Monday, 31 May 2010

Jallat's Encounters with the Wolves - Part One


Following is a sample of an episode from the story for 'Bloodlines of the Magi.'

It's a first draft, and this particular text will almost definitely not form part of the final book in anything like this form, though it does give you some idea of events during the story.

This particular episode takes place when Jallat decides for reasons he can't share with the other Magi, (or even with his colleague and lover Reyalde,)  to make a journey that is so important that the whole future of Yvoronay relies upon it.

It's in two parts, This is part one and I'd like any comments now if you have any.


Jallat's Encounters with the Wolves - Part One

Jallat, son of Gallanar and Magus of Yvoronay was awake.

He didn’t open his eyes right away. That was not the way of The Magi. In the few seconds before he gave over his awareness to his physical senses, he would first employ his Magus talents: the special abilities that he’d learned to trust more than his own eyes and ears, as a result of his own experiences, and of the memories of those of his ancestors. Those memories, those very experiences, had been inherited and even now were ingrained in his mind, in somewhere other than his conscious or his sub-conscious, deep in a place they shared with the thoughts of his ancestors: with their feelings and their opinions. It was as if every Magus of his bloodline who had lived before him, lived on within him, as part of his being, their personalities existing forever, in his mind, in his soul, alongside his own.

So in the few seconds before Jallat’s normal senses became active, first he made himself aware of the presence of any imminent danger, or threat to his survival. There was none, surprising to Jallat, as his last waking memory had been of being in a dilemma where his life was certainly in danger. Had he been rescued? Such was his faith in his Magus senses that he trusted what they told him and convinced himself that he was in no immediate peril.

Next, he scanned his own physical state. He knew that he’d sustained some injury before he lost consciousness, but these wounds were in the most, superficial, and even without him being conscious of it or in control of it, his Magus talents would have gone most of the way to healing those as he slept. He was aware of the remains of those wounds, but was also aware that his body, even now was healing; he summoned his healing talents, and weaved them in the air around him in order to speed the healing process. He would be fine soon, and fit enough to continue his journey.

Each of the Magi had powers and abilities that they knew of as ‘their talents.’ The source of this power was in part a mystery to every Magus: They knew that it was inherited from one of their parents, but nobody at all, amongst the hundreds of living Magi had any clue as to where these talents had originated.

These talents were many and varied; Certain Magi were more adept in using some of them than they were others. A Magus that Jallat knew was particularly good at casting illusion, convincing everyone around him of anything he wanted them to see or to hear. All Magi could do this, but Jallat’s colleague was so expert at it that he was the only person Jallat knew who could be sure to fool everyone, including other Magi.

Jallat’s particular expertise was with healing, which was the main reason that he’d partially recovered from his wounds during the time he’d been sleeping. Most Magi were skilled enough to heal such wounds, on their own bodies at least, but most of them would have had to make a wilful effort to do it. Only someone as rich in healing talents as Jallat was, could heal his own wounds as a matter of reflex, with no need of his conscious attention.

Jallat was a healer. He was known and respected for it, not only amongst the other Magi, but among the people too. His name was well known amongst the Tanfehlian, his own people, and among their neighbours on the plains: the Somnehlian, there were few that hadn’t heard of him, Even the Loniantehl herder folk, may not have known his name, but they knew there was an expert Magi healer living at Midcrest with the mountain people.

Jallat’s skills as a healer meant that he saw it as his duty to provide care to those that needed it, whatever their race, Magi or not, whenever and wherever it was required. If the people called upon his healing talents, he would use them as best as he could. Among the other Magi though, he could provide more than that. He and his ancestors before him had tuned their skills and trained themselves to search with their minds for any Magus who was injured, sick or in need of care; this was the third thing that Jallat had done during his waking moments ever since he had first come into his Magus talents.

Only now, he resisted doing that. This journey he was on was personal to him, and also important to him. It was his intention to search for something that if found would affect the future of all the people of Yvoronay, but it would also reveal things that he only now suspected: information he knew was not safe in the minds of the other Magi. It was something that none of them were destined to learn for centuries yet. He knew that, for he had seen the future, but for his own personal reasons, it was something that he had to discover now. He had to defy fate, or one day there would be no future for them.

