by Matt Bolton
The rumble of the bus was made ever more narcotic as it reverberated through Doug’s skull, which leaned against the window. The bus ride was the last leg of his journey, which had included a flight from the foreign country he had been working in, followed by a comfortable and boozy train journey. Doug was looking forward to being reunited with his mother and his little brother, Jeb.
The old family home was situated in woodland, quite isolated, and though his family had been, and still was poor, Doug had nothing but fond memories of the tumbledown cottage he grew up in, which was always warm, despite the draughts; and full of love, if not luxury. His head continued to thrum on the bus window, as the darkness sped past outside.
After a long, bumpy ride, some time after the bus had turned off the high road, the last fellow passenger disembarked and Doug could feel his homeland approaching as a quickening in his blood and a stirring from his sleepy state.
The bus noisily abandoned Doug by the roadside near the familiar woodland that marked the final walk of his journey home. The night was dark, but Doug had no hesitation in venturing in to the woods; this was his territory and he was no longer the green boy who had left these parts. He felt excited to once again experience his old stomping ground and felt a strange and new pride in the place that he was pleased to note to himself was not the emotion of a boy.
After a little while Doug felt completely at home in the woods and was able to navigate despite the night being completely dark. His boyhood imagination seemed rekindled in this environment and he felt his excitement build as it connected with the mystery of the ancient trees; excitement, and something else – fear? Doug was brought up short by this realisation as it coincided with a loud howl. The visceral animal sound sounded very close, and Doug had to remind himself that he was a man now, and unafraid. He also knew from childhood that a wolf howl could seem very much closer than it really was. Comforted by these thoughts, he walked on, sure in his course, and his thumping heart quieted somewhat.
Home should be just over this rise Doug thought to himself. As he came to the point where his home should have appeared in front of him, he was dismayed to find only more trees and more dark. AARROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO…the wolf howl came again, this time louder than before and Doug started to panic. He was so totally sure of his position in the woods, that the glaring absence of the cottage could mean only one thing; he was lost.
He stumbled through the trees, his heart banging in his chest like a hammer, and his brain racing through a tangle of panic. Doug wanted to stay where he was until the dawn’s light showed him the way, but the howling had become more frequent and ever closer and Doug had no hiding place. He was running now, the fear inhabiting him completely. He could hear the howling enemy in the nearby trees, and the sound of breath and footfall.
Doug heard something very nearby and stopped dead still, like a faun that senses the coyote. Tears were running now, down Doug’s face and the helpless prayers repeated madly in his head. There was growling from the darkness and Doug knew in his bones that his death was watching him. The fear consumed him totally, like a poison in his veins and just as he thought he would die from it, there was a demonic, feral growl that spoke of a deep hunger and ancient anger, and the wolf struck. Doug saw the yellow eyes, somehow illuminated in the complete dark, and heard the disgusting, hateful snarl that heralded his grisly demise…
…and at once something else; a different sound, but so similar that Doug checked in his panic. There was something familiar about that sound as another animal came from nowhere and Doug felt the breeze as it flew through the air and knocked the wolf to the ground. There was a yelp and the wolf was gone, obviously terrified at the unknown assailant.
Doug found that he was lying on the floor, and as he readied himself to defend against the other animal, he felt a nuzzling wet nose in his neck, and recognised his old dog, Windsor, despite the darkness. The reunion of boy and dog is always a moment touched by God, but this moment ignited such a relief and joy in Doug that in all the rest of his days, he would never experience anything remotely similar again.
Windsor seemed none-the-worse for his encounter with the wolf, and led Doug unerringly home to the cottage, the white spot on the end of his tail always visible as a disembodied glow.
As Doug stepped over the threshold of his childhood home, his mother, slightly greyer, and little brother Jeb, much taller, rushed toward him with hugs and outpourings of joy. After the initial welcome Doug asked his mother, as he removed his boots “Where’s Windsor? He was here just now”. His mother looked at him and her face changed from excitement to sadness. “I’m sorry Darling”, she said, “Windsor died last year”.