Time is different when you’re a dog. Days are quick. All of them are quick. Too quick. When Winnie and I played it seemed like we’d only arrive in the woods and we’d have to leave. But every moment of those days were golden. Every morning we would walk together and when Winnie went to school I would run around the house and gardens while the servants went about their day. There was all the space and food I could want and everything was perfect, until one day Winnie’s Aunt Eliza came to stay.
She was older than Winnie’s parents and she was angry all the time. She would get up early every morning and stay up late into the night so it seemed as though she was always watching us. Many times I saw her scowl at us. I think Winnie’s happiness injured her somehow. I never saw her smile. Not once. Even when she beat me with her cane when nobody was looking her clay face never shifted away from anger. I felt so sorry for her. Nobody should ever be that alone inside themselves. But worst of all she made it her business to share her pain with Winnie.
That sweet and beautiful childhood innocence that everyone has for however long was cut short by that old bint just before Winnie’s tenth birthday. It was a Monday and Winnie and I were walking before she went to school. Everything was glorious until we rounded a corner near the maids’ entrance and there she was, cane in hand, scowl carved into her face.
“Give me that mutt!”
“No, Auntie. Please, he’s mine.”
“Shut up, child.”
“Auntie, please. He’s a good boy. He’s never hurt anyone.”
Without hesitation or cause her cane came down on across my hips. The bones in my legs rattles and I yelped, which of course made Winnie cry. The sound of her crying was excruciating. My hearing was phenomenal as a dog and as such, even then in the throes of agony, I could feel her pain even more than my own. Another caning on my spine made me vomit with the pain and some of the mess got onto Aunt Eliza’s shoe. As a retaliatory blow came down and again rattled my hips I yelped and tried to back away but she had a hold my leash. Winnie screamed for help but nobody came. Again and again and again that cane beat me and cut me open on the face and legs and back. It was unprovoked and savage and the unexplained rage caused incontrollable terror in little Winnie. I looked up at her and her hands were on her reddened face. Tears gushed down her cheeks and the panic in her screams was deafening. Then out of nowhere it stopped. She just turned and walked away and left me and Winnie both in her wake.
I was curled in pain on the ground and Winnie lay on top of me stroking my head. I remember my blood on the gravel and her tears dripping into the red pool growing steadily next to my face. I wanted to tell her that I would be ok. I wanted to cradle her. But I couldn’t. It was all I could do to nuzzle her neck and not weep aloud. She was the very centre my world and because of me she was in pain and I could do nothing to help her. It seemed like hours that we lay there. The pain in my body grew numb as the pain in my heart swelled and overtook it, but I was more hurt for Winnie. She was so pure and so sweet. She had never hurt anyone or anything and yet that woman killed a piece of her that day.
Winnie had never seen anyone act that way before. I was still only a year and half old that day but I had of course retained all my memories from when I was human, however, I had never known that kind of pain. It too was so pure. So evil. When one of the servants finally came looking for Winnie she found her covered in my blood and inconsolable. The maid rushed her off and as she dragged Winnie away I saw the worst pain in her eyes. Her screams were a death to me. Despite being in incredible physical pain from the beating I struggled to pull myself along the ground to follow her. But the maid had carried her away before I even got close.
The groundsman was sent to me then. Without a word he lifted me into his wheelbarrow and wheeled me to his shack just inside the woods. He was a kind soul and he nursed me back to health with the best meat from his own plate. He even slept on the floor while I slept in his bed. There was something gnarled and hurt about that man, but with animals, and I saw it many other times, he was a living saint. It took weeks and I by accident urinated many times on the floor of his shack and in his bed, but he never once shouted or got angry. He felt my pain. I could tell that he knew the shame and hurt in being wounded. All he ever did was show me love and compassion and in return I loved that smelly old man like a father.
While I was healing Winnie came to me in the groundsman’s shack and spent her every spare hour there. She cried often and even though the old man comforted her and assured her that I would be ok she never believed him. She knew in herself the pain I was in. She knew that I loved her and I knew that she loved me. And in those long gazes we often shared there were words that never needed speaking. She told me that she would do anything to take away my pain and I told her the same. I told her that I would be ok and she promised not to worry about me. I knew that she would, but that was how sweet she was. Even at so young an age she didn’t want me to worry about her worrying for me, even though it cost her so much.
Eventually I walked out of that haven and I remember it as if it were only ten minutes ago. The smell of the trees and the breeze in my fur. It was sublime. I stretched and trotted and barked with joy, jumping up and down and tugging on Winnie’s cuffs. It was a moment so exhilarating and clean that I have no memory in either life comparable to it. Take my word for it though, there was no other moment like it. Winnie walked me around the house and then up into her room where a new dog bed was waiting for me. As was her way then Winnie had made a wreath of get well cards tied on a string and arranged them around my new bed. It was a sight to savour, so much love and care on display. Overjoyed, at once I curled up on the plush cushioning and promptly fell asleep. When I awoke Winnie was curled up on the floor beside me, sleeping too.
