by Jim Graves
Some people are just born bad. Samuel Dryden (Sammy D to those who knew better than to call him Samuel) was one of those people. His biggest thrill in life was making sure everyone else was miserable. It was said that he once threw a bag full of puppies in the creek, laughing and yelling, ‘Hold your breath you mangy mutts’. No one doubted the validity of that story. At the age of sixteen, it was obvious that Sammy D’s future involved incarceration.
Chris Mueller was the latest in a long line who had found themselves on Sammy D’s people to fuck with list. It didn’t take much to make the list. Basically, all you had to do was wander into his line of sight. Sammy D had made it plain, earlier that day, that he would be seeing Chris after school.
“What are you gonna do?” Danny Jacobs whispered.
“I’m gonna run like hell, that’s what I’m gonna do,” Chris said, looking at the clock above the door. Ten minutes til the last bell. The second hand seemed to be spinning like a fan blade.
Chris had a plan. He wasn’t sure if it was a good one, but it was a plan. He would avoid going to his locker and use the exit at the south end of the building. That would lead around back, past the practice field and into the woods down by the creek. From there, he could follow the creek for about a half mile and come out behind the Super Save. With any luck, he would make it home with his head still attached to his shoulders. His ego would suffer some bruises, but hey, he could live with embarrassment and shame.
Chris’s friend, Danny, turned around as the bell rang. “Good luck.”
Without answering, Chris got up and headed for the classroom door, hoping to blend in with the rest of the students crowding the hallway. He kept a careful lookout through the crowd as he made his way toward the south exit. His heart was pounding as he reached the door and put his weight against the push bar, giving way to a brisk October chill.
He ran around the end of the building and could see the practice field and the woods that lay beyond. Looking back over his shoulder, he tried to keep a natural pace, not wanting to draw attention. It was about thirty yards to the edge of the woods. As he got closer, he began to relax. Things were looking pretty good after all. And then he heard Sammy D yelling. He looked back to see Sammy D closing in on him and that was all he needed to spur him on. He began to run. Fast.
He made it to the edge of the woods, never slowing as he reached the creek bank and leaped to the other side. His right foot sank in mud at the water’s edge but he quickly regained his footing and scrambled up the hill, leaving one shoe behind. He could hear Sammy D laughing, but he didn’t dare look back. He could imagine what would happen if he were to slow down. And then the laughter stopped.
It was Sammy D yelling but Chris wasn’t going to be fooled. He did however take a quick look back over his shoulder.
“Hey,” Sammy D yelled again, “something’s got hold of me.” He was digging his fingers into the creek bank as he fought against whatever had hold of him. Something was pulling him back into the water. “No fooling, shithead, something’s got me,” he said. His fingers dug deeper into the muddy edges of the creek as he tried, with little success, to pull himself out of the water. “Help me!”
Chris stopped, bending over and putting his hands on his knees, trying to catch his breath. He looked at Sammy D, there on the creek bank, his hands covered in mud, and waist deep in the water. There was genuine fear in his eyes.
“Help me,” he said.
It was then that Chris saw what was trying to pull Sammy D back into the murky brown water. It was the skeleton of a dog. Or almost a skeleton. There were pieces of flesh and burlap hanging from bone. Gray, oozing masses filled the eye sockets. Two more of the creatures emerged from the creek, joining the other, biting and pulling at Sammy D. Chris watched in horror as the creatures pulled furiously.
“Oh, shit! What the hell is it?” Sammy D yelled, looking down at the creatures that had hold of him. “Get me outta here!”
Chris watched in silence, too shocked to speak. He couldn’t believe what was happening. They were pulling Sammy D deeper into the creek and all Chris could do was watch. He was more afraid of these things than anything Sammy D could have done to him, but he was still unable to turn away from the hellish scene taking place before him.
Sammy D began to scream. Surely someone from the school would hear him. Someone would come to help. But as the screams continued and Sammy D was dragged deeper into the brown, muddy water, Chris knew no one would come. He also knew he would not help. He watched as Sammy D failed to free himself, his fingers searching for any hold they could get, but the ground was too soft here on the shaded creek bank. Chris heard one last plea for help before Sammy D went completely under, the water bringing a choking end to his cries. His tears mixing with the muddy creek water.
As Chris watched, only three words came to mind; hold your breath.