For Rebecca and Sam, a story with a happy ending; about a dog just larger than 21cm at the shoulder, perhaps coloured white, perhaps called Bob, who escapes from the dog pound.
Jenny Clifford left the City Pound on her bike, heading back home with Bob, their miniature white terrier, sitting somewhat crammed up in the basket on her handle-bars, straining forward. He was shaking, and whimpering, and every now and then gave a little, muffled bark. Jenny thought it odd that he now seemed so keen to get home.
Earlier that morning, she had been playing ball with Bob in the garden at home, taking a break from reading in her room, where she had been sitting in the sun as it streamed in the window. She enjoyed reading. Books gave you the chance to feel how it might be if you could do all the things that happened in the stories. Her own life was enjoyable enough, but there was no adventure to it. Weekends and school holidays were just so predictable. Bob was funny, but he was just a dog. Throw the ball, he fetched it back, throw, fetch, throw, fetch. And then suddenly he given a yelp, stood with his head cocked for a moment, and without any warning dashed out of the gate. As she chased after him he had galloped up the winding drive between the neighbouring houses and out of sight, heading for the road, faster, despite his short legs, than she could run. Her only chance to catch him was with her bicycle - he could never keep up with her when she was peddling fast.
Jenny had rushed back into the house, written a quick note for her Mother, remembering to put on it the time when she left (9:30), grabbed her helmet and Bob's leash, leapt on her bike, and set off as fast as she could in the direction she had last seen him heading. Up the long drive and into the road. But by now the dog was nowhere to be seen. Which way had he gone? Would she be able to find him? And what would John say?
John had been given Bob as a puppy six years ago, when he was seven and she was still five. Although they both played with him and looked after him, he was still John's. If they ever gave Bob conflicting commands, it was always John who he obeyed. She was very fond of Bob, but sometimes she thought that her brother and the dog had a much closer bond. She couldn't understand why. Bob was a lovely little dog, but only a dog, regardless. She didn't want to know what would happen if she had lost him, though.
As she thought about it, she realised that there could be little doubt which way the dog would have gone. Not to the right - that led to the shops. When they went there with Bob he had to be tied up to the bike stands outside. He fretted at that, every time. No, he would have gone left, heading out towards the park land beyond the town boundary, where the three of them spent so much time in the holidays, roaming together with a cut lunch, fishing in the river that wound through the woods, sometimes camping out. She turned left and settled in to steady peddling. She didn't want to go too fast and get puffed. There was no way of knowing how far she might have to go before she caught up.
As she rode down the street, the houses dwindling as she got nearer the woods, she wondered what had spooked Bob into running off. He had never done that before. John would want to know, too. It was a shame that this had happened while John was away. He had gone somewhere with his Scout Troop, on an orienteering day. When he came home, whether she had found Bob or not, he would ask her all about what had happened. Had she heard or seen anything unusual? Anything at all? Had any strangers been around? What exactly had she been doing at the time? On and on he would go.
She thought he might be a good detective one day - he said he wanted to be, and he certainly read enough detective stories, even the old ones by dead people like Arthur Conan Doyle and Lesley Charteris. She thought they were boring. Sometime he tried to get her to understand why he liked them. He loved spotting the clues and trying to work out who the criminals were. More times than not he got it right, too. He was always very pleased then, elated sometimes, especially when he had puzzled out the better hidden clues. But to her it seemed too much like schoolwork, almost like school tests and examinations.
As she passed the houses she looked into their drives, whistled for Bob, and listened for his bark. Nothing. Then she reached the end of the houses, where the road curved toward the park land and then went straight as an arrow past a few small farms, into the woods and then on until it reached the river and turned to follow the water's edge, out of sight. From one end of that straight you could just see all the way to the river. If she was going to see Bob at all, this would be her best opportunity. She put on an extra spurt, and rounded the bend.
And there he was. Still a long way ahead of her, but she knew she could catch him now, or at least see where he went if he left the road.
So she settled down to steady peddling again, certain that in a few minutes she would be able to get the leash clipped on to his collar, and trot him slowly home beside the bike. But if he was too puffed, or wouldn't be good, she could always put him in the handle-bar basket and give him a ride him home.
She could see that Bob had slowed down to a steady lollop, and that she was slowly gaining on him. She tried whistling again, but he was far too far away to hear, yet. But she could hear barking, all the same. Then she realised that it was coming from behind her, and with it the sound of an engine. She glanced back and saw coming toward her a little truck, on the back a large cage contain dozens of dogs, all contributing to the hubbub. As it drove past her she saw the sign on the side: "Ranger". Then she realised, this must be the dog catcher, rounding up strays to be taken to the pound, in the Council Yard behind the shopping centre. That was where they had gone to choose Bob, and if she couldn't do something to stop it, that was where he might end up again.
