The howling of the wind through the sepulcher’s vault doors had fused with the yowling of the grave robber’s fretful hound. The gaunt short-haired mutt was chained to the rear bumper of a rusted Ford Model TT pickup truck. The unsightly vehicle appeared to be made entirely of rust, only being held together by its weathered wooden box bed.
It was just after midnight and the thunderstorm outside had come on unusually fast. The crooked old filcher paused at his labor and looked out through the mausoleum’s open iron doors. Lightning flashed in the clouds and illuminated the lonely headstones in front and beyond his truck which was parked on an unpaved road about twenty yards away. His dog yapped repeatedly from his muddy shelter under the truck’s flat-bed.
“Dammit Dawg! Yer gonna bring round the caretaker!” the man yelled at the mutt he had simply named, Dawg. The dog didn’t let up, and neither did the rain; it started coming down in sheets.
“Blast it all to hell! Good-for-nuthin’ cur!” the man cursed. He looked at what he still had left to do. One of four stone caskets had been pried open with its lid leaned up against its side. It contained the remains of a man, and the only things he’d managed to pilfer were a tarnished silver watch and a thin gold wedding band. This was supposed to be the tomb of a wealthy robber baron, but the head of the household certainly hadn’t taken much with him. The tomb raider had been working on the second large sarcophagus when Dawg had started up his caterwauling. Additionally, there was a pair of smaller coffins remaining to be opened situated between the larger set, perhaps containing the bodies of young children.
He set down his crowbar and hammer on the sarcophagus’ cover and picked up his lantern off the floor. Looking outside at the pouring rain he thought better of it, and left his light source behind. He covered his head with his trench coat and cursed his way down to the truck to retrieve his dog.
“If this don’t beat all! At least this storm might gimme some time to get the cotton-pickin’ job done without anyone noticin’…that is, if I can just get Dawg to SHUDDUP!” He raised his voice on the last word as he reached his Ford. Dawg whimpered in the mire under the truck.
The dog’s coarse master disconnected the leash from the bumper and yanked him out from under the truck with a jerk of the chain. “Get outta there, damn Dawg! Come on ya stupid beast!” he bellowed as he dragged the animal up the hill towards the open vault with four Greek Doric columns. Dawg struggled at first, but once the rain started to soak his fur, he timidly followed his master into the crypt with his head and tail down.
They both shook off the rain and the burglar hitched the end of the dog’s chain to a wrought iron cross mounted on the far wall behind the coffins. “There…that’ll hold ya. Now, shuddup and go to sleep. We may have to hole up in here until this tempest lets up.”
The thief returned to his tasks and after about thirty minutes he had the second sarcophagus unsealed using his crowbar. He pushed the cover off with a grunt and it hit the polished stone floor with a loud boom that blended well with an even louder thunderclap. Dawg sneezed and cowered against the vault’s wall when he caught a whiff of embalmed flesh stretched over brittle bones. The man quickly salvaged only a handful of valuables from the coffin.
“Two silver earrings, a tiny diamond wedding ring, and…” he paused and opened the catch on a plain silver locket. It revealed only two black and white pictures of twin Doberman pinschers. Engraved beneath one image was the name Nero, and atop the other was the name Ivan. He threw the necklace against the wall and sighed in frustration, “…ugh, and a useless trinket! Hellfire and damnation!”
Outside, the storm was still raging. Upon breaking into the vault, he‘d never intended to open the smaller coffins, but since his hunt had proven so fruitless he decided to defile the children’s graves too. Fervently he began hammering the seals around the tops of the two coffins with his hammer. Using his crowbar, he jimmied open the first one and immediately turned and pried off the second lid. The exposed caskets did not contain children at all, but instead they held the dry bones of two large dogs!
“Well, well…hello Nero…hello Ivan,” the man greeted them sarcastically, but his heart nearly stopped when he saw the dogs’ gem-encrusted collars. One had rubies intermixed with diamonds, and the other had sapphires comingled with emeralds. Faster than a dog to his vomit, the pair of chokers were off the mummified pets’ skeletal necks and in the man’s pocket. He felt a sudden urge to flee, but the trees outside were now blowing horizontally, and several had lost sizable limbs.
