Rascal jumped up into the cab of the truck, his black tail wagging furiously behind him. A few seconds later, Doug climbed up into the drivers seat. He turned the key in the ignition, checked the rear view mirror, crunched the truck into first gear and off they went.
Another shift together spending time out on the road. Rascal loved it. Finally, he had someone who wanted to be with him. Time spent at the shelter cramped up in that tiny little pen on his own had made him insecure and doubtful that he would ever be loved again.
Doug whistled as they drove towards the depot. Since the divorce, he had thrown himself into his work. It distracted him, gave him purpose. When his best friend Rich turned up with Rascal, it was like all his Christmases had come at once.
“I’m worried about you, mate. You need some company. This little chap’s called Rascal. Thought you two would rub along nicely,” Rich had said.
And they did rub along nicely. In fact, they hadn’t spent a moment apart since that day and Doug wasn’t sure if he could imagine life without him.
Pulling into the depot, Doug parked up. He left Rascal sitting on the tatty vinyl seats who in turn watched as Doug started talking to another man in the yard. Rascal hadn’t seen this man before. He kept pointing at the truck and Doug began to look upset.
Rascal sensed something was wrong. Doug was raising his voice. Rascal’s heart started to race.
He was all too familiar with raised voices. That’s what had put him in the shelter and he didn’t want to go back.
Doug returned to the truck. After slamming the door, he just sat shaking his head. Rascal wanted to make him feel better and moved towards him to give him a lick. Doug pushed him back for the first time ever in their 18-month relationship.
Rascal shrunk back in fear. It was happening again. He whined and whimpered.
“It’s either you or the job, mate. I’m not allowed to bring you with me any more.” Doug rubbed his forehead. “We’ve been lucky up ‘til now…flaming’ foreman.”
Rascal was as confused as a 5-year-old collie dog could be when his owner suddenly rejects him. Doug looked over at him and shrugged.
“We’ve got no choice; I’m going to have to leave you behind.”
Doug was completely gutted. He’d become very close to Rascal and he couldn’t bear to leave him every day.
Rascal sensed the mood change and just sat. He waited for Doug to load up the truck. He sat quietly as they drove between buildings, car parks, fast roads, slow roads, small warehouses, and large factories. There was no more whistling, no occasional stroke of the head. Something was different, and not in a good way…
Barrie wasn’t sure he could face school. He didn’t have many friends; he was ignored by most and picked on by the few. The only thing that kept Barrie motivated was his superhero stories.
Although only 8 years old, he imagined himself being big and strong and brave like the characters in his comic books. He wanted to be popular like them too. The only thing he wasn’t sure about was which superpower he would have. He wasn’t keen on heights, which made him giddy, which ruled Spiderman out. He liked Batman because he drove a really cool car, but again, there could be tall buildings involved.
He thought about this as he wandered slowly along the footpath to school. What would he do if he couldn’t find his ideal superhero?
Somebody’s dog was barking and it caught Barrie’s attention. It wasn’t the occasional “woof” you might hear now and then. It was a constant, rhythmic sound that seemed to be coming from one of the terraced houses. He looked over but couldn’t see anything.
Barrie went on his way to school leaving the barking to get quieter behind him…
It had been a long day and Doug had finished his shift later than planned. He was tired, thirsty and irritable; traffic problems, incomplete paperwork, everything had conspired against him. Rascal heard the door go and jumped to his feet with excitement. He ran across the kitchen.
Doug kicked off his shoes and noticed his brand new trainers on the mat. One had been chewed at the heel. He couldn’t believe it.
He picked it up and saw Rascal in the doorway. Instead of the normal rough and tumble greeting they exchanged, Doug held the shoe to Rascal’s face and shouted.
“What the hell do you call this, eh? These were new trainers, Rascal! Cost me £85 quid!”
He stormed through into the kitchen and threw them in the bin. He glared at Rascal, who had followed him, his tail firmly between his back legs.
Doug yanked open the back door and marched to the bottom of the garden. Rascal considered following him but the door slammed in his face making him jump. He quickly took cover by the water bowl, cowering and shaking.
Loud, sharp whacks could now be heard from outside. Every strike went through Rascal making him feel sick and fretful. He wanted to run but he had nowhere to go. He was trapped.
Doug wasn’t going to acknowledge for one second that Rascal had chewed the trainer out of boredom. Since the run-in with the foreman two weeks ago, he’d been forced to leave Rascal at home for anything up to 10 hours a day. It was no wonder he had sought comfort in a shoe. Sadly, Doug’s depression was getting worse again. He couldn’t behave rationally and it looked like Rascal was going to bear the brunt of his temper.
