First draft, but to be truthful, I’ll probably not revisit this. I had a dream the other night. This is pretty much the gist of it. I think it means I really want a dog.
We approach the pool at dawn, descending from the woods. Night-time showers have left the surrounding grass wet. Little beads of water glisten, waiting for the sun to melt them back into the air. Looking back, a single set of footprints can be clearly seen coming down from the woods to the pools edge, but nobody is expecting us, nor will anybody be looking. Things have calmed down a lot in the last ten years - drones are few and far between now. Back then, they would have been upon us before we’d made if half way across the field. But everybody soon got sick of that zero sum game. As I set my pack down on the grass and stroke the pups head, the only thing visible in the sky is a cargo blimp drifting slowly south.
The pup has seen the water and knows exactly what comes next. It stares up at me, all clear eyed enthusiasm for the task. We’ve been together for ten years now. Although I don’t feel the years in my bones yet, I know I look quite different to back then. The pup doesn’t seem to have aged a day. Sometimes I wonder if it will ever age.
Owen hates the water, but likes to watch pup from the look-out kite. He says it always does the same thing when I put it in the water, swimming in a big circle and then round and around in tighter circles until it catches something. In all these years Owen has never stroked the pup, almost as if to do so would be disrespectful of something, something we know only exists in Ownen’s head.
I’d been making my way south to Portsmouth to visit my sister before winter set in. The 3 days of walking from Banbury had passed without incident - a rarity that far south. Entering the woodland just to the north of the city, I’d come across a bunch of armoured scally’s making a fair bit of noise. They were kids, which kind of made them just as dangerous as full growns. They’d come across an old lady in the woods, and were badgering her, getting bolder and moving in closer for who knows what. Kids are stupid and predictable. I’d scared them away easily, putting a good size dint into the biggest ones armour from about 40 meters out with a fist sized rock. By the time they’d worked out what was happening I was almost upon them. They’d shit and ran just like I knew they would, but I also knew they’d not go far and would soon be back.
Zaid said the pup has ancient eyes, like a shark. He likes to make the pup yawn by do exaggerated yawning himself in front of it. Zaid seems to be the only one who can do this. Maybe pup knows it makes him happy.
Christ knows what the old lady was doing in close woods on her own - dangerous even in broad daylight - even total townies knew it. Nature around the city was always the most dangerous - full of arse-holes not brave enough to break for the open, and wanting to make up for their lack in other ways. Like fucking-up old ladies.
I’d approached to see if she was ok, but realised that she was probably as scared of me as she was of the lot I’d just chased off. Rather than stress her any more, I raised my arms into the air - the international sign for ’I bare you no ill intent’ - and spun round to put some distance between us. This seemed to convincer her that I wasn’t a threat - she beckoned me closer. As I approached I could see she was wearing something on her arm that, at a guess, could have stopped the bandits long before they had got within striking distance. It was now my turn to feel concerned.
Sophie tried to steal pup when she was a kid. I caught her on the outskirt of town before she’d managed to trade it for poise. I’d dragged her all the way back up to the woods by her long red hair. She’s worn it short ever since. Sophie sings to the pup when she’s up, and talks to it in whispers when she’s down. That’s how we know.
When the old lady spoke, she did so in a thick Mediterranean accent - Spanish? Italian? She mentioned something about a lake and pointed back the way I had come. I assumed she had meant the reservoir I’d passed just before entering the woods. She stooped down and lowered the back pack she was wearing to the ground. Opening the draw string top, she beckoned me closer. The markings on the pack looked official, maybe even military. I started to back away wondering if I’d fallen for some kind of trap. Were the employment agents rounding up wanderers again for labour opportunities? I started to back away, and again - drew on my extensive repertoire of body language - hands held in front of me palms facing forward and shaking, but her continued beckoning had seemed to hold no malice. Against my better judgment I drew closer.
Fife always calls the pup Nemo after a fish he’d seen in a movie on an old phone he found in a shed. His dog had gone for pup once, lifting it right up in its big jaws as if it was going to toss it into the air and swallow it whole. Pup hadn’t made any attempt to wriggle free, and it never made a sound. Fife got to his dog before I did. The dog dropped pup. It bounced and rolled down the river bank and into the water. Two minutes later it appeared with salmon.
The old lady had looked up and smiled.
'Look, look'. She said.
As she angled the pack towards me I peered inside to see a little face staring back at me, two big black eyes and a little pug nose. ‘Oh’, I had said, and we both smiled at each other.
’You take’ she motioned, ’You take to lake’.
’Erm, why?’ I had asked, but she batted the question away.
’You take to lake or pup dies’. ’Put it in the lake and go’.
’What is it?’ I had asked.
’It is pup. Look, no time. You take to lake, or pup die. They kill pup.’ she said. She had seemed desperate. I could see in her eyes that she was telling something like the truth.
’You no eat. Pup poison!’ She warned, but I could see as soon as she said it she regretted it. She apologised and, with a little effort, handed me the sack. And so I did as she asked. I set off back through the woods to drop the pup in the lake.
Annet says it is a gift from people who would otherwise see you dead. That it came into my possession makes her believe that good things happen to good people. I don’t know about that tho.
Just as I was leaving the woods I heard shouting coming back from where i’d met the old lady. But it didn’t last long, ending as suddenly as it had started. The little bandits had probably found out what was strapped to the ladies arm - you makes your choices. If they had over-powered her the shouting would have gone on much longer, probably screaming too. I resolved to give the spot a wide birth on my way down into the town, not wanting to get drawn into any resulting investigation. Military is always bad news.
