Category Archives: Our Children’s Stories

Greyhounds make the best pets!

Or how we found out the magic of the pointy-faced hound

Greyhound,greyhounds,greyhoundsaspets,greyhounds as pets, greyhound rescue,rescued greyhounds,rescued racers,photo of a greyhound,sally dignam,greyhound with toy,
Sally with her favourite toy, Bluey

This is Sally.   When we adopted her back in 1999, we didn’t know much greyhounds, apart from they were racing dogs who had retired and wanted a life after the track.  Sally taught us a lot, about how affectionate, clever, and funny they were, how easily they fitted into a home, and in Sal’s case, how much we’d get to know the local vet!  Greyhound rescue was still in its early years, and people would ask us loads of questions about how much exercise they needed, whether they were good with cats, why did they wear muzzles (are they vicious?).  We were able to reassure people and show them how wrong their old ideas were. 

Hound in the House, Greyhound rescue,greyhounds as pets,living with greyhounds,greyhounds make great pets,dogs as pets,pet dogs,pet dog,pet greyhound,my greyhound,rescued racers,
The cover of A Hound in the House – this was our Sally to a tee!

It was partly for this reason that I was prompted to write “A Hound in the House”, which told about life with our own hounds, and our fosters, and spread the word about greyhound rescue.  We also began to give talks to local groups about life with a greyhound, and people could actually meet a real ex-racer – it was surprising how many people had never come face to pointy face with one! 

Greyhound, Rubbish, The Largest Rabbit, Rabbit hound,chidren's animal books,animal books for children,bedtime stories for children,children's bedtime stories,greyhounds as pets,greyhounds of instagram,life with greyhounds,a greyhound,the greyhound,
The Largest Rabbit – my first Children’s book

How do you get children to learn about greyhounds, and how caring they are?  This is what brought about “The Largest Rabbit”, a book about an abandoned greyhound who learns who he is, and how important it is to belong and have someone believe in you.  I particularly enjoyed writing about the little hound who thinks his name is “Rubbish”, as that’s what the people called him.  It’s always great when the underdog wins – literally in his case. 

But don’t just take my word for it.  The books are available via your local amazon store, or if you’d like a signed and dedicated copy, they are available from our web shop or PM me.  Or maybe your local group would like to meet a real rescued greyhound and learn about how they’d make your life better?  PM us and we can arrange one of our greyhound talks.  Go on – you know you want to!

Gwennie,Gwennie Dignam,Gwennie Crafty Dog,The Crafty Dog,Crafty Dog Cymru,greyhoundsaspets,greyhound rescue,rescued greyhounds,rescued racing greyhounds,racing greyhounds,greyhound racing,greyhounds as pets,greyhounds make great pets,
How would you like to meet Gwennie?

The Mighty Finn and The Easter Bunny

A short story for Easter – for children and those of us who have never fully grown up!

Finn the deerhound, Lord of the Glen, was scenting the air in the beautiful woodland that lay within a short walk of the walls of his wonderful garden.  He was taking his morning constitutional which he liked to think was a regular thing, though the duties of a celebrity made it more of a weekly than a daily event these days.  It was also nice to have escaped on his own for a change.  Though he loved his household (the Maid and the Butler, Flower the lurcher, Rubbish the young greyhound-come-rabbit hound and of course Jeffery the marmalade cat) it was marvellous to be able to just clear his mind of his responsibilities (and Jeffrey’s ego!).  He could smell something strange in the air.  What was it? Animal?  Maybe.  Vegetable? Possibly.  He walked in the direction of the scent, stopping occasionally to take another snort of air.  Yes, it was this way.

            The woods were a little thicker and the path was getting a touch more overgrown when he thought that he caught a flask of brown between the trees to his right.  He stopped and looked again.  Yes, there was definitely someone moving – someone nearly as tall as himself (and he was considered tall for a deerhound) and he could make out a short tail (what they called a scut) and big ears.  Who could this be?

He moved as quietly as he could towards the figure.  He could see them more clearly now.  It was a very big rabbit, with long brown ears, a brown coat and long legs.  Yes, indeed, it wasn’t a rabbit but a hare.  Finn remembered the Winter Hare, Eira, who he had helped to escape from the clutches of human hunters and their dogs a few years back but this hare was much taller.  They also carried a wicker basket and wore a bright green bow tie.  Finn was much closer now and could hear the hare singing to themselves.  Every now and again they would reach into the basket and take something out and tuck them into the grassy undergrowth, whispering something as they did so.

            Finn took another step towards the hare and made the cardinal sin of stepping on a twig which snapped with a cloud crack!  The hare froze and turned towards Finn.  They looked terrified.  Finn introduced himself, “Good morning.   My name is Finn, please don’t be frightened,” he bowed politely.  The hare relaxed and broke into a broad smile.  “Ah yes, the Lord of the Glen!”  It was a gentleman hare (Finn should have guessed by the bow tie).  “I am Eric.  I am the Easter Bunny.”

            Finn bowed again. 

            “Well, I’m not THE Easter bunny.  I’m a Trainee Assistant Easter Bunny.”  He blushed a little.  “If I earn my bunny points I can graduate to Assistant next year, then Easter Bunny Grade 3 the year after.”

            “I never realised that there was such a well-developed career structure,” Finn replied.  He really was surprised.  Eric smiled and nodded, “Oh yes, from leveret to fully-fledged Easter Bunny Grade 1 is possible with skill and dexterity and great customer care.  The only thing is, we mustn’t be seen by anyone.”  At this both Finn and Eric frowned.  “This could be a major setback.”

            They stood quietly in a small clearing, both feeling a bit awkward for a minute, until Finn spoke again to break the embarrassed silence.  “Are you, er, related to Eira, the Winter Hare?”

            Eric nodded.  “Yes, she’s my fourth cousin on my mother’s side.  My Mam was an arctic hare.” Eric looked upset again.  “She was ever so proud when she found out I was going to be a Trainee Assistant.  She’s going to be really disappointed when she finds I’m going to be downgraded.”

            Finn put his huge hairy paw over the hare’s shoulder to comfort him.  He could see tears slowly sliding down Eric’s face to congregate on his whiskers where they formed pools that dripped off onto his huge feet.  “I’ve got another three of these to distribute.  Now I’ve been seen it’ll never happen.”  The disconsolate hare tilted the wicker basket to show Finn a pile of eggs, all painted in fantastic colours, some with stripes, some with dots, some with stars and moons, and some with coloured bows that sparkled in the dappled morning sunshine.

            As Finn hugged him gently, Eric produced a huge yellow and blue spotted handkerchief from an invisible pocket in his fur and proceeded to wipe his eyes then blow his nose loudly.  This caused four families of local chaffinches to take off from surrounding trees, not too happy to have been woken at this still unearthly hour.

            “Is there anything I can do to help?”  Finn asked.  “I can deliver the eggs with you if that’s ok?”

            Eric shook his head, “I don’t think that’s allowed.  There are strict rules, you know.”  From the same invisible pocket the hare produced a well-thumbed dog-eared book entitled, “Easter Bunny – Rules and Regulations.  Edition 37.  (Cost 3 shillings and 6 pence).”

            “Rules are rules,” Eric’s smile sagged again.

            “Let’s get these eggs delivered, and I’ll sort out the rules afterwards.  I think I can call in a few favours,” the old deerhound chuckled.  Finn sounded so positive that Eric raised his smile, and the Easter Bunny (Trainee Assistant) leaned behind a tree and lifted up another basket of coloured eggs which he gave to Finn.

            Eric ran through the correct procedure for distribution of the eggs; for young and baby animals only (birds were excluded for some obscure reason involving unsubstantiated accusations of cannibalism), one per household/drey/den/sett.  Don’t knock or make a fuss, just deposit the egg upright and slightly out of sight (there had to be some element of surprise for the recipient).  Finn took the forest on the right of the path and Eric the forest on the left.  The hare had two baskets to Finn’s one (Trainee Assistant though he was, he had received more training than Finn and, with two-handed delivery, was much faster).

            For the next hour (though it only felt like ten minutes) Finn sped through his part of the woodland taking out eggs and putting them on the ground outside the homes of various animals.  For the tree-dwellers he did his best to put the eggs on branches but this did cause some confusion when he left one outside what he thought was a squirrel’s drey but turned out to be a woodpecker.  He had some difficulty explaining this to the furious woodpecker who had a serious sense of humour deficiency.

            Finn was shattered by the time he met up with Eric again.  Eric was so pleased that Finn had been able to assist, and that he had delivered his order of Easter eggs within time and before the rest of the animals had woken up (or the nocturnal ones gone home to bed).  As he shook Finn’s hand he asked him, “Will I still get in trouble for being seen?”

            Finn winked. “Don’t worry.  Tell them that you were in Finn, the Lord of the Glen’s woods and that I offered to help.  If they have any issues, let them speak to Eira, or failing that, Father Christmas will vouch for me.”

            Eric bowed again to the Mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen, deerhound extraordinaire and all round good egg (no pun intended. Well, only slightly).  With a wave the Trainee Assistant Easter Bunny was gone.

            As he strolled home, Finn contemplated a number of things.  Such as, why is he called the Easter Bunny when in fact he’s a Hare?  He mused on this, and then changed the subject to his favourite one; breakfast.  Was it going to be porridge today?  With or without bacon and some chopped sausages?  What about cooked tomato on the side?

            When he got to the tall green door in the even taller red brick garden wall his stomach was rumbling.  From the other side he heard an ancient moggie voice call out, “I heard that!”  The door opened and Jeffrey was there to welcome him home and accompany him as he sauntered down the garden path to the patio.

            “Been anywhere interesting, old chap?” asked the impeccably well spoken old moggie.

            “Oh, just strolling in the woods.” Finn replied.

            A face peered around the kitchen door. “Breakfast is ready!” the Maid called. On the patio on their dog beds lay Flower the butterscotch-coloured lurcher and Rubbish the brindle greyhound who both smiled and wagged their tails as they saw Finn approaching.  “Morning!” they called, in unison.

            Jeffrey laughed, “They do practically everything together these days!” he said to Finn under his breath.  Finn grinned.

            The Butler brought out three dog bowls and two large dinner plates.  In the bowls were porridge, and on one plate a mix of sardines and cat biscuits, and the other plate chopped sausages and chopped crispy bacon.  He set out the bowls and plate, then asked the gathered dogs (and cat), “And how would you like your breakfast?”

            They all looked to Finn.  “The works, as usual,” came the reply.  The sausages and bacon were added to all the bowls (including Jeffrey’s).

            “Bon appétit!” the Butler said as he left them to it.

            “Quite so!” replied Jeffrey.

            They all tucked in.

As the meal was coming to an end (Jeffrey had finished first, despite having very few teeth) the Maid came out with a box.  “Finn,” she said.  The old dog looked up.  “This is for you.  It was left on the front doorstep.”

            She put the box on the low table at which the animals ate their food.  It had a beautiful yellow ribbon around it, and a tag on which was written, “To Finn, Assistant to the Trainee Assistant Easter Bunny, with thanks.  E.”  When the Maid opened it, inside were four beautifully coloured and wrapped eggs.  Each animal had one, and when they cracked them open each one was the very favourite treat they loved; for Flower, it was pasty flavour, for Rubbish sausage flavour, for Jeffrey, tuna and cheese, and for Finn, venison and gravy.  Amazing!

            Finn stopped munching to announce to everyone, “Happy Easter!”

Chris Dignam, 04/04/21

Copyright Chris Dignam/Crafty Dog Books

To be reproduced by permission only

Finn’s Story

During this dark period I am trying to post some short pieces to amuse, inform or generally give people a distraction – read and enjoy!

Finn – Photo copyright and courtesy of K & S Standing

The following short story explains how the Mighty Finn, hero of the “Largest Rabbit” books came to the farmhouse and his “magic” garden, and came to be Lord of the Glen. Finn is based on a real hound, who had a real Maid and Butler, and this isn’t too far from his real story. Please post a comment, like or review on this or the Crafty Dog Books page, especially if you would like another short piece.

The smell of cooking bacon drifted through the kitchen doorway, across the patio and on down the long garden, towards the green door in the wall that led to the woods.  As it floated past it was intercepted by the nostrils of two hungry hounds and an even hungrier ancient marmalade cat.  Lying on the chaise longue were a young brindle greyhound and a fawn lurcher, cuddled up together.   Across from them, Jeffrey, the said ancient cat, lay back, warming his striped (in places) tummy in the sun.  They were all dreaming about bacon sandwiches, or at least that’s what Rubbish the greyhound and Jeffrey were thinking about.  Flower the lurcher, whose coat was almost as golden as the paving slabs the chairs stood on, was pondering on other things.  “Jeffrey?” she asked.

The old cat’s left eye creaked open, “Yes, my dear?”

“What’s Mr Finn’s story?”

Jeffrey sat upright, “Finn’s story?”

“Yes.  Was he born here in the house, and has he always been the Lord of the Glen?”

