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JIM AARON THOUGHT maybe he ought not to go riding because the front tire of his bike felt as if it might be losing air. Nothing serious, but a long ride could cause problems. He had noticed that the tire felt a bit flat when he checked it yesterday morning after his ride, but this morning, after the fight with his wife over some stupid, unimportant thing, he had forgotten all about it. He was just glad to leave the house. If he wanted to put air in the tire, he had to go in the house to get the air pump out of the closet, and he didn’t want to do that, lest he stir things up again.

He sat on the bike at the end of his drive and looked back at the brick house with its well-trimmed shrubs and felt something he couldn’t identify. Anger. Disappointment. He couldn’t place it, but whatever it was, it was gnawing at his insides like some kind of trapped, starving rat.

He felt that he should be happier than ever. Six months ago, he had become a millionaire, and through no effort of his own. He had been working as a columnist for a newspaper, and it was a job he enjoyed, but then came the discovery of oil and gas on land he had forgotten he owned. Some godforsaken piece of wilderness out in the sticks, covered in brush and woods and full of snakes and chiggers. But just before his aunt died, she had sent in the oil and gas researchers, and by the time they got to it, found gas and oil, his aunt was gone, and she had left the land and the oil to him. It was pumping enough every month to give them more money than he made in a year as a humor columnist. A few papers had picked up his column, and it looked as if it were on its way, but now there was no need. He was up to his neck in money.

Thing was, he and his wife fought all the time now. Over money, of course. How it should be spent, what they needed to own. The house they had now was very nice, very comfortable, and they had a gardener, but somehow it hadn’t made things better. They had been living okay, not special, but okay, and they were happy then, and now they had plenty of money, so why weren’t they happy? Even sex, something they enjoyed a lot before and were good at, had gone out the window. As of late he had begun to feel emasculated, and he felt his wife sensed it and responded in kind, treated him like a neutered pet instead of a man.

The money had made him worthless, and he missed writing the column, wished now he hadn’t quit the job when the money came in. Should have stayed at it, he thought. He considered possibly getting his old job back, or maybe trying to write a humor book. Right now, however, it was all just a daydream from the seat of a bicycle.

Whatever the problem, Jim decided he didn’t want to go back into that house for the air pump, or for that matter any other reason, at least not for a while. Not until Gail cooled off and he did the same. Besides, the exercise was good for him. Made him feel good, kept him healthy. He just wouldn’t ride far, spare the tire, come back to the house, and find some way to make it up to Gail. Fact was he couldn’t quite remember what it was they were fighting about.

Jim eased the bike out onto the street. It was a small street, and the traffic was near nonexistent this time of morning, and only picked up in the afternoon when residents of the neighborhood came home from work. Besides, he had discovered at the far end of the street a little path that went off in the woods, and he could ride there without worrying about traffic at all. He wouldn’t go too far, in case the tire was actually losing air through a small hole instead of by common wear and time, but it would be a nice short ride, something to get the blood pumping and maybe clear his head of domestic cobwebs.

He pedaled off, coasting mostly. It was a great day, with only one dark cloud in the sky. It looked as if someone had wadded up a piece of carbon paper and tossed it into a blue box full of huge puffs of white cotton. He lifted his head and looked up at it, felt the heat of the sun on his face.

A dog barked as he rode by the Langston home. It was their poodle, Cuddles. Cuddles was white and untrimmed. He looked like a small ball of soft white wire. Cuddles continued to bark and run alongside for a while, then finally left the chase to go back home.

It only took about twenty minutes to reach the end of the street, and by that time, Jim had worked up a pretty healthy sweat. He didn’t feel the least bit winded and had pedaled a lot of his frustration out. He thought of Gail, decided he had to make things up to her somehow, get back on track. Besides, after six years of marriage, they couldn’t be that far off track, not in just six months, when they should be happiest of all. He realized he was losing focus again, falling back into thinking about this morning, and that wasn’t what he needed. What he needed was to be in the moment, feel the wind on his face, feel his body working the bike, the road beneath the wheels bouncing him along.

