The lone wolf is weak, the wolf pack is strong. This thought seemed odd. Weakness was not something to be celebrated, it was ultimately something that needed to be dealt with - to be corrected. Instinct tells every creature on this planet that in order to survive one has to fight, to be brave and strong but the implication was dreadful. The world is constantly on the attack, it wants to steal your power, your resources even your life.
Lewis was a young lad. An apprentice. Learning the ropes was his priority and this lesson from his father had filled him with foreboding. The thoughts filtered into his consciousness and coloured his thinking taking him from one, old reality to a new unnerving reality from which he could never return. Parents protect their children from the darker things in life initially by keeping their existence from them but there comes a point in every life where the rubicon needs to be crossed. The realisation that the world had a darker fearsome side had captivated his thinking and, as he stared out towards the trees beyond the fields he wondered what monsters lay in wait for him in those trees and beyond. As he stood, his mind pulsating with the new reality and its unknowns, he felt a comforting presence by his side and a distant voice spoke to his dreams. Muffled at first he strained to hear the words. As they emerged slowly he recognised the voice. A voice he had known since before, a voice of sanctuary. It was his mothers voice and slowly emerging from his reverie he realised his mother was standing close by.
She wore a deep frown almost a scowl, but behind it was an infinite warmth. Her eyes beamed as she communicated emotions of safety and comfort to her son whilst simultaneously sending a snarl of reproach to his father. “I told you he was too young for this sort of talk” she snarled to him as she stood close to Lewis’s side, making her presence felt, giving him the natural assurance of contact that all dogs intrinsically understand to mean safety. She carefully explained to Lewis that, whilst the lone wolf may be weak, HE would never BE a lone wolf. He would always have his mother and his father just near enough to be there for him when he needed them. That distance would increase as he grew older but the bond would never break. “Now come on” she quipped, “Brian is over at the house waiting, lets go in and get some food. It’ll be dark soon”. The evening was filled with food and warmth, family and comfort but a spark had kindled a small ember inside him and Lewis had lost a little more of his innocence.
The next morning was bright and still. The sun shone low in the sky. It was the time of year when, in Scotland, the path of the sun seemed to resemble the weak throw of a stick, so briefly was it up and then, sinking gently westwards, it was gone. To Lewis, Brian was a strange member of the pack. He had known his voice long before he had seen his face and that face was not like those of his mother and father. Brian was different. He was bigger, he walked in what seemed like a strange upright balancing act and he was kind. It was obvious to Lewis for as long as he could remember that Brian was someone to be trusted. Both his mother and his father trusted him. Indeed they seemed to LOVE him and so, slowly at first and then gathering pace as his confidence grew, Lewis came to love Brian as well.
That morning, excitement was at fever pitch. Brian had started to untangle to long ropes he used to keep the pack together when they went on a patrol and both Lewis and his parents had electrified each other into a crescendo of yelping and leaping anticipation. As Brian completed the preparation, they were soon off on patrol. Teejay, Lewis’s father, had long since explained the importance of a patrol to him and as the four of them bounced along, tails held high, he felt proud enough to burst. The world beyond the house and its fences seemed infinitely exciting and interesting to him. His mother, Skye, was a siberian husky and, as is the way of the siberian husky, she was an expert hunter. She had taught Lewis the same skills and he had already tasted success in the form of numerous voles and other small rodents. As they walked along it seemed the hedgerows were seething with snacks and Lewis strained to reach the interesting world just outside his reach.
Having walked for some time, the group reached a forest which they entered and began to follow a path. The forest felt different. To Lewis it seemed like a magical place and he could feel ancient instincts deep within his psyche fulminate as the sylvan atmosphere enveloped them and drew them in. The forest seemed at once quieter and yet it spoke to them more clearly and with a far greater vocabulary than did the open landscape. Far above, squirrels played in the treetop canopy and Lewis could sense that playfulness turn to alarm as they strode on.
Having reached a point in the forest where they could no longer see its edge in any direction they stopped and Brian reached down to remove the restraints from the others. Excitement exploded again as they bounded off to explore the forest around them. Lewis leapt furiously using his pent up energy like a stotting antelope as he ran. The forest seemed infinite and revealed a little more of itself as he rounded each large tree, drawing him on, piquing his curiosity with every second in numerous delightful ways. On and on he ran, his heart singing for joy, his beautiful white coat reverberating in waves as he galloped. He shouted to his father, wanting to share the joy he felt but then, hearing no reply, his fervour receded and his energy drained. He could feel the presence of the forest now but in a new way. It was suddenly somehow a feeling of dread and foreboding.