So Jallat withstood the urge to search for the minds of his fellow Magi. They would have to deal with their own illnesses for now. Not only could he not afford to turn away from his mission, even for the wellbeing of his colleagues, but also, in searching their psyches, he would also be revealing himself to them. It was best that the others had no idea whatsoever of where he was or where he was going.

He considered at least searching for his beloved Reyalde, but considering the state of mind he had left her in, he knew without much doubt that he would discover that she was in need of him as much now as she had been then. Even she did not know what his mission was, and could not know. He wouldn’t turn away from it even for her. No. Her chances were best served by him completing his quest and returning to her as soon as he could.

Normally, having satisfied his Magus senses, Jallat would have turned his awareness over to his human senses; there was something still bothering him though, as if missing within him, as though it had been taken away from him: something he couldn’t identify; something that had always been with him since he’d first become a Magus was now gone from him. But what was it?

Jallat had been awake for only two or three seconds now. He didn’t decide that it was time to open his eyes; it just became natural to open himself up to his ‘mortal’ physical senses, and even these were more finely tuned than others could hope for.

The first thing he became aware of was the hard ground below him, though there were patches of cold moist vegetable matter beneath him too. Dead vegetable matter: probably bark or dead leaves. Someone had at least tried to make him comfortable in his unconsciousness.

Then the smells: a damp woody smell that couldn’t be explained by just his bedding, made him realise that his entire surroundings were abundant with plant life, both living and once living, now dead.

The other smell that he detected was an animal smell, though not something he was used to. It was nothing like the smell of horses. Suddenly his mind was filled with thoughts of his horse. He’d last seen Meadowstorm, his mount, as she’d galloped away between the trees early in the ambush, in an attempt to lead away some of his attackers. He’d fought on, hoping that she would be safe, but having to battle for his own safety against those of his attackers that remained with him.

Now at last he realised what it was that was missing from his mind. Meadowstorm was no longer there. That horse had been his father’s, linked to Gallanar until the moment he had been slain, when it then became bound to Jallat himself in the same way, just as his father’s memories, his feelings and his talents had also passed to Jallat. But now the presence of the horse that he’d been aware of in his mind since that moment was gone. It could only mean one thing: his horse was dead.

Sounds came to Jallat’s ears; quiet sounds like those of light breathing, and occasionally the sound of soft footsteps padding to and fro, but always at the same distance from his ears. He was not alone.

Jallat opened his eyes.

It was dark, but his acute, Magus eyesight could see well enough, though probably not as well as what he saw before him, some twelve feet away.



It had been wolves that had attacked him. He’d been ambushed by a small pack of them at the edge of the forest. He’d been reluctant to use his talents to fight them because he was still trying to keep his presence here a secret from his fellow Magi, but when he’d tried to escape from the trees, his route had been cut off. He had been forced to turn and ride deeper into the trees, in the hope of shaking off his attackers.

That had been a mistake. His assailants had pursued him, and though they couldn’t possibly have hoped to catch Meadowstorm on the open plains, in the restricted surroundings of the trees, they kept up very well; well enough at least to steer him where they wanted him to go, right into the path of more of their kind.

He turned and somehow managed to escape between the two packs of wolves that now pursued him. Meadowstorm galloped as fast as she was able, swerving between trees as Jallat did all he could to cling on with one hand, as he tried his best to withdraw his sword from its scabbard as he rode. Eventually a break in the trees came into sight and Jallat hoped beyond hope that he was free of the forest. He knew that he hadn’t ridden all the way through it: the forest was vast and covered a large area on the border between Yvoronay and the Empire of Ar. There was no possibility he’d been chased through to the Ar side just yet, but he supposed that Meadowstorm may have taken more turns than he thought and somehow found her way out of the forest near to where they entered.

He was mistaken. They were merely in a large clearing. Meadowstorm stopped, even though their pursuers were not far behind. Jallat knew immediately what his horse’s reasons were. Their thoughts were linked. Jallat looked around to find a tree that he could climb easily enough, but also one that would be too difficult for the wolves to scramble up to get to him. He spotted one and quickly dismounted. He slapped Meadowstorm on her flank, and she galloped off into the trees, back the way they had come, not directly toward them so as to confront them, but at an angle so that the wolves would be aware of her passing close by them.

Jallat ran toward his chosen tree, and began to climb the trunk toward the lower boughs just as the first of the wolves broke into the clearing. He heard their snarls almost on top of him as he scrambled to reach the tree bough and put some distance between him and the ground. He realised that this wasn’t an ideal solution, because he would have no route of escape, but the immediate concern was to avoid the wolves attack.

Behind him, he heard one of the wolves seemingly much closer than before. It jumped for him, and he felt its claws in his back as he heard it snarling in his ear. It dragged him down from the tree trunk and he felt its hot breath on his neck.

The wolf attacked him and for a moment it was surprised. As a Magus, Jallat instinctively protected himself whenever he was under attack. Despite his attempts to not draw attention to his whereabouts by using his talent, he had subconsciously summoned air around him and woven it with his talent of compulsion to form a kind of shield around him. It gave only about as much protection as decent leather armour would, and it wouldn’t deter the wolf for long, but the beast wasn’t expecting it, and momentarily recoiled from Jallat’s neck and raised its head from his back.

That was enough for Jallat. He braced himself upward, throwing the surprised wolf from his back; he rolled over, finally managing to draw his sword, and swung it, slicing across the wolf’s muzzle. It fell aside dead or maimed, Jallat wasn’t sure, but he was able to regain his footing, just as the remaining wolves crossed the clearing toward him. They were a little more cautious in their approach now, seeing the sword in Jallat’s hand and their brother lying bleeding on the ground.

Jallat had his back against his chosen tree, but knew now that he wouldn’t have a chance to scale it: he couldn’t afford to turn his back on the animals that now stood before him, snarling, some of them with foam dripping from their muzzles. Jallat estimated that there were about fourteen of the beasts facing him, though he had no idea how many more there might be, and if any had circled around the clearing to attack him from around the tree he now stood against.

He glanced around himself, never letting his gaze leave the wolves for more than a fraction of a second. The clearing was surrounded on three sides by trees, which grew so close together that he wouldn’t have a chance to escape between them, even if the wolves hadn’t been so much faster than him. On the side of the clearing to his left, was a stone outcrop rising from the forest floor. The wolves were obviously aware that there was no escape in that direction, because they spread out in front of him, favouring the route to his right.

Maybe he couldn’t escape that way, but if he was going to have to fight these beasts, he would rather have that rock behind him than have his back to trees. He estimated that the rocky wall was about twenty five feet away from him, much too far from him to make a dash to, then to turn and defend himself before the wolves attacked.

Of course, if he’d been willing to use his talents, he could have despatched each of the wolves by now, or had them fleeing in terror from him by just suggesting that to them. He decided that in order to survive he would have to turn to his talents, at least in part. He thought about using his talents of summoning. Bringing down fire of any kind was out of the question. It would do as much harm to the forest in this situation and he’d probably find himself trying to escape from a burning forest with angry wolves in pursuit.

He decided that if he used his talent of compulsion he could instil fear into the wolves; using the method enough to make them retreat would undoubtedly be detectable by every other Magus within miles and he wanted to avoid that if he could do, so he decided to cast a weaker compulsion on them, not fear but caution, which might be enough to make them hesitate when their chance to attack came. That would probably gain him some time, but wouldn’t be enough. He decided to summon air too, in such a way as to create a sudden overpowering gust of wind, almost like a pulse of air to push them away.

Of course he would have to do this at the same time as he sent the compulsion. He’d often woven together two or more of his talents to achieve his purposes, but using two of his talents independently of each other was difficult at the best of times, and if he was to make as little an exhibition as possible to any other Magi, he would have to control both talents carefully.

He concentrated: first he summoned air, using his power to draw each of the light breezes running through the trees around him until the air actually felt as though it thickened and began to form a fragile wall in front of him; then he sent out his compulsion to every wolf in the clearing; he could feel in his own mind that each and every one of them suddenly became unexpectedly wary of him. A fraction of a second later, he took control of the air in front of him and pushed outward with such a force that it punched toward the wolves.