The woods at the end of the road were thick, and the path was of white sand, but it had not become so hot yet that it was like powder. Later in the year the East Texas sun would hammer it until it came apart, and if you were to pick up a handful of sand, it would run through your fingers like water. Now, however, there had been enough rain, and spring was not a complete memory, so it was packed solid.

Jim eased off the street and onto the narrow, white sand path and stopped long enough to look at his watch. He wanted to time himself from here till the end of the path. He figured that would take about twenty to twenty-five minutes. The path got bumpier as you went in, ran alongside a creek on its right-hand side, and to the left the woods were thick with brambles with a few paths cut through them for hikers and bike riders. At least that was the intent. The place was considered community property, and the division manager, Gad Stevens, had cut paths through the woods for the kids to ride their bikes. Or to be more exact, he had roughed out some paths; their completion was some time away. The paths had to be trimmed wider, needed to be raked down. They were way too bumpy for bikes, and unlike the white sand path, they were of clay, and though they could be hard, they could also attract and hold water. He had heard Gad discussing the matter with a fellow at the filling station up the street, across the highway, while he was pumping gas next to him. They had talked, and he had listened. It wasn’t that wonderful a conversation, but Gad was a loud talker, and as a columnist, over the years, Jim had learned to be observant, at least in certain ways. All kinds of tidbits could become columns.

He checked his watch. It was thirty seconds off the hour. Maybe, he thought, it might be a good idea to only ride to the big hill and back. That way, if the tire went down, he wouldn’t have to push the bike as far. He pushed his weight down on the handlebars. If the tire was low, it didn’t feel that low. It seemed sturdy. Maybe it had been his imagination.

As he was considering this, he looked back over his shoulder, saw something that surprised him. Trotting down the street was what at first he thought to be a calf, but was in fact a very large black-and-tan dog. He had never seen the dog before. It was the size of a Great Dane, but it was much wider. It moved in powerful strides, held something in its mouth he couldn’t make out. It looked like a mop head. A very dirty mop head. The dog spotted him, stopped, turned its head slightly and studied him.

Heavens, thought Jim, that dog is really, really big, and its breed… Jim couldn’t tell. A mixed dog. Maybe part Dane; part Saint Bernard… German shepherd? The animal seemed to have attributes of all those dogs, yet appeared to be something quite alien. A real mutt.

Jim turned back to his watch. He had let the second hand pass the hour mark.

To hell with it, he thought, eased the bike onto the path and began to ride at a brisk, if not full-out rate. As he rode, he heard something that at first made him think of the tire, that it might be losing air. But no, it was coming from the rear.

He glanced back, saw the source of the sound. Behind him, he saw the huge dog, loping along, the mop in its mouth. It was gaining on him, and the dog’s paws striking the path were making a kind of thudding sound. Jim biked on, glancing back from time to time, and one of those times he was surprised to see just how close the dog was, and now he could see what was in its mouth, and it caused Jim to let out with an involuntary burst of air.

It wasn’t a mop in the big dog’s jaws, it was Cuddles. And Cuddles was long past it. His head drooped, and his tongue hung out, and he was covered in dirt and blood. The damn dog had killed Cuddles, who was about as harmless as a silk pillow.

Glancing back again, Jim saw the dog drop the poodle and really begin to run. Jim started pedaling hard, began to pull well ahead of the dog, but he wondered how long he could keep it up. In a long run, if he got far enough ahead, he could beat the dog, but in a short run, the dog might well catch up with him. It was taking long, loping strides, and there was a look about the dog that was strange, and the way its paws hit the trail, it was like an elephant stampede, dust flying up from what Jim thought of as pretty hard ground.

Jim started breathing heavy, then checked himself. He was hyperventilating, feeling the beginnings of fear. He came to a deep drop in the road, what he had been waiting for, and as he went over it, he heard the dog panting, he was that close. The drop caused him to gain speed, and he went down the hill very fast, faster than the dog could go. It was a long ways down, and he felt the bike building speed. Normally, he liked to just let the drop carry him along, but now, with that thing behind him, he didn’t pause at all, but pedaled very hard, adding more speed to the momentum of the dip in the trail.

