PS. In case you're wondering (especially as I've used my own dogs to tell the story)--most of the scenes concerning the woman are fiction.
The First Siege
The Hound stretched out under the shrubs in the farthest corner of the back yard and the Visitor dug up the cool earth to make himself a soft hollow to rest in.
It was at night few days after the Brown Dog grew cold. Then the Woman went away for a few days. When she came back they put away the bed with the high sides. And because of all of this, we were not attentive . . .
Just after the Humans had retreated to their bedroom, the Small Dog had gone out the dog door to relieve himself. He planned to stay in that night, near the Humans instead of running the boundaries. The Hound was in the Boy’s room, where he usually slept and the Old Dog way laying in the living room. At the end of a day of looking after the Woman he was exhausted. He could feel her yawning grief; it enveloped him, becoming his own. If he could have relieved her of the burden, he would have. But he could only bring her toys, lick away her tears, and let her know she was not alone.
The Small Dog was exhausted as well. The Human’s sadness had its own palpable weight and he felt as though he’d been carrying on his back all day. So he took a few minutes to dig for moles and chase the cat up a tree, and did not notice the activity at the borders until too late.
As he was making his way back to the house, he caught a glimpse of two Creepers at the perimeter, and three more brazenly entering the yard, with several others already at the Woman’s window In disbelief, he realized they were entering the room. All at once, the stench of the enemy flooded his senses.
He gave the alarm and ran back the way he’d come. Through the house he raced, barking. The Many. They’re everywhere.
The Shepherd was just thinking about joining the Man and Woman in their room. At the alarm, he rose to his feet and made it to the Woman’s side.
The Man Person was already snoring. The Many were climbing over him, reaching into him, covering his ears, blunting any instincts he might have possessed that something was very wrong in his Home.
The Woman was sitting in her rocker by the window. A Creeper was sitting in her lap with its arms around her neck whispering in her ear, building on her despair and others swarmed around her, intoxicated by her grief.
Useless. Failure . . .
Death would be easier than this . . .
Better without you . . .
No more tears. No more pain.
From the doorway, he growled. They turned to sneer at him, fangs bared, eyes like tiny pits of flame. We are the Many. You are only one.
He watched in horror as she rose from the chair, glanced at the Man, tears running down her face and moved toward the bathroom. He could not know what she was thinking, but he did know she couldn’t be allowed to go into that room.
He stood at the entrance and barked at her, physically crowding her, wagging his tail to distract her. She whispered to him to shut up, but—for the first time in his life—he did not obey her orders.
The Man half-awoke, demanding to know what the “hell was wrong with that stupid dog?”
The Many swarmed around him, whispering soothing lies.
Throw him out they hissed in the woman’s ear. He is in our way.
“Nothing, honey. I think he just heard something outside. Go back to sleep. ”The Woman grabbed the Shepherd’s collar. “Solomon. Come,” she ordered and began to drag him out of the room.
Outside, they hissed. Put the dogs outside so they don’t interrupt.
The Shepherd sighted the Small Dog in the Boy’s room, in a silent standoff with two Creepers. He gave orders as he passed. Hide! Hide! Hide! You have to stay inside. Keep her out of the small room. Don’t let them get her alone. Wake up the Man Person—drive off the Many.
The Hound joined him at the door, purposefully joining the confusion, barking and jumping on the woman.
The Woman cursed, threw open the door and shoved the protesting Shepherd outside. The Hound bounded out past him, still barking.
They flew around the outside of the house driving through the Many, teeth flashing as they silently leapt on one after another, striking, ripping, destroying one Creeper after another. But they could not stem the tide and inside they could hear the Small Dog calling for help, yipping in muffled distress. He was shut in his kennel. The Humans were unprotected.
Somewhere a door closed. The Woman was in the small room. The fangs of the Creepers struck and struck again. The two dogs fought and destroyed as many as they could latch on to, but they kept coming.
The Shepherd faced the direction the Many were flowing from. They were not eternal; they came from somewhere. He communicated to the Hound. Stay here. Keep fighting.
Where are you go—You can’t—You can’t do that. There are too many—No one’s ever—
Stay here, the Shepherd repeated. Keep fighting. Wake up the Man and make him see.
