Bogleech.com's 2019 Horror Write-off:
The Hall Dogs
Submitted by Verity Aron (email)
The Hall Dogs
I saw it out of the corner of my eye. An undefined shape, too low to the ground to be a human, rushing out of sight just as I turned the corner. For a second I stared at the place where it had been, the stairwell which was always full of shadows because they never did fix the lights like they said they would. But then the weight of the grocery bags and the ache of a hard day of work started getting to me and I felt too tired to wonder what it was. As I walked down the hall and passed the door of the apartment next to ours I remembered that the girl next door had a cat. That was probably it. I reached our door, at the very end of the hall, and found that I had no way to knock on it because my hands were full of groceries. Too tired to bother with setting them down and picking them up again, I just started softly kicking the door, hoping my mom wasn’t asleep or watching the tv really loud. The door didn’t open. I begrudgingly set down a bag and fished out my keys. When I opened the door the sounds of the tv overwhelmed me. The empty chatter seemed to fill the whole apartment. My mom was sitting in front of the tv, inches away from the screen because her eyesight wasn’t what it used to be. “What would you like for dinner? I’m thinking about making soup” I shouted over the din. She turned around to shush me and went back to staring at the tv without another word. I guess one of her favorite shows was on. I started putting away groceries in the kitchen. I wanted to lie down, but I felt like I should make dinner for my mom. 45 minutes later I set a bowl of soup in front of her and she finally turned away from the tv.
“I don’t want soup, it’s too hot for it”
“Why didn’t you tell me that earlier when I asked if you wanted soup?” I tried to keep my voice calm.
“You know my hearings not what it used to be! And don’t use that tone with me. I’ve been questioned enough in my life and at this point, well, I just need to be respected. Respect your elders, that’s true you know because we’ve been through so much and you don’t even know the…”
I walked away from her without another word. She yelled after me but I ignored her. I lay down in my bed and covered my face with the blankets. All at once I was struck by how childish and stupid my situation was. I was like a twelve-year old with a minimum wage job. I meant to change out of my work clothes, go back into the kitchen and eat some soup. I wanted to go online and watch other people talk to each other. I wanted to do all these things, but my bed was so soft and I was so tired that I just fell asleep instead.
I awoke and then bolted upright, sure I was late for work. I grabbed my phone. It was five thirty in the morning. I stared at the glowing screen like it had told me a bad joke. My work started at seven thirty. I was wide awake this early in the morning for no good reason. I crept into the kitchen, hoping to find something I could make without waking up my mom, but found nothing that wouldn’t require the toaster or the microwave to ding. I decided I didn’t feel like breakfast yet anyway. I looked around the apartment, lit only by one small window. Dirty dishes were on the counter. Books and sickly potted plants covered every flat surface. The tracks of my mom’s walker were worn into the grubby carpet. The tiny kitchen suddenly felt claustrophobic. I wanted to see the sun. So without thinking I quietly opened the door and stepped out into the hall. Sunlight streamed in from the high windows, causing me to blink. And before the first blink I saw it. A figure standing in the middle of the hall, in the shadows of the stairwell. I opened my eyes as fast as I could, but only managed to catch a glimpse of it retreating into the stairwell, like a shadow retreating from a light source. It didn’t move like something real, and I didn’t hear the sound of anything walking on the creaky stairs. I rubbed my eyes. It couldn’t have been real. Still, something stopped me from running over to the stairwell to check. I just stood outside my door, blinking in the dawn sunlight. I almost jumped when my neighbor opened her door. Or can you really call someone who lives in the only other occupied apartment on your floor a neighbor? She stepped slowly out of her door, taking care to not let the cat out. The morning sun glinted off her hair like it was made of obsidian. Her arms were full with a roll of paper and a large bag. She noticed me standing there, flinched in surprise, and then put on a smile.
“Hi, uh, good morning, um ...sorry I seem to have forgotten your name.”
She had only moved in a few months ago.
“It’s Sydney” I didn’t feel like mentioning that I had also forgotten her name. “Good morning.”
“Sorry for acting surprised, I’m not used to seeing anyone else awake this early in the morning” she fidgeted with the zipper on her bag.
“Do you usually get up this early?”
