Paws For Thought

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic

Dale was a businessman first and foremost. He did whatever it took to make money. His current venture was, a puppy farm, was proving lucrative. Then things took a rather unexpected turn.

Dale Cullen rapped on the front door of the narrow terraced house and waited. He adjusted his grip of the tiny puppy in his hands, a woman passing by smiled at the cute little dog. Morning, love, Dale smiled back.

The door opened and a couple in their early twenties appeared. They eyed Dale and his puppy with excitement and confusion.

‘Hiya, I’m Dale. We spoke on the phone. You’re buying this little feller from me.’

Dale lifted the puppy up, the couple made cooing and aw sounds and ushered him eagerly inside.

Sitting on the sofa, they stared at the puppy with loving but concerned glances.

‘I thought we were going to come up to your farmhouse to see you and pick her up.’

‘I decided to save you the trip, as I was in the area.’

He gently passed the puppy to the woman, she held her like a new born baby.

‘Are you sure she’s eight weeks old? She is really tiny.’

‘Oh, yes, definitely eight weeks. Reared the litter myself, bless ‘em.’ Dale grinned warmly. ‘Now, if you’ve got the payment I’ll be heading back to the farmhouse.’

She handed over the envelope containing the cash. Dale pocketed the money and headed for the door.

‘If you have any questions or problems, anything at all, you just give me a ring, okay?’

He slammed the door behind him and jogged over to his gleaming black range rover. Eight weeks old, he laughed, as he sped off down the road, that mutt was probably half that. Still, she was off his hands and he had another lot of pups to shift to more unsuspecting punters.

The farmhouse image he sold his customers was actually a unit in the middle of an industrial estate in Trafford Park. There was nothing quaint, nothing homely, nothing natural about the way he bred those puppies. He was running a business. The media and animal rights bods used the term puppy farm as though it was a bad thing and advised against buying dogs from people like him, but he was a businessman. If people wanted to buy dogs, then he would sell them. He didn’t even like dogs and had only gone down this line of business when he found out how much a friend had paid for a Labrador puppy. Supply and demand, that was the key to business. People would pay a lot of money for a cute little puppy, so that’s what he sold them. Who cared that they were bred in horrid surroundings and were weak and malnourished? He sold his punters a pup and a lie that they’d come from a nice rural background. They wanted a puppy, he sold them one, any issue that followed was simply not his concern.

He had recently moved his operation to Trafford Park from a lock-up in a Salford industrial estate. As he joined the motorway, his mobile phone rang. He tapped the screen on the dashboard and picked up.

‘Yeah?’

‘Dale?’ said his friend and business associate, Mike, ‘Have you heard?’

‘I’ve not heard anything, been out making a delivery. What’s going on?’

‘The police have raided the estate, asking all kinds of questions about you, flashing your photo.’

‘They were in Trafford Park?’

‘No, the old lock-up in Salford. Thankfully their intel is out of date, but looks like they’re onto us.’

Dale swore, punching his steering wheel in frustration.

‘What do we do now?’ Mike asked.

‘I can’t go back to prison. With my record and a do-good jury, they’ll send me down.’

He thought for a moment.

‘Meet me at the unit in Trafford Park.’

 

Dale was smoking a cigarette, leaning on the bonnet of his range rover when Mike pulled up in his white van. The van was once a gleaming white but was now a dull dirty grey colour. As Mike climbed out of the van, Dale flicked his cigarette to one side.

‘Come on,’ Dale said. ‘we’ve got work to do.’

Mike followed Dale into the unit. The place reeked with of dog muck and of animals being kept in squalid conditions. Dale stared at the steel pens crammed with puppies, scrabbling all over each other.

‘What are we doing, then?’

‘I can’t get caught with this lot’ Dale replied. ‘Give me a hand getting the pups in crates.’

Sweating and out of breath, they tossed and bundled the pups into metal crates. These crates were humped, slid and shifted into the back of Mike’s van.

‘I’ll drive.’ said Dale, snatching the van keys from Mike.