The young powerful dog sniffed the air and listened for some signal of the whereabouts of his parents but none came. He had ran with such blind zeal that he had no idea of the direction from which he’d come and in that moment, with a feeling of sinking fear he realised he was alone and lost. "The lone wolf is weak." he thought with a shudder. The stillness of the forest, the lack of any breeze, having previously been a source of delight, now conspired to confound him as tried to make sense of any scents he could discern on the dead air.
It is a curious innate behaviour in dogs that, when they perceive they are lost, they will run in a tight but random circulating pattern seeking some clue or other to help them regain their bearings. As Lewis wildly did this and with feelings of alarm swelling in his breast, he slowly realised it was all for naught. As he was about to collapse to a despondent standstill he noticed, or rather he sensed eyes watching him and, stopping slowly, now aware and fearful of the noise he was making, picked out a face staring at him from behind a bush.
In an instant the eyes emerged from the bush and surged headlong towards him. Fear rooted him to the spot whilst his imagination, had conjured up a mental image of his father, who shouted at him to RUN! Screwing up his courage he tightened his muscles in an instant, prepared as he was to flee but something fleetingly and deep within his soul gave him momentary pause. The eyes were clearer now. They were now through the bush as was the body behind them and that body was not, Lewis now realised, something to fear, but rather, it appeared, weak and vulnerable. As the two pairs of eyes met, Lewis felt all thoughts of threat recede from him and slowly, like treacle curiosity flooded into his mind pushing the fear back and down to the visceral reservoir from which it had erupted.
Before Lewis stood a dog. At least Lewis thought it was a dog. He wasn’t sure. Over his as yet short life Lewis had seen many dogs, some small and some large. He had four brothers and one sister and each of these siblings had grown up into beautiful young adult dogs as majestic and athletic as he was but this dog was like no dog he had ever seen before. The effort she had made (for Lewis's nose had now determined that it was a she) in lunging out through the bush, had been brief but it had also very clearly drained her. She stood there staring at Lewis with eyes that spoke of sadness and her low reservoirs of energy had clearly been severely depleted simply by leaping forward as she had just done. As the two of them stood, each taking the measure of the other, the tension between them melted away and a strange connection seemed to germinate.
Lewis was a polite and friendly lad at his core. His parents had brought him up well and ensured that he had grown and developed in a stable and caring environment where their overwhelming love for him was never in any doubt. This foundation had created a young male dog that, whilst fearful of danger, was also in a curious sense vulnerable to it. Despite that, all things considered it was fair to say that the trajectory of his journey from newborn to adult had set him on a course to somewhere strong, fair and good hearted. He realised in an instant that the fearful introduction he had just experienced had positioned his stance as one of aggressive power which was designed to display his potential for attack. This was the way of dogs but, realising awkwardly that he had retained the stance and that his aggressor presented no real threat to him whatsoever, he clumsily repositioned himself, drew in his hackles, lowered his tail and threw in a tentative slow wag just for the hell of it.
The tension fell away as his surprise companion, in response to his renewed body language relaxed herself and seemed to smile in that way that only dogs can really see.
Lewis swallowed down hard and tried to speak but his throat had grown dry and it emerged as a croak. Embarrassed he licked his lips, cleared his throat and said, in his most friendly manner, “Hi I’m Lewis”. The female dog before him sighed and smiled back wanly choosing not to say anything. To Lewis, she seemed sad. He had rarely seen any sad dogs in his life and those that he had seen had quickly been comforted until the sadness had been banished from them but there was something about this sadness that Lewis didn’t understand. It was a sadness that had a dark power, as if it could hold on to somebody more tightly and more unyieldingly than any sadness he had sensed before. It also seemed like a sadness that could reach out from behind those eyes and wrap itself inside others. He shuddered at the despair he was beginning to feel and in the best canine tradition, exploded into a big hearty shake, the kind of shake that seems to reset the world around a dog and fixes everything. The female dog smiled and this was just the trigger Lewis needed to leap playfully towards her and entreat her to join in a bit of playful fun. She seemed to warm to this and was soon joining in as best she could despite her frail disposition although she didn’t have much energy to play for long. As they stopped and sniffed around idly she spoke to Lewis for the first time. “They call me Willow”.
