Fiction Contemporary Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.


“-olf sighting. Police are advising residents not to leave pets and small children outside unatten—”


Graham turned the alarm off and stood in the dark, eyes drooping at the numbers on his alarm clock. 


He’d been trying to get up and go for a run all week, but it was too easy to roll over and reset the alarm for the usual six-thirty. But last night, he had moved the clock from his bedside table to the dresser across the room. This morning, he was going to go for a run, dammit.

He kissed Heather’s forehead and pulled the blanket up a little before sneaking through the dark down the hallway, careful not to wake the kids, and into the bathroom. He eased the door shut and flicked the light, squinting as he stood in front of the toilet, and frowning—his stream just didn’t seem as full and hearty as it used to, and he blamed it on his expanding gut. It was getting hard to even see the ol’ bait and tackle.

The final straw was when he tried on his favourite Levis the other day but couldn’t get the button done up. Defeated, he switched to a pair of Walmart jeans and got them on without a hitch, but not before he grimaced at the label:

98% Cotton, 2% Elastane

It was the elastane that really burned his ass. Graham was an old-school kind of guy. Not in the sense that he was an ignorant piece of shit, but in the sense that he liked his beer cold and his coffee hot. Denim—real denim—is supposed to be 100% cotton. It had worked for the gold rushers, James Dean, and Springsteen. When he’d said as much to Heather on the way to Montana’s for her sister’s birthday party, she just rolled her eyes and told him that nobody cared whether his pants were 100% cotton or not.

To make himself feel better, he wolfed down a twelve-ounce New York with thick-cut fries on the side, chasing it with a couple of beers. For dessert, he had one of those cookies that are baked in a cast iron and topped with a scoop of ice cream and a healthy drizzle of caramel. Christ Almighty it was good.

But, he told himself, that’s the last hurrah. It’s carrot sticks and morning runs from here on out. When he and Heather got married and before they had kids, he weighed a trim 170 lbs. Now, he was sitting around 210 and, in the wrong light, he sometimes lost the line where his jaw ended and his neck began.

Life was just so hectic and fast-paced now with two busy kids and he and Heather both working full-time. There were always things to remember and places to go and it was hard to eat right and exercise when you were late and starved and the golden arches offered a quick fix for the low, low price of $8.99 a meal.

He told himself that once he could slip back into the Levis (or maybe even a smaller pair) he’d haul the Walmart jeans out of the bottom of the drawer and donate them, whistling a happy tune as he did so.

Graham went back into the bedroom and pulled on his running clothes before slinking downstairs to have a sip of water and grab his phone and AirPods. Then he went to the front hall closet to put on his toque and gloves. It was November and the mornings were dark and clear and crisp—perfect for running.

He slipped on his new cheapy Walmart running shoes (he wanted a pair of New Balance but they still had bills to pay). He looked at himself in the mirror and felt a surge of confidence; he was really gonna do it. Then he slipped on the reflective vest Heather insisted that he wear and felt his confidence wane a little.

He stepped through the door, clicking it closed with a soft push at the end, and took a deep breath of the chilled Autumn air. The sky was dotted with stars and the moon hung bright and bloated. He smiled at the white cloud of exhale and popped his headphones in. He started the playlist that he had carefully curated and headed down the steps to cross the road to the sidewalk. 

He began walking at a brisk pace to get himself warmed up, his shadow stretching and shrinking as he passed under the streetlights, and couldn’t help the excited smile that spread across his face. This was going to be good. It would feel good to sweat and breathe heavily. And his legs were sure to hurt for days but it would be a good hurt.

He would be exhausted by bedtime but it wouldn’t be the kind of exhaustion that came from the needling reality of hundreds of mundane little tasks he had to accomplish, but the kind that dwelled in the bones and made sleep deep and heavy. 

He thought about a trimmer waist, a heartier pee stream (among other things), and a new lease on life. He thought about the example he’d be setting for the kids—approaching forty and going from fat to fit. 

The Chili Peppers started in his ears and he felt warm and ready. Time to go to work. He pulled out his phone and asked Siri to start a timer for fifteen minutes. Maybe a half-hour run was a little too ambitious but sometimes you couldn’t just dip your toes and ooh and ahh about how cold the water was. Sometimes you just had to jump in.

He popped the phone back into his pocket and ventured his first few running steps. The shock of the pavement jolted into his feet and up through his knees and hips and electrified him. He stretched his arms out, wound them in a circle, and snapped his neck left and right. It had been a week of false starts but he was out the gate now and running back the clock. Time to go to work.

