Don’t forget to read the Scribe Award-Winning MANOS: THE HANDS OF FATE – In print, for kindle, and for all e-book formats. And check out my retro-horror-comedy classic CANOE COPS VS. THE MUMMY and my other books, as well. (Links to other free Frost Harrow tales at the end of the story.)
A WALK ON WITCHES’ HILL
“Donny Boy, get your nose out of that!”
Parker yanked on the leash, pulling the huge dog’s snout out of the wildflowers edging the woodland park’s walkway.
“I’d say you don’t know where those have been,” the errant hound’s owner continued, “but I know that don’t matter a shit to a dog.” Parker gave another tug on the leader and chuckled. He felt gratified when his “date” laughed, too.
Of course, this wasn’t an official date with Michelle. It was just two co-workers taking Parker’s dog for a walk in Witches’ Hill Park on a sunny Saturday.
“Hey, thanks for doing this with me,” Parker said to his friend.
Michelle shrugged and smiled. “You gotta walk your dog; I need exercise. Makes sense we should do this together.”
“Sure,” Parker agreed, pulling on the leash again to keep Donny Boy moving. Michelle was walking at a good clip—one of those speed-walk enthusiasts—and if he and the pooch couldn’t keep up, she might just decide to leave them both behind.
“I like this park,” she said as Parker struggled to keep up. “The hills are great for exercise.”
“And the place’s spooky reputation means that it’s never too crowded.”
“Oh…” he said. “Is that why?” The idea had never really crossed his mind.
It was just coincidence that the two of them had met up at the edge of Witches’ Hill Park this lovely autumn morning,—and pure luck that Michelle had suggested they walk together.
Was she maybe interested in him, too?
Nah, Parker thought. Probably just another coincidence.
Sounded like she walked here frequently, whereas he’d just wanted a place where the always-boisterous Donny Boy wouldn’t bug too many people.
Besides, Michelle had never spoken more than a word or two to him at Frost Shipping. Which is why he definitely didn’t want to press his luck with the dog hanging back and sticking his big nose into everything.
A guy can dream, though…
Michelle was a fine-looking woman: tall and lean with smooth skin the color of creamed coffee and a proud mane of curly black hair. Her pink and grey jogging outfit showed off her curves in a way that Parker found a bit… distracting.
Of course, he wasn’t a flabby slab of meat himself—he kept in pretty good shape—but he couldn’t help but feel a bit outclassed walking next to her. She worked in the shipping offices, after all, while he just drove a forklift in the warehouse.
“Hey, you wanna get coffee after?” he ventured.
“Sure,” she agreed, flashing her million-dollar smile again. “Assuming your pooch doesn’t drag you all to hell and gone.”
She must have had some sixth-sense premonition or something, ’cause just as she said it, Donny Boy gave a tug that almost took Parker off his Air Jordans.
The forklift driver regained his footing and hauled back on the line, pulling the big mutt away from a tempting two-hundred-year-old oak.
“Damn fool dog!” Parker cursed.
Michelle laughed again, but it was a pleasant, musical sound, not a mocking one.
Parker shook his head. “They say a big guy like me needs a big dog,” he noted, grinning, “but sometimes I think I’d’a’ been better off with a Shih Tzu!”
Donny Boy was a huge beast, part wolfhound—he guessed—and part elephant or who-knows-what. He looked like a shaggy Great Dane that had been dipped in ink, and when he put his mind to something, it took all of Parker’s considerable strength to keep Donny under control.
“An’ he was so cute as a puppy!” Parker finished.
Michelle patted the dog’s furry head.
Donny Boy drooled, his wet tongue bigger than the secretary’s slender hand.
“Bet in the olden days, they’d have called you a hell hound, wouldn’t they, boy,” she said fondly.
Donny didn’t mean anything by it, but Michelle backed off quickly; the bark shook the nearby bushes.
Now it was Parker’s turn to laugh. “Don’t worry!” he told her. “His bark is way worse than his bite.”
She arched a slender eyebrow. “You sure about that, sugar?”
“Well, I ain’t been bit yet, but…”
“If he decides to do it, better you than me!” she added jovially.
“Don’t worry. If he wants to bite you, he’ll have to go through me, first!”
Michelle looked amused but skeptical, as if she was wondering whether Donny could get through Parker if he really wanted to. Parker decided to change the subject.
“Where you want to go for coffee—after we finish walking, I mean?”
“You ever been to the Green Leaf?”
“That’s a tearoom, ain’t it?”
Michelle nodded. “They’ve got real good coffee, too. An’ if you do want tea, Madame Meg’ll read your future in the tea leaves, after.”
Parker suppressed a shudder. “I don’t have much truck with fortune telling,” he admitted.
“Superstitious?” she asked with a mischievous grin.
“If I was, would I be walking my dog in Witches’ Hill Park?” he replied. Though, secretly, he did feel a little spooked by the idea of someone reading his future—or anyone’s future, for that matter.
“Well…” she began slyly, “Maybe you figure the witches up here are long gone—burned or hanged or whatever.”
“Or maybe they didn’t exist at all,” he suggested. “Just fiction, like in a Stephen King book.”
Michelle bit her lower lip, thinking. “I’m not sure King ever wrote a book about witches. I remember reading in school about the witch scare back in Frosthaven’s olden days, though.”
“So do I. I always figured that was about persecuting poor people or folk who were ‘different’ somehow.”
