The land fell sharply below me. I saw it clearly, yet the darkness of the night held no light for this to be possible. I was flying, soaring, twisting and turning, flapping my wings, except I didn’t remember having wings… I thought I had legs. I cast the thought from my head and swooped from the Palomia tree to the bird feeder, swift and fast the way I’d seen the magpies do it… nobody could catch me.
However, the seed of doubt niggled… I can’t fly, I’m a dog… dogs don’t fly. How is it? I’m flying? When I hit the ground, the dream receded and reality struck… I’d fallen from the upstairs mezzanine bedroom to the lower living room… two floors down. I picked myself up; my legs felt shaky, but otherwise, I was okay… nothing hurt… at least... I didn’t think it did.
It was dark down here… I whimpered quietly, more from shock than anything. It’s not nice waking in a place you shouldn’t be, and I realised, when I stumbled up the steps to the dining room, that I was in pet Sooz’s sacred living room and the dog fence that stopped me accessing it normally, now bared my escape. I remember Sooz erecting it when I’d gotten caught short one day and had an accident on the carpet. She was going to freak when she found me here… I’d better come up with an escape plan soon, or I could lose my life with a tongue lashing.
It was eerie, dark and spooky in this room and scary thoughts invaded my head. What if Gromit was prowling around and found me… he might not like me and tell Sooz. I remember Lola saying only the other day… she’d seen the ghost of Gromit wandering the downstairs room. I shivered.
‘Aaaaaaargh. The scream left my lips before I could stop it. ‘Sooz… help… I fell… I’m scared…. Sooz… Pete… s – a – v – e… m – e.’
The light went on. ‘Did you hear something?’ I heard Sooz ask Pete.
‘No. You’re dreaming again… go to sleep.’
‘I’m sure I heard a howl.’
‘Sooz, you did… it’s me. I fell… I’m trapped down stairs.’
‘Paddington, where are you?’
‘Down here, Sooz. Look over the balustrade and you’ll see me.’
I heard the bed creak when my pets got out of bed. ‘Lola, where’s Paddington?’ asked Pete.
I heard Lola yawn. ‘Always making a fuss,’ she muttered. ‘Why would I know?’
I ignored Lola, because Sooz’s voice was freaking me out, she sounded worried. ‘I can’t find him… Paddington… where are you…? Paddington… Oh my God Pete, he’s vanished.’
‘Sooz… Pete… I’m down here.’
Finally, she looked over the balustrade. ‘How did you get down there?’ she took the steps from the bedroom two at a time and pulled aside the puppy fence. Gathering me up in her arms, she cuddled me against her chest.
‘He must have fallen through the rail,’ said Pete. ‘Blimey… he’s one very lucky dog. Bring him up here and let’s check him over.’
Sooz carried me upstairs and put me on the bed. I looked into their worried faces. ‘It’s all right Pete…’ I shivered involuntary. ‘I’m fine now,’ sniff… whimper… sniff. I couldn’t stop the noises coming from my throat. It suddenly dawned on me; I might have died from the fall.
‘I think being asleep is what saved him,’ said Pete.
‘I can’t believe he hasn’t broken anything. It must be at least a twelve-foot drop, and he didn’t hit the hand rail or cupboard. Somebody was looking after you, Paddington.’
‘What some dogs will do for attention is beyond me,’ grumbled Lola. ‘But this reeks of Gromit’s interference… I’d say he saved you,’ Lola yawned again. ‘I really need to get my beauty sleep,’ she said putting her head back onto her paws.
‘You can sleep with us tonight, Paddington. Pete, tomorrow you’ll need to fix the rail so this never happens again.’
‘Yes… boss,’ we both replied…
The dawn chorus woke me and the recurring dream of when I’d flown disappeared. I stretched my legs in front of me and rolled onto my back thinking about the incident when I’d nearly died. It had happened when I was only a few months old, and I still stressed over it. Thank goodness I couldn’t fit through the gap now I’d grown. It was one of those life rich experiences; I'd heard Sooz say about the episode, and nobody could come up with an answer as to how or why I didn’t die or get severely maimed in the fall.
I had my own theory… it was logical to me… I had flown that night. I wanted to test the theory again, but was scared that now I was an adult, I’d be too heavy to take off. I closely watched the technique of the many varieties of birds that visited the bird feeder daily. I’d resorted to chasing them away, to see how they took off and landed. However, it still remained a mystery during my waking hours, and it seemed my experiments took place mainly in my dreams.
