My sixth attempt for The First Line, November 2017. 1423 words.
“I’m tired of trying to see the good in people.”
“So what are you going to do?”
“I’m running away, first chance I get.”
“You know that won’t work. They have us on leashes every time we leave the house.”
“Well, I’ll figure it out,” he snorted, using his paw to scratch at his muzzle. “Since when did humans get so mean?”
“They aren’t mean, they’re just busy.”
“Maybe your humans are, but mine are mean. Just this morning the man kicked me out of the way.”
“Where were you?”
“In the kitchen, minding my own business, eating my food.”
“Were you in the way?”
“The man human?”
“No, my food bowl is by the back door. It’s cold there, the wind whips through the crack in the door.”
“Hm. Maybe your humans are mean.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you.”
They continued to sniff along the fence that separated their respective back yards. They’d been friends since Duke had moved in six months before. Stella had lived in her yard much longer. She was a little cocker spaniel and didn’t really have a bad thing to say about anyone. Duke on the other hand was a large chocolate lab, who in the right circumstances would be a fun-loving, affectionate dog. This house was not that circumstance.
He missed Fur Station, the pet shop where he’d lived since he was a puppy. There were lots of other dogs to play with and he’d never been scolded, or kicked, or ignored. The people who lived at the pet shop had always been nice, giving lots of attention whenever he’d wanted it. He’d been happy there and it was his goal to make his way back to the pet shop. The sooner the better.
When Stella was called into the house, he barked good bye and then went to the corner of the fence to take a nap. It might be 90 degrees outside, but it was better to nap in the measly shade than to be inside with the humans. He wasn’t even sure why they’d bought him to begin with. They’d never played with him, had scolded and yelled since bringing him home, ignored him for the most part and lately had taken to kicking and smacking him on the nose frequently.
He dug around in the grass until he had a semi-cool spot to lay down. Propping his nose on his paws, he closed his eyes and tried to come up with a plan. His humans took him for a walk every night. Sometimes it was the man, other times the woman, and once in a while they both took him. Of the three scenarios, he hoped tonight was the woman’s turn. If not, he’d just wait until it was. She wasn’t very strong and he figured he could pull out of her hands easily enough. If he took off fast, he could outrun her and disappear. He only had to hide long enough for her to give up her search. Then he could make his way to the pet store.
It was three days before the woman took her turn to walk him. He’d spent as much time as possible outside, avoiding his humans at all costs. It was pretty easy to accomplish, it wasn’t like they were seeking out his company either.
Duke waited until they were a good five minutes away from the house. He took his chance when they were stopped at a traffic light. As soon as the woman started across the street, he yanked hard on his leash. As he expected, she let go and Duke didn’t waste any time making good on his escape. He ran between legs, jumped over obstacles and narrowly avoided being caught by a man trying to step on his leash. He’d have to get rid of it quick, but until he was in the clear, he couldn’t do anything about it.
He started down an alley but was lucky enough to notice it was a dead end before he got too far down it. He quickly changed direction, avoiding yet another capture, and took off down the sidewalk. He wasn't sure how long the woman would chase him, but he really hoped she gave up soon. She was still yelling and running toward him, ordering people to help her catch him. He turned left, crossed the street, and almost got hit by a car. Panting with effort, he continued dodging people but he noticed that fewer and fewer of the people were trying to catch him. He hadn’t heard the woman’s voice in a little while, either. He skidded to a stop, hiding behind a trash can, and peered out down the street. He scanned the faces and perked his ears, listening for her voice.
“Hey pooch, what’re you doing?”
The voice was kind, but Duke was apprehensive. This human could be working for her. He shied back into the corner, growling to keep the man at bay. The man stepped back and held up his hands.
“No worries, pooch. I’m not going to hurt you.”
The man stood still, his hand reached out toward Duke. He didn’t move, didn’t flinch; but Duke was not going to come out of his corner until the man went away. Duke continued to growl low in his throat, hoping that he could scare the man off. He worried if the man stood there long enough, the woman would find him. Duke stepped forward, teeth bared, growling loudly. The man stood his ground.
Duke took another step closer and unable to resist, sniffed at the man’s hand. He smelled okay but that didn’t deter Duke from his goal. He stepped around the man and took off, sure the man was going to grab hold of the leash and stop him. Surprised when he didn’t, Duke didn’t stick around to congratulate the man for being a good guy. He continued running down the street, keeping an ear out for that woman, and trying to find his way to the pet shop.
After awhile, he slowed down his crazy pace and trotted along the street. He wasn’t entirely sure how to get back to the pet shop, but he was hoping he’d run into a landmark he recognized from his puppy days. As the bright sun began to set, Duke found a park. He curled up under a bush, hiding deep inside so he wasn’t seen by passersby.
He was dreaming of his puppy days when he thought he heard the kind voice from earlier in the day. Assuming it was part of his dream, he continued his journey in snoozeville. When he felt a soothing hand on his hind quarters, his eyes popped open, a growl escaping.
“Shhh, pooch. It’s alright. I’m not going to hurt you. You seem like you’ve had a hard enough life already.” The man continued to pet him and eventually, slowly, sat down next to Duke. Duke didn’t know how much time had passed, but it was full dark when he licked the man’s hand. There really were some good people out there, as this man had proven.
“I don’t live far from here,” the man said, scratching behind Duke’s ears. “I’ve been wanting a dog for some time, it’s lonely being a bachelor in NYC.”
Duke whined and moved his head closer to the man’s legs. He rested his chin on the man’s thigh.
“That’s right. I live in a small walk-up, but it’s big enough for the two of us. You think you want to give it a try?”
Duke licked the man’s hand again and sat up. The man smiled and took up Duke’s leash. They took off together through Central Park. “I wonder what your name is? Maybe you don’t have one. Would you like a new one?”
That night, the man let Duke sleep on the bed with him. Duke’s belly was full of cheeseburgers from the diner around the corner and they’d spent an enjoyable evening sitting on the man’s couch watching television. Duke had been allowed on the couch and the man had continued to pet him throughout the evening.
He thought about Stella before drifting off to sleep. He knew she’d be happy for him. She had always believed most humans were good, but Duke had been unlucky with his humans. Well, he was lucky now. There were people out there who were good and Duke was thanking his lucky stars for his new human.