“Yeah, I try to get up and draw in the morning whenever I get the chance. I’m so busy the rest of the day and I love the way the light and shadows looks on the buildings. The whole world just looks better in the morning.”
Personally, I hated the morning because I was so used to rushing off to work, but I found myself nodding at her statement. “I’m just up because I can’t sleep”. She looked at the ground, then around, and then finally back to me. “Do you want to uh, I was just wondering...Do you like drawing? I can lend you some of my supplies if you’d like to join me.”
I looked at her. She was smiling and trying to avoid eye contact at the same time. Wow, we were both shy. How were we even having a conversation? And why were we both fumbling so much? It seemed like two shy, awkward people, in the presence of each other, should be able to shed their shyness and speak freely from a place of mutual understanding. But for some reason it didn’t work that way. I had nothing to do, I had hours to kill, and yet I still found myself saying “Sorry, I have to get ready for work. Thank you for asking though...have a good morning…”
I drifted back towards my door, feeling worse by the second. I couldn’t stand it and turned around.
“Maybe some other time?”
She was nearing the ground-floor exit but she turned around with a smile “Yeah, whenever works for you, I do this every morning. See you around!”
I watched her leave. The hall was now empty again. My eyes kept drifting back towards the stairwell. I realized that without noticing it I was watching for a sign of movement. I suddenly felt cold and went back into my apartment. I leaned against the door, waiting for it to get just a bit later in the morning so I could justify waking my mom up while making breakfast. A tear rolled down my face and I didn’t understand why.
When I came home from work the next day, the cat was in the hall. It was a little calico cat with a green collar. At first all I could think of was how cute it was. I wished I could afford to have a cat. But then I realized it was probably my neighbors and shouldn’t be out in the hall on it’s own. I set down my bags, knelt down and called to it. It didn’t look at me, but remained where it had been the whole time, sitting like a statue, staring off into the stairwell. I started to worry. It probably wasn’t supposed to be out and I might have to catch it in order to return it home. I started approaching it very slowly. It didn’t even turn to look at me. Tentatively, I put my hands around it. It was softly shaking. We were right across from the stairwell. I looked up from the cat. I saw something in the shadows of the stairwell. At first I thought it was another cat. An animal with floppy ears and a shiny nose, no it must be a dog. But where the light from the hall would reflect off the eyes of a normal dog, this creature's face was almost completely lost in shadow. As I watched, it slid backwards down the stairs, and unseen body dragging it’s head down every step. For a second I just watched it go. Then I closed my hands around the cat, sprinted to my door and quickly let myself inside. My mom was watching tv and the sound filled the house, jarring after the cold silence of the hall. The cat started squirming in my hands. I set it down and checked it’s tag. It did belong to my neighbor. Was she home yet? Did she want the cat to be out? Either way, it wasn’t safe for it to be out with that dog in the hall. Or was the dog dead and some twisted person was dragging it around as a cruel prank?
I shivered as I remembered I had left my bags in the hall. The cat wandered away from me and I just watched it go. It walked into the tv room. I heard the tv abruptly turn off.
I walked into the tv room. The cat was rubbing its face on my mom's wheelchair. She didn’t seem very amused by it.
“What are you doing, bringing animals home? We already have too much to worry about without having another mouth to feed.”
“Mom it’s just-”
“Now listen to me, this is still my house, I still get to make the rules around here, I don’t want any dirty animals around! It’s hard enough to breathe as it is!
“It belongs to-”
“Stop talking over me! I’ve said the rules, now follow them” She wheeled towards the cat threateningly, but it just rolled over on the floor. I scooped it up again.