She couldn't stop the truck, it was past her now and pulling ever further away. She stopped the bike and watched horrified as it went far down the road towards Bob.
"Run off the road, Bob." She said to herself. "Run into the brush, hide, don't get caught again." But of course he could never have heard, even if she had shouted it. And he probably wouldn't have taken any notice, anyhow. It was hard to tell from this distance what was happening, but it looked as if Bob was taking no notice of the Ranger, either. The truck went past him, and stopped. But he just kept running, as if he hadn't noticed what was happening, until the net flew over him and he tangled himself up in it.
Jane shouted at the top of her voice, "Please stop, he's Bob. He's our dog. Please." But it would not do any good. The dogs in the cage were hardly audible from where she was, and she knew they were making such a racket that the Ranger would never hear her from this distance, anyhow.
A few moments later Bob was out of the net and into the cage. Jane yelled out again but she could see that she had not been heard. The Ranger just climbed back behind the wheel, and drove off into the distance.
Upset and angry, with herself and with Bob and the Ranger, and even with John for not being here to help her, she burst into tears, and got off her bike before she fell off it. Standing beside the road she gasped to catch her breath, and sobbed, but soon calmed down and started to think about what to do next. She realised that Bob was actually quite safe. He would be kept for at least a week while they waited to see if he was claimed. Well, he wouldn't have to wait long. She turned her bike round and started back the way she had come. Back past the farms, through the suburb, soon she was past home and on the way to the shopping centre.
When she arrived at the shopping centre she went through the car park to the Council Offices and Yard. At the back of the offices was the Pound. It was full of dogs, just like the time, all those years ago, when she and John had been brought here by their parents and they had all picked out Bob. But she couldn't see Bob this time. The Ranger's truck wasn't here yet, of course, for it would have had to pass her on the road. When would it get back? Would they let her have Bob? Would she have to pay a fee? Father said the main function of Council was to collect fees, and they would charge you for breathing if they could work out how to. She knew that was meant as a joke, but what if they wouldn't let Bob go without a fee? By now her Mother would be home, and she could phone and ask her to come to the Pound.
She really didn't want to ask for help, though. She alone had let Bob run away, and she would like to recover him unaided, if she could. So she waited by the Pound, watching the dogs. Some were in separate kennels, the rest in one big cage. Some of them came over as close as they could to her, leaning up against the wire and wagging their tails - just like Bob once had.
She almost wept with the frustration of having to wait, and of having let Bob get out. She could at least have shut the gate before letting him out of the house. But then she thought back and realised that the only times she could remember the gate being closed had been when she herself was much younger, to stop her from wandering off. Since then it had always been left open and though Bob would wander out into the driveway, and sometimes even a little way along the road outside, he was always back within a few minutes, and he had never, ever, bolted off into the distance the way he had done today.
Oh, she would have to give him such a talking to. Not that it would do much good. He could chase a ball, and roll over, come when you called him (sometimes), sit down and lie down, but that was his lot. He didn't really understand what you were saying, and you couldn't let him fool you with those soulful eyes and head tilted to one side. That wasn't understanding. That was just sheer puzzlement.
While she was standing there, lost in thought, she was brought back into the present when the dogs in the cage and the kennels all started yelping at once. Soon she could hear what had set them off - the sound of the new arrivals barking on the back of the Ranger's truck, as it came through the car park and into the Council Yard, finally coming to a stop just in front of her. She went to the back of the truck and put her fingers up to the wire so that Bob could lick her, both of them ignoring all the other dogs and the noise they were making.
The Ranger got out of the cab and came round the truck towards her.
"Hello." he said. "And what can we do for you? You two look as if you know each other."
"Please, this is our Bob. I was biking to catch up with him when you picked him up in the park road, near the river. He wasn't off by himself, really. I was there, but I just wasn't very close to him."
"Yes, I remember seeing you there, biking along all by yourself. I wondered what you might be doing. Your Bob was so far off, though, that I didn't connect the two of you together. If I had known, I wouldn't have picked him up. But you weren't keeping him under proper control, letting him get so far away from you."
"He suddenly bolted off from home. He's never done that before, not since we have had him. That's six years now, when we got from here. I went after him straight away, on my bike. I was gaining on him and I would have caught up with him too, if you hadn't come along when you did."
