Diamond (Three facts and a Tail)
An interesting fact: People often mishear the words of popular songs and re-invent them with a different meaning. Beelzebub wants a devil for a sideboard. Me.
It was pretty late when Hannah got home and she was just a little bit drunk. Jack had dropped some heavy hints about coming back with her for a rematch, but she'd managed to put him off without causing too many hard feelings. She'd enjoyed the first time, their bodies worked well together, and the second time had been even better, but in her experience, if you slept with someone more than twice they started to act as if you were an item, as if they had proprietorial rights over you, and there was no way she was going down that route again.
She let herself in and got the familiar lovely, safe feeling of coming home to her own space where she could just be herself. She wasn't too drunk, just enough to feel wide awake and in a mood for doing something energetic. The walk home from the pub in the crisp cool night air had left her feeling restless and she was definitely not ready for bed. She'd declined her chance for sex, so there was only one thing else that would do. She bounced across the room and plucked a seemingly random CD from the shelf, slotting it deftly into the player. Actually, not so random. She would have been able to pick it out with her eyes closed. She selected play and ramped up the volume. What the hell, it was Saturday night, there were no very near neighbours and she was young, free and single, which was just the way she liked it, thank you very much. The percussion heavy intro was followed by David Bowie's distinctive voice and she started to dance around the room.
'Come out of the garden baby, you'll catch your death in the fall...' she sang along at the top of her voice to her favourite part, for Eve and all the daughters ever since that had fallen from grace and been kicked out of the garden.
The track ended and she flung herself down onto the settee, turned the volume down a bit and stared at the ceiling. It had been three years now since Auntie Grace had died and she still missed her. Auntie Grace, her father's only sister, had taken her in when her parents had been killed in a car crash. Hannah had been six years old and had been left lost, scared and grief stricken. Auntie Grace had patiently pulled Hannah through her darkest days and shown her total love and acceptance. Was she watching from somewhere, somehow? If she was, Hannah was sure that she would be grinning and singing along. Hannah's love for all things Bowie had come from Auntie Grace, along with the house she now lived in and her ability to be independent, unattached and genuinely happy about it. She listened until the final track ended then got up, helped herself to a large bowl of ice cream and retired to her blissfully large and comfortable bed.
A slightly obscure fact: Sir Isacc Newton had a dog called Diamond. He was trouble.
The next morning Hannah got up, threw on an old tracksuit and jogged down the long drive to the post box. She was looking forward to an hour in bed with a large mug of tea and the Sunday paper. As she approached the entranceway she looked to see if the newspaper was poking out from the piece of drainpipe which she had fixed under the box, but something else caught her attention, a slight movement or shadow that seemed out of place, as if someone had pulled back quickly out of sight. Next to the entrance was a big old chestnut tree and someone was hiding behind it, she was sure.
She slowed down to a walk. 'Hello?' she shouted, 'Are you lost?' People sometimes came this way, but not often. There was no answer. She took a few steps closer and tried again. 'Hello?'
There was a rustle and a head appeared. A large black dog's head. 'Oh!' Not what she'd been expecting. 'Where's your owner?' The dog regarded her for a few moments, evidently decided she was harmless and emerged fully, tail wagging gently as if to say, 'I'm harmless too!' He came slowly towards her and stopped. He was big. His head must have been as high as her hip and he had a broad sturdy looking chest. Shaggy black fur, a little unkempt looking, but handsome in a doggy sort of way. He sat down, looked up at her with amber eyes then held up his right paw.
She couldn't help but smile. 'Well, how do you do too?' She walked over to him, tentatively held out her hand and he placed his paw in it, opened his mouth to reveal a large pink tongue and gave her a lop sided doggy smile. What a charmer. She reached out her other hand and stroked his head, which he seemed to like, then felt for a collar. There wasn't one. She straightened up and walked out into the lane, looking both ways, but there was no one in sight.
'Well, you must belong to someone,' she told him. 'I expect they'll catch up with you in a minute.'
She retrieved her paper and started back up the drive, but couldn't resist a look back. He was still sitting there, watching her. When he saw her look back, he lay down and rested his head on his front paws, as if he had all the time in the world to just rest there and enjoy the early May sunshine.
