My journey through short fiction enters its third month with a little story called FreeDog.
If you’re coming in late, alongside my regular daily paid writing work (if you’re after a freelancer, I know a good one, namely me, details here), I’m challenging myself to write a short story every week for a year. So far, so good, and we’re up to week 9.
Which means if you are here for the first time, you’ve got some other stories to check out too:
And if you like those (and I hope that you do, although all constructive criticism is also welcome), I should point out that this isn’t my first attempt at an all-year-short-story-writing-challenge.
The last time I did this, I ended up with enough short stories to fill an eBook. An eBook called Fifty Two, to be precise:
And if you want something entirely different, there’s also my B-movie novel, Sharksplosion. Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think a book with that title might be like:
Enough preamble. You came here for FreeDog:
It is cold in here, and hard to move.
I miss mother. Where is mother?
I will try barking again.
No response. I am sad, and must sleep now.
Katie was walking home from school, being careful just like Mummy had told her to be.
Always stopping and only crossing at the intersections, not talking to any strange people, and going straight home without stopping to play in the park opposite the school.
Well… five minutes on the slides wasn’t really playing, now was it, thought Katie.
It was more like… exercise, which was something that Daddy was very keen on, always in the garage lifting his very heavy weights. Katie had tried to lift just one of them last Sunday, and she couldn’t even get it off the ground.
Katie knew that her Daddy must be very strong indeed. Maybe the strongest person in the whole world.
Stronger than that Patrick Maddox in her class, even though he could lift the whole hamster cage over his head, which nobody else could do.
Nobody else was going to either, thought Katie, after the hamster had done a big wee right all over the floor of its cage and onto Patrick’s head.
Nobody had laughed at Patrick — it wouldn’t have been wise — but everyone, including Katie had a not-so-quiet giggle about when Mrs Richardson had taken Patrick off to get cleaned up.
It was a hot day, and Katie was tired after the slides, so she was just ambling along past the bridge on the way home when she saw the black bag.
It was big, and leathery, with hoops on the side for carrying it and a brown paper tag all wrinkled up on on side, tied on with string.
Katie had seen lots of rubbish left near the bridge, sometimes old mattresses or broken car parts.
For some reason, every Monday morning when she walked herself to school, there would be a lot of broken glass from many bottles there.
Katie was pretty sure the bridge wasn’t a recycling centre, and she always walked carefully, like Mummy said, because she didn’t want to get cut on the glass.
The broken glass always made Katie sad. It was so pretty and colourful, sometimes clear, sometimes green, sometimes brown.
If it had rained, the light would glimmer off the glass, and Katie liked to think it might contain the treasure at the end of every rainbow.
Katie liked stories about rainbows, and she knew, she just knew that one day she would travel around the world, getting rich off all the treasure she’d find at the end of all those rainbows.
Rich enough to afford a house of her own, big enough for Mummy and Daddy to live in as well. Katie liked her home and her room, but it was the second one she had lived in this year.
Something to do with “rent” and “payments” that she didn’t really understand.
The rainbows would solve all of that, she thought. But no treasure seemed to glint from beneath the broken glass, and by the time she walked home on Mondays, it had all been cleaned away.
Maybe the magic folk got all the glass and magically turned it into gold, thought Katie. That made sense.
The bag, though… that was different. New. Katie had never seen a bag left at the bridge before.
Katie got worried, remembering the time that she had left her school jumper at her old school, and Daddy had become very cross.
What if the bag belonged to somebody, and their Daddy, right now was getting angry with them? She had better investigate, she decided.
She walked up to the bag, and that’s when it moved.
I hear a noise! Better get ready with the barking, in case it’s a bigger dog!
Katie paused. Bags didn’t usually… move, did they? None of the bags that Katie knew of could move by themselves. What if there was something nasty in the bag, like if it was full of spiders?
Spiders made Katie very scared. One time, when she was little and still sleeping between Mummy and Daddy in the big bed, a spider climbed down and ran over her face. She had thought it was Daddy’s beard at first, and then woke up to see a big hairy leg brushing over her left eyelids.
She did not sleep much that night, and once again, Daddy was not very happy the next morning. Daddy did not seem to like mornings much.
There’s definitely something there! Time to go for it!
YIP YIP YIP.
The bag made a funny noise. Katie couldn’t quite place it, but she knew that it couldn’t be a spider, because they didn’t go YIP.
Hands trembling, Katie reached across and pulled on the zipper as hard as her little hands could manage.
That’s when the puppy fell out, rolling into the dirt as it did.
Rolling… righting self… it’s very bright out here!
I see! I see… small person!
Small person is looking at me. Small person is not growling, or barking at me!
Small person must be NEW MOTHER!!!
Katie was delighted with the puppy. It was small and brown, kind of like the class hamster, but not a hamster at all. It had a small brown face with a dark splotch at the front, funny little legs and a pointy little brown tail that was waggling so fast it was hard to keep up with.
“Hello puppy!” said Katie.
“Oh, yes, you can’t talk can you, silly me. Are you somebody’s puppy? Are you lost?”
“You look sad. Sad, but happy to see me. Can I pat you?”
Katie’s Mummy had told Katie one time at the park that it was not OK to just pat dogs, even if you really really really truly wanted to without asking the owner first. There was no owner here, so Katie figured that asking the puppy instead was the same thing.
Katie took that to be a yes, and gently stroked the puppy on the head.
NEW MOTHER IS CLEANING MY HEAD I AM SO HAPPY LET THIS NEVER END!!!!
Katie realised that the puppy did not have any kind of collar on it.
“Hmm… are you anyone’s puppy? I’ll check your bag over there. Just wait there, OK?”
NO NEW MOTHER DO NOT LEAVE ME I SHALL FOLLOW YOU FOREVER!!!
“Puppy, leave me alone just for a minute! I want to see what is on this tag here!”
“hmm, I might be able to read this all by myself. Mummy and Daddy aren’t here, so I s’pose I have to, don’t I puppy?”
“That one there, puppy, is a… eff. Then there’s, oh what is it, we did it today in class and everything, it’s an.. arr, that’s it. Then E, which is for Egg. You wouldn’t like eggs, puppy, they’re yucky unless Mummy fries them. And another E for Egg. So that’s EffArrEeeEee… oh, free!”
Katie knew what free meant, because sometimes when she went shopping with Mummy, the nice man at the store would give her a lolly pop without having to pay for it. Things that you did not need money for but could have were things that were free.
“And then, oh, I know this one, it’s dee ohh gee, which is dog.”
“So, you must be a free dog! Nobody owns you, and I have found you. Or… is it your name?”
“Hey, FreeDog… would you like to come home with me?”
I WILL FOLLOW YOU FOREVER, NEW MOTHER. WHERE TO NOW?
This was going to be great, Katie thought.
I’ll bring FreeDog home with me, and Mummy and Daddy will love him just as much as I do and everyone will be happy and not shouty at all.
Katie carefully gathered up FreeDog’s bag and started to walk, watching to see if FreeDog would follow.
OFF WE GO!!!!