Friday, August 14, 2015

Free Fiction: The Hidden Park

Annabelle had never noticed the small grassy area before. Tucked behind a row of stores and off to the side of the rear parking lot, hid a gorgeous little green space. Duchess pulled at her leash, eager to get her paws off the hot asphalt and onto soft grass, and Annabelle allowed herself to be dragged forward. It was often hard to stop the powerful young golden retriever mix. Since her adoption only a few months ago, her once shy demeanor had blossomed into a more appropriate boisterousness. Annabelle liked the personality Duchess seemed to be developing, though she did miss the calmness of their early walks.

Parking signs on metal shafts jutted out of the ground on two sides of the lot, warning about parking only for customers and all others would be towed. The remaining two sides of the grassy rectangle were bordered by the grey stone of an old building. A door sat at the far edge of one wall, looking rusty and old and hardly used. The grass was trim and lush, however, and obviously well cared for. Someone spent time taking care of the small space. A handful of trees scattered across the green, providing shade and allowing dabbled sunlight to filter through the fluttering leaves.

Duchess pulled Annabelle forward and they entered the lovely little space. Once inside, Annabelle saw two white ceramic bowls near the disused door. Water filled one to the brim and the other was full of dog kibble. Duchess tugged on the leash and Annabelle moved forward.

Duchess lapped at the water and sniffed the kibble, but didn’t eat any, which was unusual. She liked food of any sort and tended to snarf up anything within reach.

Now that she was in the green space, it felt quiet and secluded. The cars on the street just thirty yards away hushed into a background rumble and the normal street sounds and voices of people were barely audible. Annabelle rubbed the spot at the bottom of Duchess’ ears and felt suddenly uneasy. There hadn't been any signs posted about keeping out, but the space didn't feel like Annabelle was supposed to be there.

“C’mon girl,” Annabelle said. She tugged at the leash and Duchess came with her until they reached the edge, where grass turned into parking lot. Duchess whined and sat down.

Annabelle shook her head. “Let’s finish our walk.” She tugged on the leash, but Duchess resisted.

“She don’t want to go yet.”

Annabelle looked up. An older man leaned against one of the thicker trees. He wore work gloves, jeans that were dirty at the knees, and a thin plaid shirt. Beneath his baseball cap, his face creased into well worn lines when he smiled. “What?” Annabelle said.

“She wants to say hello before you go,” the man said.

Duchess whined and whirled around, tugged against her harness and leash, eager to reach the man. The handle slipped from Annabelle’s hand and Duchess trotted over to the man.

He squatted down, removed his work gloves, and gave her an energetic rubbing. “Good dog,” he told her. “You’re a good girl, aren’t you?”

Duchess basked in the praise. She dropped to the ground and rolled over. He rubbed her belly, and then she bounced to her feet again.

“Got a home now, don’t you, Duchess?” he said to her, still rubbing her head and neck, then massaging the fur around her shoulders. “That’s good. That’s the best. You deserve it. Had a rough time before, didn’t you. Poor thing, poor girl.”

Annabelle stared at the man. Now that she wasn’t as frightened, he seemed much kinder, especially since Duchess obviously approved of him.

“Go on now, finish your walk.” He gave her one last pat, and Duchess whirled around and trotted back to Annabelle, dragging her leash behind her.

“She’s a sweetheart,” the man said. “Anytime you need to visit, you’re both plenty welcome.”

“Thanks,” Annabelle said. She waved politely and the man waved back, and she set off with Duchess. This time the dog followed obediently. She risked a look back after about twenty feet, and the man was still there, leaning against the tree and watching them. He waved again and so did Annabelle.

Annabelle didn’t attempt to look back again. Duchess seemed very happy and they were safely on their way. As she thought over the interaction, Annabelle realized—she’d never called Duchess by name while they’d been there, had she? She was pretty sure she hadn’t. A chill ran down her spine. How had the man known Duchess’ name?

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