Estimated reading time — 6 minutes
The drifter had been walking all day and he was on the lookout for a place to bed down for the night. That is easier said than done due to the fact that he likes to travel strictly by the back roads, for reasons only he really knows.
He was tall, with black hair, and dark leather-like skin. He certainly looked the part of someone who spends most of his life exposed to the elements. Everything he owns is in a ratty old backpack that he has had for years. But he is happy. He answers to no one and after a couple of years of walking the backcountry, he has seen some incredible scenery and met some very “interesting” people.
He isn’t sure how far he has walked today, but he is feeling like he is very close to the Louisiana state line. He is excited about that because Louisiana is one state he’s never been to before. Sometime tomorrow, he won’t be able to say that anymore.
Right now, however, as night time approaches, he needs to find a place to rest for a while. He likes to be off the road by dark. He has had some close calls with drivers not seeing him, even on these back roads and two tracks. He doubts very much he will have a roof over his head tonight. He is too far out in the backwoods for that to happen. Best he can hope for is an old barn or something that he can hotel in for the night.
It is almost full-on dark now, and a good place to sack down has not presented itself as of yet. This could end up being one of those nights where he ends up sleeping with his back to a tree. Oh well, it could be worse.
Suddenly, as he walked along the side of the road, he stepped in something wet, squishy, and gross. It was just dark enough that he didn’t see it coming. Whatever it was, he stepped square in the middle of it and almost fell as his foot went skidding to the side.
“What the hell is that?” He muttered to himself as he moved to get out of the middle of the disgusting pile. Upon closer inspection, he realized that it was an animal of some sort. It was fairly large in size, like a deer or a large dog. He couldn’t really tell because not all of the pieces were there. This was not a case of an animal getting run over. This was a case of an animal getting torn apart. It was horrible, and to make matters worse, it had not happened all that long ago. The blood was still wet, and it hadn’t started to stink yet. This was a fresh kill.
The drifter began to wonder what kind of animal might live in this part of the country that was big enough to do that kind of damage to another fairly large animal. Were there bear around here? Wolves? Mountain lions? He finally decided that it really didn’t make much difference what it was. He just didn’t want to meet up with it out here in the middle of nowhere. Time to keep moving and put some distance between himself and whatever might still be in the area.
He walked for several minutes, nervously looking and listening for anything out of the ordinary. He never really noticed anything, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched. And followed. He stopped suddenly a couple of times, and stood stone still, trying to catch a stray sound or movement from anything that might be out there in the woods just a few yards from the road. He thought he heard something moving through the trees, but he wasn’t sure. It sure was scaring the hell out of him though. He thought of running, but he knew that if he did, that would just encourage whatever it was to start chasing him. He just kept a steady pace, becoming a little more hopeful with every step.
Being so focused on getting out of there, the drifter didn’t notice the headlights of the vehicle coming up behind him until it was just a short distance away. Finally, he realized that he wasn’t alone out here, and he began feeling better about his situation. Normally the drifter didn’t hitchhike, but this night, he was shaken enough that flagging this vehicle down felt like the right thing to do.
It turned out to be an old pickup truck and it was driving very slowly down the middle of the road. And he could hear someone yelling something. A bit of his shakiness began to return. When the truck was almost upon him, he started waving his arms in an effort to get the truck to stop. The driver was so intent on yelling out the window, he almost didn’t see the drifter until it was too late. The truck came to a stop and the passenger side window began a slow descent to allow the driver to talk to him.
He was a grizzled old man in filthy coveralls and a T-shirt. He had an unkempt beard that was stained yellow from years of tobacco use. He wore a baseball cap so old that the emblem on the front was no longer legible. He certainly looked the part of someone who lived in the backwoods of Louisiana.
“What in the devil are you doing walking out here in the middle of the night?” he asked.
“I could just as easy run you right over, boy!”
The drifter leaned against the passenger door and spoke through the window.
“I am just trying to find a good place to bed down for the night, but I got a little spooked by some noises a ways back.”
“What kind of noises? I ‘ve been out here for hours trying to find Fluffy and he is nowhere to be found. He’s my pet and I’m real worried about him. Maybe it was him you heard.”
“Could be,” the drifter said. “It sounded like something walking through the woods just off the road. Do you think it could have been Fluffy?”
“Don’t rightly know. He likes people well enough. He might have been following you. I love that animal, but he can be moody and downright cranky. That’s why I’m out here. I spent a lot of time making Fluffy his favorite supper, and for some reason, he got all uppity and wouldn’t finish it. Nothing pisses me off more than that. He’s real finicky about what he eats and it takes dang near all day to get it ready for him. I am not about to let him get away with not eating it. I got so frustrated that I gave him a good whack with my walking stick. He yelped like a sick puppy and took off through the screen door. I have been yelling and looking for him ever since. Damn stubborn animal.”
The drifter thought for a moment. He remembered the dead carcass that he had stepped in. He wondered if he should even tell the old man about it. Maybe that pile of blood and guts had been Fluffy. Not the kind of news you want to share with a honked-off old stranger on a backroad in the middle of the night. He finally decided to tell the old man. If that was Fluffy, he needed to know.
“You know,” he began, “I ran across a carcass alongside the road about a mile back or so. Looked like a fresh kill. I hope that wasn’t Fluffy.”
“Well, I kind of doubt it,” said the old man. “But what did it look like?”
“It was a pretty good size, maybe like a German Shepherd or something like that.”
“No, that wouldn’t be Fluffy. He is nowhere near that size. He’s much bigger.”
Something plowed into the drifter’s side with the force of a freight train. His breath left him with a whoosh and he found himself propelled head over heels into the road in front of the pickup. He landed on his back and he lay there trying to catch his breath. But there was no time. Something huge pounced upon his chest and began raking at his body with powerful slashes.
The drifter’s clothing offered little resistance to the razor-sharp claws. He could feel something panting in his face. Its breath was hot, and it was dripping with some rancid drool that fell all over the drifter’s head and neck. For just a brief moment, he entertained thoughts of being able to escape, but the weight of the beast, as well as the ferocity of its attack, was too much. The last thought to pass through his mind was the horrible realization that he was being eaten alive.
The old man slowly stepped out of the pickup, and walked toward the beast in front of the truck. The lights on the truck illuminated the bloodbath that was occurring in the road. The beast was huge. It stood five feet tall at the shoulders, and was covered in matted black and gray fur. Its face was almost reptilian in nature, with a long snout, and it was covered in scales. Two large fangs protruded from the sides of its jaws, which the beast was furiously using to rip chunks from the drifter’s body.
The old man watched for a few more moments then slowly approached the beast.
“Fluffy! There you are! I have been looking all over for you!”
The monster slowly raised its head, dripping with blood and gore, and warily eyed the old man. A low growl rumbled from deep inside its throat. It seemed to recognize the old man, and the growling ceased.
The old man stood and watched his pet continue to rip the drifter apart. After a few moments, Fluffy stopped, and as if it had done this many, many times before, it started to make its way towards the back of the pickup.
The old man stepped in front of it and raised his walking stick.
“Oh, no, Fluffy! You get back there and eat! You know how upset I get when you don’t finish your food.”
Credit: G.L. Bouwman
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