46 - The Devil's Hunting Dog

212 35 3

It took a while for Celia Rivera's story to come together. She spoke in a meandering, nonlinear way, jumping between topics as rapidly as her gaze traveled around the room. But, as her story spiraled brokenly out, it began to make a kind of sense. A terrible, uncanny explanation that felt increasingly familiar as Nat listened. 

"It was the dog. No one believes me. But you know. You know, or you wouldn't be here. That damned dog should never have come into our home."

Haltingly, she painted a history of the family, a portrait of her son Anthony: a loving father, a committed husband, a quietly obedient employee who filtered his ambitions through into his personal life. A man who pursued his hobbies with fervent interest, and who had a keen taste for fine things, and strange things, and antiques and artifacts -- simply for their aesthetic value, simply for the challenge in obtaining them. He was, in other words, no different from any customer who might venture into Nat's shop. She had met a dozen of people like him before; she may have met him, even, at some point, and not even realized it.

A funny coincidence that, in light of what happened, seemed ominously terrifying.

"They bought it at an estate sale," Celia explained, circling back to the dog. "I don't know where it came from before that. Guess it don't matter. I bet they're dead now, too. I bet everyone who ever owned that dog is dead now."

Buying antiques at an estate sale wouldn't have seemed ominous at the time, Nat thought. Antiquing was an art of stealing from the dead. Anthony had probably thought the same, if he'd given a second thought to it at all.  

She could imagine him looking down at the hound with the same affectionate gaze as she'd seen in Liz's own eyes that day at the storage auction. Could see him stroking its silky fur, running his fingers along its fine-boned brow. Could imagine that same oddly calm, vacant expression coming over him, the way it had seized Matt Cook, even Miriam before her countenance had changed so abruptly. 

Matt. Miriam. Anthony. All of them dead now. And weaving in and out of each of their stories, the hound with its dark eyes that might glow like fire in the darkness. 

"He had a temper, my boy. I won't say that he didn't. He was a good boy, he was kind to his wife, and don't you go home saying he beat her. He didn't, he never did, and I swear to the good lord that's true. It wasn't like that. It was never like that, right up til the end. Just...he had some anger in him, sometimes. Maybe a little more than most. Anger and ambition, that was Tony, but he was a good boy. He'd always been a good son and husband. Before they brought home that cursed...thing."

After he'd gotten the dog, Celia explained, things started to change around the house. Subtle little things, at first. Innocuous things. Nobody would have given them second thought, if not for what came next. In hindsight, looking at them all piled together, it painted the picture of a tragic downward spiral. But nobody would think to look back over the occasional bouts of insomnia, the once-in-a-while performance issues at work; no one would have even remembered the yelling, now and then, or the times he had said things that were especially cruel.

Not if he had not done what he had done.

In the end, the murders had rewritten his history, irreparably and irrevocably.

"He told me she was leaving him. His wife. She was going to take the girl. He was afraid he would never see her again. That they were in danger. He kept saying someone was coming to take them from him. 'You gotta protect what's yours,' he'd say, and I believe he meant that. He was...he was trying to save them. It wasn't his fault."

Celia spoke as if on the verge of tears, but her eyes were wide and clear and intense. She spoke with the rapturous intensity of someone in the grip of a religious fervor. However reluctant she had been to allow Nat into the house, now that she was telling her story, she seemed reluctant to stop. 

"The devil has his ways of getting to you," she said. "He has his hunting dogs. His demons. El Cadejo. They come up from hell and do his work on earth. The devil, he targeted my boy somehow, some way. And I tell you, once the devil's hound gets your scent, gets the smell of your soul, he won't let it go for anything. The devil will get what's his, one way or another."

Nat watched as the woman's eyes rolled wildly; she didn't know whether Celia could see her or not, if she even realized that she was still there. She spoke like someone caught in the grip of a memory that would not let her go until she finished telling its story. 

But she felt the flesh prickle and rise along her forearms, each hair standing on end. She felt the chill that gripped at the base of her spine as she remembered something, the dreamlike image of two burning eyes peering deep into her from darkness, wide jaws opening as if to engulf her soul.

"The dog," she prompted, gently. "You said you burned it."

"Burned a lot of things. Too much blood, and too much evil soaked in there. Would'a burned the whole house if I could."

"But the storage unit..."

"Extras. Wasn't none of it in the house...that night. But that dog sure was. That son of a bitch was sitting there in the middle of the house, grinning like he knew something. Ain't no way you've got him now. Not unless. Unless..."

She trailed off, muttering something that Nat thought might be a prayer, but she couldn't make out the words. Celia's voice was low, the words a swiftly muttered blur. She heard sangre de cristo and santos , the words blurring together into a sibilant hiss.

"Unless?"

"The devil gets what's his," Celia Rivera said, and when her eyes flicked back toward Natasha they seemed to peer right through her, past her. "Ain't nothing going to stop his hounds when they come sniffing at your door."

The Hound {WATTY WINNER}Read this story for FREE!