David Emerson stepped onto his small farm to do his daily morning chores, heading towards the chicken coop.  Feathers were scattered across the coop erratically.  Lying in the corner was one of David’s chickens, bald in places with random chunks of its pink meat torn from its stomach.  Flies buzzed casually around it and all David could do for a minute was stare at the pathetic animal. David was used to disposing of dead animals, but this…

…unnerved him.

#

            After disposing of the dead chicken, David called the local police and notified them of a possible loose, wild predator.  Officer Harris was on his doorstep an hour later and David was filing a police report.

Officer Harris walked around the perimeter of the chicken coop carefully taking mental notes of the scene.

“You found the chicken this morning?” Officer Harris asked.

“Yup.  Poor thing was practically disfigured.  Missing feathers and sections of her stomach.”  Officer Harris examined the surrounding area for animal footprints.

“You know, you’re not the only one reporting dead animals,” Officer Harris said after finding no evidence of animal tracks.  David raised his eyebrows, concerned.  “The past two weeks the station’s been getting calls about small animals either torn up like yours or missing completely.  Chickens, lambs, even someone’s kittens.  The ones not missing were just like yours—chunks of flesh ripped off, fur or feathers stripped away randomly, some had their eyes gouged out.”  Officer Harris stared right into David who was visibly worried as the crinkles around his eyes deepened.

“What’s causing this?  Coyote?”

“That’s what people are sayin’?” Officer Harris looked down at the clucking chickens and shook his head slowly.  “But…I don’t know…Somethin’ doesn’t feel right.”  He looked back up at David.  “What kind of predator half eats his meal like this and leaves it to rot?”  David crossed his arms.  “Well, I’m sure I’m overcomplicating things.  It probably is just a coyote or a bobcat that’s loose.”

“Guess I should start leaving Cooper out here then, huh?”

“No…no, I wouldn’t.  Just to be safe.  We haven’t had any spottings of this animal so I wouldn’t risk your dog.  Not over some chickens.  I’d build a fence.  Doesn’t have to be pretty, just somethin’ to keep things out.”

“Alright then.  Thanks for comin’ by and takin’ a look at things.”

“Anytime.  Take care David and keep you and your family safe.”

David watched Officer Harris drive off down the long dirt road leading out of the countryside.

     #

            That afternoon, David and his son began building a makeshift fence around the chicken coop out of old plywood.

“I don’t understand why we can’t just leave Cooper out here to guard these stupid chickens,” Patrick, David’s son, complained over the sound of the clucking chickens.

In between shovels, David said sternly, “I told you; I don’t know what kind of animal attacked our chickens.  If it goes after Cooper, do you really want to be the one responsible for that?”  David gestured for the next strip of wood.  Patrick placed and steadied it inside the hole David dug while David filled the area around the wood’s end with dirt.  “And if you’re going to complain, I’ll make you do this alone.  I have better things I could be doin’ too.”

“Sorry,” Patrick muttered.  He held back a snarky comment.

David checked his watch.  “We need to hurry; I want this finished before it gets dark.”  He wiped the sweat from his brow and began digging a hole for the next plank.

“What do you think it is?”

“I don’t know…Coyote? Bobcat?  Maybe a wild dog.”

David’s wife came out as the sun was setting and called for them to come eat dinner.  David sent his son off while he finished the fence himself.  He couldn’t afford to lose any more chickens.

#

            The porch light’s humble glow was the only source of light as David staked the last plank for his makeshift fence.  It looks like shit, David thought, but considering how stupid coyotes are, it would work.  The air was cool, but he was still drenched with sweat.  He laid his tools along the side of the worn down house and sat beside the fence, careful not to lean against it.  The crickets chirped sporadically around him; a noise he had grown familiar with over the thirty years that he had isolated himself out in the country to run his farm.

He stared into the mouth of the woods that spread out far behind his house.  The trees always looked pitiful in these autumn months with their desolate branches reaching out towards nothing.   The wind shook these branches that made David feel like they were beckoning him inside.  But David had grown used to these isolating nights and he was confident there wasn’t anything in those woods that could hurt him.

He heard a soft noise coming from the woods.  He sat quietly and listened.

Barking.  It was only barking.

“Stupid wild dogs.  The police need to get their shit together.”  David got up and walked inside for dinner.

#

            Several days after the incident, David was talking on the phone with a neighboring farmer, John.  The television offered some soft background noise.

“Have you heard about the loose predator attackin’ people’s animals?” John asked.

“Yeah.  The fucker got my chicken… Why?” David answered.

There was a pause and John replied, “I think I saw it.”

