The Master's Hounds

The Master's Hounds

A Story by M.A.Alexander
"

A short story about some dogs and some ghosts and some weird stuff.

"

A long time ago, before the desert existed and when Polaris still stood, a stranger walked Rubicon alone. He was a victim of heartbreak, the most vicious kind, and he still seethed with that heady blend of sadness and rage which only love in its withered state could produce.

Days away from The Radiant City, along a wide road of asphalt and grit, he came upon a refueling station seemingly long abandoned. Its gas pumps spurred up from the ground like a spine along the roadway and the metal frame over the building extended like the skeleton of a long dead beast; there was a sign, precariously hanging from a tall metal beam, it read Sir Henry's, and the stranger didn't know what that meant.

Behind the station stood a house, large but not modern, made of wood and concrete like they used to make before the stars changed shape, and at the doorway of the house sat a corpse in a rocking chair, at its side a large, muscly mastiff. As the stranger approached the corpse raised its head, and then raised its body from the chair. Then it raised its hand in a greeting, or perhaps in warning, as in the other hand its bony fingers were wrapped about a pistol.

Not a corpse at all then, just a very old woman. All humans looked equally dead to the stranger, the veil of a dying universe being so tight about their faces.

"You come to drive me off my land?" Called the woman in a shrill yet sturdy voice when the stranger was still some ways away. He looked at the would-be corpse brandishing the gun in his direction.

"No." He called back.

"Don't look like it, no?" She replied. "Come on over then."

The man obliged.

"What you need?" Asked the old woman, a lady cadaver thought the stranger. "Fuel? Wadda? Food?"

She was dressed in ropy overalls, a thick canvas material stretched over her slight frame adding bulk where there was none. She had great stomping boots on her feet of the blackest leather and wore a baggy, olive green pullover, its sleeves rolled up to her elbows but constantly sliding down. She said "water" like the "t" within needed to be bitten in half.

"I'm just passing through." The stranger replied, nodding towards the long roadway, winding into the horizon towards the canyons ahead.

"Not many pass through since the road dried up. Used to be cars like a river all along there highway but not since before Polaris opened its ports. We all fly now it seems."

"I see." Said the stranger, "I'll be off th-"

"No, now it’s all dust." The woman went on, either oblivious to the stranger or simply ignoring him intentionally. "They used to come, long long ago, to drive me off. The men from the city. Said the ports were open, the roads were dead. Like I gave two turds about who drove by my land. Well, my boy here sure showed them where to stick it."

The stranger's eyes moved down to the enormous dog at the lady's side, all hair and dirt and brawn. Its teeth were slightly bared and though it was silent it seemed as if faint wisps of breath could be seen on the air, trailing from its jaws.

"Name's Henrietta. Hence the sign, something I read once, seemed right." She smiled amicably, holding out a meager hand to shake. Her weather beaten skin was wrinkled beyond belief, like the ridges along a mountain's face, and it held the dusty colour of a winter time beach, pale and also grey.

The stranger couldn't help but smile back, bemused, taking her fragile hand in his own.

"A good handshake yes?" She said, gripping tighter than the stranger thought possible. "They taught us that in the army."

Before he knew it the wanderer was ushered into the great wood and stone house, a manor of sorts sporting half a dozen windows along the front of its two storied body. Inside, lit by candles and ancient oil braziers, there were at least two score or more dogs of all kinds of shapes and breeds and temperaments. Where a house this size would be adorned with furniture, this place was crowded with canines. Smaller ones rushed busily from room to room, sniffing at the ground or at each other, while the larger ones took the place of sofas or wardrobes, resting lazily like hairy decorations.

"Come on come on." Urged Henrietta, guiding the confused stranger towards a thick, rose coloured chair. She shooed away a mid-sized Labrador which had taken residence on it, the dog barked once in protest before leaping to the ground to skulk off. Henrietta half motioned half pushed her visitor onto the seat.

"So what's your issue then?" She called to him, already having moved off to clang about with crockery in another room.

"I’m not sure I understand." The stranger replied. Two dogs of indeterminate breed were already trying to nest by his legs, brushing themselves against his trousers as they got comfortable. By the vague orange light he could see the home's actual sparse furnishings. A desk in the corner, another pink chair across from his, a mirror hung above a dead fireplace, large and rimmed with gold, and a cabinet almost stuffed with medals and sidearms, sealed behind thick glass.

