EWARE the Black Dog of Hunter's Wood." Thus spoke the old woman. "According to legend, it was the favorite hunting dog of the Dark Hunter." A cold chill passed through her frame.
"I remember the day I met the Black Dog." The rocking chair creaked; the slowly dying fire reflected in eyes that no longer saw the present.
"It was dark and Mary and I were coming home from the Bainsville market. We had stayed too late...'Pretty Mary,' we called her. She always liked the market. We stayed late so she could barter with a merchant for a bolt of cloth. She was going to make a dress or some such. I really can't remember." The old woman leaned forward.
"We heard the howl first. The moon had just been hidden by a cloud. The Black Dog came from the woods behind us." She moved her hands to wipe her brow.
"It was huge. It was black, just as they said. But it wasn't a dog. Not all of it, anyway.
"We ran as hard as we could, but it caught us easily. It separated us, driving Mary before it until the shot rang out. I still remember how peaceful she looked." The woman paused. "Like she had just gone to sleep right there in the road.
"The hunter came then, a big old-looking rifle in his hands. His face was hidden by a high collar and a wide-brimmed hat.
"He picked her up like she was nothing and looked at the horrible black dog. He said, 'And the other? Where is she, Jo?'
"The dog looked right at me, where I was hiding in the bushes. A strange expression crossed its face. It was tortured and filled with something I couldn't understand. Sorrow, maybe, but only for an instant, then it looked away and with a whimper, shook its head at the hunter.
"The hunter shifted his grisly burden and said, 'No matter. We have the hands; Ruby only needs a few more parts and we will be finished. We hunt again tomorrow. Come, Jo.'
"The Black Dog waited until the hunter turned before it looked at me again. It pointed at me with a manlike arm and then urgently motioned me away."
The old woman leaned in close. "They killed the hunter in the old castle. They found Mary's body up there. But not her hands.
"They didn't kill the Black Dog, though. Good thing, too.
"You see, it's not a dog. It's one of those people killed by the hunter. Pieces of those missing people are still walking up there.
"You leave them be. The castle's ruins are home to the hunter's pets--monsters made from corpses and other things.
"You just leave them be. They're good people, most of them. I knew them when they were alive. Don't expect being killed and brought back as monsters has changed them all that much.
"So leave them alone, and stay out of the Hunter's Wood. That's their home now."
The old woman laboriously rose, and leaning heavily on her cane, walked to her bedroom, shutting the door behind her.
Outside, a dog that wasn't a dog howled at the moon's face.