He was going so fast, when he reached the bottom of the hill he nearly lost the bike, felt it skid out from under him, way out, almost to the point of no return, but he was able, by sticking his leg out and gently pegging the ground, to knock himself back on course. As he turned the curve around a dark wad of trees, near the creek, he saw the dog, having gained too much momentum from the hill, tumble and fall, go twisting and rolling into the briars on the left side of the road. In fact, the dog was going so fast, it rolled completely out of sight. Jim could hear the dog tumbling, coming up against something with a smack.

Jim didn’t know if he should feel good or not. There was no guarantee the animal was after him. It had killed poor Cuddles, but that was dog stuff. Cuddles had probably come out to bark at him on the road, and the dog had reacted by instinct, probably didn’t even realize the mop was a dog. The big dog’s pursuit of him could be nothing more than a playful game of chase.

Still, as a precaution, as the road leveled out, Jim bent over the handlebars and began pedaling hard.

He looked back. No dog. Still, he kept pedaling at a brisk rate.

A long, black chicken snake was writhing across the road. Not poisonous, but it was a snake. Jim tried to miss it, but it was too late. He hit the snake, causing it to twist up and hit the spokes, and then in the next moment, Jim was skidding and sliding onto his side, barely getting his leg out from under the bike in time.

When he got up, he saw that the knees of his sweatpants were torn and that the chicken snake was twisted up in his front spokes, thrashing about, trying to free itself. If he grabbed it, it might bite him, venomous or not.

Jim found a stick by the side of the road, and by snapping off a couple of limbs, he had a forked tool that he thought he might be able to use to push the snake’s head down with, then uncoil the rest of it from the spokes, though the idea of touching a snake went against Jim’s grain, made his skin crawl.

He went back to his bike, and after a few misfires, was able to get the fork against the snake’s head and push it down to the ground. About a foot of the long snake was twisted up in the spokes, and gritting his teeth, Jim took hold of the snake with a shudder, tried to twist it out of the spokes, the tail slapping against his hand, making him recoil with revulsion.

As he worked the snake free, he suddenly felt uncomfortable. His first thought was that the snake’s family was creeping up on him, but when he lifted his head and looked, he saw the big dog. It was trotting down the trail, but when it saw him, it stopped and stared. It was a good ways off, but there was something about the way it stood, the way it looked, that caused Jim to tug hard at the snake. The snake tightened on the spokes even more. The dog began to trot again. Jim dropped the stick and, using both hands, began to yank at the snake.

The dog was picking up speed, starting to drop its head low to the ground, like a lion creeping up on an antelope. Jim jerked the snake as hard as he could, snapped it free of the spokes, whipped it into the woods, grabbed his bike, got on it, and started off.

When he looked back, the dog was gaining.

Jim really began to crank down and then he had an uncomfortable and sobering thought. The road would come to an end soon. Maybe ten minutes if he were going all-out. What was at the end of the road besides woods? That would be the end of his ride, and he would be at the dog’s mercy.

He wondered if he could fight the dog off. Would it even bother him? Maybe, he thought, I’m getting worked up over nothing. I do that a lot. Like this morning. The whole thing with Gail. It was silly. What was it? Hell, why do I care?

Thoughts shot through his mind like machine gun bullets, but none of the bullets struck anything important. He just kept pedaling. And then he remembered the little paths. They led down to the lake. Gad, what had he said? Something about working the paths through to the lake with the chainsaw and the tractor… Something like that, and that not all of them had been cut through. He remembered that. Yeah, Gad had been standing out by the gas pump, putting in gas, talking to the man in the truck, telling him how he hadn’t yet ran all the paths to the lake.

What if he took a path and it was the wrong path?

Could the dog smell him on the bike if he was well ahead of it? Oh, sure. Sure, it could. He had seen on Animal Planet how dogs had this super sense of smell, and with him all worked up, sweaty, he was like a hot lunch on the move.

He saw one of the narrow, red clay paths coming up. He hesitated only a moment, and took it.