"Well, maybe it's been a lesson for you, that dogs aren't always dependable, however well we might look after them and train them. They have their own lives and get affected by things that we can't sense. Now, what are we going to do about your Bob?"
"Oh, please let me have him. I've got his leash and I'll see he is kept in better control, and I'll tell my parents and brother that they have to, too. Will there be a fee? My father says Council charge you fees for everything. Only, I haven't got any money with me and I would have to phone my mother to come, but I let him out and I want to be able to get him back, myself."
"Well, I'm pleased to see you wanting to take your own responsibility. I wouldn't want to discourage that. Your Bob hasn't been booked in, yet, so I won't have to book him out. He's wearing his collar and license, so I guess we don't have to mark him as a stray. From the way he's behaving there's no question that he's yours, either. Okay, I'll hand him back to you. You will have to sign the truck log where I wrote he was picked up, to show he was handed back to his owner. I can do that if the owner is close at hand at the time. And I guess you were, too - but not quite close enough, young lady."
"I'm very sorry - I would have been much closer if I could, truly."
"I know that, but you will have to do better. It might not work out so well, next time."
"Oh, yes, I will. Thank you very very much."
So she had signed the book, put the leash on Bob's collar when he was got out of the cage, sat him in the handlebar basket on her bike, thanked the Ranger again, and peddled out of the Council Yard, headed for home once more.
As Jenny turned her bike in to the driveway, Bob suddenly turned round in the basket. Instead of straining over the front, he was now pointing to the side. Up till now, she had thought he was eager to get home, but now she realised that could not be it.
"Oh, Bob, sit!" she told him, still peddling up the drive towards their house. But Bob, as if she had just told him the exact opposite, in one leap sprang out of the basket down onto the driveway, and hared off back towards the street, his leash snaking along the ground behind him.
"Oh, Bob, no! Not again!" she cried, then "Bob, come! Bob sit! Bob stay!" and whistling as well, while turning her bike, and taking off after him once more. But he took no notice at all, and just kept on running away.
This time he didn't have the same head start, so she was able to catch up before he had gone even one block. She remembered what the ranger had done, and rode past him a little way, then stopped and went to grab him as he ran towards her. But he dodged round her, and would have got away with it, too, if she had not had the presence of mind to grab his leash, almost getting pulled off her feet, as small as he was, with the force of his charge. Whatever had got into him, Bob was certainly single-minded about something!
Holding the struggling bundle in her arms she pushed him into the basket, and this time tied the leash down, short, to the handle-bars. Bob whimpered and shivered, and strained against the leash. She got back on the bike and turned for home, yet again.
"Hush, Bob. It's all right. We'll be home soon." But she might as well not have wasted her words. All the dog's attention was on something else, but what? She had no idea.
When she got to the end of the drive, and the gateway into their garden, Jenny closed and bolted the gate, before letting Bob off his leash and out of the basket. He rushed straight to the gate and stood there, his nose pressed against the palings, whimpering and scratching at the wood.
Jenny watched for a few moments, put her bike and helmet away, then went in to the house, still carrying the leash, to tell her mother what had happened.
"Hello, dear. My, you look flustered. I see you caught Bob after all. Well done. He must have gone quite some distance. You've been away well over an hour. Where was he? And how are you? Would you like a drink or a snack? Sit down here and tell me all about it."
And so, pausing occasionally to nibble a biscuit or take a sip of juice, she told her mother what had happened, and how Bob had behaved. And how nice the ranger had been, and the promise she had given him. Finally she mused on what had started it all.
"I can't make out what set him off. One minute he was playing ball with me, and then suddenly he changed. Apart from a few moments when I was getting him out of the truck, he's been like that the whole time. He still is, actually. But why? What could I have done? And what can we do about it? Should we let him go wherever he is trying to? Oh, what's happening." She felt a bit tearful again.
"I don't know, dear. But he may have sensed something, though goodness knows what. I agree that we might try and find out, but I don't think it would be a good idea to let him run off again. If he leaves the road we might never be able to find him. Would you like to take him in the car? If he is still pointing the way, we should be able to get where he wants to, and very much faster."
"Oh, would you, Mother? Oh yes, let's."