Lewis and Willow, their initial tension now dissipated, spent a few minutes just shooting the breeze, searching the ground for interesting smells and each gathering around the other when something worth a second opinion had been found. As Willow sniffed the ground she kept one careful eye on Lewis all the while, still not quite free of her chronic distrust of everything. “Are you alone?” asked Lewis absently as he scratched at an old stick that had been chewed and discarded by at least seven other dogs as far as his immature nose could tell. Lewis had been to this forest before and he knew that this was a place that many dogs from the town would come to with their own “Brians”. He often wondered about the town looking down on it in the distance from his house with his mother and father high on the hill that overlooked it. He had heard dogs barking in the town when the wind was right and he had even smelt their scents mixed with other strange scents from the town when the wind had blown strongly. The town both fascinated and scared him. Willow again didn’t answer. She seemed to have grown fearful again. “My dad says the lone wolf is weak, the wolf pack is strong. Do you have a pack or a Brian?”. Willow looked up and stared back blankly and eventually softly responded, “I don’t know what a pack or a Brian is”. Lewis stood and thought for a moment as he assembled the puzzle in his head. “Thats why you’re sad” he pondered and then quickly snapped his attention back to the stick.
He picked the stick up and began to walk to Willow to give it to her when a noise in the trees made them both freeze. Lewis immediately glowed feeling sure that it was Teejay or Skye. As Willow began to cower and tremble he opened his mouth to reassure her that everything would be fine but before the words took shape in his throat he stopped. From behind a tree stepped a smaller Brian. Lewis knew there were lots of Brians in the town and many of them came to his house in their noisy coloured boxes they called cars. Willow began to tremble more visibly as the person approached her and without any warning slammed a large thick stick down hard across her back. As she yelped from the pain Lewis jumped with fright but, seeing his new friend was now in pain, he summoned up his courage once more as his hackles rose for the second time that day.
He growled as he walked slowly towards the person who had by this time fastened a rope to Willow. Lewis had never before been in a confrontation like this with a person. Inside he trembled but he knew he had to help his friend. He loped his way closer holding his body low, his legs coiled and ready to jump in whatever way he must but then from his side where Willow had been standing came a burst of ferocity so unexpected and shocking that he had no time to deal with it. He felt Willow’s teeth sink into his cheek and immediately felt the pain of the wound that her teeth had made. As quickly as she erupted she stopped and withdrew. In the glimpse that Lewis caught of her face as she drew back he detected a strange mixture of sadness and something else he couldn’t identify. Within moments the person had attached a rope to Lewis such was his surprise and they had both been marched off over the quarter mile track to a car. Both dogs were thrown into the back of the car without any trace of kindness and as the door slammed Lewis looked over at Willow. As she looked back at Lewis through sad eyes he thought he heard her whisper two words which sounded very much like, “Im sorry”.
Teejay was a dog who understood things. That’s what dogs used to say about Teejay. He had been born in the house on the hill many years ago just like Lewis had been only two years ago and had been fortunate enough to be the one dog from his litter that had been chosen to remain with his mother, just like Lewis. He had lived in the area his whole life and had been lost in this forest so many times that he had eventually ran out of places to be lost as his knowledge of the area became complete. To Teejay his pack was his life. He knew that he was lucky. He had seen numerous other dogs through the course of his life, had talked to a great many of them and had concluded over the years that the pack which he had found himself part of through sheer serendipity was one to cherish. Actually to say that his pack was everything to him is probably untrue as Teejay had ultimately found a greater joy in his life than his pack when his pups had been born. He knew that it wouldn’t be possible for them all to stay in his life once they’d grown up but had developed a deep and powerful love for Lewis as he had watched him grow.
Lewis had been lost before so it wasn’t too worrying to him just yet but as Teejay mechanically searched every inch of the large forest that he knew intimately he understood that time was of the essence. Although he had seen ten winters, Teejay was still extremely healthy with the fitness of a dog half his age. This was one of the many benefits his son bestowed on him as he took time every day to play with him and by extension to teach him. Nevertheless, he was tiring but what concerned him more was that he was completing his methodical search of the forest. There were few places left that hadn’t been checked in this great forest.
He suddenly stopped as a few molecules of scent hit the receptors in his nose and set alarm bells ringing. Lewis had been here. Or rather he had been back at the point that the scent had hit its receptors such was the power of a dog to analyse olfactory information as it ran fast and hard. Carefully he rounded on the trail and began a careful process of bracketing the area as he moved, by analysing patterns of scent intensity he cleverly box searched the surroundings closing in on a small clearing. Lewis had been here and not long ago. He looked down and saw a stick that had been chewed. Immediately he sensed Lewis from it but there was more. Another dog had been here. A female. As he scouted the area he heard a car drive off in the near distance but he had something more important on his mind. A human female had also been here and there was something else, something just out of reach. His magnificent nose and his magnificent brain searched at frantic speed through the data until the dreadful answer appeared. He could smell blood.
