As a kid, I was raised in a small fishing community on the Eastern side of Canada, surrounded by the gulf of Saint Lawrence and the Boreal Forest. The entirety of the land was close to 4000 foot square with an even smaller number of residents sprawled out over "main street", the main road running straight through our little town, and farming houses spread widely between areas of trees that were changed to domestic residential homes when agriculture stopped being profitable. In total, our community is surrounded by a vast expanse of ocean, and a seemingly endless barrage of trees that's spread over 55% of Canada's entire country. I spent most of my life hunting in those woods, so you can imagine my joy when my parents got me a "hunting dog".
Sandy was a Shetland Sheepdog, and while they were more fit to be herding and tracking sheep over grassy plains rather than rabbits and deer through dense forest, it didn't stop me from taking him with me on every excursion I possibly could. Sandy had been by my side for enough hunting trips that he'd grown accustomed to waking up just before breaking daylight, and on a few occasions helped track down small game like squirrels and rabbits through considerably large areas of forest.
Sandy wasn't my property, and wasn't treated like he "belonged" to me. Sandy was a member of the family, my best companion, and my truest friend. I think fondly back on all the times he'd sit in the front seat of the truck without being told, ready to go for a walk in whatever part of the forest I took him to. I can honestly say that there will never be a dog that will fill the void Sandy left in my life. I find that dog lovers relate to that sentiment more than others.
It was October 30th, the first day of deer hunting season. I had been talking with my family about taking Sandy, my hunting gear, and some essentials to one of the cabins my Grandfather owned in his heyday off an unmarked road a few hundred miles into the wilderness for a few days. This was met with a lot of protesting, but nothing could stop me from getting in some time looking for wild game in an area that wasn't already picked clean by illegal hunters earlier on in the month. Everything was packed into the old blue ford, Sandy included, and a few hours of driving later we were setting up camp in one of my Grandfather's secluded old cabins.
Here's where things got fucked up. Sandy, I'm so, so sorry.
I had spent most of the time of my life being in the wilderness. There were only a handful of times that things had gotten weird for me, but usually everything can be explained with scientific reason. That's why I brushed off Sandy's weirdness on the first few nights, chalking it up to the nervousness of a dog that's capable of hearing the far off noises of various coyotes, wolves, bears, and moose. This was untouched territory, of course. There had been plenty of time for wildlife to set up camp here, too.
The first night was fairly normal. I had set up Sandy's bed in the corner of the living room, next to the T.V. that looked like it came out of the early 90's. I figured I'd give Sandy the option to have someplace to lay down for a while, despite the fact that he slept curled up with me nine times out of ten. Close to 10 at night, Sandy looked straight at the wooden door and whined. I figured he needed to piss, and opened the door to let him out, not worried about having my best friend stray too far from me. Instead he sat just inside the door, looking out at the forests edge beyond the path. I too stood and looked for a few minutes before deciding he had just heard an errant critter close to the cabin. The rest of the night was fairly normal, and Sandy slept with me fine.
The second night, I chalked the weirdness up to Sandy's stress. Earlier in the day, we had been walking a few miles through the woods beyond the house, and I thought I heard the sound of twigs cracking under something heavy. I hoped it wasn't a moose, because my shotgun wouldn't have stood a chance, but something changed in Sandy that I didn't pay close attention to at the time. He hunched himself on his hind legs, his front pressed close to the ground. His mouth pulled up over his teeth, and he growled towards nothingness. I figured we'd try hunting again later, if whatever it was had left and should he be feeling up to it, but once we were inside he didn't want to move. Even when I tried to get him to go outside and do his business, he sat at the door and cried, wailing at me to let me know he didn't want to go out there. I didn't pressure him. If he pissed on the floor, so be it. Sandy never acted up before. I could excuse an accident or two, if he really didn't want to be out there. It must've been a bear, I thought, before locking the door and calling it a night.
The third night is where things went to hell and I still don't fully understand what happened.