The path was so rough he felt as if it would bump his guts out, and there were bogged tire marks from a motor bike, probably made when it was wet. The ruts had dried, making the going even worse.

The path came to an abrupt end against a wall of trees and briars and brush. Jim felt panic set in as he worked the handlebar brakes. He glanced over his shoulder. The path was empty. Perhaps he could go back, find another trail. But he had to go all the way back, and what if he was riding right at the dog? He looked left and right. To his left the woods were thick, same as in front, but on the right there was a small gap in the trees and brush. It was still twisted up with some thorns and brambles, but it seemed passable with a little work. Beyond the brambles, twenty feet away, he could see another path. If he could make it through, he could take that route. Maybe it went all the way out to the lake.

Jim lifted his bike, used it to push down some of the brambles. Out of the corner of his eye he sensed movement. The dog. The blasted dog was at the end of the trail, slinking toward him, not fast, but steady, making the stalking fun.

Jim shoved the bike forward as a shield against the foliage, but it twisted and caught in his socks and poked his flesh, and one whiplike piece slipped out from under his bike and snapped up to stick a thorn in his testicles.

Cursing, Jim started moving fast, pushing the bike forward, really leaning into it. The brambles rose up around him like pointy waves of ocean and tore at his clothes and his skin. It was like crawling through barbed wire.

The dog was running now. He could see that, and it was almost on him. Jim pulled the bike around behind him, turned backward so that he could hold the bike in front of him. He used the back of his body to push through the last of the brambles and briars. They tore at him like teeth, but he kept pushing backward. A dark shadow leaped into the air and came at him.

The dog hit the bike like a missile, its jaws clamping around the frame so hard it nearly came loose of Jim’s hands. Jim held on and pushed back at the dog, but it was like trying to win a push fight with a rhino. The dog let go and stuck its head through a gap in the bike and grabbed Jim’s T-shirt with a snap of fangs and tore the front of it off so quick it was like a magic act. Jim thought, One less layer of cotton, and I would have been disemboweled.

The dog struck again, this time grabbing the frame of the bike near the seat, tugging at it, almost taking it out of Jim’s hands yet again. Jim could see into the dog’s hot, yellow eyes. He was so close he saw dark flakes moving there, sailing about like schooling piranha. The muzzle was huge and wrinkled. Muscles rolled under the dog’s fur like machinery cogs, and the fur was matted with dirt, as if the monstrosity had come from somewhere down deep in the bowels of the earth. And it did not altogether look doglike. There was something odd, unidentifiable about it. Even its stink, which was considerable, was not doglike, but stank of something Jim couldn’t identify. Something that was beyond the stench of defecation and decay. The huge teeth gnawed at the frame, and Jim fought to hang on to it.

“Let go, you devil!”

But the beast did not let go.

I’m dead, thought Jim. Im going to die out here, eaten by a dog.

Struggling backward, the briars still tearing at his now shirtless body, Jim managed to put a foot on the trail he had longed to reach.

The dog let go of the bike and lunged. Jim raised the bike and pushed. When the dog hit it, he was jarred backward. The brambles snapped around the dog and entangled him, causing him to lose footing and to fall, the foliage closing over him briefly.

Jim jumped on the bike, pushed off, began to pedal. He looked back, saw the dog twisting out of the brambles, pouncing onto the trail, running after him.

He could see that the trail did lead to the lake, and the lake lay down before him like a big wet, blue eye. He could see a two-story lake house off to the right, up on high water support posts. A woman was out on the landing, sitting in a lawn chair, a cup in her hand. She stood up, put a hand to her eyes and looked in his direction.

Jim gave it everything he had. He had often imagined being a real bike rider, a racer, and now he had something to race for. His life. Blood pumped in his ears, and the wound in his testicles throbbed, and he began to feel all the scrapes and scratches that covered his body. Blood ran down his arms from cuts, flowed onto the bicycle grips.

He slid up to the house, dropped off the bike and charged up a run of stairs, made the landing. The woman, who was middle-aged and under normal circumstances would have been pleasant-looking, dropped the coffee cup, shattering it. She put a hand to her breast, looked at him. Jim knew he had to be a sight. Shirtless, sweaty, covered in blood from the brambles, breathing with a sound like a busted boiler.