Finn the noble deerhound, Lord of the Glen, Master of the Hills and Forests, was the hound who looked after everyone in this, his “magic” garden.  He lived here in the old farmhouse with Cath and Sam, whom he called The Maid and The Butler, and they in turn felt that this actually was their role, looking after this wonderful hound.  Tall, regal, with a quick mind and a sparkle in his eye, gentle but with a power and authority that meant that all the animals, and many of the humans around the area, saw him as the Lord of the Glen.  Animals in trouble came to him, and the occasional human, and he ensured that things were carried out fairly and any trouble was soon sorted.  It was he who had helped Rubbish, the abandoned greyhound pup, brought up by rabbits, to find his true identity.  (The pup had called himself Rubbish  as that’s what the humans had said he was.)  It was Finn that had helped Rubbish and Jeffrey thwart the plans of a fox to capture Rubbish’s rabbit family, and who’d declared Rubbish to be a Rabbit hound who would protect the rabbits like a sheepdog protects his sheep.   Finn, Rubbish and Jeffrey had helped to save Eira, the Winter Hare, from hunters who were after her skin (literally) and rescued the quiet and gentle Flower from their clutches.  There were many other adventures, involving ghost hounds, witches and even Father Christmas (that particular adventure had resulted in them being given the gift of understanding, and being understood by, humans.  Rubbish had found that most useful, as now he could order his meals from the Maid and she could understand what his exact requirements were)!

“Ah.  Finn wasn’t always the Lord of the Glen.”  Jeffrey pulled himself upright and looked across at the dogs.  Flower’s ears pricked up and the young greyhound’s did too, as they listened to what the old cat had to say.  “As you know, I am quite old now.  I was here before Finn, and I can remember his coming here. 

Cath and Sam were talking in the kitchen and I was sitting up on the window sill,” he pointed to the long sandstone sill below the window next to the yellow back door. “Cath was very upset.  A group of travellers were camping in the fields outside the village.  This was not unusual, as the villagers round here get on well with the travelling folk who often stay on the old fair field during the winter.”

“Why was she upset?” asked Rubbish.

            “I was just coming to that,” the old cat added. “Now, this group were not the usual families and were more than a little troublesome.  The villagers tried to ‘cut them some slack’ as they say, but they went too far.  Some houses were broken into, cars and vehicles damaged but worst of all, livestock were taken.  All in all, they created a lot of very bad feeling.  One of the travelling families was seen hunting rabbits [Rubbish was shocked by this, as they could have been his own rabbit-family].  Cath was in the village when there had been a confrontation between the local policeman and the men of this family.  They had a number of dogs, of various types but mostly greyhound crosses, or as they call them, Lurchers, (no offence young Flower), and amongst them were a few deerhounds.  It was said that they had used them to hunt the deer that roam in the woodland around the village.  Anyway, after this confrontation the travellers started to pack up, and during the evening they all left.  When the sun came up the next morning, they were gone.  They had left a fair bit of mess behind, and Cath and Sam had gone to help the villagers with the clear up.  Behind the camp they found tied to a post, next to a bramble hedge, a very thin and scabby deerhound pup.  He was in a very sorry state, and the local animal rescue people had come to see him.  They didn’t think anyone would give him a home but Cath and Sam had begged to let them take this pup in.

Driving back in the car he was given the name of Finn, after the giant from Irish and Scottish legends.  They knew that with love and care this little pup would grow up to be as large as any giant.

I can see that scrawny little pup now – his coat was dirty and matted, and they had to clip all his fur off.  He wasn’t house-trained, and even though he was now bald he still had fleas!  I’ll be honest, I never thought that pup would ever amount to much!

Still, as he grew – and by heck, he didn’t half grow fast – he began to show his personality.  He was very quick to learn the rules of the house, and even more he came to listen to me and some of the older animals, and he began to understand the rules of the animals too.”

“So then he was Lord of the Glen?” asked Rubbish.

“Bless my soul, not at that stage.  That came later!” Jeffrey chuckled. “Within a couple of years he had grown very large and powerful – no other animal would stand against him.  He began to get a little big-headed, as the humans say, and throw his weight around.  He even growled at Sam once or twice.  Finn could have become difficult to handle.

That winter when Finn must have been 3 years old, he had a terrible illness.  dog flu, I think they called it.  Cath and Sam watched over him day and night, taking it in turns to keep him clean, give him medicine, and food, and watch his temperature.  Even the animals from the woods would come to the garden gate each day to see how he was, and I would keep them updated.  Finn nearly died, but he came through it. 

Over the next few months he gradually got stronger.  He would sit on this settee on the patio, one that Sam had brought out from the house for him to use, where he could feel the warmth of the sun and recover.  Cath would look out the window and there was always some animal or other from the fields or woods sitting with Finn, talking to him and he to them.  I would be there to ensure they didn’t tire him, and to give him the benefit of my vast knowledge too [at this the dogs looked at each other and Rubbish smiled].  By the time he had recovered fully he and I had become firm friends.

Not long after he was better, we had a message from one of the forest animals.  The two badger families were in dispute over an ancient badger sett.  Both claimed it as theirs, and they were on the verge of war between them.  Now you’ve seen how formidable the Bills can be when roused.  It was Brian’s family that called Finn for him to intervene.  Finn stood right between the two armies and put both of the family chiefs in their place, there and then.  Anyone else would have been terrified to have been there, standing between the two battling families, but Finn was calm and collected.  I can see him now, tall, and oozing confidence and, yes, nobility.  Both families were satisfied with his decision and that he had been fair.  It was Brian the Badger Chieftain that had first called him “Lord”, and that has stuck.  Since then, if there has been any quarrel, or if animals have needed help, it’s to Finn that they’ve come.”

            “So…that’s why he helped me.  Because I was an abandoned puppy too?” the greyhound suggested.

Jeffrey nodded, “He would have done so anyway, but he has said to me many times that he felt especially for you, as he had once been that very pup.”

Rubbish didn’t know what to say.  He felt very proud of his friend and mentor, the mighty Finn, and he felt so very sad that he too had had that awful upbringing.

Flower also wiped a tear from her eye.  She could see how the story had affected her dear Rubbish, and she too knew what it was to have been abandoned and rescued.

“Good afternoon all!” a deep deerhound voice called from the kitchen doorway. “I have been told by the Maid that bacon sandwiches are ready.”

The three animals on the patio turned towards the old deerhound and cheered.  Finn thought it had been because of the bacon but that wasn’t the real reason that they’d cheered.  Hail to the Lord of the Glen!

(Story & characters copyright Chris Dignam/Crafty Dog Cymru. Finn the Deerhound is courtesy of Kate & Sean Standing. Feel free to share but please credit the author & K&S Standing.)

Finn, Rubbish and the Corned Beef Virus

A short story to raise a smile in these perilous times.

The Mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen and deerhound of great repute, was sitting on his chaise longue on the patio in the late morning sun – wishy-washy though the sunshine was.  He’d been listening to the experts on the radio talking about the virus, which was making him tut-tut and shake his huge and hairy head.  “Grim days indeed,” the old dog said to himself.

            “Mr Finn!” a young voice called.  He turned to see the brindle greyhound called Rubbish running up the garden towards him.  “Have you heard?  There’s something wrong with the tinned food!”

            Finn looked puzzled.  “Tinned food?”

            “Yes.  It’s making people ill – the corned beef’s got a virus!”

In spite of everything, this did make the old hound smile. “My dear Rubbish, you mean the Corona Virus!”

            “Yeah.  That’s what I said.  It’s in the tinned food!” Rubbish insisted.  “And it’s making people go to the loo so much their toilet paper is running out!”

            At this point Finn laughed out loud.  “My boy, I’ve been listening to the radio, reading the papers too and speaking to Cath and Sam about it.”

            “Ooh, I feel ill…” Rubbish said, sitting on his haunches.

            Finn sighed.  “Firstly, it’s not in the food and definitely not the corned beef!  Secondly, young Rubbish, we non-humans can’t catch it.  It’s just a thing for people.”

            “Oh no – are Cath and Sam ok?” Rubbish looked worried.

            “We live in the country so can self-isolate – which means not come face to face with other humans until things calm down,” Finn explained.

            “What Ho!” a plummy voice called from the doorway which opened into the garden next door.  A very round and scruffy marmalade cat sauntered along the red-brick path towards them. 

            “Any news?” asked Finn.

            Jeffrey, that ancient cat, sighed, “Yes, fortunately The Colonel is safe in his hotel and apparently showing no symptoms.”  His owner, The Colonel, was quite elderly and had been on a hiking holiday in Italy when the virus had arrived.  Jeffrey’d been worried, but he seemed much calmer now that he’d spoken to the Colonel and he was safe and well.  “He’ll be home as soon as all this calms down.  It may be a few weeks or even some months.”

            “But he’s safe,” Finn replied.

            “Thank Dog I have you fellows to look after me!” smiled the old cat.  Rubbish could feel the sting of muscle-rub and arthritis gel wafting from the moggie, making his eyes water.  Worse than that was the prevailing aroma of anchovies!

            “So how’s everyone here?  Are the Maid and the Butler coping?” the cat asked.

            Finn nodded.  “They are fine.  I’ve never seen people wash their paws – I mean hands – as much in their lives.  I know they’re getting on a bit but I am sure they will be ok.”  (From the kitchen a female voice announced, “I heard that!).

            “Wonderful!  What’s for luncheon?” the cat asked.  He was also known as The Professor for his vast knowledge (or at least, he had an opinion on any subject under the sun and moon).  He was also well known for his appetite, which usually involved soft foods (as he had so few teeth nowadays due to his advanced age), largely fish.  And cake – he particularly fond of Victoria sponge, with raspberry jam.

            Cath called out of the kitchen door, “Roast chicken with vegetables and in your case, pilchards!”

            Finn raised a hairy eyebrow, “You can always rely on the Maid!”

            “So is everyone going to be really ill?” asked Rubbish.

            Both the old moggie and the deerhound shook their heads. “Apparently it isn’t as bad as first thought; it just bounces off most little humans, and those who are fit and well.  They might have a cough and sneezes and a slight temperature,” Finn told him.

            “Ah, like the awful Man flu that Sam had last year,” Rubbish suggested.  There was a very loud laugh from the Maid in the kitchen.

            “Well, sort of,” Jeffrey chuckled. “But if you’re already ill, with a bad heart, or weak chest, then it is more serious.”

            “Oh.”  The greyhound thought for a second. “So where has all the toilet paper gone then?”

            Finn turned to Jeffrey, “Professor?” he asked.

            At this point Jeffrey put his hand into his furry chest, to that invisible pocket where he kept useful items.  He rummaged round (a sight to behold!) and out came a fountain pen, a small jar of liniment and, finally, a pair of spectacles which he balanced precariously on his nose.  They didn’t help him see, but he felt that they made him look studious, and was a sign that he was doing some serious deep thinking.  “Now that is a great mystery!”

            “Manky corned beef,” muttered Rubbish, still convinced that tinned meat had something to do with it.

            “I think it has more to do with people acting in a very strange way due to stress and buying lots and lots of things they think might be essential,” Finn told him.

            “Like flour,” the Maid shouted from the house.

            “Indeed,” Finn chuckled, “Because everyone out there does so much baking these days!”

            “I blame Mary Berry,” mumbled Jeffrey. “And that Hollywood chap.”

            “Humans are such strange things,” the deerhound said, leaning over the back of the couch to look into the kitchen (to check on the progress of the roast chicken which by now they could smell cooking).

            “I hear that the villages around here are deserted,” Jeffrey told the others.

            “Have they all been beamed up into space ships by little grey aliens?” asked Rubbish, aghast (he had a thing for science fiction programmes on TV).

            Finn laughed again, “No you daft puppy!  Everyone has been told to stay inside their houses unless they have to go and buy food or medicine.”

            “Or 30 rolls of toilet paper and 20 bags of frozen chips,” chuckled Jeffrey.

            “How long for?  Will everyone just stay inside forever?” the young greyhound was wide-eyed.

            Finn shook his head, “Fortunately no.  It’s expected that it will get worse for a month or so then gradually go back to normal.”

            Jeffrey said, “I reckon 6 months or thereabouts and we’ll all wonder what the fuss was about.”

            “Yes,” Finn stared down the garden to the old door in the red brick wall that led into the meadow and on to the woods where the rabbits lived.  “We’ll just keep our heads down, eat chicken (and pilchards of course) and wait it out here in our garden.”

            Rubbish smiled and lay on the warm patio, “Yes.  There are a lot worse places to be.”

(All characters copyright Chris Dignam & Crafty Dog Cymru.  Any resemblance by the Maid and the Butler to real characters who live in Letterkenny, Donegal is purely on purpose).

If you liked this, don’t forget that all the children’s books are available as digital download or paperback via the Crafty Dog Cymru Shop.

A Word from the Managing Director

Crafty Dog, Penny Dignam, The Penster
Lady Penelope Dignam, Managing Director of Crafty Dog Cymru

A message from our Managing Director, Miss Penny Dignam;
“I’d like to thank my staff for carrying the Crafty Dog Cymru flag and representing us at the #Cywain Meet the Producers event at Port Talbot last Thursday, hosted by Tourism Swansea Bay. Apparently people were surprised to hear that I am a rescued greyhound but here I am! I look forward to meeting our new customers at future events and hope that you enjoy our wonderful jams, chutneys and marmalades. They are very good, you know.”

The Giant Bat – Hallowe’en Story 2018 All in One Bite!

The Crafty Dog Cymru Hallowe’en Story for 2018


Rubbish the Rabbit Hound and The Giant Bat



Is It a Bird?  Is it a Plane?  Or is it…Nigel?


(Age range  5 – 95)


Bob the father rabbit shook his head. “It’s too bad.  These Witches are becoming such a nuisance.”

Bluebell, his wife, agreed, “I know. They are frightening all the kits.  They won’t even listen to Finn!”

