Master's Final Call by Keith Dugger

A fire was coming. Dark and monstrous, it growled. It was searching for my fallen master and it was coming fast. I wanted to stay by his broken body to protect him, but I had a task to complete. Without the key pass, Master James would suffer a hell no man should have to endure.

The dry air burned through my lungs and snot froze to my whiskers as I ducked through the underbrush at a full run. My mother and my mother’s mother had trained me all my life for this mission. The keepers of the afterlife charged our species to watch over our master’s lives and, when that inevitable time arrived, aid them through the transition to the next world.

My single focus was to make it to the top of Mount Silesia and safely return with the key pass.

All his life Master had tended his farms, provided shelter and food for our family and protected us from the dangers of the deep woods. At the end of his last day, he’d fallen off his horse on a routine scout around our humble farm. He’d hit his head and wouldn’t move no matter how much I lapped at his rough face. I left his mare to watch over him while I reluctantly cast out on this dark path.

A sharp crack just off the overgrown path froze me in my tracks. I peered intently into the darkness, ready to attack should the sound morph into something more tangible. Behind me, the fire’s roar and growl of death tore up the mountainside unrelentingly at breakneck speed. The hair on my back bristled straight reminding me of that ornery porcupine that taunted me as a pup. I had to push forward though my paws twitched at the tenderness from running over the rough stone and thistle bush. And the thinning air made it difficult for me to focus.

‘The fire should be upon him by now. Why is it coming for me?’ I pushed forward, the homing stone was close. Even through the winter’s bite, I felt death’s warm breath bearing down on me. I tucked my tail under me and ran harder.

I skidded to a halt as the path broke into a small clearing, kicking up puffs of dust. The homing stone, a grey, smoothed-top rock, marked the middle of the circle.

A half moon volunteered some light, but the sky was black. A zigzag of demon orange slithered up the small mountain behind me.

‘Three barks to ward off evil spirits and wait. Two barks to call the key pass and wait. Three barks to pay homage to all those that had come before.’ I recited what my grandmamma had drilled into me. A lifetime of herding by day, and lying at my master’s feet by the fire at night and barking at invisible ghosts to keep them away from our tiny farmhouse. All my life was wrapped up in this ceremony and I was afraid.

I fought back a tear; I didn’t want him to go. Death had already swooped down on him, taken him from me. Now his soul waited on the hell hound to take him to hell or the key pass to fly him to heaven. He deserved my return.

I choked back three weak barks and waited for the spirit world to explode the sky with magical fireworks or fantastical flying machinery.

I barked two fierce and loud barks and waited for the ground to rumble and shake and crack open at my paws.

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Selected Amazon Links:
The Soul of Creative Writing
The Practice of Creative Writing: A Guide for Students
One Year to a Writing Life: Twelve Lessons to Deepen Every Writer's Art and Craft