Stuart The following story was winner of an International dog story competition. It was also published in the 2007 Lincolnshire Anthology ‘The Sorting Floor, published by Lincs County Council

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Stuart - The following story was winner of an International dog story competition. It was also published in the 2007 Lincolnshire Anthology ‘The Sorting Floor, published by Lincs County Council. The story is set in Holywell and was based on a German Shepherd that had been tied up as a guard dog but escaped from a local wood in the eighties! So obviously this is a work of fiction.

“Jack! For Pete’s sake, stop barking!” The old Ford lurched into the lane and spluttered to a halt.

The driver restarted the engine before scurrying round to lift the tailgate and a German Shepherd exploded from the back and raced towards the verge, burying his nose in the hedge bottom. Overcome by intoxicating scents, it was easy for him to ignore the slam of car doors but the revving of the engine grabbed Jack’s attention. He whirled round, sneezing at the fumes that belched from the exhaust and loped after the car, running faster than he’d ever run before. Pebbles stabbed at his feet as he raced with ears flat, eyes black with fear. The Ford drove out of sight and he flopped down in the middle of the lane, exhausted and lost.

With tongue lolling, he lay there panting until seized with an urgent need to hide so he squirmed through a hole in the hedge. Unripe corn stood shoulder to shoulder in organized rows, with only the headland providing a pathway where poisoned weeds had keeled over and died. Parched from the sun, they rustled as his nose led him to pellets of rabbit dung and the larger, paler droppings of a hare. Far ahead, there was the startled screech of a pheasant and he stopped to listen. The bird crashed away with a fluster of wings and squawking cries, skimming above the greenness to glide out of sight. Rabbits darted, hightailing into brambles. Jack gave chase, thrusting his head down holes, until the path led him into Bluebell Wood where trees soared into canopies dispensing shade, and sunlight dappled on the undergrowth. Fallow bucks, sunning in a clearing barked their disapproval as they pranced, stiff legged to disappear between the boles of the trees. Jack set off in pursuit and disturbed more pheasants that strutted away in alarm. Running low and scared, the birds darted for the safety of the brambles. They were newly released and scuttled through tunnels of wire, seeking the security of their pen. Jack charged along the fence, eyes gleaming with intent.

Next morning, at daybreak, Colin bounced the Land Rover over the bridge by the end of Holywell lake. With a crash of gears, the gamekeeper roared up the hill towards his favourite wood. He parked in his usual place and stared through the windscreen, wondering what to do first. Sorting out his tools, he slung them in a sack before setting off. The path led alongside a belt of trees that straggled down to a stream running through the valley. Countless rabbits bolted for cover. Turning left handed, he was soon tramping through brambles that snagged at his trousers before reaching the path that led to his pheasant pen. Half grown birds crouched everywhere and rustled in the undergrowth.

Jack had lain there all night, sprawled in the grass, early woodland sounds ignored. Wire mesh, trailing from a hole in the fence, had stretched tight and tangled round one of his hind legs. In an attempt to escape, he had gnawed at the wire but only succeeded in tightening it further until it acted like a noose, cutting into his foot.

The gamekeeper faltered in his stride. “What the ‘ell…”

He dropped his sack to the ground. Natural apprehension suggested caution. He didn’t want to be bitten. Dropping to his haunches, he clicked his fingers.

“Come 'ere dog.”

Jack strained his head away, eyes half closing.

The keeper stood up and his gaze fell on feathers scattered round the pen. With no thought for his safety, he stormed into the enclosure and gathered up the corpses.

“What the ‘ell do you think you've bin playing at?” He stared hard at Jack. “Eh?”

Shoving the stiffening bodies right under Jack’s nose, he bellowed, “What's this? An’ this! You wretched dog…”

Jack strained his head away, rolled over and exposed the long hairs on his belly. One hind leg stretched out, imprisoned by the wire.

