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Beneath The Ice

Beneath The Ice

– Flash Fiction by Gordon MacLean –

Second Place Winner of the 2020 Dreamers Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Contest.

Flash Fiction - Puppy - Gordon MacLean

Jimmy was never in a hurry to go home after school, but today was an exception. He raced through the spring melt, flew through the door, kicked off his gumboots and hurried to Dale’s side. He arrived just in time to see the last of the pups being born.

The miracle of life is a joy to behold, especially for a twelve-year-old boy witnessing this wonder for the first time. Crouched on the floor, he was soon joined by his two younger brothers, Tommy and Russell. Five little puppies squirmed about as Dale, a shepherd-cross, licked their silken coats clean. With eyes not yet open, they fumbled around pawing over each other in search of nourishment and mother’s warmth.

Names raced through Jimmy’s mind as he observed the feeding frenzy. The runt of the litter made up for his size with determination. He fought his way through the melee, and latched on to his mother, like a barnacle to a whale.

“Gobbles, that’s a good name for that one,” he said.

“Yeah,” said Russell, “and that one can be Sadie, and that one can be Shep.”

“That one looks like Pa when he comes back from the mines,” said Tommy, pointing at the dark one. The boys giggled and agreed to name it Soot.

“What should we call the last one?” Russell asked. The boys were pondering when the silence was broken by a growl that came from Tommy’s stomach.

“How about Biscuit?” Tommy said, inspired by hunger pangs.

Gobbles, Sadie, Shep, Soot, and Biscuit, the names played back through their minds as they sat there beaming. The boys were so distracted that they hadn’t heard their Pa come through the door. They were startled as his dark hand reached past them, plucking the puppies from Dale, and placing them into an empty potato sack.

“Take’em down to the bay and drown’em,” he said, handing the sack to Jimmy. Tommy and Russell protested, but Jimmy knew better than to cross the old man. He took hold of the sack and made his way to the door.

“Please John, don’t do this to the boys.” Ma said, but he wasn’t having any of it.

“We can barely afford to feed ourselves, they won’t stay pups forever and you can’t give’em away, no one will have’em.”

“Not now, not like this.”

“Christ, Margaret, you can’t walk down by the bay without a stick to fend off a stray.”

Margaret knew he was right. Stray dogs had become a serious problem; not only in Glace Bay, but anywhere families fell on hard times. Pets were often abandoned and left to fend for themselves. They became subject to the elements and starvation, some formed packs, outcasts of society.

“It’s a harsh life…” He continued, “and the sooner they learn it the better.”

“Now off with you, bye.”

Jimmy put on his coat and boots and picked up the bundle.

“It’s a mercy,” his mother said, handing Jimmy his hat. Her words offered him no comfort.

He had a long hike in the bitter cold and did his best to ignore the fuss coming from the musty sack. After a while the bundle didn’t move. The ground that had softened under the midday sun was beginning to harden with the evening frost. A warm orange glow broke from the houses scattered along the way as the grey Atlantic sky began to darken. He was alone when he reached the waterfront. It was suppertime, and sensible people were sitting at their tables eating warm cooked meals. Jimmy’s stomach was in knots, partly from hunger, but most of all, from the deed he was to carry out.

It was early spring in Cape Breton and the frozen bay had begun to break up, creating floating islands of ice called clampers. Under the sun they were free to move, but now the water between them had frozen, holding them captive. Walking out a short distance Jimmy placed the bundle down and kicked a hole in the ice. Once cleared, he reached for the sack, which lay still. Small spots of frost formed where the puppies’ noses had pressed against the burlap.

Are they already dead? He asked himself, hesitating a moment before plunging the bag into the watery grave. The answer came immediately upon contact with the stabbing cold of the water. He could hear the muffled whines as the frenzied puppies climbed over each other fighting against the bag and death’s clutch. He cried as he held them under the surface. Not able to let it go, he felt the struggle from within begin to weaken, his fate intertwined, as though each puppy was a fragment of his soul. With his fingers nearly frozen he could barely feel the tug of the current as it claimed the death shroud.

Jimmy felt numbness come over him that had nothing to do with the cold, as though something had died in him. He tucked his hand into the warmth of his coat and wiped the tears from his freckled face with the sleeve. Walking away, the sound of whining puppies echoed through his mind.

“Go away!” He cried, as he covered his ears. The puppies were silenced. The only sound that remained was the crunch of ice beneath his stiff rubber boots, followed by a faint yelp.

Jimmy turned in disbelief, and rushed back to the hole. A tiny, trembling mass was stumbling in the dark. He picked it up. It was the runt.

“Gobbles,” he exclaimed, as he held him tight in the crook of his arm and cried.

He placed Gobbles in his coat to keep him warm, and headed home to face his Pa. Feeling the puppy pressed against him, the darkness began to lift. The light that had gone out in his heart was rekindled.

About the Author – Gordon MacLean

Gordon MacLean is a retired member of the Canadian Armed Forces. He earned a certificate in General Arts and Science, through Fanshawe College, where he won the Meg Howald Award for Excellence in Creative Writing. He is currently working toward a Professional Writing Certificate through the University of Western Ontario.

*This story by Gordon MacLean has won Second Place in the Dreamers 2020 Flash Fiction and Nonfiction Contest. See the full results!

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