* * *

Bella tried not to be hypnotized by the highway lines that blipped by in the yellow pool of headlights, but she was exhausted. 

After a day in meetings and dinner and drinks, she’d gotten on a four-hour flight. Then, following a four-hour layover, she’d gotten on a two-hour flight. Once she landed, she faced an hour-and-a-half drive home. She wasn’t even sure how long she’d been awake and her mind twisted into knots when she tried to do the math. She thought about staying at the airport hotel but decided against it; she’d come this far and her bed and pillows were so close.

She was freezing when the drive started but once the car warmed up, she found that her blinks were getting longer and longer. That’s when she cut the heat and rolled the window down a touch, letting the cold November air howl into the car.

That worked for twenty minutes or so until the wind started to turn into droning white noise, and her mind started to drift into all kinds of strange paths of thought—the kind that don’t make any sense when you’re awake.

She stopped for a coffee but all it did was keep her hands busy for fifteen minutes or so—she was beyond getting help from caffeine.

Once the coffee was gone, she drifted back into that bizarre, sleepy thinking. That’s when a deer bounded across the empty highway, its white legs and flagged tail glowing in Bella’s high beams. “Jesus Christ!” she yelled as she jolted up in her seat, white-knuckling the wheel and jumping on the brake.

But the instant she touched the pedal, the deer had already crossed the double lane and bounded into the night. She hadn’t seen it until it was too late and she was damn lucky it hadn’t run across a second later. 

That’s when she turned the radio up as loud as she could stand—so loud that it made her wince at every snare shot and grimace during the bad commercials.

She checked the dash clock; it was twenty after five. She’d been on a familiar stretch of road for a few minutes now and figured she’d be home in twenty minutes or so. 

She fought the thoughts of her bed but soon imagined herself leaving everything in the car, kicking the shoes off of her aching feet, stripping the clothes off of her tired body, and falling into a sea of blankets and pillows. She’d sleep all day and then roll out of bed and into the shower (or maybe a bath) and make the water as hot as she could stand it—so hot that it would make her sweat. Then she would spend the rest of the day in her pajamas watching bad reality TV on Netflix. She’d order pizza and dessert from the place down the road—maybe the cheesecake…

When she opened her eyes, she found herself three-quarters of the way in the other lane with a sweeping bend in the road looming ahead in her headlights. She gasped and jerked the wheel back into her own lane.

“Come on Bella, don’t crash now,” she told herself, “You’re so close.” She checked the clock. It read 5:25. “Ten more minutes.” She tried to open her eyes as wide as they would go but all she managed to do was raise her eyebrows.

She rounded a bend and found herself on the very edge of town where the sidewalk and streetlights started. She saw a hooded man jogging, his vest glowing in her headlights. She could just make out his white puffs of breath. 

She admired him running so early when no one was around—she thought that people who ran when the road was busy were just as interested in the attention as they were in running.

She also admired the effort the guy was making. Bella couldn’t remember the last time she’d done any kind of exercise. At forty-two, she noticed herself avoiding the mirror whenever she stepped in or out of the shower.

She rounded the next bend and thought that maybe she should look into joining a gym, or running, or maybe trying some yoga, when something large and grey streaked by in the headlights, less than twenty feet away from the hood of the car—something with glowing eyes and a long tail.

Bella screamed and, against her better instincts, she cut the wheel hard to the left to avoid whatever it was. The car darted hard into the other lane—too hard. She whipped the wheel back while her tired foot searched for the brake. The car danced back into the other lane and surged toward a group of mailboxes on the next corner. Her foot found the brake and she stepped on the pedal as hard as she could while she careened into the line of boxes.


          The hood of the car buckled while the mailboxes were ripped from their stands and pitched backward. She was slammed forward into the seatbelt while the airbag exploded in her face, jamming her glasses hard into the bridge of her nose. 

          The airbag deflated and she sat stunned for a moment. The first thing she noticed was blood, leaking thickly from both nostrils and into her mouth, the coppery taste making her stomach weak. Otherwise, she didn’t think she was hurt.

“Oh no, oh no, ooohhhhh…” she groaned as her mind started to work, awake now. She noticed that the car was still running and the radio was still blaring so she shut the engine off. She could feel panic rising in her chest and her breath quicken while her stomach started to churn. “OK,” she said, trying to get her breathing under control, “OK, don’t panic. You’re OK.” Her voice was thick and stuffy from all the blood in her mouth and her nose, some of which was now running down the back of her throat. 

