Monthly Archives: May 2021

The Dog Creek Coven

A short story by Clark Roberts and Andy Rausch

Bishop thought he’d seen it all in his twenty-three years as a hitman, but he’d been wrong. This job was just plain nuts but the money was good so he’d taken it anyway.

Mooney, the stocky dumb-looking sheriff, slid the open case towards him.

“This is half,” he said. “Half now, half after, like we agreed.”

Bishop pulled out a tied stack of bills and fanned through them with his thumb.

“Do you wanna count it?” Mooney asked.

“No,” Bishop said as he returned the stack of bills to their proper spot in the case. “I’ve got an eye for this kinda shit. It looks square.”

The redheaded waitress, Julie, strode to their table and refilled their mugs with piping hot coffee. She met Bishop’s gaze over the rising steam.

“I just wanna say thank you,” she said. “I’ve got a son of my own. Fifth grader. He’s not in danger yet, but he ain’t gonna be a kid forever. I suspect in a few years these witch bitches mighta set their sights on him.”

Bishop cleared his throat after taking a sip of the hellishly hot coffee. “Thank you, honey, but the job ain’t done yet.” He nodded at the case Mooney was snapping shut. “And when it is, these Ben Franklins here will be all the thanks required.”

“I suppose a big city hot shot like you thinks this is all just a bunch of small town hooey,” Julie said.

Bishop smirked, tilted his head. He didn’t want to lie so he said nothing.

“Somebody’s gotta stop those bitches,” Julie said.

“Julie,” Mooney interrupted, holding up his palm. “I’m handlin’ it.”

Frowning, and with a sass Bishop believed only small town waitresses could pull off properly, she snapped, “Well, howdy-fucking-do, Sheriff. I’m glad you’re handlin’ it. Truth is, if you’d handled it in the first place we wouldn’t have needed no hitman.”

“When I ran for county seat,” Mooney said, rubbing the bridge of his nose, “I really wasn’t expecting to be taking on black magic. I’m sorry, but I didn’t go to school for this shit.”

“I’ll give you that,” Julie said with a modicum of appreciation. She turned her attention back to Bishop. “Like I said, thank ya, honey. We needed a savior before this thing gets too far outta hand. You probably think we’re off our rockers, but you’re our last resort. I’m sure you don’t even believe in black magic, but thank you just the same.”

The waitress had assessed him correctly. Bishop didn’t believe in black magic, but he did believe in money, bullets, and a strong work ethic, so he’d do what was necessary. Witches or bitches, those women were through.

“Rest assured, I’ll get the job done,” he said.

“Well, I’ll be throwing a prayer or two in your direction.” The waitress winked at him, turned, and walked away.

“Sorry about that,” Mooney said, slightly embarrassed.

“Don’t worry about it,” Bishop said. “No problem at all. It helps give me an idea of what we’re looking at.” He looked around the cafe, still half-empty this early in the morn. “I’ll say one thing, though: it feels strange talking about a hit in such a public place. I can’t believe the whole town is on this.”

“I’d imagine that’s not something you see every day,” Mooney said, raising his coffee to his lips. He winced as he swallowed, indicating to Bishop he should wait a little longer before taking a sip of his. Mooney set the mug back down on the table. “Honestly, there isn’t much money around these parts, no single wealthy benefactor to put the bounty up. Say what you will about us small town folks, but push come to shove, we stick together.”

“Everyone in town pitched in to pay?”

Mooney nodded. “The gas station and both our watering holes have had collection jars on their counters for a few months now. Even the local church has been donating ten percent of their weekly offering dish to aid in the cause.”

“They’ve been tithing me,” Bishop said, grinning.

Before Mooney could respond, Julie reappeared, balancing two breakfast plates. She placed the omelet and hash browns in front of Bishop and the pancakes in front of Mooney. Mooney reached for the plastic syrup dispenser and in a flash, he had his stack good and syrupy and had a chunk crammed into his mouth.

“If the town’s been raising money for this, I suspect these women I’m going after—”

Witches,” Mooney interrupted.

“Yeah, okay, sure,” Bishop said. “The point is, if everyone is so out in the open about this, I’m sure by now they know the town has put a bounty on their heads.”

“You bet they do. And you know what? They don’t care. Doesn’t faze ’em one bit.”

