I met my best friend Ben when I was nineteen. We started a degree in music together and had absolutely nothing in common, which we loved about each other. What shocked us was how in sync our childhoods had been. From being born two weeks apart, to the age of twelve we shared a lot of experiences even though we never met. I remember Ben telling me about a VHS he used to have with Huxley Pig and Will Cwac Cwac cartoons on it, saying how obscure it was and how I'd love it. I replied that I knew exactly which VHS he was referring to and also still had copy of it. This sort of thing happened a lot between us, so we liked to quiz each other from time to time then joke about how different we were for our identical upbringings.
One night when I was staying over at Ben's house we got on the topic of kids' ghost stories. I love creepy stories but Ben hates them, so the conversation was slow going at first. We started with the usual stories kids in the neighborhood spread. It was funny how many of our towns' stories were exactly the same for being opposite sides of the city and river, ten miles from each other. The dilapidated places were always haunted. We had both heard about a one-eyed black cat nobody owns that watches the children play out. The list of stories went on, as did the similarities.
Ben got surprisingly into the discussion. 'So you've even heard of this story?' Etc. To which I confirmed or told my town's slightly different version of the story. That's how the night progressed. After we exhausted the conversation he ended with, 'Even to this day I'm still scared of the Dog-Men, so please tell me you've heard that story too.'
I just remember being dumbfounded, saying I had no idea what a Dog-Man was. As far as I'm aware the 'Dog-Men' story is just in Ben's town. We tried looking on the internet but Ben was too easily freaked out by pictures and scary stories that popped up as we searched. The Dog-Men really grabbed my attention. Usually kids' ghost stories go into so much detail, like the color of the ghost's dress, or the exact way the hair hangs over the ghost's eyes. But there wasn't much information about the Dog-Men. The details were vague.
His words at the time were something like: 'The older kids who were allowed out the street told us about Dog-Men, who stood around in the alleys at night, and the older kids were shamelessly scared to go there when it got dark.'
Obviously it was thugs or druggies, I explained. But he was adamant. No, because they ran away when they noticed the kids watching them. They'd climb up the high walls of the back alley into peoples' back yards really fast, without making a noise. The older kids wouldn't talk about it unless pushed. He said their feelings seemed too real to make it a joke to scare the younger kids. His childhood friend Wes claimed to have saw one too. The story goes the Dog-Men would be found standing in small groups or more often solitary in the middle of an alley, looking for scraps of food, not doing much else.
Ben seriously thinks he saw one with his mom one day walking back from the shops. Apparently it was in a fenced off area where a block of flats had been demolished a few years earlier. At the opposite side of this land he saw a skinny, hunch-backed man cupping his hands full of water from a stream which ran through the plot, washing his long greasy hair. Almost ritualistically. Even though he didn't see the homeless man's face and was quite far away to make out details, he swears something about that man wasn't quite human. I blamed a child's imagination and exaggerated memories. But he swears it. He showed me the area that next morning. If he and his mother are remembering correctly, I have no idea why even a homeless man would wash his hair in that dirty stream.
I first met Wes a few weeks after the night I learned about the Dog-Men and didn't hesitate to ask for his first hand account of the Dog-Men. It was the main reason I decided to meet him after all. His description was similar to Ben's but his encounter was far more close-up.
Wes lived further from the local corner shop than Ben and used to take a shortcut through an alley when he walked there. The wheelie bins were out that day. He said he could hear a cat or dog feeding on some discarded food behind one of the bins. It happens a lot and everyone knows to keep a distance so the dog won't get aggravated and attack.
But Wes said the dog didn't look right. He only got a quick glance before it ran behind a wall with a rotten roast chicken hanging from it's mouth. According to his memory, it was running more like a hyena than a normal dog, with its shoulders held much higher than its hips. The snout was too short, and the ears were more elfin than a dog's. He can't remember if the creature had fur or not, but it definitely was naked. Not long after, he overheard the older kids talking about the Dog-Men and realized what he had saw.
I like Wes. He has a doubting attitude akin to mine, and admitted his memory may have been influenced by the older kids' stories. It could have just been a normal dog struggling to carry a whole chicken away after being startled.
The story lay dormant, not mentioned for months after I spoke to Wes. In that time I had moved away and have only managed to visit Ben three times since then. The last time I met with him we decided to go to the local takeaway in the early hours of the morning, and I got my very own encounter of what could have been Dog-Men.
Right on the same abandoned plot where Ben saw the homeless man bathing, there was a decent sized fire burning. I could make out possibly three silhouettes huddled around the flames. Ben's area is pretty rough so this isn't an unusual sight, but I don't know how to describe it; Those figures weren't moving naturally. My view wasn't great because Ben wouldn't move closer than we were, but I swear those silhouettes never stood completely upright. We watched them for about five minutes. They were hunched over with their backs to us, warming their gloved hands by the fire with their hoods up. I remember one of them moving closer to the fire while keeping its hands on the ground. It would have been easier to just stand and walk closer, but it shuffled awkwardly using its arms. Everything about their movements were indescribably awkward.
I was so excited. It had to have been the Dog-Men. I didn't want them to spot us so we left pretty soon after, but I forced Ben to visit the bonfire with me the next day. There was just a milk crate sat next to a charred circle on the ground. Nothing to prove these beings were inhuman. Strangely, there were bones in amongst the smoldering papers and branches that had been burning the night before. We could make out sooty hand prints where at least one of the homeless people had presumably crawled directly over the charred ground. The trail of hand prints led away from the bonfire and faded after a couple of meters. That was all we found. We walked away feeling slightly silly, laughing at how we had probably been stalking a trio of drunk tramps.
However Ben's realization unnerved us terribly. As the hand trail faded, he pointed out a large paw print becoming more and more prominent in the middle of the fading hand prints. Then it struck me why I found their gait so weird the night before. As that man had walked closer to the fire, he placed his feet in exactly the same spot where his hands had been.
We stared in shock, not sure what to make of the trail. Then the yelps and growls of dogs fighting came from a bush uncomfortably close to us. I'm not ashamed to say we ran away crapping ourselves. Maybe it was just a pack of dogs. We didn't care to look, and I'm never going back there to find out.