He looked back at the trail and pointed. The dog, running at what could only be described as a gallop, was almost to the house.

Taking a deep breath, Jim said, “That dog got after me. For life’s sake, let me inside.”

The woman looked out at the dog, nodded, jerked open the door, and the two of them charged inside. She threw the lock.

“Jim,” he said, tapping his chest, as if an introduction were in order. The woman did not respond. She moved to the window, pulled back the curtain. The dog was topping the stairs, moving onto the landing, then out of sight. There was a loud bump at the door, and another. And another.

“My God,” the woman said. “He must be rabid.”

“I don’t think so,” Jim said.

“He’s trying to ram the door. What animal does that?”

“This one.”

“Holy Heaven,” she said. “He stinks like death. I can smell him from here.”

The booming grew louder and more frequent as the dog struck the door. Then, there was silence.

“Maybe he gave up,” she said, and her body trembled as if an electric current had passed through her.

They eased to the window. She pulled back the curtain. The dog’s head rammed through the glass and snapped at her, causing her to stumble back. Jim grabbed her, pulled her to her feet.

“Upstairs,” he said.

Pushing her before him, Jim nudged her to the stairs and they both went up. Behind them, the dog was working its way through the window, glass clattering to the floor.

Upstairs, on the landing, the woman pointed at an open door, and they went through it. She slammed the door and locked it.

They were inside a small bedroom with one window over the bed. The room smelled of fresh-washed sheets. Jim grabbed a dresser, worked it across the floor and against the door.

He leaned near the doorjamb and listened. The dog, walking heavy, was on the landing. He could hear it breathing, growling.

“Is that your dog?” the woman asked.

Jim could barely make his mouth smile. “No, lady. That is not my dog. I assure you.”

Then the door was hit.

They jumped back, startled. The door was hit again, so hard it caused the dresser to slide back a few inches.

“What is that thing?” she said.

This was followed by a cracking sound. Jim angled himself so that he could see between the dresser and door. The dog was gnawing at the wood from the bottom. Somehow, it had turned its head and caught its teeth in the wood, and was tearing it out in chunks.

Jim pushed the dresser back, kicked the door. “What did I ever do to you!”

The wood cracked, and now Jim could see the dog’s snout. The door began to crack away in chunks. Jim pressed the dresser back into place.

“Get out of my house,” the woman said.

At first Jim thought the woman was yelling to the dog, out of fear, but then he realized she was talking to him.

“What?” he said.

“Get out. It doesn’t want me. It wants you. It’s your dog.”

“I assure you he isn’t my dog.”

“He wants you. It’s you he wants. Get away from me! You’re not my problem!”

The woman darted toward the closet, went inside, and closed the door. Jim stood stunned. She was right. He knew it instinctively; the dog wanted him. The beast was like a heat-seeking missile, and he was the target.

Now the door was torn away at the bottom, and the dresser was pushed slightly aside, enough that the dog could stick its head through. Jim got a good look at the dog, and the dog got a good look at him. Its eyes seemed huge and hard, not liquid-like at all. Its mouth snapped at the air, tossing spittle thick as whipped cream onto the carpet.

Jim jumped forward, turned the dresser over on the dog’s head, and felt a small sense of satisfaction when it made a yelping noise. He darted to the bed, jumped on it, ran to the window behind it, kicked the glass out with a few quick kicks, climbed through the frame, a ragged piece of glass tearing at his arm, and stood on the landing. He looked back through the window as the door cracked away in two pieces and the dog shoved all the way through. The dog turned its head toward the closet where the woman hid.

“Come on, you bastard,” Jim yelled at him. “It’s me you want. Come on.”

The dog appeared to understand. It turned its attention back to Jim, leaped onto the bed. Jim raced around the landing until he came to the stairs at the front of the house, bounded down them toward his bike. As he settled himself onto the seat, he looked back to see the dog was at the top of the landing, poking its head through the railing, glaring down at him. It crouched and let out with a growl that would have shamed a lion. The dog raced for the stairway.

