I’ve started reading through some of my old stories from university. When I found this one it made me smile. I really enjoyed writing this piece, and I think it’ll always be one of my favourite short stories. Not being particularly good at short pieces, it’s an easy enough category to get into, to be honest.
They were always just out of reach. I could sense Emma’s pain, hear her calling for me as those boys jeered at her, but everyone was always out of reach. I’d snarl, running so fast my muscles would burn… and then someone would wake me up.
‘You were having a bad dream, boy,’ they’d say.
But it wasn’t a bad dream. It was a frustrating dream.
From my favourite spot, lying across the back of the sofa, I spotted my youngest sibling Emma pass the window. She was running as the two boys across the road shouted something at her. It was muffled because the window was shut.
I shifted position and pricked my ears forward.
‘Don’t cry, Wobble. Look, Jack, she’s off to snivel to her mummy.’
‘Don’t cry, little girl, Mummy will make it better!’
I whined and ran my nails down the window. I’d get them one day, even if it was only in a dream. Emma fumbled with the gate and it clicked shut on the third attempt. I followed her movement down the garden path, wincing when she slammed the door shut.
‘Oh, you’re home, Ems,’ our mum called out from the kitchen. ‘How was school?’
Emma cleared her throat. ‘Fine, I have lots of homework, though.’
‘Dinner’s in an hour.’
I waited for Mum to call her back, to ask her what was wrong, but it didn’t happen. Again.
People, I thought, they’re so unobservant.
Emma thundered up the stairs and turned her music up so loud it made the floor vibrate. I sighed and slipped off the sofa, padding quietly upstairs. I’d had plenty of practice opening the doors in this house. We’d always lived here and, as long as I didn’t mark the wood, I was allowed to let myself in and out of rooms as I pleased.
I stood on my back legs and used one paw to move the handle down and the other to push the door open. Emma was curled up on her bed, her legs tucked up to her chin. She sat up and wiped her face, her hand stilling when she noticed me.
‘Hi, Dave. Come sit.’ She got up to close the door. I waited until she was sitting down again before I jumped up and settled beside her.
She curled her arms around me and placed her forehead on mine. ‘They came up with a good nickname for me today. They call me Wobble. They told everyone at school.’ Her voice broke and she started to cry again.
Her pain saturated the air around me. People are emotional creatures. When they’re hurt you can almost taste it in the air and, when you love the person, you can almost feel an echo of that pain in your chest.
‘They follow me home from school.’ Emma leaned against the headboard with a sigh, one hand moving through my black fur slowly. ‘The taller boy, Stuart, lives just round the corner. I think they actually wait for me. They were making fun of my flabby bits. Sometimes I wish I could be someone else, you know.’ Emma prodded her stomach.
I placed a paw on her leg and her eyes met mine slowly. You’re completely perfect.
She smiled, touching my paw. ‘Sometimes I really do think you can understand me.’
Despite the smile I could still feel her pain. I stayed by her that evening until I saw the laughter return to her eyes. It always took a while after those boys were horrible to her. It had been going on for a couple of weeks. I’d watched them from my favourite spot, a growl rumbling in my chest. I wanted nothing more than to run outside and tear them to pieces, to show them what real pain felt like. But I couldn’t.
There was no future for a dog that bit a human. In the human world it warranted the final trip to the vets, a trip we all dreaded. But, in the dog world, it was the ultimate shame to hurt a human, unless they were trying to physically hurt a member of your family.
It didn’t make watching Emma return home from school each day easier to handle, knowing I couldn’t do anything to help her. As long as they didn’t touch her, I couldn’t touch them. She’d run across the road, her face averted but dry. They hadn’t managed to make her cry in front of them. But each time she got home I felt her pain deepen until, one day, she stopped smiling in the evenings.
Our parents finally noticed something was wrong. They forced Emma to sit down with them after dinner, when my brothers had gone upstairs. I sat on my favourite spot and Emma sat beside me, her warm body leaning into mine. She sat there until the sky grew dark but refused to tell them what was happening.
I followed her upstairs and lay across her bed, my head tilted to the side.
‘Don’t look at me like that,’ Emma snapped. ‘I couldn’t tell them. You know how lame telling your parents is? I’d be even more of a joke than I am now.’
The next day was one when smaller humans don’t have to get up early. Emma was happier and she took me out for a walk when the air was still cold. We walked together to the park and when the lead clicked, signalling I was free, I bounded away.
I ran from one end of the field and back to Emma before catching the scent of a cat. I bounded away again, not really chasing the cat because there’s no fun in that; they always end the chase by scuttling up a high wall or squeezing into a tight space. Cowardly behaviour, if you ask me.
We stayed out for hours, Emma sitting on the grassy slope, throwing my ball whenever I retrieved it. Some dogs turn their nose up at this game but it makes Emma happy, so I played with her until my legs were weary from running. She clicked my lead back on when I plonked my bum on the grass and we went together to the retrieve the ball she’d thrown.
‘You really don’t have to talk to get your point across,’ Emma laughed. ‘And, Dave, seriously, less drool would be much appreciated next time.’ She held my ball between two fingers and dropped it into the bag she’d brought.
I trotted beside her, relieved to feel happiness rolling through the air around us. She’s always calmer the days she doesn’t have to get up early and go out. Emma hummed under her breath as she unhooked the lead and let me into the house. Mum greeted us from upstairs and my brother patted my head as he passed on his way up.
I waited to hear Emma follow me into the kitchen as she usually did, to give me my after-walk biscuit. I stopped as the door slammed but no footsteps followed. I pricked my ears forward, trying to pick out any abnormal sound around the movement of my family and the roar of a car outside.
Voices. I could hear voices.
I turned and jumped onto my favourite spot. The window was open and scents rode the breeze. I breathed in the mingling scents of human and dog, my shoulders tensing as I picked out Emma’s powdery scent from the unfamiliar. Danger.
Emma was at the garden gate, her hand on it, ready to close it. And on the other side of the road were the two boys that shouted at her, with a dog. I’d seen this dog before, and I’d heard about him from next door’s terrier. Dozer. He was ferocious. He’d been kicked out of three vets because he’d gotten into fights with other animals.
The boy holding the lead was taunting Emma, loosening his grip and holding tight again when the dog went to pounce. The boy named Jack said something that made Dozer snarl and strain harder on his lead. I willed Emma to move back, to run into the house but she was frozen, like a child that first sets eyes on me before realising I’d never hurt them, like a cat caught sneaking through my garden at night.
And then, suddenly, it was too late.
Dozer stopped straining against the lead and, as we both knew would happen, the human’s hand loosened. With a snarl, Dozer yanked himself free. Stuart’s mouth opened in an ‘oh’ of surprise and Emma screamed, abandoning the gate as the dog charged at her.
I rose onto my back legs on my favourite spot and pushed with everything I had against the windows. They flew open fully, creating just enough space for me to lever myself out. In her panic, Emma’s feet tangled together and she tumbled. I reached her before Dozer was across the road and ignored her shout as I jumped over her.
Dozer’s teeth were bared but I knew it was just a scare tactic. I was bigger than him and I was angrier; he’d ignored our one absolute law and he’d tried to do so with my Emma. I couldn’t touch the human boys, but for the first time in weeks that didn’t matter.
I ran to a target that wasn’t out of reach and only one thought entered my mind as I bent my back legs and sprang into the air: Finally.