A Leopard Features in this Story; Update on I'm Dashing
This is my latest story and was written for the June Word Challenge, Uxbridge Writers' Circle. I'll include some comments at the end, as well as an update on our racehorse, I'm Dashing.
Although I've italicized the required words, I thought you may like to see them listed (in order of appearance): lilac, cosmos, leopard, burgeoning, beast, pawn.
The cool rain ran off his hat and trickled down his neck and inside his jacket. He welcomed the relief from the hot, dry week. The early heat had shortened the life of the purple lilac blooms, now withered and brown. The old, untended garden held remnants of past beauty amongst the emerging thistles and spears of early goldenrod. He’d even seen cosmos growing last year in a variety of cheery colours, presumably self-seeded. But this was not a happy place for him.
He was familiar with every square inch of this concealed garden and conscious of his surroundings, but he maintained his focus on digging the hole. The rain had penetrated about a quarter of an inch, and the dry soil underneath the damp layer soon gave way to hard, stony clay with the occasional large rock. It was back-breaking work. He took off his wet jacket and tossed it onto the dandelions, realizing that it would get covered in seeds, but not caring.
It wasn’t the first time that he’d paused and contemplated how he ended up digging a hole in this cemetery. It was through his greed and stupidity And he’d lost his licence to practice veterinary medicine that he’d laboured so hard to gain. But he’d stayed out of prison thanks to his new boss. He wasn’t sure how.
His shirt stuck to his back, and his shoes squelched with muddy water. He jumped onto the shovel with both feet and hit a rock. The jolt sent him stumbling to one side but the two-foot-high wall of the hole stopped his fall. He caught his breath as he rubbed his sore knees with his gloved hands. He’d had enough. He couldn’t do any more. It would have to do.
The leopard lay lifeless on a plastic feed sack which he’d cut open to make it almost large enough for the body, but not for its long tail. He picked up two corners of the sack and walked backwards with twinges of pain tingling his spine. About four feet from the edge of the hole, he straightened up and bent backwards with his hands on his hips, but he didn’t feel any better. It would have helped a lot if the cemetery was accessible by vehicle, but it had been stressed that its location must remain hidden.
He inhaled the fresh air and took a few seconds to let his eyes wander around the secluded spot, which was surrounded by burgeoning shrubs including weigelia, spirea and rosa rugosa. This patch must have been home to someone, perhaps a pioneer.
He looked down at the beautiful beast lying at his feet. He’d promised himself he wouldn’t cry, but salty tears escaped and ran down his cheeks, mixing with the rain dripping off the narrow brim of his hat.
It was best to get this over with. He stretched his arms above his head and then, with a concerted effort, the leopard now lay at the side of the hole with its spectacular coat dirty and bedraggled. If he’d been alive, he’d have shaken the rain off and his coat would have shivered back to its sleek splendour. The irregular rosettes with their splotchy black edges and golden centres were each a work of art, and the spots on his magnificent head were, well, amazing.
The tears wouldn’t stop.
He was playing a dangerous game, but he was just a pawn and had no say.
His boss smuggled in endangered and vulnerable wildlife for customers who paid big bucks for exotic animals.
He knew they were often kept in deplorable conditions, usually small cages, with a barely adequate diet, just to be on show as an entertaining ornament. He’d heard of several caretakers being mauled and wished there’d been more; then perhaps this business would stop.
As he stood at the edge of the shallow grave, his heart pounded, and he gritted his teeth. This is not where he wanted to be, burying another magnificent animal which should have been running free. This one had died in transit, as a few did with every shipment.
This life of service to his boss couldn’t continue. He was going to escape his talons. He might die as he fled, but this was what he must do. Now. No second thoughts.
He’d researched, in great depth, the opportunity to become a wildlife conservation volunteer in the Big Cat Wildlife Research Program in Kenya. He had enough savings to pay for his expenses and much more.
He covered the body and picked some buttercups and daisies to place on the mound of stony dirt.
Leaving the shovel and sack behind, he picked up his soaking wet, filthy jacket and tossed it, along with his soggy hat, onto the backseat of his SUV and drove.
He smiled at the irony. A wildlife conservation area would be the last place on earth where his boss would expect to find him.
Copyright Vicky Earle 2022
Notes on the story
When I worked for the Ontario SPCA one of our many concerns was the importation of exotic animals, especially endangered species. Not only were we concerned about the diminishing populations of these animals, we were outraged at the conditions some of the animals were kept in. And we saw the tip of the iceberg - only those cases where our inspectorate had received a cruelty complaint from someone.
In many cases, zoos would assist in the rescue, most often the Toronto Zoo. Their veterinarians and specialist staff were often essential to saving an a animal's life.
My research about leopards, for this story, revealed the Big Cat Wildlife Research Program in Kenya. It's real! It's possible to become a volunteer. They provide training and there are many possible assignments. As with many volunteer positions, you must pay for your own expenses.
It sounds like an amazing opportunity! And it's not the only program of its type.
Update on I'm Dashing
As you know, I'm Dashing is the racehorse we bred. We have his great grandmother and grandmother at our farm, and his mother is at another place being cared for because we very much hope that she's pregnant and we can't expose her to horses coming back from the track (in case they're carrying something that could be harmful).
I'm Dashing ran in the 6th race on June 11 at Woodbine Racetrack. He came 6th which was disappointing. But the main thing is that he's fine. And the jockey likes him! So we hope he'll do better next time. The competition was tougher than we expected in this race.
He could run again in 3 to 4 weeks time, depending on how he's doing.
Thank you for reading my blog post. Please share/comment/like. :)