Sandy didn't eat all day. I managed to shoot a rabbit in the early morning, when Sandy decided he didn't want to be outside any longer than he had to, and retired inside for the day. I cooked it up, threw a little gravy on it, and gave it to my dog. I didn't do this all the time, but I figured now was a special occasion, and maybe a treat would put him in a better mood for another walk the next day.
Sandy didn't touch it. He didn't so much as sniff it. Instead, he sat at my side on the couch, watching the doorway intently. I tucked him under one of my arms, and he laid his head on my lap, eyes still locked on that door. Close to three hours of watching grainy VHS tapes on an outdated television set, Sandy started crying, hugging himself close to my body. This is where my judgement took me down the wrong path for the first time of many.
It must sound silly, being my dogs protector rather than my dog being mine, but this was my family. I figured if there was something out there that was scaring Sandy so bad, then it was my job to do something about it. I loaded my 4.10, opened the door, stood in the doorway and waited.
I must've waited at least a half hour, staring into nothing. There was barely any sound, save for the faint buzz of insects and leaves rustling in the cold autumn wind. Moose aren't elegant creatures, and if it were a moose, I would've heard it coming. Around the 40 minute mark, Sandy took off like a shot, into the darkness of the trees beyond the path, barking wildly. I started to get worried, despite my knowledge that my dog isn't entirely helpless in the wilderness. There were still bigger animals that would've liked to take a bite out of him if there wasn't a lot of food for the winter.
I heard Sandy's bark fade away in the distance, and then stop altogether.
I waited hours standing in the doorway with my shotgun cocked and ready to put down whatever it was that was waiting in the woods. I waited hours for Sandy to come back to the house. I waited until the sun was cracking through the trees, and then I waited until that night, sitting on my porch step, feigning off sleep deprivation to see my dog come back.
Sandy did come back, but not for another three days.
Fog had rolled in at that point, and it was getting darker, the night painting the sky a navy blue. Tracking over the last few days proved futile, and I started to get worried that I'd need to leave and find more provisions to last me the next few nights. I couldn't leave Sandy up there, lost in the woods, cold and probably hungry. The thought that he might be waiting out there for me to find him and bring him back home was distressing enough. I was packing the bag that hung on the coat rack next to the door with what I'd need for the next day's trip. I figured tomorrow would be the last day before I'd go into town and see if my Father would help me find Sandy. He was a retired, graying man, but I was sure if I brought up Sandy's name he'd be more than willing to help me search for him. Thankfully, Sandy came back before I'd even finished that train of thought.
I saw him from the window, on the path that lead down to the main road, a few dozen feet away from the house. Normally I'd hear him scamper to the doorway and paw at the door a few times, eager to come in, but this was different. I could see the reflection of his eyes as green pearls in the murky fog that had swamped the house. For a moment I thought it might be an animal, but the outline of his body in the wisps of thick low-lying clouds was unmistakable. Still, despite myself, I hesitated. There was something different about his body language. I stared out the window for a few more moments before reason overcame my gut instinct. Sandy could be hurt, I thought. Or worse.
I flung the doorway open, but he didn't come right away. Instead he stood there, watching me intently, and when he didn't move I whistled to him. "Here, Sandy," I coaxed him towards the house. "here, boy".
The way he moved was... different. It was as though his hips had been dislocated, and the angle of his paws changed direction with every step, as though he'd forgotten how to walk properly. His head was bowed to the ground, but his teeth weren't bared. He didn't seem aggressive. The only way I could describe the look he gave me was "sheepish", like he'd just gotten into something he wasn't supposed to and I yelled at him for it.
I thought he might hurt himself hopping up onto the elevated step if he'd dislocated his hips, but he did just fine. His back half swung a little, oddly enough, and his paws almost folded underneath himself, but he didn't go sprawling. He sat on the step and didn't take his look off me. It wasn't until I had moved from the doorway completely, opened the door wide and waited for him to walk in that he moved.