Hannah smiled again to herself and went indoors to her tea and paper.
She had arranged to meet friends for lunch later, and as she drove down the drive she kept an eye out for him, but he was nowhere to be seen. She guessed his owner must have turned up and reclaimed him. Good.
It was late afternoon by the time Hannah returned and as she slowed to turn into her property a dark shape was visible in the entrance. He was back. He stood up and trotted towards the car, tail wagging and soppy grin on his face. In fact he was looking rather pleased with himself, and as he got closer she noticed something white sticking to his chin, which she soon realised was a feather. She stopped the engine and got out. There were more feathers scattered over the ground and stuck in the hedge, and then under the hedge she noticed something that looked like an old battered feather duster. She approached it gingerly. Oh no. The farm down the road kept chickens, and now they had one less. That explained where he'd been earlier. There'd been no anxious owner, pleased to see his pet again. The pet had been off poaching chickens.
'We'll have to hide the evidence.' What was she playing at? Talking to him as if he could understand her. As if they were co-conspirators.
She went round to the boot and unearthed an old carrier bag from the local supermarket, then went over to the hedge and scooped the carcass up, with as many feathers as she could manage to catch. She tied the handles together and put it in the boot.
'I'll get rid of this, but you'd better make yourself scarce for a while,' she told him. He wagged his tail, gave her his doggy grin and trotted off, almost as if he had really understood what she had said.
The next morning at about eight Hannah did her customary jog down to the post box to pick up the paper. Everything was quiet and still with no breeze at all, and the sky was blue with a wash of long pink clouds drifting very slowly eastwards. A perfect day. She strolled out onto the lane and looked up and down. The road was totally empty except for a few white feathers in the grass on the verge. Everything was silent and peaceful. She turned back up the drive to the house and tried not to acknowledge a small uncomfortable feeling of disappointment that seemed to be lodged somewhere between her throat and stomach. Ah well. He'd moved on. Just as well, he could go and give someone else problems. She didn't need any responsibilities in her life, especially one that stole other people's chickens.
At about ten she was interrupted by the doorbell. 'Damn.' She'd just got going into a new flow. She decided to ignore it, but it rang again, this time more persistently.
'It's a long drive you've got missus.' A scruffy rough looking man was standing on her doorstep and a battered old pickup was parked a bit further off.
She nodded. 'I like it that way. Are you lost?' Can I help you?'
'No missus, it's more how I can help you. We're tarmacking in the area and your drive looks like it could do with a nice smooth surface. Cheap for cash.' He sniffed and nodded at her.
'No thanks,' she replied, 'I like it the way it is.'
'Oh, come on now missus, could I speak to the man of the house about it?' He started to look more threatening to her than helpful.
'He's otherwise engaged at the moment and anyway he'd say the same thing. No thanks.'
'I've got the tarmac already. It'll be going hard soon. Will I just get started and we'll talk about a price after?' He evidently did not understand the word 'no' and turned to give a thumbs up sign to his mate in the lorry. The driver's door started to open. A big black shape came bounding up the driveway to the lorry and jumped at the opening door, which hurriedly closed again. The black shape then raced over to Hannah, sat at her side and glared at the intruder, growling softly at the back of his throat.
'Can you call your dog off missus? He looks awful fierce.' Suddenly the would be tarmac layer didn't seem so threatening.
'He is fierce, and he doesn't like strangers,' Hannah improvised, hoping the growl wouldn't turn into a friendly grin and a raised paw.
'You should have a sign up. It's not right to have fierce dogs running loose.' He backed away then turned and scuttled back to the lorry. It drove away with the dog barking and chasing to the end of the drive where he stood until the sound of the engine had faded. He turned and loped back to her, sat down and held up his paw.
She took it. 'Good boy. You're a good boy,' she told him. She stroked his head and rubbed him behind his ear. He leaned into her hand. 'You deserve a reward. Come on.' He hesitated on the doorstep then decided to trust her and followed her in. She got the remains of a chicken that she'd been planning to have for dinner that night out of the fridge, cut some chunks off it and put them on an old plate on the floor. 'It's better cooked,' she told him. The way he devoured it showed his agreement and he looked hopefully towards the rest of the bird. 'Oh all right then.' She gave in and took the rest of the meat off the carcass for him. There were always eggs. And he'd earned it.