She was talking about the local coven of witches who, as the weeks drew closer towards Hallowe’en were getting more and more rowdy – screeching and cackling, swooping low over the trees and scaring the baby rabbits, birds and other animals.  Finn the deerhound had gone to pay these hags a visit, and he had politely asked them not to be quite so loud but they had just sent him off with a flea in his ear. It was a real flea too and he was not amused.

“I’m not amused,” he growled at Rubbish the rabbit hound.  The young hound couldn’t help smiling even though it was not funny.  Jeffrey the old marmalade cat grinned gummily as he stared over the top of his round spectacles at the two of them, “Frightful nuisance,” he harrumphed in agreement.

Finn was, after all, the Lord of the Glen and Warden of the Great Forest and so senior animal of the area.  From the kitchen the Maid watched the three friends discussing the problem in the woods.   She leaned towards the open window and called out, “Bacon roll anyone?”

Three animal heads swivelled as one, and nodded in unison.  “That would be marvellous,” Finn replied.

Three chopped up bacon rolls arrived in three bowls. They had continued talking amongst themselves, and still did so even as they munched on their mid-morning snacks.  The brindle greyhound could not understand why the witches would not listen to Finn.  He shook his head and dropped a small piece of bacon onto the patio, from which it was quickly snapped up by a hungry blackbird that appeared to have just been passing by.

“Bless my soul!   That was a bit of bad luck, young sir,” Jeffrey consoled the stunned Rubbish.

“I was just going to finish that,” the pup said.

Finn laughed out loud, “At last!  Something that is faster than our speeding greyhound’s ravenous appetite!”

The blackbird had landed on the roof of the outhouse, scoffing his ill-gotten gains and appeared to be listening to the three animals talking.

As the bacon rolls were finally mopped up, there came a sound from the bottom of the garden as a little rabbit pushed through the gap in the garden door and scurried up the red brick path towards them.  It was Scutter.  He skidded to a halt, scattering chippings as he stopped.  He was puffing heavily.  “Mr Finn!  It was terrible and frightening!” The rabbit’s eyes were wide with excitement as he spoke.

“Really?  Take a breath young rabbit,” he patted the rabbit on the shoulder.

“And start at the beginning,” added the ancient cat.

Scutter took a deep breath and began his story.  “It was late last night.  The witches were dancing and singing in the clearing where they have their parties.  You know what they’re like,” the rabbit made a drinking sign with his paw.  “They had their brooms and everything, and then….” he paused for dramatic effect, “as the full moon shone over the trees, a huge black bat appeared and flew over them.”

The dogs looked at each other and Jeffrey pushed his glasses back up his nose.

Scutter continued, “They were terrified!  They all packed up and went home sharpish.  Most of them walked – they were too scared to fly.”

Jeffrey laughed out loud and rolled back onto his rather large bottom.  Rubbish smiled too.  Finn however, though he was amused by the thought of something disrupting the coven’s antics, was also concerned about what this flying thing could be.  “Young Scutter – did anyone else see this?” he asked.

The rabbit nodded, Yes, the squirrel family saw it all.  It was a giant bat that made a terrible screeching noise as it flew.”

Jeffrey gave the deerhound a nudge, “Let’s go and see then.”

Finn stretched.  “Come on – I sense an adventure.”

Off the three friends went, following Scutter through the woods to the clearing where the squirrels lived, in a tree next to the witches’ party venue.

Finn and Rubbish looked around the clearing; in the centre were the remains of a huge bonfire, still smouldering slightly.  There were a couple of abandoned broomsticks, broken glasses that had held witches potions (or more likely gin and tonic). There was even one witch’s shoe (like some sort of evil Cinderella!).

“Something definitely spooked them,” Rubbish said.

Finn had to agree, “And they left in rather a hurry.”

Jeffrey was questioning the two squirrels.  He had his notebook and pencil (the ones he kept in a mysterious pocket somewhere in his fur, which so puzzled Rubbish) and was writing down what the squirrels said.

There were no obvious signs of any flying monsters.  No signs of anything in the trees; all in all, very strange.

Back at the house over a bowl of kibble and smoked salmon, (Jeffrey just had the smoked salmon) they ran through what they had found.

“What is big enough to scare off a coven of hardened witches?”  mused the deerhound.

“Can’t have been an owl or a nightjar as they see them all the time,” Rubbish answered.

Jeffrey stopped chewing to add, “And witches are a bit of an expert on bats.”

“True,” Finn confirmed.  “It must have been one heck of a bat!”

Jeffrey suddenly sat up bolt upright and even dropped his bowl into his lap.  “Aha!  Hang on…” then he shot off, disappearing through the hole in the wall into his garden next door.

The dogs looked at each other.  “Eh?”

Back in puffed the old moggie, carrying a huge book, “I know what it is!”  The cat put the book on the garden table and opened it, flipping through the pages.  It was “The Wonder Book of Dinosaurs.”

He pointed to a colour photo, “Look here!  It’s a pterosaur – a flying lizard!”

Rubbish and Finn gazed at the illustration; an enormous bat-like flying lizard with a huge pointy beak.

“Blimey,” Finn said.

“Don’t know about the witches but it would scare the pants off me,” Rubbish gulped.

“Quite so,” Finn concurred.

Jeffrey was feeling quite pleased with himself and you could see his fur puffing up with pride.

“The only problem, my ginger pal, is that they have not been seen on this earth for over 100 million years.”

The cat frowned.

“That’s a really long time,” Rubbish had to admit.

The old cat frowned even more and his puffiness deflated a little.  “But the description fits” he answered.

Finn and Rubbish had to agree with the cat; it sounded like this flying dinosaur, but where had it been hiding for the last 100 million years?

“Maybe it’s come through time through some sort of worm-hole in the space-time continuum?” Jeffrey suggested.

“Hmmmm,” said Finn.  “Or it might be something less ancient and a bit more likely.”

“We have to see it for ourselves,” Rubbish told them.

“That, my young friend, is a good idea,” the deerhound smiled.

“Capital!” beamed Jeffrey. “I’ll start packing my night gear.”

It was agreed that the three of them would meet again at 5 o’clock – after tea, naturally – and they would go and wait near the Witches’ clearing to see what would transpire.

The moon was rising as the three friends slipped through the undergrowth at the edge of the trees to wait for the witches.  There was a pronounced pong from the canvas backpack that the old cat was carrying.

“Cor – what a niff!”  commented the greyhound.

Jeffrey hissed, “its garlic.”

“You don’t say?” chided Finn.

“In case it’s a giant vampire bat,” the cat explained. “I also have some stakes.”

Rubbish looked puzzled. “In case you get hungry?”

The cat tutted, “No – not that sort of steak!  A wooden pointy one.”

Finn chuckled.

Jeffrey rummaged in the bag and came out with a large head-torch on a wide elastic headband.  It was bright orange and matched his (albeit moth-eaten and ancient) fur.  He slipped it on and adjusted the straps.

Now it was Finn’s turn to tut, and to shake his head.

A blast of very bright light in Rubbish’s face made him jump. “Oh, sorry.   It’s a bit bright,” Jeffrey blushed under his ginger fur as he fumbled and turned the torch off.  “I have boosted the light output a bit.  Should help us see whatever it is.”

Finn put his head in his paws, sighed and muttered something under his breath.  It was going to be a very long night!


As it grew darker, there was noise and movement – the witches arrived, mostly on foot as only a couple were brave enough to fly in.  They lit the great bonfire and gathered around it and then started as did all meetings of the Witches Institute by singing the club anthem.  As the singing died down the bottles of magic gin (mostly sloe, blackberry and pumpkin flavour) were opened and glasses filled and consumed. The crowd split into smaller groups who chatted and cackled amongst themselves.  The atmosphere, Finn thought, was somewhat subdued – maybe they had taken on board his request for a quiet meeting.

However, they could see that each group had a member who was scanning the sky.  It was very quiet up in the clouds as only one or two standard-sized bats fluttered past and one or two shooting stars dived through the darkening sky.

Suddenly, a couple of the “spotters” started to chatter excitedly and point upwards.  The gathering changed as more and more of the hags looked up nervously towards the heavens.  The moon by now was very bright.

Something was definitely coming.  In the bushes the three adventurers prepared themselves for whatever was about to appear; Finn could just make out some movement in the clouds.  A huge black shape was approaching, which definitely had wings – silent ones – and was coming down towards the clearing at a heck of a rate.

The witches started to worry, then panic!  They started to leave, very hastily.  As they ran around and scattered into the forest the giant bat came ever closer.  It was definitely black, very large, and Finn could make out a head, body and..spindly legs?

It swooped lower.  Any witches that were left were now shouting and screaming as they scampered about.

The monster had large ears and blood-red glowing eyes, and it was making a loud screeching a sound and giving off smoke.

As it flew over the bonfire it started to spiral upwards; like a buzzard it was using the warm air of the fire to give it lift and rise into the air.  The witches were long gone by now, and there was only the group of stunned animals to witness the arrival of the bat.  They stepped out into the clearing to see the monster more clearly.  Jeffrey switched on his super-bright head torch and it shone on the flying beast like a searchlight.  It picked out the black wings and the body underneath, the huge head with its red eyes and ears.

The monster screamed as the light hit its face.  There was another cry as a tiny burning ember that was also rising on the thermals from the fire happened to catch the edge of one of the wings.  There was a flash of flame – and the monster began another descent, this time at break-neck speed.

The beast flew across the animals’ heads but above the trees.  It had gravity on its side as it sped earthwards.  The animals tried to keep up but they lost it in the woods.   Finn stopped them, “It’s no good – it’s too dark.  Make a note of where it’s going and we’ll have a look in the light tomorrow.”

As they walked home they discussed what they had seen and what they thought the monster could be.  Jeffrey was still convinced it was a flying dinosaur, maybe a new undiscovered species that had forgotten to become extinct.  Finn suggested that it had not received the memo..  Rubbish was not sure what on Earth it was.  Finn always put his faith in believing his own eyes.  However, he was not convinced that what he saw was what this thing actually was.  And what it was….that still remained to be seen.Howe

The next morning found Finn and his companions picking up their trail and making their way through the woods and out the other side onto the edge of a vast ploughed field of damp mud.  The two dogs scented the air – there was no smell of monster, just the usual smell of mud and sheep.  Jeffrey had brought along his ghost detector but it failed to emit one pop, crackle or beep.  He was pretty disappointed by the lack of any result.

They began to step across the muddy patch.  Half way over there was a patch of sheep prints but big ones that also looked like they had slid.  Most peculiarly, they started in the middle of the field.   Finn called Rubbish and Jeffrey to his side to examine them.  As they chatted and pointed, Rubbish heard what he thought was a stifled laugh.  A few yards away sat the very same blackbird that had snaffled his piece of bacon the day before.

“How d’you do?” the Blackbird asked.

“Fine, thank you,” Rubbish replied.

The blackbird eyed them curiously.  “So what you looking for then?”

Finn answered, “These strange prints, and the flying beast?”

“Oh aye?” the blackbird cocked his head to one side.

“Do you have any ideas as to what these are?” asked Rubbish.

“Oh yes,” the blackbird smiled.  “The name’s Morris, by the way.  And thanks for the bacon yesterday, it was lovely.” He added.

The animals were stunned. “Well?” Finn looked at the bird.

“It’s Nige,” he replied.

“Nige?” the old moggie enquired.

“A flying monster called Nige?” Rubbish could not believe what he’d heard.

“No, Nigel the sheep,” Morris replied.

“What?” Finn, Rubbish and Jeffrey all asked in unison.

“Oh aye.  Crash landed, he did,” the bird told them.  “Wing malfunction.”

The dogs were now even more stunned.  Jeffrey had to pick his jaw off the floor where it had metaphorically fallen.  “A monstrous sheep with wings?”

Morris laughed, “Come with me.”  He flew low over the field, the animals trotting close behind.

In the next field stood (and lay) a herd of sheep.  Normal looking sheep, not at all monstrous, and not one with a pair of wings.  Away from the herd towards the top end of the field one sheep lay on his own, evidently deep in thought.  Morris landed next to him and coughed rather loudly (and Jeffrey thought, somewhat dramatically).

“I have some visitors who want a word with you,” he said.  “I told you it would only be a matter of time before someone came to see you.”

The young sheep sat up and smiled rather sheepishly (which was very easy for a sheep to do) at the two dogs and the cat.  He knew who Finn was (as did most animals in the area) and he bowed politely, “G-good morning, sir.”

Finn smiled back, “Good morning my young lad.  I have heard from this little bird that you are the source of these tales of a flying monster?”

Nigel sighed, “Well….sort of.”

Finn sat on his haunches on the grass, and Rubbish and Jeffrey copied him.  “You’d better start at the beginning.”

Nigel explained how with the help of Morris and Gilbert the owl he had built a set of wings and learnt to fly.  He had had some initial issues with his non-aerodynamic shape and poor overall fitness but he had overcome these difficulties by applied engineering and mathematics and had been quite successful.  He was surprised that no-one had seen him flying in daylight. He had become the world’s first flying sheep.  Morris and Gilbert had worked hard to build the wings.  The next challenge had been to master night flying (as he was less likely to get funny looks or complaints from the farmer or his family).

Gilbert had designed night-vision goggles, which were powered by a system of pulleys, pumps and valves by the sheep’s back legs.  The visibility had been good but the valves and pumps made loud screeching noise.  The owl had suggested some light engine oil might solve it but they had not had time to sort that out before their test flights.  They flew anyway.