Soon the banging stopped. Rascal counted: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. The back door swung open. Rascal began shaking again, this time so hard that he thought his fur might fall out.
“You’re coming with me, boy,” growled Doug, grabbing Rascal by the scruff of the neck and dragging him outside. Rascal tried to wriggle free of his grip but with no success. Doug took a short piece of rope, looped it through Rascal’s collar and choke chain and tied it to an iron stake that had been driven deep into the ground.
Rascal lurched forward in a bid for freedom but immediately choked himself and fell backward to the ground gasping for air.
“If you can’t be trusted, you’d better stay out here.”
A few moments later Doug returned with Rascal’s water bowl and threw it down onto the grass. And there he was left…
Barrie still hadn’t decided on his favourite superhero. It was starting to bug him. He’d spent every day that week thinking about it and every time he thought that he’d found the best one, something spoilt it: wrong name; wrong side-kick; stupid costume.
He reached the cottages. Something was different. It was quiet. The barking had stopped. The hairs on the back of Barrie’s neck went up. Within seconds he heard from one of the gardens the most pitiful whining sound.
Barrie stopped walking. He stood on tiptoes to see if he could make out what it was. It was nothing like anything he had heard before. It was a high-pitched howl similar to that of a Werewolf.
There was a short chicken-wire fence that marked the boundary and it wouldn’t take much for Barrie to climb over but he was afraid to get any closer. He moved further along to get a better look. There, through the tall grass and weeds he saw something moving on the ground, something black and white. Barrie’s heart raced.
He leaned in, bending as far over the chicken wire as he could. There, in the long grass, he could see a dog tied to some sort of post.
Barrie’s immediate thoughts were to jump over and untie the poor creature but instead he did something very grown up for an 8 year old. He thought about who might have done this to the dog and stopped. If they could do this to a defenseless animal, what could they do to him?
He stood perfectly still, opened his lunchbox and found a piece of cheese. Calling gently under his breath, the dog lifted its head and watched as something landed near his feet.
Before reaching forward to eat it, Rascal looked up again at the face by the fence and paused; their eyes met. Was he going to get hurt?
The smell of the cheese was too good to resist and Rascal strained forward. He didn’t care about choking himself; he grabbed the cheese, chewed it twice and swallowed.
Barrie knew then what he must do; come back that evening and set him free…
Four morning lessons and a break time passed quickly, but from lunchtime, Barrie found himself watching the clock. He wanted to get home and work out his plan. This was his superhero moment and he couldn’t stuff it up; another living creature’s life depended on him.
Barrie decided in double maths that his favourite black sweat pants and hoodie would be ideal. Not quite the same as Batman but close enough.
On his way home, Barrie stopped at the garden. He saw the dog curled up. He wasn’t moving. Barrie whistled. Nothing. Maybe he was asleep? He whistled again but this time louder.
The dog woke with a start and jumped to his feet. It sniffed the air and quickly sensed the human, turning to face Barrie once more. Barrie held his breath. Would he recognise him? He took from his lunchbox the remains of a Belgian bun and tossed it over.
With little hesitation, Rascal pulled forward and chewed the pastry eagerly. He lifted his head to swallow the last mouthful and in doing so looked over at Barrie. Their eyes connected once more. This time, Barrie thought he saw his tail moving.
Barrie smiled, stepping back from the fence.
“See you later, boy,” he muttered as he made his way home…
It was gone 9.00pm before Doug got in. Another long and tiring day. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and collapsed into a chair. A few swigs later he took a big stretch and reached for the remote control when he remembered; Rascal. He sighed deeply and pulled himself to his feet.
He took a small marrowbone from a cupboard, filled a bowl with water and went outside. Doug staggered and swayed, his tiredness worsened by the drink.
Doug threw down the bowl, the water splashing over Rascal’s paws, which woke him up with a start. He instinctively shrunk back. Doug made no effort to speak to him let alone fuss him; stroke him; release him.
The bone got thrown down in similar fashion and Doug returned to the comfort of his armchair where he promptly passed out.
Rascal stared at the offerings and looked longingly back towards the house. He sat back down again, every muscle stiff and aching.
He remembered the shelter. Back then, he couldn’t imagine ever living through anything worse. He realised now how wrong he’d been. At least back then he’d had a blanket, some warmth, and regular meals. The sound of the other dogs comforted him and the workers at least fussed him occasionally.
Rascal missed human contact the most. He just wanted to feel loved.