My phone, she thought. She unbuckled her seatbelt, taking note of any pain, but couldn’t find it. It must have bounced away. “Oh God…” The jogger. He’ll be along any second. 

The crash started to play back in her mind and she wondered about the thing that ran in front of her—the eyes, the speed, the size. It was dog-like but bigger than any dog she’d ever seen…

She was lifted out of her daze by a strange sound—a creaking, metallic sound, like straining steel. She turned to look out the window when the door was wrenched from the car with a terrible screech and the sharpness of shattering glass. The door was tossed aside like it was made of cardboard and Bella started to scream. 

She was ripped from her seat with a violent jerk and thrown over the car. When she landed, the wind was knocked out of her and somewhere in her body, she felt something break—something important. 

Her eyes were closed and her mouth was twisted in a silent scream when she heard a deep, menacing growl, the kind of growl that drops a mortal weight in your stomach. She felt something descend upon her—could smell the animal breath on her face and almost taste it—and she opened her eyes. The last things she saw before drowning in a sea of red pain were those glowing eyes and gnashing teeth.

* * *

Graham’s alarm went off in his ear just as the Hip were starting into Twist My Arm. His legs felt like jelly and his breath wheezed in and out in rhythm with his heaving chest, and he was a little nervous about the second half. You can do it, he thought, trying to keep himself psyched. Halfway. No problem. 

He reached into his pocket and stopped the alarm. Then he pressed the side button for Siri to start the timer again and waited for her to prompt him to speak. But in that short moment, he heard something—maybe a crash?

“What was that?” he gasped.

“Sorry, I didn’t catch that,” he heard Siri saying as he pulled the headphones out of his ears.

He tried to quiet his breathing and listen for any other noises that might be carried along by the cold air but couldn’t hear any. He looked around him and off into the dim but couldn’t see anything. 

He looked up at the full moon as a thin strip of wispy clouds passed over it, casting a pearly ring. Must be hearing things, he thought, starting to put his headphones back in.

That was when he heard another crash and a scream—a woman’s scream—that seemed to be choked off. It sounded like it came from around the corner, maybe a hundred and fifty feet ahead of him.

“What the hell?” he said as he broke into a jog. He rounded the corner and almost fell over trying to stop. A car—the one with the radio cranked that passed him a minute ago—had crashed into a stand of mailboxes. The boxes were tipped over, and he could see that the front of the car was damaged and that the airbag had gone off, but that’s not what made him stop so quickly. It was the missing door and missing driver that got him.

Graham broke out of his gawk and into a run. “Hello?” he called, “Can you hear me? Are you injured?” 

He stopped again, about twenty-five feet away, when he noticed the crumpled door lying in the ditch. How the fuck did the door end up so far away?

He walked up to the car (there were still no sounds in the cool morning) to look. Nothing. Empty. 

“Hello?” he called again, “I’m here to help but I need to know where you are?” He started to circle the car. What are the odds that I would be first on the scene of an accident on the first run I’ve been on in ten years? And what are the odds that the driver would be—!!!

His stomach went cold and his knees almost buckled when he reached the passenger side. There, lying on a patch of grass just beyond the mailboxes, was a woman.

Or what was left of one.

She looked like she had gone through a paper shredder. There were ribbons of cloth and flesh and innards strewn about and the grass was dark with pools and streaks of blood. 

He started to hyperventilate and could feel his legs going numb. “Oh, God,” he gasped as he started to double over, placing his hand on the car. 

He tried to take a deep breath and that’s when the smell hit him—the smell of hot guts, like when you’re gutting a deer. He looked up and noticed the curls of steam twisting into the cold air. 

Graham’s stomach heaved and he vomited watery bile in between his shoes. He stood up, turned away from the grisly scene, and reached for his phone. He could feel his eyes trying to look back at the destroyed woman’s carcass but resisted the urge.

He shook his head and realized that he was freezing—numb in some places. His hands trembled as he opened his phone and tried to dial.

His shivering and shuddering breaths stopped as something dawned on him. The woman had just died—seconds before he had laid eyes on the car.

That meant that whatever had ripped the door off and mutilated the woman was probably close by. Very close.

He whirled to look wide-eyed around him but didn’t see anything—only the silvery landscape lit by the moon. Just then, a sound began to rise from behind the mailboxes. It was a low, rumbling growl.

November 18, 2023 01:08

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Debbie Curtin
22:09 Nov 26, 2023

Deep, dark, moving.


C. Charles
00:54 Nov 29, 2023

Thanks for reading!


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Mary Bendickson
16:32 Nov 18, 2023

Beware the...olf sighting!


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