Jim kicked off and leaned forward on the bike, pedaled for all he was worth. There was nowhere to go but the lake, and he thought, That’s it. The lake. I’ve got to make the lake. He pedaled furiously. His heart swelled in his chest. He could not only feel it beating, he could hear it. It sounded like a tom-tom.

He ventured a glance back. The dog was almost on him, running so hard; its great body was low to the ground. When it shot out its front legs it looked like a racehorse galloping toward the finish. Then the bike slowed. He couldn’t figure it. He was pedaling like hell, but…

The tire. That was the problem, the front tire. The air was going out of it. He wasn’t quite on the rim but soon would be. He looked back. The dog was right behind him. Its head was higher than the bike, and its mouth was open, teeth bared. Looking down the beast’s throat was like looking down a manhole to hell.

Jim jerked his attention back to the trail, pedaled even harder, his legs aching, feeling as if they were about to cramp. Pain shot from his ankle to his groin. He thought for a moment the muscles in his leg were going to seize up, but he managed to push through it. Then the bike began to drag.

Glancing back, he saw the dog had hold of the back tire. The bike began to wobble, go off course, but just as all appeared lost, the tire snapped free of the dog’s mouth, and he was moving again. But the back tire, punctured by the dog’s teeth, was going flat. Jim felt himself dropping lower to the ground as air went out of both tires. He was practically riding on the rims, just inches from the dog’s snout and naillike teeth.

The lake grew larger in front of him, and the trail played out. He looked right and left, hoping for anyone, or anything that might aid him.


He saw the pier before him, jetting out like a sick gray tongue over the water.

He rode directly for it, bumped over some rough ground, went airborne, hit the pier with a thud, the bike wobbling furiously. The boards beneath him rattled like knucklebones in a cup.

Jim didn’t look back, couldn’t. He fancied he could feel the dog’s hot breath on his back, warming the sweat on his shirt. Certainly he could hear it panting, and he could hear the dog’s huge feet thudding on the boards, coming ever closer.

The pier was coming to an end. He thought: This is it. This is the moment of truth.

He rode off of the end of the pier, and for a moment he felt as if he were pinned to the sky. The air was sweet and cool, and the sky and the water seemed to blend into one big blue moment. He took a deep breath, and then he dropped, the bike falling out from under him, hitting the water first. He came down behind it, banging his knees on the handlebars. He went down into the clear water, and looked up.

A mammoth shadow blocked out the blueness of the lake and the light from the sun. The dog had leaped. It came down with a loud splash, causing the lake around it to vibrate. Jim watched, horrified, and a moment later, his feet touched bottom.

Not too deep here, but deep enough, he thought. If I can just hold my breath a little longer, the dog will go away.

Jim kept staring upward, watching. The monster dog-paddled about on the surface. Jim turned his head in the direction of the pier. He couldn’t see anything there, just darkness. He thought: I’ll swim that way, maybe find a pier post for support, slide up it to the surface, get a breath, come back down, out of the way of the dog. Eventually, the bastard has to give up.

He looked up.

The dog was swimming straight down toward him.

Jim moved, but… his feet were caught. Something had him. He realized it was his bike. He had his foot twisted up between the spokes. He had stepped down right on top of the wheel. He squatted, grabbed his ankle with both hands, and pulled back with all his strength.

He felt something snap in his ankle, and a pain like someone jamming a hot rod through the bottom of his foot all the way up into his intestines shot through him until he thought he would lose his last bit of breath, open his mouth to scream and fill up with water.

But he was loose. He swam along the bottom, his ankle throbbing. Then his head was snapped back violently.

The dog had lunged at him, its teeth tangling in his long hair, then, just as quickly, he was freed as his hair was ripped loose.

The surface. He had to make the surface. He was on his last breath.

He pushed up, and just as he broke the surface of the water, he let out with a scream. The dog had bitten his leg just below the knee, and it was pulling him down. The pain was excruciating. He could feel bones shifting in his leg. He had just enough time for a breath before he went under.

