Masked and Relentless
“Do you think they’ll be OK?” Rachel asked Mark as he drove the Jeep away from the Pet Resort.
“They’ll be fine,” Mark said. “We’ve boarded those dogs for 10 years; why shouldn’t they be OK?”
“It’s a new place, and they’re old.”
“Stop worrying. You read all those good reviews. You heard Laurie say she has coonhounds, too. She’ll take good care of them.”
“Yeah, you’re right.” Rachel turned up the volume of the island music playing on the radio, closed her eyes and thought about how much fun their Key West reunion would be. They were all packed and ready for their early morning departure. It would have been more relaxing if their new neighbors hadn’t planned their welcome party tonight, but maybe it wouldn’t last too late.
Home after the party, getting ready for bed, Mark said, “I don’t know why we should bother going to the Keys. This island has everything we need. Met lots of great people tonight.”
“We promised our friends we’d meet them in Key West. It will be fun, and when we get back we can concentrate on finishing our unpacking and settling in. Hey, did you hear Mr. New York talking about the so-called relentlessness of nature here? Snakes, alligators and sharks, oh my! Why did he move here?”
“Who knows? Did you hear Brian talking about raccoons in his attic?”
“No! Should we worry?”
“I don’t think so. There aren’t any limbs close enough to the house.”
They agreed to get up by 4:30 to be ready to leave the house just after sunrise for their early flight.
Rachel woke up at 4:20. It seemed darker than usual; must not be a moon out tonight, she guessed, as she flipped on the bathroom light. Rustling and screeching sounds outside as she was washing her hands led her to the window. She wasn’t surprised to see raccoons; she had glimpsed gangs of them running down the road on a few previous nights. Tonight was different. Instead of running along the road, hordes of them were coming straight at the house. Most scampered up the live oak tree in the center of the vacant lot next door, at least one on every limb. The tree’s branches were lengthening toward the house as the animals ran along them, the masked beasts on the ground were leaping at the wall, and the next sound she heard was her own scream as she was knocked to the floor.
Kicking her legs and swinging her arms as she fought against at least two dozen little hands holding her down, Rachel kept calling for Mark. Her voice was drowned out by all the chittering and growling; how many were there? She couldn’t understand how Mark was sleeping through all the noise. She heard her nightshirt rip and felt her legs scrape the tile floor as the hands dragged her toward the bathtub. “Mark! Mark, wake up! Help me!” She screamed again when she saw the plug set over the drain and the faucet knobs turn.
What? Her eyes were open? Couldn’t be. No, they were clamped shut; that had to be why she couldn’t see the raccoons. But she saw the water turn on; she saw it running. The screeching hadn’t stopped and now, eyes wide open, she felt the unseen hands lifting her shoulders into the tub.
“What’s all the commotion?”
Finally, Mark was awake and standing in the bathroom doorway.
“Fucking raccoons are going to drown me!” Rachel panted out the words.
“What raccoons? I don’t see any . . .” Mark’s elbow hit the light switch as dozens of hands pushed him into the wall. Scores of glowing eyes pierced the newly darkened room.
“Pull the shower lever,” Mark yelled. As Rachel freed one arm from the invisible raccoons and reached for the lever, Mark leapt to the tub and snatched the shower hose. The eyes retreated as Mark used one hand to shoot water at them. With the other hand he helped Rachel off the floor. Throwing the shower nozzle at the last sets of eyes, he pulled Rachel out of the bathroom and slammed the door shut.
The two of them had collapsed onto the bedroom floor and were gasping for air when the phone rang. Rachel’s “hello” was unintelligible.
It was Laurie, from the dog kennel. “I’m so, so sorry, it’s never happened before.” The dogs had escaped.
As Mark and Rachel threw on whatever clothes were within reach, they started to hear scratching and thumping noises coming from the bathroom. “Oh my god, Mark! They’re back!”
“Come on, Laurie. Let’s get out of here and go find our dogs. Shut all the doors. Maybe they won’t trash the whole house.”
They flew down the stairs. Mark flung open the front door and Rachel crashed into him when he stalled on the threshold. The entire front porch was throbbing with the movement of hundreds of masked water snakes winding around the railings and slithering up the steps. “Holy shit! What are those? They aren’t supposed to be here!” He caught Rachel just before her knees went out from under her. The earth quaked before he had a chance to slam the door. Fighting to keep their balance and deafened by a noise like the baying of a thousand hounds, they watched with their mouths agape as multitudes of snakes and raccoons darted away in every direction and vanished.
Trembling, trying to process what had happened, they could do nothing but laugh when their two coonhounds zoomed up the stairs with their tails wagging, knocked them down and nuzzled their faces.
“Oh my god, you ran away! I can’t believe you found your way back and saved us.”
“Guess what, dogs. We missed our plane. You don’t have to go back to the kennel.”
Rachel would have sworn on a stack of Bibles one of the dogs winked and said, “That was the plan, ma’am. We’re never going back to any kennel.”
Kathy Sanford lives in upstate New York and coastal Georgia with her husband and two senior coonhounds. After retiring from a career of bureaucratic writing, Kathy has returned to her childhood aspiration of creating fiction. She has been a regular contributor to Mercurial Stories Weekly Flash Fiction since Volume 1, Issue 32 and is surprised to find herself participating in online short story challenges and contests.