A short story of fun and laughter for all those who are struggling with lockdown.
© Peter L. Barnes – November 2020
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to wait a little longer,” said her Mother.
“Why?” asked Bethany. “What’s happened this time?”
“Apparently the training centre was broken into and the dogs stolen,” said her mother. “I’m so sorry my love but you have been put on the emergency list.
“It takes months to train guide dogs,” said Bethany. “Now I might not get to University.”
Bethany rushed up to her room and locked the door, and had a good cry into her pillow. Eventually she sat up, determined not to be beaten by another set-back. There had to be a way out of this she thought and moping isn’t going to solve anything.
Maybe a good walk around the park might help clear her mind. She had a specific walk that she did every day, that had good guide rails and pavement edges which enabled her to walk with only her electronic stick and new Sonar system. A device that enabled her to ‘see’ objects and warn her of moving people. But of course, these were only aids and couldn’t really help her if she went to new, unfamiliar environments. She needed her guide dog to be truly independent.
She had already bonded with her new puppy, during its training period but all that effort was now out of the window.
“Get a grip girl,” she said out loud, when she walked down the stairs.
“Sorry,” said her mother.
“Just talking to myself,” said Bethany. “I’m going for a walk. Is it sunny outside?”
“Yes,” said Alexa. “Sun all morning.”
Bethany kissed her mother, “I’ll be in the park,” she said.
“Have you got your phone?”
“And door key?”
“Don’t fuss mother, I’ll be fine,” she said closing the door behind her.
She walked along the familiar pavement, unconsciously counting as she went, until she reached the gate by the park. Her parents had purchased the house many years ago because of its proximity to this park. They were now reluctant to move to a bigger house in the country that they deserved, in case it disrupted Bethany’s life. Which was one of the reasons she wanted to go to UNI so they could move on.
She arrived at the road, needing to cross to get to her favourite coffee shop. She sensed a presence beside her. She found and pressed the ‘cross’ button but seemed to be waiting an age before the beeps went and cars were still going past at what seemed, reckless speeds.
“Do you need some help?” growled a voice beside her.
“No, I’m waiting for the beeps.”
“You could wait a long time,” said the voice. “The lights are out of order.”
“Oh,” said Bethany, torn between her desire to sit down in the sunshine with her chocolate covered cappuccino and the fear of accepting help from a stranger.
“I’ll stop the traffic and tell you when to go.”
There was screech of complaining tyres, before silence indicated that everyone was indeed stationary.
“Ok you can cross now.”
“Thank you, sorry for inconveniencing you.”
She walked to her local coffee outlet and waited to be seated by the waitress.
“Hello Bethany, your usual table is free. I’ll get your drink,” said the waitress. “Is your uh, companion, having something today.”
“Me,” said the gruff voice. “Yes, I’ll have a teacake please.”
“No need,” he said.
“So why are you impinging in my space?” asked Bethany.
“Well to be honest it’s the café’s space,” he said.
“I can’t stop you then.”
“Anyway, you looked a bit down and I thought I could bring you some good cheer.”
The waitress brought out her drink and the teacake. Bethany sensed a fierce heat on her cheek.
“What was that?”
“Oh, they never toast the teacakes to my satisfaction.”
“You bring your own blowtorch for that?”
“Sort of,” said her companion. “So back to you, why are you so down?”
“I lost my guide.”
“I can’t see anyone,” said her gruff companion, looking around. “Did you lose them in the park?”
“No stupid,” said Bethany. “My guide-dog.”
“Don’t see any stray dogs either.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” said Bethany. “He never arrived, it was stolen from the training centre.”
“Oh, that’s terrible.”
“Yes, which is why I’d like to be alone with my thoughts.”
“Why do you need a guide dog?” said the gruff voice. “Except for the broken lights you were doing fine.”
“Yes, but I need one before I go to university,” explained Bethany. “I won’t be able to get around the huge university campus without one.”
“That’s not good then is it?”
“I’ll leave you to your thoughts then.”
“OK, see you tomorrow then.”
“Well, you’ll need someone to help you across the road ‘til the lights are fixed.”
“Suit yourself.” Bethany felt her companion leave and heard the screeching of tyres as he crossed the road.
She pointed the phone towards her departing companion and took what she hoped would be a useful photo with her smart phone. Her computer should be able to translate the image into words.
“Was it bothering you,” said the kindly waitress, as Bethany stood up to leave.
“No. I think he was trying to do me a favour.”
“Shall I direct you across the road?”
Once home she copied the photo into her computer but all it said was ‘cars and horse’.
“I must admit I didn’t hear the clip clop of a horse, very strange, anyway horses don’t talk.”
“Sorry dear,” said her mother.
“Nothing, my computer is playing up a bit, that’s all.”
The next day she wanted to find out if her gruff companion would turn up again, when she went for her usual walk. She had a good feeling about him and if he did turn up, she would at least find out his name, if nothing else.
“Hello,” said the gruff voice.
“Oh, it’s you again.”
“Afraid so. Do you want help on the road it’s so busy?”
“Yes please, if you don’t mind.”
Once settled down in her usual seat after the usual tyre squealing, Bethany sipped at her chocolate coated froth. “So, do you have a name?”
“I think it’s Moron.”
“Moron,” queried Bethany. “Why do you think that?”
“It’s what the drivers call out at me after they’ve stopped.”
“No, but what did your parents call you?”
“I never knew my parents,” said the voice. “It was Easter and I was left in an egg basket.”
“What exactly are you?” asked Bethany. “I notice the waitress called you It and my computer is confused by your image.”
