Ulyssus P. Cuthbert had been a mean-spirited, bitter man for all of his 83 years, and didn’t have a friend in this world because of it, save one- old Willum Watson. Willum was a kind-hearted widower, and had met Uly years ago, and felt sorry for him.
Will was spending time with his ornery friend way out in the middle of nowhere, on a lonely, faraway night that was like something out of a bad dream. The dreadful rain was constant, the winds were howling, and the lightning was snapping like the devil’s whip. Any other night like this and old Willum would have stayed home, which was almost half a hour away. But Uly was sick with what seemed to be pneumonia, and needed some help and company in his pitiful and weakened state- even though he probably didn’t deserve it. Will noticed, from the very minute he arrived at the little one room shack early that morning, that maybe Ulyssus was actually worse off than he thought. (Uly had complained about his advancing condition for almost a week over the phone, until Willum finally resigned himself to keep an eye on him for a couple of days.)
Up and down. Up and down. Do this and do that. Come here and go there. In fact, Willum had waited on Uly hand and foot nearly the whole time on the day he arrived, until almost midnight. Willum finally tucked him in after a few warmed over peas and hamhock were eaten. Uly’s coughing was deep and harsh, and his breathing was labored. Afterward, Will wearily washed the few dirty dishes, and then eased over to a chair near the warm and flaming hearth. He rocked there, but told himself not to fall asleep, since he needed to listen out for Uly as he rested a while on his cot. Willum could see Uly lying there, from across the room where he sat by the fire.
Even so, the soothing warmth of the crackling flames, the hypnotic back and forth motion of his chair, and the rhythm of the unending rain pounding on the rooftop. . . and the rumbling thunder. . . and the whistling tempest. . . made Will drowsy and nod his tired head. CRASH! CRASH! CRASH! Will jerked awake just a few minutes later from a sudden crack of lightning! “Stay awake old boy,” he told himself. And he did for a minute or two, but tiredness quickly overtook his worn-out bones and his exhausted muscles- and he drifted away again. CRASH! Will was jerked awake once more by a violent clap from the storm outside. “Stay awake old boy, stay awake. Uly needs you to stay awake.” He could tell that Ulyssus was breathing with much uneasiness as he lay on his rustic bed. Will struggled to keep his eyes opened, but he just couldn’t do it. . . he just couldn’t do it. . . he just couldn’t do it. . .
CRASH! CRASH! Willum jerked awake again, but this time something was different. This time, the commotion wasn’t from out in the stormy darkness. Will heard a pot lid spinning on the wooden floor. And as he blinked a few times in that direction, he could soon see in the dreary shadows of the cupboard that a dark and brindled dog was there, anxiously sniffing along the bottom drawers. Willum couldn’t understand where it came from. His mean old friend couldn’t stand animals of any kind, and the nearest neighbor that might own a dog was maybe seven miles away. The fact that the door and the windows were locked up tight made the presence of a dog even more confusing.
Will waited to see if the dog appeared to be an angry animal- it was muscular and athletically built, and Willum somehow did not trust its disposition. Then, just as he made up his mind to get up from the rocker and see to it, the dog moved toward him out of the shadows; sniffing with its head held low, as if it was on some kind of mission. A particularly strong rumble of thunder was heard from outside. And at that same instant, Will eased back in the rocking chair; in shock and terror-stricken at what he saw, as the light from the simultaneously swelling fire flickered upon the advancing animal. The dog raised its head as it came near, and what old Will saw that put such a fright in him was that the unexpected beast had something else where a normal dog’s face should be. This animal had what looked like the contorted features of a horrific gargoyle, like ones he had seen perched on ancient churches when he was in the war. Willum held his breath and did not move as this unreal creature came right up to the chair where he sat- frozen.
The strange dog lowered its muzzle once more, and began to sniff around the motionless rockers of the dusty chair, and the motionless feet of old Will- but it surprisingly didn’t seem to notice Willum sitting there at all. Then the devil’s whip snapped a wickedly loud crack out in the dismal and violent storm. And at that, the dark dog perked up it’s ears, turned it’s head toward Uly’s cot, and rushed toward the sick and sleeping old timer, with a frenzied excitement.
Will watched with a panicked but silent disbelief, as the hellish animal made a low growling sound deep down in its throat and jumped up on the bed of old Uly. It briefly sniffed over the strangely unresponsive body of the sleeping man; starting at the feet, then quickly moving to the poor man’s torso and throat. Then, without hesitation, this fantastic and bizarre animal sat upon Uly’s chest, bent over toward the man’s face, reached down with his two front paws, and stretched Uly’s mouth wide open! Then the beast stuck its demonic snout down the mouth of old Uly Cuthbert! CRASH! CRASH! CRASH! The devil cracked his lightning whip with the violence of a thousand angry minions. And just then, the secured door to the outside ripped open from the force of a strange and powerful draft, and the dark dog bolted from the now molested body of Ulyssus P. Cuthbert, out into the raging darkness.
Willum Watson right then took his chance and urgently rose from the rocking chair to head for the door. He made it there in no time, and began to push shut the door against the force of the wind, when he saw out in the yard- in another flash of the devil’s lightning whip- that the demon dog was out in the deluge, aiming for a large stack of drenched firewood. Then he heard it. He hoped that the sound might just be the wind crying around the corners of the cabin, but it was not- it was a voice meandering in the wicked winds. Meanwhile, the demon dog splashed and slipped in the mud as it negotiated a turned, but kept its footing, and disappeared behind the wood pile. Then, there it was again! It was the voice of old Uly Cuthbert from behind the same wood pile, now rising above the noise of the storm. “Help, help, help! HELP! Oh God, oh God! He’s GOT me! He’s GOT me! He has G-O-O-O-O-O-T M-E-E-E-E-E-E-E-E! Ah-Ahh-Ahhhhhhh! Oh GOD! OH MY GOD! Oh my G-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-O-D!!!!!!”
CRASH! Willum Watson jerked awake in the rocking chair from the sound of the thunder, and the throbbing, pulsing, flickering fire! He paused for a quiet second or two, in shock at what his sleeping mind had just conjured. He very soon came to his senses, thanked the Lord, and was relieved that he had only been dreaming; but quickly realized that the unnerving sleep which had overtaken him had lasted for much too long. So, as the storm continued to wale and rage outside, Will pushed himself up from the place where he sat and hurriedly made his way across the hard wooden floor- in the throes of guilt over his sleepiness- to the cot to see about old Uly. But he had somehow an uneasy feeling as he approached his repose’d friend. Then, as he stood there beside the cot, Will nudged Uly with a gentle hand. “Is everything okay Uly? Is everything okay?” But the unconscious man did not move, and he did not stir among the grim and dancing shadows. In an instant, the hearth fire swelled, as the devil cracked his lightning whip once more. And in that brief, violent flash of spasmodic brightness, Will could see that his once unloved, unreasonable, and friendless friend was no longer for this earth. Yes, Ulyssus P. Cuthbert was, sadly, dead and gone. But what sent a rush of unforgettable shock deep into the very being of Willum Watson, as he gazed at his unfortunate friend in the convulsing glare, was the startling evidence that not only had Uly died lying there on that dark and stormy night- but that he had died. . . with his mouth. . . wide. . . OPEN!!!!