The Red Mist


The Red Mist



He caught my eye and gave a hesitant tail wag, nervy, wanting to be friends.

Go on Frank,’ encouraged Gail, his owner, and after a moment Frank took a hesitant step. His eyes bigger than dinner plates. I knelt and he sniffed my fingertips. Frank I thought, small world. My son named one of his dogs Clive. The other, a cheeky dachshund named Frank. I’m never surprised by the names we saddle our pets with.

‘He’ll soon get to know you, had some bother in the dog pound before we rescued him.’ Gail’s husband, Lindsey, telling me in a few words why Frank was nervous.

‘You can put your suitcase in there Michael,’ Gail pointing at the spare bedroom. ‘Come upstairs. Coffee? I’ve got the kettle on.’


I heaved the case on the bed and followed. The upstairs was open plan. Sitting, dining and kitchen with views over Lyme Bay and Portland Bill in the distance. I had arrived at my first housesit.


Lindsey and I took off on a maiden walk, Frank showing the way. His viz jacket with a written warning “I need space” unheeded by other canines. Humans on the other hand, skeltering across the road whether they had a dog or not. When we entered the Langmoor and Lister Gardens Lindsey took a sharp about turn, avoiding an oncoming Labrador and Frank wailing like it was the end of the world. The perplexed Labrador and its owner drew near and Frank flipped. From distress to full-on aggression.

‘See what I mean,’ Lindsey adroitly manoeuvring his charge behind a bush and I nodded, wondering how I would handle this. The distress in Frank’s wailing the saddest sound I have ever heard. Primeval and desperate.

Lindsey and Gail knowing this was my first housesit offered final instructions and advice of alternative walks before setting off on their holiday. That evening Frank and I relaxed amicably in the lounge, him comfortably in his basket while I explored Netflix. Once he realised I was the new food monitor our relationship grew and he most likely got more treats that first evening than in his entire life.


We set off in the morning, Frank dressed like a builder and showing me the way. He was cool, checking out the territory but when we got near the end of the road  becoming wary, not liking the houses on the left. It was the Jack Russell territory Lindsey had warned me about. Two siblings with plenty to say and always seeking to press Frank’s buttons. I was glad they didn’t appear on our inaugural flight and turned right, up a short slope and then left by the barber’s shop. Narrow pavements and steep hills. An estate car by the library with the tailgate open and two lurchers came bouncing out . Their green wellington owners bedecked in waxed Barbour jackets. I couldn’t help thinking how lurchers, once a hunting dog had become a fashion item.

There was nowhere handy for Frank and I to disappear. My heart beating faster as we crossed the road. Frank looking over his shoulder, outstaring the lurchers. They looked away and he switched to attack mode, me hanging on while he snapped and snarled.

 ‘Come on Frankie,’ I whispered. ‘They’re not as gorgeous as you.’

He wasn’t impressed by either my weak flattery or the pocketful of treats and I kept him on a short leash until we entered the Langmoor and Lister gardens overlooking Lyme Bay. No dogs in sight and I gave him his head, Frank sniffing and marking his territory as if his life depended on it. A poodle in the distance getting a cursory glance. We chatted with Eric the gardener, a friendly Londoner from Shepherds Bush. I’d lived there too and we shared a few memories. Frank, soon bored with our conversation, dived in the greenery. I nodded to the gardener and we ploughed on, avoiding dog encounters in the way Lindsey had shown me. It was okay but I felt for my canine charge. His reactions were total and when the red mist dropped he thought of nothing else.

Over the next day or two I worked on our friendship, talking to him when I wasn’t asking Alexa to play Sister Sledge and singing along with “Frankie, do you remember me.”

Frank didn’t howl but the fluttering of one earlobe was enough to convince me not to give up the day job. I took part in his games and introduced my own. On the evening of the third day I relaxed on the couch. Frank sitting opposite me. Staring.

‘What do you want boy?’

I was cutting down on the random treats but this was something else, Frank’s eyes flickering to a folded blanket alongside me, his head to one side.

 Come on new human, buck your ideas up.

 Was he asking to join me? It was permitted, the folded blanket alongside me placed by Gail, in case the need should arise. I put a hand on it, unfolding and the tip of his tail flickered.

That’s it, you’re getting the idea.

I patted the blanket invitingly. His tail energised, an urgency added to the wagging,

Come on human, say something.

I patted again, ‘It’s okay Frankie, come here. Up boy. Up.’

He took off, landing alongside me and laying his head on my thigh. We were friends I thought happily, my fingers scratching his ears. You’ll do for the moment, his tail signalled. Until my proper humans come back.


‘It’s okay. Frankie. Don’t look at them,’ turning him away and covering his view from a pair of whippets. We were on a longer walk and he twisted to get past me, trying to shake off my hand.

‘It’s okay Frankie, it’s okay. They can’t see you.’

The wailing started and I bent my knees, using my body to block his view. Gently trapping his head between my knees. My head close to his. Muttering gibberish. It was a struggle, Frank was solid muscle.

 The rigid tail quivering, Frank getting into attack mode - fading to silence when the whippets moved on. I let go and he looked around, his hesitant tail wagging at the treats in my hand.

This became my favoured method of helping him face his demons - rewarding him when he made it through to the other side.

It wasn’t always smooth, once encountering the owner of the Jack Russells who I didn’t know from Adam. Frank caught us both by surprise. Snarling, rigid tail and a belly rumble that sent shivers along my spine.


I was beside myself, a dog walker and house sitter should be more alert. ‘I didn’t expect that, he loves humans.’

‘It’s okay. He knows me and my dogs. Not a problem.’


Frank danced around the house, loving the security of his domain and the rituals of living with Gail and Lindsey. I always forgot where the mugs were stored and ended up opening all the drawers. Frank taking this as a sign of feeding time and snatching up his plastic feeding bowl. Charging at me and bouncing it off my foot. His tail furiously wagging.

‘Come on human, fill it up. Three measures.’

Four days and it would all be over, my first housesit coming to an end. Knowing I would miss this wonderfully intelligent dog. We returned to the gardens, feeling comfortable in the bright sunshine. Eric busy with a strimmer . Pausing and nodding. The three of us startled by a red setter randomly bouncing in our path. I covered Frank’s ears, whispering to him. At the same time putting his head between my knees. He trembled, but didn’t need holding as I talked, stroked, scratched.

‘It’s okay Frankie, he can’t see you. I’ve got you, you’re safe. Don’t look.’

Over and over. He didn’t stop whimpering. The red setter’s owner typing away at her phone and oblivious. She disappeared behind us, her wayward hound bouncing like a ball on a flipper table. I eased my knees away, talking non-stop. The tone mattered, and I was so proud of this lovely animal. His two big eyes caught mine and the world stopped for a moment. Mine inexplainably moist.

‘Good boy, good boy. You are such a good boy,’ and holding out a treat. His tail signalling, ‘Don’t be stingy, I deserve at least three.’

I can’t wait to see Frank again.


 Michael Shawyer

Michael started writing as an 11 year-old with football reports to a local paper. Fast forward to South Africa and he is writing again. Sixty+ short stories running back to back with a manuscript about township life describing 12 months in Kwa Zulu Natal. This manuscript is being serialised by Shorts Magazine. He shamelessly enjoys fresh cream doughnuts.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post