Karen was the minimal of an hour beyond her schedule, yet she was unconcerned about arriving home. Her grades, though not yet at precarious levels, had been slipping due to the momentous homework piling up lately. Adding to that, she was still frustrated with the recent loss of her personal phone, greatly limiting her communication with friends as a result. But once Karen stepped outside, her mood felt lightened by the coolness of the approaching nighttime. Like many her age, she enjoyed walking outside during the darker and quieter hours.
Five times a week, the students lucky enough to live nearby would use the path as a convenient shortcut to school. This was especially popular during the bitter months of winter, or for those who had dogs that needed frequent walking. Otherwise, the path was left alone, considered too close to the dense forest to be considered an adequate play area. Because of this, it was a reliable place if one wished to enjoy nature alone. And Karen was grateful for the trail's peace. This was where the light-haired, aloof student would come when she wished to escape the world for a while. On a few occasions, she had even ventured into the trees if she could find a comfortable spot that was lacking in thick undergrowth. Tonight, though, there was inadequate light to guide Karen through such a journey, despite her lingering desire.
The girl was startled out of her vague trance when she heard the soft noise of feet near her. They were too small to be a person, but before she had the second necessary to turn around, she was knocked over by a huge body charging at her legs. A mad snarling roared from separated jaws, and Karen could recognize the hard claws and thick pads of an enormous dog on her back and legs. Powered by fear, she rolled herself forcefully onto her back and leaped to her feet, facing her adversary.
In front of Karen was the most bizarre and terrifying animal she had seen. It was as long as her, even without the huge, thrashing tail, and dressed in ropey, golden fur. Four short legs studded the flanks. Most unusual was the badly-arranged face- red eyes the size of human hands stared with a wild anticipation at Karen, the mouth so wide it was as though the jaws could open to swallow any object. No collar or tag could be seen on the animal, indicating no human ownership. It could only be some deranged stray or wolf, but Karen had little more than seconds to identify her predator.
Without delay, the animal lunged at the shocked human with its jaws gaping. Keen-edged teeth locked around Karen's throat, completely enclosing her neck in the animal's rumbling, wet jaws. Taken over by pain and instant terror, the girl fell once more onto her back with the entity still gripping her skin. Before Karen could complete her scream, the dog jerked its own head up, tearing the delicate skin wide open. A sea of dark blood followed. The dog intensified its clamp till Karen's frantic hand collided with its face, making it release her with a high-pitched yap.
Making a feeble attempt to stand, Karen allowed her screaming for aid to take control of her lungs. The bizarre animal backed off quickly in surprise, though its huge jaws remained open and salivating. The desperate girl looked in every direction for another human, not feeling the crimson river below thickening with her every cry. And without warning she crumpled, slowly sinking onto the cold dirt, the dog looming over her like a vulture. In the seconds before her eyes dropped shut, she could half-consciously feel the teeth tearing into her abdomen and the accompanying release of bloody liquid. It would take minutes for her to fully die, yet Karen's killer was not patient.
The animal tore into Karen's innards hungrily, its appetite aroused by the scent of fresh blood. In the space of several minutes it reduced her stomach to an empty and almost bloodless vessel, before turning to the flesh on Karen's limbs next. The quiet horror of teeth on bone rattled in the still air. So ravenous was the creature that it ate through Karen's clothing to get to her flesh, even gnawing the top of her skull in its quest for more meat. Two or three times it would smell another person in the vicinity, but none approached close enough to discover the animal or its unfortunate prey.
Eventually satiated, the monster knew it was time to clean up its act. After licking its bloody jaws cleaner, it grasped Karen's foot inside its cavernous mouth, grimacing at the fouler taste of the preserved leather. With great effort it began to drag the half-skeletal, bloodied remains into the ocean of trees, struggling with the abundance of fallen branches and thorny brush. Fatigue from gorging was beginning to take its effect.
The animal ventured only a few feet deep before releasing the body, forgoing the typical practice of burial. Quickly the dog bounded back up the path, as fast as its swollen stomach would allow. It headed back in the direction it had came earlier, seeking out its den. The sky was near its maximum darkness during the animal's exhausted dash across the field and into the familiar forest, farther and ever farther from the life it had taken away.
Left undiscovered until the next morning, winged insects and their larvae fed frantically on what remained of Karen's torn flesh. Her face, despite damage from canine teeth, was still recognizable if one knew it well. Furthermore, her bright hair had not been damaged by the beast and lay in a shining heap next to her outstretched fingers. Once the sun's light began to warm the cool ground, and much of Karen's remains were squirming with tiny white worms, some early students were already on their daily journey to the school.
A curious girl wondered what object was lying a few feet away, virtually invisible. She stopped for several moments to contemplate her next action, vaguely wondering about impending school matters but bothered by the unknown. Believing the thing was the log of a fallen tree or a torn garbage bag, Serena moved aside the plentiful shrubbery and took a few eager steps.
Written by Grizzly Bear