As the car bumped along Lewis caught his breath and calmed down. Slowly he processed the events he had just been a part of. “Why did you hurt me?” He asked Willow. “I was trying to help you.” She lifted her head slowly from the carpeted floor of the car boot and, with lugubrious shallow breaths whispered, “I needed to save you.”
The journey was short and when the tailgate of the car opened Lewis recognised the smells immediately. This was the town in the distance. As the tailgate opened he had a brief opportunity to make his escape but in that thin fragment of time, something stopped him. Willow needed him. Somehow he knew he had to protect her as best he could and that his fortunes had placed a greater task at his paws that just simply getting himself back to his parents. Instead he sat and looked across at Willow with a little smile encouraging her to step out of the car first. As they alighted they were led to a house with a path which led through to a yard at the back. Once in the yard the gate having been locked behind them, the two dogs were secured by ropes to a post in the middle of the yard. It seemed to Lewis that grass had at one time grown across the yard but it had long since died back leaving nothing but a hard uneven patch of dry and compacted soil. In that soil Lewis could smell more torment than he had ever known. There had been other dogs here but their scents had faded and were almost gone. Safe in the knowledge that the dogs were secured the woman began to beat them both with a different harder stick and, as the blows rained down on Lewis he slowly lost the urge to snarl, spit and bite at the thin air his restraint allowed him to reach and learned it was best to try to disengage and wait for the pain to stop. Night fell early at that time of year and so, with pain assaulting all parts of his body, he and Willow curled up and slept as best they could under the starry freezing sky.
Once Teejay had concluded that the smell in his nostrils was blood and whats more that it was Lewis’s blood he switched up a gear. He concluded his search of the area and had followed Lewis’s scent down through a forest track which led to the road at the bottom the area. At that point the scent disappeared. Teejay knew that the two dogs had to have been put into a car and driven off but to where. Once he had concluded his search he sprinted back up the hill and told Skye who was naturally very upset.
The two dogs had no more play in them and Brian too had exhausted himself having searched the area for hours so they made it clear to Brian that the only thing they wanted to do was to head home. From the house at the top of the hill Teejay knew that he could smell the fingerprint of scent for miles around and he wanted to take stock and understand his options. If he had to he would go to the town and search every street of it from top to bottom but for now he needed to sniff the breeze. Nobody slept in the house that night. Brian looked out at the hard frost that was falling and the thought of Lewis alone in the night tore at his spirit. The two dogs on the other hand sat and talked about their plans.
For Lewis and Willow, the night was long and ferociously cold. They huddled together preserving what warmth they could. Lewis was part husky so for him the pain in his bruised body demanded more of his attention than the cold. He looked at Willow and wondered. Lewis could tell that she was feeling the cold badly. Her coat was shorter and missing in places and more importantly, she was not as equipped for life in a sub zero climate as he was. Sensing that she was struggling to cope Lewis drew himself in close to her surrounding her with his large fur covered body which he could almost use to reach all the way around her. He then turned his nose inside the circle and used his breath to keep her warm using a technique that had been passed unconsciously to him by his ancestors through a thousand winters. He was comforted when she eventually drifted into a fitful sleep and even managed to smile to himself when she gave him a hallucinatory kick in the head as she dreamed.
It was still dark with light just showing its face in the high eastern sky when the woman opened the door of the house and approached the dogs. In her hand she carried a bucket which contained a meagre amount of food scraps from her previous evenings table and as she tossed the scraps in the direction of the dogs, Willow pounced on them voraciously attempting to consume as much as she could as if in competition for resources. Lewis eschewed the food and chose rather to stare angrily up at the woman for which he received a painful kick in his already extremely tender ribs. She then left the garden by the side gate that they had all used the previous day. A wave of relief washed over Lewis when he recognised the sound of the car in which he had yesterday been a passenger, start and drive off.
“She will not return until the evening now.” said Willow guiltily as she realised that she had eaten all of the scraps and had left nothing for Lewis. Lewis had other things on his mind. He was already biting the rope that secured him to the post, trying to understand how tough it would be to work through it. “My dad will be coming for me.” he said confidently although he quietly saved a little part of his consciousness for the difficult fact that he would find it almost impossible to find them. Undaunted by the grim reality of his situation he busied his mind trying to work out how he would get back to his house on the hill.