“Ok, got it” I said as I walked out of the room. I went to the front door, checked that my mom couldn’t see me, opened it just a crack, and then slammed it loudly. Then I put the cat in my room. I started petting in absenmidely. The bags in the hall, I still had to get the damn bags in the hall. I quietly set the cat down, closed it in my room, and crept back to the front door. Once again I opened it, just a crack. The hall was empty, though at this late in the day it was almost completely dark. Leaving the door ajar, I slowly stepped past the door frame. Everything was quiet. I reached the stairwell. For a second I froze. Then I thought about losing my wallet just because I was afraid of a lost dog. I peered into the stairwell. There was nothing there. To make me feel even dumber for being afraid, the last rays of sun were hitting the stairwells high windows in such a way that the whole thing was lit up. I trotted past and grabbed my bags. Then I remembered I still had to deal with the cat. I looked over at the door to my neighbors apartment, which was right across from the stairwell. No light leaked out from under the door. When did she get home? Maybe she was already sleeping? In defeated desperation, I walked over and started knocking on her door anyways. Nothing happened. I felt a draft and realized my back was to the stairwell. I kept knocking because I didn’t want to turn around. It’s okay, I would hear the dog if approached me. Everything was so quiet, my knocks sounded like drum beats. Something wet touched the back of my ankle. Quiet. I jumped and ran down the hall like the floor was hot coals, trying my best to not look at anything. I ran inside, slammed the door, fumbled with the locks for far too long, and then ran to my own room and slammed the door on it for good measure. The cat meowed at me. I sat down on the floor. My heart was beating a million times a second and everything else seemed too still by comparison. I could hear my mom yelling for me to come out and explain why I slammed so many doors, but I didn’t get up. I didn’t feel like I should move. My mom switched to yelling about how I was ignoring her. The cat curled up next to me and started licking itself. Finally my mom shut up and the overwhelming sounds of the tv filled the house again. The noise calmed me. I felt ready to move again. I looked at my ankle. A tiny dab of something maroon was on it. I wiped it off with my hand and the texture was like snot. Before I could figure out what it was, the cat licked it off my hand.
I didn’t sleep at all that night, partially because the cat kept jumping around my room. Finally I got tired of lying down with my eyes closed and looked at my phone. It was almost five thirty. My neighbor should be getting up soon and I could return the cat. I realized I hadn’t even checked if it was her cat. I petted the cat and flipped it’s tag around. It’s name was Freckles and it did belong to her. Unfortunately her name wasn’t on the tag so I was going to have to admit that I had forgotten it. Now there was just one problem, I had to go back out into the hall. And maybe I also had to warn her. I picked up the cat again, trying to keep it from twisting around too much as I crept out of my room. I tried to tell myself that because it was morning, the dog wouldn’t be out. I tried to think of ways I could just stay in my apartment and never go outside again. Maybe I could call her and she could get the cat from me? But then she’d have to go out into the hall. Someone eventually had to go out into the hall. I put my ear against the door, but I didn’t hear anything. I pushed the door open just a crack and tried to peer out into the hall. Nothing. I left the door swing open. Sunlight filled the hall. Even from inside this dingey apartment building in this noisy city, it was clear that it was going to be a beautiful day. The cat squirmed in my arms. I began to feel a little bit silly. The sound of my neighbor opening her apartment door almost made me jump. Her hands were full of pieces of paper and she didn’t notice me standing there. I wanted to call out to her, but for some reason I couldn’t make a sound. Fortunately she turned and saw me. She smiled and suddenly I felt like everything was okay.
“You found Freckles!” She walked over to me, sparing me from having to go out into the hall. “Where was she? I was so worried, thank you for finding her”
She scooped the cat out of my arms, her hand brushed mine for a second. I tried to remember how to form sentences. “I found her in the hallway yesterday…there was a dog…”
“You think it’s a dog? I saw it last night and it was kinda hard to tell what type of animal it was because it was so dark. I called and asked them to send someone to catch it.”
“Yeah” I thought about a wet nose shining in the dark “I think it’s a dog. Anyways I didn’t want the cat to get hurt and you didn’t answer when I knocked on your door, so I kept her in my apartment last night...even thought my mom didn’t want her around.”
She looked at me. “Does your mom live with you? I’ve never met her.”
“Yeah, technically it’s her apartment thought we split the rent. She doesn’t get out much because she can’t walk and she mostly just watches TV all day.”
She frowned. “That’s kinda sad, do you take her places?”
“I wish I could but I’m too busy working. I try to keep her company when I get home but sometimes it seems like she doesn’t want anything to do with me.” I paused. Was I oversharing?
She was frowning now. “Well, it’s good that you try at least…”
The cat was purring. I thought of something.
“Are you going out to draw?”
