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Authors: Wild Dogs of Drowning Creek (v1.1)

Manly Wade Wellman - Novel 1952 (10 page)

BOOK: Manly Wade Wellman - Novel 1952
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A hairy jacket, white with dark spots—that registered in his
memory.
Bugler, the dog, was a dark-spotted white. So had been the
creature that had freed a dog from one of Sam’s traps two nights before. And as
for the jacket, it was never made to be worn by an animal. A man—two-legged, as
Randy had insisted though his friends scoffed—had worn it, had been there at
the raid on the pigpen!

 
          
He
would go and fetch his friends. When they saw that jacket, they would believe
him. They would insist no longer that his imagination had played him tricks.
And they would help him find the two-legged jacket-wearer, who ran at night
with wild dogs.

 
          
Randy
glanced at his watch. It was past
twelve o’clock
. Sam and Jebs and Driscoll would be
wondering why he did not come back to dinner. He’d better return at once to New
Chimney Pot House, to tell his adventure.

 
          
Stick
in
hand,
he walked toward the open door.

 
          
Then,
as he set foot on the sill, a snarling chorus rose outside.

 
          
Dogs
were dashing through the sassafras orchard, straight for the door and for
Randy.

 

 
        
CHAPTER TEN

 

 
          
BESIEGED

 

 
          
For
one stunned, paralyzed moment, Randy froze where he stood, gazing at that
oncoming flood of dogs.

 
          
There
were lots of them at that first glimpse, and they were of all sizes and colors.
But, one and all, they headed full at him, as fast as they could come. In the
very forefront of the headlong horde raced a big, shaggy brute, its long,
coarse hair grubby white with dark spots. That was Bugler, Randy thought,
somewhere in his startled, terrified mind. And none of them barked as they
came. They only rushed, with a concerted snarl, deadly and soft.

 
          
All
these impressions smote Randy in perhaps half a second of time. In the next
half second, he hurled the club he carried full at the spotted leader of the
charge. Nimbly the beast dodged, but his speed faltered with the sideward hop,
and Randy had time to drop back, catch at the edge of the door, and swing it
around.

 
          
Too
late—they were already at the door. The leader’s baleful spotted head thrust
in, and Randy shoved the door against his neck. Wedged there, the head tossed
and strained, sharp teeth snapping at Randy. Other shapes were buffeting the
walls and the door planks. Randy let go and ran back through the house, toward
the rear door.

 
          
But,
as his hand reached for the hook that closed that rear door, he heard the
impact of a flying body against it. One of the
pack
had run around to cut off his chance for escape by that route. Meanwhile, he
heard the front door creak and quiver as the spotted leader thrust it open with
a fierce wriggle of his body. Claws slapped the boards of the floor. They were
coming in.

 
          
Overhead
were the rough pine cross timbers. Leaping high, Randy caught one. With a burst
of strength increased by his sense of danger he drew himself up as though he
were chinning himself on a bar. Below him he heard a harsh snap of teeth, and
almost lost his hold as something tugged at the slack of his trouser leg. He
kicked out furiously with his other foot. It encountered yielding flesh, and a
yelp rang out. As the dog opened its mouth to emit that angry yelp, Randy
heaved his body up on the rafter, flung a leg across to help bear and balance
his weight. Lying full length on the rafter, he looked down.

 
          
The
front door had been pawed and heaved open, and the space beneath him seemed
full of dogs. They leaped and snarled below his timber refuge, a many- colored
knot of them. But they did not bark.

 
          
Alert,
watchful, fierce, they gathered and milled and looked up at him. Their eyes
were dark and shiny. Their mouths grinned, showing rows of strong, sharp teeth.

 
          
“You’re
a fine mob of brutes,” he addressed them. “I thought you didn’t run except in
the night time.”

 
          
Crooning
growls replied to him, as though they understood his angry taunt. Several of
the dogs sat down. Others paced back and forth. Balancing himself on high,
Randy counted them.
Eight—nine— ten.