When he had finished he sat down, then gradually lowered himself down to lying, watching her all the time, waiting for her reaction. Hannah couldn't help but smile. She squatted down next to him and scratched behind his ear again and as he closed his eyes, she had a sudden thought. 'Oh my god, what if he's got fleas?' She hadn't noticed a dirty smell about him, and he looked fairly clean, but still. She bent forward and sniffed. Actually, he had a rather pleasant, slightly musky smell. She parted the fur on top of his head and sniffed again. There was the same slightly pleasant smell. As she proceeded to look for unwanted guests he obligingly rolled over onto his back, opened one eye and looked at her in a rather rakish manner. 'Cheeky mutt. I suppose you want your tummy rubbing?' She moved her hand down his chest, then thought better of it and rubbed the inside of his legs instead. Whoever had owned him before had obviously decided against neutering. If he'd been a cat, she'd swear he would have been purring.
He settled down for a sleep on the kitchen rug and she left him to enjoy his rest while she carried on. She re-read what she'd done earlier. Not bad, but could be better. She picked up her pencil and set to.
All sense of time vanished and a sudden loud patter of rain on the window made her jump. It had got quite dark outside and had started to rain heavily. The pink clouds of the morning had been replaced by heavy dark grey ones. Her new friend lifted his head, yawned and rose rather inelegantly to his feet. He padded over to the door, looked at her expectantly then looked back at the door.
'I suppose you want to go out?' She opened the door and he looked out at the rain in a rather resigned fashion before trotting slowly off toward the bushes. She shut the door behind him and looked out of the window to see what he was up to. He wasn't visible at first, but then he reappeared from behind the shrubbery and trotted back up to the door, giving a short, sharp 'woof' as he arrived. She opened the door and he gave himself a shake before coming back in.
This certainly wasn't what Hannah had planned, but it seemed heartless to make him stay outside in the rain, especially as he had done her such a good turn earlier.
She made herself an omelette for dinner. He ate half of it.
He spent the night on the kitchen rug, but when Hannah got up he seemed restless and keen to be outside. She opened the back door and off he went, without even a backward glance. 'Well, there's gratitude,' she thought to her self. He'd evidently had enough of her hospitality and was on to pastures new.
She decided to go into town to stock up on food. He'd eaten her out of chicken and she was getting low on eggs and other essentials. The nearest supermarket was about half an hour's drive away so it was about two hours before she got back and there was no sign of him. After she'd unpacked the shopping and put it all away, she sat down with a cup of tea and a sandwich that she'd picked up for lunch. As she chewed, she ruminated. Actually, she'd quite enjoyed his company. It made a nice change to have another presence in the house, especially one that wasn't too demanding or possessive. She'd give it a couple of weeks, she decided, and then if she still felt the same maybe she'd look at getting a dog to live with her permanently. She pulled over her laptop and googled dog rescue kennels to see what was about. None of the dogs on offer really appealed to her so she switched off, put her feet up and closed her eyes for a few minutes while she let her mind run over what she'd already written and what might happen next.
She must have dozed off, because she woke with a start, slightly disorientated and not sure what had woken her. Then it came again: a short, sharp 'woof' at the back door. He was back. She couldn't help but feel a little burst of pleasure. For heaven's sake, he'd only been away a few hours and she'd missed him without really knowing it. She needed to pull herself together.
In he trotted, seemingly confident that he was welcome now, and as she closed the door behind him he sat down, raised his paw and gave her his by now familiar lopsided doggy grin.
That night they dined on chicken and she made a mental note to buy some dog food at the earliest opportunity.
It must have been about midnight when she was awoken by what sounded like someone blundering about in the kitchen. What was going on? She reached for her dressing gown and made her way down the stairs. By the time she had got to the kitchen the noises had stopped, but she turned the light on to find out what the commotion had been anyway. The kitchen appeared to be empty at first, but then a head appeared from behind the kitchen table. 'Oh'. Not quite what she'd expected. It was a human head, and not one she recognised.
'Who the hell are you?' she demanded, trying to prevent her voice from wobbling as much as her legs were. She tried to look brave, but was actually pretty scared. Where was her furry friend when she needed him?
