Matt again remembered Glen’s words and he froze at the approach of the girl. Distantly, in his throbbing, broken, spiderwebbed mind, Matt realized that the advice had saved him from Maynard. Their eyes locked and he tried to look unthreatening.
“I don't want to hurt you," he said softly. “Any of you. And I don't want you to hurt me either, okay?"
The girl kept watching for another moment. Then, seeming to have come to a decision, she moved quickly to Maynard's side. The others joined her immediately. All four of them dipped their heads to Maynard and began to gum at him with their crippled mouths. Truncated arms pressed him down and held him awkwardly between raw knobs of skin. Maynard's screams were renewed as one of the gaping maws found his face, managed to grip a torn scrap of skin between pulpy, scabby gums and ripped it clear. The girl slurped the torn flesh into her mouth and swallowed it. Maynard kicked and scrambled frantically but it was hopeless. They were too heavy and too hungry. They began to to eat him, as all hounds will eat their prey. Without teeth, Matt knew it was going to take a long time. While they were intent on their meal he crept off the table and to the stairs.
Matt hesitated before he climbed away to looked back. The girl he'd locked eyes with looked up at him again. Her face was smeared with blood, so much that it bubbled from her nose as she breathed. She was struggling to swallow. They can't chew, thought Matt in a detached way, they don't even have tongues. The girl’s eyes showed no malice, no anger, no triumph. There was only despair. Matt turned and ran up the stairs.
* * *
When the police returned to the station and told Matt what they'd found he realized he'd expected it all along. The house, which had apparently been abandoned years ago, was empty. Yes, there were signs that somebody had been squatting there, and there was an enormous amount of blood in the basement. There was also a battered van containing four massive kennels in the back. Otherwise, there was no sign of anybody. The hounds were gone, and they’d brought Maynard. They demanded of Matt again and again what had really happened. Eventually, they drove him to the city, to Glen’s, assuring him they’d keep him up to date on their investigation.
Glen's couch became Matt’s home for several weeks. He initially planned to sell the house and stay in the city, but time passed, as time does, without noticing his trauma. Matt, caught up in unfeeling time, let the fear be dulled by everyday mundanities. He watched television, drank coffee, worked, ate pasta and sandwiches. The world in which he lived became divorced from the world of his nightmares. Matt decided to go back to his house, though Glen obliged him by going with him for the first few days. The experience had brought them closer than they'd ever been.
Life went on, almost as if it was normal. He suffered night terrors, and slept with a large knife next to his bed, but his life continued all the same. There was a survivor’s group he met with a few times, but quit, embarrassed. Glen suggested he get a dog of his own, and Matt eventually agreed. He adopted a mastiff that he was promised would be a large and loyal protector. He named the dog Igor.
The police never found any remains of Maynard or of his hounds. They clearly didn't believe Matt, thought he was confused about what had really occurred, but they assured him anyway that there was no way anybody could survive in the dense forest that surrounded the area, especially not a group of traumatized amputees. Matt tried his best to believe him, tried to explain away his fear as being a residue of the trauma. There are nights though, when he wakes from terrible dreams and hears on the wind the distant sound of despairing howls. There are nights too when Matt, awake and afraid, wants to howl himself because he knows that now and forever, like it or not, he is part of their pack.