“I don’t know, do you want to feel me?”
Bethany gingerly put her hands where she expected to find a head.
“Well, you are different – long nose like a horse but scaley skin. Hot nostrils, you must take care you might be ill. Large ears and a huge row of teeth.
“It’s what I suspected, I think you might be a dragon.”
“Really that’s exciting, I think,” he said.
“Well, I’m not going to call you Moron,” said Bethany. “Do you think you might be a Japanese Dragon?”
“I shall call you Shinto.”
“Shinto, that’s nice,” he said. “Can I be your guide dog?”
“Well, you don’t have one and I would be great at it,” said Shinto.
“Yes, but a bit frightening for everyone else.”
“Isn’t a fierce dog also frightening?”
“Not as much as a dragon.”
“Why not give me a try, what harm would it do?”
Bethany could think of a million harms that a dragon could do but refrained from comment.
“I have to go to the Natural History Museum tomorrow,” said Bethany. “It’s part of my pre-studies.”
“That sounds exciting, where shall I meet you?”
“We’ll meet in the park as usual, it’s not far to the museum,” said Bethany, sure that her parents wouldn’t approve of her choice of a guide dog.
Bethany leapt out of bed excited by the thought of going to the museum unaided, also she would have a guide to talk her through the exhibits. She hadn’t asked if Shinto could read but at least he could describe things.
She dug out the bright yellow guide dog coat she had been given in the expectation of her trained dog. Umm, she thought, feeling the small waistcoat, oh well it will have to do.
She donned a backpack with some drinks and her iPad and said goodbye to her mum.
“Hello,” said Shinto. “Where to?”
“Here we are,” said Bethany taking out her iPad and showing him the map of where they needed to go.
“Do you have a satellite image,” said Shinto. “That would be more useful for me.”
“Sure,” and switched from map to satellite. “Here, see where the claw is pointing.”
Bethany tried to ignore the hooting and car crashes as they walked along the pavement. “Are you the only dragon around?”
“Probably the first one in this city.”
“That explains things. I hope they let you in.”
“Why wouldn’t they, guide dogs are always let in, surely?”
“Dogs yes, not sure how many other guide dragons are around though,” said Bethany. “But I have an idea, do you know how to walk like an Egyptian?”
“No what’s that?”
“Walk very slowly and stiffly like a robot,” said Bethany “I’ll pretend to be directing you with my smart phone.”
Shinto started walking as directed and Bethany acted out controlling him.
Arriving at the entrance, there was indeed an enquiry about her companion, until Bethany told the guard that there was no ban on guide animals, live or robotic.
“Besides it will be an added attraction,” hearing the excited children clamouring to get close to Shinto. “Be careful, he might bite.”
She kicked at Shinto’s shin who promptly opened his jaw and chattered his teeth.
Shinto led Bethany through the exhibits, subtly unpicking the locks so that she could feel the exhibits to get an understanding of the skeletal make up of birds and animals. Shinto explained which objects were merely bones and which were stuffed animals, allowing her to be as delicate as necessary.
All was going well until they reached the dinosaur section. Bethany read the braille inscription that there was a ‘live’ Tyrannosaurus Rex on display.
“Do you want to see T-rex,” asked Bethany.
“Great, a pop concert,” said Shinto. “Is that what all the screaming is about.”
“No, Tyrannosaurus Rex. Creatures that died out 65 million year ago.”
“So, what’s all the screaming?”
“I don’t know?” said Bethany. “What can you see?”
“It looks like my dad and it’s swinging a child to and fro in its jaw.”
“You have to stop it.”
Bethany felt a rush of air as Shinto flew into the great hall.”
More screams from the children, no doubt at the sight of a full dragon, then a cheer and a blast of hot air.
“What’s going on,” said Bethany, as she heard a crunching and the agony of twisted metal and smelt burnt material.
“All sorted,” said Shinto, once again by her side.
“Excuse me,” said a voice.
“Is this your dragon?”
“Well not mine exactly but he’s with me,” said Bethany, worried that Shinto had done something dreadful. “Is there a problem?”
“Yes and no,” said the voice. “I’m Professor Grant of the museum.”
“Bethany, and this is Shinto” said Bethany, holding out her hand. “What went on?”
“Well, a child had climbed onto my automaton T-Rex and had got trapped in its teeth, just as the show started,” said Professor Grant. “She was in danger of being injured or even killed.”
“It would have been, except for your dragon,” said the professor. “Shinto rescued the child and as the automaton seemed out of control and set it on fire.”
“Oh no.” said Bethany. “I’m sorry to have spoilt your display but I can’t see otherwise I would have stopped him. I don’t have any money to fix your T-Rex.”
“No need, far from it,” he said. “The children think he’s a hero and want to thank him.”
“Oh, alright,” said Bethany. “Shinto go over and say hello to the children.”
Bethany heard the children clambering all over Shinto and excitingly asking him questions.
“While he’s doing this, maybe we could have a drink at the café.”
“I’d like that,” said Bethany, in need of a hot drink after all the worrying events.
“So, what do you know abut your dragon, where does he come from?” asked Professor Grant.
“No idea,” said Bethany. “He came into my life a few days ago, out of nowhere.”
“Well, he’s a great asset to the museum. Do you think he’d like a job? He’d be the best attraction, ever.”
“I think he was hoping to be my guide, seeing as my dog was stolen,” said Bethany. “And I don’t have an alternative at the moment.”
“I could make you an automaton instead,” said the professor.
And so, it was, that the museum had its very own, live, T-rex and Bethany had her very own guide robot.