She shrugged. “I was going to put up fliers for my lost cat, but I guess I’m free now. How about you?”
I froze for several seconds.
“My work..uh...I need to grab my work bag but yeah I’m free. Just a second.” I ran back into my house like I was in a race, barely remembering to stay quiet for my mom as I grabbed my work stuff. I forgot to pull the door closed behind me as I dashed back out into the hall. She wasn’t there and for a second I panicked, until she came out of her door with art supplies in her arms instead of a cat. We were both smiling but avoiding looking at each others smiles and not having to say anything else besides that. We stepped outside into the bright morning.
I opened the door to the hall, slowly. Hopefully someone had already caught the weird dog while I was out? Once again everything was dark, and I had to wait for my eyes to adjust. The hall seemed so desolate and dark it made me realize how tired I was from not sleeping last night. All at once I felt a lot less optimistic. And then I saw, from across the hall, that the door to my apartment was slightly ajar. My blood froze. My mom sat in front of the TV all day and didn’t look around, and that thing was out there. I tried to run over to the door as fast as I could, but my feet felt like they were made of lead. I wanted both to reach her as soon as possible and to hang back, afraid of what might be. In this state, I crept up the hall in a daze. I passed the stairwell and almost unthinkingly looked back at it. The dog was there. I froze. The dog was turned to look right at me, though I could only see it’s silhouette in the darkness. Slowly, it lifted it’s head out of the stairwell and towards me on a neck that was far to long for a dog. Instead of legs emerging to carry it forward, I just saw more dogs coming out of the stairwell, each of them on a long skinny neck, and all of them stretching towards me. The faint light of the open apartment door fell on the face of the closest dog. Where it’s eyes should have been were only gaping holes in sagging flesh. I fell backwards and barley caught myself. I scrambled for the apartment door, trying not to turn my back on the dogs. They just kept stretching towards me. I pushed my way through the open door and slammed it in their faces. My hands slid over the lock. That was it. The door was locked. I stared at it while backing up, waiting to hear them banging against it, but nothing seemed to be happening.
I spun around.
My mom was right in the middle of the room, with an open box in front of her. The whole room looked quite different because all of her porcelain figurines had been put away into boxes. She frowned at me.
“Don’t slam the door like that.”
I tried to form a sentence. “There’s something in the hallway and-”
“Yes, a raccoon or something like that, nasty thing, I hear it sniffing at the door every day when you’re at work and the landlord still hasn’t done anything about it. This whole building is a mess.” She started packing things from the coffee table into the box. I started breathing again. They’re didn’t seem to be any sounds from the door behind me, thought even standing with my back to it felt unsafe.
“Why are you packing?”
She looked at me with a strange affection. “I’m moving out. As I said this building is a mess and I’m not getting enough sunlight, there’s no room to move around, and I’ve found this lovely assisted living place where they let you have your own room and it’s easier to get around in a wheelchair”.
“What? Why?” I was already panicked.
She shook her head at me and frowned wistfully. “It’s been nice living with you, but I think maybe you should live on your own, spend time with people your age. I want to spend time with people my age. I’m afraid we don’t really make the best company for each other’.
I stared at her. All these weeks of her not saything two words to me, and then suddenly she was this open. I tried to think of something to say, but I couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t make her mad. I settled for something simple.
“When are you moving out?”
“Tonight, actually” She was smiling sadly again and I could barely stand it. “They have a little shuttle that picks people up whenever they’re ready, and then they send moving people to help with the rest.”
I couldn’t form another sentence. The fear from what had happened in the hall was catching up to me and also my world was falling apart. I decided to face the door. That way I could watch out for the dogs and I wouldn’t have to look at my mom and all the stuff put away in boxes. My mom silently packed up the rest of her stuff.
“Here dear, look at me, here’s the address so that you can visit me, we can visit each other on your off days.” The fact that she was being so nice was what finally pushed me over the edge. “You should have told me earlier...after all these years and everything I’ve done for-!” I realized too late I had crossed a line.
“Everything you’ve done for me? Me, your own mother, who raised you, on my own, no support, for years and years? And you didn’t make it easy either, no! You were always complaining about everything or getting sick, and then talking back to me too! And you’re still doing that!”