 
          
The
spotted dog Bugler held the point directly below Randy’s perch. Near Bugler
shoved a red-brown, rangy fellow with dangling ears and a long, round- tipped
muzzle like a hound, a dog taller than Bugler but not as strongly made. Another
had short, coarse fur of a swarthy
gray, that
made
Randy think of wolves. Wolflike, too, were its sharp snout and large erect
ears, and the bushy tail that curved upward and forward over its back. Into the
blood mixture of that dog, Randy guessed, had gone German shepherd, chow, and
one or two other strains. These three were the largest. One or two of the
smaller specimens looked fluffy and nimble, but not even the smallest looked
friendly. All of them watched Randy. They seemed eager to get closer to him—
almost droolingly eager.

 
          
“Get
on out of here!” he scolded them. “Who invited you, anyway?”

 
          
As
before, they showed fierce response to the sound of his voice. Stiff-legged,
Bugler danced below him and showed his teeth in a grinning threat. The wolfish
dog uttered a low “wuff!” that was neither growl nor bark, but a baleful
combination of the two.

 
          
Randy
gazed longingly at the open door. If he could get close to it, he might drop
down, slip quickly out and slam it behind him to imprison these threateners.
Cautiously he reached out for another timber, tested its solidity, took firm
hold, and transferred his body to it. Beyond was another, to which he proceeded
to swing. But the dogs moved with him, a watchful group, all upturned eyes and
half-opened mouths full of teeth. One, the red-brown hound, slid clear of the
others and paused at the very sill of the door, as though on guard against an
attempt to reach it.

 
          
“You
don’t want me to leave you, eh?” said Randy, and the hound lolled out its
tongue and smiled, but not with any good humor.

 
          
Randy
subsided on the new cross timber. He racked his brain for some plan of escape.

 
          
At
present he was safe. Lying full length at a point seven feet from the floor, he
could not be reached by the highest leaper among his besiegers. But suppose he
was kept there for hours, with hunger and thirst and weariness setting in? He
might even be kept there into the night. He might grow drowsy, might go to
sleep. Then his hold would loosen, and he might fall down among all those
tearing fangs. He snorted at the thought.

 
          
“I’ve
got to figure a way out of this,” he lectured himself.

           
Once, years ago, he had read an
adventure story in which a situation like this had risen. The hero, a
buckskin-clad hunter on the old frontier, had been chased up a tree by a pack
of famished wolves. He had been forced to drop his empty gun, but with him into
the branches he had carried his hunting knife in its belt sheath. Tying this to
a long, stout pole, the hunter had used it as a spear to stab from above. He
had killed several of the wolves. Then, while the rest of the creatures had
ripped and torn like cannibals at the bodies of their dead comrades, he had
scrambled away through other treetops and so to safety.

 
          
Bracing
himself on the cross timber with both legs and one hand, Randy used the other
to explore his pockets. From one of them he produced his large and useful
jackknife, with a long blade of well-whetted steel. This he opened, with his
teeth and the fingers of his free hand. The metallic snick of the blade made
the dogs stir into motion below him.

 
          
“You
see this?” he said, as though they could understand him, and held the knife
down toward them. “I’ve got a tooth of my own, and I doubt if any of you want
to be nibbled by it.”

 
          
Plainly
they were not daunted. Bugler made a leap toward the down-extended hand. He
fell short with a fierce snap of his jaws.

 
          
“Do
that again!” Randy dared him. He lay flat on the rafter, twined his legs around
it,
then
reached out at arm’s length with the knife.

 
          
Bugler
did it again, a higher leap but still short. As the spotted body rose toward
him, Randy tried to slash with his knife. He missed the dog and almost toppled
from his perch with the effort.
Heart beating like
a
drum-roll, he tightened his grip, still keeping the knife in his fist. Just
under him the dogs all snarled, growled, and leaped in eagerness to get hold of
him.