The strenuous work of the past hour or so had finally caught up with the not-so-young man and he sat down next to Dawg for a brief rest. Not only was he tired, but he was hungry too. Remembering the half-eaten chocolate bar in his pocket, he pulled it out and nearly finished it in two bites. He heard his dog whine, so he selfishly popped the final bite into his mouth, crumpled the wrapper, and threw it at Dawg’s face. “Find yer own vittles, ya mangy mutt! Oh, that’s right, yer chained up…how inconsiderate of me,” he said with faux sympathy.
The man got up and tugged loose a rib bone from one of the dead pinschers and tossed it back at Dawg. “Here ya go, bon appétit.” Dawg snubbed his nose at the offering and rested his head on his paws.
The grave robber checked the weather again, and sat back down when he saw that it hadn’t gotten any better. For a while he fingered the collars in his pocket imagining the small fortune he would gain the next time he visited his favorite pawn shop. ‘That rich bitch musta really loved her pooches,’ he thought. Eventually, he dozed off into a fitful sleep while rolling thunder permeated the cemetery night.
He awoke to the sound of low guttural growling. Dawg was agitated, and his first thought was that perhaps the caretaker had caught him, however, the wind outside had not subsided in the least. He looked to where Dawg was focused and he prayed to heaven that he was still sleeping and he was experiencing a dream, for rising from the two small sarcophagi were the decimated, rotten, and now animated twin corpses of Nero and Ivan! The thief was paralyzed with fear and didn’t even think of trying to reach for his hammer or crowbar that had been so carelessly discarded. The two undead Dobermans snarled as they approached him and then his lantern burnt itself out. It instantly became darker, but not completely black; sheet lightning flickered through the vault’s open doors, but stranger still the approaching canines were engulfed in a red fiery luminosity.
The man had seen Dawg battle a coon one time and it wasn’t pretty, but instead of attacking the potential threat, Dawg simply moved closer with his head down in submission. “Stupid mongrel,” the thief whispered his insult because he didn’t want to draw the hellhounds’ attentions. He briefly thought about making an attempt to escape, but he’d never make it to the truck before the dogs would have him on the ground.
For the next several minutes the man watched as all three dogs barked and bayed in some sort of preternatural macabre ritual. In unison, they would bow their heads and swap positions before raising their snouts to the sky with bloodcurdling howls. How many times they repeated this he was unsure, but as they performed their daemonic dance, he witnessed them slowly merge into one creature that was several times the sum of the dogs’ sizes with three heads. The black triple-headed wolf stopped swaying. Three tongues drooled through three sets of fangs and the creature focused all six of its yellow eyes squarely upon the grave robber.
Cerberus roared a single word with three hungry voices, “DOG!”
The monster’s shout coincided with a deafening BOOM, and the man awoke in utter blackness. Now he was sure he was truly awake, and he was equally certain he had experienced a vivid nightmare. He guessed his lantern had gone out, but wondered, 'why are there no shadows?' It was then he realized that the loud boom had actually been the sound of the crypt’s doors being closed! He was trapped!
He crawled on all fours towards the vault’s entrance and heard the distinctive crank of his Ford pickup starting. He tried to cry out, “The damned caretaker is stealin’ my truck,” but he failed to utter anything intelligible. It just came out as “Raaawl uuuck!”
He leapt towards the door and he was nearly strangled by the chain that was clamped around his neck. He tried to grasp his throat, but his hands wouldn’t obey his brain. The odors of the open tombs in the sealed sepulcher suddenly overcame him and he curled up into a ball on the cold, hard, polished stone floor. His stomach growled, and he saw Dawg’s tail. Suddenly it dawned on him, the caretaker hadn’t stolen his car…Dawg had stolen it! Not only that, Dawg had stolen his body and left him chained and imprisoned…not just entombed inside the stone sepulcher but confined inside the very body of his own wretched hound!
The grave robber could only whimper like a sniveling dog when he heard his truck’s last backfire and the silence of the graveyard engulfed him.