Let Me Fetch One Last Time by WolfForce58205
After a steady rain the last few days, the creek was swollen and swift, but this also meant there were plenty more fish to be found drifting downstream. This had always been her favorite place to camp out and fish anyway, but Sinead always enjoyed the after-storm plethora of opportunity the spot provided.
It was bright and warm, and so Sinead had planted herself in the shade of a tree to sit out her day off in relaxation. Or, she would have, if her line hadn’t caught on something in the river. She sighed in exasperation; she’d only caught one fish before a–literal–snag in her plans came up. Hopefully this would hit her limit for the day.
Rolling up her jeans and removing her socks and shoes, Sinead stepped carefully into the water and felt around slowly. Whatever her line had snagged on was oddly shaped and very solid–probably some wonky rock that the water had smoothed over. But whatever the line had wrapped between didn’t seem very rock-like…
“Oh,” Sinead huffed, hefting not only her line, but also the thing it was stuck in out of the water, holding it eye-level with herself. “Wasn’t expecting that…”
It was a skull, from some sort of animal with a snout and fangs–a dog, maybe? Her line had gone between and stuck around a couple of the fangs like dental floss, and she gently plucked it out. “Poor pup–”
“Woof, thanks kid–for a minute there I thought you were just gonna leave it in there!”
Sinead shrieked well before the voice finished its sentence, and the rest of the words ended up garbled as the skull fell from her hands and splashed back into the creek. She fell back and landed in the creek with a splash of her own, her rear end soaked as well as pretty much the rest of her.
Heart nearly hammering out of her chest, Sinead gave herself a moment to calm down before slowly reaching for the skull again. She had to have been hearing things, right? It’s not like this thing was alive…
“That was rude,” the skull said immediately upon resurfacing, and Sinead almost dropped it again. “I could have cracked!”
As the skull ‘spoke,’ it wasn’t entirely obvious the voice was actually coming from the skull itself. There was no bottom jaw to flap about like in cartoons to show it was speaking. It was just a skull, still and eerie and dripping in Sinead’s hands. A chill ran up her spine from the cold of the water and the entire situation she’d found herself in.
“H-how are you…?” she trailed off, holding the skull in one hand and gently knocking on it with the other. Was there a speaker in it, she wondered, flipping it upside down. Nothing. As far as she knew, it was a legit animal skull.
“Easy there, butterfingers. Mind gettin’ me away from the water? You don’t know how long I’ve been in the bottom of this river.”
Wanting to oblige if only to get herself dry, Sinead moved to the grass and sat in the sun, crossing her legs and gently setting the skull down in front of her. As she moved to position them both, the skull–somehow–made a low whistling sound. “Well, it was a river.”
“What the heck are you?” Sinead asked, grabbing the hem of her shirt and ringing the water out of it.
“I’m a dog!” it yipped, confirming her early assumption. “Boy, I feel like I’ve been sleeping for ages and just woke up. What a nap!”
“Thanks for getting me out of there! Not much to see when it’s just water and mud and fish. Although the fish would be kind of fun to chase, but I don’t have legs so that’s not really an option. Man, I miss my legs.”
The ‘dog’ chattered on, almost like a typical dog would excitedly bark and dance around. Sinead felt blindsided and wasn’t really sure if, or how to, say anything to this…
“Boy, this is weird,” the dog skull seemed to finish its unending stream of thoughts.
“You’re telling me!” Sinead finally exclaimed, leaning forward to scrutinize the skull again. “Not only are you just a skull, but you’re a dog skull that can talk–English! What the heck are you?” she asked again, hoping for a bit more than ‘dog’ as an answer. “Are you a ghost or something?”
“Beats me!” the dog skull said, sounding happier than it should about that. “I just know I’ve been in that river–err, stream-thing? Whatever it is now. But I’ve been there for a long time. Long, super long.” Suddenly the skull actually let out a bark, shaking a little and causing Sinead to jump back in surprise. “Oh no! My people! How will they have gotten on without me?”
“Other than missing you, I think they’ll have been okay,” Sinead said, becoming more confused by the second.
As the dog skull continued to fret aloud about its missing ‘people,’ most likely its owners, Sinead tried to decide what to do with this thing. She felt, at this point, that putting it back in the creek and pretending this never happened wasn’t an option. Her guilt would get the best of her, especially when she came to this place so often. But then what? She didn’t relish the idea of bringing it home; she could imagine the looks her family would throw her way.
“Would you help me?” Suddenly the dog skull’s words were directed to her again, and she looked back down to it.
“Help you with what?”
“Finding my people! I’m sure they’re probably still close by, and I’d love to see them again!”
“Uh… But you’re only a skull, not a dog anymore,” Sinead said bluntly, not wanting to be rude but trying to be real. “Do you even know their names? What if they don’t live around here anymore? Better yet, what’re you going to do if you find them? Not sure if you know this, but skulls don’t… talk.”
A soft whine came from the skull. “But I miss them. And I have to make sure they’re okay. It’s been so long…”
Sinead thought long and hard, and they sat in silence as she did. There was no guarantee they’d find these people, or if they were even still around or alive. How long had this dog been in the water? Heck, was this dog even talking to her–was she dreaming?
She shrugged, figuring that if it was a dream, what could it hurt? “I’m not gonna make any promises, but I’ll try.”
“Oh, thank you–!”
“But no talking when we’re around other people! That’s not… normal.”
Before leaving with the skull in hand, it asked Sinead if she would try to find the rest of it in the creek. After sifting in the near area of where she’d found the skull, digging her hands in all manner of mud and underwater mess, she found a few smaller white bits that could have been bones. Toes, maybe? What looked like a tooth. Nothing bigger than the skull though. And–
“So your name is Phantom?”
“Oh, yes! Didn’t I introduce myself? Does that mean you found my jingler?”
Sinead held up a worn, sopping collar. It was plain, black with a blue stripe in the center of it. The name tag, a small bone charm and what looked like a vet-stamped tag for shots hung from a ring–that could be useful trying to find its owners. Sinead even recognized the name of the clinic.
“Uh, jingler? I guess so.” Gathering her own things as well as the remnants of Phantom in her arms, she carefully tucked the small bones in one pocket and the collar in another. As she walked away from the creek, each step tinkled with sound as the metal tags clinked together.
“What’s your name? Humans don’t have jinglers to tell us their names, not that I can read those words, anyway.”
“Ohh, what a pretty name. Your people that named you picked a good one.”
Sinead blushed, muttered a quiet thank you and said, “You’ve got to stop yammering when we get closer to people, Phantom. It’s bad enough I’m hauling a skull around.”
Inspired by Skulls and Coins. May add more to this at a later date, but for right now…