The intruder stood up fully. He was naked. For God's sake. Her mind raced. Had she got a stalker? Was he a one night stand from her past that she had never called back who was now out for revenge? She looked around the kitchen in panic, searching for the nearest weapon. All her knives were stowed tidily away in the block and the heavy pans were out of reach in the pan drawer. The intruder gave his dark hair a shake back from his amber eyes . 'Don't be scared,' he said gently, and raised his hand in a sort of introductory greeting. He gave her a crooked smile. 'I won't hurt you.'
She was only slightly mollified by this, and started to back away slightly, with a view to getting out of the kitchen and reaching her phone before he could try anything. He moved round the table to stand in full sight. If she hadn't been so scared she'd have been impressed. He gave her another crooked smile and raised his hand again. 'You do know me really, but I look......slightly different at the moment.'
Now he came to mention it, he did look a bit familiar. 'So who are you?' she demanded.
'My name is Diamond, but you won't recognise that. You've been very kind to me, and I'm hoping we can be friends.'
'Okay,' she said guardedly, 'Where do we know each other from?'
'Well,' he replied, 'You cooked me a chicken dinner earlier this evening.'
Suddenly she realised why he looked familiar, and why the dog wasn't here, except it couldn't possibly be true, could it? The room started to spin and her knees gave way as she fainted.
When she came to she found herself lying on the couch. He was sitting in the chair opposite and had found a sheet from somewhere which he had draped round himself toga style. She scrabbled backwards as far away as she could get, pulling her dressing gown round her.
'This is a shock, I know. It seems unbelievable and you probably think you're in the middle of a nightmare, but believe me, I won't hurt you I promise.' His amber eyes looked directly at her.
'But how....what......' she swallowed. This couldn't possibly happening. 'So,' she tried again, 'What are you?'
'Well, I'll start by telling you that I'm definitely not a were-wolf. In fact I suppose you could say I was the opposite.
At the mention of the words were-wolf her eyes had opened in a look of fear, so he carried on quickly. 'I'm harmless to you, truly. Most of the time I live in dog form, but when the moon turns from wane to wax, new moon you call it, for three nights I assume human form. Which isn't always convenient, I can tell you.' He gave her a full smile, but she wasn't completely convinced of his integrity yet, he could see, so he continued to try and explain. 'I'm not the only one of my kind, but we are not common. It used to be easier for us to live away from humans, peacefully without being discovered, but that is becoming harder and harder for us. When I found you I thought you seemed to be the sort of person who might help me.' He paused to try and gauge her reaction to his words.
Hannah's breathing had settled back to somewhere near normal now, and she was beginning to gather her wits again. In fact, she was annoyed with herself for having fainted like some romantic heroine. Still, if he was going to hurt her it would surely have been while she was unconscious, and he'd actually made her comfortable and covered himself up. She tried to understand what he was saying. 'So, you change into a human sometimes, but the rest of the time you're a dog? Do you really expect me to believe that.? Prove it. Change back to a dog now to show me.'
'Unfortunately, I can't change at will. If I could, I wouldn't need your help. It only happens when the moon changes from wane to wax. For three nights I change into human form. This is the first night of the cycle. I will change back to dog at dawn, you can witness it then.' He looked at her beseechingly, 'Please will you help me? I just need somewhere safe to stay, or at least some clothes that I can wear to find somewhere safe to hide.'
A sudden thought popped into her head. 'Hang on a minute. You said your name was Diamond. Where did that come from?'
He gave a slight shrug. 'The same place as everyone else's does I suppose. I've always been Diamond since I can remember. My parents must have named me.'
She noticed a small look of sadness at the corners of his mouth and felt an unexpected stab of pity under her diaphragm.'Let me think a moment. It's a lot to take in and I'm still not sure I believe you.'
She stood up and started pacing the living room. He sat quietly, watching her hopefully.
After a few minutes she stopped and turned to him. 'Look, you can stay in the kitchen and I'll lock the door. I'll come back at dawn and see if what you've told me is true. Then we'll go from there.'
He gave a sigh of relief. 'Thank you. I promise I won't do any damage or cause you any harm.' The lop sided grin reappeared. 'I don't suppose there's any chance of a blanket?'
