Barks and growls reverberated around the trees and the dogs sped uphill. The gamekeeper stood with hands on hips and watched his dogs. The boys leapt to their feet and sprinted downhill. Scotty led the way as they weaved between the trees. All stealth was gone and they knew the gamekeeper would be able to follow their footprints. That was of less concern than the dogs, which were gaining. Scotty saw an old stone bridge in the base of the valley and headed to the left of the bridge. Steve followed and stormed toward the stream, trying to keep up with his bigger friend. Scotty got there first and turned around.
“What d’ya reckon?” Scotty asked, breathing heavily.
Steve looked over his shoulder at the dogs barks. “No choice…” Sweat trickled down his brow as he panted for breath.
Scotty looked down, knowing the dogs would lose their scent in the water. In some places, it was possible to wade through the stream, but not here. Steve jumped and disappeared underwater. The cold hit him and he pushed off the mud at the bottom. Seconds later, he hit the surface.
“It’s deep,” he spluttered. “Gotta swim it.”
Scotty jumped in and came up for air. They swam downstream, going as quickly as they could. The boys had to get out of sight or they would be caught. Splashing through the water, the bridge loomed ahead. They swam underneath.
“Quieter,” Scotty hissed.
Swimming further under the bridge, they tried not to disturb the water too much. It was dark in there. And cold. They heard the dogs further along the bank where they had jumped in. The dogs ran in circles and barked for their master. Reaching the middle of the bridge, the boys hid in the darkness. Treading water, Steve reached up the slippery walls and grabbed a ledge.
He whispered. “There’s something to hang onto up here.”
Scotty slapped a hand on the damp stonework and held onto the ridge. They remained still and silent in the chilly water. The dogs continued to bark, but there was no sign of the gamekeeper. All to soon the sound of an engine grew louder, rising above the barks. The vehicle drove in their direction and parked on the bridge. The boys looked up as the gamekeeper shouted at his dogs to stay. It was a coarse voice. A metal door banged shut. He inspected the water’s edge where the scent had been lost. Kneeling down, he saw where a foot slid in the mud and grass. Looking at the water, he could see no trace of the boys. Clipping the chains back on, he walked to the bridge and put the dogs in his truck. Walking over the bridge, he inspected the far side of the bank for footprints. Nothing. Scrambling down the bank, he squinted into the blackness under the bridge. The boys held their breath.
Shaking his head, the gamekeeper walked back to his vehicle and started the engine. He drove away. As soon as quiet returned to the forest, the boys swam to the edge of the bridge and hauled themselves out of the water. Everything was still. Steve began to shiver and grinned at Scotty. They were becoming quite skilled at evasion. The boys ran back through the forest, downhill and over the boundary fence. Their speed was only halted to crawl by the farmhouse. Once clear, they were up again and running toward the Snook. At the edge of the village, they broke into walk and burst out laughing. They made it safely back. Soaking wet, but happy.
Copyright © 2021 Callum Stanford. All rights reserved.