Sixteenth of Fughuary

 This story is from a prompt; write a story of something that really happened to you, but write it in a genre other than reality. The following story tells of what happened when one of our dogs was quilled by a porcupine. shortlink

          Sixteenth of Fughuary     Louise Sorensen February 18, 2013

On this cold winter day, Wizard Bob, our two hell-hounds Todd and Fred, and I went for a ski-around of the perimeters of our territory. Checking ward lines is a never-ending job, but we enjoy the exercise.

   Normally gentle upright folk, Todd and Fred prefer their four legged form to sliding along on skis. Todd’s in his thirties, and came to us only recently. He doesn’t say much at the best of times, and you can’t get a word out of him about his past. In his human form, he’s a hunter. In his hound form he chases anything that moves. I suspect there’s a little wolf hound somewhere in his ancestry. I think his favourite animal is the bird, because he likes to flip it so much.

   Fred is a sweetheart who joined us a few years ago. He comes from a family of shepherds but we don’t have any sheep around here and he couldn’t cut it as a herder at a neighbouring farm because of his fear of cows. Both Todd and Fred work security for us.

   Todd would just as soon chase a cow as ask it the time of day, but Fred is the most cowardly fellow I’ve ever met. I take that back. Fred is the most cautious fellow I’ve ever met. I have to take it back because if you look up the word cautious in a dictionary, any dictionary ever made, in any language on earth or any other planet in the cosmos, you’ll find Fred’s smiling face snuggling up to the word cautious. It’s actually there. He held the winning ticket in The Magic 100 Years Once in a Lifetime Contest and that was the prize he chose. Fred’s magic is luck. If I’d won that contest I would’ve asked for Enlightenment for All, or a Three Day Weekend, or possibly a Beer Nut Tree, but Fred got his picture in the dictionary to illustrate the word cautious and called it good.

   I suspect Todd and Fred like to check perimeters in their furred form because Bob and I can’t keep up with them, even on skis, and they can get into any hell-foolery that pops into their deranged little canine-buddy minds.

   It was sunny that day. The air was cold enough to freeze bird song and we gathered up some of the shards to thaw out and enjoy later. The hard packed snow was fast, perfect for back-country skiing. But I had spent the previous night and late into the morning scrying the past for an article I was writing on Harry VIII, and was plodding more than skiing.

   We found all our wards working fiendishly, the perimeters flawless, the weather exactly as forecast; cold-as a-witch but with a hot-almost-spring sun. After an hour and a half we headed back home.

   Have you ever had a day so perfect that you got the feeling things were going too smoothly? I had a twinge of foreboding as we passed the haunted house and the hounds went in to explore.

   “I hope they don’t get possessed or fall through a floor or step on a nail in there,” I said to Bob, as we took a short rest. I was scorching hot from the exercise and soaked with sweat. The frigid Arctic blast from the north was a welcome relief.

   “They’re not going to step on a nail, Lola. They’ll be fine.”

   “Well, they could fall through the floor,” I said, eyeing the rickety structure. The wind moaned around the tilting walls. “Or they could come out possessed by one of those lazy spirits.” A ghostly woman leaned her tattered essence out of one of the eyeless windows and blew me a kiss. Her gray ragged dress whipped around in the wind. A tiara sparkled on her brow. I looked away quickly, lest she overtake my spirit.

   “Nothing like that’s going to happen. They’ve gone in there plenty of times and nothing’s ever happened. See?” Bob gestured carelessly with his ski pole as the two grinning hounds peered through a gap in the weathered boards of the front porch and clawed their way out.

   It had been a grand old house in its day, with tall windows, fancy ginger bread, and a tower. I wondered who had built such a place so far out in the back country, away from any habitation. These lands have been used forever to grow hay and grain, and those who farm have always lived on the shores of the Wizard Lawrence River to the south and flown in for plantings and harvests.

    “Yeah, but life never sends you the same problem twice,” I said. “It’s always something new to trip you up.” I watched uneasily as another ghost leaned out a window and waved and then another, and another; women in low-cut dresses exposing ample flesh, hard faced men in suits and tails with cigars clamped firmly in their jaws. I whistled the hounds sternly to us and we skied on.

   After two hours we had covered our entire Saturnday route and were well on our way home, when we arrived at our favourite little hill. Pretty well our only hill as our territory is fairly flat with fields, forests and streams on gently rolling land. Sun warmed, the snow on the hill was very fast. We raced each other up and down for half an hour. Almost finished our tour, close to home, we held nothing back.

