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. 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 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, yet quietly, overtook his worn-out bones and his exhausted muscles- and he drifted away again. CRASH! Will was jerked awake once more. “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 hard floor. And as he blinked a few times in that direction, he could soon see in the black shadows of the cupboard that a dog was there, anxiously sniffing along the bottom drawers. It was a medium-sized animal, dark in color. Willum couldn’t understand where it came from. His mean old friend couldn’t stand pets 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. Then, just as he made up his mind to get up from the rocker and see to it, the dog moved toward him; 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 as the light from the simultaneously swelling fire flickered upon the advancing animal. The dog raised its head as it came nearer, and Will was at once terror-stricken, for 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, and began to sniff around the rockers of the wooden chair, and the motionless feet of old Will- but it didn’t seem to notice Willum sitting there. 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 to Uly’s cot, and rushed toward the sick and sleeping old timer, with a frenzied excitement.
Will watched in 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. Then, without hesitation, this fantastic and strange visitor sat upon Uly’s chest, bent over toward the man’s face, reached down with his two front paws, and pried Uly’s mouth open! Then the beast stuck its 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. 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 GOT me! Ah-Ahh-Ahhhh! Oh GOD! Oh my GOD!!!“
CRASH! Willum Watson jerked awake in the rocking chair, by the flickering fire! He paused for a quiet second or two, in shock from what his sleeping mind had just conjured. And Will soon realized that the sleep which had overtaken him had probably lasted for much too long this time, while the storm continued to rage outside. Will pushed himself up from the place where he sat and made his way across the hard, wooden floor toward the cot to see about Uly. He had an uneasy feeling as he approached his sleeping friend. Then, as he stood beside the cot, Will nudged Uly with his gentle hand. “Is everything okay Uly? Is everything okay?” But the old man did not move and he did not stir among the surrounding, unnerving shadows. And in an instant, the hearth fire swelled, as the devil cracked his lightning whip once more. And in that brief, violent flash of light, Will could see that his once unloved, unreasonable, and friendless friend was no longer for this earth. Yes, Ulyssus P. Cuthbert was dead and gone. But not only had Uly died on that dark and stormy night, but he had died with his mouth. . . wide. . . OPEN!!!