Dave Shelton, author of Thirteen Chairs, was at Oxford’s Story Museum yesterday telling some creepy tales. Get in the spirit of Halloween with a spooky story he has written exclusively for Friday Life

Afterwards, Mulligan said I should have killed the dog too.

I told him that wasn’t part of the job he’d paid me for, but now I’m thinking he may have had a point. The dog hasn’t stopped howling since the funeral. I haven’t slept much lately.

O’Dowd was the reason why Mulligan walked with a limp, and Mulligan was the reason why O’Dowd was missing two fingers on his left hand. There’d been bad blood between them for years, and bad blood spilled, little and often, over that time.

Eventually, when Mulligan had had enough, he asked me to put an end to the business. He made sure he was far away with plenty of witnesses at the time agreed and I met O’Dowd at the top of a long flight of stairs and sent him with a tap on the head down to the bottom. It did the job, and he was drunk enough at the time that no one could be sure that it wasn’t an accident.

I was thought to be his friend, of course – which is what made it all so easy – so naturally I was there at the funeral.

The dog arrived as the coffin was carried out of the church. The animal had escaped the house – O’Dowd had always left the back door open for the creature and it seemed no one had thought to close it since he died – and found his way to the churchyard. He got himself tangled in the pall bearers’ legs and sent two of them sprawling to the ground, spilling the coffin onto the vicar’s feet as they did so.

O’Dowd’s nephew chased the hound off around the gravestones for a while trying to catch it, but the dog was back at the grave just in time to follow the coffin down into it.

He pawed at the few handfuls of dirt and ashes already on the coffin lid, and he howled in anguish and he snarled in fury. There were three men bleeding by the time they got him out.

He was the only creature on earth that O’Dowd had ever loved, so some people said, and it seemed like the dog had felt the same way in return. It had always fussed and mithered when O’Dowd had left him alone, even for a short while. Now his master was gone forever and he wouldn’t stop.

There was a single night’s respite straight after the funeral when, apparently, the creature slept atop the freshly turned earth of his master’s grave. After that, chased away by the gravedigger, he roamed the streets of the town, seldom seen but often heard. And loudest and most persistent at night, his keening howl denying sleep to many, not least myself.

It’s not conscience, mind you, that keeps me awake. No, never that. I’ve never suffered that handicap. But the howling seems to have been drawing closer, ringing through the streets, prowling the neighbourhood, nearer and louder each night. Mulligan lives nearby so he’s been suffering the same way, that’s why he said what he said to me, quiet in passing in the pub one night: “You should have killed the dog too.”

And I said I never could. And I meant it. Then.

Last night the howling was louder than ever. I thought the hound must be right outside the house, its barking and yowling sounded so close. But when I rose from my bed and looked down to the street there was nothing there, and the howling seemed just a little further off.

Then it faded away for a spell and only began again, close and from a different direction, once I was back beneath the covers. The long night went on that way, the dog’s howling seeming to circle the house, sometimes closer, sometimes distant enough for me to dip briefly into dream-cracked sleep. In the deep dark of the early hours I spent a while in that hazy place of not quite sleep where dreams and reality dance together and I fancied that I heard clawed feet padding scratchily along the hallway. And I did not much care for the way that made me feel.

I took care not to be seen visiting Mulligan. It was easily enough done: he lives close by. He was slow to his door, though I heard him start at the sound of my knocking, already awake despite the early hour, and seemingly as on edge as I was myself. He opened the door a narrow crack to view me.

“Let’s silence the wretched beast together,” I said. “I cannot stand to let it live another day.”

He considered the proposition for a heartbeat or two, his weary eyes narrow and dark, fixed on my own. Then he nodded. He fetched an axe. I already carried the poker from my hearth.

It ought to have been a simple matter to find him. The howling was constant, loud and close, but for all we ran through the streets we never seemed to draw any nearer. We put ourselves quite out of breath with our exertions and never once caught even a glimpse of him.

Then we’re outside O’Dowd’s place and from inside comes the howling again.

Mulligan kicks in the door without a thought, I go round to the back, in through the open door, meaning to block the dog’s escape, and through into the parlour. Mulligan’s there, his bleeding hand clamped in his armpit.

“It bit me! Damn hound bit me!” he says. I hear the dog’s drum roll ascent of the stairs and follow him up, follow the sound of his howling into the bedroom, step in and slam the door behind me.

Now at last see the dog, turning frantic circles and baying and whining in the corner of the room, madder than ever.

My fist is wrapped tight around the handle of the poker as I step forward, I feel the pleasing heft of it, imagining the first blow.

The dog stops its frenzied pacing and stands tensed, facing me now, its whining, shrieking howls like a prize fighter’s blows to my head.

I take another step and raise the poker high, ready to strike, then hear the door creak open behind me, but I don’t turn.

“Shut the door, Mulligan,” I say.

The dog stops howling.

The dog has stopped howling and is staring past me, his eyes bright now, his ears excitedly pricked.

I feel a cold, strong hand stay my arm. Then another hand, missing two fingers is at my throat.

The dog has stopped his howling, and I begin mine.

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