They were taken by surprise, some of them even lost their footing; many of them backed away a few paces under the combined forces of the air shock and their new found caution. Jallat seized his chance. He ran to his left, diving and rolling and then rising to his feet again directly in front of the rock wall. He turned just in time as the first wolves to recover sprang toward him.

Jallat swung his sword as well as he could, concentrating his efforts on the wolves that were closest to him. He wasn’t an accomplished swordsman, but knew that swinging and cutting in this way was his only hope, even if it did give the odd wolf the chance to duck in under his sword. He knew that fighting by thrusting his sword would be a big mistake since he’d be fighting only one wolf at once, and that would make him vulnerable to attack from every one of the others.

Again his shield of air helped him to begin with. A number of wolves thrust forward when his sword cuts allowed it, attempting to sink their teeth into his leg or his side, and expected only weak human skin. They were surprised by the resistance he had to their bite. After some time, only four wolves lay dead at his feet, but he was still standing. He realised that he didn’t have the strength to withstand the attacks of the remaining dozen or so for very long.

Suddenly from the opposite side of the clearing, eight more wolves appeared. These were larger than the ones already attacking him, and darker brown in colouring, in contrast to the greyish brown wolves he was engaging in battle right now.

Jallat’s heart sank. His fate was sealed with the appearance of these reinforcements. His journey would end here. His quest was over, doomed to failure. He would never see his lady Reyalde again, let alone be able to save her from the fate he was trying to avoid for her. Not only that, but he firmly believed that the fate of Yvoronay itself was decided. His land’s future was sealed. He had been determined to help the chances of the man who represented their only hope, but now that man would be lost, and his enemy’s will would more than likely prevail.

Suddenly a wolf overcame his Magus shield and sank its teeth into his thigh. He dropped to his knees as another savaged him from the other side, ripping at his torso. Jallat dropped his sword in agony, and after a moment wondered why the rest of the wolves hadn’t followed up the attack. He looked up and noticed that the larger brown newcomers seemed to be doing everything they could to get closer to him, snapping at the grey wolves as they forced their way between them. He heard one of the browns snarling and thought he saw it falling viciously onto one of the greys just as he lost consciousness, falling over onto his back, still breathing, but as good as dead and at the mercy of the wolves.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

When Jake Went


As an exercise, I wanted to write a short story with one particular theme, but using another theme as a focal point. I chose a father-daughter relationship as the underlying theme, with the loss of a family pet as a focal point.

This was a first for me, in a number of respects. I normally write in third person, as I find this less restrictive in use of constructs and vocabulary, but for this piece, since I was dealing with the character's feelings, I decided to write in first person for the first time. I'm a middle-aged male, so it was quite a challenge to write this from the point of view of a pre-teen female. The genres I normally write in are fantasy, science fiction and occasionally suspense, but this was more of an emotional piece, so rather than sit and plan the story out to begin with, I decided what I wanted it to say, what direction I wanted it to go in, and then I sat down and wrote from the heart, (or from somebody else's heart,) as accurately as I could.

Let me know what you think.


When Jake Went

I was seven when we got Jake, though I’d known him for a few years before then. He lived with Mary, the old lady who used to live at the corner, and every time I passed her house, he’d either be looking out of her window from the back of an armchair or running down the path to see me. It made me laugh the way he’d shake his whole rear half from side to side as he approached me, as though just wagging his tail wasn’t quite enough.

I think Mary had us in mind when it came to finding a new home for Jake. She didn’t ever say as much, but she made sure she told us about how she thought it was best for her to go out to join her daughter in Canada, and about how much she worried about finding a good home for Jake, as she couldn’t possibly take him with her.

Of course, I asked Mum and Dad if we could have Jake. Even Mum didn’t seem very keen, and Dad dismissed the idea immediately.  The problem with Dad was that he was stubborn and a little selfish: once he’d made his mind up about something, it was almost impossible to persuade him to change it. He’d never listen to me, no matter how much I pleaded with him. It was a different matter with Mum: She could always get Dad to see things from her point of view, and luckily for me, I was very good at persuading Mum to give me what I wanted.