Even as she slept her pure nature was evident. She smiled and hummed a little. Her joined hands propped her cheek as she ever so gently rocked from side to side with each breath. It was and is still a mystery to me how anyone could ever look at her and yet still be moved, by any force, to a point where they would do her harm. Even her own family were due to turn on her and as we grew I waited for that day, but back then I knew that that day was a long way off. She was still too young to be entrusted with the family business and at that point she still played and laughed as children do. Needless to say, Winnie and I rejoiced when Aunt Eliza was shipped off to a care home.
Then, one night while all the house was sleeping, I heard a noise. It was like the ticking of a clock coming from outside but it was erratic and loud, then again everything is loud when you’re a dog. It didn’t wake Winnie and I didn’t hear anyone else in the house get out of bed, so I got up and snuck to the window but I couldn’t see anything unusual. And yet the ticking kept clattering along. Soon it grew louder and before long it was deafening, but still Winnie slept as if nothing was happening. I stood there by the window with my front paw on the sill and watched as the darkness swam around the grounds outside. I almost missed it, but a glint of pink light slipped through the garden towards the woods.
I bounded for the door and propped myself up, pawed the handle and then darted for the hatch in the kitchen that I used to use to get outside. I ran around the house to where the glint had slithered away and dashed into the woods after it. Even in the pitch dark of night I could follow the ticking. It was so loud then that I felt like my ears were bleeding but I couldn’t stop chasing it. Then it just stopped by itself. And I stopped.
Stood on a trail in the blankness of night I listened for any sign of the ticking. None came. But a whisper did.
I barked but no words came out.
I barked again and growled and waited and watched the undergrowth, but the still silent night offered me nothing.
“I told you that you wouldn’t be the same again. You’ve altered her now that you’re here. I can’t say what is new and what is not. But know that because you are here she will not be the same as she was.”
I barked and howled like a mad hound but I couldn’t speak.
“Be very careful, James. You’ve already caused much harm… ”
As it finished speaking its voice petered out to a droll hum and then it was gone. I didn’t understand. I felt like I was being lied to. As if I wasn’t me but someone else that should have been there. I would never harm Winnie. And she would always be the sweet creature that I cared so much for no matter what anyone or anything said. Except, she wouldn’t. She had already become far more adventurous than she had ever told me she was in our first life. It was as if she was a different person.
I had never asked her outright in our old life, but it did come up in conversation and when it did Winnie had said that she had only had one romantic interest before we met. But afterward when I was there with her in her youth she was pursued by a number of young men and, worse still, in her teen years she lay with them. My sweet and irreproachable Winnie had never been like that before. I had followed her beyond the beyond and to find that she was not been as she had made herself appear to be was a shock. Worst of all, I knew that it was my fault for having made that deal and come back to her.
My sweet Winnie went from being a kindly young lady to a vivacious attention seeker. Again and again she would sneak young men into her room at night and I would have to bury my face in my bed and cover my ears as my love defiled herself. Before she was twenty years old my spirit was all but broken.
She never kept her lovers for long. There was always another one waiting to step in. And it was all I could do to be brushed aside. Then came the day. The day I had dreaded since I was a pup. As always I followed Winnie everywhere and when her parents summonsed her to their office I went with her. All the way there through the hallways I begged for it to not be that day. But it was. No amount of hope helped. I even tried to draw her back with a show of play but she was too curious to stop. Her parents never summonsed her for anything, let alone to their sanctuary.
We both sat.
“Mary Elizabeth, you mother and I have called you here to tell you something. Something very important that will affect the rest of your life. We want you to relax and hear everything we have to say before you reply. Do you understand?”
“I do, Johnathan.”
“You know that we own a large business, however, what you don’t know is that that is only a small part of a much larger machine. And that machine is bigger and more important than any country or any law. We employ a massive number of people and they are all very well off because of the work we do. Yes, some places ban our efforts, but mainly because we are their competition in the trade of military equipment such as arms and high grade medical supplies. You are old enough now to choose whether or not you want to come into the fold. We want you to learn the ways of our business in the hope of taking your it over one day. What say you?”
“Daddy, I’m not stupid. I’ve wanted this for so long. Tell me everything!”
There were tears. Evil tears of joy. And my own dread agony of loss. She fell into their arms like a lost child returning home and as I watched a piece of me died. My beloved Winnie was no more. That unmarred glory had ceased to exist. And worst of all, it was my fault. If only I had stayed dead.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey