HOUNDED – RUTH AND JOHN
Ruth was livid to find that John was not alone. He was tied to the bed, while something moved under the blankets on top of him, a mane of golden brown hair the only thing visible. Ruth marched to the side of the bed, a few choice words brimming on her lips, and threw back the blanket. A shaggy dog crouched beside John, chewing through the ropes that bound him.
Ruth put her hands on her hips. “What are you doing with that Afghan?”
“It’s not a blanket, it’s a hound,” John said. He pushed the dog off the bed and sat up. The hound shoved her long snout into John’s lap and looked up at him with big brown eyes, a fringe of hair falling over her nose. John tickled it behind her floppy ears. “Her name’s Spirit.”
“I don’t care what her name is, what is she doing in our bedroom?”
“Untying the knots,” John said.
“Yes, but how did she get here?”
“She was hiding under the bed,” John said.
Ruth threw her hands up in the air. Sometimes she wondered if she wouldn’t have been better off in the wilds of Australia with Matthew. The crocodiles must be easier to get through to than her husband.
“Yes, but how did she get into our bedroom, and don’t say through the door.”
“She came through the window actually,” John said smugly. The expression on Ruth’s face wiped the smile from his lips. “She was abandoned at the track after a race and I thought I’d try her out to see if she’s any good, but she’s been a bit under the weather recently and I thought I’d take her home for a bit of home cooking to cheer her up.”
“Well, she can’t stay here,” Ruth said. She took the dog by the collar and marched her into the front room.
Aggie sat in her chair by the fire. She raised her eyebrows at the sight of Ruth dragging the large dog out of the bedroom. The twins played at her feet. Clem had a set of wooden blocks with letters painted on the sides and had spelled out REDR in front of her. It pleased Ruth to see her daughter learning her colours, but she’d have to correct her spelling when she’d fixed the dog problem. Lottie was scribbling with a crayon on an old receipt. She’d drawn a rather nice star, but had ruined it by scribbling a circle over it.
The dog growled and bared her teeth, but whether it was at the children or the poker table, Ruth wasn’t so sure. Aggie stopped knitting and held her knitting needles out in front of her like a weapon.
“Och, you better get that hound out ta here before it kills the wee bairns,” she said.
As Ruth dragged the dog to the exit, there was a loud knock on the door. “Who the devil could that be?” Ruth muttered. She flung the door open and found a rather portly fellow with ruddy cheeks and a bright red nose standing on the doorstep. He was dressed entirely in black, apart from his grey shirt and a huge white dog collar that circled his neck.
“Good evening,” the vicar said.
Spirit coughed, opened her mouth and issued forth a thick stream of green liquid that coated the vicar and slopped past him onto the flowers at the side of the door.
“My clothes,” cried the vicar.
“My flowers,” cried Aggie.
“My dog,” cried John, running out of the bedroom and taking Spirit away from Ruth and gently wiping the vomit from her silky hair with a handkerchief.
The vicar raised his hand and pointed a shaking finger at Spirit. “That dog is possessed,” he announced.
“No, she is not,” John said. “She’s sick, she hasn’t been able to keep anything down for days.” John made a big fuss of the hound, making Ruth feel rather jealous. She put her hands on her hips.
“Well, what have you been feeding her?” she said.
“Your pea and ham soup,” John said.
Ruth nodded. It all made sense. No wonder he kept asking for seconds, and the bowl always looked so clean.
“It’s obviously not agreeing with her,” Ruth said. “She needs proper dog food. I’ll see if I have the ham bone in the kitchen.”
Spirit seemed to perk up a bit of the mention of bones and licked her lips.
The vicar remained dripping on the doorstep. “Fools,” he said. “That is a hound from hell.”
Spirit growled and John placed his hands over her ears. “Stop it, you’ll hurt her feelings.”
The vicar rushed across the threshold and flung himself between the hound, who was sitting quietly at John’s side, and the twins, who had stopped their games to watch the entertainment that the adults were providing.
“The children! Someone must protect them from the beast. This is an unfit home,” the vicar said.
“You’re trailing dirt over my nice clean floor,” Aggie said.
Clementina and Charlotte turned their gazes to the vicar and watched him intently.
“I cannay have you messing up my home,” Aggie said, lunging for the vicar before he reached the twins, and grabbing hold of the back of his collar and coat tails and running him out of the house.
“Cleanliness is next to godliness,” the vicar gasped, his voice somewhat strained by the tight grasp Aggie had on his dog collar.
Seeing the vicar run out of the house excited Spirit, and she dashed away from John, latched on to the vicar’s plump forearm and swung off him as Aggie threw them both out of the house and slammed the door behind them.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish,” Aggie said, rolling up her sleeves in preparation of some serious house cleaning.
Ruth, who had just returned from the kitchen, nodded in agreement. “I’m glad to see the back of both of them.”
John slumped onto a chair and buried his head in his hands.
“I’ve lost my Spirit,” he wailed.
The next morning, as Ruth bathed and dressed the twins and saw to their breakfast, she heard a strange sound outside the cottage, as if someone was cracking their knuckles repeatedly in preparation for playing the piano, or a fist fight. Eventually the sound got the better of her, and she flung open the door in irritation to give the mystery knuckle cracker a piece of her mind.
Lying near the doorstep was Spirit, her once fine golden brown coat a matted red and black mess, surrounded by a butcher’s back room of bones, which she was busy breaking and sucking the marrow. Judging by the tatters of black cloth and the ripe stench of pea and ham soup, the bones could only belong to the disgraced vicar.
“Even in death he causes a mess,” Ruth said. She hurried to get a broom to sweep up the bones and drive off the dog before John woke and saw her, in case he wanted to give her a bath.
As Ruth deposited the remains into the dustpan, she noticed that one of the vicar’s hands hung like a fleshy starfish from his well chewed arm bone, and glinting in the early morning light from one of the fingers was a gold ring encircled by a serpent biting its tail.
“Perhaps having a dog around is a good idea,” Ruth said, before marching back into the house.
Delighted to be able to share the latest part of Ruth and John and a big thank you to Iseult for her contribution. If you you would like to have a go writing a chapter, please get in touch