There was a tense silence as we both stared at each other, rage softening as we realized this might be the last fight like this we’d ever have.
Suddenly there was a pounding on the door, like a heavy knock. I almost jumped.
“Oh, here’s the moving people now”
She wheeled towards the door. I came to my senses and stepped between her and the door.
“Sydney! Are you trying to stop me from leaving?”
“Mom..the..the racoon is loose in the hall right now I don’t want you to run into it!”
“Stop being silly, the people will have scared it away, you’re just making up excuses.”
I was shaking. The door was quiet behind me but at any second I expected it to burst open. My mom was staring at me defiantly. I realized with horror that my only option was to tell her the truth.
“Ok, Actually, there’s a really dangerous animal in the hall. I didn’t tell you this at first because I thought you wouldn’t believe me, but there’s something out there and I don’t know what it is.”
She stared at me like I had just flipped inside out. “Stop lying to me,” she hissed, looking more panicked than her words would imply. “I know you just don’t want me to leave, just say it and stop lying to me.” We were both almost shaking. Feeling absolutely trapped, I thought about opening the door really fast just to show her, though that also felt like the dumbest idea I’d ever had in my life. Still, without even thinking about it, I put my hand on the doorknob.
“You don’t believe me?” My hand was shaking.
“Hello? Is anyone home?” someone called from the other side of the door. I pulled the door open. Two nice looking people with work uniforms were standing there. They seemed kind of shocked to see me, looking absolutely deranged. I stepped away from the door.
My mom wheeled forward. “Ah, you’re here. Please excuse my daughter, she’s just upset that I'm leaving. The boxes are over here.
She started showing them around. I went into the kitchen and sat on the floor. I just sat there and listened to them move around in the other room. I calmed down a little bit and went back into the room to say goodbye to my mom. The last moving guy was just closing the door when I came out. My mom, and the boxes, were gone. The room looked like a blank greeting card. I pulled the door open and looked down the hall. The moving guy stepped outside and closed the door at the end of the hall. As if on cue, something started moving in the shadows of the stairwell. I slammed the door shut. I started rooting through the apartment looking for something to hold the door shut, but all I could find was duct tape. I taped the door and then put the table in front of it. Then I sat down in the empty void of the living room. If this was a normal situation maybe I could start to figure something out, but nothing made sense right now. Everyone would just think I was crazy. I couldn’t plan ahead I was so freaked out. I sat in the middle of the living room, watching the door.
The sun started leaking into the room. There hadn’t been a sound from the door all night, so instead I started worrying about how I was going to pay rent now that I wasn’t splitting the cost with anyone. Or maybe I should just move out and hope to find somewhere as cheap as this, but less monstrous. And here I was thinking about the future when I didn’t even know if could survive walking out the door. I was thinking about just checking if the coast was clear and then making a run for the exit. I glanced at the clock. It was five thirty. The significance crept up on me. That was when my neighbor got up to draw. Suddenly I was up and moving. I approached the front door. I had to open it to look out into the hall, there was no way around it. I had to warn her. Keeping most of the tape in place, I slowly edged open the door. Nothing. I peeked into the hall. Nothing but sunlight. I kept my eyes on the hall while I removed enough tape from the door to allow me to get out. I kinda got carried away and opened up the door fully, as if not being afraid of the thing would make it go away. Everything was so quiet. The doorknob to my neighbors apartment started turning.
As if on cue, a mottled dog snout peaked out of the stairwell. Time seemed to slow down. I started running down the hall. Dogs poured out of the stairwell, grey and slimy in the sun, curling back upon each other like hagfish twisting on dry land. My neighbor opened her door, looking down at the art supplies in her arms. She had only a second to register what was in front of her before I practically collided with her, pushing her back into her apartment. I caught her arm so that she didn’t fall. I grabbed the doorknob without looking. For a split second my brain caught up to me and I realized we had actually survived against all odds. But even as I was thinking that foolish thought I was pulling the door closed and the cat was trying to go out the open door and it’s paw, outstretched to swat at the dogs, got caught in the door. It yowled in pain. I paused for a split second, the door only open a sliver, and then watched in shock as a dog head squeezed through the gap. It didn’t seem to have bones, and it’s empty eye sockets folded like lunch meat. I fell backwards. Another and another dog head squeezed through the door. I was sitting next to her on the floor. The dogs forced the door open and I saw for the first time where they came from. All the sinuous necks connected to one body, an amorphous blob of flesh that simply oozed along the floor towards us like a giant slug. The dog heads were spreading out from this base and slapping blindly on every wall and surface, stretching towards us almost by chance. She grabbed my hand. I suddenly felt very calm. A dog head steached right towards my face.