Straight to his bed. He didn't stop at my hand and sniff at me. He didn't wait for pets or jump up on me like used to. It was straight to his bed, where he sat and watched me for quite some time afterwards.
I returned to the movie at hand. I called to him a few times, but he didn't respond. His ears didn't so much as raise to the sound of his voice, or the pat of my hand on the worn out couch beside me. I had missed my buddy, but I wasn't about to move him physically towards me. There was something about him that said I shouldn't have let him in, but I chalked it up to silliness, and a few hours later I went to bed. The more I think back on it, I don't recall him blinking once. He sat there like a statue, and when I turned off the light, I could still see the reflection of jade green following me as I went into my room and shut the door.
I could have sworn I heard him walk in the night, the sound of nails clicking against the wooden floor coming up to the door of my room, but they were slow and deliberate. They weren't like the quickness of Sandy realizing I'd gone to bed and coming to curl up. I heard the noises stop outside of my bedroom, but I didn't hear his whine. I thought nothing of it and fell into a deep sleep.
When I woke in the morning, I figured it must've been a dream. Sandy was still sitting in the upright position I left him in when I went to bed. It was as though he didn't move a muscle the entire night, and when I said good morning, he didn't so much as wag his tail.
He did follow me into the kitchen, but he paused at the doorway when I put his bowl down on the floor and filled it up with supermarket dog food. Once again, his back half moved weirdly as he slowly made his way towards me. There was a nagging feeling that something was off putting about the way he looked that day. It was like he had gotten a little longer overnight.
Sandy hunched down again, like when he was walking to the door the night before. He didn't come into the kitchen. I figured he must've been hungry being out in the wild for so long, but he eyed me like he was waiting for me to come a little closer rather than touch the food. It goes without saying, but after a few moments of a staring contest between me and my unblinking dog, I called off that foolishness and called his name out loudly. Not even a flinch. I didn't want to move closer to my dog to leave the kitchen door, but this was my Sandy, and the most damage he'd ever done was eat flies. Sure enough, as I passed him, he turned and his body swayed unnaturally, but he didn't move towards me.
When I left that day, I couldn't find anything. The deer tracks in the mud were made a few days prior and went cold off naturally made trails through the woods. I couldn't hear bugs, or birds, or even the howl of a nearby coyote. The only sounds for miles away from the campsite were my own breathing, and the sound of crunching leaves underneath my feet. When the sun started to set, I started making my way back, but I should've just packed my shit and left.
Just behind a cluster of trees, with the house just visible beyond the rise, I figured I found out the reason why the animals had abandoned this place.
Generally, when there are mass animal deaths, that usually means that something is wrong in the area of the slaughter, and wildlife are usually smart enough to get the hell out of dodge. Even cats are bred instinctively not to like drinking from water that is close to where their food is, because if you saw a dead animal close to a stream, you'd figure the stream was tainted and find another source of water.
Hundreds of squirrels were disemboweled and strewn across the grass in an almost perfect circle. Most of them were skinned alive, but when I turned to heave up all the contents in my stomach, there were a few dozen that were inside out. I couldn't help but vomit repeatedly as I tried my best to walk around the circle of tiny organs and mashed up bodies, not just over the sight, but because the smell was ungodly. I don't know how long they'd been out there, but if I'd stumbled across this sooner, I'd have left with Sandy in tow immediately after. Gradually, the bodies stopped, and delved off into a random dead squirrel here and there. The biggest thing I managed to find, just a few feet off the unholy feeding ground, was a deer.
It looked as though something had decided to skin it alive from hide to neck, and draped some of the skin over a branch like someone was tanning the hide. I don't know how long it had been there, but it smelled like it had been dead for quite some time, despite the fact that there wasn't a single fucking fly. The head had been cut off clean just above the shoulders, and when I realized the organs had been removed, I moved from a walking pace through the forest to a jog. Thankfully the cabin wasn't too far off. I heaved one final time, wiped my mouth off on the back of my sleeve, and looked up to the house to see Sandy watching me from the window.
