Waiting in the Woods

Waiting in the Woods

A Story by Graham Swanson

A dog catches the scent of something tasty


A dog came through the grass, nose to the dirt, sniffing around for where the sweet smell came from. It had been a long way out but his search only became more alluring. The rich scents began to pour into his senses and mix into something tasty, rotting, with fresh sweat peeling from pores to sit like oiled leather. The dog kept scuffling, the saliva in his jaws foamed. He was getting closer. His paws stuttered at a deafening blast cutting through the air. The dog stopped and hid behind a patch of bush. The haunting echo lingered in the air. The dark leafs he burrowed under dropped from white branches and shriveled. The trees around him seemed to bend, and twist as they shredded, leaving behind bare, dripping branches. The air became bitter, and the smells that had enticed the dog became overpowered by sulfur and smoke.

            A shadow emerged as the dog crawled snuggly under the brush. Heaving a shovel over his shoulder, a grizzled vagabond stood over a fresh grave, starring across from it into another that was filled in with raw dirt. He wore a scrappy coat with patches stitched on from old scavenged fabric. His hair hung like wires of gray thread, tangled and unmaintained. A .45 stuck from a holster. The grizzled man sighed, admired his work, and then spun around at the clopping of hooves. Coming down the trail, a man rode near. The mounted man wore a red coat, with purple clothes underneath. A necklace hung from his neck bearing a bold ordainment, the mark of a wealthy family. A smile cut through the grunge on the grizzled man’s face when he saw it. He stood in place, leaning on the shovel until the horsed man came close enough to speak to. He stood up straight, and held the shovel out over the path.

            “Don’t think I’d let you slide by, any chance.” He garbled at the horsemen.

            “Who might you be?” the horsed man stood at attention, face firm with discomfort but no stress crossed him.

            “A wanderer. You don’t know me, but I know who you are, and I want to see if what they say is true.”

            “If they say that I'm not afraid to shoot a stranger, then they tell the truth.” The mounted man wore a gun on his hip as well. It shined like the swords of the long dead warriors of ancient times. “You want to duel me, yes?”

            “Exact that.”

The mounted man scoffed. “Out of my way.”

“Afraid for your life?”

“No. I wouldn’t waste my bullets on a vagabond.”

“A nobody I might be, but a skilled gunman I am. I’ve shot the quickest men, took as many lives as war, an old man can’t live to my age without a good eye down a barrel.”

The mounted man dropped his grimace, and stared on, puzzled.

“I once knew a man that spoke like you. Where are you from?”

“From here, I came. All my time it feels, what is life.”

“You say you are a wanderer, or a gunman, but you look like a grave digger.”

The man speared the shovel into the dirt. “Some hunters had shot some deer for their hides, and then to rot they left them here by the road. My heart wouldn’t let me leave them for insects. Animals deserve a good burial.”

“Why should I duel you?”

“You wear the coat of a gunman, the jewels of one. They don’t hide that you received high training. The medal on your chain, the highest training. Such work, such effort, yet you still young. You’ll do great things. I don’t deserve such honor. I’m not a good man, only one that does right enough to live by. No sir, I live in no house, have no family, money, or fame, but I do have my gun and my hand. We’re both in the same tree, you see. A gunman you are because, like a house or money, things like that mean nothing without a good hand-and you know this. Don’t you agree, value is only what you can change? What you can hold? You choose the gun. As did I, but I am old. I’ve gone on my journeys, shot many warriors, honored my hands-but still I am older, yet nothing I have but my clothes, and shovel. To give me a shot is to honor yourself, and I.”

            “Have you no food, old man?”


            “Before every man dies, he should eat. Here…” The horsed man reached into his saddle bag and grabbed chunks of meat wrapped in paper. “My father told me that when he gave me my first gun. Where did you get yours?”

            “I took it from a battlefield.” The grizzled man took the meat and stuffed it into his face. “What’s the first thing you shot?”

            “My father brought in the family dog. It was old, and sick. The poor thing couldn’t stand, it often would lay in its own waste. Every day it only became feebler. My dad made me feed him a turkey. Then I shot it.”

            “I am no dog.”

            “No, but everything should eat good food. I’m ready when you are.”

The man finished eating then stuffed the paper into his pocket. His hands trembled, and a cold wind began to blow.

            “Mustn’t delay, I think.”

The mounted man climbed from his horse, and the two men stood part from each other, dry falling leaves collaging the dirt in an autumn mask. Puffs of white air blew from their nostrils. Like lightning, their hands flew down and pulled out their weapons. Red bolts spiked through the grizzled man as gun blast littered the air, but he still stood, not bleeding or screaming. Grinning ear from ear, the vagabond leveled his weapon at the red coated man. Shock drained the color from his face. His jaw sank before a lone bullet discharged into his head. The body collapsed to the ground.

            “Animals deserve a good burial.”

The grizzled man lugged the bleeding corpse to the open grave, and dropped him in. Shovelful by shovelful, it was filled with cold dirt. He kept going until loose dirt fluffed from the hole, nice and full. The grizzled man stuck the shovel into the dirt, wiped his face and pulled out the paper, still reeking of meat. He rose his nose up, sniffed the air, and his eyes turned to the dog. His eyes were needles pinning him to the bush, pale as dead bark. The man dropped the food, didn’t even take a second look, and simply strode towards the horse. He whispered something and the nervous mammal calmed down enough for the man to jump on. Swiftly, they rode down the road into the woods.

            The dog remained hidden until the smell of simmering ashes died away from the air. From the bush, he approached what remained of the meat in the paper. Seasoned, and cooked rare, the dog found it to be a delicious treasure. But another smell still remained, permeating from the older grave. The dog came to it, sniffed and his nose found a source of sweet decomposition. He began digging, slobber filing his mouth. Worms, rocks, chunks of cold earth were removed until the dog found himself in a burrow of his own making, but oddly enough all he uncovered was a shabby brown jacket, patched together and mended with other fabrics. He tore it out and continued to dig until he found the body of another dog. A bullet rested in its skull.


© 2015 Graham Swanson

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Added on July 22, 2015
Last Updated on July 22, 2015
Tags: horror, ghost, forest, dog, gun, horse, grave, nature, dark, death, creepy, revenge, murder, mystery, romance, gothic, fantasy


Graham Swanson
Graham Swanson

Lincoln, NE

I'm going to school at University of Nebraska. I like to write horror, and I've recently been looking into Gothic Fiction, and music because I find it kindling, but I also have an interest in mysticis.. more..

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