Authors: Issy Brooke
Text copyright 2015 Issy Brooke
All rights reserved
Cover credit: background vector illustration Denis Demidenko
Cover design and dog illustration by Issy Brooke
Just a quick heads-up on the whole spelling and grammar
thing. I’m a British author and this book is set in England. Sometimes, British
English looks unfamiliar to readers of other variants of English. It’s not just
spelling (colour and realise and so on) and not just the vocabulary (pavement
for sidewalk, mobile for cell phone) but there are differences even in the way
we express ourselves. (In the US, it is more common to say something like “did
you see Joanne?” whereas in the UK we would say “have you seen Joanne?” and so
on.) Also, my characters do not speak grammatically correct sentences - who
does? Not me. Rest assured this book has been copyedited and proofread (errors,
alas, are my own and I won’t shoot my editor if you find any.)
And another thing - locations. Lincolnshire is real. It’s a
massive rural county in the east of England, with a sparse population. It’s
mostly agricultural. Upper Glenfield, the town in this tale, is fictional.
Lincoln, the main city nearest to Glenfield, does exist and it’s worth a visit.
The only thing I’ve fictionalised in Lincoln is the layout and situation of the
You can find out more about Lincolnshire and the characters
in Glenfield at my website,
Why not sign up to my mailing list? You get advance notice
of new releases at a special price - but no spam. No one wants spam. Check it
Though it was May, the air was cool at seven o’clock in the
morning, and Penny May wrapped a brand-new bright red scarf around her neck and
face. It had been carefully chosen to remind her of the cheerful clothes she
used to wear before she was sucked into decades of corporate greyness. It also
served to disguise her appearance somewhat, which could only be a good thing.
She wanted to be incognito.
She crept to the front door of her recently-purchased cottage,
and opened it slightly, just enough for her head to peek out. She looked left
and right, and strained her ears. River Street was a dead-end to the left, and
all was quiet where the street met the crossroads to the right. Suddenly, a
milk float buzzed past. Then, silence once more.
It was safe to leave.
“Come on, you,” she muttered, and as she stepped back to
open the door fully, her wildly over-excited dog barged past her, flinging herself
into the street with her legs and tail making windmills. Penny was dragged out,
and she hauled back as hard as she could to stop the dog in her tracks for long
enough that Penny could lock her door. Why was it that the harder Penny pulled,
the more the dog would pull back? Contrary animal.
But anyway … now the door was secure, the mission was on.
Mission “Avoid All Other Dogs”.
And possibly men in hats.
And carrier bags.
And invisible things that only the dog could see.
The dog was large, and tall, and broad, and black with tan
legs and a tan muzzle. The rescue centre had muttered something about her being
a cross-breed but it was obvious to anyone who vaguely knew dogs that she was a
Sad to say, but when Penny had taken her on, she couldn’t
even claim to “vaguely” know dogs. But she was on a crash course now.
Penny lurched along behind the dog as she lunged and
sniffed her way along the street, moving by stops and starts, heading towards
the centre of the small Lincolnshire town of Upper Glenfield.
Penny had only lived in the area for four weeks but she had
already established that the town “centre” was a handful of small shops, “rush
hour” was when a tractor prevented the fuel tanker getting to the petrol
station, and “community spirit” meant that every other dog walker she saw
wanted to talk with her.
And that would have been fine.
Except when she’d gone to the animal rescue centre asking
for a “friendly” dog, she had not thought to specify that the dog be friendly
She’d owned Kali for a week and she imagined that the whole
town already knew her as “that Londoner with the crazy hound.” Kali would
happily lick anyone to death – the postman included, unless he was wearing a
hat – but the minute she saw another creature on four legs, she became a
howling, barking, lunging, foaming whirling devil of sheer terror. If she had
been a terrier, Penny could have picked her up. But she was not about to snatch
a five-stone Rottie up under her arm. Instead, Penny would try to distract her,
cajole her, and wrestle her away from the situation. In the one short week of
dog ownership, she’d been dragged on her bottom along a grassy bank, leaped
behind a pile of rubbish in an alleyway, hidden in someone’s front garden, and
squatted between two parked cars while singing lullabies to draw Kali’s
Penny dug in her heels and hauled back on Kali as they
neared the end of the street. Her heart was pounding as she looked up and down,
trying to see around corners and predict what was coming. She wasn’t sure what
she was most afraid of. It was a mix of fear that Kali would get loose and
attack another dog, as she seemed to want to, and also the humiliation that she
looked like the worst dog owner in the world.
There was a car pulling into the primary school on her
right, and someone walking through the churchyard opposite, but there were no
dogs. Hot relief washed along her spine as she turned right and let Kali walk
as quickly as she liked, south along Spinney Road and out of the town towards
* * * *
How had it come to this? Penny asked herself that question
a lot. She walked briskly and was soon too warm in her scarf. She pulled it
down a little, and inhaled the air – she told herself that the tang of
muck-spreading was simply the sweetness of rural life. She walked straight on
past a tempting open area to the left. It was called the Slipe, and it was meadow
land that bordered the river; apparently “slipe” was a local Lincolnshire word
to describe a patch of land that would flood when the river was high. She had
never realised that Lincolnshire had an accent, never mind its own dialect,
until she moved to the area. It had shades of the rounded vowels of the West
Country, with a Yorkshire tinge and some odd Norfolk inflections too. When she
overheard older men talking to one another, it sounded like a stream of eee and
ooo and aaaa spoken with a mouthful of pebbles.
