"Hey Lisa, we're going over to Jeff's for a cram session. You want to join us?"
Behind Jackie, in the hallway, were her boyfriend Jeff plus two men and a woman that Lisa didn't know. They looked friendly though.
Lisa and Jackie were roommates at Washington State University. They were both Juniors, but Lisa had just transferred to WSU this year. This might be a good chance to make some new friends. "Sure. Give me a moment to get my stuff together."
"Lisa has an incredible dog. He can even play football!" she heard Jackie say.
Lisa smiled. As she left the room she grabbed a small photo book as well as her backpack with her purse and the rest of her class notes in it. "He isn't here though. They don't allow hundred-pound puppies in the dorm."
One man said. "Woah! A hundred pounds, and you call it a puppy? What is it?"
"He's a Bernese Mountain Dog. They're bred to pull carts and wagons. Here, let me show you." She turned to a page in the photo book. "This is Guardian with his cart. He's pulling 120 pounds of cargo, equal to his weight, and the cart itself weighs another 70 pounds. And that's a light load. In his prime he could routinely haul 1,000 pounds or more."
"Good God. That isn't a dog, it's a horse!" The man looked at the large tri-colored dog in the photo. "He's really pretty though." He glanced at Lisa. "Um, so are you, if you don't mind my saying so. I'm Michael O'Connor. Pleased to meet you." He offered his hand.
Lisa shook his hand. "Lisa Wilson. Glad you approve -- of both of us."
Jackie called out to them. "Come on you two. Jeff's driving. Mike can look at your photos while we drive."
"Oops! We're coming!" said Lisa.
They soon caught up with the others. "Pile in." said Jackie. "We saved you a nice cozy space, all the way in the back. The couple in the middle are Joann and Larry Piedersen. I forgot to introduce them before."
Michael looked in the van. The back bench had two spaces open, with coats and book bags piled in the third space. "You get the feeling we've been set up?" he asked Lisa.
"Looks that way, doesn't it?". Lisa turned to her friend, "Jackie, I thought you said this was a cram session, not a triple date."
Jackie pouted. "Oh for Pete's sake Lisa, can't you two take a joke? Everyone brought their notes and books, didn't they?" Then a mischievous grin flashed to her face. "But I'll admit that I was hoping you and Michael would hit it off. He's a nice guy. Give him a chance, OK?"
"Well, OK." Lisa looked at Michael. "But this isn't a date, right?"
Michael looked quite serious. "Absolutely." He looked down, paused, and looked at her again somewhat wistfully. "But maybe some other time? I don't bite. Really."
Lisa laughed. "Maybe. We'll see. Besides, I know what to do with big guys who bite."
As they drove off campus, Larry turned toward Lisa and said "You know, I've never heard of a Burmese Mountain Dog before."
Lisa sighed. "It's a Bern-ese Mountain Dog, as in the canton of Berne, Switzerland, where the breed originates. Not Burmese, like the cats. They're sort of rare, only a few thousand of them registered each year in the US."
"Sorry. How did you get him?"
"It's all right. I get that all the time. Mom and Dad got him for me on my tenth birthday, from Chivalry kennels, near Mount Hood. They named him "Lisa's Knight Guardian," because he followed me all around the kennel. The breeder said he'd be my guardian, but I had to promise to train and show him. I've been his trainer and handler all of his life. He's a Champion with lots of titles, but he's retired now."
Michael asked "Jackie said your dog can play Football?"
"Yes. He played with me on my dorm intramural team when we practiced. I would signal the plays to him by hand signs behind my back. He loved it. When he was on the field, we used the partially inflated lining for a football instead of a real one, so it wouldn't hurt his mouth, but other than that it was standard rules. Guardian could catch passes, and was one heck of a tackle. I had to teach him separate signs for 'flag tackle' and 'full tackle,' to make sure he did it the right way. The first time we practiced, he hit the quarterback so hard he knocked the wind out of him. When 120 pounds of dog ducks his head and plows into your groin at twenty miles an hour, you know you've been hit."
"Ouch! I pity the guy. So why not bring him up here?" asked Michael. "There's plenty of apartments in the area. Some of them must accept big dogs."
"No, as much as I'd love to have him here, he's just too old now. A big dog like a Berner only lives eight to twelve years, and he's ten now, going on eleven. He's with his breeder now, doing stud service. When I graduate, I have a job waiting for me at their kennel, helping to train his puppies and grand-puppies." Lisa's voice choked up a bit. "I really miss him a lot. Um, can we change the subject now, please?"
Joann spoke softly "That's all right dear. We're almost to Jeff's place anyway."
Lisa looked around, noted a few shops she would want to visit next time she was up this way, and a bus stop that served the campus.
The study session was pretty routine. About ten o'clock Jeff said "Well, that's enough for me. What say we all go to a pub for a few brews?"
