The Dog Catcher

Wistful AriPeople these days, I don’t know. Philistines, the lot of them. I probably shouldn’t use that term. It is a little bit racist. But there is no other word to describe someone who is wilfully ignorant and proud of it. And not many people know that Philistine is the ancient name for Palestine.

I’m wasted here I tell you. But it’s the only job I could get. Same old story. Study hard to the full extent of your intellect for as long as can, run out of funding, fail to get worthy work, and find yourself going cap in hand to the local council for a job.

Stephen, they said, there’s no work in academia after that last round of budget cuts. I know its rough mate but there aren’t many employers looking to hire someone with a PhD in Ancient History.

Not that I much mind catching stray dogs for a living. It’s quite a noble thing to do. I’ve rescued mothers with infants bailed up trees by escaped German Shepherds.

Blasted ignorant people … buying an enormous dog to protect their property … keeping it in a tiny yard … never bothering to exercise it. No wonder the poor beasts go savage. It’s like buying a gun and leaving it on the table. Does more harm than good.

The work is alright I suppose, but the people! Greatest collection of dull-witted no-hopers you ever did meet.

And now they all mock me because, when that bovine lass Jane was reading that bloody vampire novel in the tearoom, I aired the very common sense theory that the vampire and werewolf myths are all descended from the Conquistadors describing what we now know as rabies.

Bit of a hot topic among dog catchers one would’ve thought.

It’s obvious really … vampires are afraid of sunlight, werewolves are afraid of running water, and both are highly aggressive. Heliophobia, hydrophobia, and extreme aggression are all well-known symptoms of rabies. And the condition is passed on through infected bites! If that isn’t a conclusive argument, I don’t know what is.

So they all sat there in that little tearoom, Jane and Frank and Billy, listening to me. And I’m thinking that I’m actually starting to make some inroads here. Been here a month and they hardly pass the time of day. Now they are listening to me, and nodding, and crossing their arms, and being an engaged audience.

And then Jane laughs at me. Not just a wee giggle, but a belly-shaking, tea-spilling guffaw!

She tried to give me this insincere apology, but honestly! The others all join in, and now it’s clear that they don’t believe a word.

Really … some people. Wearing Blake’s own mind-forged manacles. So close-minded to the possibilities around us. I’ll bet that bloody Jane reading her daft vampire novel actually half-believes in vampires and werewolves and what not. And that’s a lot more likely than rabies putting on airs and graces and the face of Robert Pattinson!

Hang on a mo … what was that? Bloody great dog just ran across the road in front of my van. Looks like an Irish Wolfhound.

It’s headed into that graveyard. Who left the gates ajar like that? Well, it’s almost five o’clock and no one’s called it in, but … duty calls. I’ll just back the van up to the gate. Hopefully he’ll see that he’s cornered and give it up without a fight.

Have I got any doggy biscuits? Yup, right here. Okay then. Lasso on a stick and a tennis ball. Good to go.

“Here puppy puppy puppy! Are you lost? Bet you are, you cheeky thing. Jumped the fence or slipped out of the gate when Mum and Dad weren’t looking, eh?”

Yep, that’s got his attention. He’s looked round, gave me the up and down, and flicked his ears. All good signs. Just got to get close enough, put down some doggy treats, and pop the lasso over his neck. He’ll be no trouble.

Bloody hell, he’s a big bastard! He’s more wolf than hound.

I haven’t been in this graveyard before. It’s quite nice actually. All Victorian era grieving marble angels, tombstones with ‘Sacred to the memory of’, fresh flowers on some of the newer graves … nice. Graveyards might give other people the willies, but not me, oh no.

I’m a modern enlightened free thinking chap. Old superstitions don’t unsettle the rational, even-tempered ones amongst us …

Christ on a bike! What is that?