If there was a hell, he was in it…
Barrie looked up at the front of their house when he got home. His bedroom was directly above the flat roof of the porch. Running down the length of the wall directly next to his bedroom window was a piece of guttering.
This was to be his escape route. His drying mouth and damp, sweaty palms did little to reassure him that this was a good idea, though. It looked so high.
He would need to climb out of his window, drop down onto the roof, and then slide down the guttering. He would then have to get over the fence at the bottom of the garden, run to the playing fields, along the path and rescue the dog.
Despite his apprehension, Barrie bolted down his dinner, took an early bath and made his way to bed without prompting. His parents were always so preoccupied with grown up things that they barely noticed him at the best of times.
His behaviour now wouldn’t be noticed.
Barrie remembered to take his school rucksack upstairs with him. He packed a torch and his Swiss Army knife. There was always a biscuit in the bottom of his bag for emergencies and he would give this to the dog later. And what was he going to do once he had rescued the dog? Like all good superheroes, he’d planned for that, too.
At the end of their garden was a small tool shed for his father’s gardening stuff, which had enough room for a small blanket, bowl of water and some food. Barrie would hide the dog there until morning and then tell his parents he found it wandering loose in the park. Hopefully they might then let him keep it…
Barrie watched the hands of his alarm clock move minute by minute. It was agonisingly slow work. At last, he heard his parents go to bed. It was just gone 11pm. Now was his chance.
Closing his rucksack, Barrie pulled on his black gilet and opened the window as far as he could. He looked down. The flat roof was barely four foot beneath the sill but it still lurched up to meet him. He swallowed hard, let his rucksack drop down and climbed out.
Once on the roof, Barrie took a moment to steady himself. His heart was thumping. So this was what it felt like to be a superhero.
Barrie did well not to lose his grip on the guttering his hands were so sweaty but once down, he ran as quietly as he could along the length of the garden, careful to avoid the noisy gravel path. However, he completely forgot his mother’s motion sensing floodlights. His movements were all at once illuminated in a vivid white blanket of light. He froze; he looked more like a rabbit caught in headlights than a superhero.
“I wish I was like Captain Invisible!” he thought, twitching nervously.
It took him a moment and then Barrie realised he’d found his superhero.
“No time to celebrate, Bazza – get on with it!”
Once over the fence, Barrie looked back towards the house. The lights blinked off. Thank god. Barrie took the torch from his rucksack, flicked it on and ran to the playing fields.
Once there, he paused to catch his breath. It suddenly dawned on him that he hadn’t seen the biscuit. He checked the bag again. Nothing. He panicked. He couldn’t go back; he’d already chanced his luck with the floodlights. He just had to hope that the dog would trust him without any food.
As he neared the garden, he slowed right down and tried to settle his breathing; it was coming in short, raspy gasps. In the moonlight, he could just about make out the black and white markings on the ground, lying still; the torch confirmed the dog was still there, poor thing.
Barrie carefully lifted the rucksack over the fence. He then trod down on the chicken wire. It folded with ease under his weight and he stepped over it.
The dog woke. Barrie whistled as quietly as he could and the dog recognised him. He began straining forward against the rope, the stake holding firm. Rascal could smell the boy, the face at the fence, and as he approached, the sense of relief within Rascal was almost too much.
Barrie wasted no time. He crept towards the dog holding out his hand and maintaining eye contact. Rascal licked his hand over and over, and in return got a wonderful fuss from the boy.
Barrie noticed the remains of a small bone and an empty water bowl on the ground.
“Come on, boy, let’s get you out of here,” said Barrie as he worked to free the rope from the stake.
He shot a cursory glance towards the house but it remained in darkness. No floodlights here, thank goodness. He didn’t need to tell the dog twice. It lurched forward and almost broke free from Barrie’s grip as he reached for the rucksack. They made off, over the wire fence, and along the path towards the playing fields.
Under the cover of the stars and the full moon, Barrie led Rascal back to the tool shed. The dog must have known he was safe now because to Barrie’s relief, it didn’t make a sound the entire night…
Barrie’s parents were initially against the idea of keeping him, but watching them play together and seeing how well they got on, they realised with such relief that their son had at last made a friend. What they would never know is how Rascal finally knew what it felt like to be loved. It didn’t take him long to stop jumping at loud noises and once he relaxed completely, he discovered that loving Barrie didn’t mean being shouted at or being dragged around.
Barrie’s love for superheroes waned not long after he brought Rascal home. After all, he had a new superhero in his life now, a black and white furry one who never left his side.