Morning in the house on the hill was a subdued affair. Brian had eventually drifted off in a chair by the window where he had positioned himself in case Lewis had returned through the night but not even the gloom of the ongoing events of the previous day could hold back the wave of fatigue when it finally won its battle and threw its purple cloak over him. Teejay also slumbered with one eye open in that curious half sleep that dogs seem to be capable of. He had come up with a plan and had told Skye during the night. She had reluctantly acceded to it knowing all the while that her assent to a plan when Teejay got one between his teeth mattered little.
As they shook off the languor of the night and reluctantly welcomed in the new day, Brian began by shuffling to the toilet for his morning pee. Teejay however found all the food he could muster in the three bowls that were in their usual place in the kitchen. Skye, knowing his plan had left her food untouched and as he forced the last of the food down he checked his plan. He was sure of one thing, he was NEVER going to sit back and wait for his son to make it home. His job was now first and foremost to be a father. To set the right example. In this case he was certain he needed to be out there searching. When the door of the house opened to let the two dogs out for their morning breather, Teejay had only one purpose on his mind. He ran hard at the low wire fence that divided the garden from the field and launched himself at its apex. He hadn’t jumped a fence like this for quite a few winters but he was sure he hadn’t lost the magic quite yet. As he leapt, for one horrible moment he thought the food he had stuffed himself with would be his undoing but as the wire scraped painfully past his belly he was eventually relieved to find himself standing in the field on the other side. As Brian shouted for him to come back he looked back apologetically, skipped through the stockproof gate and trotted off down the road soon out of sight.
Brian looked at Skye and, as Skye looked back at him with a look of unsurprised calm, he couldn’t help but think there was something in her eyes that she wouldn’t tell him even if she could.
For Lewis and Willow, the day wore on interminably. Their bruises moved from sharp stabbing pain to the type which is duller and broader but seems to have a deeper grip of the mind. Willow was quite used to coping with bruising but for Lewis it was quite new and distinctly uncomfortable if not unbearable. He nonetheless gathered up every ounce of stoicism that he could muster in the spirit his father had taught him as he came of age and focused more actively on matters more pressing.
They had spent a large part of the day just talking. Lewis now knew that Willow was a name she had been given in a house she had lived in before. She had lived in a house where she was loved and cared for and that she had loved back but had got lost one day on a walk by the river and had inadvertently met this horrible woman who had tricked her into getting into her car and had subsequently brought her here. When she had first arrived there were two other dogs but they had both, at different times, succumbed to the lack of food or the excruciating life tied to this post or some combination of the two. They were now buried over in the corner and Willow showed Lewis where. This was her second winter here and she had been what the humans called a collie before this place had changed her into the pathetic creature she now was.
Lewis in turn told her about his house on the hill. How he had been born there and grown up with his four brothers and one sister. How, when they had grown up they had all gone off to different homes but that each of them was happy living with kind people who took care of them and whom they took care of in return in that special way that only dogs can. He explained that they all get together now and then and have celebrations together where they eat way too many treats. He had felt bad when this had made her sad and had promised that she could come to the next party where Lewis would give her all of his treats. This seemed to raise her spirits and he relaxed a little thereafter.
Later in the day once Lewis, who was fortunately an extremely intelligent dog, (as was Willow) had taken time to think things through, he explained calmly to Willow that he had a plan. She listened intently as he explained the plan and then smiled as he told her how it ends with her meeting his mother and father. She seemed eager and enthusiastic about it but was worried about the amount of running it would take. Once upon a time she would have had no problems running all day long. She had even climbed mountains when she was younger but she knew now that she lacked strength and stamina. Just jumping out of the bush when she met him had exhausted her. Lewis had tried to offer her reassurance and encouragement but secretly he too was worried. Nonetheless, undaunted by their worries, they resolved to see the plan through come what may and began their preparations.
The first priority for Teejay was to go back to the place where the car had picked Lewis up. He wanted to remind his nose of the smell of the woman and the female dog that had been with her. Once reacquainted with the target scents, he set off in the direction of the town. It would be a long and difficult journey as he knew he couldn’t risk taking the easy path that cars used. Dogs travelling on their own were too often picked up by well meaning humans and returned to their owners. He could'nt risk this happening and so he set off towards the estate of the old ruined castle.
