SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: Thank You by Ron Hicks
Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers' Hub.
I had never been frightened by a big storm before. This one was different and I felt such a sense of foreboding that I was almost sick. However, I couldn’t show it.
Jenny was obviously up tight and if I had shown any signs of fear she would have panicked. But why was it different?
The rain lashed the outside of the house in a solid sheet. Wet icy fingers seeking for any gaps between glass and frames, or weakness where the frames joined the walls.
A maniacal wind drove the rain on to greater efforts howling its frustration when the water failed to penetrate.
It hadn’t been too bad during daylight, but the early winter darkness added to the implied menace.
The stygian darkness was relieved only by the occasional flash of lightning. Heralded by the ear-splitting rumble of thunder, the brief moments of light illuminated strange figures that surrounded the house and fed the pagan fears of the imagination.
I drew the curtains to at least shut out the visual terrors. The electricity had been off all day. Heat was provided by the log fire. While the flames provided the comfort of warmth, they too cast shadows which performed grotesque dances round the room.
The few candles we had found increased the illumination but did not add to a sense of well-being.
We had eaten some sandwiches, left-over chicken, and heated water on the fire. A long laborious process but well worth the effort for the hot packet soup and the cheering tea had lifted our spirits.
To pass the time we had started to play Scrabble. The game was progressing when we first became aware of noises alien to the storm. Something was moving outside.
The sound of a creature scrabbling at one of the windows was unmistakable. I eventually drew back the curtains but by then the culprit was scratching an adjacent window.
I never seemed able to get there quickly enough. At last it moved round the house away from the lounge windows and we heard it at the back door.
I entered the kitchen clutching a candle and our only torch. For defence I gripped the poker from the fire, but my instinct told me I would have more need of a crucifix and my faith in God.
As I approached the door the pressure on it increased and it rattled ominously. I handed the poker to Jenny while I slid back the bolts.
Exchanging the torch for the poker I flung the door open, while Jenny focused the torch to reveal our unexpected visitor.
For a moment we stared, then the fear drained out of us, to be replaced by a sense of relief. It was no tormented soul, nor a hound from hell that confronted us. It was indeed a hound. But what a hound.
Without being cruel it was the sort of dog only a mother could love. If it could claim lineage to any known breed I was unable to identify its forebears. And yet it had an appeal if only in it’s pitiful condition.
For a brief moment it sat surveying us apprehensively. ‘Come in,’ I said, waving my arm in welcome.
Slowly, hesitantly he limped into the kitchen. To express his thanks for our hospitality he shook himself violently over both of us. He had been pretty wet, so we were well sprayed.
Jenny disappeared and returned with two towels. One for our guest and one for us. As I gently dried him I was aware of lumps along his ribs, which I surmised were breaks now healed. He seemed unable to place one front paw on the ground, and winced when I tried to inspect it.
Once we were both fairly dry, Jenny said gently: ‘Are you hungry boy?’
She took his silence as assent and donated the remainder of the chicken and a large saucer of milk.
These were quickly despatched. We were thanked by a quick wag of a long straggly tail and a grateful look from the large kind eyes.
Formalities completed, he limped past us, down the hall and turned into the lounge. I secured the door and we followed.
By the time we reached the lounge our guest was stretched out comfortably before the fire, eyes closed. Within minutes he was snoring rhythmically.
We settled down on the settee watching and quietly wondering where he came from. In time we too fell asleep.
When we awoke the room was cold, and the storm had abated. There was no sign of the dog.
We wandered into the kitchen but, although the door was still bolted, he was not there. A search of the house also proved fruitless.
It was only when we again entered the lounge that we noticed the Scrabble board. Gone were all our efforts at word making. Instead the letters spelt out a message: THANK YOU.
When Ron Hicks retired, he attended a writing class with the object of producing children’s stories. He did nothing with them until a friend gave him a nudge. His books include A Boy Called Josh and Grumpy Stories.