The Man in the Mack

by Andy Mee

The muffled barking of the panicking Labrador had stopped. The man in the pale red mack was still shouting the dog's name. "Judy, Judy! Where are you girl? Judy!" The ferocious barking had ceased suddenly, a high squeal concluding a repertoire of wild howling.

The man in the mack had carelessly lost Judy ten minutes previously. The dog had been sniffing its way along the line of leaning red oaks by the side of the half-frosted lake, searching for the last of summer's old stale bread, decaying amongst the fallen autumn leaves. The night-lights, from the old mansion house on the opposite bank, shimmered on the glassy lake. Morning stars faded as the dawn's light came on. The man looked down and was certain he saw ice forming there at the lake's edge.

'Cold enough,' he thought, 'bitter cold.'

Judy had wondered off, deep into the weeping willow woodland. The man in the mack sat on the bench smoking his rolled Swan Vesta. He sat dormant in the cold morning rain admiring the young mallards, floating their way towards the old bridge on the southern side of the lake, where the swans bathed in the gray, autumn morning drizzle. 'Damn dog,' he whispered hoarsely.

Then came the barking. An inquisitive barking at first, the sort of bark Judy made when questioning the sanity of her owner for throwing the evenings leftovers into the bin. Then the barking became louder and more urgent, almost hysterical. It was coming from inside the woods. That was the point at which the man in the mack realised something was wrong. Judy sounded uncharacteristically agitated. The man rose from the bench, threw his cigarette butt on the floor, and began calling for the dog.

Judy was a placid dog, always had been, this barking was uncomfortably unusual. As the man in the mack made his way deeper into the wood the barking turned to growling, Judy was going wild. The man began to panic a little. He broke into a gentle jog.

Then came the high-pitched squeal, and the sudden silence.

The drizzle began to fall harder, and a downpour ensued within seconds. The noise of the rain drops hitting the woodland canopy made a low echoing rumble, it made the man in the mack feel uncomfortable, and, although he refused to acknowledge it, a little scared. Inside the woods the grayness of mid-autumn had got much dimmer. The further into the wood the man ventured, the darker it got. The trees had enclosed around him so that three to four at a time were in touching distance. Rain ran down the man's face, his gray hair was now soaked. He shivered. The frosted, glassy grass crunched and cracked under his feet.

Then came the buzzing.

It was a low humming noise at first. The man in the mack started to walk in the general direction of the strange low humming. The rain was starting to raid the forest, robbing it of its musky autumn aroma. Warnings were probing the back of his mind, but he felt a strange drawing towards the humming, an inquisitive yearning, and besides he needed to find Judy. He loved that dog.

The buzzing blended with the rain hitting the leaves of the old oaks at first, but now, as the man got nearer, the buzzing drowned out the noise of the falling rain. The forest had a musky taste, which was beginning to linger in the back of his throat as he gasped for another lungful of cold morning air.

The buzzing appeared to be coming from behind a group of evergreen bushes just ahead. It was now almost deafening. The man's head began to throb, the deafening noise, combined with a touch of sensuous anxiety, were perfect ingredients for the dull pain in the man's temples.

But, like a magnet pulling a cold steel tack, the man in the mack was drawn to the buzzing. The oak trees closed in. The wood grew darker still. The bushes were the only green plants in the wood. The blacks and the browns dominated. Apart from the evergreen bushes ahead the wood seemed dead. That's when the man noticed the smell.

Decay. Rotting meat. The wood not only looked dead, it smelt dead. The man was drawn towards the only sense of life in the wood: the evergreen bushes ahead.

"Judy?" the man called softly.

Then the man noticed a small swarm of flies (too small for bluebottles?) coming from the inside the group of bushes. 'Must be about fifteen or twenty of them,' thought the man, 'strange for this time of the year.' But he put it out of his mind and continued towards the bushes. The noise was now deafening. He had no idea what it could be. It sounded as if it might be something extremely radioactive, and he kept telling himself that he should probably turn back. But he had to find his dog. His wife would kill him if he didn't come back with Judy. She might have been a pain in the backside, but they loved that dog!

The man in the mack kept moving forward towards the bushes, unable to resist the draw of the buzzing.

The man reached the frosted bushes.

He reached out to move a branch, so that he could pass into the clearing behind them. It was then that he noticed the larvae. Thousands of larvae, completely covering the leaves. The man had never seen such infestation like it in his life. It smelt like death. The bushes looked alive.

The man moved through the bushes and into the clearing. That's when he saw the swarm, a swarm so grotesquely huge it made the air black, millions of them! The man's mouth dropped open. Then he turned and looked to his left. That's when he saw what remained of Judy. A Labrador carcass, devoured, being held in mid air by thousands of demonic flies.

The man in the mack was frozen to the spot. Then the swarm began to close around him, the air turned black. He plunged both hands into his pockets. Mind-shattering pain enveloped his arms, the gloves which he wore disintegrating in seconds as the flies devoured them.

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