's 2017 Horror Write-off:

Gathering of Dogs

Submitted by Conner Burgess (email)

You stand upon a buildingtop. Looking down, many stories below you, is a circular park. Streets lead out at many angles, with tall buildings forming a concrete ring, enclosing the area. A fountain sits in the center, dry and caked in dust. Weeds reach in and out through the seams of the concrete and the cracks of the baked earth. The trees are long-dead, but some leaves, protected from the wind by the surrounding buildings, remain clinging to the skeletal husk of the branches.

Many windows are scratched, shattered, and broken in their frames.

There are no people visible in the area. Sillhouettes can be seen moving within the darkness behind the broken window frames, pairs of white eyes moving along with them, unblinking and attentive.

From your rooftop watchpoint, you see dogs begin to gather. Some are hungry, some are fed. Some are diseased, some are healthy. They all walk with a focus uncharacteristic of animals and of sane men. They approach the fountain, unwavering, and as they draw near, a loud creak echoes out from it. Water begins to flow. The water fills the fountain, and stops. A second creak erupts, followed by a new flow of rich brown liquid from the fountain.

The dogs drink deeply from the basin. They turn from the fountain, once they've had their fill, and sit with their backs to it.

Days pass, and more dogs begin to gather and drink from the fountain. They, too, turn from the basin and take up their posts among the previous waves. They gather with growing rapidity, and before the week is out, the park has been filled by dogs, arranged in concentric circles, shoulder to shoulder, back to front. All are facing away from the basin.

The fountain ceases flowing. A third creak howls out, and the dogs rise on all fours.

They begin to circle counter-clockwise around the fountain, maintaining their concentric rings. From atop your building, you see them walk for three days.

On the morning of the fourth day, as the sun rises, a single beam of sunlight reaches across the park from between the eastern buildings. Just as the sunbeam reaches entirely across the park, the dogs increase their pace of marching two-fold, breaking

into a trot. As they move, their skin begins to dry and constrict. Their hair loses cohesion to the skin as it is stretched across their frame. Their paws begin to tear and break, falling away as they walk. They do not bleed.

As their paws fall away, left in circular paths where they walk, you see the bones extend out, fracturing and reforming into clawed, elongated palmless fingers. They walk with fingers folded, nails scratching in chorus with each other along the concrete ground. The dogs begin to grasp at the shed fur with their newly gained hands. They continue marching forwards, circularly, and balance on their back feet, mainting their pace. The dogs, no longer bearing resemblance to dogs, weave the fur into long rags as they march, wrapping it tightly around their heads.

They begin to hum, and as their voices coalesce into simultaneous chords and discordant chant, their march of concentric circles begins to fall into a helical spiral towards the fountain. The beasts closest to the fountain climb in and wade towards the waterspouts, and begin to suckle them. The basin, without warning, collapses into a pit, and the center of the park falls away into a great sinkhole. The monsters continue to chant as the ground sloughs away underneath their feet, and they fall into the pit. The city is silent again.