The Pale Hounds
a ghost story
Martin thought it was absurd that Mrs Baum wanted everyone inside by 11:00 PM, to not leave the club between then and 06:00 AM, or else stay in the nearby village at your own expense. Given that she was a sponsor of the country club and paying for her party's stay, he supposed she had the right, but it was still stupid and selfish. Why couldn't she understand that young people might want to spend the night at a bar, or some other place of entertainment outside the confines of a Victorian manor house whose television room looked like it hadn't been updated since the 1970s? He loved Emily, but dear God her grandmother was a chore.
And then there was that stupid ghost story that Emily told him about one night in the television room, holding hands while watching some godawful American sitcom. 'She does it, you know, because of the dogs' she said, grinning at him and stroking his calf with her foot, which was a sign that lovemaking was on the cards. Or on the table. Or on the golf course, if they weren't trapped inside. 'What dogs?'
'The ghost dogs.' She went on to explain that in the 18th century the club was the country pile of an aristocrat who was mad about hunting, and protective of his woods to such a degree that not only did he forbid poaching, but would sic his dogs on any non-family or staff member he found in there. The dogs weren't beagles or spaniels, either, but bull terriers trained to respond to their master's voice with bloodlust.
One day, however, he happened across a young woman from the nearby village, naked and washing her clothes in a brook. Unmoved by her youth and innocence, he sicced the dogs on her. She was unfazed, and muttered an imprecation which stopped the dogs and turned them on their master. Ropes of saliva hung from their jaws as the terrified lord tried to pivot his horse. The dogs wandered back to the house after gorging on man and horse, and were destroyed. But it's said that they still guard the woods, attacking unwary travellers.
'I think it's got more to do with her not wanting anyone to have too much fun' Martin replied. Emily's foot progressed to his thigh. 'Don't worry' she said, 'I'll keep you safe from grand-mama.'
Three days later, Martin stood on the patio outside the parlour's French windows. It was midnight, and he was smoking a cigarette. He wondered what would happen if Mrs Baum realised where he was, somehow. A stern telling-off at best, a demand that he leave and never return at worst. Either way, he wasn't worried. It's not as if Emily wouldn't follow him if he was asked to leave. Realising that, he stepped onto the grass and strolled a little way towards the woods, stopping when he heard a howl in the distance. He smiled at himself and flicked the stub of his cigarette at the patio. Ghost dogs...
He reached into his jacket and took out a scuffed tin with a showgirl on the lid, hiding her nakedness with giant marijuana leaves as fans. He wandered into the woods and was drawn by a sound of babbling to a natural brook, wild and beautiful in the moonlight. He smoked a joint and thought about Emily, currently locked up and safe in the country club, soundly sleeping in a luxurious bed. Same for Mrs Baum, and yet here he was in the cold and lonely night, probably catching his death. And for what? To spite some old bitch?
The brook ran into an underground channel, and from this there came a pale pair of hands. Martin looked from this to the joint, trying to remember where he'd bought the weed. He started to giggle, but stopped when the hands gripped the lip of the cave and pulled from behind them a female body. Lithe and as white as the bony, pitted moon, a naked woman stood in the brook. Her hair was auburn and tied with a daisy chain. She looked about and spotted Martin. She gave him a shocked glare as if he'd walked into her bedroom uninvited and she'd just stepped out of the bathroom.
He tried to start giggling again, but couldn't. The woman's lips moved, and then from the cave there swarmed a pack of dogs. All ugly muscle bulging through their grey tuxedos, their eyes betrayed minds that were singly trained, towards the satisfaction of bloodlust. Martin's mind told him that he was looking at an illusion and refused to send missives to his arms and legs. It conceded defeat too late, however, when the first set of jaws sunk into his calf. Through the agony, his last conscious thought was of Mrs Baum and Emily and all the Baum party, resting and secure in their rooms at the Big House.