So I started a weekly writing (or art!) prompt for the year. The writing group More Odds than Ends is taking part, along with other folks, hence the name ‘Odd Prompts.’ It works by people who want to participate submitting a short prompt to firstname.lastname@example.org and then on Wednesdays, the prompts are published as random assignments to other participants. This is very similar to something I took part in years ago, and I’ve missed that prompt challenge. So what follows is my response to the prompt challenge of the week.
“Jack!” I shouted. “Happy Jack, leave those ducks alone!”
He ignored me, like he always did. We had a routine. I yelled, and he pretended it didn’t count until I’d done it at least three times. It wasn’t like he was going to hurt the ducks. He just really wanted to play with them, and it hurt his feelings when they all flew away. There are few things purer-hearted than a Golden Retriever.
“Jack!” He loved everybody, and everybody loved him. Which was hilarious when that was a rock, or… “Put the stick down. Drop it!”
He came up out of the pond, then, half his tail feathers waving gaily in the breeze of his tail wagging. The other half were covered in mud and weeds, because a trip to the pond was also bath day. I’d planned on that.
He trotted up to me, his big brown eyes shining in pride. The stick was at an awkward angle, not that that ever bothered him.
“Eew. I am not touching that thing.” I told him, putting my hands on my hips. He sat and grinned around his mouthful of black, muddy… stick? I wasn’t sure now, from the shape of it, just what it was. I sighed. This was also part of the routine. I had to take whatever he brought me.
I reached down and grabbed the end closest to me, the one with the cross-bar and heavy knob on it. He let go and his big pink tongue, flecked with black bits of ancient leaves that had been mouldering in the pond, flopped out in a happy sigh. I had fulfilled the contract.
I was about the break the promise, though. I didn’t throw the stick. Instead I stood there looking at it for a very long time, ignoring Happy Jack. Long enough that he forgave me, forgot the stick, and wandered off to find a new one. Or some ducks. Either was good.
I was still holding the stick when I found him snuffling in a pile of leaves. “Jack, leash up.”
He knew those words. Jack might be all fluff and love, but he’s a smart dog in his own way. He came over slowly, hoping no doubt that I’d decide we really hadn’t had enough time at the park, after all. We only came here to the pond rarely, in his opinion. In mine, only when I had the time to bathe him after his mud revelries.
He sniffed the stick I held upright in one hand while I clipped on his leash with the other. I was holding it by the knob end and letting it hang, but that meant I had to keep an elbow crooked to keep it well clear of the ground. It was not light, this stick Jack had gifted me.
We followed the path out of the park, headed toward the tall narrow townhouse I was leasing while my assignment here in Wales. I was hoping we didn’t see anyone. Despite my intial confusion over the stick, now that I was holding it the thing was all too obvious. Jack bounced along, head up, watching for his only enemy in life: squirrels. We came around a corner and almost bumped into a man in a tracksuit.
He startled, for which I did not blame him. My heart rate was up, too.
“What have you there?” He was staring at the object in my hand.
“Oh, it’s an umbrella.” I played up the dumb American. No one would think the dripping thing was… “My dog got hold of it.”
“Oh, er, I see then.” His eyes flicked up to my face and he smiled, a little vaguely. “Have a good day.”
I walked on, my heart racing, my mind spinning over what had just happened. He couldn’t possibly have thought it was an umbrella. It looked nothing like an umbrella. I opened my own gate and let Jack in, then closed it behind us, still clinging to the stick. Jack headed for the door. He knew the routine. Right into the bath with him.
But not today. Today I let him off his lead as soon as the door closed behind us, and then I walked into the kitchen to lay Excalibur on my kitchen table. I stood there and stared at it in dismay. The mud and leaves had slid off of it while we walked. The silvery blade shimmered with an unnatural sheen. I’d been holding it by the hilt, and now I could see the jewels worked there, although the leather wrappings were long gone. Gold wire hung loosely where it had been.
I had no doubt at all what it was. A sword, in a pond? One that you couldn’t really see unless it wanted you to?
“Oh, Jack. What are we going to do with this?”
He sat at my feet and wagged his tail happily. He was thrilled I loved his stick.