The evening before he had lost height and he was trying to get into a thermal of hot air to lift him upwards so he had headed towards the bonfire.  It was going well until he was hit in the face by a blast of very bright light which had dazzled him, then a spark set light to his left wing.  He had called out to Morris and had made an emergency landing in the ploughed field.

“Fortunately the only thing dented was his pride,” the blackbird grinned.

Finn and Rubbish were amazed (though it took more than a flying sheep to amaze Jeffrey) and they were very keen to see the flying suit.  They took them over to the old sheep shelter across the filed.  It had been abandoned when the farmer built a new one nearer the big oak tree.  Nigel and Morris had fixed the leaky roof with the assistance of two hippie foxes who had helped them acquire the materials required for the flying suit (but that’s another story!).  The shed had become ‘Mission Control’.

The suit consisted of two large flapping canvas wings and a tail – a bit like a hang-glider.  There were a series of cables, pipes and springs too, which made the flying suit look most extraordinary.  Jeffrey in particular (who loved his technology) was really impressed with the design and could not help making sketches and taking notes and measurements.  Finn could see the old cat having a go at making his own version; the thought of the old moggie with wings didn’t fill him with confidence!

“I’m hoping to get the suit fixed and be flying again tomorrow night,” the sheep told them.

Morris added, “Aye – should be easily fixable.  I’ve got a patch up kit and ‘Hat’ has got me some gaffer tape.” (Hat was one of the foxes).

“I need to do these night flights as I want to see how the goggles work,” the sheep told them.

“Gilbert reckons we could make our fortunes if we copyrighted the design,” Morris grinned.

Finn had an idea.  “You know that you have terrified the local coven of witches, don’t you?”

Nigel was amazed.  “You’re joking?”

The deerhound shook his head, “I have asked them politely to keep the noise down and stop scaring the animals but they have just ignored me.  Hallowe’en is in two night’s time.”

Nigel and Morris looked at each other, and then looked at Finn.  Morris could guess where this conversation was heading!

“It’ll be loud and scare the children again,” the great hound continued, “but with your help I think we can give those witches a taste of their own medicine.”

So Finn told them of the plan that he had devised.


As the sun was setting and the light grew warmer but dimmer, the witches began to gather in the clearing around the mound of timber that was growing into their party bonfire.  Each witch brought a few branches which they added one by one to the pile.  One witch (the one in the bright yellow and very reflective High-visibility hat) was carrying a torch with which she lit the fire.  It first began to smoke, then burst into flame.  They all cheered and the bottles of Witchy Gin came out.  They were soon singing loudly (and out of tune).

There were a couple of spotters watching the sky.  As nothing appeared to be happening up above the spotters lost interest and joined in the revelries around the fire.

Suddenly a terrified dog burst into the crowd of hags.  He was shivering with fear, and shaking and eve foamed a little at his mouth.  “It’s huge, it’s huge,” he babbled, “It has massive teeth…and big wings!”

Some of the witches stopped singing to turn towards the dog to hear what he was saying.  A ripple of unease passed through the crowd of hags but they then continued their partying.  The dog wandered back into the woods, muttering about the thing he had seen.

Not long after the dog had disappeared into the trees a very round cat staggered into the clearing.  He too was shaking with terror, and his eyes were as wide as dinner plates.  “It was terrifying!” he announced dramatically.  “Vampiric in its beastly ferocity!” A few more witches stopped this time to look at the terrified old cat.

“And its coming THIS WAY!” he added at the top of his voice.  A second ripple of unease ran through the crowd, larger than the first.  Once again, the party restarted as soon as the cat disappeared back into the undergrowth.  The party was a little more hesitant but then picked up.

From the dark of the woods there came a terrifying howl which shook the clearing; it was blood-curdling in its intensity.  This time all the witches froze.

Into the light of the bonfire staggered an enormous hairy deerhound – clearly it was Finn, as everyone there knew the Lord of the Glen.  He had blood all down his left side, and was dragging one of his back legs.  He glared into the faces of the (by now) very worried witches.  “I tried to stop it,” he told them.  “It was too big and too powerful even for me. Its teeth are like daggers, and eyed like burning iron.”  He saw the colour drain from the faces of a number of the witches and one even dropped their bottle of gin.  He staggered forward and the sea of hags parted to let him through.

“Who did this?” the Hi-Visibility witch asked.

Finn shook his head, “It was a giant bat.” The hag caught her breath. “Its more vicious than anything I’ve ever seen,” he replied.

By now the witches were talking excitedly amongst themselves and were sounding very concerned.

Finn too staggered and limped towards the edge of the clearing.  Just before he passed into the darkness he turned back to the quaking crowd and shouted, “It’s coming this way.  And it says it eats witches!”

At this stage the witches were on the verge of hysterical panic.  There was a lot of shouting and chattering amongst them and you could feel the tension in the air building itself to a fever pitch.  Then “it” appeared.

It screamed out of the heavens though it looked like it had come from the very pit of Hell itself.  It had blazing laser eyes, so bright that they lit up the quivering coven as it swooped low over them.  Witches who were at fist rooted to the spot in sheer terror soon found their feet (and legs) and began sprinting into the trees.  By the time Nigel came around for his third sweep there were only four witches left who were trying hard to kick-start their brooms.  Almost as one they threw their brooms onto the bonfire and scrambled, practically on all fours, into the bushes.

The blackbird that sat on the black bat’s shoulder called into its left ear, “OK Nige.  Time for a gentle landing on the far side of the clearing.”

“Wilco,” the flying bat-sheep replied.

“Full flaps,” called Morris.

“Full flaps,” Nigel adjusted his wings.  The sheep descended slowly, lowered his landing gear (his back legs) and landed on the soft grass amongst the abandoned pointed hats, brooms, clogs and gin bottles.

Out of the trees emerged Rubbish, Jeffrey and Finn.  The deerhound had a wet cloth and was wiping tomato ketchup from his side and his face, and then passed the cloth to Rubbish so he could wipe his face too.  Jeffery was laughing so much that he thought he would make himself sick.

“Marvellous job!” Finn called.

“It really was,” Rubbish agreed.

“Haven’t had as much fun in ages,” the ancient moggie guffawed; he had tears running down his ginger cheeks and his ribs ached.

Nigel had taken his flying helmet off and said to Jeffrey, “That head-torch of yours was fantastic!  It worked a treat!”

“I think it was the icing on the cake,” Morris nodded.  “But more importantly, it was an excellent test flight.  Night vision goggles worked to a tee!”

“I don’t think it was those witches will bother us for a while,” Finn said.

I know,” Rubbish laughed.  “A quiet Hallowe’en tomorrow.”

“What do you think?” Jeffrey asked.

The animal turned to look at the old cat and laughed out loud.  There stood the ancient marmalade cat, wearing a bright yellow high-visibility pointy hat.  He grinned at them, “Elf and safety, anyone?”



This story and characters are copyright of Chris Dignam/Crafty Dog Cymru.Co.UK, except Finn who is copyright Sean & Kate Standing (World of Finn). 


If you like this, search out The Largest Rabbit or The Winter Hare, available from the website www.Crafty-Dog-Cymru.Co.Uk/Books

How Did Rubbish the Greyhound Get His Name – and how is he a Rabbit Hound??

People (who have not yet read The Largest Rabbit) ask me why our hero the young dog is called Rubbish and how did he become a Rabbit Hound?   This extract from The Winter Hare explains about who Rubbish is and how he got his name;

Rubbish, Greyhound, Greyhound Pup, Puppy, Winter Hare



“Finn chuckled.  He thought back about how Rubbish had come to live here in the walled garden.  It had all begun when an old cloth bag was thrown from a speeding car.  The two rabbits that saw the bag roll down the bank had helped to open it and out popped a little bundle of stripy fur.  The stranger was not sure what his name was, but thought it must have been Rubbish as that’s what the people had said he was.  The rabbits all decided he must be a rabbit too, so they took him home to the burrow where, over the weeks he grew taller, longer and pointier than all the others.  They said he was, “The largest rabbit they had ever seen.”  He knew he looked and acted differently to the other rabbits but he loved them as his family and they loved him too.  To them he was just a funny looking rabbit but one of the family.

It was after meeting the mighty Finn, who was after all a very well educated, cheerful old deerhound, that Rubbish realised he was not a rabbit but a dog like Finn.  He was a greyhound, though Finn declared that he should be called a rabbit hound as he protected the rabbits.   In the magic of the walled garden Rubbish met Finn’s owners the Maid and the Butler, and their neighbour Jeffrey, an ancient, balding and wise (or so he told them) marmalade cat.  Together they had vanquished an evil fox and his henchmen (two weasels) who had tried to grab all the rabbits in the warren.  Realising that he was getting too big to live with the rabbits, Rubbish was taken in by Finn and his family but every day Rubbish still visited the rabbits to ensure that they were safe and do what all good rabbit hounds do.  They all still agreed though that he was the Largest Rabbit in all the world.”

From “The Winter Hare” by Chris Dignam/Crafty Dog Books Cymru, Sept 2018.  Illustration courtesy of Allison Rees/Coppertop Crafts

Winter, Hare, Winter Hare, Celtic Myths, Greyhound, Rubbish, Finn

The Winter Hare

Children’s Halloween Story – The Wychwood

Here is the new Halloween Story 2016 with characters from The Largest Rabbit book.  Tom, the youngest but bravest rabbit in the warren, is walking through the deepest and darkest part of the forest.  He knows he’s alone yet feels that someone is watching him.   Why is he there?   Who is cutting down trees?   Who’s living in the pretty cottage in the middle of the forest?  And what’s that overwhelming pong of pilchards and garlic?

The Wychwood

As Tom wandered further and deeper into the ancient wood it seemed to get darker and darker.  He stopped and turned, looking back along the path he had walked and it seemed to him that the brambles had started to grow across it.  It was ok, he told himself, he was a brave rabbit.  He couldn’t go back – he would have to go on.  Forward he trotted, whistling a tune to keep his spirits up….perhaps spirits was the wrong word, considering he was in the old Wychwood and it was All Hallows Eve.  But, he told himself firmly, he was not afraid.           

The Wychwood Tree

There was a scream which made the little rabbit’s blood freeze and stopped him  in his tracks – it sounded like a Barn Owl!  They love to eat rabbits.  He held his breath – nothing happened.  He whistled a little bit quieter when he started again.  The path weaved between the trees, their creaking, scratching aged branches meeting overhead like brown bony arms.  He swore that he could almost make out faces in the bark of some of the older, gnarlier trunks.

The autumn storm that had blown through the woods a few days before must have blasted most of the leaves off, which left twiggy sticks that looked like talons – they reminded him of the owl.  Tom halted again and listened.  It was odd – there was not a sound, as if he was the only thing alive in the forest.  The air despite the seasonal cold was heavy and oppressive, like being smothered in a thick woollen blanket.

Something moved.  He was sure of it – away to his left.  He peered into the woody gloom.  No, it was nothing.  He told himself again that he was not afraid…..but he was a little bit wary.  Tom walked faster; the path must come out somewhere.  He tried to whistle again but his lips had gone dry.

There it was again!  Something was definitely over there to his left.  “Hello?” he called.  There was no reply.  He drew his torch out and shone it towards where he had seen the movement.   There was nothing apart from trees, brambles and a green hat.  What?  The hat was gone.  OK, the rabbit thought, I can either run away….or see what it is.  Is it safe to step off the path?  Tom drew himself to his full height (still only as big as a tiny rabbit on tip-toes) and strode firmly into the bushes.  He pushed through to where he thought he’d seen the hat.  When he got there he looked down – Tom was sure that he could make out footprints.  They were people prints but smaller.  He grinned to himself – there was someone here.  “OK, I know you’re here,” he announced, “You can show yourself.”

It remained still and silent for a while, then a clear voice said, “Good day young Master Rabbit.”  It came from behind him.  Tom turned slowly and there in front of him was a man but he was the size of a small human – a child he thought they were called.  He wore a green jacket, trousers and floppy hat, all trimmed with what looked like oak leaves.  His belt had an acorn on its buckle – even his long boots were the colour of autumn acorns.  His face was dark, and wrinkled, like it had seen many summers and winters, almost like the bark of a tree.  He smiled a kindly smile, as he bowed and took of his hat. “My name is Derwen,” he said.

Tom blushed (as he did not know how to bow) and he mumbled a “How do you do” adding, “My name’s Tom.”

“What are you doing here in the middle of the Wychwood on All Hallow’s Eve?” Derwen asked.

“I was following a butterfly along a path but the butterfly disappeared and there was no path behind me, only in front of me.  I’ kept walking as I think all paths that go into a wood have to come out somewhere.”

Derwen grinned, “A very logical thought, young sir.”

Tom couldn’t help it, “If you don’t mind me asking, Mr Derwen – what are you?”

“I am one of the woodland folk, what you would call a Jack in the Green.  It is our responsibility to look after all things that grow, especially in the forests and hedgerows.  I am here because I am concerned about something going on in the middle of the forest.  Someone has been chopping down trees or parts of trees.”

“That’s terrible,” the little rabbit replied.

“I am going there to put a stop to it – or at least find out what is going on,” he looked at Tom, “You’re a very brave rabbit – would you help?”

“Certainly,” he answered, unsure as to how much help he could be, but determined to do what he could.

“Come on then,” the Green Man said and they strode off down the path into the trees.  He was also whistling and though Tom didn’t know the tune, he found himself joining in.  Derwen drew a little silver flute from his pocket and played the tune that he had been whistling and as he did, the branches that had seemed to be leaning low over them in a rather threatening way lifted by a few metres, and let more light in – where they walked, the oppressive feeling of the forest seemed to change.