If Gromit was the one to have saved me that night, then why didn’t he show himself to me? This burning question drove me to Lola for an answer.
‘Paddington,’ she said, in that condescending tone of hers. ‘Gromit will show himself to you when he’s good and ready and not before,’ she turned away from me and sauntered off towards the trampoline with her tail waving gaily.
There was never any arguing with Lola, so I let it drop.
Flying became an obsession. I galloped into the garden lifting off from the ground, floating for a short distance before landing heavily. Not with the finesse of the local bird population… if only I could maintain the flight for longer. I watched the blue wrens, agile and quick. The finches flew from the wall to the bird feeder in flocks of ten or twenty without hitting each other. Even our resident family of magpies took off and landed with grace.
Days were drifting by and still I had no answers.
It was bedtime, and I scuffed up my duna and when it was just right, I curled comfortably into it while pondering life. Lola lay curled in hers watching me, and the pets were in the big bed watching telly. It was that time of night I loved, when we were congregated in the bedroom together waiting until sleep came. I burrowed my nose into my paws and dropped off quickly, and within seconds was airborne. I took off from the patio and joined the parrots in the pencil pine. They were knocking the nuts from the tree when I flew by and the look of amazement on their beaks made me laugh at them.
‘Look at me? I’m flying.’ I shouted to them.
I was having so much fun. I ducked and weaved through the trees and skimmed over the top of the bushes around the dam, before gliding low over the grass. I glimpsed a koala leave the safety of a eucalypt and run crazily across the garden looking for another one to climb. It chose a stringy bark and when its long nails gripped the trunk, the bark fell away gathering in a mound below. Within minutes, it scrambled its way through the canopy where it nestled its bottom comfortably and waved at me… I never realised how fast koalas ran. I was distracted from the koala, when I saw a wily fox creep through the fence. If Lola could see it, she’d go ballistic. I made a mental note to tell her when I landed. There were rabbits everywhere, I still had to catch another one… with this many around who would miss one rabbit? I noticed the fox creeping through the grass towards a family of them, and I swooped down scaring the fox and decided to scoop one into my mouth. Just as I was about to grab it with my teeth, voices entered my head.
‘Paddington… wake up… you’re dreaming.’
‘Look at his paws. He must be chasing something,’ I recognised Pete’s voice.
‘Always a drama… he can’t even go to sleep without causing chaos.’ Lola’s voice grumbled loudest of all. ‘When you get to my age Paddington, you need your beauty sleep.’
I opened my eyes and locked eyes with her. Her harsh glare brought me back to reality. I wasn't ready to leave the dream. ‘Lola, why did you wake me? I was just about to catch a rabbit.’
‘I didn’t wake you. Sooz was worried when you started yelping and thrashing around in your bed. Honestly, Paddington, I think you need to see someone. It’s not normal.’
‘I nearly caught a rabbit, I was swooping down on it from the trees.’
‘You were dreaming you foolish pup. You need to get over this idiotic idea that you can fly. The only way you will convince me is if you bring something back.’
‘But I did fly… didn’t I?’ If they hadn’t woken me, I would have that rabbit, then I could have proven to them; I thought.
Lola was speaking, in earnest, to me, and I tried to focus on her words.
‘Paddington, you fell through the railing… you did not fly. The question is what saved you? Now I have a theory which I’ve pieced together after watching that last re-run of Star Wars that was on telly the other night. Do you remember the Jedi…?'
‘… You’re taking the Mickey out of me?’
‘No Paddington, no I’m not… I was actually being serious. Anyway if you’re not interested in that theory, what about Gromit returning from the spirit world to save you?
I watched her closely trying to detect mischief in her eyes. Lola was fond of stretching a story.
‘Anyway, I do know this has to stop. We need our rest as much as you. If you don’t get it together, Sooz will make you sleep outside.’
‘No, she wouldn’t.’ I said climbing from my duna and walking around to Sooz’s side of the bed. ‘Sooz you understand me… don’t you?’
She looked down at me. ‘Were you having a nightmare Paddington?’
‘No Sooz, I was flying and nearly caught a rabbit when Lola woke me. Do you think it might be a good idea if Lola sleeps outside Sooz? Because she’s a nuisance, and she’s scaring me with stories of Jedi’s and ghosts?’
