t be real.”
On an old oak table in the kitchen was a meat grinder with the small legs of what appeared to be a newborn dangling from the top. From the bottom, tendrils of ground meat the color of turned beef hung in the act of filling what appeared to be a dog food bowl with the name 'Thomas' stenciled on the side.
We were frozen in place. The smell became all encompassing. I wanted to puke, but I also just wanted to be the hell away from there. A feeling like we were being watched crept over us like a looming shadow of doom. I scanned the kitchen counters and noticed medical biohazard bags.
“Holy fuck,” I said. “He’s . . .” My brow scrunched up in concentration. It was all too much to process.
A groan and the shifting of weight sounded from within the house. Then there was a dog-like grunt.
“Oh shit," I said, putting it together. "He’s bringing home aborted fetuses and feeding them to his dog."
Fritz shook his head. “I've never seen Gentry with a dog.”
When the garage door opened, Fritz was on his feet running, as if he’d been expecting someone to walk in on us. I hesitated because I most certainly was not expecting an intrusion. Thing was, Fritz ran in the wrong direction. He ran into one of the bedrooms.
“You son of a whore!” Malcolm Gentry—home early for whatever reason—said as he yanked me off balance and flung me onto the floor.
I scrambled for purchase. Mr. Gentry used his briefcase and whacked me across the face. The clasps came undone and a biohazard bag flew out, aborting an abortion across the floor.
Beside me was a wood-burning stove. Malcolm opened the cast iron door and reached inside. He withdrew a blackened handcuff attached to blackened chain and cuffed my right hand. He then went to the door through which Fritz had run and locked it from the outside.
Malcolm paused as if listening. Then he looked me in the eyes. “I’ve watched you two grow up. Of all the kids I’ve seen grow up in this neighborhood, you two were the worst of the lot. It’s no surprise you tried to rob me. Stupid, too. You think I don’t have this place fitted with cameras?”
I said what I thought I would never say were I to find myself in such a situation. “Just let us go. We won’t tell anybody.”
What a sniveling little weasel I must have sounded like.
Mr. Gentry shook his head. “No. You’ve seen too much. This is an absolute betrayal of my privacy.”
Malcolm Gentry looked like a madman. Really, he looked no different than he had when I saw him leave for work that morning, but knowing what I knew put him into an entirely different light. He was clean cut with a moustache that almost didn’t fit a face that might have been a wrestler’s were he to have made different choices in life. He was bulky beneath the crisp suit. I never would have pegged him for a weightlifter.
Calmly walking across the room, Malcolm retrieved the medical-bagged fetus, which was only a few feet away from where I crouched beside the wood burning stove. He held the clasped end of the bag and swung the fetus at my face. I deflected it with my hand, but he did it again. The feeling of being hit with a dead fetus is indescribable. Not that it hurt all that much. It was the knowledge of what he was hitting me with that fucked my head up.
Gentry brought the bag into the kitchen. I couldn’t see him, but I heard a mechanical sound, a sort of whirring. Then the ripping of a bag. Then a deeper whirring and I realized he was grinding the fetus into dog food.
Moments later, Mr. Gentry returned to the living room with the bowl that said 'Thomas' on it. He set it on the ground very near me, and for a second, I thought he expected me to eat the slop.
“You probably don’t remember my son, do you?” Mr. Gentry asked.
I shook my head. Hell, I barely remembered his wife.
“No. He was quite a bit older than you. Maybe your father’s age.” Gentry chuckled. “Do you even know your father?”
I sneered. He knew my pop ran out when I was just a boy.
“Your father was a bully. He grew up in this neighborhood.” Gentry’s expression softened, as if hurt by the reminiscing. “Treated Thomas poorly. Oh so poorly. Got to be where I wouldn’t allow Thomas to go out anymore. I couldn’t bear to see him picked on and ridiculed. It was bad. Real bad. Young boys who go through that sometimes kill themselves, you know. I couldn’t have that.”
Did he say Thomas?
Mr. Gentry stood from his crouched position and walked across the room toward the door he’d locked. He said, “Thomas is a good boy,” and then he opened another door beside locked one. His voice dropped into that of a loving dog owner. “Aren’t you, Thomas? You’re such a good boy!”
On all fours, a thing emerged from the room. Pale, naked, hairy. It made sickening sounds, heavy breathing like a starved dog. Mr. gentry bent down and the thing licked his face with a human tongue.
Gentry laughed and patted the dog-man on the head. “It’s time to eat. Time for goodies. Go get your goodies.”
Mr. gentry pointed toward me. The dog-man looked up. I noticed then that it had modifications. Floppy ears of what looked like human flesh dangled from the sides of its head. The thing even had a tail, thin and rat-like.
The sound that came out of my mouth was embarrassing. Girlish. Terrified.
The thing went into a run on all fours, and I thought for sure I was a dead, but it stopped cold and slammed its face into the food bowl, taking piles of rotten afterbirth and gooey ground infant flesh, relishing in the stuff with sloppy vigor. This close, I saw the ragged stitching that held the large flaps of skin onto the thing's ears. The scar tissue was bumpy where the new flesh was fused to the existing ear. The tail was connected by a knob of infected looking flesh just above the split of his ass cheeks.
“You’ve nothing to fear," Mr. Gentry said. "He won’t hurt you. Not the way he was hurt when he was young. No, in here he’s been nothing but a good boy, and we both like it that way, don’t we?”
Gentry’s voice went all soft and mushy at the end there. The dog-man looked over its shoulder at Gentry and nodded, much too humanly. It was a weird mix of man and animal, but those basic human traits were there enough to make it a horror show.
But how much of its mind had become primal?