As expected he came up against fences time after time and it often took all his guile to work out a way through. Sometimes it was easy if the fence was broken or had been undermined but occasionally he had been forced to run and jump just like he had done earlier in the day. The sun was just starting to descend in the sky as he reached the castle ruins and knew he was almost at the town.
"Almost there but not quite." he thought. He still had a river and a busy road to cross and about a mile of rough country too. When it came to finding Lewis he was indefatigable however and he only stopped at the castle to take on water and to mark his progress with his scent as he had been taking great care to do every step of the way. He knew if Lewis crossed his scent line he would instantly recognise the fact and would follow the path to home like a line of flaming torches. Conversely he had hoped to find a scent line himself and had been disappointed to find none. As the sun began to sink lower, he crossed the rough country between him and the road and eventually the fence which separated the road verge from the fields from which he had just come. The smells of the town were overpowering to him now as he bounded across the road as cars blared their horns and slowed to a crawl when their occupants saw him. No sooner was he across than he slunk quickly into the thick brush which led to the river and down to the waters edge.
The river was quiet and dank as he scraped his way down to the bank and unceremoniously slithered on his belly through the bank mud and on into the cold water. It was winter. The days were short and the river was cold but thankfully the preceding days had been marked by cold sunny days and freezing starry nights as is often the case in winters in Scotland. This meant that the river was low and slow and he crossed it with ease taking plenty of time to replenish his fluid intake before he moved on. All that remained for Teejay was to cross a sports field and through a gate and he would be in the sleepy town. This he completed without ceremony all the while examining the multiple interesting signals from his nose. Finally he was here, in the town. The streets were quiet and empty and the sun was beginning to redden in the sky. He knew it would shortly be dark, he was wet and tired and despite eating as much as he could manage that morning he could feel the beginnings of hunger. He shrugged off all thoughts of himself and walked on carefully. He had arrived in the town but what now he thought.
Lewis and Willow in the meanwhile had each chewed through their ropes as Lewis’s plan had dictated and lay in the yard waiting quietly. They had gone through the plan over and over in their heads. When the woman, whom Willow had informed Lewis was called Maria, returned, the two dogs would surprise her and rush out through the space between her legs and the gate. They would run on and out into the road. From there they would split up. Lewis would return to Maria and bite her leg so that she would be more interested in catching him whilst Willow would make off as fast as she could and hide in the first deep area of bushy vegetation she could find. Once he was sure that Willow was safely hidden, Lewis would lead Maria off in the direction of the sunset. Lewis hadn’t quite worked out which directions would be used but Willow being a collie had explained to him that if he sees the town from the house on the hill in the same place as the sun sets then he needs to attract Maria off in that direction so that they could safely head home in the opposite direction. It was all very complicated and it made his head spin but he trusted her.
The plan from there was that Lewis would head off towards the river and go to ground. He knew it was in the direction of his home and he also knew he would have no problem smelling it out. Then, once night had fallen and the town had sunk into its bed and was asleep he would howl like a wolf into the night sky. He would howl to the moon with every ounce of his strength and it was then up to Willow to make her way to the sound. It was complicated and it scared them both witless if they thought about it too much but they had both agreed it was probably a good plan.
As the pair lay there in the dark and night had fallen the sounds of a winters evening in a small Scottish town surrounded them. It was a strange experience for Lewis to be here in the town listening to it breathe so closely in the black night. he had spent many an evening listening to it in the distance but tonight was different. His senses were heightened and his mind raced as the car they had been waiting for drew to a stop and became silent. This was it. The frightened pair crept slowly to the gate and looked at each other. Lewis could see Willow tremble in the half light behind the big gate and he knew she needed a bit of encouragement. Leaning forward he licked her cheek gently and she smiled weakly back. “We’ll be OK.” he said confidently, carefully concealing his own screaming fear that seemed at times like it would swamp his mind.
Steps approached and Maria suddenly stopped on the path to light a smoke stick in her mouth. She sucked in the smoke and then coughed so heavily that the thick mucus in her lungs rattled. Lewis gave Willow one last nod of encouragement and swallowed hard. This was it. He thought about his father. How he would make him proud. He was doing the right thing and his father had always taught him that as long as a dog does that then everything else will be ok. More shambling steps followed and then the metallic noise of the latch followed by the gate creaking open. Time stopped for a split second as three pairs of eyes locked. Lewis looked high on adrenaline, Willow looked like she would collapse at any moment and Maria’s eyes slowly blended their way from shock to anger. “GO GO GO” screamed Lewis as he bounded out into the path. Willow scampered forward and purposefully made it to the road where she turned and was gone. Meanwhile Lewis jumped and barked in a frenzy of activity which rooted Maria to the spot. Slowly she took control of her senses and grabbed the stick she used to beat the dogs from behind the gate inside the yard and subsequently began swinging it violently in the direction of Lewis. Her third attempt caught Lewis hard in the shoulder and he went down hard on the other side. Maria walked up to him slowly muttering angrily and using words which Lewis knew meant a person was REALLY angry. He had been winded but quickly regained his composure and as Maria raised the stick to connect intensely with his outstretched body he leapt up. The stick swung past him and on into thin air throwing Maria off balance. As she tottered attempting to regain sound footing, Lewis saw his opportunity and seized it.
