Written for an autumn event at Jolter’s cider pub in the Forest of Dean, where cider and perry have long traditions. One of ten stories in Dragon Gift.

Photograph Cider Making at Aylburton. Glos, 1910 Courtesy of Sungreen. Colourist David Harris

Sniff, sniff.

The smell taunted him. It had filled his nostrils with its lush pungency all day.
He lifted his head, heavy jowls wobbling. Sparse whiskers quivered at the memories.
Here it came again, carried on the crisp air drifting through the doorway. Tempting him.
He sniffed again, salivating.

Moving quietly so as not to disturb the others, he stole to the door and peered out, black eyes narrowed to better examine the shadows.

All was quiet. The hens in the hen house slept, safely locked away from foxes; the dog dozed in the barn, curled in the straw; no lights reflected on the swept stones of the farmyard where the scarred and bleached cider mill stood: the source of his temptation, standing innocently quiet now.
Heedless of the autumnal chill, he stepped into the night. The gate opened at his push with barely a squeal. He slipped through and up the rutted lane, kicking up the dry leaves which the wind had swept into tidy piles. Down to the wider track he went, more quickly now. The cold moonlight lit his way; the cloying fragrance steered him as surely as a stick pointing the way.

The Brown Snout came into view, a black silhouette against the silver stars. He had it all to himself and he made the most of that. Supping at the offerings, more please, more. Gulping it down, the sweet stench dizzying his brain.
Ah! Near to satiation, he sat on his broad rump and wondered at the way the arching roof of the Brown Snout wavered like a heat haze.

But there was another visit to make.

Out again into the colder night, pink skin warm and glowing, onto the Kingston. Others were here; appeared to have been at it for a while, but they let him in, barely noticed his presence. Again he relished the long cool slide of heavenly bitterness down his gorge.
His stomach was stretched to its considerable limits, his fat legs tremulous. The world around him spun as steadily as the handle of the cider press in the farmyard had done that afternoon.

The farmyard. He turned homewards, shuffling up the track, past the Brown Snout, up the lane. The gate had grown heavier since he left and he had to shove, hard, grunting with the effort.

The gate shrieked its resistance and clanged shut.

A light came on. He knew he should hurry but he couldn’t. He knew he should be tucked up with the others. But he wasn’t.

‘Eh! Who’s out there?’

A window screeched open.

‘Good Lord! Look who it be!’

Freddie wavered. He needed his bed.

‘It’s our Freddy!’

Thudding footsteps.

‘Freddy! What thee been up to?’

Freddie wobbled. Sleep beckoned him to welcome oblivion.

‘Been stuffing thyself on ciders, have thee, Freddy?’

Raucous laughter.

A slap on his bum sent Freddy stumbling into the straw.

‘Back to bed with thee! Bit of a sore head in the morning, hey? Thou silly old pig!’

Footnote: Brown Snout and Kingston Black are English cider apples – not pubs.

More stories can be found here.