“Okay, so why haven’t you and your boys been able to handle this?” Bishop asked. He shoveled a forkful of eggs stuffed with ham and cheese into his mouth, finding it every bit as good as he’d expected from a greasy-spoon breakfast dive.

With a big mouthful of pancakes, Mooney pointed at the hitman with his fork. “I’m telling you, and you can take this as a warning, those bitches are powerful. I don’t know shit all about black magic, but since they’ve come to our town we’ve had three young men go missing. Two a few months ago and then one just this past week.”

Bishop stared at him. “And you think they’re somehow related.”

Mooney nodded. “We all do.”

“You haven’t found their bodies?”

“Not a one,” Mooney said.

“Then maybe they’re still alive.”

“I don’t think so. But listen…” Mooney paused, weighing his words. “I know this is gonna sound crazy.”

“Crazier than witches?”

Mooney shrugged an awkward shrug.

“We haven’t found any bodies, but we’ve had multiple sightings by local hunters of what they describe as dog men running around out in that forest.”

Bishop grinned, caught off guard. “Dog men?”

“That’s what they say,” Mooney answered. “Everyone here believes these witches seduce young men and cast some kinda spell on ’em. Make ’em all hairy and howl at the moon.”

“You’re fuckin’ with me.”

“I fuck with you not. If it wasn’t the case, you wouldn’t be here.” Mooney smothered another heavy round of syrup over his pancakes. “I don’t know what you brought along to get the job done, but I hope you took the middle man’s advice and got yourself a handful of silver bullets. Not for the witches, but for their minions, so to speak.”

“For the dog men,” Bishop said, smirking, trying not to laugh.

“I know you think this is funny, but it’s not,” Mooney said, deathly serious.

Bishop hadn’t brought silver bullets. Of course he hadn’t taken the middle man’s advice. Who would? Bishop didn’t know what had happened to the missing men—maybe they’d run off together for all he knew—but he was certain they had not been transformed into dog men by witches wielding black magic. What he really believed was that those bodies were gonna turn up one day, long after he’d done the deed and clipped those women. He didn’t like killing innocent people—especially women—but the money spent all the same. As for dog men, Bishop thought that was a load of bullshit started by some half-drunken, half-blind hunter who had nothing better to do than make up stories.

When Julie returned with the check, Mooney looked it over and scoffed at the price.

“What, you gotta dip into the payment?” Bishop asked, patting the leather briefcase.

“Nah,” Mooney said, tossing a two dollar tip on the table. “It’s just, you’d just think the locals would give their lawman some kinda discount.”

They went to the cash register and Mooney paid. Bishop felt every eye in the place following him.

Let ‘em look, he thought. By tomorrow night I’ll be a legend in this shithole Podunk town. Silly fuckers might even erect a statue of me one day. Wouldn’t that be a hoot?

Outside, before Bishop could climb into his Escalade, Mooney handed him a folded piece of paper. The hitman unfolded it and examined it. It was a crudely-drawn map. There was a star indicating the town and a line from that heading north with a couple of turn-offs here and there until it finally ended at a big “X”. There was was an arrow pointing at the X with the word WITCHES scrawled next to it.

Mooney pointed to the spot as if Bishop couldn’t have figured it out himself. “That’s where you’ll find ‘em, right there.” Mooney paused and looked over Bishop’s shiny black Escalade. “You take this thing, you’ll wanna go slow down the path. It’s not maintained, so there’s lots of ups and downs. You’ll go over a trout stream, and that’s Dog Creek. Rumor has it there’s a rickety bridge that’s got no business still standing, but I can’t speak to that as I ain’t been back there. But I can say I wouldn’t drive across it if it was.” Now the sheriff pointed to the crude drawing of a fire with a pentagram above it. “That X, that’s their place. I hear tell it ain’t nothin’ more than a camp, but again—”

“You haven’t been there,” Bishop said.

“Right,” Mooney said, nodding. “Anyhow, you come back with evidence, and you’ll get the other half of the money.”

Mooney put out his hand, but Bishop just looked at it.

“We can shake when this is all over.” Bishop climbed up behind the black Escalade’s steering wheel and tossed the briefcase into the passenger seat.

“Good luck,” Mooney said through the open side-window. “You staying at the Riverside Inn?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Top secret, huh?”

Bishop grinned. “Something like that.”

“It’s okay, I already knew you was stayin’ there.”

“How’s that?”

“It’s the only motel that’s still open for more than fifty miles,” Mooney said. “You’ll see the husks and signs of a couple others, but they’ve been tits up for more than a decade.”

Bishop nodded. “Good to know.”

“So,” Mooney said, “when can I expect to hear from you?”

“Tomorrow,” Bishop said matter-of-factly. “I’ll get the job done tonight, and it’ll be done right. Then I’ll go back and crash for a few hours, get my ass up and call. When I do, please have my money ready ’cause I plan to be a hundred miles away from here before your next order of pancakes.”

“You never know,” Mooney said. “I like pancakes.”

Bishop nodded and rolled the side window up. He then reversed the Escalade and spit gravel as he sped out of the parking lot.

A few minutes later, Bishop parked the Escalade right smack dab in front of the office of the Riverside Inn. His was the only vehicle in the parking lot. Bishop stood beside the vehicle for a moment, smoking a cigarette. Despite being a lifelong smoker, he considered the habit a nasty, smelly one and never allowed himself to smoke inside his home or vehicle lest he smell it up. As he stood there drawing on his cigarette, he studied the old faded Riverside sign, which proudly boasted AIR CONDITIONING AND FREE ICE. Well hell, he thought, grinning, who wouldn’t want to stay in a place with such luxurious amenities as those? He took one last drag from the cigarette and dropped it on the asphalt, crushing it underfoot.

He opened the backdoor of the Escalade and pulled out his faded Army rucksack. He then held up his key, hitting the electronic device that locked the Escalade with a “woo-ooh!” sound. Bishop turned and walked to the cracked glass door that said NO SHIRT NO SHOES NO SERVICE. Some would-be comedian had taken a marker and marked through the word “SHIRT” replacing it with the scrawled word “SHIT”. Real fuckin’ funny, he thought as the pushed the door open. When he did, an overhead bell announced him.

The counter was to the right, but there was no one manning it. While he waited, Bishop scanned the room, which looked as archaic and rundown as the rest of this shit-heap town. The super ugly 1970-something wallpaper with green and yellow floral designs which lined the room was peeling at every intersection. Straight ahead there was a black velvet painting depicting a bullfighter twirling his cape past an angry bull. Bishop remembered these types of paintings from his childhood some thirty-five years ago, and the dust which coated it looked to be about as old. To his right there was a large floor model television with a cracked screen that looked as old as Methusela’s great grandma. On top of that was a smaller television that looked like it had probably been used to watch brand new episodes of The Dukes of Hazzard once upon a time. Next to the televisions was a dirty old orange recliner that had been patched with silver duct tape a half dozen times.

Bishop was taking all this in when he heard a man’s voice from behind him say, “What can I do ya for?” He turned and looked at a side-door behind the desk, where a heavyset man in plaid who looked like the douche-bag neighbor who always peeked over the fence on Home Improvement had emerged.

“I’ve got a reservation,” Bishop said.

Plaid Shirt grinned the eight teeth he had left as he nodded. “I know who you are.”

Bishop said dryly, “I imagine you do. It doesn’t look like you get many customers.”

“Oh, you’d be surprised. Sometimes on a good huntin’ weekend I get three, maybe four people stayin’ here.”

These poor dumb inbreds, Bishop thought as he dug for his wallet.

No, no, no!” Plaid Shirt said, holding up his palms, doing jazz hands. “Your money’s no good here.”

Bishop met his gaze. “You the owner?”

“Nah, not me, I’m just the manager. Shirley’s the owner. She told me to tell you that you could stay as long as you need to, free of charge. Her daughter Sally was going out with one of them boys who…you know…”

Bishop nodded.

“So anyway, she said to tell you anything you wanted was free, on the house.”

“What does that mean? What is there I could have?”

The man looked confused. “Well… We don’t really have no food or nothin’, but we got ice. Whole lotta ice.”

“And air-conditioning,” Bishop added dryly.

“Well, it’s cold this time of year, so I don’t reckon you’ll be needin’ that.”

Plaid Shirt turned around and faced a wall of hanging keys with accompanying numbers. He reached up and snatched one down. Then he spun to face Bishop. “This one here’s the nicest room we got. It’s the Presidential Suite.”