Lunging forward Lewis reached forward with his angry maw. He had never bitten a person before and it seemed like a terrible thing to do but he consoled himself with thoughts of Willow and the plan. Finding his teeth on either side of a leg he bit down until he felt the resistance of bone. Then, as is the way of a dog, he tore at the flesh by shaking his head violently left and right. He could feel his teeth slide along bone and this satisfied him immensely but he wasn’t stupid. He knew he only had seconds before either the stick or Maria’s other leg would come crashing down on his head or neck and possibly damage him seriously. He released his grip nimbly and tasted a lot of blood in his mouth as he jumped back and stared at Maria taking a moment to catch his breath. She screamed in agony as the reality of what had happened took hold and sank into her frantic mind. Lewis could almost see the pain fill her eyes as she dropped the stick and clutched at her bleeding leg. He had done his job. He had made his father proud. He hoped Willow was now safely hidden by this time and knew that he still had work to do.
Maria now seemed to have regained control of her faculties and began to rise up. From where he was standing Lewis could smell the blood and, as Maria roared with anger, he knew the difficult part of the plan was upon him.
He leapt in the air and barked. Madly at first but, realising that he may need to keep this up for a while, he settled into a more gentle routine. He kept himself carefully outside of the range of Maria and her stick but made sure that he was the ONLY thing she was interested in. As he emerged into the street he stole a glance in the direction that Willow had scurried off in and was pleased to see no sign of her. Lewis led Maria on. When she began to realise she was being drawn away from her house he would collapse to the ground and screech as if he was hurt. This was enough to rekindle her attention and ensure that she followed. The plan was working.
Teejay had come a long way in the space of the day. His feet were sore from thorns and his wet fur began to make him cold. He had spent the day acting like a dog of four winters when he was actually closer to eleven. This fact was starting to creep into his reality but undaunted he walked confidently on. He stopped and sniffed the air. He had thought he had heard something. A noise. A commotion perhaps. As he stood to listen, he ceased his breathing to empower his ears. Nothing. He walked on and then, rounding a bend, he noticed a dog on the other side of the road loping slyly, keeping to the shadows like a cat would. Thoughts of his current discomfort left him in an instant as he froze and watched quietly. the dog had snuck into a driveway and was sniffing the ground. He took his chance and leapt across the road and into a driveway farther along the path of the curious dog and moments later as it passed the place he hid, he leapt out ready to fight. Teejay may have been a ten winter dog but when the adrenaline rose and the circumstances dictated he was still prepared to stand up and be counted whenever that was required.
His readiness for a fight however was not necessary as the mystery dog crumpled before him and cowered whimpering. As he sniffed the air his mind raced and in an instant his mind had assembled the knowledge which was being provided by his nose. This was the dog that had taken Lewis. He had committed the smell to memory and now that it was again in from of him and in enormous quantities, it was unmistakeable. His demeanour changed again as he stood over the whimpering wretch and demanded she tell him where his son was. Willow was paralysed with fear, so much so that she could feel a pool of water form under her on the paving surface the warmth of which seemed to wrench her from her paralysis. “Your son?” she sobbed. “Yes my son, what have you done with him”, Teejay growled with the most menacing posture he could muster above this obviously hopeless creature. As the wheels turned in Willow’s mind Teejay could almost see the process happen behind her vague milky eyes and slowly a look of surprise and then inexplicably, hope washed over her face. “Are you Teejay?” she simpered. Upon hearing this Teejay stepped back in surprise.
