Paws

“Julian! Get yourself out of bed! You’re going to be late for school!”

His mother’s voice rang up the stairs like a whistle. Yawning, he tossed the covers off himself and pushed himself to his feet. Except he didn’t land on his feet. He flopped down on the floor like a heavy sack. Paws stuck out in front of him.

Blinking, Julian shook his head and looked down again. Two furry paws. Where were his hands? Something was very wrong.

“What’s happened to me?” he said. Only instead, he barked loudly.

He had to be dreaming. People didn’t magically transform into animals overnight. This was impossible. He’d wake up in a moment, and everything would be back to normal.

Except he didn’t wake up. He wasn’t asleep, nor was he was dreaming. Somehow, he had undergone bizarre transformation. His heart began to thump as he paced the room wildly.

Out in the hallway, footsteps slowed and came to a stop outside Julian’s bedroom door, followed by a sharp knock. It was his sister, Tess.

“Juley? What was that? Have you got a dog in there?”

Julian didn’t know how to respond. He was still in a state of shock. Before he could give any warning, the door opened suddenly. Tess stood looking at him, her expression aghast.

A piercing shriek filled the room. It made Julian’s ears ring with pain. She ran down the stairs and shouted for their mother.

Ma must have been at the foot of the stairs. Tess’s head was still visible through the stair banisters. Julian didn’t need to see Ma’s face to know that she was angry.

“What’s all the screaming? Why isn’t your brother ready for school?”

Tess’s voice shook as she spoke. Julian edged out of his room slowly. He didn’t want to frighten her even more.

“He’s gone! There’s a dog in Julian’s room!”

Ma scoffed. “A dog? Right. We don’t have a dog. Next, you’ll be telling me that a pig flew past the window.”

She pushed past Tess up the stairs and made for Julian’s bedroom. However, she stopped in her tracks when she turned the corner and saw him sitting in the doorway.

“What the hell is this thing?! Where did you come from?”

Julian barked again. Ma’s expression was now a mixture of anger and fear. Approaching her slowly, he tried to smile. His tail started wagging wildly, which almost sent Ma into hysterics. She shooed Tess back down the stairs.

“Get in the car! I don’t know where this thing has come from, but it’s not staying here. Your brother must have sneaked it home. He knows how I feel about animals in the house.”

Julian sniffed the air and padded back to his room. However, Ma had other ideas, and before he knew it, Julian was stumbling down the stairs, through the hallway, and into the back garden.

“You can stay here until I get back! You’d better not pee on my potted plants!”

The door slammed in Julian’s face. He let out a small whimper. How could he make his mother and sister understand what had happened when he didn’t understand himself?

Tess was protesting as she and Ma walked through the door. The car started up and drove away, leaving Julian to contemplate what on Earth he was supposed to do next.

As he did so, an idea suddenly occurred to him. It had been raining the previous night, and the lawn would still be wet. Ma would be furious but he had to try something to make her realize what had happened. Digging his nose into the soil, he wrote out his name.

An old mirror stood near the door. Ma had meant to throw it out. Still getting used to the sensation of walking on four paws, Julian padded over to it, sniffing the ground as he went.

Smells invaded his nostrils, so intense they were almost overpowering. There was a mixture of earth, air, plants and other wildlife. It was practically impossible to tell one scent from the other, and before he knew it, the garden fence was inches away from Julian’s face. The mirror still stood by the back door on the other side, beckoning him to go and take a look.

A blackbird sat on the fence nearest to Julian, a couple of feet above his head. A strong desire to chase the bird overcame him and without thinking, he crouched on the ground, eyes fixed on the bird.

“Want to play chase? You’re it!” he barked. But this spooked the bird, and it flew away.

Dammit. He only wanted to play.

It took him a few moments to realise that he was wagging his tail again. He knew he should have been more concerned by this, but by now, he was far too distracted by his surroundings to worry too much. There was so much more to explore.

Potted plants stood in a neat row at the other end of the garden. Julian went to investigate, sniffing each pot in turn. There was lavender, thyme, wild strawberries. He had never noticed how vastly different they each smelled – gardening had never been in Julian’s interests. After inspecting each one thoroughly with his nose, he did the forbidden thing. Cocking one leg up, he relieved himself all over the lavender pot. Now it was his. Ma couldn’t be angry with him anymore.

Twittering sounded in the distance, causing Julian’s ears to prick up. The blackbird was back again, but this time, it sat in a tree in the next garden.

“Cheater. I can’t reach you up there.” he thought. He sniffed the air and walked away, leaving a large puddle around the pot of lavender.

The mirror still stood near the back door. Julian had forgotten all about it. He walked over to it, slowing down as he got nearer.

What he saw gave him a shock. Although he was aware that his body was no longer human, to see it in front of him made it stark and real. His chocolate-brown fur was the same colour as his own hair. His eyes were still the same shade of green. But nothing else about him bore any resemblance to the way he had looked the previous day. He had a tail. He had paws. His tongue hung from his mouth as he panted wildly, revealing two rows of sharp teeth.

Panic flooded Julian as the reality of the situation hit him all over again. There was no rational explanation for this, no reason or rhyme to it whatsoever. He had no idea how this had happened, and it would be impossible to convince his mother and sister that he was in fact still their son and brother.

The front door slammed loudly, making Julian jump. He remembered his mother’s anger when she had left him to take Tess to school and now sat at the back door, awaiting his fate.

When it opened, Ma stood looking at him, anger etched all over her face. She held the lead in one hand and a collar in the other.

“Now, I don’t know where Julian got you from, but you’re not staying here. You’re coming with me.”

She fixed the collar and lead around Julian’s neck and led him out of the back garden and through the gate so that he couldn’t walk through the house. All the while, Julian tried to pull her back to the lawn so that she would notice his name in the grass. But she continued to drag him up the garden path and shove him into the boot of the car.

Scrabbling at the door, he made a last-ditch attempt at trying to get Ma’s attention. But she wasn’t having any of it.

“Get down! God knows why Julian wanted to sneak you back. He’s in so much trouble when he gets home!”

“I am Julian!”, he tried to shout again, but to no avail. Instead, he had just barked loudly in her face.

The door to the boot slammed shut. Julian had no choice but to sit facing the window and await his fate.

How was he ever going to get out of this? What would his mother and sister say when evening came and there was still no sign of him? Where was he being taken to, and what was going to happen to him?

All of these questions circled his mind as the car drove along, zooming through the traffic. He whimpered for most of the journey.

The car stopped suddenly. The front door opened and slammed shut. Footsteps came around to the boot.

Ma opened the boot and grabbed Julian’s lead without looking at him. Pulling him out of the car, she walked him to the entrance of a large building. On the front was the sign ‘Gateshead Kennels for Dogs.’

Julian’s heart sank. He had a horrible, sinking feeling that he knew what was coming and there was nothing he could do about it.

Ma rang the buzzer for the door and attached a note underneath Julian’s collar. She tied his lead to the gate.

“Now, you can wait here until somebody comes out to see you. Don’t let me catch you in my house again.”

Julian howled as he watched the car drive away.

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