They continued for a while (Tom thought it was all really happy and exciting) until suddenly Derwen stopped playing, raised his finger to his lips for Tom to be quiet, and popping the flute in his pocket, slowly crept into the undergrowth.  Tom followed him, keeping close.  The jolly atmosphere had changed as they had reached the edge of a clearing in the trees.  From where they stood they could see that some trees had been hacked at and their lower branches ripped away.  There were piles of twigs and leaves scattered along the edge of the clearing.  In front of them were at least six large tree stumps, and the remains of what had once been oak, elm and ash trees, now just leaves, twigs, wood chips and sawdust.  Beyond that was a cottage.  A strange cottage of pink, blue black and green with a brown roof – Tom could swear that it looked like it was made of…sweets? (He remembered Bob bringing some into the warren once – he had found a bag of them dropped by a human child, which he shared round the young rabbits.)          

The strange cottage

   “Careful, wee rabbit.  This could be dangerous,” Derwen whispered.

As he spoke, the door to the cottage opened, and a human came out.  It was a grey-haired old lady in a cloak, so stooped over that she looked like a hoop.  She appeared ever so sweet and gentle.  Tom could feel himself smiling, and he even felt his feet lifting and starting to take him towards the lady.  Derwen held him by the shoulder, “Careful!” he hissed.  Tom stopped – what had made him move?  The Old woman stared across the clearing, over the fallen trees, into the gloomy undergrowth straight to where they were hiding.

“Is there anyone out there?” she called in a frail, crackling voice.  “I won’t hurt you.  Come into my lovely warm kitchen.”  She peered towards the rabbit and the Jack in the Green.  Could she see them?

She turned on her heel – very quickly, Tom thought, for someone so elderly, “No-one there.” The voice did not sound so crackly or frail either.  She unwound her stoop, standing straighter and taller as she stomped towards the doorway which closed behind her.

Derwen breathed out, as did Tom.  “Who’s that?” he asked.

“I thought as much.  We truly are in a dangerous spot.  That’s not a dear old lady, but one of the dark spirits from the caves to the north.  She is one of the winter witches.  It’s she that’s been cutting down the trees for firewood, probably for her cauldron.  They always have cauldrons,” he grinned at the rabbit.

“Why?” asked Tom, unsure as to what a cauldron was.

“To make up foul smelling potions – or else to cook their lunch in.”

Tom felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickling as he asked, “What do they eat?”

“Anything with meat in, usually but I believe they like rabbits best of all.”

Tom had the sudden urge to run away though he managed to resist it.

Derwen nudged the rabbit and grinned again, “Come on, I’m sure you’re up for an adventure!”  He stepped out of the bushes and keeping as low and as quiet as he could, he crept towards the cottage.  When he got to the building he looked for Tom; the rabbit was right behind him, also pressed tight against the wall.  Above them was the kitchen window – too high for either of them to see through.  “Climb on my shoulders and have a look,” Derwen told him so the rabbit scrambled up.  He peered through the Glass.  What he saw made him gasp.

In the middle of the kitchen was a huge fireplace, on which there stood a large black and greasy-looking cooking pot which he assumed was the cauldron Derwen had mentioned.  It was enormous – large enough for fifty rabbits!  Under it there were twigs, sticks and coal – obviously the makings of a fire to heat it up.  The witch was filling the cauldron with buckets of water which she carried from a large hand-pump on the far side of the kitchen.  In the centre of the floor was an equally enormous wooden table and it was this that had made him gasp; lying across the table, on his side, was a great hairy dog, fast asleep.  It was Finn!  He just lay there sleeping as around him the witch was heating water.  From a drawer she took out some boxes, from which she tipped some plants which she mixed, appeared to talk to, then throw into the cooking pot.  Magic herbs maybe?  She collected a bundle of carrots from a shelf and threw them into the pot too.  All the while she was singing and chanting (Tom couldn’t hear what).  The rabbit scanned around the rest of the room before he climbed down to tell the Jack in the Green.

Derwen shook his head slowly and asked the rabbit some further questions; “Did you see anyone else?  Any signs of other witches?  Was there a cat?”

Tom thought.” I couldn’t see anyone but the far side of the room was hidden by a large chair.  There wasn’t any sign of another witch.”

“We’ll need a diversion,” the Green Man mused.  “How much noise can you make?” He looked the rabbit up and….well, not up very far as he was a very short rabbit.

“More than you think,” Tom answered.

“OK, then here’s my plan,” he whispered his ideas.  As they conferred there was a rustle in the bushes.  Tom felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle and Derwen reached for the small wooden club that he carried in his jacket.  From the undergrowth there was mumbling and some rude words and …the overpowering smell of fish – and garlic.  “It’s ok – I know who that is!” Tom beamed.  Out of the bushes fell a short fat ginger shape.  “Jeffrey!” Tom whispered.  The old marmalade cat stood up and waved. “Keep quiet!  There’s a witch!”

Jeffrey performed a silent “Aha!” and slinked (as slinky as a round cat could do) over to the low wall behind which the rabbit and the Jack in the Green were hiding.  Derwen looked at the strange figure that was shaking his hand enthusiastically though quietly.  Here stood a round ginger tom cat with an incredibly toothy smile, practically as broad as he was tall, wearing an old leather flying helmet goggles resting on his round head.  On his back he had a rucksack with various odd things poking out.  What Tom could not get over was the incredible smell of garlic that surrounded the old moggie almost like a cloud.  “How did you find us?” Tom asked.

The cat shook his head, “I wasn’t looking for you chaps – I’m looking for Finn.  It’s been a very strange day.”

Jeffrey outlined to the others what had happened that morning.  Finn had been a bit twitchy since breakfast and actually left some (unheard of).  He was really restless.  He said he had had some strange dreams in the night about an old lady in trouble.  After breakfast they had gone for a walk on the edge of the great wood and when they were walking they saw an old lady gathering kindling.  Finn had run over, and Jeffrey and Rubbish the greyhound had gone too.  The lady was ever so friendly and had offered the three friends a lovely breakfast in her cottage in the woods, if only they would help her carry the sticks that she was gathering for her fire.  Jeffrey was not built to carry, and Rubbish was too slight but Finn being Finn had offered to help.  They had walked into the woods together but as they walked the path got narrower and narrower so that they ended up walking single file.  At one point the undergrowth overhung the path.  The lady led Finn through this almost tunnel, and when Rubbish and Jeffrey went through – there was no-one on the other side.  Finn and the old woman had vanished!  The greyhound and the cat searched briefly but of Finn or the lady there was no sign.  Rubbish and Jeffrey had rushed home and told the Butler who told them that his father had spoken to him when he was a boy about an old lady in the woods who stole young animals that were never seen again.  She was a witch who visited the forest around Halloween every few years.  The Butler had thought it was a fairy story but realised now that it must have been true!  He had taken out the old Landrover and with Rubbish, Flower and some of the other animals they were searching the woods.  However, Jeffrey knew that he was facing something magical and evil so he had come prepared.  Creaking as he turned around, he untied the rucksack and showed the Green Man and the rabbit what he had brought with him,

“Have to be prepared, you know, never know what sort of evil you might encounter!”  Out of the rucksack came some sharpened bits of wood “Stakes in case of vampires,” he muttered, then a large crucifix “Ditto” he said.  From the pockets in his fur (they always amazed everyone) he pulled out handfuls of garlic bulbs “Ditto again”.  There was also a small slingshot and a pair of silver earrings, “In case of werewolves”, he explained.  “I’ve also got a small bottle of Holy Water.  That’s pretty good against most things.”

“Anything specifically for witches?” Derwen asked.

“Hmmm,” came the reply from Jeffrey, rummaging through the rucksack. “A Bible?”

“Should work,” confirmed the Green Man.

“Righto!  So, what do we do – a frontal assault?  Like El Alamein?” Jeffrey enquired enthusiastically.

“I did have a plan, but I think I now have a better one.  But it depends on how brave Tom can be,” Derwen and Jeffrey turned towards the little rabbit.

The Witch tested the water in the great cauldron; Yes, coming to the right temperature.  The carrots and the herbs (thyme, sage and parsley) were smelling nicely – really rustic.  All she needed now was some nice doggy meat to cook slowly in the stew.  She looked down at the enormous deerhound who lay snoring across the wooden table.  She couldn’t believe how gullible he’d been; she’d cast a spell in the night to find a likely dinner date and in her seeing-bowl she had found Finn.  He was so noble and kind – so easy to snare!  The witch gave him a poke in his thigh – oh, he was very meaty but also very soft and tender.  Lovely!  Now she would only need to cut him into chunks to drop into the pot.

Walking over towards the sink, she slid a large meat knife out of the knife-block.  It was heavy, and had obviously seen a lot of action over the years.  She slipped her calloused thumb along its 12 inches of cold metal.  Blast!  It was blunt!  She went in the drawer to take out a sharpening steel.  She began to draw the edge of the blade over the sharpener, and could see it getting sharper and sharper, keener and keener with every drag.  She raised it over the slumbering hound.  No, she told herself, don’t spoil the ship for a happor’th of tar…take time and make sure the knife is properly sharp.  Finn stirred slightly – the witch lifted the knife – but he slept on.  She whistled to herself and continued sharpening.  She stood to her full height now – she had looked like a bent over old woman outside but here in reality she was tall, strong, with thick silver grey hair that hung down her back.  She did have the usual witchly hooked nose with warts, and deep black eyes, as cold as the darkest night.  The water in the cooking pot popped – it was just coming to the boil.  Excellent! And just in time – the knife was now sharp enough too.

Then there was a knock on the door.  She growled, put the knife down and stooped down as she went to the door.  Turning the brass door handle, it creaked open and she peered out.  There was no-one there.  She was about to close the door when a voice below her made her look down, “Hello” said a little rabbit.  “Have you seen a big hairy dog called Finn?”  Tom smiled back up at her.

The Witch returned the smile to the lovely little, tender, sweet chunk of rabbit meat.  “Hello, little one, and what is your name?”

“My name’s Tom.  Please lady, have you seen Finn?”

“Why yes, he’s inside waiting for you.  He is my guest for dinner – maybe you would like to join him?”

“Yes please,” beamed the little rabbit.  All Tom could think was – blimey, isn’t she tall – and what an enormous warty nose!

“Please Miss, my friends are here too,” he said. “Can we wait for them?”

The Witch scowled.  More rabbits – ah well, they’d pack out the stew, “Where are they, my dear?”

“Outside – over there in the woods. They’re a bit shy.  Would you come over and say hello?”

The Witch was now growing to like the idea of rabbit as a starter so she allowed herself to follow him out across the grass.  As she walked she uncurled and got taller and taller until she got to the wall, where she stood and rose to her full height.  She glowered down at the little rabbit.

“I do hope that you’ve not been wasting my time, young Coney!”

As Tom had led the witch across the lawn, Derwen was creeping through the open doorway into the kitchen.  He found the sleeping Finn and climbed up onto the table where he stood over him and began to speak a spell to act against the Witch’s evil enchantment.  The Green Man is a woodland spirit, and has deep and ancient magic of his own.  He tried the first spell, but it didn’t raise Finn.  A second spell made the hound’s eyes quiver, so Derwen knew he was on the right track.  As he chanted the third spell, and crumbled a handful of oak leaves over Finn’s head two things happened.  He heard a scream from outside, and Finn opened his eyes wide.  “Hello,” the Lord of the Glen said.  “And to whom do I owe this honour?”


As the Witch grew to her height a ginger figure leapt upon the wall and faced her.  “Not so fast!” shouted the marmalade mousketeer.  The Witch took a step backwards in shock as she stared at Jeffrey.  She was astonished and was for the first time in her life, totally, speechless.  There in front of her stood a round ginger cat in a flying helmet, who peered back at her through goggles.  “Whatever are you?” she asked.

“I am your nemesis!” he replied.

“Fine words for a fat cat! “ she cackled.  “Well be quick – that smell of garlic is making my eyes water!”

“I have everything to defeat your evil ways!” Jeffrey announced as he reached into the rucksack that he’d placed by his feet.  Out came a crucifix which he waved in the Witch’s face.

“Sorry, that does nothing,” she replied.

“Ah, OK,” he rummaged in the bag again and brought out a stake and a mallet.

“I’d have to stand very still and even then, I don’t think that’d work – do you?”  She shook her head,

“Fair enough,” back in the rucksack he went.  “Bible?” he offered.  The Witch shook her head again.  “Silver earrings?”

“I usually wear gold, thank you,” she replied.

“Aha!  Holy Water!” Jeffrey declared.

The Witch stepped back.  “What?”  She looked worried.

Jeffrey was jubilant.  He pulled the glass bottle from the sack and waved it in front of her.  “Holy…” he stopped for a moment.

Tom was tapping him on the leg.  “It’s not Holy Water,” he whispered.

Jeffrey looked.  “Oh dear…” the cat read the bottle, “Wart Remover!”

The Witch screamed loudly with laughter and leaned forward with her long clawed fingers scrabbling to grab the Professor.  Jeffrey said to himself, “Ah well, here goes nothing,” and flung the bottle of wart remover into the Witch’s face.  She screamed and stopped for a second, then screeched with glee as the warts on her nose disappeared.

The Witch shrieked with laughter.  “Thank you, cat, I had been wanting to something about those!  Now cat – how would you prefer to die?”  She moved towards Jeffrey whose eyes closed inside his goggles.  He tensed for a moment.

