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They came running out of their houses and converged in the street like a pack of dogs hunting down their prey. With the typical exaggeration of movement that is part of the beauty and innocence of children, they ran towards the parked ice cream van, howling with excitement and anticipation.
I, my wife Mary, and our two young daughters, Chloe and Phoebe, had just returned from our regular Wednesday night swim at the local pool. It had felt good to watch the girls splashing about in the water and using up any spare energy they might have had. As usual we'd also stopped off for fish and chips before catching the bus home. The journey was just the same as any other Wednesday night, the combination of exercise and stodge resulting in a contented silence from the girls. We'd just got off the bus and walked along the road to be greeted by this chase for glacial goodies.
I could feel a gentle tugging at the sleeve of my jacket which lasted a few moments before it became more forceful.
'Hey! Don't pull on my jacket like that!' I said, pulling my arm upwards to free myself.
Phoebe smiled at me sweetly, 'Can we have an ice cream please Daddy?'
'Of course you can.'
I produced the necessary coinage from my wallet and the girls trotted off to join the end of the queue at the ice cream van.
Mary and I chatted as we waited. We'd moved into the neighbourhood quite recently and were pleased with the decision to live in this part of the town. Our house, which was just around the corner, was a relatively spacious three-bedroomed semi-detached property with a good sized garden and a garage. The garden was ideal for the girls, and Mary loved tending to her flower beds and vegetable patch. Most weekends and some summer evenings, when I could find the time, I would be tinkering in the garage. So, there seemed to be something for everyone. The girls had made friends with the local children and the neighbours all around seemed quite friendly. Another bonus was the proximity of the location to my place of work. I taught at the local secondary school which was less than two miles away. At our previous house it had taken me forty five minutes in heavy traffic to get there. Eliminating that stress from my day was more than welcome.
As we talked I looked across at the girls queuing for their ice cream. They were bouncing up and down on their toes excitedly and enjoying being with their friends from the surrounding houses. They finally reached the front of the queue, ordered the ice cream of their choice, and paid their money. As they walked back to us I could see that Chloe had ordered a Ninety-Nine with a flake and Phoebe had elected for a rocket-shaped fruit-flavoured ice lolly.
'Are you enjoying your ice creams, girls?'
There was a muffled verbal response and head nodding, suggesting satisfaction.
Phoebe looked up at me and smiled just before, with what seemed like unnecessary force, she bit the head off her lolly. Trickles of blood-red fruit juice flowed from each corner of her mouth and ran slowly down towards her chin. The twin rivers of red gleamed briefly in the evening sunshine.
Mary tutted and swiftly retrieved a tissue from her handbag to wipe up the stickiness.
We walked around the corner of the street and headed home, which was just a few doors down on the left hand side. In one of the front gardens a neighbour, Paul, was digging his garden. He had worked up quite a sweat and I winked and nodded to him as we passed. He responded with a tired, rueful smile and returned the nod.
Suddenly, in the distance, I could see something on the pavement rapidly making its way towards us. Within a few seconds I was able to recognise it as a large dog, a pit bull terrier no less. It was making rapid progress towards us, and in the distance I could see its owner struggling to keep up with it.
I could feel myself becoming tense and with some heightened sense of awareness I observed that the owner was female, in her early twenties, in a white tracksuit and sporting a cream Burberry-style baseball cap. Surprisingly, considering the speed with which everything happened, I remember noticing that she was smoking a cigarette and thinking to myself that if she would only get rid of it then she might be able to catch up with the dog.
In what seemed like a split second the dog was upon us barking furiously and aggressively. Mary and the girls began to scream and cling to each other and, instinctively, I aimed a kick at the dog and landed a blow to its midriff. Unfortunately this only served to enrage the beast further and in a swift arc-like movement it recovered and clamped its jaws around my right leg. Razor point teeth unrelenting and vicious caused sharp pain shocks to shoot up my leg and make my whole body shudder. I grunted and gasped as I tried to free my leg. My efforts were in vain and the pain grew.
Blood was beginning to stream down onto the pavement. Then I felt a sudden rush of adrenalin and felt quite clear headed. The pain seemed to recede, but I knew that this heightened state was a temporary reaction by my body's defences in an attempt to enable extrication from the situation somehow. I knew that I needed to act fast.
I looked around and could see Paul still in his front garden with his spade. Judging by the expression on his face he was having some difficulty in comprehending the scene in front of him and was just standing frozen, staring.
Summoning up fading energy reserves I yelled to him as loudly as I could, 'PAUL! THROW ME THE SPADE!'
He jumped like an ice cube popping out of its tray, but retained enough composure to sling the spade over his fence towards me.
The adrenalin rush was beginning to die off, and the pain was starting to twist around my leg and the rest of my body with increasing intensity, making my eyes water.
The dog was thrashing around and pulling my leg in zigzags. I struggled to maintain my balance, but somehow with a supreme effort I caught the spade. Using both hands I lifted it high above my shoulders and, with maximum force, brought it down on the dog's head.
Straight away I felt some relief as its jaws loosened and the dog fell onto the pavement. Spread eagled, it lay on its belly whimpering. But, in the space of a few seconds, it began to show some signs of recovery.
Without hesitation I lifted the spade high above my head for a second time. I gripped the handle with both hands and pointed it towards the ground. Taking aim I plunged down hard and with one blow I severed the dog's head from its body.
Blood gushed out of the dog's still twitching body and its head lay on the pavement with its eyes staring blankly. Instinctively I stepped back to avoid being covered in blood and stood staring down at the remains of the dog in a state of shock and disbelief. Some sense of detachment had given me the strength to deal with the situation with brutal effect, but with an ugly result. The dog looked pitiful in its dismembered state. It is not in my nature to perform actions such as this one but I had acted instinctively to protect myself and my family. Blood and other body fluids were now flowing freely from the carcass.
Repulsed, I turned away towards Mary and the girls, who had also chosen to look away. Slowly, I led them away from the carnage towards our house. The dog's owner arrived on the scene and collapsed onto her knees, covered her face with her hands and began to sob loudly.
The girls were also in tears and Mary was ashen-faced,
'Is... is your leg ok?' she whispered almost inaudibly.
I reassured her that I was going to be fine and put my arm around her squeezing her close to me. The girls were frightened and were clinging to our legs so I reluctantly broke away from Mary and picked up Phoebe and carried her. Mary did the same with Chloe. As we walked away I looked back and the blood had ceased to flow quite so vigorously from the dog and was pooling and running in different directions. To be quite honest I didn't really know what to think when I saw, following us down the street, two twin meandering trickles of blood, one along the edge of the pavement and one in the gutter.
A perfect evening had been interrupted by the arrival of the dog, and it didn't seem appropriate, but perhaps was a sign of my frayed mental state when I briefly paused again, this time to admire the pretty sparkling effect created by the sun reflecting on the twin tears of blood that followed us home.
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