One did not track the Many with one’s nose. One followed the path of destruction. He slipped past the Creepers, into the forest at the edge of the yard; saw the first dead rabbit, blood in tiny pools, intestines spilled. Further on, a squirrel roiled in the throes of its last moments, its skull crushed. Somewhere in the distance something small screamed. The Creepers were growing bold in their lust for violence and death and were driving all living things in their paths to self-destruction, just for the fun of it. Squirrels would hurl themselves from the tops of trees or run into the path of cars, rabbits would run plummet from bluffs or give themselves up to the always waiting predators. The predators, themselves crazed, would kill and run away.
It was moments like this that the Coyotes lived for and they would be feeding somewhere nearby. They would be drunk with the blood and less alert, but he would still have to move swiftly to avoid them. The forest was alive with their stench and he had to concentrate to separate the scent of each dead and dying thing along the path. The Many seemed to ignore him as they continued to pour forth, so intent were they upon reaching his home before the celebrations were over. The Coyotes he passed gave half-hearted chase, but were soon distracted by the next dead thing. He was just a dog, just one, and meant nothing. The Shepherd ran on and on, focused only on stopping the Many at their source.
He was not sure when he left his own familiar forest, but along the way he had entered a tangle of trees made up of the stuff of darkness. Here was no wind and no smell to guide him. The very ground slowed him, and the weight of the stagnant air squeezed his heart. Give up. You’re too late. It was like the time he’d jumped into a pond and miscalculated the depth, inhaling water, trying to find the air where there was none, before he broke through the surface. In this forest was no light, no hope, no joy, no love—none of the elements of life as he understood it—and no surface to break through.
The trees and vines and brush had parted, forming a small clearing, though there was no moon or stars to navigate by. The Shepherd did not have words, but he did know evil when he smelled it and when he finally arrived at the place where the stench was strongest, he stopped and turned his nose toward its source. Here was the presence of something thatadorned itself with the suffering of others. Here was the source of the Many.
He bellowed. Come out and fight me.
The hissing was loud—laughter-like. Go back to what’s left of your Humans. You have no power here.
The darkness writhed, vines separated. A Creeper, larger than any of those he’d ever seen stood before him. Its eyes glowed, lantern like. He could just make out wing-like appendages and claws. Smaller Creepers clung to it, swarmed out from around it, their own eyes pinholes in the shadows. Clouds of despair and hopelessness emanated from her and enveloped him.
When larger Creeper spoke, the smaller ones joined her in chorus. Seen enough?
Now that he stood before it, his furious race behind, every inch of him ached with the futility of his attempt. The Woman was probably gone already. His friends defeated, if not cold. He had failed everyone. He should lay down now and die.
You’re the first member of the Whole to come this far. You must be a strong one. Most succumb far sooner. But there’s no shame in giving up now.
He had tried and failed. Death would be a welcome respite. The Shepherd closed his eyes and collapsed.
Finish him. I must see to the Woman’s end.
Shrieking, the Many fell upon him and with them came hopelessness. He would give himself up to them. It was fitting that he die this way.
Just as he was preparing to slip away, a still, small voice spoke to his heart. You are not allowed to give up while she is still alive.
He echoed the voice. Alive?
You are all she has.
He tilted his muzzle toward the blackened heavens and called for strength.
The Creepers laughed.
Something welled up within him—it went beyond strength and was fueled by something he did not understand. It flowed through him and he rose under the weight of the Creepers, and settled his teeth into the nearest one, shook it, hearing it snap in half, tossing it aside and turning on the next. They kept coming, sank teeth and talons into him, ripping at him, but he continued to fight, destroying one after another.
Through the mass, he sighted the larger Creeper, its wings extending as it readied itself for flight. He tore through the surrounding Creepers, and threw himself at it, pressing through the cloud of despair it seemed to surround itself with, refusing entrance to the hopelessness, and closed his jaws around its throat.
The thing screamed, grabbed his torso and twisted, contorting his body pretzel-like as it tried to free itself. He sank his teeth deeper. Behind him the mob of Creepers screamed. You are just one.
No, said the small voice. You are the Whole.
And for the first time he understood what that meant.
The Shepherd dragged the queen to the ground and finished her.