Bishop stared at him. “Why’s it called that? Have any presidents actually stayed here?”

Plaid Shirt grinned that goofy every-other-tooth-missing grin again. “Nope. But it ain’t exactly a suite neither.”

Bishop reached out and took the key.

When Bishop opened the door to his room, he was amazed by how nasty it was. This was the fucking Presidential Suite?! Not only was it something less than “presidential”, it was the nastiest, most disgusting shithole he’d ever seen, and he’d stayed in the worst areas of St. Louis and Detroit more times than he could remember.

But fuck it, he thought. This was a job and if he got it done, he’d be on his way in no time. Hell, he might not even sleep here. He might just go out and do the job and call Mooney for his money early. Then he could put some distance between himself and this town and find some place nicer to stay. He’d certainly have the money to do it.

He dropped his ruck sack and picked up the television remote off the dresser. There was something sticky on the remote, which helped him make up his mind that he would definitely be leaving as soon as he could. He sat back on the edge of the bed and switched on the TV. When it came to life, there was static. He flipped through the channels, but they were all static.

“Good Christ,” he muttered.

He stood up and switched off the TV. Then he walked around the bed to the nightstand and picked up the telephone to call Plaid Shirt and complain. When he put the phone receiver to his ear, he found that it was dead. He pushed the buttons repeatedly, but there was nothing. He shook his head and set the phone back down on its cradle.

At this point, he wondered if there was even running water.

He laid back, hesitant to rest his head on the flat pillow. The place was the pits but he needed a few hours of rest after the long drive last night. He closed his eyes without setting his phone alarm, knowing full well his internal clock wouldn’t let him down. It never did.

Dusk had sifted through the room’s grimy window when Bishop’s eyes popped alert hours later.

His trigger finger twitched. It was witch hunting time.

*****

With his headlights off, Bishop wound around the two-track deep into the woods. Sure enough, after crossing Dog Creek over a rickety covered bridge that he suspected was older than Jesus’ ancestors, he found himself staring down at a bright, dancing bonfire centered smack dab in the middle of a clearing.

In there center of the fire he saw a giant wooden cross. The flames danced and flickered wildly around it, reaching toward the heavens. There was a man hanging from the cross, just above the flames, and that man was alive and screaming in agony. They were the piercing cries of a man who could both feel and smell the flesh on his feet cooking and was ready to die and get it over with. Maybe Mooney was right. This had to be the most recent man who’d disappeared.

Bishop could feel his stomach seize, and he had to close his eyes and turn away. He was a killer and an experienced one at that, a man who had seen the lights go out in the eyes of thirty-seven men and women, but this was too much.

Saving the poor fuck would only be a bonus. It wasn’t part of the arrangement, because the townsfolk believed the men were already beyond saving. What they wanted was for Bishop to make sure this never happened again.

The cooking man’s cries intensified.

Saving that man ain’t my job, Bishop reminded himself. My job is to kill those witch bitches once and for all.

Bishop slipped out of the Escalade. He moved stealthily around the vehicle, quietly opening the back hatch. He’d removed the lightbulbs so the dome light wouldn’t come on. His hands reached in and felt along the rifle case. He snapped the case open and withdrew the AS50 sniper rifle. He slid the cartridge into place, hearing its satisfying click.

He then dropped his hand to his side, making sure the Glock—his backup piece—was strapped in place.

It was game time, and Bishop was in his element, a panther stalking its prey.

And in that moment, a thought occurred to him, and he lifted his eyes towards the sky; sure enough, the moon was full. It was then that he had a second realization, and that realization was a combination of regret and fear.

Shoulda had those silver bullets made, Bishop.

His lips thinned as he breathed heavily through his nose.

Fuck it. Do or die time.

Cradling the semi-automatic sniper rifle, he patted his sidearm one last time. Christ, he thought, he had the power to single-handedly take down a platoon if he had to. Or a bear. Or a whole goddamn platoon of bears. This thought brought a smile to his lips.

What the hell was he scared of anyway? The local legend was dog men, not wolf men.

In the back of his mind, though, with the moon full as it was, this logic felt like a matter of splitting hairs.

I’ve got a job to do, he reminded himself, and set to task on the tripod.

Bishop had only used the AS50 twice, since he generally liked doing his dirty work up close and personal. But he was efficient with the rifle, and he was ready.

Come on out, you fucking witch bitches.

Once the rifle was balanced atop the tripod, Bishop got down on his belly. Peering down through the scope, he found the bonfire and the slowly burning man, who was whipping his head to and fro and gyrating like a man possessed by demons.

Ignoring the poor bastard as best he could, Bishop swiveled the rifle.

He scoped all three of his targets, and slightly jerked the rifle from surprise at their unexpected sex appeal.

He licked his lips.

They were lookers for sure, with tight, sleek bodies wrapped up in tight all-black goth garb. It was no wonder they’d been able to draw those men away from town. It had been their sultry sexiness that had drawn those men out here, not black magic or voodoo or any of that bullshit. It had been tits and ass, and these women had those things in spades.

All of them stopped moving, spaced out evenly around the flames. Simultaneously, they all raised their arms heavenward in what Bishop assumed was some sort of Satanic ritual.

Bishop focused the crosshairs on the one dressed heel to toe in leather, guessing she was their leader. At that moment she launched into a garbled litany he could hear even above the burning man’s cries of pain and anguish. She then began gyrating in such uneven jerks that Bishop almost believed she was possessed. Her spasms were so sudden and uneven that he couldn’t even keep his scope on her.

He swung it over to the redhead to her left.

She was in full profile. He rested the crosshairs on her temple and unconsciously held a breath.

The rifle popped, its sound somewhat masked by the cries and whooping, and the redhead’s head rocked back like she had been punched by God. She swayed like a flickering candle before dropping to her knees and falling face-first into the fire. Embers scattered wildly into the night air.

Bishop swiveled the rifle before either of the others could react, dropping the blonde beauty next.

He swung his rifle, and with the scope up to full power was able to read the paralyzing shock on the leader’s face. She looked up, staring directly at Bishop. There was no way she could actually see him there in the dark, but she’d heard the pop and had likely seen the muzzle flash.

Her followers had been snuffed out. No black magic had saved them from death.

Bishop settled the crosshairs onto her heart, but the witch turned to flee the moment he squeezed the trigger. The shot wasn’t a complete miss, though.

The witch stumbled backwards, almost falling, but held her feet. Her right hand clapped at her left shoulder and for a split second, watching her waver there, Bishop thought he’d completed the kill. But then she broke into a run, and by virtue of a mind on the brink of death or perhaps an actual plan, she zig-zagged.

Bishop fired and then fired again, both of his shots literally shots in the dark. He was fairly certain both shots missed.

The woman crossed the clearing before he could fire again. Through the scope he saw rustling brush where the witch dove into the woods’ perimeter. Hoping against hope he fired two more rounds where he thought she was. He held his breath, studying, searching.

A shadow darted back farther into the trees.

Shit!” he blurted.

Two of the witches were dead, but two wasn’t enough. The deal had been that he’d receive no pay unless he brought back evidence that all three had been killed. He would have to give chase and track down his final target.

At least there would be a blood trail.

She had a head start on him, so he had to get moving.

He chucked the rifle, knowing it would only slow his chase. But that was fine, he still had the Glock. Besides, if the job couldn’t be completed cleanly from afar, he’d enjoy finishing her up close and personal. He hustled down the hill, making his way through tree branches while trying not to lose his footing.

When he reached the bottom, he glanced up at the burning man hanging on the cross. When he did, he saw something startling.

“Well, fuck my mother and call me Charlie,” Bishop muttered.

It was true. It couldn’t be true, wasn’t fucking possible, and yet it was.

The man wasn’t just burning as Bishop had previously believed. As the flames danced around him, the man’s head continued to whip back and forth, but the flames weren’t charring him. They were changing him. Transforming him.

Bishop stood motionless, staring as the hanging man’s physical body grew muscles that continued to stretch and bulge in ways that would make a professional wrestler envious. The man’s shirt ripped apart as the muscles expanded. And now his wails changed as well, transforming from screams to growls, and the man’s jaw bone stretched in ways that jaw bones weren’t supposed to stretch. The chin and the mouth stretched outward, becoming the jaws of…a dog or a wolf. As the jaws took shape, hair began to grow and cover the man’s face, and within mere moments he had transformed almost fully into an animal, and not just an animal but an angry, snarling animal.