“Oh hello there, young man. Didn’t see you there. Sorry, I don’t want to disturb you. This is obviously a private moment. Please do accept my condolences for your loss. I’m just after that Wolfhound over there. I’ll just get him down to the pound before closing time. Can’t have a big brute like him wandering around all weekend. Right then, I’ll just leave you to it.”

Poor chap. Mind has obviously been disturbed by grief. But, I suppose wearing wizard robes in a cemetery isn’t that weird. Goodness, at uni during the Harry Potter years there were tonnes of them.

What is he doing? Reading to a tombstone? Poor chap looks little more than a kid. Reading a story to his poor lost mother? Sad. Still the Reaper comes for us all.

Actually that’s an odd looking book he’s holding. Bigger than A4, leather bound, metal clasps, gilded lettering, and obviously old.

That’s weird. Is that Akkadian script on the cover? Yes, I’m sure it is. Dang it, that book must be worth a fortune. It should be in the restricted section of the university library.

And now he’s reading aloud. Yes, Akkadian, definitely. And I don’t much like the sound of it. What is he trying to do? Raise the dead?

No, hang in there Steven. Don’t get ahead of yourself. First thing first and the second thing second. Where did that big grey mutt go? Damn this failing light. Shadows big enough to hide an elephant in.

“Here boy! Here boy! Let’s get you home now. You must be hungry after a day’s adventuring and gallivanting. Let’s get you home for supper …”

Oh, there he is. Over in the shadow of that marble Angel of Mercy.

Hang on. Is that the same dog? Is he standing on a ledge?

Shitting hell! It’s Anubis himself! A dog walking on two legs. Well mercy me, now I have seen everything.

“Bloody good trick that! Well done boy. Now there’s no need to growl at me like that. Wait … you can leave that kid in the wizard robes alone thank you very much. Whoa…”

The earth shakes like Atlas himself is trying to shrug it off and I fall to one knee. Got to use my lasso stick to stop me falling flat on my face. Right in front of me, the marble angel snaps at the base and topples toward me. Just jinked out the way in time. Funny how the mind plays tricks at a moment like this. I put in mind of the first angel to fall and wonder if he’s behind all of this.

But … now then … I don’t believe in such things … not at all … even in a graveyard at dusk with an enormous grey wolf that has started to walk on two legs.

The earthquake settles leaving folds in the earth on the newer graves. Flowers are tossed aside. Candles in jars fall and shatter on the pavement.

Oh dear God in Heaven, in whom I definitely do not believe but am willing to be convinced!

I just cannot believe or disbelieve this moment. Hands … boney hands … or just hands of bones are reaching up out of the ruptured earth. And the dead are rising. Twenty of them! Fifty of them! Maybe a hundred!

Oh dear God! The dead are rising out of their graves like an infernal flash mob.

Of course. That’s what it is. A bucket of cold relief slaps down my panic.

It’s a prank. A bloody elaborate prank. There’s a camera hidden somewhere. Bloody Jane and Frank and Billy have set me up in a reality TV prank. I get myself back on my feet, tuck my pole under my arm and start to applaud.

“Bloody good work fellows! Ah hah. Those zombie fellows coming up out of the ground look really good. Gosh that is very well done.”

That two legged grey wolf fellow has some high grade prosthetics on. That is some impressive theatrics right there. This must be a movie set. No reality TV show I’ve ever watched has a budget like this. Where are the film crew though?

Hang on. There are more of them. Two more.

A male with black fur and tan chin and chest, and a female with striped grey fur and a choker of bones and teeth. She looks like a proper shaman. Oh … yes, she’s casting a spell against the kid. Is he supposed to be a necromancer? Great stuff. Now this is proper 3D cinema!

Wooo … how did they do that? The air just wobbled between the necromancer and the shaman lady werewolf. Okay, here comes the boss fight bit!

At a signal from the she-wolf shaman, the other werewolves attack. Dear god they are making a mess of those zombies. Those special effects are realistic! So gruesome.

