Gordon G Hall
Writer and Neo-Philhellene

The Flatcoat Fables
Fireflies and Thistledown

Dogs deciding

As the three friends grew older they began to go their own ways, this did not diminish their love for each other, but, just as we humans need a little space of our own, each one of them discovered that as an individual they needed time to develop their own personality.
The Labrador youth discovered that some of his very best moments came from pushing himself to the very limit of his physical ability. He really enjoyed being stretched by his 'human' and doing absolutely everything everything that he was told - but in double-quick time!

Rather to the contrary his colleague the Golden Retriever found that his affability and innate charm were his biggest assets. He would hang around for hours (preferably by a good log fire) just to thump his tail and open wide his big brown eyes when his 'human' came in from work.

Gone away Flatcoat was just confused! She enjoyed working with Labrador, and even on a moderate day found she could outrun, outsniff, and outwork him - but somehow she just could not see the 'deep and meaningful' in all this physical stuff. Neither was she slow to join Golden by the fire (indeed she tended to push in front "just to shield my friend from all that heat!"), but after an hour or two a certain sense of ennui would pervade and she would turn her attention to the hearthrug . . . or the log pile . . . or the chair cushions (just to check that they are well enough made, you understand).

Labrador and Golden were concerned about their friend, She was the most gorgeous of companions, but seemed so 'disconnected', so unfocussed, so much of a flipperty-gibbet! So . . Labrador planned the visit, organised the appointment, and packed the survival rations; Golden shoved a wad of the best pipe-tobacco in his pocket, pulled on his heaviest pair of plus fours, and left a note at his club to say that he was out of town for a day or two; and they both collected their friend Flatcoat and set off to see the Wizard Merlin.

camp Now in those days the woods in the Old Country were inhabited by witches, warlocks, hobgoblins and all manner of Petty Fiends - and of course the wise old hound Merlin lived in the deepest, dankest, darkest part of the very deep, dank, dark wood. By the end of the first day the three of them were very tired and not a little lost, what is more the dusk was gathering.

"We must make camp", said Labrador, and immediately set about trying to find a suitable site.

Golden sat down on a fallen tree trunk, pulled out his Meerschaum and started to tell a long, involved tale (to anyone who happened to be listening) about a chum of a chum of his who had once lost his way in up-country Malay - beyond the Cameron Highlands . ..

Flatcoat set off in chase of a firefly.

Whether it was Merlin, or some other Wizard, it is difficult to say, but as the gloaming turned to night a mist of smells rolled over that part of the wood and, just as human-kind get disorientated in a fog, our three heroes became befuddled and bemused in this cacophony of scent. At his best in a crisis Labrador carefully rolled out his sleeping rug, stowed his survival rations out of the way of crawling things, shut his eyes and went to sleep. Golden, unfazed by the whole thing, propped himself up against his tree trunk, pulled his cape a little closer around his ample form, took a (purely medicinal) slug of Brandy and Soda from his hip flask, and went to sleep.

in clouds Flatcoat danced on and on after her fireflies, leaping higher and higher, further and further, lighter and lighter . . . until her semi-conscious mind was a blur of rhythm and scent and pleasure. And in this dream-trance she saw a great shimmering curtain of raw, naked light. And in the centre of this Light she could dimly discern a Great Presence. She felt herself drifting towards this Thing of Power, feeling nothing but Peace.. . . she was surrounded by words whose meaning she couldn't grasp, by scents she had never smelt and by sounds of whose origin she could not guess. For an age she seemed caught up in this maelstrom of experiences and then she heard a far off Great Voice intoning "It Is Done! Go My Flatcoat, Go In Peace". . . .

. . . and she was standing on the damp floor of the Forest howling a great howl of longing and love, howling to the trees and the sky and the stars, howling to her friends, and their friends and all the friends in the whole Wide World.

Labrador and Golden woke instantly to find the scent-fog had gone. They both rushed to the sound of their friend who was now standing, spooked, in a small clearing in the wood. "What happened" they cried, overjoyed to find her alive and well, "where have you been?". Flatcoat said nothing.

watching They left the wood and retraced their steps, until eventually they arrived back home. There seemed however to be even more spring in Flatcoat's step than usual, and was it just imagination but did the youthful twinkle that had always been in her eye not shine just a little brighter now?

A few weeks later they were sitting in the sun in the kennel yard. "It seems to me", said Golden "that, like Dorian Grey, we have, in the end, to pay for our attributes. Take you, my friend Labrador, your persistence and assertiveness can, on occasion, just tiptoe into aggression can it not?"

Labrador gave a (fairly) friendly growl of assent, "And you, Golden old mate, your docility and decency can become rather over-chummy, and (not that I mind of course) that can be a little overwhelming if coupled with just a hint of body-odour!".

Golden looked a bit startled, sniffed a bit of anatomy, and grunted something by way of assent. "But what about you, Flatcoat. Surely you have never been happier than these last weeks. It seems that you have been granted the gift of Pertpetual Youth? You will dance and prance and sing your way through life without a care and without seeming to age a day in a whole year! There must be something you have to pay in recompense for this?

leaping And Flatcoat smiled at her friends. Flatcoat smiled a peculiarly Flatcoat Smile. Flatcoat thought of the Great Presence and how she had seen all the Good Things she could do with the Everlasting Youth that she had been granted, but she also saw again what she had seen that night, she saw the Cancer that was to bedevil her breed, she saw the suffering and the sorrow that this would bring both to Flatcoats and their Humankind, and she saw again the Dreadful Choice that she had been asked to make. And she thought again, and knew that even if she had the chance again she would make that same Choice. Yes, the pleasure and happiness and sheer joy she could give to all around her throughout her allotted span would be worth the sorrow and the pain that the End would inevitably bring. Yes, she smiled, she had chosen well . . .

"Oh, Come on," she said, "Come on you two stuffy old things. Let's go chase thistledown across the meadow
. . . . .'

  I am indebted to Rieko Mamaoto for her charming illustrations
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Distant Fells
Inspiration from this glorious world.