Twenty minutes later, they pulled to a halt on a large open plot of waste ground beside the Manchester Ship Canal. Dale stared out the windscreen at the murky swirling water of the ship canal. He could feel Mike looking at him. Before his friend could ask what they were doing at the canal-side with a van full of puppies, Dale hopped out of the van and went to the back doors. Mike was beside him a second later.

‘What are we going to do?’ asked Mike.

Dale did not reply.

‘You aren’t going to?’ He waved a hand towards the water.

‘We don’t have a lot of choice, do we?’

‘We can’t drown the poor things.’

‘Get a grip, will you? It’s disposing of incriminating evidence, that’s all. Nothing more.’

‘Come on, mate.’ Mike said, looking around at the bleak landscape. ‘It’s all a bit Shakespearean, innit?’

‘When have you ever read Shakespeare?’ spat Dale.

‘I want no part of this, mate.’

‘I’ll remember this. You’re out of my next business venture.’

‘What’s next, Dale, mugging old dears on pension day? This,’ he jabbed a finger at the van. ‘is a new low.’

Leaving Dale standing by the back doors, Mike shook his head and trudged off towards the main road, fists stuffed in his coat pockets. Dale turned his gaze to the van full of caged puppies. To him they were not cute little pups that needed good homes, they were the product from the puppy farm he’d been running for two years. They were the proof of his activities. They were the evidence that could get him sent down once again. Ignoring the playful whinges and whimpers coming from the cages, and the chocolate brown eyes watching him from within, Dale dragged the cages from the van. Repeating to himself that he was simply disposing of incriminating evidence, he pushed each of the cages into the grey depths of the Manchester Ship Canal.

Once the task was complete, he hopped back in the van and, tyres crunching over the gravel, sped away from the scene of the crime.

As he made the short drive home, he glanced in his mirrors, watching the road behind, in case he was being followed by the law. He drove around the block a couple of times before pulling up outside his house. He let himself in the front door and was unsetting the alarm when he heard a strange noise from the living room. It sounded like a dog barking. He had no pets. He hated animals. He just didn’t see what the fuss was all about. So to hear a dog barking was unsettling, especially given the unpleasant task he had just performed.

He slowly pushed open the living room door, half-expecting to see a dog standing on the rug, wagging its tail. Nothing. He was alone. He told himself not to be so paranoid and went to put the kettle on. A cup of tea would help calm his nerves.

As he sipped his brew and stared at the television, he mulled over what direction his business should go in next. The law called him a criminal, but he was a businessman, a grafter. He made money, that’s what it was all about. He would put out a few feelers, make a few calls and invest his savings, his ill-gotten gains, into a new project. Maye he should go back to the drugs racket.

In the bathroom that evening, brushing his teeth, he was still debating which way to take his industry. He brushed away, looking at his reflection in the mirror. Then he felt something brush against his leg. Something furry was leaning against him. The toothbrush still dangling from his lips, toothpaste smearing his chin, he looked around. There was no dog with him in the small bathroom, but it had felt like a hound had budged against him. A shiver went through him. He wiped the toothpaste from his chin and tossed the toothbrush back in the glass. All this business with the pups must have been affecting him more than he realised. While he had no regrets about doing what needed to be done, indeed, he had done much worse deeds in his life, but perhaps, deep down, this was troubling him. Maybe he should give a few hundred quid to the local dogs’ charity.

The next day was a typical Manchester day, grey, gloomy and lashing down constantly. It was no surprise that Manchester’s biggest band, Oasis, had started life being called Rain. They say that there are two types of weather in Manchester, raining and just about to rain. When Dale arrived home that evening, his head was pounding. He had had a few meetings with some shady characters and hoped to be back making a few dodgy deals very soon. He dashed through the rain and into his house. As he went through to his living room to get himself a well-earned drop of whiskey, he heard a tapping sound behind him. He recognised the sound from his time running the puppy farm. It was the sound of dogs’ claws tapping the wooden flooring. With his heart beating a panicked rhythm, he stopped and turned. Recently there had been a few odd instances, a few strange incidents, just odd feelings and sensations, but nothing concrete and precise and exact, so Dale wasn’t expecting the room to be suddenly full of dogs, but what he saw did make him gasp and lean on the doorframe for support. The wooden floor was covered in wet paw prints, as though a dozen dogs had followed him in out of the rain. He wasn’t a superstitious man, wasn’t a worrier, but this was so strange.

