It is a long way, but you do not mind. The autumn evening light means home to you, despite its near non-existence. The pine needles under your feet remain silent as you step on them, swallowing all sound in their slowly rotting fibers. The path turns. There is a clearing to your right. A low house with turf on the roof and a solitary lantern stands in the middle of it. You wonder how that is, since it looks just as rotting as you know the fallen needles are. An old man stands inside the house. He waves at you, and you stop to wave back, even though you know nothing about him. Just that he presumably lives inside the house, and that he is always there, standing in the window and waving at you every night as you pass by. You do not often take this road home, even though you prefer it over safe asphalt. It strikes you that you have not once seen the man outside the house. Perhaps, you wonder, he is not a man at all, but merely a torso with one waving arm and one hanging loosely down his side. Tonight, he smiles at you for the first time as you wave back. You quickly decide to move on for fear that he might open the window and ask you to come in.
A few more steps down the eerily straight path is all you make before you hear the dreaded creak of hinges that have not been oiled for decades, maybe centuries, maybe millennia. You do not want to turn your head, but you do. A dog is standing just outside the house. You cannot see the man inside anymore, but that might just be because a tall pine is blocking your view of the window. Deep down, you know that that is not the case, but you like your universe nice and organized, and so do not pay any attention to the small voice inside that is never logical, but always right. The dog tilts its head at you, saliva dripping in the fading sunlight like magma in the documentaries you fall asleep to. You wave uncertainly at the dog. Just a quick flick of your hand before you turn towards safety once more. You know that the dog will follow you.
Down the needle laid path you walk; you and the dog. It stays behind you, just far enough that you can feel, but not hear its heavy tread. You walk in awkward silence, too scared to ask the dog to go back home. It has followed you down the eerily straight path for so long now. You would feel rude. You walk as fast as you can, but the path goes on. With each sharp turn, you expect the end, but it does not come. You quicken your pace. The dog does not. Soon, you stop being able to feel whenever it takes a step. You look over your shoulder, afraid - no, concerned - that it has stopped following you. The dog is standing still; tongue lolling like the first time you took a look at it. You are almost annoyed that it would break your silent and irrational agreement like this. You furrow your brow at the dog, expecting some sort of reaction that does not come. With an indignant huff, you square your shoulders and walk away. You do not need to wait for a stupid dog. You owe it nothing. You have never owed anyone anything.
That is when you hear the dog. It comes running through the choking autumn fog, eyes glowing brightly and maliciously like the solitary lantern outside the old man’s house. The dog rattles threateningly at you as it nears, and you run as fast as you can, even though you know it is futile and that the impeding encounter can only end in one way. The treacherous needles hide even more treacherous roots that you do not trip over as you fly through the night, the eyes of the dog and its rattling breath burning holes in your back and drilling through your skull without mercy. Neither of you are certain of what mercy is.
The end that you so longed for is nearing, and you stop suddenly just before it reaches you. A different end is coming. You turn to the dog with a snarl that matches its own as it lunges at you with fiery hot breath and teeth and claws that desire nothing more than your utter destruction. You scream as you tear through coarse fur and thick skin to taste your own blood on the beast that has been hunting you since the beginning. The dog howls. You both know that only one of you can walk away from there, and the dog does its best to ensure that it will be the one, but as soon as you stooped to its level and below it knew that it was a lost battle. With a whimper it falls to the ground. You rise above it, casually brushing a few sodden clumps of hair off of your black coat. The dog lies limply on the needles, desperate to keep the fire going, but this is a fight it will lose just as surely as the one only moments ago. The fire in it dies along with its mortal shell. You kick it in the jaw for good measure, before you turn your back on it one last time and walk away, having once again proved that you are the most monstrous creation of all.