Barking up the wrong tree

Lucy loved to chase squirrels, and she had plenty of them around. Our yard backed into the park, so we had all kinds of wildlife make our home its own. Mice nested in the walls. Sparrows cared for their young in the gutters and squirrels buried their treasure at the base of our old oak tree.

Occasionally Dad would leave the gate open and lucy would get free. She’d chase squirrels all over the park until sunset before wandering back home with her tail wagging. Yesterday was one such occasion.

At dusk, I waited by the gate. I called her name. I even shook the bag of dog biscuits, but Lucy didn’t come home. Dad reckoned she’d just gotten lost, or distracted by some interesting smell, so we grabbed our flashlights and went looking.

Neither of us was prepared for what we found when we rounded the bend by the creek. lucy could be heard loud and clear over the sound of trickling water, her bark echoed around the wood as she stood, fixated on one particularly large tree.

“Lucy, Lucy, come here, girl.”

She continued barking.

“Lucy girl, heel.”

She continued barking.

Dad whistled, something which never failed to get her attention.

She continued barking.

Dad took a step towards her but froze in place, his boot sinking slowly into the mud. All colour drained from his face.

“Dad? What is-“

He threw his arms back to stop me from approaching, never taking his eyes off the tree. Lucy continued to bark.

He shifted his weight to pull his boot out with a squelch. He winced at the sound and there was a screech like nothing I’d ever heard from the dark leaves atop the tree. We watched in horror as a skeletal shadow scuttled its way down the trunk towards our beloved family pet. It was inches away from Lucy, who was barking more feverishly than ever, when Dad grabbed my hand, spinning me around and dragging me through the brush. My heart hurt as a whimper echoed through the park. Dad quickened his pace and I stumbled. He threw me over his shoulder and began to run, full tilt, towards home. I glanced up and let out a squeal as I spotted a shadow slithering through the underbrush behind us.

Dad slammed the door. He was sweating and covered in tiny cuts from rushing through twigs and branches. He shut off all the lights and we sat in the kitchen in silence, trying our hardest to catch our breath without making a sound. For minutes we heard nothing, then a creak on the porch had my heart racing again. A whimper and a break made both me and Dad jump. For a moment I was overjoyed. Then it barked again and I realised it didn’t sound quite right. It wasn’t Lucy.

By Stacey Potter

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