Her mother left a note for John, in case he came back before them, from his Scouting trip. They put the leash on Bob, then opened the gates. Jenny lifted the dog struggling and whining into the car and held him on her knee. As they started down the drive toward the road he kept struggling until she opened the window a little, so he could stand up on the seat beside her and put his nose out through the gap. Then he just quivered and whined pressing as far forward as he could with his nose in the breeze, while the car took him once more down through the suburb and the farms, into the park land again. A few minutes later they had passed the spot where he had been captured by the ranger, and then they were at the river bend. Still he pressed forward.
Round the river bend they drove, deeper into the National Park, with its river weaving back and forth across the densely wooded valley. Over the first of the many bridges.
Then Bob gave a yelp, and pawed at the glass, trying unsuccessfully to force his head through the narrow gap, no longer pushing as far forward as he could. Now he was leaning against her shoulder, his nose against the back of the gap they had allowed him, making much more of a fuss than before.
"Mother, I think we have passed something important to him. Can we stop and let him out on his leash?" Her mother stopped the car. Jenny put her wrist through the loop of Bob's leash, help firm, and opened the door.
Bob leapt out, and bounded back along the road, half-dragging Jenny with him, then left the road and ran across the grass, which Jenny now saw might have had cars driven over it.
Across the grass they ran, towards the tall timbers where Jenny saw a gap between the trees, into that gap, and along a winding track to a clearing where there were several cars, a minibus, and a cluster of scouts and rovers at one side of a folding table, an older man in scout master uniform standing opposite them, pointing at a map on the table.
Jenny stopped and picked Bob up, still whining, and waited for her mother to catch up. Bob struggles more and starts barking. The scouts around the table turn to look at her.
That morning, John had left the house early, in his scout uniform, and cycled to the club house. This was to be a mystery day. They had each been told to bring their watch, orienteering compass, pencil and eraser, and of course he had his lanyard and scout's knife. It wasn't too hard to guess what today's mystery test would be.
At the club house they had climbed into the minibus, and discovered the paper taped over the windows, except the front cab. Once they started off, however, the scout master had them clip a blanket across behind him, where he sat up with the driver. They sat in the back, trying to guess where they might be heading, put on their honour not to disturb the paper or try and look out. John had the idea of using his compass about the same time as the scout master.
"All compasses through the front to me, please." Well, that put paid to another great idea. This was turning out to be a real mystery day. Where were they going?
They didn't have to wait long to find out. After about a quarter of an hour the bus slowed to a crawl and rolled along over uneven ground for a few minutes, then stopped. The back doors were opened and they stepped down to find themselves in a clearing in dense forest. Apart from trees, all they could see were several cars and their scoutmaster, setting up a folding table and chair. He sat down. The driver handed him a sheaf of papers and sign board about the size of a writing pad.
"Gather round. Now, as you know, there are twelve of you. At five minute intervals over the first hour, one of you will be given a map and your compass returned to you. On the map is marked this location, and on the back is written the map reference of your first check point. Navigate your way to the reference and find the check point." He held up the sign board. "It will have its reference written on it so you will know that you are at the right check-point. Write your number on list on the back of the board so we will know you have been there - in case we have to search for you. Write down on the back of your map the reference of the next check point, also written on the board, and navigate to it. Go from check point to check point until you end up back here - the last map reference of all - with a full list of those references on the back of your map, in the correct order. Any questions so far?"
"What if we get lost and can't find the check point?"
"Good question. I was coming to that. You will see on your maps that the course lies between the road and a bend of the river. If you go in a straight line you will come to either the river or the road within ten minutes. If you don't cross either, just follow them round, you will come back to here, which as I said before, is already marked on your maps. And there are rover scouts getting into position all round the boundary, right now. Is that clear?"
They all nodded.
"Fine. It's nearly eight thirty now. The last of you will set off at nine twenty-five. There are fourteen legs which should take you about ten minutes each. So the last of you should be back here at a quarter to twelve. At that time I will declare the race over and blow four blasts. Any of you still out there at that time are to come back to this clearing then, finished or not. At twelve o'clock sharp we will have lunch and I will tell you about this afternoon's contest. Keep an eye on the time; if at eleven forty-five you don't hear my whistle, come back in anyhow. If you aren't sure of your bearings then, whistle for help. Okay?"
"Another thing - if you see each other, don't be tricked into following. Although the paths aren't marked - your references are your only guide - we have them all plotted on the master map, and I can assure you they criss-cross through the same area of woodland. The other who you see may be on quite a different leg, and if you write your references down out of order you will be disqualified. Clear?"
The nods showed that it was.