This close, I wondered why I ever though they were dogs. It was just some kind of velvety creature with a nose leaking fluid and eyeless holes in its face and ridges of loose sagging skin that looked like floppy ears. Even it’s teeth, which were so close to my face now, looked like they were only made out of sagging flesh. I looked over at her instead. Her face was completely blank but she held my hand so tightly. I reached over to her. The dog face reached me. It pressed it’s wet slimy nose against my face. It just stayed there. Another dog head reached her and did the same thing. I reached up and pushed the face away from me. It twisted up and squashed backwards. I pushed the one off her as well. More of them came forward. I put my hands up and they pressed their gooey noses into my palms, like a gross parody of what a real dog would dog. They just stayed like that until I pushed them back. Then more of the heads came forward. My neighbor patted one like it was a big labrador. It swived itself upside down, and then she laughed and scratched it’s chin. She kept giggling. I looked around. The cat was rubbing its face on one of the dog heads. I jumped up and started taping them on the nose, trying to get everyone whitch was hard because there were at least 10 and some of them were still smacking against the ceiling. Each one I touched seemed to shutter and curl inwards on itself, like a snail’s eye stalks, though after doing that for a little while a flew of them came back towards me and I had to do it again. My neighbor was laughing, and the whole situation was beginning to feel a little funny. The dogs were grotesque and slimy to the touch, but they were beginning to look increasingly harmless. They were so easy to push away, like they didn’t have any muscles at all. I started laughing. I have no idea how long we laughed for. Eventually she looked at me and smiled. We just smiled at each other because we couldn’t even begin to put into words what we were feeling and what was going on. Eventually we got bored of messing with the dogs.
She made me a cup of tea. I told her I liked the interior design of the apartment. She laughed again. “You should have seen the place before an octopus knocked everything over.” The dog heads seemed kinda calmed down. They retreated back towards their body and folded over on themselves until the thing looked like a partially closed sea anemone. The cat curled up next to it. We decided not to go to work that day.
I moved in with my neighbor and her name is Ivy. Now we’re roommates and the old apartment that I used to live in with my mom sits empty. Apparently no one else wants to rent it for some reason. I thought I would miss living with my mom, but I’m so much happier living with Ivy and her cat. Every day we go out in the morning and draw the buildings as the sunrise hits them just right. Then we go off to our separate jobs, and on certain days I have just enough time left after work to visit my mom. She actually turns off the TV to say hi to me now, though her new friends who watch shows with her don’t seem to appreciate that. At the end of a long day I come home and Ivy is already there. We cook together and try out new recipes. The dogs are there. It lives in our apartment now, though it often goes back out into the stairwell for a spell here and there. It’s gotten so much more well behaved, it only touches you with it’s gooey noses if you actually hold out your hand for that. It leaves slime trails on the walls or floor sometimes, but we just adjust the rugs. We’ve tried feeding it different things like cat food or lettuce, but I’ve never seen it eat or drink anything. I try not to let that bother me. After all, if it was a carnivore I feel like it would have got the cat a long time ago and the two of them get along great.
Ivy likes to paint at night and I watch her, I don’t want to waste paint but I love seeing her art. She paints the dogs sometimes. One of her paintings of it won first place in an art competition. The judges said it was remarkably creative to depict such a surreal image with such realism. She’s sold a few of her paintings since then. Late at night we go to bed and the dogs follows us. It stands over us as we sleep, frozen with all it’s heads curled every which way like an old dead tree. I don’t know why it does this. I don’t know if this is just how it sleeps, or if there’s some deeper meaning to all this. I just know that for once everything seems to be going right in my life, so I don’t lose any sleep over it.