I’d been upstairs all day sulking because I really wanted Jake and Dad kept on saying no. Mum came up to see how I was and I hugged her, and cried my eyes out saying things like: “I really need a dog. Other people at school have dogs, and they’re not half as lonely as I am. They have brothers and sisters at home, but I have nobody. I need Jake”

“You have me and Dad,” Mum replied.

“It isn’t the same,” I said. “I love Jake. He’s a lovely dog and he’s my friend. I want him to live here with us.”

Mum looked at me and shook her head. I knew then that I was getting to her.

“I’ll look after him myself,” I said. “I’ll feed him and take him for walks. At least say that you’ll think about it, Mum.”

Mum sighed, “We’ll see. But I don’t think your Dad will think it’s such a good idea.”

Mum went downstairs again after telling me that lunch would be ready in about twenty minutes. After a moment or two I could hear Mum and Dad talking and thought I’d leave them to it for a while.

When I went downstairs later, I stood outside the sitting room for a while before I opened the door, listening to Mum and Dad’s conversation.

“You had a dog when you were a boy,” Mum was saying. “Think of how close you were to your dog; surely you’d like that for your daughter too,” Mum was saying.

“Yes,” said Dad, “I have some lovely memories of Rufus, but I also remember how awful I felt when that car hit him and he died; and I was fifteen. How’s she going to handle it at her age, if something like that happens?”

“It’s called life,” Mum said, “Things like that are all experiences that she’s going to come across sooner or later. We can’t shield her from things like that forever.”

“I’m thinking it might happen sooner rather than later though,” Dad said. “Mary has had that dog for years, and it wasn’t a puppy when she first took it in. Who knows how old it is?”

Things weren’t going well. I walked into the sitting room and Mum said that lunch was nearly ready. I tried my hardest to look as sad as I possibly could, but it had no effect on Dad. Every so often I’d look at Mum so that she could see the tears in my eyes, and once or twice, she’d reach out and touch my hand as she gave me a sympathetic smile.

That night as I was getting ready for bed, Mum came into my bedroom and said to me: “How about we get you a puppy: a puppy of your own?

At last! I was getting somewhere. If Mum was suggesting something like that, then she was probably having some success working on Dad. “But I don’t want a puppy,” I said. “I want Jake.”

Mum sighed and went downstairs.

Days later, Dad finally weakened and Mum told me that we could take Jake in when Mary emigrated later that month. I knew that Dad wasn’t too happy about it, but Mum and I had won.

Having my own dog was wonderful. We’d play in the garden, and in the evenings I’d sit on the sitting room carpet, cuddling and stroking him. Sometimes he’d jump up onto the couch next to where I was sitting, but Dad made sure he got down right away. He wouldn’t even consider letting Jake on the furniture and would shout a lot every time the dog jumped onto a chair. It fell to Mum to feed Jake, but I’d take him out for walks on fine days, and sometimes we’d play outside with my friends who’d often bring their dogs along too.

Unfortunately, Jake wasn’t the best behaved of dogs. He was friendly and gentle enough, but having once been a stray, he’d never been totally housebroken, so he’d occasionally leave little ‘presents’ or puddles in the kitchen. I never once had to clean it up; Mum would always make sure that she did, before Dad saw it. He’d have gone mad if he’d known, and would probably have got rid of Jake. My Dad was like that.

In the spring and summer, if Mum was busy and I had homework to do, or if Mum and I were watching something particularly slushy on the television, Dad would go for a walk himself and often take Jake along with him. When they got back, Jake would go berserk: he was so pleased to see me, as if he’d been away for days rather than just an hour or two. Dad would often look a little red and flustered. He’d explain to mum: “I let him off his lead in the park for a while, and it’s not easy to get it back on him to come home.” Mum always smiled, and told me later that she thought Dad had spent some time playing with Jake, but I think she was wrong. I was sure, that even though Dad had got used to Jake, he didn’t really like him that much.

