One of the ten tales in Dragon Gift, my short collection of fairy-tale, myth or plain magically based stories. Find out more here on my newsletter page.
Rosie gasps for air which is too slow to fill her lungs. Her tongue lolls, catching at mist.
She lifts a sodden paw, sets it down, lifts another – and slumps to the decaying mulch.
Terror – at the bangs, at the fizzing of the sparking lights – has given way to worry. It gnaws at her stomach.
Where, where, where?
The darkness rustles –a squirrel’s claws scritching on bark, bracken crackling under a badger’s foraging, the skittering of voles picking over the last of the blackberries.
Ahead! Another dog. Where there’s another dog there’ll be a human. Rosie runs, barking, tail flying. The other dog runs too – fleeing. Its brushy red tail slinks into a prickly thicket. The thorns stab Rosie’s nose and she jerks back with a yelp, nostrils crinkling at the odorous musky scent which assails her.
She lets her draggled body slump to the cold earth and cries her frustration into the wet darkness. The trees are indifferent, their only answer the drip, drip, drip of water sliding off their naked boughs.
Rosie plods on, head hanging. Cold mud cakes her belly. Rain fills the ruts on the path and soaks her fur. Her skin is chilled. She shivers.
An irritated snort brings her head up. The hackles on her neck stiffen.
The boar faces her, very close. Rosie freezes. Head lowered, the animal trundles right at her and Rosie whirls about, runs, runs, runs. She stumbles. Pain jolts through a front leg and she falls on her side. Twigs and stones stab at her ribs as she lies in the dampness, heart racing.
She closes her eyes, whimpers.
Rosie opens her eyes, rolls to her stomach. Her tail thumps, sending tiny sprays of moisture into the already wet air.
Come on, little girl. Shall we get you home?
Obedient to the voice, Rosie struggles to her feet, leaning heavily to thwart the pain in her leg. She looks one way, then the other. Her heart races now for a different reason.
Off we go, come along.
The voice is ahead of her. Rosie limps towards it. Her ears are pricked, her eyes wide, staring through the blackness. She follows the voice which coaxes encouragement, tells her she’s a good dog, not long now and she’ll be home. Rosie trusts the voice.
The rain stops. White moonlight gleams between the trees and turns the puddles shiny. Rosie limps faster, for now she sees something ahead, where the voice is
Ah! That’s better is it?
A silvery hand stretches towards her. When Rosie licks it, her tongue is wrapped in a soft coolness, like lapping water. She sniffs, but the smell she seeks isn’t there. Only the dankness of the forest.
They walk on, Rosie content alongside the figure which glistens, disappears, glistens again as the moon weaves among the clouds.
A stronger, whiter light flashes ahead. Another voice calls, desperate with grief.
The strong light waves an arc through the air, falls briefly on Rosie and the glistening figure, and darts back again.
‘Rosie! Oh my God, Rosie! Where have you been?’
Rosie leaps forward and up, to be caught in welcoming arms. She breathes smells she knows and licks the familiar face, tasting salty wetness.
‘You’re frozen. And shaking! Poor dog!’
Rosie is carried to the car and wrapped in a towel.
‘Blasted fireworks.’ Grief has morphed into anger. ‘Can’t they leave it out until the right date? It’s not for a week yet.’
The towel is tugged tight, Rosie given an even tighter cuddle.
She longs for her own bed, for food and sleep, but she peers into the edge of the forest, searching. Old longings resurface, touched with hope.
A slim tendril of shimmering light wavers, briefly shines brighter, and melts into the trees. Rosie watches it go with an aching hollowness in her heart at odds with her gratitude to be found and warm.
‘I thought you might be up here,’ her human says. She fondles Rosie’s long, muddy ears and smiles softly. ‘This was one of Mum’s favourite walks with you, wasn’t it, hey?’
You can buy the paperback version of Dragon Gift here.