Lewis was growing tired and was heading in the opposite direction from that which he knew he needed to be. He was also growing bored as is the curse of a young dog. He decided in an instant to cease the subterfuge in which he was now a reluctant participant and ran briskly off down a side road. Maria had calmed down too and had realised that she probably needed to see a doctor. She wondered how much blood she’d lost as she felt the warm squelch in her shoe as if she had inadvertently stepped into a deep puddle. Lewis ran off and was swallowed by the night leaving Maria screaming obscenities to herself under the streetlights orange glow. There was still a lot to do. he was concerned about Willow. How far had she gone? Where was she hiding? Was she safe? Or cold? He knew he needed to make for the river and wait for the still dead of night to arrive before the next part of the plan could be brought into action. From the strength of the smell he guessed the river was about a mile off. Ten minutes walk to a young fit dog like him. He bounced off into the night feeling quite proud of himself and excited at the thought of telling his father about the adventure.
Teejay and Willow had slowly become acquainted. Enormously distrusting at first, Teejay had convinced himself that Willow was a co conspirator in his sons abduction but, as Willow explained often fearfully and always in terms that were sympathetic and appreciative of Lewis he came round to her. Once the whole story including the escape plan had been explained to him it was all he could do to stop a beaming smile from overwhelming his face but he remained businesslike and professional for the benefit of Willow. “Ok” Teejay said “Lets see if we can help Lewis out a little.” Teejay explained that they would make for the river too. When Lewis got there they would hopefully meet him but in any case it would be easier to find him from there once the signal howl was made. So together they set off. Slowly and deliberately. Teejay helped Willow as much as he could and eventually after what seemed to him like an age, they arrived at the river and hunkered down. Willow was cold and tired so Teejay snuggled in and tried to keep her spirits up by telling her embarrassing stories about Lewis as a young pup. Before long she was sound asleep and as the river slipped slowly by them in the darkness, Teejay felt like he would burst with love for his brave son who had proven himself in such a spectacular way over the past two days.
The streets were unfamiliar to Lewis but the smell of the river was unmistakeable to him. He plodded on as weariness gripped him ever tighter. His bruises ached and as the cold of the night sank deeper into his tired body it felt like the fingers of the monsters of the night as they grabbed and clawed at him. Still he soldiered on. He was close, he could smell the mud and looked forward to the respite of lying down. He knew he couldn’t afford to go to sleep and worried how he would manage to stop himself from doing so but he would deal with that problem when he had to. For now he simply needed to get there and within a few moments he had indeed arrived. He looked around for a place to lie down and as he did so he realised that a shape was standing looking at him in the darkness. The black shape, a little smaller than he was, slowly moved towards him and, paralysed by fear he froze. “Well done son” said a disembodied voice from behind him. It sounded like his fathers voice but how. He turned to find another black shape sniffing him gently. “Are you Ok Lewis” said Willow who had now identified herself as the first black shape. “Uh yes” said Lewis, “But how…” he trailed off as Teejay took control of the situation. “Don’t worry about that for now son, were here and were safe.” Lewis sighed and rested his head. “You two get to sleep, Ill keep watch for now.” Teejay said calmly as he licked his sons face affectionately. “You did great son. I’m very proud of you.” was the last thing Lewis heard as he drifted off into dreams of home.
The journey home was anticlimactic. They had eventually all fallen asleep in the thicket by the river and had been awakened in broad daylight as a large lorry had rumbled along nearby. It was morning and the sun was shining. The three of them had slept soundly and they were safe. Teejay had explained that they would need to stay at the riverbank until sunset and should rest and gather strength for the night ahead so they lazed and lolled around. Lewis quickly realised that the opposite bank of the river was alive with tasty prey and so, putting the skills he had learned from his mother to good use, he ate his fill and brought plenty back for his father and Willow. Willow politely declined at first with a look of mild disgust but when Teejay insisted she eat in order to build her strength she relented and ate, at first tentatively and eventually heartily.
And so, night fell and the three of them set off. They felt strong enough to swim the river despite the fact that Teejay had said they could use the bridge if necessary given the hour. The food had made such a difference to Willow as she could hardly believe. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt so much food in her stomach and it really helped her to cope with the long walk ahead. They used Teejays scent trail to find their way in the dark and as the sun began to show its distant promise in the east they arrived back at the house on the hill.
Brian had been sleeping at the window since Teejay had left and he emerged from the front door with tears in his eyes. He hugged the four dogs with a strange mixture of laughing and tears and from that day on Willow became a full time resident of the house on the hill. They celebrated that night with an enormous pie which Brian sometimes made especially for the dogs and as the four dogs lay around the roaring fire with their bones aching and their hearts singing, Lewis lay beside his father and as he lay there he thought contentedly, "The lone wolf is weak, the wolf pack is strong." then he looked across at Willow and smiled. She was safe.