The dooryard at Gran’s house was brightly lit and surrounded by sturdy buildings that blazed with electric lights. On the north end was what the family always referred to as the Big House, it was two stories of warm red brick with towerlike bay windows flanking a wide, dark wood door with a leaded glass insert. Along the east side of the dooryard was a large, red barn freshly painted. Next to it was a long machine shed that had once seen lots of work but now stood empty, well maintained, but empty.
To the west was a one lane gravel track that went over a simple concrete slab of a bridge spanning a burbling creek and curved around into a sturdy stand of bushy pine trees. Hidden in those trees was a one story ranch home and a long bunkhouse and a simple set of stables. The majority of the property these days was woodland. Gran made her living in her retirement letting people rent space and time on her land for trail rides and hunting during the seasons. She had plenty of places for people to stay.
When the convoy of cars pulled into that brilliant dooryard, Gran was at the door waiting. Her hair, the color of steel, was wrapped in a soft bun at the base of her neck and her eyes, the color of damp moss, had the whites more exposed than Lucky had ever seen her. When Girl opened the Sprinter’s door, Lucky was the first one out loping toward Gran, baker of treats. He rubbed his side against her leg almost like a cat, before sitting down and resting his head against her flank.
Her voice was as soft and warm as his favorite blanket as she looked down at him. “Why hello there, young man. And how are you today?”
It was habit as much as anything that had him grumbling and groaning in response to her question, talking back as he had before he could talk back.
“Oh, I see. Been a rough one, has it? Well, let’s try to get everyone settled and we’ll see what we can do about rewarding your perseverance.” She stroked his ear gently as she spoke, looking over the convoy of cars. “Let’s start at the Hunt Camp and get everyone started. I’m sure everyone is exhausted.” Girl hadn’t been nearly as fast as Lucky, but when she reached Gran she was wrapped in the warmth and comfort as quickly and easily as Lucky had been. “Why don’t you go on in, Love. Settle in you and your dad’s things and start a pot of tea.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Girl hugged Gran’s slender form close for a long moment before she let go and headed inside.
For a moment, Lucky was torn, did he go with Man to settle the convoy or go with Girl. He glanced toward the Sprinter van where despite the open door, none of the lost dogs had stepped out. Or was his responsibility to settle the lost ones. He chuffed out a breath and climbed to his feet, duty was heavy as a mountain sometimes. He grumble-whined a little more as he padded toward the van. “Come on out, I’ll show you around.”
He glanced toward the convoy and trotted over to Man, “Can you get them to let the dogs out? I want to show them the boundaries so nobody wanders off.”
Man glanced down at Lucky, reflexively scratching at the dog’s soft head. “Good idea.”
Once all the dogs had been gathered, almost an even dozen, Lucky stood in front of them and gave a stern bark to begin. “First off, I have a friend Quick. We do not chase Quick. Quick is a squirrel.” This time the intimidating bark prevented them from getting excited. “Come and meet Quick. Get his scent well, I’ve promised to protect him. I’d hate to protect him from any of you.”
Outside of Axel the mastiff, Lucky was the largest dog in terms of both height and weight. He wasn’t a born fighter, but throwing his weight around would get him pretty far.
The dogs that hadn’t scented the squirrel gave him a good sniff and Lucky named each dog for the squirrel before he continued with his idea of showing them the boundaries. “Alright. This is Gran’s Farm. Gran is a great human, we are lucky to be here. Gran’s Farm isn’t near many Busy Roads, but it is near Back Roads and sometimes those are worse. There are important boundaries around Gran’s Farm. Let’s go mark those boundaries, we’ll keep it slow for Norman and Allegro. By the time we’re back, our people should be settled in the Hunting Camp.”
“Quick, would you like to stay with Girl?” He asked the grey squirrel.
“Yes.” The squirrel said with a sleepy yawn. “I’ve had enough excitement today.” He said dryly.
Lucky bounded up to the back porch and nosed the dog door open. “Stick close to Girl, Quick, or find a safe spot to hole up. I’ll be back before too long.”
