's 2016 Horror Write-off:

The Rat Dog

Submitted by Emma G. (email)

My neighbors have one of those shitty little rat dogs, the kind so inbred and mutated that they don't have teeth and their pink tongues are always lolling out of their mouths, eyes bulging from their teacup-fragile skulls. I feel sorry for dogs like that. But it's their owners' vet bills and money, and it's none of my business.

The only real problem I have with the rat dog is the barking. Our housing development is backed right up against the woods, and every time a deer wanders into the backyard, the rat dog goes off, yipping and yapping and banging its bulbous little head against the sliding glass door. Sometimes they let it out on a lead, and it barks its head off at the birds and squirrels. I don't like confrontation much, so I've never spoken to them about it, and my other neighbors either don't mind it, or they're in the same boat as me. And so the rat dog barks, and barks, and barks.

The owners of the rat dog seem like nice enough people. I don't speak to them much. Both of them work. No kids. They love their ugly little dog. They leave me alone and I leave them alone, and we don't have any problems with each other.

It's a freezing night, the wind scattering dry leaves across the empty, snowless streets, the trees bowing and whispering. The doorbell rings. It's my neighbor. I recognize her voice, but she's so bundled in her coat and scarf it's difficult to see much aside from her wet brown eyes. She says the rat dog is missing, ran out into the woods when they opened the door. I know how much they love that rat dog, and my neighbors have never done me wrong. I agree to help them find it, because I know as a sin against natural selection, its chances of surviving were slim.

I head into the woods, calling the rat dog's name, moving my flashlight's beam across the gray trunks of the trees. Though the canopy sways above, it is calm in the understory. Most animals have already bedded down or dug themselves in for winter, and I've never seen anything larger in here than a whitetail.

I keep to the walking trails, though by now I have split from my neighbors far enough that I can no longer see their lights. Giving up crosses my mind. It's late, and though I feel for the rat dog, the silence is not reassuring. And then, I hear it. Barking, distant but clear, the same high-pitched yapping I've been tortured with for years. I begin to call the rat dog's name again as I head toward it, branches snapping beneath my feet. Every few yards I pause to make sure I'm moving in the right direction, but as I draw closer, as I listen, a cold tendril of unease creeps through me.

Bark, bark-bark, yip, bark, bark-bark.

Bark, bark-bark, yip, bark, bark-bark.

Bark, bark-bark, yip, bark, bark-bark.

It's the same series of sounds. There was not one variation during the several minutes I stood there, straining my ears against the rustle of the branches. Looping, but lifelike, not flat like a recording would be.

The path is gone, left behind as I had stepped off it to follow the barking. The trees sway above me against the black sky.

The rat dog barks, and barks, and barks.