This is a fictional short story, in 887 words.
Marjorie watched him as he got ready. Always the same routine. Wallet, watch, walking jacket, and stout brogue shoes. The only difference now was that he no longer reached up for little Nipper’s lead from the coathook on the hallstand. But even after they had lost their beloved terrier, George had insisted on doing the same walk.
“Got to keep my body active to keep my brain active, Marjie love. Just a short walk”.
She watched him walk down the path and close the gate behind him. He turned left like every other time, then she closed the front door and went into the kitchen. She knew he would like something when he got back at four. A big mug of tea, and some cake. She always said it would spoil his dinner, but secretly loved to see him enjoying her baking. There was some nice Victoria Sponge under the ceramic cloche. She would cut him a big slice later.
The wind was brisk, but at least it was dry. George set out at his usual pace, and when nobody was looking, he talked to Nipper. “Come on boy, let’s go along Hartgate Road today, you know you might see that tabby cat. And after that we can cut across the common, see if there are any rabbits to chase”. The tabby cat was nowhere to be seen, and the common was windy, and devoid of bunnies. Never mind, keep going, keep the routine.
How he came to be at that bus stop was a mystery to him. But when the bus arrived, George took the pass from his wallet and pressed it against the thing that went beep next to the driver. He sat halfway down, gazing out of the window. Only minutes later, at least so it seemed, the driver was standing next to him. “Last stop, my friend. We are at the terminus, you will have to change buses”. George nodded, and stood up. His legs felt stiff from sitting. But how could that be? He hadn’t been on the bus that long. Change buses, the man had said.
Three people in front of him in the queue stepped back and let him get on first. He smiled his thanks, and pressed his pass onto the machine. On the empty bus, he sat halfway down again, looking out of the window. Lots more people got on as the bus progressed. An old lady sat next to him, shopping bag on her lap. He shifted closer to the window to give her more room. She said something he didn’t hear. George never took his hearing aid out on his walks. He just smiled and nodded.
By the time he spotted the lake, most people had already got off the bus. He quickly pressed the bell for the bus to stop at the next opportunity. When it had pulled into an official stop, he had to walk back for almost fifteen minutes. There was that nice lake, with a path around it, and woods beyond. Nipper would love it there. He turned, grinning. “Come on boy. You can get a drink in that lake, and there might be some squirrels in those woods”.
The sun was setting, and he raised his hand to his face because of the glare. That low sun at this time of year could be fierce indeed.
Marjorie had cut the slice of cake and made the tea. But it was almost five now, and no sign of George. She wasn’t usually a worrier, but he wasn’t getting any younger, and he was never late home from his walk. So many times she had asked him to take the big button phone Scott had bought him for Christmas, but he said he had no use for it. Marjorie had got quite sharp with him. “That’s not the point. I could ring you, and you only have to press that green button to answer”.
But he was stubborn. Ever since she had met him, that stubbornness had been the only thing she didn’t like.
Of course he forgot things sometimes. So did she. Where you had left your glasses, or what day which bin had to go out. Everyone forgot things like that, didn’t they? But he didn’t forget anything important. Well, not unless you count that time he went to the hospital on the wrong day to have the stent put into his artery. He was adamant it was that Thursday, and refused to find the letter. But they sent him home because he was a month early. He blamed them of course. Mind you, he had been better since, much better. Then they had lost Nipper.
There was nobody walking around the lake, and inside the woods it was much darker than he had expected.
George was sure he could hear Nipper barking up ahead. A sharp persistent bark, like he had found something he didn’t like. He started to walk faster, calling out. “Hang on boy. I’m coming, Nipper old lad”. The tree root sent him flying, and the trunk of the big Oak tree cracked his skull and knocked him unconscious.
He didn’t hear the helicopters, or the shouts of the search teams with their dogs.
But then they were forty miles away, searching where Marjorie had told them he would be.