 
          
Randy’s
thoughts returned to the improvised spear with which the hunter in the story
had fought to save himself. He studied the timber on which he lay, then the
sloping upper rafters that supported the roof above his head.

 
          
Like
the horizontal beams, they were lengths of pine, squared on one side to fit
against the planks of the roof’s sheathing. He took hold of the nearest and
tugged as hard as he could. But it was solidly fastened, and it was too big to
make a spear shaft, even if he could drag it loose. Nor could he split off a proper
length with no better or bigger tool than his knife. He tapped at the sheathing
boards.

 
          
At
once the dogs burst into an angry chorus of growling protest at the knock-knock
Randy’s knuckles made. Bugler turned toward the door, his eyes fierce.

 
          
“Thought
somebody else was coming here to call, did you?” said Randy. “Hush that fuss;
I’m going to be busy.”

 
          
He
shoved hard against the sheathing. In one place a board creaked. Its nails were
loose, and he worked it back and forth,
then
pried it
sidewise from the roof timber. Bracing himself on his cross-beam perch, he
brought all his strength to bear. A section of the board broke at a weak point
where there was a knot, and came away free. Randy flung it down, and the dogs
scattered to avoid its fall.

 
          
Then
Randy looked at the underside of the exposed shingles. They were old and dry,
and when he struck them with his fist they flaked off. Light showed through.

 
          
Randy
grinned, and his eyes snapped. Perhaps here was the way of escape. With his
hands and the knife, he worked away at the shingles until he had made a sizable
opening. He thrust his right arm out, the knife in his hand, and chopped and
hacked at the shingles outside and around the hole. He could feel them breaking
away and sliding down the outer slope.

 
          
Thus
he worked for some
minutes,
until he judged that he
had cleared a space several feet square, to expose the sheathing boards. Again
he shoved and applied pressure. The boards gave. He scrambled along the cross
timber, managed to get his shoulder against the sheathing, and surged with all
his strength. A strident crackling noise informed him that another piece was
breaking away. Now there was enough of a hole above him to allow his head to
pass through. Rising carefully to one knee on the timber and holding the
sloping rafters above it with both hands, he looked out.

 
          
He
saw that the boards to either side of the gap were more strongly fastened, and
when he tugged at them they resisted his efforts. But he brought his knife into
play again. With all his strength and determination he commenced whittling
along the edges of the hole. Big chips and slivers fell down into the house. He
could hear the dogs sniffing, snarling and protesting as these light missiles
pelted them.

           
The work grew hard, and Randy felt
weary and sweaty, but he kept at it. For more than an hour he painstakingly
enlarged that hole in the roof. Finally, putting his knife between his teeth,
he shoved his head out again. His shoulders followed. It was a tight squeeze,
but he got both arms into the open, shoved down on the roof, and forced his
body clear. He drew his legs after it, and finally stood up astride the
ridgepole, folding and pocketing his knife again.

 
          
Loudly
and gratefully he sniffed the open air. It was like finding the way out of a
dungeon. Then he made a survey of the roof. Toward one end rose a length of old
iron stovepipe in lieu of a chimney. Turning from this, he cast his eyes about
for a way down.

 
          
Most
of the trees close at hand were small, brushy, and full of young green leaves.
However, against the eaves at one side towered a broad-trunked, wide- branched
old sycamore, close enough for two sturdy limbs to thrust out almost
horizontally above the edge of the
roof.
Randy moved
down the slope toward them, caught hold of the largest, and swung himself into
the tree. He scrambled along like a young ape toward the trunk. Getting down
would be easy.

 
          
But
even as he told himself these things, he was aware with sinking heart that the
dogs had poured out of the house and were gathering around the sycamore like
dancers around a maypole. Their canine sense of hearing, keener than that of
any human being, had told them what was going on. Bugler raised himself, strong
forepaws against the patchy bark of the sycamore’s trunk, and crinkled his
muzzle to show his teeth at Randy.

BOOK: Manly Wade Wellman - Novel 1952
11.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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