Newcastle Herald short story competition finalist 2018: Not All Is Lost in War

WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story
competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Simone De Peak
WORTH 1000 WORDS: Each day we will publish a finalist in the Herald short story competition. The winner will be announced on January 27. Picture: Simone De Peak

MY gate was never left open. I would try to slip out in between the legs of Mabel or visitors. Never was I quick enough. I only wanted to do a little exploring from time to time. My outings with Mabel were fun except for the hideous lead that choked me half to death because she just couldn’t keep up. I arrived home with my tongue nearly scraping the footpath and desperate for a drink and lie down.

I only wanted to do a little exploring from time to time.

Today was different. The man who daily walks passed the row of homes in my street putting small pieces of paper in letterboxes had stopped at my gate. I am Fergus, a West Highland Terrier, and I’m not afraid to protect what’s mine, even my partially buried bone with a side of ants.

The postman ignored my warnings, took a deep breath and walked up the uneven path, past the rose bushes with a beautiful scent that most visitors stop to admire. He climbed the three stairs and knocked loudly twice.

Still busily getting the scent from his shiny shoes from behind, Mabel opened the door. A mighty scream as he presented her with a piece of paper, followed by moaning and wailing. 

I ran with fright. I ran out the gate, flew passed Mr Thompson, who owns Timmy the cat who antagonises me every day. I heard him calling me. I pulled myself up at the corner to catch my breath.

I noticed fewer cars around these days. Maybe that had something to do with where Billy had gone. Missing him I thought, as I caught a smell of something cooking. A walk was all I needed before I headed home, and surely Mabel would be happy again with my dinner at the ready.

What a day! Smelt smells you could never imagine. Came across a few unfriendly dogs and even had a fisherman throw a piece of bait my way. It was hot and I could sense a change in the weather. As I stood at the edge of land and looked out over the water, I became confused. Not exactly sure which way was home. That rumbling sound can’t be good as those clouds darken.

Thinking I could head through the city and get to the highest point, where that majestic building sits overlooking the city, I would see home. My strides started out intense, faster and faster as the water started leaking from the sky, accompanied by loud rumbling. 

It also got busier with cars and people, all rushing home. Dodging the cars as I crossed the streets. Screeching of tyres and blaring noises. A young girl tripped over me and started to cry. Riddled with fear and soaked all over I made it to the building that towered the city. I crawled in between a wall near a bed of roses with a large tree overhanging where I collapsed from hunger and cold.

I could see the sun rising over the water and knew Mabel would find me now. Still tired from only short naps through the night, I cautiously ventured from my safe haven.

Hunger had driven me down through the streets again, along with the crowds now spilling into a corner department store. Fine ladies just like Mabel, with their hats and gloves adorning their outfits. Now I have young boys chasing me, I must get away … Mabel will be looking for me. I ran past a pole, glanced up and saw what looked like a picture of me. That’s what the boys were pointing to before they started their chase. Quickly I scurried in and out of places and they gave up.

Down by the water I also noticed a lot of men, dressed the same, in some kind of fortress. Looked like they were protecting something. They whistled to me to visit. I couldn’t stop. Mabel would be looking for me.

Mabel still hadn’t found me yet, and night after night would be the same returning to my haven on the hill. Morning would come and I wander along the boulders where the fisherman sat, foraging through every nook and cranny for tiny morsels of food. The café in the big street threw rubbish out late. I waited to steal a drink from the leaking tap and grabbed some weird food that tasted spectacular.

Mabel can’t find me here, it’s too crowded. I will walk ’til I find her! From memory, I’m sure we don’t live this close to water, so I headed in the opposite direction. 

By next morning my surroundings started to look familiar. Almost overcome with exhaustion, I lifted my head straight up, nostrils flared. Never had I ever been so happy to get the scent of that despicable cat Timmy. And there he was, sitting perched on top of the fence giving me his usual look of disapproval. By some miracle, he didn’t harass me, he slid down from his viewpoint and sauntered in front of me down the path. He’s guiding me home.

I was so close now. My tail wagged. Timmy silently sprung over his fence and left me to the short journey myself.

The gate was open. Mabel should have heard my scratching at the door. Too tired to bark.

I heard a voice calling Mabel from inside. It’s Billy. Mabel opened the door and saw me. She again uttered a scream and tears but very unlike the day I left. She scooped me into her arms. Once inside she placed me on Billy’s lap while she found food for me. I looked up at Billy tilting my head to him wondering why he had no legs below his knees anymore and was seated in an odd chair with wheels. Apparently he had been missing too in that thing they call The War. None of it mattered now, our family was home!