How? Jim thought. How can the dog breathe and bite me too? How is that? How can that be done?

The pain subsided slightly, and Jim saw the shape of the dog move in the water, go past him for the surface.

Finally, thought Jim, the demon has to have air too.

Jim dove deep, began to swim toward the dark shadow of the pier. It hurt to move his legs, but the alternative was worse than the pain. He hadn’t swum far when there was a tug on his foot, snapping his tennis shoe off. He whirled in the water, looked back.

The dog was on him. He could see its shape, and he could see the shape of his shoe coming free of the animal’s mouth, falling toward the bottom.

In that moment, he realized that his heel was shooting with pain; the dog had gotten more than shoe.

The dog made a kind of porpoise-style lunge for Jim’s face.

No more, thought Jim. No more.

As the dog came forward, Jim grabbed at its throat, clenching both hands around it. But the dog continued to push forward, turning its head like a shark about to roll, its mighty jaws clamping down on Jim’s face like a vise. Jim could feel bones shifting in his skull, teeth tearing into his cranium, the side of his jaw. He pounded at the dog with his fists, hitting as hard as he could.

The dog squeezed harder.

Jim managed one hand above the dog’s snout, found an eye, pushed his thumb into it with all his might. The dog shook him like a rag, but Jim hung on. Kept pushing with his thumb. Jim felt as if his head were swelling, as if his chest was about to explode, but he didn’t let go.

It was the dog that let go and fought to the surface.

Jim went up behind him, broke the water just after the dog, clamped his arms around the animal’s neck and latched his teeth on the dog’s ear, filling his mouth with a foulness he couldn’t imagine. Then the blood hit the back of Jim’s throat, and he began to gnaw, jerk his head, taking off a piece of the ear. The dog let out with a sharp bark, tried to twist, but Jim wrapped his legs around the dog’s torso, hooked his ankles together, squeezed his arms with all his might, shifted sideways until he could bring his teeth into the dog’s throat.

The dog thrashed and rolled in the water. They went under fighting, the dog snapping and Jim biting.

They floated to the bottom, struggling. Jim released his grip, tried to swim for the surface for some air, but he was jerked down. He thought at first it was the dog, but he could feel it was some kind of weed on the bottom that had wrapped around his ankle, holding him.

The dog swam at him. Jim tried to strike the dog with his fists, but underwater the blow was weak. He dodged the dog’s muzzle, clamped his arms around its neck, stuck his cheek against the behemoth’s neck. The powerful dog writhed, tried to tear loose, couldn’t. It broke for the surface. Jim clung to it. The weed around his ankle snapped free, and the dog brought him up.

They broke into the sunlight.

Jim twisted his head, bit the dog in the throat, jerked his head from side to side. A sound like growling came from his mouth. The dog growled too, rolled over and over in the water, but Jim clung with his teeth, his mouth filing with hot gore.

Then the rolling ceased, and the dog twisted on its back, floating. Jim came loose of its throat, grabbed at its chest, tried to pull himself on board, striking out with his fists as he did.

The dog began to slip beneath the water.

Jim paddled his feet, worked his arms, stuck his face into the water, and looked down.

The giant dog was floating toward the bottom, face up. Jim thought he could see the yellow of its remaining eye, but decided it was an illusion, because in the next moment he could only see the shape of the animal and the odd shape of his bike below, the dog coming down on top of it, rolling, then churning, being gently carried away by the underwater current.

Jim painfully swam toward the pier, but there was no getting out there. The support posts were too tall. He hung onto a post for a moment, then swam toward shore. He crawled onto the sandy bank, discovered he couldn’t walk. His ankle was broken. A bone in his foot too. The knee of his right leg wouldn’t work either. His face was on fire, and his jaw crunched when he moved. He crawled over the sand until he was on the pier. He kept crawling until he reached the tip of the pier. He lay there on his stomach, looked out at the water.

The dog did not appear.

Jim grinned, his broken jaw aching, his teeth full of dangling, dark dog flesh.

Jim the Conqueror, he thought.

He let out with a wild, bloodcurdling, primal scream that echoed across the lake and into the trees beyond.

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