“Well I hope you shot the damn thing.”

“Nah, it didn’t stick around otherwise I woulda.  I saw it last night while I went out to give my dog some food.  He was barkin’ like mad and out of the corner of my eye I saw something run into my cornfield.  I ran inside to grab my shotgun, but by the time I got back outside it was gone.  Didn’t think it was worth it to chase after it in the dark.”

“What’d it look like?”

“It was fairly small and ran low to the ground, but that’s all I saw.”

“I think we should go after it.  It’s been terrorizing people’s animals, but the police won’t do anything unless it attacks a person.  Someone’s gotta step up and take care of this thing.”

“I agree.  Let’s get together soon and take care of it.”

“Honey, come look at this,” David’s wife, Sharla called from the living room.

“Okay, we’ll talk about it later.  I gotta go.”

“Okay, bye.”

David hung up the phone and walked into the living room where his wife was watching the evening news.

A news reporter said, “Police have raided the house of a man named Jim Delvalle after being tipped off that he had kept several dogs locked inside his basement with little light, food, and water.  After some of these dogs escaped and were tracked to Delvalle, they raided his home to find that these allegations were indeed true.”  The news channel released footage of Delvalle’s basement where his dogs were kept.  The room was a mangy, yellow with a small window that released only a sliver of light on the top of the left wall.  Feces mixed with urine and dog hair were smeared all over the floor and lower walls.  Large scratches marked the walls as well.

“What kind of sick man keeps dogs locked up like that?” Sharla wondered aloud.

The news reporter continued the story, “Police have managed to contain most of the dogs, but it is suspected that a few may still be on the loose.  They have cautioned to keep pets indoors and to not approach any animals you may see.  If you think you’ve seen one of these dogs, report it to the police immediately.”

“I bet those dogs have been what’s attackin’ the animals,” David said.

“Those poor dogs.  All because of sick, sick man.  And now they’re going to be put down because of him,” Sharla shook her head, baffled.

“I’m gonna stop by John’s place,” David said.  He grabbed his coat and walked out the door.

#

            David and John stood outside in their hunter’s jackets staring into the mouth of the woods their land shared.  Both of them carried a shotgun.

“Here’s the deal.  We have about two hours until sundown; we’ll go into the woods, look for any feral dogs and if we find them,” David emulated the shotgun going off, “Bam.  Shoot ‘em right between the eyes.”

“Sounds like a plan,” John agreed in his grisly voice.

They walked into the woods, both of them on guard, ready for anything.  The woods seemed the same as usual—the trees’ branches hung low and bare, the fallen leaves and loose twigs crunched beneath their boots, the air was filled with the smell of pure earth.  They moved as silently as they could, not a word was said between them, only exchanges of eye contact and nods were had.

It wasn’t until they had been walking for at least in hour when they finally encountered a lead.  They stumbled upon a small concaving of the earth filled with animal corpses.

“What the…” John muttered.

David squatted down, making sure to avoid being too close to the rotting corpses, and rested the butt of his shotgun on the ground so the mouth was facing the canopy of trees.

“David…What the fuck is this?” John cried out with a slight hint of panic in his voice.  David stayed quiet and continued to stare at the hole.   “What kind of animal collects half-eaten prey like this?”

David stood up and murmured, “Not a normal one; that’s for sure.”  Flies buzzed around them and David walked off, unable to handle the decomposing stench emanating from the dead animals.  John followed him.

“Should we tell the police?” John asked.

“I suppose so.  But for now, let’s just keep looking for this thing…and be careful.”

They continued exploring until the sun hung low and decided to call it a day.  David wished John a goodnight as they arrived at John’s house just as it was getting too dark to see.  David hopped in his old pick-up truck, turned on his headlights, and made his way home along the dirt road.

He pulled into the dirt driveway, shut off the engine, and walked up to his house with his shotgun.  He was about to walk inside when his peripheral vision caught rustling in his squash field.  His head turned and he saw a small animal-like figure standing in the middle of his field.  He readied his shotgun and slowly approached the area; the animal barked at him.  But as he approached it, he lowered the gun, realizing that the animal was actually just a child, about six or seven years in age, standing on his hands and feet.  But he looked down at the child in horror.

The boy’s hair was long and dark, matted with dirt and grease.  The child was naked and extremely skinny.  His skin was covered in a layer of filth—mud and feces cloaked him.  Along with the layer of grime blanketing him were cuts, small and large, oozing with infection.  He stared up at David between strands of matted hair.

“Do you need some help?” David asked, unsure of what to say.  He walked a bit closer to the child.

The boy barked.