Oh ho! Well played sirs! The werewolves are digging the graves deeper and putting the bits of the animatronic zombies back in the graves and covering them up. Oh I see. They are burying the bones. Well that’s what dogs love to do, isn’t it! Who is directing this? It must be Tim Burton with a brilliant visual pun like that.

Wow that magic battle is going a bit poorly for the necromancer. The she-wolf shaman is almost on him. He’s losing his concentration and can’t keep the spell up. Oh dear, she’s got him … around the throat … oh dear … that is rather a lot of blood … and that does actually look like a severed windpipe. And I don’t think fake blood smells quite like that.

It can’t be. It can’t be real.

Because if it is … then I am in the middle of a graveyard … with a pack of werewolves … and I’m a dog catcher.

The cold bucket of calm parts like the Red Sea, up my gullet, and out onto the ground.

And now they’re turning their attention to me. I straighten up as they flow down onto all fours and with bone-popping nausea-inducing rearrangement flow into the forms of three huge dogs.

Well … I’m good with animals.

“Okay there fellows, how do you do? I’m Stephen and yes, I’m a dog catcher, but I just see it as a shepherd kind of arrangement, yeah? I’m just taking the high spirited pups back home after a day of well-earned freedom and shenanigans.”

The grey brindled female, still wearing the bone and teeth choker, gives a grunt sneeze and picks up the Akkadian spell book is in her jaws. Going by her pose, it doesn’t taste too nice.

“Look, I’ve got no quarrel with you. You’ve obviously just done the world a great service by stopping that fellow. How on earth he got his hands on an Akkadian spell book, I’ve got no idea.”

The she-wolf cocks her head at me.

“Oh, you can understand me ma’am? Okay, I’m assuming you’re the leader here. Now, I’m just a guy doing a job and you’re just some misunderstood mythological creatures who are taking care of business. So how about I just head off in my van and you can just … oh no, don’t panic. I can hear those sirens too, but they’re nothing to do with me I swear on my life … okay that was probably a poor choice of words.”

The Doberman and the Wolfhound lower their heads to the ground and growl. There’s me and the open rear doors of my van blocking the gate and their escape from the closing police cars. I stumble back a step kicking a stone from under my heel. The skittering stone grabs the Doberman’s attention.

“Okay then … you sir. Mind if I call you Stones? And you there … Wolfhound …” I wave the stick end of the lasso near his muzzle and his big head follows the movement “I’m going to call you Sticks.”

Even though the police are still a few blocks away, I can see the beams of blue and red falling across the graveyard. The young dead necromancer looks like a nightclub patron who has passed out on the dance floor.

“And you ma’am, I’m going to call you Names. I hope you’re the one in charge, because Sticks and Stones might break my bones, but Names will never hurt me.”

Names sits her rump on the ground and drops the spell book. Sticks and Stones look to her for guidance.

“Listen, I’ve got an idea.”

I bend down to pick up the Akkadian spell book and a surge of not quite electricity runs up my arm. Names growls at me.

“Look, without the book, he’s just some weird kid doing weird stuff in a graveyard and winding up dead. The police won’t look too hard into that one. Now follow me.”

And bloody hell, they actually do. Well I’ve always had an odd affinity with animals.

With a few whines and a short yap from Names, all three follow me to the van. I’ve never been more afraid and excited in my life but strangely enough I reckon it’s alright. I don’t trust these animals and they don’t quite trust me. But they have decided not to kill me right now and we can work with that.

“Come on, then, into the back.” The solemn countenances of the three dogs look back up at me, each one as unique as a human face. “Look, you lot, we better get out of here in a hurry. Hop in the back.”

I throw the tennis ball into the back of the van and they all jump in after it. A dog’s a dog after all.

Sticks seems to think better of it as I secure the doors, but a quick nip on the scruff of the neck from Names puts him right. They lie down on the floor in an alert fur pile and I get into the cabin, put the spell book on the passenger seat and feel the oddest pang of parting as I let it go.

I steady my shaking hands, start the engine, and pull out into the gathering night.

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