By the time he was sipping a third large whiskey, the paw prints had faded to nothing. He took a sip of liquor and as it burned the back of his throat, he told himself that the things he was imagining had to be some trick his mind was playing on him. It wasn’t every day you drowned a load of puppies. It must have been having an effect. Maybe, deep down, he was more of a decent bloke than he thought he was.

By the end of the week, Dale had almost forgotten about the puppies and the bizarre events that had followed. He was excited about moving in a new direction and had meetings lined up with some top lads. Yawning and rubbing his eyes, he trudged upstairs to bed. It had been a long day. Too tired to bother hanging his clothes in the wardrobe, he tossed his t-shirt to the floor and kicked out of his jeans. The floordrobe, not wardrobe, would have to do tonight. He crawled under the duvet and snuggled and shifted against the thick pillows. He closed his eyes and was drifting off to sleep when it started.

The howling. He sat bolt upright in bed, heart thumping in his chest. There was something out there howling. It sounded as though it was in his back garden, right under his window. The howl was so disturbing, a pained, mournful moan. The wailing howl continued as he threw on his t-shirt and charged downstairs. As he rushed through the kitchen, he grabbed his sweeping brush so he could shoo away whatever creature was outside. Wielding the brush as though it was a spear, he flung open the back door. The howling stopped.

The light spilling from the doorway showed that there was nobody in his garden, no creature, no wolf, nothing that could have been responsible for the awful howling. Dale stepped out into the darkness. He peered in bewilderment. What was happening to him?

In utter despair and exhaustion, he flung the sweeping brush across the garden and went back inside. Back in bed, he lay in the dark room, wide awake. Would the howling start again? What kind of phantom was torturing him like this? When would it stop? A motorbike roared down the street outside, making him jump. Breathing hard but smiling in relief that the noise had been a vehicle and nothing more sinister, Dale lay back and, closing his eyes, tried to forget about the weird things that had been happening.

He woke feeling completely shattered. His whole body ached, even his eyes hurt. He was sitting at the kitchen table, having a cup of tea when he remembered that he had a meeting that morning in a café in Salford. His contact was a guy called Wez. He was from Eccles and was said to be a bit of a scally, but knew how to make a few quid on the sly.

Having showered, shaved and dressed in a fresh pair of jeans and a hoodie, and feeling more human that when he first woke up, Dale grabbed his car keys and left the house.

Thinking of the potential of the meeting and the deals that could go down, Dale stepped out into the road, heading for the car. He stopped suddenly. There was something blocking his path. A huge, snarling Alsatian hound was standing in his way, red eyed, growling, fangs bared. The thing looked like something from a horror film. Dale raised his hands, he meant no harm, and took a slow step back, away from the awful beast.

Before Dale could take another step and maybe make a run for home, the beast leaped. The creature stormed into him. Dale hit the tarmac hard. The dog was on top of him, fangs snapping. Screaming, yelling, and crying. Dale put his arms up in front of his face, to protect himself.

The fangs tore into his forearm, tearing his sleeve, ripping into his flesh. Blood mixed with the dog’s saliva, running onto his face. Dale screamed in terror and agony, yelled for help. The pain was hot and sharp, excruciating. He tried to wrangle his bloody arm away from the beast, but the creature would not let up. He closed his eyes, wanting the attack to be over.

‘Are you okay, pal?’ called a voice.

Dale opened his eyes. The creature was gone and a man was looking down at him in concern.

‘Did you have a fall?’ he asked.

