...He settled back in his chair and defiantly took another sip. He was a grown man, the storm wasn’t going to scare him. His mother was finally silent, and Travis hoped that meant she had fallen asleep. When she woke up in the morning, the world would be a new, different place. The storm would be long gone, the skies would be blue and the flowers would be blooming. She’d forget about the thunder and how frightened she’d been. Travis had no doubt she’d forget. That was one blessing, at least.
The lights dimmed almost to the point of blackness and then flared back to life with vibrant intensity. Travis gasped and put a hand up to block his eyes a split second before everything went dark.
Time froze with a flash of lightning, and then he was in darkness again. The giant was tired of battering the door, but now it roared its frustration with unrestrained anger.
“Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down,” Travis murmured, carefully placing his cup on the table beside him. “Good thing this place isn’t made of straw.”
The sharp, unmistakable sound of a dog’s howl pierced the air, rising up in the air between claps of thunder. A chill zapped through him and the air on the back of his arms stood on end. He knew it wasn’t any normal dog out there. Any of the village dogs would be safely tucked into their homes and sheds, hiding from the cold rain with their full stomach and their content dreams. Only a wild dog would be out in such a storm.
Travis slowly stood, his legs trembling. He tried to tell himself he was just cold. The temperature had dropped with the onslaught, and he hadn’t taken the time to turn on the furnace. That would explain the chills and goose pimples as well. It was funny how he couldn’t remember the last time he was so cold. Lightning flashed again, burning the image of the room into his mind’s eye. With that snapshot in the front of his mind, he carefully navigated his way around the furniture, narrowly avoiding slamming his shins into the edge of the coffee table. With the aid of another bright flash, he made his way to the back door.
The dog howled again, the mournful sound climbing higher and higher until it met another wall of thunder. Travis took several deep breaths, telling himself that the dog couldn’t be in his garden. Telling himself that it was just a trick of the night and the wind. Telling himself it was just a stupid storm and he should go to bed. The thought of tucking himself beneath his blankets and pulling them up to cover his head was strangely alluring, but he dismissed it. He wasn’t a child. He didn’t need to hide from loud sounds like one.
Travis yanked open the door, expected to be met with slapping rain and endless darkness. But the wind was blowing the opposite direction, carrying the rain away from him. And another bolt of lightning touched down on the other side of the gate. The air hummed for the nanosecond before the explosion, and his eyes burned from the light. The red outline of a huge dog hovered in front of him no matter how many times he tried to blink it away.
So did the unmistakable shape of a man.
“Who’s out there?” He shouted, the wind whipping the words away. “Hey! Mate?”
No response except the roaring wind. Travis’s fingers were slick and hot on the doorknob, and a line of sweat slowly crawled down the side of his face. Jeremy had once told him not to ask a question if he didn’t want to hear the answer. He supposed that wisdom applied to both relationships and dark, stormy nights.
Even so, he didn’t have the sense to shut the door. He cupped his hand against his mouth and took a deep breath before shouting, “Who’s there? Show yourself!”
The lightning flashed again, and this time there was no mistaking the fact that there were two creatures in his garden. The dog and someone—something—else. The figure stood over the crouching animal, his arms raised over his head, hands wrapped around the handle of a long knife. It looked like the knife his mother used to carve the roast. In an instant, he felt the thick texture of fur beneath his fingers and saw the strange trust in the beast’s brown eyes.
There was no conscious thought, no sense of right or wrong or the potential danger. Something stirred deep inside of him. An instinct that scalded cool logic and common sense, burning it away until there was nothing beyond the need to act. He sprang forward, unmindful of the slicing wind or the hard pellets of rain slamming into his mouth and eyes. He didn’t know what he thought he was going to do. Wrestle the knife from the man’s hands and hope he didn’t get stabbed himself? But by the time that occurred to him, he was already in motion...