The rope securing the beast’s ankles popped loose and the creature kicked and convulsed angrily, trying to release itself from its bounds. Suddenly, Bishop saw the beast’s left arm break free from its constraint and the still-evolving abomination dangled. It was nearly free and Bishop knew it would be down on the ground and then on him in a matter of moments.

“Fuck that,” Bishop said, aiming his Glock at the beast’s head. Before he squeezed the trigger, he silently prayed that the bullet would be enough to stop it. He fired, the sound of the Glock loud as hell, the round blowing the creature’s head clean off. The creature’s body continued to move and shake violently, its legs and arms juddering. And then, finally, it went limp and still.

The creature dangled there, the soft wind causing it to turn towards him. When it did, Bishop could see that the creature hadn’t quite finished its transformation. Then, suddenly, the weight of the dead creature proved too much for the rope and it snapped, dropping the damn thing into the fire like a sack of rocks. In that moment, the fire came to life, and it brightened like a star in the moments before its death. The creature’s hair sizzled and the sweet, sickening aroma of burning flesh filled Bishop’s nostrils. Staring down at the burning creature, Bishop fired two more rounds into its head to make sure it was dead.

Knowing he had to move quickly, he dragged the first witch he’d killed from beneath the dead creature and out of the fire. He positioned it next to the other dead witch so both of their faces were visible. He took out his phone and snapped two photographs of their lifeless bodies as evidence they were dead.

But there was still the last remaining witch to contend with. He tucked the phone back into his pocket and broke into a sprint with his Glock up and out ahead of him. He ran into the forest where he’d seen the bitch escape.

Once he’d entered the brush line, he stopped and cocked his head, listening intently. Concentrating hard, he took a step and heard only the leaves crunching beneath his boot. On the second step, he snapped a wig.

He paused, waiting.

He heard no sound. No movement. He looked to the ground, searching for a bloody trail, but even the full moon didn’t provide enough light to aid him beneath the forest’s canopy.

He cursed, knowing what he would have to do, even if it gave away his position. He pulled out his palm flashlight.

He switched the light on, illuminating the splashed blood on the leaves.

Maybe she’ll bleed out before I find her.

He smiled at the thought.

She was obviously wounded badly, and the amount of blood splashed upon the withered leaves hinted at a potentially mortal wound. Maybe the bullet had ripped apart something vital.

He pushed the beam of light farther ahead.

More blood. On the leaves, even on the closest bush. Fifty feet up he found a swath of red on an old oak tree.

Bishop nodded confidently in the dark. He knew he had her on the ropes. The witch was losing strength and had leaned here for support.

When he had been a young man, Bishop had tracked a couple of wounded deer who hadn’t been shot cleanly through the lungs or heart. He would never forget those instances. The deer had held on for as long as possible, refusing to give up… But this was a lot of spilled blood. The witch had to be close to death. She was clinging onto her place in the physical world, but it was slipping away. Soon it would he hello darkness, my old friend.

Bishop continued on, deeper into the woods, holding his breath.

Then he heard it, not much farther ahead and to the right. The sound of a body collapsing.

He swung the light and ducked a few branches. There she was lying motionless on the ground.

He approached her, using his foot to flip her over onto her back.

She was still alive, just barely. Even now, her face was beautiful. Squinting up against the light in her face, she stared into his eyes.

“An outsider,” she gasped.

Bishop grinned. “Yeah,” he said. “One outsider hired to kill another.”

“They…paid you?”

Bishop’s grin widened, but he said nothing.

The witch’s breaths were cadenced quickly, as if her heart was desperate to replenish her emptying blood supply. She coughed from somewhere deep in her throat, spitting up blood. She then did this a second time, this one ending in a gargle.

Death was taking hold of her. Bishop had seen this many times. Her eyes were still open, staring at him, but the light within them was fading fast. Despite this, she smiled. Her tone strengthened at the end, and with a fortune teller’s confidence she said, “You’ll never spend another dollar of that money, you prick.”

That was enough. Bishop was tired of this shit. He leaned over and pressed the barrel of the Glock into her chest. “And you’ll never see another bonfire, bitch.” In that moment, he saw what little life was left in her withdraw. Her eyes turned as lifeless as stones.