“Got it.” The squirrel said before he scrambled into the house.
The dogs ran together, almost like a pack, as they followed the gravel drive back to the Road they had used to get this far. “The first and most obvious border is the Road. This is one of those Back Roads I was telling you about. Sometimes people speed down this worse than a Freeway.” His brow crinkled as he considered that. “Though maybe not now that the End has come.”
He left a scent mark, or as Girl called them: p-mail, at the intersection of the Road and the gravel then turned left and paralleled the road for a bit, leaving more marks along the way. “This is the southern border of Gran’s farm, mostly. Don’t cross this road for any reason. The man across the way will shoot any dog he finds on his land.”
There were various sounds of assent from among the pack and Lucky continued east. “Gran owns most of the land around here, at least in this direction. Long and long. Until the Fanged Fence.”
“Fanged Fence?” Vinny asked as he stiffly trotted next to Lucky.
“Yeah, it’s got three strings to it and it has teeth that bite your skin and tangle your fur if you’re not careful. There’s two sections of it along the east side of Gran’s Farm, the first just bites, the second…” He trailed off, searching for a way to explain what the second did. “It’s like dry fur on a winter day, only way, way stronger.”
Quigly’s deep voice held a strange tone and his posture was stiff as he spoke. “People can be cruel.”
Lucky’s even stride faltered at that. “These fences aren’t meant to hurt dogs. They’re meant to keep animals from straying into or out of fields and pastures.”
A grunt was the only response from the black and white pitbull. Lucky ran on, flanked by the two pitbulls while the other dogs chatted behind him and his heart ached for the idea that human cruelty had affected Quigley so deeply. Quigley was a good dog, a bit of a beggar, but a good dog.
When they reached the Fanged Fence, they all left p-mails on the fence post, or near it. Their pace slowed as they headed north, at least one member of the pack had to mark every single fencepost. Lucky happily shared his territory with his friends, with all of them protecting it, Gran’s Farm would be the safest place in the End.
“Oh yeah, the other Fanged Fence that sparks, don’t mark it.” That was one scent mark he would never forget. The fence jigged east for a couple hundred strides before turning back north and changing to the second fenceline. The fence bordered Gran’s Farm until it swept away right when the scent of the wide creek reached his nose. “Here’s where it’s harder to find the edges. From this post here, along about straight to the Big Willow tree and then down to the Wide Creek is where the territory ends.”
“Good,” barked Allegro. “I’m beat. I haven’t run this far since… ever.”
Axel, drool dribbling out the sides of his mouth, looked down at the little apricot colored poodle. “I could carry you by your scruff.” He offered dryly.
For a moment it seemed she actually considered it. The pack reached the swift running creek and some drank while others just flopped tiredly on the bank. “I’ll be just fine.” She said at last, daintily sipping some water before padding over to a nice dry rock to lay down upon.
“Suit yourself,” Axel said, walking into the water to drink while the cool water flowed over his feet. “Offer stands if you need it later.”
The north border of the territory danced back and forth across the bed of the creek, staying just on either side as the creek meandered for a long while. Eventually the creek turned south and they forded it. “It’s easy to lose the line here,” Lucky admitted, “But Gran’s put up signs marking the end of the hunting range.” He flopped down and considered all the ground they had left to cover. “It’s late and we could run all night to get the rest of the place down. The creek leads back to the house, let’s head in for the night and we’ll finish up the trail tomorrow.”
Allegro looked absolutely relieved to hear that their adventure in the dark forests was nearing its end. Her little tail was wagging enthusiastically. They reached the houses without incident and rejoined their families, the lost dogs joined the Lachlans in the Big House.
The first day of the End had finally come to an end. Some of them had lost everything, some had lost very little, but this was only the beginning.
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Hi! My name is Skwrepb (pronounced Jen, I swear). I'm a stay at home mother of three with not enough time on my hands. I've been writing since I could hold a pen and I have so many stories to tell!
I'm an avid reader and The Wandering Inn is what brought me to Royal Road. I have been devouring stories here ever since.