Will is in his element at the local dog home. They all know him as their regular ever since he moved into the area. Jenny, lead of the rehoming staff, walks into the room.
“Mr Graham,” she greets him brightly with a habitual push to the bridge of her glasses. “Funny seeing you here. Again.”
Will smiles at the older woman as she stops beside him, hands resting on her hips.
“Hello, Jenny,” he says, glancing around the partitions separating the animals. “What do you have for me today?”
“Well,” she begins to say, eyes narrowing thoughtfully as she watches him. “We do have an interesting fella who arrived three days ago.”
Will feels his eyebrows peaking with curiosity.
“Yes,” she continues to say, brow knitting. “One of the boys found him down on the beach on their way to their boats one morning. Looks like he was washed ashore.”
Will makes a thoughtful noise.
“Any idea where he came from?” he asks and Jenny lifts a hand to itch her blond hair.
“Not the foggiest,” she answers with a shrug. “No collar, no chip. Maybe he fell off his owner’s boat, but we’ve not had any calls yet.”
“You want to meet him?” Jenny asks with a knowing smile. Will can’t help smiling back.
“Sure,” he says, and follows after her.
It’s a long drive back to his cabin in the woods. It’s very quiet inside the car. He prefers not to have anything playing when he drives. The dog hasn’t made a sound. It could almost not be there at all. Will glances into the rear-view mirror, but can’t see anything beyond the back seats. It must still be lying down in the boot. Maybe it’s used to car journeys, Will muses, imagining its black and brown muzzle lying between its paws. He remembers what Jenny had read off the internet: the Lithuanian hound is effective on hare, fox and boar. When hunting, it is very persistent with great speed and vigour. With his family he is pleasant and agreeable. Known for its splendid voice. Will wonders what the last of that means, and whether he will hear a peep from the dog any time soon. Back at the home, squatted down before the unusually large, sleek but muscular animal, his customary greeting of, “hello, boy,” was received without much enthusiasm. It had watched him with its dark, unblinking eyes, and made no attempt to lift its black head from its paws. Not a twitch from those low hanging ears when Will gave its broad head a friendly pat. He also recalls Jenny reading: energetic, free-spirited, with good movement. Owners need to be firm, but calm, confident and consistent. Proper human to canine communication is essential. Despite the dog being slow to warm to him, Will is sure he will be able to bring it out of its shell soon.
Turning off the engine, Will gets out the car and walks round to the boot. Opening it, he finds the dog exactly as he’d left him before he started driving. Dark eyes flit up to meet his. Light brown eyebrows dotting its indifferent expression.
“We’re here,” says Will, watching it lift its head. When it shows no sign of moving, Will starts stepping back from the boot. “Come on,” he calls, leaning over to pat his thighs. The dog looks past Will’s shoulders, and for a moment he expects it to bolt out of the car towards the woods. Instead, it finally gets up and climbs down carefully to stand before Will expectantly. For a strong and sturdy looking hunting dog, his movements are oddly graceful, Will thinks to himself.
“Come on then,” he says encouragingly as he starts walking to the cabin. The dog watches him go, but doesn’t follow. Climbing the wooden steps leading up to the porch deck, Will stops and unlocks the front door. Looking back at the dog, he opens it a crack. He can hear the others becoming alert to a new presence outside, but the hound is unresponsive to theirs. Finally it starts to trot towards him. As it climbs the steps and comes towards Will down the porch, he stoops over and brings his hand up to pat its head as it approaches.
“Good b-” he begins to say, but the dog continues straight past him, pushing through the door. Its long black tail held low and still as it passes him by.
“After you,” Will mutters to himself amusedly with a lofting of his brows. He closes the boot of the car with a click of his fob and steps inside the cabin, closing the door behind him.
When Will walks back into the living space with the collar, the dog has already settled itself across the settee. The others are sat on the floor, watching it. When Will approaches, they all look towards him, tongues lolling as they pant in protest.
“Down,” he instructs, pointing at the floor. The dog flares its nostrils at him and tilts its head. “Down,” Will tries again, firmer this time, aware of the others watching. He can’t have the newcomer showing him up like this, not when he has carefully trained the others up to a standard he consisers acceptable. But the new dog isn’t responding.
“My house,” says Will, laying a hand on that long, sleek back, “my rules.” He tugs, but the dog continues to watch him without intentions of moving.
“Right,” he exhales, using both hands to try and pull the other into motion. He is heavier than Will thought, however, and barely budges. The others are starting to get fidgety, their tails flicking with impatience. Or amusement. “You’re not making a fool of me in my own home,” Will announces in warning. It flares its nostrils at him again. “Fine,” he utters, wrapping his arms around its neck. It feels strong. We’ll see who’s stronger. Will starts pulling and the dog pulls against him with surprising strength. One of the others starts to bark, excited by the spectacle.
“Come on,” he grits through his teeth, pulling harder. He hopes the dog doesn’t retaliate by biting him. Digging his heels into the floorboards, Will attempts to drag the dog off the settee. And succeeds. But only because the dog springs forward.
Before he has time to react, Will falls backwards with the dog on top of him and smacks his head hard against the floor. Eyes snapping shut, he groans in pain as the others begin to bark excitedly. Alpha is down, hail the new alpha! Lifting a hand to the back of his head, Will opens his eyes and freezes. A man is lying on top of him, staring down at Will with hooded eyes. His face is sharp, with high, angular cheekbones. Expression a mixture of contempt and amusement. His hair falling in soft fair spikes across his dark, almost black, eyes. The man is also naked. Shocked, Will inhales sharply, but with a blink, the man is gone, and he finds himself staring at the Lithuanian hound. The dogs are still barking. Hail the new alpha! Shaking the daze from his head, Will spies the collar lying on the floor within reach. Snatching it, he fastens it with practised ease around the hound's neck.
“There,” he announces, pushing out from under the dog. It sits itself down. Will sits across it, arms folding. The others settle down around them, watching closely, tails thumping against the wood. For the first time, Will feels strangely outnumbered. The unease created by the strange vision still flowing through his blood. Despite this new sensation, he has never considered it possible to make a mistake when it comes to rehoming animals, and he is not about to change his mind now.
“Lesson number one,” he says lowly, meeting the other in the eye. “I am alpha.”