When I was eleven, Jake slowed down and was nowhere near as active as he used to be. He went off his food. He still ate, but not with the enthusiasm he used to. As the days passed, Jake got slower and weaker and Mum and I got more and more worried about him.

It was early in January, and it soon became clear that he was really ill. Mum said that she’d make an appointment at the vet’s for him in the morning, and that she’d make up a bed for him in the sitting room that night, since it was warmer than the kitchen. I said that I wanted to sit up with him, but Dad said no. I stayed up a little later, but come ten o’clock Dad packed me off to bed, regardless of how much I was worried about my dog.

I was sure I wouldn’t sleep, so I actually felt a little guilty when I did; I’d keep on waking up, worrying about Jake, but I was so sleepy that I soon went over again. Then about 3:30 in the morning I woke up again and decided to go downstairs to check on Jake.

I’d only just opened the sitting room door, when I noticed Dad was there. “What do you think you’re doing downstairs?” he said.

“I’m just checking Jake is ok,” I replied. “What about you?”

“I came down to get a glass of water,” he said. “Jake’s fine. Now give him a little cuddle, and then get yourself back to bed.”

“But can’t I stay downstairs with him?” I asked.

“No!” Dad insisted and ushered me back into the hallway and toward the stairs. Sometimes I really hated my Dad.

The next morning, when I got up, Dad had already left for work. Mum said that he was starting early because he thought he might have to leave early. I didn’t want to go to school, and Mum said that even though she understood how I was feeling, that Dad had insisted before he left, that I should definitely go in today.

I went to school after reminding Mum to make the Vet’s appointment, even though I knew she wouldn’t forget. I rushed home at lunchtime and Mum told me that the vet was seeing Jake at 3 pm.

That afternoon, I risked getting into trouble. I skipped the last lesson and raced home so that I could go to the vet’s with Mum, but when I got home, the house was locked up and Mum had already left, so I started the walk to the Vet’s by myself.

When I arrived there, Mum was sitting in the waiting room with Jake on her lap. Dad was there too, discussing something with the vet. When I walked in, Mum and Dad both saw me, and then Dad and the vet went into another room to continue their conversation.

On the way home, Jake sat with me in the back of the car. He looked so ill, and so sad. “Are vets expensive?” I asked mum. “If you can’t afford his treatment, I have that money in the bank that Gran sent me. You can have that.”

“No it’s ok darling,” said Mum. “We won’t need your money.”

“But if it means we can afford better treatment for him...” I started to say.

“Look,” snapped Dad. “We won’t need your money because we’ve already paid the vet.” I didn’t know why he was angry with me.

“But you’ll need to pay again when he goes back won’t you?” I said.

“He isn’t going back again. Now just leave it.” Dad seemed really angry. Mum just turned to me and put her finger to her lips as a signal for me to be quiet. Then she half turned toward Dad and slowly shook her head a little. Dad could be an absolute pain sometimes.

We made up the bed for Jake again that night, and I gave him an extra big cuddle. I put my face down next to his, and he licked my cheek. “Don’t kiss the dog!” Dad snapped, but I didn’t care what he said. Only Jake was important to me at that moment.

I didn’t realise it then, but that was the last time I would see Jake alive.

Mum woke me early the next morning, and I knew immediately that she’d been crying. I raced downstairs and there was no sign of Jake. He’d died during the night.

“Where is he?” I asked through my tears.

“He’s in the spare room. Dad put him there until the vet can collect him later this morning,” Mum replied.

“Why?” I demanded. “I want him to be buried in the garden.”

“That isn’t practical darling,” Mum said. “Dad’s going away on a business trip in a couple of hours and doesn’t have time to bury him. And it can’t wait until he comes back.”

“Then we’ll do it. I’ll do it. Where is Dad anyway?”

“Dad’s upstairs catching an extra hour sleep before he has to go. He has a long drive ahead of him. It’s too dark yet to be out in the garden, and it’s best if the vet collects him. We arranged it yesterday.”

That was typical of Dad, catching extra sleep despite how upset Mum and I were over Jake dying. And if they’d arranged it yesterday, Dad must have already written off Jake’s chances. That’s probably why he didn’t think the expense of further visits to the vet was worthwhile. Right at that moment, I absolutely hated Dad.