"If you do get caught up with, by someone who is on the same leg, you will know that because you will end up together, at the same check point. If that happens, the slower of you loses an additional minute, and has to wait at the check point for that length of time, before setting off again. Most of the check points are out at the boundary and visible to the marshals, so make sure you wait the full minute. Of course, if you then put a spurt on, and catch up to the person who passed you, at the next stop, then they lose a minute there."
"Now for safety." He added, "It's quite steeply rolling country but as far as we can ascertain there are no hidden hazards or sudden drops. Take reasonable care, of course. If you get into trouble, you have your whistles and you all know Morse. Wherever you are, one of us will hear you. By now there is a rover scout posted at each of corner of the course, the bridges at each end of the road boundary, and another at the bend of the river. They are the race marshals. They all have the list showing the order in which you will run, and will be checking to see that you show up approximately when and where you are expected. If anyone goes missing for too long, or if the weather goes bad, we will stop the race. If that happens we will blow four long blasts, at intervals. If the weather is too bad for you to hear whistles, the race will be called off anyhow. Either way, bad weather or four long blasts, go out to the periphery and make your way to the nearest marshal, or if you can't find one, go round the periphery to the car track and come back in to here. If we have to do a search you will all be needed to help. It has never happened at one of these races yet, in all my years of scouting, but we have our motto to think of, don't we?"
"Here we are almost in the centre. Quiet, now, and let's see if all the marshals are in place." He then blew a blast on his whistle, and they all listened as, one after another, distant whistles sounded from every direction.
"Yes," he said, "they are all in place, and they have copies of the starting order. If you don't show up at your expected check points they will mark you as missing and we will search back and find you. They have their mobiles to call me with - so remember, if you need help, use your whistle; it will be heard by somebody. If it blows up a storm or you hear four long blasts, head for the boundary. Now, you can all go with Bill for First Aid practice, and I will call each of you when your turn comes up."
The scouts all go across the clearing to where Bill has been setting up a small First Aid post, and they practice for their next badges, one of them getting called every ten minutes, until finally John is called, last.
He takes his map and compass, sits down and marks the first reference point on his map. He draws a line from the clearing to that point, and sees that it would take him over a steep hill, and down the other side to the first check-point. With his compass he orients the map and sights over it into the trees. Nothing to see but tree trunks. He memorises the compass bearing then folds the map into his pocket, and holding the compass, sights a distant tree that is on his course, and runs to it, pauses, takes another bearing from the other side of the tree and runs to it, dodging round the ever-present ground ferns as he runs. He glances back, as he has been taught, to recognise the way in case he has to retrace his steps.
Before he has gone very far the clearing behind him is already hidden among the trees. Soon he sees ahead of him the ground rising steeply and thick brush, growing in big patches between low, rocky outcrops, is taking the place of the tall trees. It will be easy to get off course there. Without a tree to set a course to, he will have to hold the compass and run to its setting. But the thickets of scrub are large and he soon discovers that they are impenetrable. They will have to be detoured, and that will put him off course, especially with nothing to aim for, due to the curvature over the top of the hill. He pulls out the map and decides it would be best to skirt the foot of the hill, taking sightings on the big trees, charting a course around to the check point, avoiding the impenetrable scrub. Choosing his first landmark for the detour he notes its compass setting, draws its course on his map, puts the map away, and starts to run, glancing at his watch. It is just about 9:30.
But in glancing at his watch he misses seeing a small root which trips him. He falls forward, a little angry with himself for the lapse in attention, but pleased to see that there are several dense, low growing ferns to land on - that will make for a softer landing!
But then that brief relief turns to fear when the fronds merely fold away under him, revealing that the ferns are growing around a shallow crevice in the rock, little bigger than a coffin, into which he falls, full length. He tries to protect himself with his arms, and almost succeeds, but he can't avoid banging his head, and darkness enfolds him, as the fern fronds spring back above him, once more hiding the crevice.
By 10:10 the marshal at the first check point reports that John is at least half an hour overdue, as long as the scout master will allow, and Bill, having packed up the first aid station, is sent off to follow John's trail, over the hill. The check point marshal (one of the rover scouts) comes the other way, taking the route round the foot of the hill, in case John had set out that way. He and Bill both know the ground well, and they call out to John as they run. This is the same course that the troop leaders use every year for the second class orientation badge. They know all the routes and obstacles, and can run each leg in only five minutes because they don't have to stop and chart a course. They know the tricks, and short cuts and where to find the strays. Between them they have always found their quarry within five minutes.