The Witch screamed a scream of someone in indescribable pain.  Jeffrey opened an eyelid and was amazed at what he saw; the Witch was starting to smoke as the chemical in the wart remover got into her bloodstream.  She stood stock still, her arms dropped to her side and then she started shaking.  As Finn and Derwen ran out of the cottage towards them the Witch suddenly went “BANG!” – And vanished!  She was gone.

“Well bless my soul!” he said.

“Jeffrey to the rescue again, old friend!” Finn smiled as he got to Jeffrey.  The Lord of the Glen bowed to the cat, as did the Green Man.

Jeffrey beamed back, “Of course, had it all worked out!”

“What got her?” asked Derwen.  “Bible?”

Jeffrey blushed deep under his ginger fur, “I thought it was Holy Water – but I’d picked up the wrong bottle.  It was Wart Remover!”

Finn and the Green man laughed.  “As the Witch was made up of so much warty matter, it must have gone into her bloodstream and dissolved all of her.  Amazing!”

Tom clambered over the wall. “But we owe it all to the hero – step forward, Tom!” Derwen cried.  The rabbit smiled a huge smile which stretched from ear to ear.  He felt so proud.  “Young sir, I owe you my life,” Finn told him.  Tom blushed even more.

“Right! “Jeffrey smiled,  “Theres a cauldron in that kitchen with herbs in.  I wonder if anyone fancies some garlic stew?”

Tom held up a sharpened wooden spike, “What goes well with stake?”

Faces in the Bark
Faces in the Bark

Characters and story copyright Chris Dignam/Crafty Dog Cymru 2016.

largest rabbit, marmalade cat, mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen, The Largest Rabbit, greyhound rescue, Chris Dignam

Greyt Expectations – Rescued Greyhounds and Marmalade Cats

A Marmalade Cat?

This is a chapter from a book released a few years back called “Greyt Expectations – From Rescued Greyhounds to Marmalade Cats” and is a collection of the blog posts from here and the South Wales Evening Post pages, along with some other pieces about writing, music – and a marmalade cat called Jeffrey.  I hope that you enjoy it and feel free to tweet, reblog or share.

greyhound, Penny, Crafty Dog

What a Crafty Dog does on her day off.

If reading to children is the best fun you can have, making them laugh, making them gasp or even hide behind their hands in fear of the wicked fox or nasty hunter with his gun, the next best thing is sitting with a pen and paper, or a computer keyboard and dreaming up the characters themselves. Ideas for stories seem to come at the strangest times, usually when lying in bed at night, or out walking the dog when you have the space and time to empty your mind and let it ramble. Someone has said there are only three or four stories; everything else is just a variation on that. That might be true, but there is a heck of a lot of scope for that variation.

One evening driving home from work at local authority council offices I was stuck in a jam queuing on the slip road off the M4. As I listened to music I began to run some ideas around in my head. I wanted to write a book about a recued greyhound that would appeal to children but it needed a twist. The idea then changed to an abandoned puppy being left and brought up by other animals – I guess from the Tarzan idea, or even the Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen. Rabbits – who had never seen a puppy, and a puppy who had never seen rabbits seemed to work. I started roughing up some ideas that evening, and from the first lines about the speeding car and the flying sack I was away.

Within a day or so I had the first rabbit characters and that of the little hound but I did not have a name. It was a few days into the book when the little character told the rabbits that the humans said he was rubbish and that’s where his name came from – the little puppy named himself! So Rubbish the rabbit hound was born.
I was sketching ideas for a plot, something simple with a villain – a fox fitted naturally into this – and also a hero. Someone needed to be able to tell the little confused rabbit into the great secret, that he was not a rabbit at all but a dog, but it had to be done by a special character that everyone in the book could look up to, but especially the little Rubbish. A noble beast, a great hound was obviously the person we needed and just as the character was forming in the story, the idea of it being The Mighty Finn popped into my head.

How could they meet? Where? I remember reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and also seeing Tom’s Midnight Garden when I was a kid on children’s TV. Looking back now, I guess there was also The Herbs, an animated children’s programme which used to be on Watch with Mother, where there was a wall, and a door which opened into a mysterious garden. The red brick wall and green wooden door were here.

I had a hero, mentor, villain – even weasel henchmen for the villain – but no comic character. This was going to be interesting. Who would be a heroic but comic figure? This was a challenge and I mulled this over for a few days. I was sitting in the office, looking round the room and there, sitting on the exercise bike was an old cuddly toy I had bought for Armelle years ago when I had been in university – a dusty old Garfield. That was it – a dusty old ginger-marmalade cat sprang to life. A well-bred and distinguished moggie, I christened him Jeffrey. He was going to be heroic but flawed – courageous and devil-may-care, he was also very vain and self opinionated, His age meant that he would be a bit creaky – arthritic with a dodgy back, few teeth and bad breath. I now realise that Jeffrey had a lot in common with Tiger, a ginger moggie that Armelle had when I first met her. She too had few teeth, some bald patches, hayfever and was a very good age. I think there was more Tiger than Garfield in our Jeffrey.marmalade cat, mighty Finn, Lord of the Glen, The Largest RabbitThe Mighty Finn and Jeffrey the ancient marmalade cat

Of all the characters, I love writing for Jeffrey. He is wonderful and things just happen to him; he is the reason that cat-slide roofs exist, was made for flying goggles and a woolly scarf and is crying out for a book of his own. When it came to the Hallowe’en story, Jeffrey was now known as “The Professor” and it was his genius that helped turn the tables on the ghosts. When I do book readings, the kids all love to hear about Jeffrey, and when I gave him his voice, those wonderful rounded vowels of this cat, owned by a retired Colonel who lives next door, it was very easy for him to take over.
The story wrote itself once I had the cast. I just followed where Rubbish, Finn and Jeffrey led, to be ambushed by the Fox but through the bravery of a little rabbit the tables are turned and the good guys win (as they always should in a children’s book).

The next book, The Winter Hare, was going to be a bit darker. Not intentionally, it just wrote itself that way. The influence of the Green Man, the Celtic Hare and the powers of nature were going to be the main elements here. The hunters chasing the hare hark back I guess to the hunters of Peter and the Wolf, but far, far darker. There they are trying to catch the hare – but why? In the dark shed we find out – a shelf full of animal bits, wood shavings and glass domes – taxidermy!
The darker the villains, the brighter the heroes have to become. Finn is probably his most noble in this story, and Rubbish is…just himself, but even more humorous, curious and wide-eyed.

Other cast members are the hunters dogs; two equally evil and terrible lurcher dogs with huge teeth and vicious appetites and tempers to match, and the third hound, a reluctant hunter called Flower. Her role – well, you’ll have to read the book to find out what transpires.

The final set of characters are the army of black and white that is marching towards climax of the book – the great showdown. They are an army of badgers. They might hark back to my days working for the National Trust in the 1980’s at Dinefwr Parc in South Wales. There were a number of badger setts in the deer park and I was lucky enough on a number of occasions to have sat and watched them playing outside in the warm red dusk of a summer’s evening. I was roped into taking part in the local village quiz tournament in the National Trust team. We eventually won the contest and the trophy still sits on our mantelpiece after all these years. The quiz-master for the series was Aeron Clement, a self-confessed Badger-nut who loved the black and white beasts – so much that he wrote a book about them, called “The Cold Moons”. It came out a few years afterwards and became a best seller. There may be a passing nod to Aeron in my characters. He was a lovely chap but unfortunately he did not enjoy his success for long as he passed away soon after it came out. He had written a sequel which was finished by his wife and daughter and it was also successful.

The Largest Rabbit is available digitally, as is the Christmas short story.  The Hallowe’en story “The Haunted Castle or Rubbish and the Hound of the Basquet de Villes” is also available on the blog pages here, and will be out again ready for this Hallowe’en.

Hallowe’en Story – The Haunted Castle

Ghosties and Ghoulies, Hounds and Hysterics….

Here is the Hallowe’en story from 2016 – a spooky adventure for Rubbish the Rabbithound, the Mighty Finn and Jeffrey the ancient marmalade cat.   Its not too scary – honest!

The Haunted Castle or Or Rubbish and the Hound of the Basquet-Villes

In the blood-red glow of the fireplace the rabbits sat in a huddle, all waiting on Bob’s every word.  It was a dark and cold autumn evening and they were gathered round listening for the story to continue.  “And in the glow of the brightest moon there stood a massive hound, with enormous teeth as sharp as knives, that dripped blood.”

“Ooooh,” the little rabbits went.

“And his eyes glowed like the coals in this fire,” Bob pointed to the hearth.

“Awwww,” the kits replied, their eyes as wide as the ghostly hound’s jaws.

“And do you know what the Hound said?” Bob asked.  He leaned towards them.  Their little heads all shook a “No”.  He beckoned them to come closer.  And closer.

They all shuffled forward.

Bob whispered, “The evil hound said…..” They leant closer.

“WOOOFF!” Bob shouted.

A whole row of little rabbits jumped three feet (all four feet) into the air.  Everyone laughed, Bob loudest of all.

“You know Bob, they all love your stories,” Bluebell, his wife and the mother of the warren, told him.  She chuckled too as she watched all the little rabbits smiling and giggling and teasing each other.  All of them, except Tom.  Tom was not quite the youngest of the rabbits in the warren but he was the smallest, and he was also the most adventurous and the bravest.  Tom slowly raised his hand.

“Yes, young Tom,” Bob asked.

“Dad, it’s about the ghostly hound of Hell,” he answered quietly.

“What about it,” the father rabbit smiled.

“I’ve seen it,” he replied.  The laughter in the room suddenly turned to silence.

“What do you mean?”

Tom looked at his mum and dad and the others as he spoke.  “I have seen the hound and heard him.”

The room suddenly, despite the coal fire, went very cold as a chill fell over the rabbits.  “It’s only a story, like all Bob’s stories,” Bluebell chided him.

Tom was adamant.  “I saw the hound.”

All the eyes in the burrow were now on the little brown rabbit.  Bob waved his paw for Tom to continue.  “I was playing in the far woods near the river.  Across the river is the old castle.”

“It’s haunted,” one of the other rabbits whispered to the room.

Tom shook his head.  “I don’t believe in ghosts.  Or at least, I didn’t.  One afternoon I was there when it started to get dark, and I could see lights in the broken windows.  I walked over the old bridge through the gateway to see where they were coming from.”

All the little rabbits’ eyes were open even wider than they had been when Bob was speaking.

“In the courtyard I heard voices.  Someone was shouting.  I sneaked inside to look.  There were two humans arguing. They looked like they were wearing pale grey clothes.  As they waved their arms around and screamed I noticed something odd.  I could see the walls of the castle straight through them. Then they walked away through a doorway and vanished.    I was really glad they went as I began to think they must be ghosts.  Just when I stood up, I could feel that someone was watching me.”

“Ooooh,” went one of the girls.

“I could also feel a cold draft on my neck.  I turned around very slowly,” Tom’s voice was faltering a bit now as he remembered what had happened.  “And there in front of me stood an enormous dog.  He was huge, with a huge mouth and a gigantic tongue and freezing cold breath.  His eyes were red and glowing.”

“What did you do?” even Bob was hooked.

Tom swallowed.  “I said ‘Hello’.”

The room went even more silent if that was possible, apart from the crackle of the fire in the hearth.

“What did the hound say?” asked Bluebell.

“Woof?” asked Bob.

Tom shook his head.  “He yelped, jumped backwards and ran away into the castle.”

There was a hush for a second, and then someone said, “Oh, what a swizz.”

Everyone laughed again and the atmosphere broke.  They all thought Tom had been telling a story and within a minute everyone was going about their ordinary business.  Everyone, that is, except Scutter, who was the biggest of Tom’s brothers.  He put his arm around Tom and took him to the quiet part of the room.  “Is that all true?” he asked the little rabbit.  Tom nodded truthfully.

“That’s odd.  Ghosts and a frightening hound that’s scared of a rabbit.” Scutter bit his lip thoughtfully.  “Sounds like a job for the Mighty Finn and our Rubbish.”

Tom smiled, “Oh yes, they’d love that!”

Scutter gave his brother a squeeze.  “We’ll go over tomorrow morning and tell them all about it.  Finn will have a plan.”

“Or Jeffrey,” the little one added.

Scutter frowned, “Oh yes, Jeffrey will definitely have a plan!”

The next morning the two rabbits slipped through the gap in the tall green doorway that led into the walled garden which was home to Cath and Sean (alias the Maid and the Butler), Finn the wise old Scottish deerhound and Rubbish, the young brindle greyhound who lived with them.  Walking up the path the rabbits looked up to the top of the red brick wall to where Jaffrey the ancient and creaky marmalade cat usually sat.  He was not there today.  Further towards the house there was an old shaggy grey rug that looked like it had been thrown over a chaise longue.  On the chair alongside they could see the young greyhound, lying on his back with his paws in the air.  As they drew closer Rubbish saw them and called out a “Hello!”  The shaggy rug moved and drew itself up to its full height, becoming the Mighty Finn, the lord of the Glen and master of the woods.  He shook noisily, throwing of wisps of grey hair into the autumn sunshine.  The rabbits looked up into the pair of deep brown kindly eyes that sparkled back at them.  “What ho, my little friends!” he smiled.

“Morning Rubbish and Mr Finn,” Scutter replied.  Tom despite his braveness was always in awe of the great deerhound and just blushed and waved awkwardly before sidling closer to his brother.