That was what I wondered as it finished its putrid meal. Would it attack like a dog if threatened? Humans had fight or flight sensibilities. Thomas had been picked on when he was younger. Surely he was a flight type of guy.
There was a decent length of chain connected to the handcuffs around my wrist, enough for me to cause some serious damage if I played my cards right.
As Thomas licked the last remnants of the bowl, I knew I had to act fast or miss this opportunity. Who knew what else Mr. Gentry had in mind? What else was he capable of? And what about Fritz?
The dog-man looked at me after it lapped up the final bit of minced fetus. I tried to read its eyes, but that was impossible. It regarded me as a curio. How long had it been since the thing had seen a human other than Mr. Gentry?
I’d been sneaking my free hand around a link of chain, distracting Gentry with terrified facial expressions. That’s what he wanted, so that’s what I gave him. And then I gave him something he didn’t see coming. I swung the chain out and looped it around Thomas’ neck, pulling the dog-thing close to me. Thomas made odd sounds, half human, half animal. Malcolm Gentry moved toward me.
“Another step and I break his neck!”
Gentry stopped. His eyes and mouth twisted from shock to anger. “You let him go, you little shit!”
“No. You give me the key to this handcuff or I swear I’ll snap his neck. Won’t be hard. He’s all skinny and malnourished.”
Malcolm made a move and I tightened the chain, causing Thomas to whimper, which in turn caused Malcolm to halt.
“I’m not playing. Give me the key. If you make another shifty move or go for a weapon or anything, he’s dead.”
The anger left Malcolm, replaced with desperation. He shook his head slowly and put his hands out. “Please don’t. I’ll get the key. It’s in the kitchen.”
I tightened my grip on the chain, eliciting more panicked whimpers from Thomas. “You better be quick. Don’t fuck with me or he's dead.”
Shaking, Mr. Gentry slowly moved into the kitchen. A moment later he returned and tossed a key to me. It hit me and bounced onto the floor. I put Thomas into a headlock and grabbed the key with my free hand, which happened to be the one that was cuffed, all the while keeping my attention on Gentry. I put the key into the hand wrapped around Thomas’ neck and unlocked the cuff. I then stood, Thomas gripped in both arms.
“Let him go.”
“You don’t sound so tough now,” I said. “You think it’s cool to chain people up in your house like this? To grind up aborted fetuses for food? You’re a real sick fuck, you know that?”
“Just . . . just let him go. Please.”
Was this some kind of ploy? If I let go of Thomas, was Gentry going to shoot me or something? He looked so sad, so upset. It was as if he were witnessing his boy being bullied again, and again was helpless to stop it.
“I’ll let him go as soon as I get Fritz.”
I moved toward the door Gentry had locked from the outside, all the while holding Thomas tight like a hostage. He smelled like death and body odor. He wasn’t vicious at all. He was a scared puppy dog of a man.
I unlocked the deadbolt on the door and opened it to a black room.
“Fritz, you in there?”
No response. But I could hear something in the dark. I squinted and tilted my head to hear better. My grip on Thomas relaxed as I focused.
“Thomas! Push him, quick!”
In that moment, I was about to pull Thomas tight, but the lanky dog-man slipped out of my embrace and shoved me with an absurd growl. I flew into the dark room, thumping onto the floor. The door closed behind me and the deadbolt clicked. I felt a chill, as if that clicking deadbolt was as final as the lock on a death row prisoner’s cell.
I could hear, through the door, Mr. Gentry’s wavering tear-filled voice cooing his son. Then anger erupted in that voice. “You stupid son of a bitch. I have a guard dog too. A real fierce bitch! You both are too old to be ground up for good boys like my Thomas, but that doesn’t mean you won’t make for a good meal.”
I stood and felt around for the light switch. I flicked it and the room illuminated in great brilliance. It only took a second for my eyes to adjust. There was a lot to take in. The stench hit me first. Similar to the kitchen. Rot. Feces. Urine. This was some wild animal’s lair, however the urine odor was distinctly human.
I didn’t see Fritz at first, but I heard something. A slurping sound. From a large bed across the room. Then I saw him lying there, eviscerated. Something crouched over his body, its face buried deep in Fritz’s abdomen.
The sight of him like that caused me to groan in disgust. Another mortal mistake. The thing crouched over him lifted its head. It was an old woman, that was clear, but her ears had been modified, much like Thomas in the adjoining room, only her ears were pointed up like a Doberman pincher. Her eyes were cataract, face sagging like a grotesque hound dog.
She sniffed the air like an animal, and then she grinned, showing crooked teeth stained red. She lifted a hand, nails long and sharp and red with Fritz’s blood and pointed at me. Her grin widened, and I could see how sharp her teeth were. Crooked or not, they had been filed to points.
Mr. gentry’s voice blasted from behind the door: “Sic 'em, Lucretia!”
She was limber for an old woman, something surely to do with the animal instincts that developed in her brain somehow. She leapt off the bed, growling as she closed the space between us quicker than I could have ever expected. I made the third mistake of my life and turned to run, only there was nowhere to go.
I couldn’t tell whether her teeth or those awful claws were first to sink into my flesh. THE END
Scary stories, creepypastas and dark fiction narrated by Spencer Dillehay
Robert Essig is the author of twenty books including Baby Fights, Infected Voices, and Secret Basements. He has published over 150 short stories, most recently in The Never Dead and Razor Blade in the Bite Sized Candy. Robert is the editor of three small press anthologies, most recently Chew on This! was nominated for a Splatterpunk Award. Robert lives with his family in East Tennessee. Follow his newsletter for updates at https://robertessig.substack.com/.