She gave a rueful laugh. “You and me would know about that!”
He nodded. “Yeah. Still gave me the willies, though.”
She tilted her head at him, amused. “But you’re not superstitious. Don’t believe in witches, or spook lights, or any of the other stuff people say happens at this park on moonlit nights.”
“Well, maybe a little superstitious,” he admitted.
“Then better not let that black cat there cross your path!” she warned, pointing. “It might be a witch in disguise.”
“What cat…?” Parker replied, looking around
But Donny Boy spotted it first.
Before Parker could do anything, the big dog took off like a shot, chasing the black streak of a feline near the woods at edge of the park’s broad lawn.
“Shit!” Parker shouted as the leash yanked out of his hand.
“Oh, crap!” blurted Michele, her amusement suddenly turning to worry. “Don’t let him catch it, Parker!”
Both she and Parker ran, grabbing for the errant hound’s trailing leash, which somehow remained just out of reach.
The cat reversed direction, running straight at the pursuing couple. Did it somehow sense Parker and Michelle could protect it?
The dog came right behind, barreling ahead.
“Donny, stop! Heel!” Parker commanded as the cat streaked through his legs.
Donny didn’t stop.
He didn’t heel.
He crashed into Parker at full speed, taking the forklift operator’s legs out from under him.
Parker tumbled into Michelle, knocking her to the crisp autumn grass as well. The pair landed in a jumbled heap.
As the two of them disentangled themselves, the cat streaked off into the woods, with Donny Boy in hot pursuit.
“Wait! Don’t!” Michelle cried as the hound disappeared in the brush.
As quickly as they could, the couple stood, cringing at the sound of fierce barks and terrifying yowling as they regained their feet.
Then a single, piercing wail echoed through the woods. And then…
Michelle and Parker glanced at each other, and he could tell her heart was sinking, same as his. This had turned into one hell-of-a date!
Not a date, Parker reminded himself. Probably never will be, now that Donny and me are responsible for a dead cat!
“C’mon,” he muttered to Michelle. “Maybe it’s not too late.”
But the sorrowful look in her eyes told him that she didn’t believe that any more than he did.
Just then, a woman in a fashionable maroon running suit emerged from the woods nearby. She looked very mysterious—almost creepy—stepping out from a hidden path between the ancient trees. Her pulled-up hoodie kept everything except her red lips in shadow.
In her arms, the woman held a slender black cat with white spots on its face and paws. She gently stroked the animal’s head and cooed softly to it in a sing-song voice.
Michelle let out a long sigh of relief. “Oh, thank God! Thank you, Jesus! Is that your cat, Ma’am?”
“Yes,” the fashionable woman replied. “He must have followed me on my morning run. Were you a bad little cat? Were you?”
“We were afraid my dog got him!” Parker blurted, his heart still thudding in his chest.
The woman cocked her head, puzzled, and her bright blue eyes flashed from beneath her hood. “Dog…?” she said. “I didn’t see any dog.”
Michelle pursed her lips. “But…”
“I guess the cat must have got away then,” Parker offered, greatly relieved. “Donny’s enthusiastic, but he’s not too bright. Squirrels get the better of him all the time.” He forced himself to smile at Michelle; she looked back, still concerned.
The woman held the cat up and tickled him under the chin. “Well, no wonder,” she said. “You’re a tricky little bugger, aren’t you, sweetheart?”
The cat meowed in return and nuzzled closer to his mistress.
“Don’t you two worry about my precious,” the woman said, strolling toward the parking lot. “He’s just fine. Have a nice day.”
“Yeah. Bye,” Michelle replied through a forced smile.
“C’mon,” Parker whispered to her. “We better find that big dummy before he gets into more trouble.”
And before he screws my chance for this ending in a real date!
“Maybe he got his leash caught on a branch or something,” Michelle suggested.
“Lucky for that cat he did!” Parker agreed.
The two of them tramped into the woods, using the narrow path the woman in red had emerged from.
“Donny!” Parker called. “Here, Donny Boy! Come to papa!”
Weirdly, the dog didn’t reply.
“Donny, goddammit! We ain’t got all day.” Parker figured the longer they had to look, the less his chance for grabbing that coffee with Michelle.
“OhmyGod!” she gasped. “Look!”
Where she pointed lay a bloody mass of meat, flesh, and shaggy black fur.
The collar and long leash trailing from the mess made it clear that the mangled form had, until very recently, been Donny Boy.
Now, Parker’s huge dog looked like roadkill.
But no trucks, or cars, or even four-wheelers could fit down this narrow woodland path.
“Jeeze…!” Parker moaned.
“M-maybe a mountain lion or something got him,” Michelle suggested, looking around as though expecting that they could be the next victims.
Parker nodded, fighting back tears. Donny Boy had been a big galoot, but Parker kinda loved him. All he could manage to say was: “Maybe. I guess.”
But deep in his soul Parker wondered about this place, its creepy reputation, and the hooded woman in red with her cat…
Were there still witches in Witches’ Hill?
Happy Halloween, 2019, Everyone!
Read the previous Frost Harrow Halloween stories:
“The Weeping Ghost” (2012), “A Trace of Violet” (2013), “Lunchroom Zombies” (2014), “Omens & Visitations” (2015), “Fata Morgana” (2016), and “At the Appointed Hour” (2017), and “Devil’s Lake” (2018)
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