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There isn't much to say about my childhood, if I'm being honest. I was what today's media would've called a "deadbeat" who lounged around town all day, never really doing much of anything; hell, they probably would've still called me that back in my day.

"Back in my day." I hate that I'm old enough that the saying is now applicable. I was 10 back in '89, and despite having a generally unremarkable upbringing, the summer of '89 remains one of the most vivid memories in my mind. I remember the long bike rides with my friends, seeing Batman on opening day, and spending what felt like full days in the Blast Zone, the town's local arcade. It was one of the only summers of my life actually worth remembering, but despite it all... I still wish I could forget it. I wish that summer would've faded away just like all the rest, I wish it wouldn't have stayed in my mind to torment me!

There was something horrible lurking under all the mountain trails and bright arcade lights. Something so terrible, so terrifyingly evil that it keeps me awake all these years later.

That summer, I met the Dog Walker.

I don't know his real name... I'm not sure anybody did. I called him the Dog Walker because, well, he walked his dog a lot. When I first saw him, he was innocuous enough: I saw a tall man in a hat and long overcoat with a red leash around his hand. At the end of the leash was a large, tan colored pitbull, and the two walked side by side down the street until they disappeared from view. I was on my way to a friend's house when I first laid eyes on the man, so I didn't give it much thought. The next day, he traveled along the same route, walking his dog down the street across from mine; he would walk until he reached the end of the block, then I would lose track of him. Most days, I was too preoccupied with some exciting summer activity to ever pay any actual attention to him, though I did think it was a little bit strange that he took the same route every day. I attribute that to the fact that my family didn't have any dogs to speak of, and I didn't know whether or not a dog would prefer to walk the same path every day. Regardless, I left it alone and continued on with my adventures.

Though it was easy to shirk the Dog Walker to the back of my mind, it wasn't nearly as easy to ignore all of the missing posters that began to crop up across town. When they weren't tacked to the closest telephone pole, they fluttered through the sky like paper airplanes; it seemed like I could never get away from them, no matter who was the subject of the flyer. Missing boy, missing girl, it always varied; the only pattern was that it seemed to be happening to younger children, which sent all the neighborhood parents into a panic. No more bike rides with friends, 1 hour arcade trips with complete adult supervision, and I couldn't even begin to argue with my parents on staying out late. Every night, I would sit by my window and watch as the kids with more relaxed parents played and biked out on the street. When I went to sleep, I would try and comfort myself by remembering that I was being kept safe from whatever was making those kids go missing, and the reckless ones out there were in more danger than I was.

I wish I could've been wrong about that. It seemed like every morning another child had been taken, another family pulled apart by something. The police couldn't put their finger on it, and the ragtag groups of neighborhood watches were hardly any better; the only evidence the police had to go off of was a child's bike, which was found overturned on the sidewalk shortly after he had been pronounced missing. He was the only child to actually leave something behind- all the rest disappeared without a trace.

And through all the searching, all the speculating, all the mourning that seemed to encompass the entire town, the Dog Walker stuck to his route every morning, seemingly paying no mind to the mass tragedy that was plaguing our town. On the rare occasions I was allowed downtown, I would always keep an eye out for the Dog Walker, curious to see where he frequented when he wasn't out for a walk. I looked for him on Main Street, I looked for him at the grocery store, I looked for him at the local Blockbuster, but it seemed like he didn't go anywhere. It felt like he vanished whenever he reached the end of his walk, and he would only reappear the next day when it was time for the daily lap.

The disappearances didn't let up, and with my freedom restricted solely to the late morning hours, I made up my mind on what I was going to dedicate my time to: I was going to follow the Dog Walker to the end of his walk, and see where he went after he passed my street. My childhood curiosity couldn't be content with this little information, especially about someone who was such a mystery. I'd never even seen this guy's face, and with a town as small as mine I was fairly confident I would've bumped into him somewhere else by then. Not to mention that the disappearances didn't start until he first showed up on my block. No, something was wrong, and I could feel it. I would get to the bottom of it somehow, I promised myself that.

I remember waking up earlier than the rest of my family, sitting by the first floor window as I waited for him to come in sight. I saw the Dog Walker as he walked in front of my window, same red leash in hand, his large tan pitbull still by his side. Once he passed my house, I crept out the front door, pretending to stoop down and pick up the paper. When I was sure he wasn't watching, I quietly stepped across the street, being certain to maintain a safe distance from him and his dog, which was looking exceptionally meaner somehow. I trailed him to the end of the block, where I saw him turn right down the block. I picked up my pace, nearing the corner where he had turned, desperate not to lose him.

I came skidding to a halt at the end of the street; there was the Dog Walker, standing just out of view from where I had been observing him. He was waiting on the next sidewalk where he knew I couldn't see him.

He was waiting for me to follow him.

When I finally got an up close look at the Dog Walker, it felt like there were alarm bells going off in my head just from being close to him. Whenever I spied on him from my house, he looked like he just barely reached 6 feet tall; as he loomed over me, I realized he was far, far taller than that. His body... I don't know how to describe it. It looked like his torso was comprised of different parts, because he seemed to jut out under the jacket at odd angles. One hip went left, I could see his ribs pushing through his coat on the right. He looked like an upright centipede who was struggling to keep its balance.

I still couldn't see his face under the hat. The brim was pulled low enough that his face was shrouded in darkness, but even then I could see what looked like writhing movement in the dark. I could barely make out what looked like eyes peering down at me, but they moved around in patterns that human eyes can't.

"Pet him?" the Dog Walker asked, lurching closer to me as he gestured to his pitbull. As he moved closer, I noticed that his legs were planted firmly on the ground, but his torso seemed to extend to bridge the gap between us. Whatever this thing was, I had made my mind up on two things: the Dog Walker was not a man, and I absolutely did not want to make the thing under the coat angry.

I nodded shakily, slowly moving my hand towards the dog. When my hand hovered just above its head, I stopped. Perhaps it was the way the dog's eyes seemed to stare endlessly without eyelids, or the way its lower jaw extended far beyond that of any normal dog, or the way its breath smelled all too much like rotting meat.

No, I think what got me was the fact that the dog's "leash" wasn't connected to any collar; it was a bright red string of flesh that had been pulled out of the dog's neck and was wrapped around the Dog Walker's hand.

The rest of it is a blur. I can still hear the Dog Walker's low, guttural laughter as I sprinted away. I can still hear the dog viciously barking, its jaw nearly scraping the sidewalk below. Sometimes when I close my eyes at night, I can still hear the horrible ripping, almost Velcro-like sound of the dog tugging at his "leash," and I spend the rest of the night in tears.

That was all a long time ago. I moved out of that town as soon as I could. I hardly keep in touch with anyone from my childhood, not even my parents; I can't risk being pulled back there, because I know what's waiting for me if I return. After that summer, the disappearances ended, and the Dog Walker stopped coming up my street. As the summer melted into Autumn, I remember asking my classmates if any of them had encountered the Dog Walker, a question that was always met with equal parts confusion and pity. Just another kid so scared shitless of the disappearances that he made up a fantastical excuse for it all; that's what I managed to convince myself for most of my life, at least.

These days, though, I'm not so sure. A couple months ago, I got an email from my childhood friend, who now serves on the town's police department. He said that the department had received a complaint about an unusual smell coming from the woods beyond the local park; fearing some kind of drug use, he and several other officers went to investigate.

The smell, it so happened, was not that of any illicit drugs, but rather a small, partially buried garbage bag. The bag contained the emaciated skeleton of a child, still dressed in rotting, mildew ridden clothes.

The child's bones were marked with dozens and dozens of dog bites.

Written by Parlour
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