Forest fires had crisped the mountains on the long drive across British Columbia. Ashes blessed the car as they drove through scorched hills quilled with trees that looked like blackened toothpicks. A funeral pyre of their former lives.
The town of Hope sprung up under sharp blue skies irrigated by a bustling river, so they stopped. Lawns were green and Douglas Firs tickled the clouds. They could have lived in Hope, but then they saw the dogs.
“We don’t know who owns them,” said the motel clerk. “They appear outta no where. Mutts. No one feeds ’em. They don’t have no collars. A while ago we rounded them up, advertised all over the province, found homes for every last one but they came back. Sometimes they disappear. We figure the cougars get ’em. But then they’re back.”
Harry Bittercress sat on the bench outside unit 32, flanked by a Chihuahua and a panting Alsatian. It was a morning so quiet he heard his thoughts arrive and kick awake his grey matter. Olio worries bashed inside his skull. One after another, they pinned themselves to his brain: We’re nearly out of money; we don’t know where we’re going; where will I buy new hoes; where can I get a good cup of tea; why do Canadians call biscuits “cookies”?
Harry headed to the river followed by the dogs. It seemed like a new dog arrived with each anxiety. A St. Bernard strode up just as Harry wondered if this over-sized land would ever become his home. As he fretted about his former garden back in Smock Manor, a Beagle joined the parade of canines. The instant Harry cursed agreeing to leave everything he loved and follow Lady Smock on this misbegotten adventure, a furrow-browed pit-bull approached him straight-on, eyes staring into his. He was no argonaut. He wanted to go home. And damn the Bulldog who arrived with that thought.
Surrounded by dogs, he stood at the guardrail that kept him from jumping into the roaring current, listening to it churn the pebbled bed, wishing it would carry him away.
Peeking from behind the motel room curtain, Lady Veronica Smock-Speedwell watched her old lover slink away with a slope-shouldered, droop tailed German Shepherd at his side, while a Chihuahua fast forwarded his legs trying to keep up. When a pit-bull appeared, her worry blossomed into panic and she decided to follow him. Grabbing her dressing gown, she stepped outside and was met by a piebald Standard Poodle. “How odd”, she thought. Spotted poodles were killed by breeders to keep the line pure. Even stranger, something about this handsome animal reminded her of Harry and it wasn’t just the pointy nose sniffing her crotch. Maybe it was the long legs or maybe the straight forward gaze of devotion. It gave her tummy tremours.
Gently the beast pushed her forward.
Lady and the poodle saw Harry leaning over the railing, one leg perched on the second bar. They rushed him from behind.
“Don’t do it Harry! I love you!” yelled Lady Smock.
At her words, the dogs jumped into the river and paddled in a line for the sand bar on the other side.
Stunned, they watched the dogs scramble to solid ground and run yipping into the underbrush. Lady Smock hugged him hard. Harry felt as light as a bubble when they disappeared. Tomorrow they’d follow the river and find out what comes next.