Dale was about to explain about the dog attack and his injuries when he noticed he was no longer harmed. His jumper was no longer in threads and his arm wasn’t savaged and bloody. It was as though it hadn’t happened. The man helped him to his feet, asking again if he was okay. Dale simply nodded and headed to his car. Sitting in his car, he slid back his sleeve. His arm was fine. He rubbed his face. Maybe he should see a doctor. He could say that he ran a dog over years ago, and it must still be on his mind, and then detail the weird things he’d been seeing.

Anyway, he had people to see and business to take care of. He shook his head in an attempt to clear it, and started the engine.

Hoping that a new business venture would occupy his mind, and distract him from the bizarre events, which seemed to be getting weirder, Dale went into the greasy spoon café. The place clearly hadn’t been decorated since the Nineteen Eighties. Wood panelling lined the walls and the tables and chairs were garish red plastic. The air was thick with the sound of frying food. Dale’s mouth watered. A Full English breakfast, or maybe a bacon butty, would be just the ticket. He spotted Wez sitting at a table, having a cup of tea, reading a tabloid newspaper.

‘Morning, Wez.’

‘Alright, chief.’ he grinned.

Dale ordered a brew and a sausage and bacon barm from the bored-looking waitress.

As he munched on his sandwich Dale spoke.

‘So, I hear me and you could do a bit of business together?’ he said in a low voice.

‘I reckon we could come to some arrangement. I’ve got my fingers in a lot of pies, if you get me.’

Dale nodded. Before he could reply Wez spoke again.

‘Are you okay?’ asked Wez.

‘Yeah, sure, why?’

Wez pointed at him. Dale followed his gaze. His arm, his forearm, was once again a bloody, seeping mess from the dog attack. He got to his feet, screaming again. He ran from the café, clutching his arm in pain. As he stepped outside, a pack of dogs, charged towards him, barking and snarling. Gasping for air, Dale turned and ran. The dogs chased after him.

Dale ran on as the dogs snapped at him, literally less than a foot behind him. If he slowed or lost his footing, then they would savage him. Still clutching his injured arm, he ran as fast as he could. He rushed across the road and cut down between buildings, unsure where he was headed, just wanting to lose them. His destination was simply away from the dogs that were chasing him. He ran on and on.

He rushed out across the waste land. Running on and on, he glanced over his shoulder, the hounds were still chasing, snarling, biting. They were getting nearer and nearer. He raced further across the waste ground. He was now by the canal edge, by the side of the grey water. He tripped and fell. He tumbled through the air. Things seemed to move in slow-motion. He seemed to hang in the air for a long time. And then he splashed into the murky water of the Ship Canal.

The shock of cold water took his breath away. He felt panic grip him and he struggled to stay afloat. He kicked and scrambled in the water, trying to swim for the canal bank. He pushed and swam and inched closer to the sanctuary of the bank. His legs and arms felt tired and heavy as he moved on. He called out for help but the waste ground was deserted. He moved closer to the bank. Finally he made it. He reached a sopping hand out for the edge of the bank, to pull himself to safety.

Then he felt something deep down in the water. Something grabbed hold of his foot. Teeth. With a sickening realisation, he knew exactly what had hold of him. Somehow a dog had him in its grip again. Another set of canine teeth grabbed his other leg. As he struggled and fought, he was dragged beneath the surface. Under the dirty water, he still called out, taking in gulps of water. The surface moved further and further away as he was pulled further and further under.

Everything went black.

 

‘What are we going to do?’ asked Mike.

Dale stared around in confusion. He was back standing on the waste ground by the canal, the van was full of the caged puppies. Somehow he was back here in this time and place, before he had committed the act that had been tormenting him. He shook his head.

‘There’s a dog rescue centre on Eccles New Road. Take them there. Make sure they’re looked after, yeah?’ Dale said.

‘Sure.’ Mike said. ‘My niece has been asking for a puppy for ages. Do you think-’

‘Yeah, fine. Just make sure this lot go to good homes.’ said Dale.

Leaving Mike wondering quite when his friend had become so concerned about the animals, Dale walked away across the waste land.


Submitted: September 15, 2021

© Copyright 2021 CTPlatt. All rights reserved.

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