Art Pact 244 - Sleeping off a drunk


Well, when you're sleeping off a drunk under a rhododendron bush, curled up in the foetal position with the stink of alcohol in your nose - partly from you, but partly also from the half-finished can of Carling you have clutched in your paws that's slowly letting its contents evaporate into a miasma cloud of booze - that's not the best time to discover that there are dogs outside, wild dogs in that park, dogs that your drinking partners didn't warn you about when you said that you would walk back that way to your hotel (neglecting to tell them that what you actually meant anyway was sleeping on the floor of the little bit in between the lobby and the front door, the bit you can get to without a key card). That's the worst time, in fact, probably the worst time anyway, to discover this fact. When you stink slightly of piss because during the night your bladder got uncomfortably full of cheap lager and started to wonder what it was going to do with it all, because it saw that your brain was out like a light and said to itself "Awwww, how adorable. I'll let him sleep.", so that instead of getting up and moving out into the chill night air and sending a golden arc of piss flying onto the grass where only a few hours later people would be sitting with their picnic rugs, instead of that you just pissed through your clothes so that the ground under your thigh is a mushy little bog compared to the lovely dry soil beneath your head and feet. That, then, when you've cold in the middle and merely chilly at either end, when even a human could detect your species by your smell, let alone some creature with a more sensitive nose, when you're either muddled in the head because too much alcohol is in there or beset by a powerful headache because too little alcohol is in there, that then is the worst time (again, probably) to discover that there are packs of dogs in the park in which you are sleeping, and that they are the sort of dogs that might be a bodily threat to you, and furthermore that a group of these dogs has you surrounded, treed like a squirrel except that the tree is a rhododendron bush and the squirrel is an overweight thirty-something graphic designer who currently looks like (and has the same job as) a tramp.

This, then, was the situation I found myself in. Of all the ways to discover that Maligne park had a problem with feral and violent dogs, I had picked the worst (probably), which was to be in that situation and discover that I was in that situation when something nipped at my boot.

The first thing that I did was that I moved closer to the bush's central trunk. Under the canopy of waxy leaves it was actually quite roomy - although I hasten to add that that is an assessment made in the cold light of day, at several week's remove from the event itself. At the time I think I would have been lucky if I could have identified it as a plant, let alone made a critique of its design in its capacity as a hiding place. The process went more like this: I rolled over, discovered that my thigh was soaking wet and cold, groaned, shivered, listened some more to the snuffling sounds and low-pitched yips coming from outside the bush, then began to drag myself laboriously until I was as close to the main stem of the plant as I could get (not that close). I'd sobered up a lot - a little due to sleep, a little due to cold, and a lot due to some part of my brain that was still a little interested in self-preservation and had woken me up at the sensation of tugging from my leg.

Whatever it was that had made the first incursion into my leafy fortress, it had withdrawn when I began to move - possibly it had thought I was dead and had retreated to regroup, but I didn't even begin to entertain the possibility that it might have been scared off. I could still hear the things padding in a circle around the bush. There was a little light outside - a full moon, which did no help me feel any safer - and it provided enough illumination to see shapes moving through the breaks in the leaves - low, lean shapes like hunting dogs.

"Fuck off," I whispered.

Something outside growled.

My thinking was still addled by the pounding in my head, but I was not so stupid as to think that I was going to be able to get rid of whatever was lurking outside by shouting at it. Instead I tried to pull myself upright - a failure, perhaps even an abject failure, since I got as far as one knee and then lost my balance, toppling sideways into a tangle of thin branches which were strong enough to support my weight but not rigid enough to prevent me from twisting as I fell so that my arm got wrapped or twisted somehow in the resulting confusion. I tugged with my whole body for a good minute, desperate to get myself free before the dogs outside worked up the courage to come in, but I could not budge an inch - that is, until I realised that I had grabbed onto the base of one of the branches as I fell and that simply letting go would free me instantly. So fast, in fact, that I almost fell over again.

That was enough of a signal for the dogs. A snout poked under the umbrella of leaves, snuffled twice, withdrew, then reentered followed by the rest of the animal's head and its forelegs. It was a bull terrier: white, ghostly white in the light of the moon. It sniffed again, then spotted me cowering in the middle of the bush and bared its fangs.

"Good doggy," I whispered hopefully but without much hope.

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