He fired point blank, and the witch’s body jumped with death.

The deal was sealed.

Bishop replaced the handheld flashlight with the cell phone and snapped a photo.

He became aware that the night somehow darkened. He looked over his shoulder, expecting to see the full moon trying to hide through the canopy of trees. Instead, he saw a massive hulk looming over him.

Bishop swallowed, remembering the other two men the witches had lured away from town.

The beast above him growled a fierce growl that froze Bishop’s blood, and the creature pulled back its lips to display its glowing white fangs. Bishop felt his bladder release and warm piss snaked down his leg. This reawaken him, and he snapped back into the moment.

The creature seemed to bare its teeth a little more, its growl nearly deafening now.

“Fuck you,” Bishop said as he brought the Glock up, firing through the bottom of the creature’s jaw. The muzzle flashed and the sound rocked the forest. Most of the beast’s head was blown apart—enough so that Bishop knew without a doubt it was dead. He turned and started to run, knowing that the gunshot had given away his location.

Without his flashlight and only the minimal light from the moon, Bishop put his hands out in front of him to protect himself from injury. He knew there had to be at least one more of those creatures prowling around out here. His only chance was to get back to the Escalade and get back to town. Nobody had paid him to kill the dog men. He’d let the townsfolk deal with them.

He ran, panting hard as he did. He scraped his right arm against a tree and several branches smacked and cut his face, but he didn’t stop powering forward. He could hear nothing but the sound of his own panting. As he ran, he slipped and felt the ground disappear from beneath his feet, and suddenly his face struck the ground hard, and then he was rolling, head over heels down the hill until he hit the base of a tree with a hard thud, knocking him unconscious, and there was only blackness.

*****

When Bishop came to, blinking himself awake, there was thick blood in his eyes. He could taste its warm saltiness in his mouth. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind. How long had he been lying here unconscious? He had no idea, but it was still as dark as it had been before. He felt around on the ground for his gun, but it was no use. He then reached for his palm flashlight, but it was gone as well. This led to another thought. He reached for his phone, which held the evidence of the witches’ demise, but found that it was also missing.

Christ, he thought. He would have to sit here and wait for daylight. Then, once the sun rose, he could find his phone and return to town. Bishop raised himself up and sat with his back against the tree. His entire body hurt and he was cold. He turned his neck, which was stiff and sore. He tried to pop it, but it wouldn’t give. He hadn’t tried to stand yet, but he didn’t feel like he had any broken bones. All in all, these were very minor injuries in the grand scheme of things. Cold or no cold, he would just have to settle in and wait for morning. Then he would retrieve the phone and head back.

Sitting there, he considered locating the SUV and sleeping inside where it was a little bit warmer and more comfortable, but he feared he would lose track of where he’d fallen, lessening his chances of finding his phone.

He sat there for a few minutes, trying to find some modicum of comfort and warmth, thinking about all the things he would spend the money on once the job was finished. Maybe a boat. He’d always wanted a boat. But the truth was, despite constantly considering such purchases, Bishop never bought anything other than weapons. Everything else just went into the bank, where it sat accumulating interest.

He was straightening out his left leg, which hurt like a bitch, when he heard the growl, off in the distance to his left. Fuck. No time to sit and wait. Remembering the other man the witches had lured into the woods, likely transformed into another dog man, Bishop stood and turned in the direction he’d been heading.

Fuck the phone. It was time to get out of here.

He heard a second growl. This set his feet into action. Although he was stiff, he broke into a sprint with his hands out in front again. After a few minutes of running, he popped out of the treeline and into the clearing, seeing the fire again. He looked around, but saw no one; no people, no dog men. He looked up at where he’d been perched when he’d shot those witch bitches, and he stiffly broke into a run.

He was just making his way around the dead witches and the burned corpse of the first creature when he heard the howl behind him. It sounded close, but when he turned he saw nothing. He figured it was likely the creature was just inside the treeline, so Bishop scampered up the hill as quickly as he could. He was tired, oh so tired, but kept on, trying to find traction up the rather steep hill. As he did, he heard a howl that was closer this time. When he looked back, he saw the beast—the last of them, he believed—prowling around on two legs at the far end of the clearing where he’d just been.

