By Jon Moray
This story first appeared in print for Grey Wolfe’s Write to Woof anthology in 2014. Based on true events, namely my beagle, Gunner getting loose in my backyard and me tracking him down. Of course, there are many fantasy elements thrown in. There is a gate about two miles from my house in the middle of nowhere that inspired me to include it in this piece. Enjoy!
“The dog is loose again,” my son stammered, as he barged into the house via the sliding glass door from the back porch.
“Did you see where he went?” I huffed.
“He went out towards the woods,” he screamed, teary eyed.
“I guess I’d better go find him,” I said, long tired of the dog’s escape charade.
The escapee is a beagle named Gunner. The original owners gave him that name because he is a hunting dog. I suggested “Gonna” since I felt he was gonna drive the whole family crazy. We got him about a month ago after his owners had to give him up because a new baby and a high strung beagle was a recipe for chaos.
Everyone loves Gunner. Everyone except me. All he does is get in my way when I am preparing meals to eat. I trip over him every morning when I leave for work and I always end up taking him for walks, which means having to pick up his crap. And he is called man’s best friend?
I threw on my coat, grabbed the leash and half-heartedly headed towards the woods to retrieve Gunner. It was a cold January afternoon and I had about a half hour to find him before darkness set in. I called his name several times, without acknowledgment. I crept into the woods, dodging tree branches that scratched my face, as the dirt began to feel swampy with each step that suctioned into the ground. Not wanting to go any further, I made one last call, to no avail.
Why am I going through the trouble? I don’t even like this dog, I wondered, while I pondered aborting the impromptu search. But suddenly, as if by illusion, a double charcoal hued, cast iron gate appeared about twenty feet away. The gate was about six feet in width and eight feet in height. What I found odd was there wasn’t a fence on either side. It was just a gate in the middle of the woods. I convinced myself to go as far as the gate and then head back; the evening beckoned and the sun was not about to stick around.
I cautiously stepped forward, wary of snakes, raccoons and other creatures that might cross my path. As I inched closer, I heard one of the doors creak slowly back and forth. I froze as I heard rapid ruffling in the trees to my left. I waited out the sound as sweat beaded my forehead, and continued toward the fenceless gate.
I reached the entry and called out for Gunner, without reply. I surveyed the gate with my hands and peeled away some of the rust along the bars. I gently pushed open the door on the right and stepped through. Immediately, the winds picked up as tree branches swayed and leaves swirled in a vortex rotation.
A booming theatrical voice off in the distance called, “Welcome, welcome, step lively, hurry. I know why you are here.”
As I neared, a man, with snow white hair, wearing round bifocals and dressed like a royal guardsman without the bearskin tall fur cap, waved me over.
Who are you and what’s with the gate?”
“What gate?” he asked, massaging the tip of his thin, bicycle handle mustache.
I looked behind and pointed, only to be hit with the shock of the gate no longer there. “I walked through a pair of gates about twenty feet behind me,” I exclaimed, shaking a fist.
“I must certainly agree, my good man. There was a gate there until you penetrated it. It’s disappearance signifies the beginning of your journey.”
“My journey? What the heck are you talking about?”
“You are here to retrieve your pet? Your beagle, I presume.”
“Well, you are certainly on the right track,” he said, excitedly. “Your dog ventured through the disappearing gates a minute before your arrival. The mysterious gates you have entered through represent a portal to a realm full of fantasy and adventure. You can retrieve your dog but adversity awaits in the form of foes reserved for a person’s imagination and not of this Earth.”
“You mean I am going to fight ogres and hobbits? You don’t know me very well. I don’t even like this dog. My family wanted a pet and I sacrificed for their happiness. You can keep the dog. I’ll just go home and put up lost dog signs and secretly hope he never returns.”
Suddenly, Gunner was heard whimpering off in the distance. I looked all around in the now thick misty fog and could not distinguish what direction his yelp was coming from. The close proximity of his call and the sense of urgency concerned even me, as I began to grow curious of this journey the man was proposing.
“Explain this journey you speak of,” I said.
“Ah, I can tell your sporting blood is flowing with eagerness. In your mission to retrieve your pet you will encounter several adversaries in the form of a ninja robot, a cyborg samurai and a flying lizard man. Your dog’s howl will direct you in what direction to travel. You will know when your journey is complete when you see your pet at the reappearing gate. Any questions?”
“Robots? Samurais? Lizard men? These freaks are probably not only powerful but armed too. Am I right?’
“Perhaps,” The mysterious man said, with a nodding smile and arms folded in a comfortable, satisfied fashion.
“And here I am with nothing more than a dog leash. That sounds fair,” I said, facetiously.
“Oh, you won’t need the leash,” he beamed, and then suddenly the leash I was holding was in his possession. “The leash will be hanging on the gate when your journey is complete…if you make it, of course.”
“This is getting stranger by the moment. This is just plum crazy.”
“You underestimate my thoughtfulness. I would never let anyone enter a dangerous situation unarmed.” He suddenly unsnapped two gold buttons, reached into his red coat and pulled out a shiny purple yo-yo.
“A yo-yo? You expect me to ward off the enemy with toy trick entertainment?”
“Again, you underestimate me. Here, give it a whirl.”
I reluctantly snatched the toy out of his stubby fingers and twirled it toward the ground with natural ease. “So?’ I asked, with a shrug.
“Now aim it at that snake beside me.”
I ho-hummed and conceded to his request. I twirled the yo-yo toward the curled asp and when it reached the end of the string, a powerful lightning bolt emitted from the toy and fried the snake where it laid. “Now you got my attention,” I expressed, as a distinct sizzle emanated from the dead serpent.