As I walked, I kept waiting for the pup to wriggle around in the pack, or make a noise - any sign of life, but it never moved. It’s placidity had started to make me think that it wouldn’t last very long in the wild. An Otter or a fox would probably gobble it up PDQ.
Theon was jealous of me for finding the pup. He was as close as we had to a scientist. He spent all of his time hacking crustacean and algae, but said that he could work for a million years and not create something as complex as pup. He often wondered out loud what other creatures had been created, and what for. He also hoped never to find out.
At the reservoir I found a rock outcrop surrounded by waist high water. Following orders - old habits die hard - I was about to just empty the pack’s contents into the water when I stopped. Realising I wanted to see what the pup looked like before it disappeared into the depths, I made may way along the bank to a shallow gravel slope. I set the pack down with the opening facing the water, and waited for the creature to make its way to the lake. Did the thing have legs, flippers, and outboard motor? Nothing happened. I nudged the pack closer to the water and waited again, but again the pup didn’t budge.
I was starting to wish I’d just dropped the thing in the water. ’Go on’ I said ’You’re free’, but still nothing happened.
Being so visible beside the lake had been making me nervous, and I’d wanted to get down into town before dark. Giving the creature one more chance before I just slung it and the pack into the lake, I nudged the bag into the water so that it was almost submerged. The creature shot forward and out into the reservoir with a speed that I now know is possible, but at the time, thought I had imagined. ‘Maybe it would have a chance in the wild’ I’d though.
Lisa hates pup. It stands for everything that is wrong in the world, according to her. It’s ‘emblematic of man’s hubris’ and ‘an affront to the natural order’, or something. Lise reads her pad a lot. She refuses to eat the fish that pup catches, but she will at least sit with us when we eat them. She didn’t for a long time.
Dismayed that I never got a good look at what I had just put myself in danger for, I picked the pack up to inspect it before disposing of it in the lake. The outside had looked like standard army issue, but inside it was lined with some kind of foam. It smelt strongly of fish. Having no use for it, I’d filled the pack with a few scoops of gravel and slung it as far as I could into the lake. But as I watched to make sure the sack would sink, the pup leapt out of the water and re-entered dead centre in the halo of bubbles left by the sinking sack. Seconds later the pup appeared, using its teeth to drag the sack behind it. It hauled it as far as it could onto the shore, which wasn’t very far, and disappeared again.
I fished the sack out of the water and was about to try and dispose of it again when the pup reappeared with a good size headless trout clamped in its mouth. Again, it drew as close as it could to the waters edge and dropped the still twitching fish on the bank. Was it trained to do this? I was about to sling the pack into the water again and head for the south side of the wood when the pup reappeared, another dead fish clamped firmly in its jaws. The pup looked for all the world like a little seal, but it didn’t seem to have fur, or any flippers for that matter. It did have a tail which looked more fish like than mammal. It was a strange looking thing, like something off a Disney cartoon from when I was a kid.
Ida was the first person I’d show the pup to when I got back. I managed to keep it a secret for all of 3 days, but knew it wasn’t practical or fair to keep it from the others any longer. Ida persuaded the others that we should keep it for one month to see how it worked out. She also arranged to have it scanned by a geek from across the valley to make sure it wasn’t being tracked.
The pup had disappeared again. Not wanting to waste the fish, I’d picked them up and placed them in the side mesh of my pack, necks up to stop juice running down my legs. Before I’d even managed to hoist the pack onto my back, the pup reappeared with another, but this time it wriggled and bounced as far up the shore as it could. It lay there and looked up at me. It did look a lot like a baby seal, but it’s eyes had a strange quality, a depth that I’d never seen in another animal, or was it a lack of depth, a blankness. I still don’t know.
Not really knowing why, I laid the sack down in front of it. The pup started to wriggle towards the bag as best it could, but it really was useless on land. As I took a step towards it, the pup stopped and craned its neck up to look at me. I’d already started to make excuses for my actions, thinking that we could have some kind of mutually beneficial partnership. But those eyes… Those big daft eyes…
The pup was clearly trained to catch fish for ’somebody’. Kneeling down beside the motionless animal I slowly extended my hand towards it, ready to snatch it away if it tried to bite. It’s gaze followed my hand as I laid it on its leathery back. It’s smooth looking skin was actually quite rough to the touch, and very hot, way hotter than mammals usually are. It was also rock solid… No blubber on this thing, it felt like a taught muscle. A taught muscle with a cute face.
Soren is the only person I trust to take pup out. When he looks at it, he does so with such affection that I wish I could give him a child. Sometimes in winter, Soren just carries pup cradled in his big right arm, stroking it with his free hand. Soren and pup are cut from the same trusty cloth.
Not wanting to hang around any longer, I’d reached out my other hand and picked it up. It made no attempt to struggle as I lowered it tail first into the sack. Peering in I could see it had sank to the bottom. The inside of the sack didn’t look particularly comfortable, but the pup didn’t look distressed. If anything it looked happy - like it was back in its burrow…?
That’s how pup and I found each other. I never did see my sister that time. The drones had started their vigil of surveillance shortly after I reached the woods, and we’d had to go to ground, waiting a full three days for them to leave, and another day to make sure.
I can’t even tell if this is a speculative fiction piece or real research, which is a wonderful thing. As of late, these - this is the most interesting area of ‘innovation’
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