“That’s not funny, son.  Come with me and I’ll call your parents or the police to help you.”

The boy then began running on his hands and feet right towards David, barking fiercely at him.  David stumbled backwards and the boy leapt up at David, knocking him over, and bit hard on his right arm.  David screamed and beat the child with the butt of his shotgun causing him to jump off and cry out in pain.   David took the opportunity to run towards his house.  The child collected himself and ran after David on his hands and feet, but he was slower than David.

David ran inside and slammed the screen door, locked it, and shut the main door just as the barking child began clawing at the screen.  David grabbed the phone off the living room’s coffee table and dialed 911.

“David!” Sharla yelled, “What’s going on?  Was that the dog?”

“That was not a dog.”

“What?  Well then what is it?”

David held his finger up at Sharla indicating her to wait a moment.  He informed the 911 responder of the feral child and was told to remain calm as the police were on their way.  He hung up the phone and tried to slow his racing heart.

Sharla looked up at him, clearly worried.  “David… It couldn’t have been a child…right…? David?”

The child’s barking could still be heard from outside the house.  “That barkin’ you hear, that ain’t no dog.  That’s a fuckin’ kid.”  Sharla widened her eyes at him.  “And that ain’t no normal fuckin’ kid.  It…it was disgusting.  Mangy.  All it did was bark at me when I tried talking to it… And then it attacked me!”  David held up his right arm with bits of flesh hanging off.  Blood slowly dripped from the wound.  Sharla covered her mouth, alarmed.  “Just stay inside and wait for the police to arrive.  Where’s Patrick?”

“He’s staying the night at a friend’s house.”

“Good.”

They sat in silence while they waited for the police.  An hour later, they received a knock on the door.

David answered it revealing Officer Harris and his partner.

“Please come in,” David said.  The two officers stepped into their home and David shut the door behind them.  The three of them stared at each other for several moments.  Sharla sat idly by on the living room couch.

“So.  David.  You said a child attacked you on your field?”  David nodded and lifted up his right arm. “How old was the child?”

“I don’t know.  He was kinda small…maybe five or six?”  Officer Harris’ partner took notes.

“What did he look like?”

“Long greasy black hair, he was covered in filth, smelled like shit, had cuts and bruises all over him.”

“Did he say anything to you?”

“All he did was bark.”

“Bark?  Like a dog?”

“Yep.  He barked at me and ran at me on all fours like a dog.”

Officer Harris shook his head.  “I have a feelin’ I know where this kid came from.  Officer Peyton, go check the perimeter of the house and see if this kid is still hangin’ out.  He’s just a kid, so don’t shoot him if you see him, he can’t do too much damage, but still, be careful.”  Officer Peyton walked out of the house with his flashlight.

Officer Harris turned back to David.  “Have you heard ‘bout Jim Delvalle?”

“The guy who kept his dogs locked up in his basement?”

“Yep.  That’s him.  Well, turns out it wasn’t just dogs he was keepin’ down there.  When we cleared out his house, we found human feces mixed in with dog feces.  We pulled up some records on the guy.  Turns out he has a son.  When we evicted him and his wife, we found no son.”

“Oh my God,” Sharla’s voice quietly said in horror. Her hand covered her mouth.

“That’s right.  He had locked his son in with those dogs for all his life it seems like.  Eleven long years spent shittin’ and pissin’ with a bunch of dogs.  That kid that attacked you, I bet that’s the Delvalle kid.  I bet he escaped when those other dogs attacked Delvalle and took off.”

“But this kid looked younger than eleven.  Are you sure?”

“If he spent his whole life locked in a tiny room, more than likely it stunted his growth.  He also probably never learned to speak or walk either.  That’s why he barked at you and ran around on all fours.  He doesn’t know anything else.”

“Well I’ll be damned.  So all along it was a kid attackin’ the animals?”

“Seems like it.”

“That explains why they’re half-eaten.  He tries to act like a predator when he’s not.”

Officer Peyton walked in at that moment.  “I didn’t see anything out there.”

“Ok.  Well tomorrow morning we’ll send a search party for the kid.  In the meantime David, take care.”

“You too.”

Officer Harris and Peyton walked out the door.  David and Sharla listened to them drive away and then they just sat in silence, absorbing the disturbing news they had just received.

“That poor, poor child,” Sharla finally said, breaking the quiet.  David grunted in acknowledgement.  “I hope they’re able to find him and give him a life he deserves.”

David sighed, exhausted from the day, “Me too.”

As Sharla snuggled up to David after they had gotten into bed, through the silence of their isolated farm, they could hear a pitiful howling echoing in the distance.

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