Colin bent down to retrieve the dead pheasants. He examined their bodies. There was hardly a mark on any of them; he decided they had probably died from fright. He glanced down at the dog and an idea began to form in his mind. Perhaps he would train him up as a guard dog. Those pesky foxes would give the pheasant pen a wide berth if a German Shepherd was tied up on guard. Maybe poachers wouldn’t be too keen to risk it either. Breathing heavily, he unbuckled his belt and with care, slipped it through Jack’s collar. Fumbling in his sack for pliers he clipped through the wire that attached the dog to the fence.

“Now dog, don’t you bite me.” Peering closely, he examined the leg. The mesh had bitten deeply into the skin. Jack's eyes flickered but he made no attempt to bite. Not wishing to risk any confrontation, Colin fished some baling twine out of his pocket and without ceremony tied up Jack’s mouth, knotting the ends behind his ears.

“Now, lie still.” The keeper grasped Jack’s foot and used his fingers to push back the hair, exposing the wire. He hesitated for a moment before picking up the pliers again.

“Okay.” He let out a sigh. “All done. Let's see if you can walk, eh?” He released the makeshift muzzle.

Jack lay motionless.

“Come on dog, I've gotta put you somewhere.” The gamekeeper surveyed the damaged fencing. “I can't leave you ‘ere. You’ll ‘ave to come ‘ome wi’ me.” He gave a sigh. “Up you get. I don’t wanna ‘ave to carry you.”

Colin tugged on the makeshift lead and Jack staggered to his feet, one hind leg suspended above the ground. Limping out of the wood behind his rescuer, he allowed himself to be coaxed into the Land Rover. The vehicle bounced along the track and the dog gripped the floor with his claws.

“Come on dog. Out you get!”

There no time to gaze around before Jack was bundled into a shed behind a stone cottage. Minutes later, the keeper returned and filled an old saucepan brimful with fresh water and he bandaged Jack’s foot. After he had gone, Jack lapped until the pan was empty, then disregarding the strange sensation in his paw, he began to explore. Dim light filtered through one cobwebbed window firmly shut. Makeshift staging lined walls of closely boarded planks, nailed horizontally and overlapping. The solid door blocked any escape. Piled in one corner of the earthen floor were Hessian sacks and he nosed them briefly before lying down to wait but no-one came, so he resumed his search, sniffing and pawing for signs of weakness in the boarding. Where chinks of sunlight gleamed through the slits, his strong nails tore at the planks but they remained stubbornly in place. With his head held high, he turned his attention to the roof but finding no way out, he lay down, tense and vigilant, licking at his throbbing foot.

Jack heard the Land Rover roar away up the track to the road. The drone of the engine faded and he crouched in the dust, head on paws; nose inches from the door that beckoned freedom.

Colin’s wife dressed in a hurry, preoccupied by the arrival of the dog outside. Downstairs, she greeted Tessa, and on impulse, fed the spaniel, then tipped more meat into another dish before making her way across the yard. The new dog was probably starving. She reasoned that if the shed was opened with care, it should be simple to slide the bowl of food inside.

Her husband had secured the door with a stout new hasp and a wooden peg slotted into the staple. Struggling to remove it, she cursed Colin for jamming it in so tightly. She couldn’t shift it. Annoyed, she placed the bowl on the ground and strained with both hands, aware of a strange German Shepherd snuffling at her from behind the door. With a final tug, she extricated the peg and the door flew open. Jack burst out to freedom.

“Oh no!” A frenzy of thoughts raced across her mind. Fear of the dog remained uppermost but fear of what her husband would say if she let the dog escape, ran a close second. In panic she picked up the dish and called sharply. Jack hesitated by the wall of the cottage.

“Here,” she coaxed, tapping the bowl with encouragement. “See what I’ve got?” Her voice wheedled as she backed into the shed, attempting to entice the dog inside.

Jack was hungry, and torn with indecision. He eyed the woman now advancing and remained where he was, safely pressed up against the wall. His body tensed as she crept towards him, and he watched as she stretched out an arm, slowly narrowing the gap.

Jack had played this game before. Whirling round, he fled towards the road.

Barbara Cooper

[1470 words]



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