But not this time. John is nowhere to be seen, and doesn't answer their calls. The marshals at the other check points, once they have seen the last of the runners safely past, are called in to extend the search. Both the high and low route are searched in line abreast, looking around every rock and bush. Nobody looks under prostrate ferns - they grow too close too the ground to hide anything. Two searchers walk past John, one on each side of his unconscious body, heavily concussed and still bleeding profusely from a savage gash on his forehead. If he had been awake, he could have reached out and touched them both.
John has been in the troop for many years, and the troop leaders know that he has a good sense of responsibility and can be relied upon to think things through and, if there is a problem, make sure he is well prepared before acting, and not dash off in all directions at once. He has also been doing very well at bush craft and map reading. So he would not have just wandered off, or if he had, he must still be within the course, for the perimeter marshals have not seen him. Nor have they heard his whistle, so they are forced to conclude that he is probably in serious trouble, either trapped or unconscious, and they must find him, themselves, soon, or notify the police. They decide they will search until noon and then if he is still missing they will call for outside support.
By now it is just after eleven o'clock and the first two runners have finished the course and are back in the clearing. They are given a few minutes to rest and then join in the search. The scout master considers stopping the race, but by now that wouldn't save any time, as all the runners are now working their way back from the far end of course, closely followed by the marshals, as soon as they have checked everyone - except John of course - past their check points.
Another search is arranged, this time covering the areas at each side of the first leg, in case John had wandered badly off course before getting into trouble - which by now it was clear must have happened. The searchers head off, and sweep out to the first check point, but to the left of the area they had already searched, then around the check point and back on the other side, to the clearing. Checking all rocks and bushes as they go, it is another half hour before they are back at the clearing, disappointed at having to report that John still has not been sighted. Everyone is there except the last two runners and the last two marshals. The scout master gathers them round the map table and explains the strategy for the next search sweep before they must call in the police.
While the previous search was being done the scout master had drawn search sectors onto the course master map. He is assigning search teams to those sectors, when he hears a dog bark nearby. He, and all the scouts, turn to see a girl, trying hard to hold a small, struggling white dog. "Why, that's Jenny, John's sister." One of the scouts says.
At that moment Jenny loses the struggle and Bob squirms from her grasp, slips to the ground and rushes off barking, along the route towards the first check point, his leash trailing behind him as he disappears into the trees. Jenny runs after him, calling.
"You two, go and help her - take a mobile - one of you must stay with her whatever happens; and you two, go out to the road and see how she came here, one to stay there and one to come back and report." As he speaks the scout master points to those he has assigned. They leave the table immediately, one pair heading after Jenny, the other going out towards the road. A few moments later one of the scouts brings Jenny's mother into the clearing and across to the map table. She had stopped to park the car and pocket its mobile phone before following her daughter up the track towards the clearing.
"Mrs Clifford, isn't it?" asks the scout master. At her nod he continues, "I think your dog, or rather, I would guess, John's dog, somehow is telling us something. John is late to a check point. Up till now we have been searching, unsuccessfully, and were about to inform the police and yourselves, but now -" he pauses as they all hear Bob's distant barking change to a frenzied yapping, "now I think that we might have some better news for you."
His mobile rings. He answers it. "Yes?" listens, puts his finger on the map, then hangs up. "Bill, first aid kit. You four, stretcher. He's right there, with Michael and Paul, okay but unconscious, cut forehead, good pulse and temperature. Off you go. He hands the phone to another of the marshals, "Ambulance. Concussion, unconscious perhaps up to two hours. You heard the rest and know how to direct them. Okay?" He gets a nod, then turns back to Jenny's mother. One of the scouts has brought the chair round to her.
"Well Mrs Clifford, please do sit down. That dog has really been man's - or perhaps I should say boy's - best friend. John is close by, as it turns out, and he will be back here within five or ten minutes. I've only called the ambulance as a precaution - it should be here soon after we get John here. All the boys know their first aid, as I'm sure you don't need reminding, and from what they say I'm sure John will recover with nothing more than a headache to show for it. However, Bill has full ambulance qualification, so John won't be moved unless it is safe."
Fifteen minutes later, John, still unconscious, wrapped in a blanket, his forehead covered in a dressing, is transferred from the scout troop stretcher to the ambulance trolley, his mother and sister close beside him, when his eyes open. He sees his sister.
"Gosh, Jen," he says, "I've had the funniest dream - I fell down a long, dark hole, then Bob and you carried me back up into the light. Isn't that odd?"
Isn't it, indeed?
Copyright © 1998 Peter Leon Collins