‘Go back to bed Paddington. It’s time to go to sleep.’
I turned aside with my head and tail low. Nobody understands, I thought, walking off yawning. I decided to sleep in the dining room and descended the steps.
I looked around not recognising the deep voice. ‘Yes, who’s there?’
‘Come into the kitchen, I need to talk to you.’
I turned the corner and stopped. In front of the combustion, fire sat a slate coloured bearded collie. ‘Who are you?’
‘Paddington, I lived here before you came along. Pet Sooz and pet Pete were in my charge… my pets. I entrusted them to you… are you up to the job?’
‘Yes, of course I am.’
‘I’m having my doubts from some of your antics, Paddington, you have to let go of this flying obsession. The only dogs that fly are those of us in the big kennel in the sky.’
‘Are you… Gromit?’ I heard the quaver in my voice.
‘Yes, and I’m going to tell you a story, and it’s up to you to decide and if you decide wrong you might as well fly off with me now.’
‘When I left this earth, my pets were bringing me home after I’d spent a number of weeks in the animal hospital in town. My whole sickness was a horrid journey and one I wouldn’t wish on anyone. However, they hoped, as did the doctors that I would get better. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. But the thing I remember most about my final hours was Sooz and Pete deciding not to leave me at the hospital that night. They wanted to bring me home. We drove up through the hills, and my spirit soared… I was going home. You see Paddington… I loved my life, and home is where the heart is, wouldn’t you agree?’
‘Yes… that’s so true Gromit… I love my home too.’
‘We arrived home,’ continued Gromit. ‘Sooz held my paw in her hand and when we turned onto the driveway, I pushed up to look around at the beautiful native trees and the house glimmering under a starlit night.’
‘Yes… Gromit… it’s beautiful here, there are so many stars… you should see them in the outback…’
‘… I flopped back on the seat,’ continued Gromit. ‘And that’s when I lifted from my body and left the car. I took flight soaring across the tree canopy, ducking and weaving, swooping and cavorting. The birds looked at me in awe… I thought I was dreaming.’
‘Like I do?’
‘Similar… but this was no dream. The reality was I never woke up. Pete carried me into this kitchen and laid me in my bed in front of this hearth, and both my pets stayed by my side, while I flew over the house and garden. At first, I felt so free... all the pain had gone; I swooped down on the rabbits and foxes scaring them. I joined a flock of black cockies soaring over the earth and into the clouds. After a while, I thought I needed to get back into my body… I wanted to come home.’
‘I couldn’t… I’d left my body behind and now was free to soar wherever I liked. But I wanted to go back to my pets… flying had been fun for a short time… yes, like you Paddington; I'd always wanted to fly. But now I was lost…’
‘… You mean... I could get lost?’
‘Yes, you could. And it’s not your time. Now, I want you to promise me you will give up these crazy ideas and look after the pets. It’s your duty… do you remember what your mother said?’
I dropped my head ashamed. ‘Yes, it’s my duty to care and protect them... I’m sorry, I got carried away… of course I’ll look after our pets… Gromit?’
‘Did you save me that night when I flew… sorry fell through the railings?’
‘Yes, it wasn’t your time. You have a job to do, and I expect you to do it. Now go back to bed and let’s have no more of this nonsense.’
‘Thank you Gromit. I’m so happy to have finally met you. Will I see you again?’
‘I’ll be watching over you.’
‘Paddington… will you shut up.’ Lola’s voice drifted from her bed.
I swung my head to answer her. ‘Sorry Lola.’ And when I swung it back he’d vanished. I blinked… ‘Gromit… Gromit… where are you?’
‘Paddington, if you don’t get into your bed and shut that whining up, I’m going to come down there and bite you… get up here now.’
‘Yes, Lola.’ The house was in darkness; the pets must have hunkered down for the night. I’d been so engrossed talking to Gromit, I didn't even notice the light go out. I plodded up the steps and passed Lola. She growled a low throaty growl… I knew that growl well.
‘I’m going to my bed Lola. There’s no need to be so bad tempered.’
‘Go to sleep, Paddington, you’re getting on my nerves.’
‘Yes, Lola… Lola?’
‘Guess what just happened to me?’
‘I said… I’m asleep.’
‘I met Gromit.’
‘That’s good Paddington… now go to sleep.’