Lisa got up and started looking for her coat. "Not for me, thanks. I'm not quite twenty-one yet. You folks have fun. I can catch a bus back. I saw the stop I need on the way here."
Michael offered "I'd be glad to escort you back. It's no trouble, really."
"Thanks Mike, but I'd rather be alone for a while. I have some things I really need to think over. I'll be OK. You go with the others." Lisa picked up her stuff and headed down the stairs to the street. Talking so much about Guardian had made her realize just how much she missed him. She was even wondering if she shouldn't stop out of college for a while, to work at the kennels until Guardian passed on.
Next to the bus stop was a tobacco shop that sold cast statues of various breeds of dogs. They had a large display in the windows flanking the entry. Lisa was admiring a Bernese that they had, when the bus roared past her back. She shouted and waved, but it kept going. She went back to the bus stop, checked her watch, and checked the schedule on the sign post. "Drat!" That had been the last bus.
She looked around herself. The streets were completely deserted, and everything was closed. Lisa decided to walk back. It was only a mile or so.
A few blocks later she realized she was being followed. She caught his reflection in a window, and he seemed to be behaving strangely. She shuddered and walked faster, looking now for a way to lose him. She tried crossing the street, and turning corners at random. He just kept getting closer.
Running now, she sought any sort of refuge. She could hear him running behind her. Lisa saw an open doorway and bolted inside. It was just a false front on an alley. She ran deeper into the shadows, and realized she was trapped. The far end was blocked by a tall wooden fence, and the few doors she had passed had been secured with padlocks.
Lisa turned and saw the man in the doorway, drawing a gun from his pocket. She took off her pack, took out her purse, and threw it at him, shouting "Here! Take it! JUST LEAVE ME ALONE!".
The man ignored her purse, slowly advancing on Lisa, saying nothing. Lisa prayed to herself. Oh please. Not like this. I don't want to die.
She almost fainted when she heard a loud thump, followed by heavy breathing coming from behind her. Oh God. He's not alone. There are two of them.
She jumped as the cold nose touched her palm, melted to her knees as she recognized the rowling quality of that heavy breathing. Rational thought stopped. It didn't matter how or why, just that she realized SHE was not alone, and her attacker was. Praying against all odds that her guess was right, she formed the hand signs for "Full tackle, center," and shouted "HIKE!!"
Lisa collapsed to the ground and saw a huge furry form leap over her. The man raised his gun, but was too late. She saw the dog lower his head and hit the man squarely in the groin. She heard one gunshot as the dog was on top of the man, then everything was still.
Guardian got up and walked calmly back to her, tail wagging. She looked past him at the man, who appeared dead. She looked Guardian all over, but he was fine. "He could have killed you! Oh you brave, brave dog." Hearing sirens in the distance, she hurriedly gathered up her purse and pack. The man had shot himself while struggling with Guardian, and she didn't want herself or Guardian near here when the police arrived. They might want to have Guardian put to sleep.
Somehow they got back to her dorm and into her room without getting caught. She collapsed on her bed and was asleep instantly.
The morning sun woke her. Guardian was lying on the floor between herself and the doorway, watching her and wagging his tail. Her roommate was still out, probably still at Jeff's place.
"Well Guardian, I don't know how you got here, but your breeders must be worried sick. We better give them a call to let them know where you are."
She reached for the phone and called the kennels. A woman's voice answered. "Chivalry Kennels. We aren't open yet. Is this an emergency?"
"Hi Susan. This is Lisa. I'm calling about Guardian."
"Oh God. Just a minute, let me wake Pat. "
"Lisa? Pat. Damn. I wish I had a better way to break this to you. Honey, Guardian's gone."
"I understand. He ran off, but you'll have him back soon."
"No honey, you don't understand. He died last night."
"Died? But that's not possible. He's..." Lisa was interrupted as the door opened, and her roommate walked in. "Jackie! Watch out for..." her voice trailed off in a squeak as Jackie walked right through Guardian.
"Watch out for what?"
Lisa looked at the Guardian. Guardian looked back, wagging his tail. Lisa realized Pat was shouting on the phone.
"LISA! Can you hear me? Are you all right?"
"Um. Yeah, I'm OK. I thought I'd seen him up here. I assumed he must have gotten loose during a stud match nearby. What happened?"
"Late last night, he was growling and got really agitated. I let him out, and he ran straight into the wooden fence, like he was trying to go right through it. The vet says he broke his neck, must have died instantly. I'm sorry Lisa. I feel like hell about this."
"It's OK Pat. I know it isn't your fault." She looked at Guardian, curled up asleep at her feet. While Pat had been explaining the accident, she had watched Jackie walk through him again. "I'm certain he's settling into a happy afterlife now. Probably full of dreams of having fun with me forever."