This story is by Katie Rodante and was part of our 2017 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the Summer Writing Contest stories here.
A dog with red eyes sure does stand out in a place like Deep Ellum. Hell, it would stand out anywhere. Shauna stops dead in her tracks upon spotting the creature in her path. The harsh Texas sun beats down on the sidewalk, which is empty save for her and the dog. This area of town livens up at night with patrons heading to bars, clubs, and music venues. But during the day? Nothing to write home about. Usually.
Shauna surveys the oversized hound cautiously, drawing up a hand to shield her view. Burning red eyes meet hers as she blocks the sun. Just as she stares at it, the dog stares back. Breaking eye contact, she grips the strap of her messenger bag tight and walks down the street past the hound.
The scratching of long claws on pavement makes her tense. Shauna glances over her shoulder to see the dog hot on her tail. At this distance, its crimson eyes glow. She lets out a gasp, not realizing she was holding her breath. Up close, the creature terrifies her, as it is obviously not of this world. Its matted fur is pitch black, its claws and teeth longer and sharper than she’s ever seen on any dog, housebound or wild. Still, somehow it seems familiar to her.
Shauna picks up the pace until all she can do is run, the hound at her heels. She darts into Gio’s Tattoos, slamming the glass door closed and leaning against it.
Gio’s head snaps in alarm from the illustration he works on at the front desk. “I never took you for the running type.”
“I’m not usually.” Shauna bends over, panting, and grabs her thighs to steady herself. “Being chased by a dog will do that to you.” She twists toward the door, hoping there will be no beast in sight. Instead, the hound stares at her from right outside, and she jolts away from the door. It scratches the glass with a sound akin to nails on a chalkboard, and Shauna scrunches up her face in disgust. “Stop! I’m not going to let you in.”
Gio raises an eyebrow and looks at the door. “Who are you talking to?”
“The dog, Gio. The one right there,” she says, pointing. Silence fills the room, save for the sound of scratching that permeates Shauna’s reality.
“I don’t see a dog, Shauna,” Gio says, excusing himself to the back room.
“Oh, shit,” Shauna says, as the dog materializes through the glass. A pungent scent of decay fills the room. The hound’s gaze intensifies as it stares Shauna down, its eyes glimmering with fire. Though it pains her to stare back, she can’t look away. Just when she thinks it can’t get any worse, it speaks.
Its voice is growly and distant. “Girl, you have been marked. I, Dazuhn, can assure you there is no escape from me. I come as an omen, consider yourself soon to depart this realm.”
The moment he speaks the words, Shauna feels a rush of burning heat course through her veins. She knows immediately that she is changed, that the hound speaks the truth. She likes to think of herself as tough, but in the face of death she is nothing. Her fear betrays her and shows itself to the beast.
“Wh–what?” Shauna stutters, her mouth agape. Her mind reels as she finally recalls where she has seen this beast. “Oh god, I know what you are. I tattooed a hellhound onto a man’s shoulder a month ago and now here you are. Should I not have done that?”
“My master in the underworld demands you. You cannot escape your fate.”
With desperation rising in her throat she appeals, “But I’m not ready. I need to live. I have a family, friends. I still want to see the world, find love.”
“Everyone has things they must leave behind.”
Shauna trembles yet attempts courage. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”
“And how will you escape me? I am faster than you, bigger than you, stronger than you. You are no match for me, girl.”
“Wait,” Shauna utters, knowing Dazuhn is right. “Isn’t there something I can do?”
A wide line of teeth shows as the hellhound smiles. “Of course, girl. There is always a deal to be made.”
“Tell me,” she blurts out, “I’ll do anything.”
“If you will not part with your life,” he growls, “you must part with your soul.”
Shauna doesn’t even know if she believes in souls. She thinks of her mother’s upcoming birthday, her friends, the things she still wants to do in life. The decision comes easy. Still, the words emerge as a whisper, “Okay. I’ll do it. I’ll give you my soul if you spare my life.”
“Good decision, girl.” Dazuhn slams his body into Shauna, causing black vomit to spew from her mouth. The fluid has weight, has life as it swirls on the floor, and the hound licks every drop from the ground. Shauna has a vague feeling the world is off balance.
As the hellhound turns to leave, Shauna realizes she has a question. “Wait,” she says, “What will happen to me without a soul?”
Dazuhn considers. “You will still be you, in this life, but you will no longer belong here, and you will know you don’t belong here. When you die there will be nothing. No afterlife, no heaven.”
She realizes her mistake immediately. A dark, intense dread overtakes her; a haziness clouds the corners of her vision. She feels despair. The hound didn’t mention that without a soul she will always long for one, but she knows this to be true. The fog of depression will never leave, and she will always look back on this day and wish the hellhound had taken her life.
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