bookishgeek: (Garfield - stare)
[personal profile] bookishgeek
"The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep." - Robert Frost

The fingers of trees scraped the top of his car, and an involuntary shiver flung itself up and down his spine - crescendo, decrescendo. From the backseat of his worn-out '94 Saturn, Tennyson began to growl faintly. Matthias cursed under his breath and slowly slid the car to a stop from its slow crawl, gravel softly crunching.

"How did we get so far into these woods?" he asked himself, picking up his phone from the center console and poking a few buttons, navigating menus in the effortless way only a millennial could. "I thought the cabin was near the outskirts." Tennyson let out another growl and stood up, poking his head between Matthias and his phone and letting a glob of drool dribble onto the screen.

"Come on, Tenny!" Matthias unlocked the doors and stood up, opening the backseat doors and letting the dog lumber out. "Go pee." he pointed into the woods and the St. Bernard huffed to himself, shuffling into the brush at the side of the gravel path. Matthias flipped through a few more phone screens and held it up, almost reverently, trying to get a signal. But it was no use: these woods were far from the beaten path, and though Matthias had a feeling he was nowhere near Cory's cabin, he couldn't get a damn signal to call him. He should have known printed directions or a paper map would have helped. All he knew was that it was somewhere in these woods, a cabin and an outhouse, with a New Orleans Saints flag hanging outside. Fuck.

"I guess we have to go back the way we came and see if we took the wrong side road," he muttered to himself, wrenching open the car door again. "Tennyson, come on!"

No response.


A faint "whuff" came from deeper into the brush, and a consistent thwack-thwack-thwack that sounded like the dog's massive tail whaling on a small sapling or tree. "Come, Tennyson, we have to go!"


Matthias sighed, stuck his phone in his pocket, re-tied his boot laces, pocketed his car keys, and slowly began to creep through the woods. Tennyson's tail kept thwacking against the trees and he followed the sound like a sonar, stumbling one way or the other. He pulled his phone out after a while, when it grew dark and there was no longer a discernible trail. Shining the light down illuminated the pine nettles and leaves that coated the ground, and he continued forward, pressing deeper and deeper into the woods.

The noise grew closer still, and Matthias came up over a small ridge to see the faintest, shadowy outline of his dog standing on the other side of a pond, wagging his tail, letting the silhouette of a man pet his head as he happily thudded his tail against a small pine sapling. Double fuck.

"Sir, I apologize! I hope he didn't corner you - sometimes he has trouble with personal space, he's still pretty young. Come on, you big galoot." Matthias beckoned to the dog with a hand outstretched, but it was like Tennyson didn't even hear him. The man kept caressing the dog's head, and though it was incredibly dark there was enough of a backlight for Matthias to notice the man silently lift his head, looking at him while still caressing the dog. He was wearing a larger-style fedora, it seemed - the kind the old morticians wore in Deadwood when he watched it, curled up on the sofa, Tennyson at his feet panting heavily.

"Sir. Can I please have my dog back?" Matthias set his jaw, took another step forward. He was maybe ten to twelve yards away from the man and if Tennyson wouldn't come to him, then he'd have to come to Tennyson. He couldn't see it, but he felt the man lock eyes with him. Thwack-thwack-thwack. Pet, pet, pet.

"Tennyson?" Nothing. Was he even there at all? Was he astral projecting, or dead? Matthias took another step forward and the man dropped his gaze to the dog, bending to whisper something in his ear. Tennyson's tail - a waving flag - immediately dropped to half-mast, and the man turned and began to walk away, his duster coat flapping behind him. This was the part where Tennyson should have come running, turned tail and run home. But the dog trotted after the man, like Matthias had never existed and these woods were his home now.

Infuriated, Matthias began to look for a route around the small pond but didn't seem to see any way out but through. He stepped into the mud on the banks and pressed forward, murmuring curse words under his breath. "Just wait until I Snapchat this," he muttered, angry and bitter. "You're never gonna hear the end of this, Tennyson."

When he reached the other side, he noticed what appeared to be a small, one-room cabin with a lamp or candle on the porch, flickering faintly. He heard the crunching of leaves as the shadowy man and Tennyson moved towards it, and Matthias took the opportunity to break into a run.

The man heard Matthias crashing through the underbrush and simply stopped at the front door to the cabin, folded his arms. Tennyson plopped right down at his feet, panting happily. As Matthias approached, he unfolded his arms and placed one hand gently on the dog's massive head. It was barely bright enough to see with this light source out here - what turned out to be a standard oil lamp. As his eyes adjusted to the light, Matthias saw it - a tattered New Orleans Saints flag, mounted to a post by the door.

"Where is Cory?" he shouted at the man, who folded his arms again in response. Matthias tried to make eye contact, but he couldn't sustain it - there seemed to be no pupils there, no iris - just white. All white. "What did you do with my friend?"

Matthias lurched forward, wrapping an arm around Tennyson. "We need to go call the police, Tenny. We have to go, now." The dog peered up at Matthias, tail not moving, like he was a total stranger to him but it was still pleasant to get the attention anyway.

The shadowy man turned to Matthias, adjusted the seat of his hat and leaned forward to Matthias's ear, a gesture far too intimate for the circumstances, a fifth grade girl telling a secret to her very best friend.

"Follow me." he whispered, and it was a snake's death rattle, the clicking of hollow bones, the whooshing noise of wind whipping through a cavern, the stillness during the first snow of the season. It was life and death and pain all rolled up into two little words, and he felt that same shiver again - crescendo, decrescendo - and suddenly ...

The shadowy man stood up, patted Tennyson's head again. He opened the door to the cabin and gestured inside, wordlessly. Matthias did as he was told.
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