“How can we help you?”  Rubbish lay on his haunches to look at the rabbits better.  Finn winked at Tom, “I sense an adventure, young Rubbish” he announced.

Scutter grinned, “I think so Mr Finn.  Tom has seen something very strange in the ruined castle.”

“Oh yes?” Finn answered.

Tom nodded and stepped forward, “Yes sir.  I think its ghosts.”

As he spoke the sun went behind a cloud and it became sharply cold.

“Finn doesn’t believe in ghosts, do you?” Rubbish looked to the deerhound.

There was no reply.  Finn leaned down and quietly asked Tom to tell him what he had seen.  He listened carefully and then considered what the rabbit had said.

Rubbish looked at the deerhound that was clearly deep in thought.  “Is this a two biscuit problem?” he asked.  Finn nodded.  Rubbish passed him two dog-choc biscuits that Finn chewed slowly and deliberately.

“I am not a believer in ghosts but I have to accept what young Tom has seen.” He crunched his second biscuit and the rabbits and greyhound awaited his further ideas.

Finn straightened himself and smiled, “I have a plan.”

“Hooray!” cheered the rabbits.

“Rubbish, you and I must go to the Old Castle and see what’s going on.  Let’s go and meet the ghost.”

The rabbits jaws dropped.

“Oh,” said Rubbish.  “I’ve never met a ghost.”

Finn’s eyes twinkled, “My dear Rubbish, neither have I.  It will be a first for both of us!”  He laughed out loud and the others joined in.

Little Tom said to himself, “Well, ghosties, you’d better be careful!  The Mighty Finn is on your case!”

“We’ll need some help,” Finn added.

“The Professor?” Rubbish inquired.

“Yep.  The very same,” Finn said.

Scutter and Tom were puzzled.  “Who’s the Professor?” they asked.

Suddenly they heard the sound of claws slipping on slates, a loud scream and some very rude words.  And the thud of podgy fur on grass.  The smell of liniment and pilchards told them that Jeffrey had arrived.

“What ho, gents!” the rounded vowels of the very well educated ancient marmalade moggy came across the lawn.  They could see where he had landed as he nonchalantly dusted himself down, straightened up his hat and sauntered over the lawn towards them.

“That Professor,” Rubbish replied to Scutter.

“First class dismount,” Finn told him.

“ Ok – I just missed my footing,” the moggy grumbled.  As he walked you could hear various joints clicking and creaking.  Rubbish could see that he had his best teeth in today – the ones that almost fitted – as well as the leather flying helmet and goggles that were becoming his trademark. Ever since the Father Christmas escapade, Jeffrey had taken to wearing them.  He often wore the scarf as well but today he had given that a miss. “So what’s up?  Oh, hello my little bunny friends!”  He beamed a very shiny white smile at the rabbits who smiled back.

“Hi Jeffrey”, they said. “Tom’s seen a ghost.”

“What?  Ghost?” Jeffrey sounded shocked.

“Apparently so,” the deerhound said.  “At the old castle in the woods.  I think we should make a visit and see what’s what.”

“Absolutely!  Capital idea!”  the cat enthused.

Rubbish, on the other hand was not quite so keen.  He was not entirely sure what a ghost was (despite hearing loads of Bob’s stories) but what he had heard had not made him very enthusiastic about meeting one.  “Is it safe?” he asked.

Jeffrey laughed his best “Devil-may-care” laugh.  “Good gosh, I shouldn’t think so.  Ghosts can be rather nasty don’t you know.”  He looked down at the rabbit.  “So what sort of spectral manifestation do we have?  Nasty screaming poltergeist, bloodthirsty headless horseman, evil phantom with an axe?”

Rubbish now felt even less like seeing a ghost.

“It’s a big hound,” Tom answered.

“Ah, yes, a flaming eyed savage howling hound from the depths of hell itself,” the cat smiled.  “Terrific fun!”  He had produced a notebook from a pocket somewhere in his fur (that always amazed Rubbish) and was frantically scratching notes with a stub of a pencil from the same hidden pocket.

Tom shook his head, “Well not really….it’s a big ghostly hound alright but he’s frightened of rabbits.”

“Eh?” The scribbling stopped.

Rubbish looked at Finn who grinned back at him.

“Frightened of giant ghostly rabbits?” asked Jeffrey.

Tom shook his head again.  “He was frightened of me….”

Jeffrey almost dropped his notepad.  He looked down at the little rabbit who barely came up to his waist.  “So you screamed at him?” he raised an eyebrow.

“I said Hello,” Tom mumbled back.

Jeffrey tutted.  “That will not do.  That’s not normal.”

“Do you mean not ‘Paranormal’?” Finn chuckled.

Jeffrey harrumphed.  “No matter, let’s go and see the phantoms.”

Jeffrey climbed onto Finn’s shoulders, the two rabbits sat up on Rubbish and they rode through the woods until they came to the edge of the river where they stopped to look across at the castle.  It was a huge grim, grey stone building, with a tower at each corner.  The bridge (also grey stone) led over the river towards a gateway.  At some time the castle’s owners had decided to make it more “homely” by putting in large windows facing the bridge.  They had failed; the now empty windows and the large open gateway made the castle look like a gigantic stone skull whose bridge of a tongue led in through its wide open mouth.

“Pretty, isn’t it?” said Rubbish.  They all agreed that it definitely wasn’t.

“Come on,” Tom led the others over the bridge and in through the arch.  It was mid-day when they had started across the bridge, and it was a lovely sunny day.  As they came through the gateway the sunlight faded and instead over their heads was a dark and cloudy sky.  There was no sound, apart from the occasional “caw” of a crow in the stone work somewhere.  Just crossing into the courtyard made them feel much, much colder.  Rubbish shivered.  “It’s a bit spooky,” he told Finn who had to agree.  The change in atmosphere had even made the hair under Jeffrey’s flying helmet stand up, which in turn made his goggles slip forward.

“So where did you see these apparitions?” he asked Tom, struggling to see him through his goggles.

Tom pointed across the courtyard.  As they looked over, there was a noise up on the battlements.  Five sets of eyes (one in goggles) swivelled upwards.  On top of the wall stood a human dressed in faded grey who looked back down at them.  As Tom had said earlier, they could see the black clouds straight through him.  He faded away.

“Ooh,” Scutter spoke, breaking the silence.

“Definitely a ghost.”  Jeffrey was scribbling in his notebook.

“Yup, definitely a ghost,” a deep voice behind Jeffrey said, “Spell it G-O-S-T – ghost.”

The five animals froze.  None of them had said that.  Who was behind them?  Slowly they all turned around.  Very slowly.  Even Finn, brave as he was, could feel the hair on his neck and his hackles rising as he looked at the person who had spoken.  In front of them – between them and the way out to safety- stood a gigantic hound, three times as large as Finn and with a huge mouth full of teeth, and large red, baleful eyes.

“Bless my soul,” whispered Jeffrey as he popped his goggles back on his head.

“Oh flip,” said Rubbish.

Scutter was lost for words, as was Finn.  The five animals stood staring at the phantom hound, as he stared back.  It took the little rabbit to break the silence.

“Hello.  I’m Tom, this is Finn, Rubbish and Jeffrey and my brother Scutter.”

The hound glowered down at them, menacingly.

“Hello,” he replied.  His face lit up with an enormous smile.  “I’m Francis Julian Montmorency Cholmondeley Basquet de Ville.”

The animals stared at him, mouths wide open.

“You can call me Frank,” he grinned.  “So pleased to meet you.”

“Are you a…..”

“Yes, yes, I’m a ghost.” Frank replied.  “Been one for…ooooh…three hundred years.”  He looked at them and his face became very sad.  “It’s very lonely being a ghostly hound.”

“Aw, don’t cry,” little Tom said.

“Buck up, old chap,” added Finn.

“”Indeed, don’t be so glum, chum,” added Jeffrey.  He always felt rather posh but compared to this hound with his aristocratic name he was feeling rather common.

“We’ll be your friends,” Rubbish found himself saying.  Almost immediately Franks face ignited again with another huge smile.  “Splendid!” he cried.  His enormous phantom tail swept the air silently.

“Frank, my good fellow, are you the only ghost here?”  inquired Finn.

The phantom hound scowled, “No.  There are two other nasty ones.  Sir Hector and Lord Dougal.  They were here when I was a pup.  They died in a sword fight and have been quarrelling and fighting ever since.  They are not very nice ghosts.  I’d keep out of their way, if I were you.”

“Are they dangerous?” asked Scutter.

Frank nodded.  “They play pranks on people.”

“Nothing wrong with a good jape,” Jeffrey laughed.

“But their tricks usually mean that someone else also becomes a ghost.  They locked me in the cellar under the great hall once and I was there for a hundred years until they let me out by accident.”

The animals’ smiles all vanished.  “That’s not nice.  But can’t you walk through walls?” Finn asked.

“The cellar walls are made of ironstone which spirits can’t go through.  I was stuck there.  They used to come down every day and tease me.  You can’t imagine how boring it was being stuck in a dark damp room for a hundred years.”

The animals all told Frank how horrible they thought the other ghosts were.

He shook his huge hairy coat and grinned.  “I’m out now!  Let me show you round,” he led them across the courtyard and inside the ruined castle.  As he took them into the different rooms he told them about the family that had lived (and died) here.  There were all the famous Lords and Ladies of the Basquet family, including the mad Lord Rupert “Snoozer” Basquet who invented the flying machine and was the first person to die in a flying accident (fell off the high tower in his aero machine and landed in the moat), Lady Cecily Basquet-de Ville who was a bit eccentric and thought she was a duck (she was quackers), and Sir Nigel Stavely-Basquet who was the first man to invent the electric socket (and the first electric shock); you would think he had learned from Lord Rupert.  They were all rather colourful characters.

“So what about the other two?” asked Rubbish.

“You mean Hector and Dougal?”

Finn and the others nodded.

“There was a big battle over there where the trees are now – it was just a meadow in those days, on which there camped a huge army.  They tried and tried to cross the river and attack the castle but never managed to get in.  In the end Lord Dougal rode out and challenged the Lord of the castle to have a man to man fight, and the winner would take the castle.  Sir Hector came out and they fought with sword and shield, from dawn to dusk, neither of them getting the better of the other.  They started with swords, then maces, then massive broadswords.  The story goes that they got so exhausted by the end, and they hated each other so much that their hearts just exploded and they both died.  They were buried in the castle chapel, the army went away and a peace treaty was signed.”

“Well that wasn’t too bad,” said Scutter.

“That’s what you think,” a voice as cold as ice rang out from the balcony above.  There stood a ghostly figure with long hair and a particularly scary face.

“He cheated me out of this castle – it was mine!” another voice shouted back from the stairway opposite.  Here stood another spectral shape, with an equally ghastly face, a thick black beard and wearing a suit of armour.

The animals huddled together, even Frank, as they looked back and forth at the two ancient enemies screaming across the Great Hall at each other.  “I think we’d better get out of here,” Finn whispered.  Their ghostly screeches echoing around the Hall, the animals quietly slipped out back into the courtyard.

“That was a lucky escape,” Frank told them, “Fortunately they were too busy squabbling to do anything to you.”

“Why don’t you find somewhere quieter to haunt?” asked Jeffrey.

Frank sighed, “I can’t leave here.  Those two hid my favourite toy when I was dying so I am doomed to stay here until I find it again.”

“That’s so sad,” Tom commented.

The phantom hound sniffed, and a spectral tear ran along his long nose and dripped off to disappear before it hit the ground.  “I’d love to leave.”

The sound of screaming and swords clashing could be heard now in the Hall.  Hector and Dougal were at it again.  The crashing of swords ceased and the sounds of shouting grew louder – the ghosts were coming towards the doorway into the courtyard.

“You’d better get away whilst you can,” Frank told them.  “It was very nice meeting you.”

He waved to the animals as they made their way to the bridge.  “And sorry I was so scared when I met you,” he called to Tom, “But I haven’t seen a rabbit in a couple of centuries.”  Tom waved back.

“Where are they?” screamed Sir Hector, brandishing his sword.  Beside him Lord Dougal stood swinging his axe. They glared across the courtyard towards the hound who shook his head, “I don’t know.  I think I scared them off.”

“Pity,” Sir Hector answered.  “I have not hunted rabbits in a long time.  If we made them a ghost, then we could hunt them around the castle forever.”

“Aye,” Lord Dougal agreed.  “And I like chasing cats.  That would be fun too.”

“What about the dogs?” Frank asked, fearing the worst.

“We don’t have to make them ghosts.  We could just leave them dead.”  Dougal retorted.

Hector laughed, and for the first time in centuries Dougal laughed with him.  From the far side of the bridge as Finn and the gang made their way into the forest they could hear the shrieking laughter and wails of the ghosts drifting towards them.  The dogs trotted faster, hoping that it was only the sound that was following them and not the ghosts themselves.

From the battlements Hector and Dougal watched the animals disappear into the trees.  “They won’t be back,” Dougal grumbled.

“Pity,” Hector said.  “I love the taste of rabbit.”

Dougal laughed.  “Have you ever eaten dog?”

Hector shook his head in reply, “But I’d love to try.”

From one of the empty windows Frank looked out toward the forest and sighed.  He had really liked having some friends.  Never mind – perhaps someone would come along again – hopefully before another 300 years had passed.