I stayed home from school that day. I was too upset to go in, and to be honest, I was still scared about getting into trouble for leaving early the previous day. No doubt Dad would really tear into me about that too, when he got back from his trip.

I cried for hours that day, and when Mum and I finally decided that we could manage to eat something late that evening, we sat together at the table, both still visibly upset.

“It’s really odd not having Jake around,” I said to Mum. “I keep expecting to feel him nudging me under the table.”

“Yes love,” Mum replied. “It does feel a little strange. Just the two of us for the next couple of days though.” She paused a little and then added: “Then when your Dad gets home in a couple of days, it will be just the three of us from then on.”

“I don’t care if Dad never comes back,” I said. Then I saw the look of shock on Mum’s face, so I added: “No, I don’t mean it like that, but at least the two of us here both really cared about Jake. Dad wasn’t bothered at all.”

Mum got up from the table and beckoned me to follow her into the sitting room. She asked me to sit on the couch with her, then she put her arms around me and cuddled me. “You know,” she said, “you have it wrong about your Dad.”

“How do you mean?” I asked.

Mum then explained how Dad had stayed downstairs with Jake for the last two nights running, and that the extra hour of sleep he’d grabbed that morning was pretty much all he’d had altogether.

She told me how on the first night, he’d spent some of the time with Jake on his lap on this very couch, and had stroked him all night; how he’d left work early yesterday, especially so that he could be at the vet’s when she took him. She told me, why one visit to the vet’s had been enough, and why Dad has been so upset and angry on the way home.

The vet had examined Jake and declared that he was dying, that he was just very old and didn’t have much longer left. Dad had insisted that if there was anything to be done, it should be done, regardless of the expense.

The vet had said: “There’s nothing we can really do at all. It may be best if I just put him to sleep now.”

Dad had asked: “Is he in pain?” to which the vet had replied: “Not that I can tell, no.”

“Is he suffering in any way?” Dad had asked.

“No,” the vet had replied, “he’s just very weak indeed. He has only hours left, so he’s just going to fade away little by little. He’s a very old dog. It might be best to just let him die with dignity.”

“So what’s so dignified about putting him down?” Dad had asked. “Surely it’s best if the time he has left is spent with people he loves and who love him?”

The vet had shrugged and pointed out that it was Dad’s decision to make, but that he thought it might be more convenient for everyone to put Jake to sleep. Dad lost his temper, and told the vet that it wasn’t about convenience, it was about losing one of the family, and he would never kill a member of the family for convenience’ sake.

Mum told me that she’d come downstairs last night, to find that Dad had made himself up a makeshift bed on a blanket on the floor next to Jake’s. He was lying really close to the dog, with his face against Jake’s. Sleep had finally got the better of him and the two of them were sleeping on the floor alongside each other. Dad woke up as Mum watched them and sat up, very apologetic for nodding off. As he checked that Jake was ok, Mum noticed that the blanket where Dad’s head had been resting was wet from his tears.

Dad woke Mum later, about a half hour before she woke me. Jake had died. Mum was upset, but Dad was probably more upset than her. She hugged him as he cried, then they moved Jake’s body into the spare room. Mum had insisted that Dad went to bed for an hour or two before he started his long drive.

Two days later I was sitting on my bed when Dad arrived home. I heard him and Mum chatting downstairs for a while, then he knocked on my bedroom door, walked into my room and sat on the bed beside me.

“How’s things?” he said. “Are you feeling ok now?”

“I’m feeling a lot better,” I said as I browsed through the photographs of Jake that were spread out on my bed.

“I suppose you’ll be wanting that puppy now, eh?” said Dad.

I looked at him and smiled. I could see then that his eyes were glazed, and the redness around them made it look as though he’d cried almost as much as I had.

“I don’t think I’ll bother with a puppy, Dad,” I said. “Let’s just enjoy our memories of Jake instead eh?”

Dad kind of half smiled. I could see that he was trying not to cry. I threw my arms around him to hug him. As we held each other, I felt his strong arms squeezing me tight, and felt the cold wetness on my shoulder, as the tears flowed from his eyes.