The forest was wonderful at this time of year. Everywhere, the leaves had begun to change colour, but it would still be a week or two before the autumn storms transformed the beaten paths between the trees into soggy mud pools. The first mushrooms of the season had popped up, while the chestnut trees started to shed their conkers, spiky shells and all.
Mark Haynes whistled at Thor, his enthusiastic Alsatian. The young dog had bolted off between the scrubs to chase a squirrel up a tree and, despite Mark’s efforts, wouldn’t be convinced it was a lost cause.
Reluctantly the Alsatian abandoned its playful hunt and trotted back to its master, tongue hanging out of its muzzle. When it found Mark, it sat down on its haunches, the very image of obedience.
“After a treat to make up for that squirrel, are you?” Mark shook his head, a lopsided grin on his face as he pulled a dog biscuit from his pocket and tossed it up. Thor leapt and snatched the treat out of mid-air.
“If all else fails, I can always sell you to a circus, you crazy mongrel,” Mark said as he roughly petted the Alsatian. When he rose again, the deep colours of evening shining through the trees caught his attention. “See that, boy? Time to go home.”
Twilight set in before they were halfway back to the car. Mark didn’t mind. He knew the forest well enough to find his way around on a moonless night. There had been a time when he would do exactly that, but for a year or two now, his eyes were failing him. Only last week he had tripped over a root and twisted his ankle; not badly, but it had hurt.