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The Journey Home

It was cold. I remember that. It was cold, and the ground was hard, the grass brittle with frost. The fur between the pads on my paws was frozen in uncomfortable clumps. I didn't know where I was, only that it smelled very different, alien.

I wasn't sure what to do at first. I'm ashamed to admit that for a while I just lay in some heather, trying to find some shielding from the wind, but heather is a poor guard. I grew colder and colder until I was trembling uncontrollably.

It was a tough decision, getting up and moving. I didn't know which way to go, had no idea where home was. That's why I lay there so long. It was silly, but I didn't know then what I know now.

When I got moving I felt instantly better. I could feel the blood flowing again. I started to make a little sense of the smells carried on the wind. At one point I'm sure I smelled sausage, but it was fleeting and I never found its source.

I ran for a while until my chest was heaving with the effort. My game foreleg started to ache. It had troubled me in the cold ever since he had hit it with the bat. My own fault of course, I shouldn't have leapt the gate.

I slowed to a trot, sniffing at the ground, doubling back and skirting the many bogs. I even had to cross a river, though I soon wished I hadn't. The water was like a million needles of ice and as I clambered out of the opposite bank I could feel my fur crackle and set. I nearly gave up then.

I had a firm picture of home in my head. I could smell the yard, the concrete floor, the broken fence, his work boots, her perennial slippers. It was so real I could almost feel it, taste it. I didn't know where it was, only that it was home.

Still, the memory of it was enough to keep me moving. I crossed tracks with other animals, and even stumbled across a low slung, shambling beast who barked at me angrily, though I'm sure he wasn't a dog. I skipped aside and let him pass, watching as he ploughed his way through the undergrowth.

The terrain slowly changed, dipping lower. I began to smell humans, cars, alcohol and, ahh, food. The wind was lighter now, but the chill was pervasive. And then I spotted it ahead in the distance. A building.

I charged for it, my tail streaming out behind me, my heart pounding with the sheer joy of finding a people place. There were cars trundling along a road, the ticklish scent of woodsmoke, and even, at the limit of my hearing, human voices. It seemed to me in that instant I was home. I sprinted, faster and faster.

I was so excited that I didn't stop to check, I just saw the gate and jumped it. I realised in mid air that it was not my gate, not my yard, not my home. I heard the child scream even as I tried to turn in flight. I managed to avoid her, landing in a prickly bush instead.

Then there was silence for a while. I was hurting, but I was too tired, too afraid to move. I lay there in that prickly bush, waiting for what might come. After a while a lady and a child appeared, peering at me through the branches.

The lady spoke. Her voice was so gentle. I whimpered. The child looked up at the lady and spoke, then they reached out to me, and began carefully pulling the the branches aside. It is to my eternal regret that I may have snapped a little when they tugged at a branch caught in a delicate place, but they seemed to understand.

They freed me. They helped me stumble from the bush, giving me support with mittened hands. And then they led me inside. Oh, what a sight it was that greeted me, such a sight that will forevermore come to me in dreams. An open hearth, with a blazing fire and a rug before it.

I looked up at them sadly, desperate to lie before it and warm my bones. The lady smiled and stroked my head, then nodded to the child who guided me to the rug and sat down beside me. I may have slept a while, I don't remember, but I do remember the plate of meat and biscuit that appeared by my side. I do remember how I wolfed it down, suddenly aware of the growling in my stomach. And I do remember the soft blanket the lady placed on my weary back, tucking it in around me. But mostly I remember how she sat with me on the rug all that night, stroking me, keeping me warm, giving me water and food.

In the days that followed the lady and the child cared for me. They took me to a man who looked at my leg. I recall that I slept in his place, and when I woke my leg was bandaged and heavy. I feared that my new friends had gone forever, but the next day they returned and took me back to their place.

I've been at their place ever since. My leg is straight now, though it still gives me pain on cold nights. I don't mind. It reminds me of the journey, the journey to this place, the journey home.


© 2011 Kay Lawrence.


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