   Bob skis farther down the hill than me, but I ski faster, though for a shorter distance. Evenly matched, we both won three times and were going for a tiebreaker when we noticed that the hounds hadn’t come back from their foray into the Dark Forest to the east. Normally they explore, check back with us every fifteen minutes, stay for a few minutes, then go off again on their own.

  “I hope they haven’t run into a ginglymus,” I said. Too late, I remembered a dream I had the night before. Ginglymice are not of this dimension, but they sometimes invade our forest at this time of year for the fruit.

   I whistled the hounds to return to us. We waited five minutes, but there was no sign of them.

   “This isn’t good,” Bob said. We looked in the direction we’d last seen them. There was a weak spot on the wards of the east perimeter where a nest of Incessant Ginglymice constantly pushed at them. I whistled again, long and shrill. Come here, dammit.

    Todd barked in answer. I whistled again and Bob roared out across the distance, “Todd, Fred, come here.” Fred appeared, racing out of the forest towards us. Todd’s barks continued from the same location, high and distressed.

   “Should we go and get him?” Bob said. It was a long way to retrace our steps and we were tired. In his man form, Todd is a private, independent, mostly sensible fellow who vigorously defends his right to be left alone and do his own thing. In his hound form however, he is instinct driven and illogical.

   “Yeah,” I sighed. “We’d better go get him.” I dismissed thoughts of a hot meal anytime soon, readjusted my gloves and ski poles and we raced back up the trail. A far piece later we stopped to listen, then followed the sound of Todd’s barks into the forest where the trees grew close together and the snow was deep.

   Our worst fears were realized when we got closer. Besides Todd’s barking, we could hear loud chuckles punctuated by high pitched giggles. We kicked off our skis and tromped through the snow to find Todd attacking a downed ginglymus that was rolling on the forest floor laughing. Ginglymice are giant bear-like molluscs, peaceful and harmless if you leave them alone. Unfortunately, they have a weakness for Gilda fruit which is irresistibly delicious, but if you lock eyes with a Gilda fruit it transports part of you to the nineteenth dimension, where it tells you side-splitting jokes until eventually you die laughing.

   Only a part of the ginglymus had intruded into our dimension, but it was a bad part, a defensive mantle armed with battalions of needle sharp thorns. Todd’s mouth, chest and front legs bristled with thorns. His mouth dripped blood.

   Wizard Bob charged and laid into Todd with the broad side of his cros sword, yelling, “Todd, come away from there.” Todd shied away from the blow, then went right back in for the ginglymus, worrying it and getting more thorns in his mouth. Bob tried to get between the ginglymus and Todd, without getting thorned himself, but the ginglymus was rolling over in convulsions of laughter and Todd danced around it, always out of Bob’s reach.

   Fred charged in to help. “No Fred, come back here,” I yelled. He looked longingly at Todd, Bob and the ginglymus, shrugged, then came back to sit beside me. He didn’t say a word, but I could hear him humming, “Fools Step In.”

   I charged in and grabbed Todd by his collar. Thorns raked my hand as I threaded my ski pole through the collar to prevent him from going in after the ginglymus again.

   “Is it okay?” I asked Bob.

   He kicked the Gilda fruit away from the ginglymus’s eye and the creature ceased its convulsions. In a moment it sat up with a perplexed look that said it was trying to remember its own name. Presently, with much grimacing and the occasional chuckle, the ginglymus withdrew tail first back into its own dimension. The minor rift in the continuum sealed itself with a foul smelling greenish belch.

   I waved away the cloud of noxious gas blowing from the location of the former rift, whipped out my portable scrying crystal and thumbed in the number for our local shawomen. A recorded message announced that the healers had left for the day. When it came to removing the thorns that pierced Todd’s flesh, we were on our own.

   “You start home with him,” Bob said. “I’ll go on ahead and get the pliers and come back for you.” With that, he took off. I’m a Dwarf, so of course I’m very strong, but I’ve always had to work very hard to keep pace with skinny, long legged Wizard Bob. Skiing beside Todd and staying out from under his big feet at the same time made it impossible to keep up with Bob. As he disappeared into the distance, I was left behind with limping Todd, my ski pole through his collar, and droplets of blood marking our trail. I hoped there were no wolfen about.