Once Finn was sure that there were no ghosts following and that they were safe, they slowed down and talked about everything they had seen.  Tom and Scutter were tired and slept on Finn’s shoulders as Finn, Rubbish and Jeffrey hatched a plan.  They all felt really sorry for Frank, and wanted to make his life – oops, death – easier.  How could they sort out the two horrible ghosts that tormented him so much?  They really needed to be taught a lesson.

“What can we do?”  asked Rubbish, “They are ghosts, and can walk through walls and everything.”

“Not all walls,” Jeffrey replied.  “Did you hear what Frank said about the ironstone?”

Finn agreed, “Yes, I had also thought about that and I have an idea of how we can use that.  But first, we need to know what we can do to control ghosts.”

“We can’t grab them or hurt them, or even frighten them.  And they are clever as they have hundreds of years of being ghosts.”

“True, my little greyhound friend,” Finn frowned.

Jeffrey pulled his goggles up, “I might be able to help you there.  I have something in my shed that could help.”

By then they were coming to the warren, where they dropped off the two rabbits who waved them off.  It was not long before the three mouseketeers came to the walled garden.  Jeffrey hopped off Rubbish’s back and called over his shoulder, “Give me ten minutes, I’ll see you two later!”

His portly ginger shape scrambled over the red brick wall into his garden.

“What is he up to?” Finn asked.

“No idea,” Rubbish replied.

“It’s always a worry when he has that look on his face,” Finn smiled.

On the patio the Maid had laid out two bowls of dog food and one of cat nibbles.  She was very thoughtful.  There was no sign of her or the Butler, but after all, it was Thursday which was the evening they went ballroom dancing.

Rubbish and Finn munched their way through their food, both of them thinking hard on the problem of the ghosts.  As they were finishing they heard the thud, ouch and creak as the Professor returned.  He was dragging a large box with writing on it.  It said something like “ectoplasmoscope” (this way up, handle with care, does not contain batteries).

“Righto gentlemen, let’s see what we can do.  What’s your plan Finn?  Ooh, food,” at this point Jeffrey’s face disappeared into his cat nibbles.

“We have two problems.  Firstly, we have to find Frank’s toy so he can get away from that castle.  Second, we need to get those two ghosts wrapped up and unable to cause any more trouble.  I have had an idea about that.”  Finn explained.

Jeffrey had finished his food and was rummaging in the box.  Out of it came a square shiny rucksack with wires sticking out of it, a pointy aerial, which he fixed to his flying helmet, and what looked like a garden hand-fork (which it once was) and a large wrist watch.  They were connected by a wire to the rucksack.  Jeffrey muttered something under his breath and gave the rucksack a shake and it began to hum and from the top there was a strange orange glow.

“Knew this would come in handy one day. This –  he announced.  “- is the latest technology for spectral research.  Bought it on Cat-Bay some years ago but never had a chance to use it.  It’s a ghost detector! “

Finn looked at Rubbish and Rubbish looked back at him.  Finn shrugged.  “What does it do?”

“I think it detects ghosts?” Rubbish whispered.

“Reeaallly?  I guessed that much,” said Finn.

Jeffrey looked out from under his helmet, “Ah, it does more than that, my good fellows.  If I reverse the electro feed it can emit an ectoplasmic discharge.”

“Emit a what?” the two dogs asked.

“It’s like a ghost being punched,” the cat enthused.  “Let’s just say we can find them, and give them a dose of their own medicine!”

Finn and Rubbish both grinned.

“So when should we go back to the castle?” the little brindle greyhound asked.

“When they least expect it,” Finn answered.  “When are ghosts most active and people more likely to keep away?”

“At night?”

“Just so, young pup,” Finn said.

“Spot on!  There’s no time like the present!” called Jeffrey over the loud hum of the ectoplasmic thingy.

So, as soon as dinner had settled, the three mouseketeers were back on the path through the woods, heading towards the castle.  Rubbish thought to himself, “Ghosties, you’d better watch out!”

At the castle Sir Hector and Lord Dougal had been giving Frank absolute Hell.   They had jumped out from walls at him, chased him around the battlements and screamed at him as he tried to take a nap.  Frank had at last managed to outwit them and was sitting on what had once been a window seat at the end of the Long Gallery that looked out towards the river.  He could hear the other two shrieking and squabbling far across the castle.  Frank sighed.  In 300 years he had never felt so sad and lonely.  Just then, he saw a flash of light through the trees.  Something glowing faintly orange was coming towards the castle.  “Oh no…’s either a Corpse Candle or one of the Flaming Ghouls.”  The corpse candle was a haunted light that visited now and again to torment Frank, as well as to wind up Hector and Dougal.  But a flaming ghoul – they were particularly horrible noisy screaming phantoms that flickered with flames.  They allegedly ate the bodies of dead people from graves.  They got on well with Hector and Dougal and also enjoyed frightening Frank.  He felt even more depressed.

However, the glow was moving too slowly for a corpse candle and was too dim for a ghoul.  As Frank puzzled over what it was, he saw the three friends emerge from the trees.  It was Jeffrey the cat that was glowing – he was wearing a large box on his back that shone a dim orange.  “Eh?” Frank asked no-one in particular.  He slipped silently off his seat and crept down to the gatehouse to meet his new friends to ask them what they doing.

From the trees Finn and Rubbish could see movement at the gatehouse.  The red glow – what was that?  It was Frank.  They waved to him as they came to the end of the bridge.  He held his enormous paw to his lips to signal for them to keep quiet.  They walked over to him where Finn outlined his plan to the phantom hound who smiled broadly.  “Great idea,” he whispered.

Jeffrey was fiddling with some dials on the large watch on his wrist.  “Spectral anemometer controls,” he explained.  The three dogs looked at the cat totally blank, “It’s very technical,” he frowned at them.

“You do know how to use that thing?” asked Rubbish.

Jeffrey the Professor looked most offended, “Why of course.  What sort of idiot do you think I am?”

Finn coughed quietly, “Let’s get on, gentlemen.”

Frank led them across into the great hall and to the kitchens at the far end.  It was here that Hector and Dougal had taken to having shrieking contests as the acoustics were better.  The din of the two screaming ghosts was excruciatingly loud and indeed, the stonework made for some incredible echoing and reverberation.

“Ready?” Frank whispered.

Rubbish gave him a greyhound thumbs-up, and Finn nodded.

Frank jumped through the doorway into the kitchen, and called out “Hey, you two!  Come quick!  Those animals are back!”

The evil spirits appeared by his side.  “Where!” screeched Dougal.

“Rabbits and Cat for dinner,” Hector hissed.

Frank pointed to the hall.  The ghosts floated out and as they moved seemed to get brighter and more ghastly looking.  You could clearly see the large bloody scar across Dougal’s face and the split in Hector’s head where an axe had made its mark.    They also seemed to grow taller.  Rubbish the little brindle greyhound stood in the middle of the hall.

“Hello ghosties,” he called over cheerfully.

The spirits hissed and screamed and slithered swiftly across the hall towards him.  Ghosts are fast – but a greyhound is faster!  As they drew closer Rubbish sped off across the Great Hall.  He ran into the far corridor and squeezed himself into a small opening where he hid.  It was not only ghosts that could vanish!  As he disappeared, there was a series of loud barks in the Hall; it was Finn.  “Call yourself ghosts, why I’ve seen more frightening pusscats.”

“What?” shouted Hector.  “You despicable hound.  How dare you!” Dougal sounded even angrier than Hector.  They forgot about Rubbish as they flew across the Hall towards Finn.  Deerhounds are also swift and cunning and Finn led them another merry dance around the corridors.  He too slipped into a corner leaving the ghosts to slide past him.

Out popped Rubbish again, “Come on, you two!  I thought you two were the scariest ghosts in the land.  You’re not even the scariest in this castle!”

Hector and Dougal spun around to chase after Rubbish again.  This went on for another couple of times as first Rubbish and then Finn drove the two ghosts into a total frenetic fury.  No matter how they tried they could not catch the two hounds.

Sitting in the middle of the Great Hall watching all this entertainment and enjoying it greatly was Frank.  He had waited centuries to see the two spectres get what they had given him.  It was now time for the final part of Finn’s plan.

What the ghosts had not realised was that they were being led up the Great Hall to the top of the steps that led down to the dungeon.  Rubbish was at the foot of the stairway with Jeffrey.  It was Finn’s turn to wind the ghosts up now.

“Well ladies,” he called over to them.  “Shall we dance some more!”

If Hector and Dougal had been alive, they would have died with sheer anger and frustration.  They flashed across the hall, cursing, swearing and clawing the air as they headed towards the deerhound.  Finn poked his tongue out and leapt down the steps.  The ghosts took the bait and shrieked after him.

“OK,” said Rubbish.

Jeffrey started twiddling his dials and the electro-thingy lit up.  It started to hum louder and the lights got brighter.  The fork began to crackle.  “Super!”

Finn got to the foot of the steps and headed full pelt down the corridor.  The ghosts chased after him, screaming in true phantasmal fashion.  Frank lollopped down the stairs behind them and Rubbish and Jeffrey followed from the foot of the steps.  Finn stopped before the door to the cell.  The ghosts slowed.  Perhaps they sensed something?

“Not so clever now, are you, dog?” Dougal spat, growing taller and more menacing as he faced the mighty Finn.  Finn was not scared, but neither was he entirely comfortable with two terrible figures bearing down on him.  Their faces seemed to change colour to a blood-curdling green.  Hector drew his sword and it glinted in the light of the torches set along the walls.  Finn stepped back.

Behind the ghosts Jeffrey moved to the front and Frank and Rubbish behind him.

“OK you two.  I think the game is up!” Jeffrey called to the ghosts. They spun around to face the cat.

Hector looked at the motheaten old moggy in his flying helmet waving a garden hand-fork at him.  “Oh yes?  Do you think I’m some sort of weed?”

“This is not what it appears,” The Professor replied.  “It’s an ectoplasmic probe.  With one step I will throw you back across the room.”

Dougal issued a hollow laugh, “I think not.”

Finn stepped to one side, away from the opening of the cell.

“Alright – I did warn you!” Jeffrey tapped his watch.  The box on his back was humming and vibrating and the orange glow had nearly changed to red.  The fork crackled in his hand as…….the lights went out and the box fell silent.  “Oops…that shouldn’t have happened…  Where’s the handbook….?””

The ghosts came closer to the old cat and Hector raised his sword.  Rubbish, right behind Jeffrey, remembered an old trick he had seen the Butler do.  He leaned over and gave the ectoplasmic thing a bang with his paw.

It burst back into life, it erupted with noise and the crackle on the fork became a small spark, then a flash of lightning which hit the two ghosts and lifted them off their ghostly feet and threw them bodily down the corridor and way past Finn.  They landed together in a heap in the cell.

“Quick!  The door!” called Frank.  Finn stepped across and closed the door of the cell and threw the bolt across.

Hector got up and made to pass through the door – but he bounced back.  “What?”

“Let me try you fool,” Dougal muscled up past him and stormed at the door – and slammed against it.

Frank walked up to the door and looked in through the grill.  “Don’t you remember?  Ironstone walls and an iron door.  Ghosts can’t cross iron.”  He did not gloat or tease them; it was all in a matter of fact tone.

“Let us out!  Let us out!  We’ll tear you limb from limb into little strips!”

Finn looked at the ghosts through the grill too. “That’s not really going to encourage anyone to let you out, is it?  Frank – what should we do?”

Frank thought for a second.  “Maybe a century shut up together might make them mellow a bit.”

“What?  With him?  That’s inhuman!” screamed Hector.

Jeffrey grinned.  “My dear sirs, but none of us are human.”

Finn laughed, “No, we are better than that!”

The hounds and the cat made their way back up the corridor.  Frank was even singing.  At the top of the steps in the Great Hall Frank stopped to thank Finn, Rubbish and Jeffrey for all their help.   “At last I can wander about my castle in peace – sleep when I like and even have visitors when I like.  You will come and visit?”

“Of course, old chap,” Finn answered for them all.  “It would be an honour and a privilege!”

“Oh – hang on” Jeffrey had taken off the electro thingy and was fumbling in his pocket. “I found this in the corridor in the dust.”  He held up an old leather ball, very dried up, but the stitching still held it together.

Frank’s jaw dropped open and tears filled his eyes, “That’s it!  That’s my toy!”

The animals were surprised, amazed even, and so pleased for Frank.

“Now I have that, I can leave here.  I don’t need to stay in this castle as a ghost anymore!”

“You can leave?” asked Rubbish.

“I can. “ Frank looked sad for a second, “But I don’t want to.  I have not had friends for so long that I don’t want to leave yet.”

Jeffrey straightened his hat, “You don’t have to go.  You can remain a ghost  but  can leave the castle.  You can see the world.”

“You can come and meet the Maid and the Butler!” Rubbish grinned.

“I think we’d better warn them that a six foot tall ghostly phantom hound is coming for dinner,” Finn laughed.

Frank looked worried.  “Will I have to wear a tie?”

So when you come to the old castle in the deep dark forest, and you listen, you might hear the screams and shrieks of Hector and Dougal, still locked in their cell.  They have another 95 years to go before Frank decides whether they have become good ghosts.  And if you see a six-foot ghostly hound with huge jaws, a silly grin and a big waggy tail chasing an old leather ball don’t be afraid;  its only Frank, the Hound of the Basquet-Villes.

For more adventures of Rubbish, Finn and Jeffrey –  go and look for the books.  There’s also the free download of the Christmas adventure – How Rubbish the Rabbithound Saved Christmas!

Characters copyright Chris Dignam/Crafty Dog Books Cymru, all rights reserved.