At that time of year dawn came fairly early, and Hannah spent the next few hours on this side of the locked door, surfing the net, whilst Diamond was sleeping or whatever he was doing on the other. She didn't find anything about dogs changing to humans, but she did learn that Sir Isacc Newton had had a dog called Diamond, and there were a lot of references to one of her favourite singer's albums.
She judged it was still about an hour to go before dawn, but she couldn't wait any longer, so she decided to quietly unlock the door and peek round the edge to see if he was still there. It was dark with no moonlight, but she could just make out that he was sprawled on the kitchen rug, asleep under the blanket. She crept over to her chair and sat down softly, careful not to wake him. As he slept and her eyes adjusted to the darkness, she started to study his features. He was definitely good looking in a wild sort of way and then she realised, it wasn't her eyes adjusting, it was gradually starting to get light.
Suddenly he gave a loud violent sneeze, making her nearly jump out of her skin. He rolled over onto his front and propped himself up on his elbows, shaking his head. Another violent sneeze, then before her eyes his form started to shake and blur round the edges. He was still mainly covered by the blanket so she couldn't see what was happening completely, but he seemed to get to his knees and then in a very short space of time the shaking and blurring stopped and a large black dog was standing in front of her. He shook the blanket off, had a good stretch then came towards her, sitting down and holding his paw up in his usual fashion. Dog.
Man was gone. No doubt about it. She sat with her hand over her mouth, not knowing what to do or say.
He gave her knee a gentle nudge with his nose and held his paw up to her again. This time she took it.
The next night she was ready. Diamond had made himself scarce since he'd left that morning, and she'd decided to go into town and buy a pair of cheap joggers and a sweatshirt. It didn't mean anything definite, she told herself. She could always ask him to leave anyway, clothes or no clothes. She'd also bought a large tin of chicken dog food.
Early evening came and she decided to get something to eat. As she was slicing the peppers for a stir-fry, a sharp woof sounded at the back door. She opened the door and he sat there, looking hopefully at her.
'Come on then,' she invited, standing to one side to let him in.
He trotted in and sat on the rug. It was hard to read his expression, a mix of wariness and hope, and she found herself feeling slightly sorry for him. 'Are you hungry?' She fetched a plate, and opened the tin of dog food. Actually, it smelled quite appetising. She emptied it onto the plate and put it down near him. He went over to it, gave her a slightly reproachful look, but then tucked in with enthusiasm.
They spent an uneasy evening. Diamond kept going to the back door and asking to go out, as if he couldn't decide whether to stay. After a while she left it ajar so he could please himself. She tried to watch some television, but all the programmes seemed boring and meaningless. The book she was reading for some reason repeated the same paragraph over and over, and the sofa seemed to have developed lumps so she couldn't get comfortable. She ended up pacing back and forth, waiting for Diamond to reappear from his last foray into the garden. He was gone for a long time and she began to think he wasn't going to come back. The clothes she had bought him were still on the chair in the kitchen. Maybe he'd decided he didn't trust her after all. Maybe something had happened to him. What if he'd been hit by a car in the lane and was hurt? She was just putting her shoes on to go and look for him when he reappeared at the door. The feeling of relief was so great that she ran over, ruffled her fingers through the fur round his ears and shut the door to keep him in. What was wrong with her? She'd never felt so attached to a man, and now she was finding herself worrying about a dog, or whatever he was.
A widely acknowledged fact: Everybody needs somebody.
The joggers were way too big round the waist and hips. He'd tightened the drawstring to stop them falling down, but they ballooned out round his hips. Not flattering. The sweatshirt, on the other hand, was on the tight side, but did accentuate his muscled arms and broad chest.
They sat opposite each other, Hannah holding the list of questions that she'd prepared and Diamond regarding her with a small smile on his lips. They'd been talking most of the night and it would be getting light soon. Her eyes travelled up from his chest to his face and his lopsided grin appeared. She smiled back and gave a small nod. He was staying.
Rosemary lives in a small village in rural Lincolnshire, England. She lives with her husband, a demanding cat and a large black dog. When she's not writing she enjoys walking in the local countryside and going out with friends for lunch. She's often surprised by how small happenings can trigger the idea for a story and is very pleased and proud to see her first story published.
Published by permission of the author.