Dog Teeth

In the forested countryside of Ukraine, there were many dirt paths kept visible by the feet of wandering travelers. Most of them branched off to empty, patted-down clearings with nothing more than the odd wildflower; and it was a good thing at that, for there were a great number of beasts in the woods that did not wish to be seen. They lived in the dying branches of the trees and behind the scraggly brush, far past the gazes of any human eye.

There was no doubt that they were there. If they couldn't be heard darting across the old birch trees in the dead quiet of night, they were sure to be lingering on the lips of townsfolk who were as old as the woods themselves. Word spread quickly in such small towns, and talk of monsters was as normal as the weather.

The ones who doubted were the outsiders. The town of Sine Anima attracted a great number of them. The tourists came from across globe, hoping to catch a glimpse of a cryptid like in the folklore of their childhood, but it was never often that they stayed; the town was far too plain for their tastes, and the monsters all too well hidden. Discouragement was a fantastic deviation from the truth. The locals would watch them pack up their expensive luggage cases and roll them into the muck as they trudged their way back to their battered rental cars. Whatever secrets the town was hiding were kept well under the wraps by the prickly arms of bushes and the hanging ivy. The outsiders never saw, and so they never believed.

Elizabeth should have doubted, and left.

—-

Elizabeth awoke to the warm, sticky breath of that Thing brush against her cheek. It had a prevailing scent of rot soaked in men's cologne, strengthening as it puffed heaving, struggled breaths against her skin. She felt her heartbeat plummet and cease, then kick back into a rapid panic in her throat. Her skin turned cold and clammy, hot tears brimmed in her eyes, and her muscles seized as she crept her hand up to touch the arm that was draped over her side. There was no response to her touch, and she let out the frozen air in her lungs in a sigh of relief. With trembling fingers, she lifted the arm ever so slightly and began to squirm her way out from underneath it.

Elizabeth pressed her forearms against the cold cave ground and dragged her legs away, back to herself, underneath her torso where she could pull herself up into a crawl. Goose flesh prickled up on her skin as they lost contact with the Thing behind her, draining them of all heat. It had been the worst night of her life, cowering next to that malformed monster, but had she been even a foot further away, she would've froze. The woman didn't dare look back at the Thing. She had to keep moving forward.

What waited for her at the mouth of the cave was something all too familiar, and yet completely unrecognizable.

The Thing the arm belonged to shuddered. Its bony wrist curled inward, and pulled her back in. Elizabeth fell flat on her stomach. The cold stone ground sent a shock up her spine, and she jolted back up onto her knees. The hand that held her retracted, and the beast it belonged to looked up.

Its limbs were slender and spindly; they were poles against its shrunken body, and Elizabeth had first remarked that they looked like tree branches, but now all she could see was the unforgiving body of a spider. Its ribs were as broad and barren as a xylophone, and its ugly pink pajama shirt clung to its chest like plastic wrap to the bones of a chicken. Each bone in its spine protruded out like mountains across a plain. But quite objectively, its worst feature was its mangled face. What small semblances of humanity it had were lost among the Frankensteined features. Where a mouth should have been, there was only a wall of flesh, but a set of dog jaws erupted from its right cheek. Each tooth was sharpened to a sliver, built to rend and tear. With every clap of its maw, the plates of its skull rocked about over its head. One leering eye stared down at Elizabeth across a stretched and crooked nose.

Elizabeth could feel the emptiness lingering behind that dull, frosted eye. It darted across her body, up and across her collarbones, down her chest and pelvis, then back to her eyes. It studied her fear. It snorted one quick, short breath into its mashed, jagged nose, and clambered to its hands and knees. The movements it made were staggered and uneasy, like walking on broken bones. At first glance, it looked like a discarded toy, with its legs bent backwards below the knee and jutting out in odd directions. With every pained, skull-splitting step, it curled its gnarled fingers into the rugged stone earth. A sudden realization shot through Elizabeth's spine, and she scuttled backwards until her shoulderblades smacked into the icy cave walls.