   The sweat chilled to ice on my skin, and I felt the cold.

   Todd continually cast apologetic glances my way, but distracted by the pain of the thorns, he kept stepping on my toes. In human form, Todd’s a big guy. In hound form, he’s enormous. I was relieved when we both finally established a rhythm to move side by side, each of us with our feet on our own path.

   I knew I needed to move fast and get Todd home before the thorns penetrated deep enough to pierce a vital organ, so I pulled a hoot root out of my inner pocket and broke off a small round excrescence. It hooted in pain. “Give it up,” I told it, popping the pill into my mouth. “You know you’re better off without this.”  The root shrugged, acknowledging the truth of my words. The fewer excrescences it carried, the longer it lived. I crushed the bitter pill between my teeth and felt the surge of energy I needed to get Todd home quickly.

   Todd was limping, but with those long legs he was still very fast. He seemed to remember all of a sudden that he needed to get home with haste, and started dragging me by the ski pole threaded through his collar. Soon we were flying, my skis rarely touching down.

   Then we hit a tuft of grass and I was truly flying. I landed in a blink, and picked myself up. My ski pole was lying in the snow, and Todd was galloping away in the distance, hell bent for home.

   The effects of the hoot root lasted however, and I arrived at the house before Bob even came out the door with the pliers.

   “You made good time.” Surprise was written all over his face. I was not surprised. I learned in horse racing that there is very little difference in the times between a fast horse and a slow one. I had been thinking that he must have been going very slowly, but he was tired, and hadn’t had the benefit of any hoot.

   We took Todd into the hallway of his house and I held him steady while Bob pulled a few thorns out of Todd’s mouth with the pliers. These pliers didn’t work very well so I went into our house and got another pair of pliers, plus some tweezers.

   Todd lay quietly, only moaning occasionally when we pulled out a particularly long thorn. With Bob and I both removing thorns the work went fast. Soon, only the smallest, most difficult ones were left. After being hot and sweaty from the ski, then crouched over Todd for an hour and a half in the cold hallway, I stood up to stretch with a groan, stiff and sore.

   The sun was setting so Bob conjured a light on the end of his finger and we went back to the close work. Bob shone the light and I pulled the fine thorns out with the tweezers. When we were finished, we rubbed our bare fingers over every square inch of Todd, to make sure there were no thorns hiding in his dense fur.

   Satisfied we’d gotten them all, we let Todd get up. Claws clicking on the stone floor, he staggered down the hall to his bedroom, flipped on the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign, and kicked the door closed with a hind leg.

   My fingers were scratched bloody from pulling out thorns, and my beard, which I’d shampooed, conditioned and French braided just that morning, was tangled and bristling with grass, and thorns we’d tossed aside.

   “Humph,” I said, picking thorns out of my beard. “How’s that for gratitude?”

   “Well, Lola,” Bob said, patting me on the shoulder. His fingers were scratched and bloody too, and blue with the cold. The tip of his nose was red. We closed Todd’s front door, both of us limping a little as we headed up our walk, thoughts of a hot meal foremost in our minds. “It beats the time,” he said, “when we had to climb up the hind leg of that Great Horse and block and tackle that Great Worm out of its arse…

But not by much.”






About louisesor

As I say in my twitter profile @louise3anne "I am a part of all that I have met..." from one of my favourite poems, 'Ulysses' by Tennyson.I believe that we are ALL a part of all that we have met. You can also find me on FaceBook.
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7 Responses to Sixteenth of Fughuary

  1. Louise, this is no less than a thrillingly good read. As tired as I am, so late into the evening… no wait – scratch that. As early as it is, this cold, frosty riddled Sunday morning, where the moon declined to shine a glimmer of significance across our deafeningly quiet charcoaled lawns, I absolutely refused to shut my eyes until I’d read right through to the very end. It was so worth it!

  2. Phoenix says:

    Both detailed and imaginative. Reminiscent of playing with dogs in Winter. Entertaining slice of life.

  3. Janika Banks says:

    =D I love this! I’m a visual reader, was there through the whole thing with you. The portable scrying crystal and the ginglymus knocked me out, that was awesome. Still not sure what hoot is… 😉

  4. anderswoolf says:

    Love this story so much, very evocative. I really felt like I was following the trip with the characters.
    My absolute favourite thing of all in this story is that you named the hellhounds Todd and Fred. Naming creatures from befora dawna time sensible middle class names is my jam!

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