Bishop climbed slower than he wanted to, mustering all the energy he had, trying to move as quickly as he could. He was about halfway up when he heard the growling a ways behind him. He didn’t turn around, but just kept on climbing. If his ears served him right, the beast was just beyond the fire. Bishop dug his boots into the dirt and made his way up. He heard more growling, closer now, just as he made his way up and over the top of the hill.

Seeing the Escalade ahead, he broke into what now passed for a sprint. Frantic and out of breath, he reached the passenger side door. He opened it and stuck his head in, hearing the dog man snarl behind him. It was close and it was ferocious.

Bishop straightened himself and turned to face the beast, which was very much animal despite its standing on two legs. It was only six or seven feet away and it’s eyes, fierce and angry, were locked on him. It’s jowls were open and it snarled, its teeth bared. It was moving in on him, coming closer and closer. When it was almost within arm’s reach, Bishop raised the flare gun he’d retrieved from the glove box. The beast reached out dumbly and swiped a claw across Bishop’s face, slicing his cheek and his right eye. The pain was excruciating; something burning and tremendous and beyond words. Before the creature could move again, Bishop fired the flare at the creature’s face with a loud whooooof!. Despite his being hurried and not being able to take precise aim, the flare shot directly into the creature’s snarling mouth. Part of the flame caught the creature’s face on fire and the rest burned inside his mouth. The creature made a loud squeal and staggered back, finally toppling backwards onto the ground. As it writhed, trying to rid itself of the pain and fire, Bishop moved quickly to the flaming beast, stomping his boot down as hard as he could on its flaming face. He felt its skull crush beneath his weight.

*****

Having called Mooney from the motel to set up the meeting, Bishop strode into the diner looking as if he’d just come up on the losing end of a fight with a rabid crack-addicted grizzly bear. His face was ripped apart and what was left of his ravaged eye hung grotesquely from its socket.

Mooney was already sitting at his table—the same one from their previous encounter—gorging himself on pancakes. Mooney looked up at Bishop’s face and stopped chewing, his mouth still full. Bishop stood before him.

“Give me the fucking money.”

Mooney moved the mouthful of food into the left side of his cheek so he could speak. “You killed ’em?”

“I fucking killed ’em,” Bishop said. “Now give me the money.”

Mooney grinned an uncomfortable grin. “You look a little—”

“I know what I look like. Just give me the goddamn case.”

Mooney looked up at him. “I need to see the proof.”

Bishop’s voice was filled with defiance, anger, and exhaustion. “I took pictures, but I lost my phone up there.”

Mooney grinned a big grin, exposing a wad of chewed up pancake inside his mouth.

“Well now, how do we know you actually done what you say you done?”

Bishop came up with a .38 and stuck it in Mooney’s face.

“I’m not playing,” Bishop said. “If I say I did it, I did it. I didn’t get the reputation I’ve got by not doing my jobs. I always do my job.” He raised the pistol towards his own damaged eye. “Look what this job cost me, Mooney. It cost me plenty is what it cost me. Now if you’ll please give me my money, I’ll get the fuck out of this one stoplight pig-fucker shithole of a town.”

Mooney stared at him for a minute, working it out in his head. Then he did a half shrug and reached down and grabbed a briefcase that was identical to the one he’d already given Bishop. He raised it and stood it on the edge of the table.

“You wanna count it?”

Bishop glared at him with his one eye. “I don’t want anything but to put you and this town and those goddamn dead witches in my rearview mirror. And when I do, I don’t even wanna look back. I just wanna drive and drive and then drive some more.”

Mooney grinned a dumb hick grin. “We ain’t that bad, are we?”

Bishop took the case and turned, walking out of the diner without saying a word.

As Mooney watched the Bishop peel out of the parking lot, Julie walked over to the table. “He wasn’t nearly so friendly today.”

“No, Julie, he wasn’t,” Mooney said. “But you know how big city folks are.”

“You think he actually killed those witches?”

Mooney crammed another forkful of pancake into his mouth and looked up at her, nodding. “I do, honey, I do.”

Standing beside the table, Julie turned and looked out at the empty parking lot. “He was a good-lookin’ fella,” she said. “I woulda screwed him. You know, before he went and got his eye all messed up.”

Mooney just nodded and went on eating his pancakes.