“I will be shadowing you every step of the way and will offer warnings as I see fit. You can stop at any time by just saying the word ‘quit’. The gate will reappear and you will be able to exit. Of course if you do, it will be without your dog.”
“Why are you doing this? Why don’t you just let me have my dog back?”
“Let’s just say we are testing the theory of a dog being man’s best friend. Are you game or do you want to go home and bear the sad news to your family?”
“I guess I should give it a try. Just say ‘quit’ and the game is over, right?”
“Correct. And now, follow the sound of your dog’s bark.” He flailed his left arm outward like a game show host revealing a jackpot prize, and then I heard Gunner wail.
I cautiously encroached toward the sound of my hound and then suddenly a mechanical moving ninja dropped in front of me from a limb of an oak tree. The ninja displayed an impressive array of gymnastics as he went into instant attack mode. Just as he was about to dive on me, I wielded the yo-yo and flung it between his eyes. The flash of lightning partially blinded me, but when my eyesight returned the ninja lay lifeless on the leaf littered terrain.
“Good show, ol’ chap,” the man commented, with applause.
“That wasn’t too bad. Hopefully they all go this easy.”
“My advice to you is to be wary of your next adversary. He’s known to cause stabbing pain.”
I nodded and crept towards my dog’s bark. It should’ve been dark by now but this fantasyland kept the daylight despite the thick London-type fog.
I trudged through the heavily wooded area for a short while, when suddenly, the forewarned samurai appeared. He was clad entirely in satin blue metal with ruby swords protruding from his chest plate. His arms, all six of them, were holding crescent shaped swords that glimmered through the fog. My plan of attack was to wait until he got within my yo-yo’s range, and then strike.
The cyborg samurai twirled and rotated the swords with such speed that I would’ve gotten dizzy if I were to try to follow one by eye. I focused on his chest plate as he neared. When he got within striking distance, I twirled out my dynamic yo-yo. The samurai reacted by slashing through the string, leaving the toy to lie harmlessly at his feet, emitting a low spark. The samurai laughed in a creaky steel grinding tone as the word ‘quit’ tickled the tip of my tongue.
I looked around for the man but he was nowhere to be found. I backed away slowly as the samurai was about to mount his attack. Suddenly, Gunner appeared from behind the cyborg and nipped at the inside of his knee joint causing the samurai to stumble to the ground and onto the yo-yo. The toy re-energized and sent powerful electric bolts through the samurai’s metal armor. Smoke permeated from the cyborg as he met his ill fate. Gunner howled once and disappeared.
The man reappeared with raving accolades towards my dog. The pooch saved my butt. Maybe he isn’t so bad after all. But, it was his stubbornness that got us into this mess in the first place. There is still more work to be done. Hopefully not much because I am now without a weapon.
“Sir, do I get a replacement?”
The man looked puzzled for a moment and then it hit him, “oh, you mean your disabled yo-yo. I’m afraid it’s one to a customer. Good luck.”
The perturbed glare I set upon him was interrupted by my dog’s wail that came from the east. I regained my focus and headed towards his sounds with my head on a swivel. I picked up a jagged fallen tree branch for protection and treaded about a quarter of a mile when I was blindsided by a beast that shoved me to the ground and pounced on me. I somehow managed to get turned around to see my assailant. It was the flying lizard man grappling with me. Its strength was too much for me to overcome as he began to head butt me into unconsciousness. As my vision blurred, Gunner pounced on him from behind and began to chomp at its neck. The lizard man used its powerful tail to knock my dog free, catapulting him into a tree and rendering him disabled on impact.
Amid the scuffle, Gunner’s collar was knocked free and within arms distance of me. I managed to reach it as the lizard man returned its focus on me. My reflexes enabled me to grab the collar and wrap it around the lizard’s neck in one fluid motion. I tightened my choke hold and held on for dear life as it struggled for air. Its short arms were its weakness but still it was strong enough to inflict damaging shots to my midsection. Still, I held my choke hold, when suddenly, my dog Gunner reappeared with teeth clenched on the lizard man’s tail. The teamwork between me and my pet overwhelmed the enemy and moments later, the lizard man collapsed on top of me. I desperately pushed the reptile aside and panted on the ground, struggling to regain my senses.
I began to crawl away and then heard Gunner bark to the south of me. I turned and saw him sit before the reappearing gate, with his tail in a Ferris wheel type motion. I gathered myself, picked up the collar and stumbled over to him. I then heard shuffling in the leaves and to my relief, it was the quirky host scampering towards me.
“What do you think of man’s best friend now, my good man?”
I pondered his question and then looked over at my dog, “I think we definitely created a bond, me and my furry creature.”
“Just a bond?”
“Well, he did do a lot of things on this journey that only a best friend would do. I’ll keep him and go home.”
“Ah, another satisfied customer. It brings joyful tears to these eyes of mine.”
“What’s going to happen once I cross the gate?”
“The gate will disappear as will every creature you encountered, including yours truly, as if it were only a memory.”
“Only a memory? Was this just a fabrication in my mind?”
“Only you know, my friend. Cheerio,” he said, and playfully pushed me towards the gate. I leashed Gunner, pushed the door open, and exited. I turned around and the old man and the gate were gone.
I knelt down to Gunner’s level and he lovingly licked my face. I massaged his nape and looked into his brown marble eyes, wondering what it’s like being him.
“C’mon, my friend, it’s time to go home,” I said, as we walked side by side, man and man’s best friend.