A while ago I posted a short piece of flash fiction entitled Helplessness. This story was about a woman who takes her dog for a walk and they encounter a cougar. I received an email from a friend not long afterwards telling me that my story had her opening up a file on her computer to retrieve a little piece she had written years ago – a story that runs along a similar vein. It didn’t surprise me that we would have both created stories on the theme of cougars and dogs. We’ve both lived for years in an area where cougar sightings are common and my friend has loved dogs and walking dogs for as long as I’ve known her.
She sent me the story. I offered to do a bit of editing before giving her story a guest feature spot on my blog. (Just for the record, was it ever fun to edit someone else’s work for a change!)
So – I give you Becky – My Hero, a short story by my friend, Cheryl.
Becky – My Hero
It was my son Jeff who found me that morning, while memories of a gentle friend flooded my thoughts. I had tears running down my cheeks as I held Becky in my arms, her long, blond fur caked in blood. Beautiful, mischievous, dark-brown eyes were now closed by the trembling sweep of my fingertips. She had given her life for me.
I looked up at Jeff, and shook my head – as if to say, it’s too late. Time seemed to have no meaning. I wondered how long I had been sitting there on the dyke path. I hadn’t been able to carry Becky’s body away and I wouldn’t leave my dear old friend there, not like that.
Becky was a golden retriever born in the village of Port Alice on Vancouver Island. When she was just eight-weeks old, Becky joined our pack of friends and dogs for morning walks. She was a fluffy, mischievous little ball, but even as a pup she was a thinker and oh so curious.
Our group consisted of my dear friend Cathy, Sis my Chocolate Lab, Bootsie – a dog who was a mighty mouse mixture of sorts, and me. We would pick Becky up every morning as we started out on our walk. Often I would cart her along in my arms when her puppy legs tired out.
Our favourite walking spot was the dyke, a meandering path behind the Village. Puddles and streams often crossed our way. At the right times of the year, bears, deer, and sometimes even cougars could be seen. Cathy always packed the whistle and the bear spray. In the late summer and early fall the bears would be attracted to the plentiful berries. Becky and Sis made a game of chasing them away from their favorite treats. Bootsie, too old to join in such antics, watched from the sidelines.
When Becky was two-years old, my son Jeff adopted her and she became part of our family. Over the years our little dog-walking group lost both Bootsie and Sis. Cathy moved away and the pack dwindled to me and Becky.
On this fated morning, Becky was running free along the dyke. I had left her leash at home and was kicking myself for my forgetfulness. A Village Bylaw states that dogs must be on leash and in a small community, people can be picky about things like that.
I had been avoiding the dyke for a couple of days because reports of a cougar sighting in the area had been making the rounds. On this morning, the moon had fallen behind the mountains early and the sun had risen in a clear blue sky, warming the ground as steam rose all around us – it was too beautiful to resist the dyke. The smell of the forest, after the rain of the day before, filled my nostrils. Becky sniffed at every bush as was her usual practice.
A strange silence suddenly surrounded us. I saw Becky lift her nose, then her tail, and finally her hackles rose in a golden ruff down her neck and back. She stared up and past me toward the tree tops. I turned, with my heart beating wildly, to see what had drawn her attention. Becky’s gaze was riveted on a rock formation in front of us and before I could move, I saw the cougar leap at me.
Did I know what to do? Yes – I’ve lived in the North Island forever. Did I remember what to do? No, I did not. As the cougar bore down on me, I dropped to the ground and felt a tremendous weight skid across my back. Everything seemed to freeze. Becky lunged at the cougar and immediately the huge cat leapt from my back, accepting the dog’s heroic challenge. Lifting my head, I saw the cougar grab Becky by the back of her neck. I stumbled to my feet, clutching at the few rocks that came to hand, throwing these wildly at the cougar. My brain refusing to accept the sight of Becky held tight within the cat’s grip. I finally picked up a large tree branch. I took a deep breath and got myself within striking distance. With all my strength, I whacked the cougar on the side of the head. I managed to stun the animal enough that it released its hold on Becky and silently padded away into the trees at the side of the path, its tail making a menacing swish back and forth as it disappeared.
Becky’s brown eyes were calm but distant. Blood was flowing without check from her neck, soaking down her golden coat. I hastily pulled my sweat shirt over my head and tried to stop the bleeding. I applied pressure to the gaping wound, but it was no use.
I held her tight. I could feel her life force slipping away. She looked up at me and I saw her take her last laboured breath. As I cradled the body of this courageous animal in my arms, I felt that I had never known a greater love or felt a greater loss.