I tried to reason with myself, and tell myself Sandy's odd behavior could've been trauma. I know it's stupid to think of it now, but at the time, it was the only reasonable explanation I had to keep myself from going insane. The elongating body could've just been the loneliness getting to me. Sandy had realized there was something up with this place, and the second he noticed it I should've taken this warning and taken off back into town.
Once the door was shut behind me, I started packing the food and essentials back into boxes, moving quickly to try and get my things into the truck before night came. It'd be dangerous to try and maneuver my way through the trails at night, as the hills off Kelly's Mountain were steep, and in pitch darkness with my only companion being my headlights, it would've been easy to slide off a ravine and never be heard from again. I didn't want to stay one more night, but I had no choice. I had gotten back to the house just moments before the sun finally receded past the horizon, and we were bathed in a navy blue sky once again. I didn't pay attention to Sandy. He just sat at his bed and watched me pack. I figured no harm no foul, I'd throw his stuff in the truck in the morning and we'd be back in town before night the next day. Glancing at him for just a moment, it was a passing thought that he was looking a little longer today, and when I went to bed, it was a hard time getting to sleep for the next few hours.
It must've been close to 4 or 5 in the morning when I heard it.
The sound of whistling. The same whistle I used to call my dog. I broke out into a cold sweat when I realized that whoever slaughtered those squirrels, hung the skin up, left what he didn't need, could've very well broken into my house.
The door to my room didn't make a sound as I opened it slowly, thankfully. I waited a moment, listening to someone call my dog for a few more seconds before I dared poke my head out from the door frame to get a good look and whoever it was that could've hurt Sandy.
The outside door was open. All I saw was the back half of Sandy, too long and lanky, almost coiled around the back of the door. His front half was outside. Whatever it was that had impersonated my dog, it was whistling slowly, calling for Sandy.
When I could've sworn that it had hunched down to the ground again, and said "Saaaannn-deeee" in the most ungodly voice I'd ever fucking heard, I closed the door just as softly as I'd opened it.
I don't know how long I waited with my back pressed up against the door. I knew I left my gun in the bag on the coat rack. I know I didn't sleep. I waited until I saw the sun break over the horizon, and then I waited some more, until it must've been mid-day and I finally got the balls to open the door again and make a break for the truck. I wouldn't die in that place.
"Sandy" was gone, and the door was open. His food was untouched, but the fridge was open, and all the meat was gone. I didn't bother packing his stuff. I just threw my bag over my shoulder, made my way to the ford as fast as I could, and turned on the ignition. I can't describe the feeling that overcame me as I realized that I'd have to leave Sandy in this place. The thought that he could be dead was never a thought in my mind. I don't think I could cope with the knowledge that whatever I allowed in my house, whatever disemboweled those animals, could've done the same with him.
I made my way down the winding paths and roads as fast as I possibly could without veering off the cliffs. I felt like I was turning in circles down this labyrinth that would take me back to that house, but when I reached the pavement on the stretch of road back to town, I felt relief wash over me, thinking I was safe.
Just as I was pulling off onto the cement, I felt something hard hit the back windshield, sending broken glass into the passengers seat. I only got a glimpse of the deer's decapitated head catching on unbroken glass and tumbling into the back seat. I cried for most of the way home, hands clenching the steering wheel so hard my knuckles were white.
I wish I could leave this off with a positive note. I wish I could tell you that I found Sandy at home, waiting for me. I wish I could tell you that was the end of it, a traumatizing experience in the woods that I'll get over with time.
Last night, I found it hard to sleep. I kept replaying the entirety of my trip to Kelly's Mountain in my head. I figured I wouldn't be sleeping for a while, and laid there, listening to the wind through my open window.
I could've sworn I heard the whistle I used to call my dog with, coming from the forests edge.
If you go on trips with your dog, I advise that you don't let them out of your sight for too long. What comes back might not be your dog.
Credited to chewingskin