"Not understanding is everyone's issue. But you seem to have a more particular trouble." Henrietta said, returning to the room with a single cup of a steaming liquid, evidently only for her.

"I didn't make you any." She nodded at the cup. "Maybe later. Ain't got enough to be handing it out to just everybody."

The stranger smiled.

"There was a woman-" He began.

"A woman?!" The lady exclaimed sarcastically. "And here I was thinking you had stories to tell." She raised her cup with a shaking hand to drink from it and let out a loud cough afterwards. "It burns my lips. But it’s good."

There was a long, awkward silence, only experienced by the stranger however, as Henrietta seemed happy to sit back sipping her tea, her wrinkled eyes closed, her brow furrowed on top of her natural furrows. Somewhere in the house a clock chimed a low, hollow note. Some of the dogs barked occasionally, the rest seemed content to rest.

"So-" Said the stranger, but once again was cut off.

"I did things in the army, you know." Said the woman, quietly, but cutting her guest off none the less. "You don't become a vet without also becoming a penitent."

"When I came home," She went on, "I built this place because at the time it seemed like the thing to do. I could feel my soul sagging under the guilt so I decided to offer what services I could to the tired men and women coming back and forth from the city. Once some private or deckhand had told me that a dog could find souls in the afterlife. That if a soul was ever mislead and became lost in the place after death that a canine could sniff them out sure as day and keep them from the torment of that place, spared an eternity wandering in darkness surrounded by the sins of their past. So I surrounded myself with these critters, figured the more of them here the more chance one will remember me. I treat them right, and sometimes they treat me right in return."

Henrietta spoke slowly, almost like in a trance, her enormous mastiff at her right hand, her tea cradled in her lap.

"First the men came, I already told you what happened to them. Next came the spiders. Horrible things, bigger than any of my dogs, but I'm no slouch, even at my age, and that should tell you all you need to know on that matter."

Two of the dogs resting by the lady, both sinewy, five foot beats, stared silently at the stranger. It seemed to him that their muzzles dripped a thick, oily blood, but he had seen more curious things in his travels so he kept silent and let the lady continue.

"But now comes the desert. I can't do anything about that. It spreads from the south like lesions across a 'chem victim, yesterday it was just some sand, tomorrow it'll be a few dunes. Soon it will take me with it, and after that who will offer strangers tea?" She smiled again at the stranger, looking so haggard in the light of the fires.

"But I'm tired now, the tea will come tomorrow." She said, and after a pause "It will be alright." She added to the stranger; he believed her.


The next day the spirits came for her. Rows and rows of men and women, all dressed in the uniform of a long forgotten army, lined up at the homestead to claim their much delayed revenge. The stranger watched as the hounds, first ten, then thirty, then fifty, arrayed themselves against the ethereal throng, each dog an avatar of anger and loyalty. As the spirit host advanced they were torn to shreds by tooth and claw, their pitiful wailing mixed in to a cacophony of barks and snarls, the melody of protective rage.

Come nightfall only a few of the hounds remained, but Henrietta's cadaver remained safe in her bed, on the top floor of the house built of wood and stone. At her bedside stood a spirit with the head of a wolf clad in grey-olive robes, a gold medal over its heart. The spirit watched silently as the stranger took the dead woman's body to the edge of the desert, where the ground was soft and the road had already been washed away by the sand, and buried it as the late lady's hounds stood vigil.

Decades after the stranger left the hounds still rested by their master's grave and centuries later they were swallowed by the desert with it. From the bones of the lady sprung wadda, as she would have called it, and from this well sprung a tiny oasis. Her dogs walked with her in the places between life and death, swallowing whole any vengeful spirits, and in return she watched over lost travelers as best as she could.


© 2017 M.A.Alexander


Author's Note

M.A.Alexander
This story is part of a novel I'm writing filled with weird little short stories like this one. Some of those short stories stand up well outside of the context of the novel so I thought I'd throw them up here for people's reading pleasure.

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Added on August 2, 2017
Last Updated on August 2, 2017
Tags: Ghosts, dogs, army, supernatural, post-apocalyptic

Author

M.A.Alexander
M.A.Alexander

Dublin, Ireland



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M. A. Alexander is a struggling writer of zero renown and probably negative talent. Follow his page to witness his newest failures and inevitable break down more..

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