The Slipe was a popular spot for people to let their dogs
run free. Therefore, Penny could not go there, unless she wanted to see carnage
and disaster. Instead she had to head for the lesser-used footpaths.
“I was supposed to be here to unwind and leave stress
behind,” she said to Kali, who had stopped to sniff a particularly interesting
patch of grass that looked – but clearly didn’t smell – exactly the same as all
the other patches of grass beside the road.
Kali’s ears swivelled around but she didn’t move from her
task, her nose buried among the stalks of grass.
“And I wasn’t supposed to end up with a dog like you,” she
added darkly. She’d intended to get something small and cute and happy that
would bound along playfully and frolic with other dogs as she watched from a
bench. In these fantasies, it was always a warm summer’s day and she was
inexplicably holding a glass of wine.
She’d need a bottle of the stuff at this rate. Maybe a
bottle a day.
Kali suddenly tensed, her head and tail high in the air,
her nose wrinkling as some invisible information came to her on the wind. Penny
tensed too, and she shortened the lead. She couldn’t see any other dogs on the
lonely road, but she’d heard that they could smell each other for miles.
Which begged the question quite why they needed to get so
close to each other’s bottoms when they met.
Kali shook herself and sprang forwards unexpectedly, jerking
Penny off balance. She gathered herself, and sighed, following on behind.
* * * *
The road went past a small stand of trees, known locally as
the Spinney. A track wound off to the left, called Manor Lane. She could see a
smattering of cottages along it, and some large wrought-iron gates at the end,
hiding what she assumed was a large house. She hoped an enigmatic and slightly
mad Lord lived there. That would be fun.
She continued south. This was a quiet back road, with
occasional farm traffic and one or two cars. She wanted to get off the highway,
though, and as soon as a path opened up, she took it. She followed it along the
edge of a field of unknown crops. Potatoes? Beans? Corn? She had no idea. There
was never any sign of life in the arable fields, unlike the picture books of
childhood where the farms were brimming with flat-capped men and their plump
wives baking cakes. The landscape undulated, rising and falling with gentle
hills. She’d thought Lincolnshire was flat but it wasn’t. There were some
surprising pockets of actual picturesque landscape dotted with an assortment of
pretty stone-built farms and huge, industrial barns. She was longing to peep
inside one of those vast structures.
The path began to peter out as the gradient increased. She
pressed on. She hadn’t come this way before, and Kali was eagerly embracing all
the new smells. She was following a rough, scrubby hedge along the edge of a
field of something short and green and quite leafy. Cabbage, she guessed.
There was definitely no path any longer. This was probably
– no, certainly – private land, she thought to herself. I’m going to be shot by
an angry farmer, aren’t I?
Well, at least I can set the dog on him.
As long as he looks like a dog. Or he is wearing a hat and
carrying a bag. Otherwise she’ll be no use. She’ll run up and make friends and
Is this private land?
She could feel her negative thoughts spiralling around her
brain again and she sought to stop them. She was here to chill out and calm
down, not find new things to worry about. No farmer was going to shoot her, and
no pack of dogs was going to spring out of the hedge and attack them, and it
might not even be about to rain. She squinted at the low, grey clouds, daring
them to try. Once, she had been a wild and confident young woman. She was no
longer young, but by goodness she was going to reclaim her youthful fire. It
was partly for the sake of her blood pressure, but mostly because … well,
increasing age brought increasing clarity, and she had begun to realise that
she was working hard simply for the sake of working hard, and one day she would
be no more, and what, exactly, had it all been for?
She needed to be the free, happy, wild artist that she had
been, so long ago. Hence the red scarf, the new house, the dog, and the strange
shade of green that she had painted her fingernails the previous day.
“Bring it on,” she said to the world at large.
The gaps in the hedge widened and the crops grew sparse and
scrubby at the edges of the field. Now she was walking along a rough ridge, and
to her right, the slope was steep as it plummeted downwards. Kali began to pull
forwards, hard, and Penny’s feet slipped and scrabbled in the mud.
“Wait! Stop! Halt! What word did your previous owners use?”
she said though gritted teeth, knowing it was useless. The only commands Kali
seemed to know were “sit” and “food” and those meant nothing when she was
outside and over-stimulated. Maybe the dog spoke German. It was a German breed.
“Sitzen?” she hazarded. For all she knew, that was something terribly rude in
German, and didn’t mean sit at all. “Achtung?” The only other word she knew was
“schnell”, from war films, and telling the dog to go faster was not what she
wanted to do.
Penny pulled back hard on the lead, but five stone of
enthusiastic Rottie was no match for the mud and her flowery, smooth-soled
wellington boots, and she hit the ground in a flurry of muffled curses. The
lead slipped right out of her grasp and Kali bounded off down the slope, tail
held high like a triumphant flag. She almost heard her cry “Freeeeedom!”
“Ugh.” Penny sat up, and tipped her head back, closing her
eyes for a brief moment. It was Sunday. She should be in bed, reading the
newspapers, drinking proper filter coffee, and feeling smug as she planned a
lazy weekend of sketching and relaxation.
She shouldn’t be feeling mud ooze between her fingers while
her idiot dog barked her head off at the bottom of a slope.
Her eyes opened with a snap. What was Kali barking at? She
stumbled to her feet and peered through the light mist that coated the valley
bottom. She could see Kali as a dark blur at the bottom of the rough hill, her
tail swooping from side to side, as she jumped, stiff-legged, back and forth.
Her yelps echoed across the empty fields. It wasn’t a snarling, “let me rip
your face off” bark. It was a series of short, sharp yelps. More a “hey, hey,
you, look at this!”