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Turkey Trove is a collection of stories which draws upon thauthor’s travels through this fascinating country - each tale is based upon something that actually occurred, though the finished article is assuredly fictional. The stories span a wide variety of subjects that delve into Turkey, the Turkish character and Turkish culture, all of this without becoming a travelogue.

Turkey Trove

The Secret Garden of the Dogs

It was yet another sizzling day. The walk to the palace had been hard, uphill all the way with little shade and a relentless sun scorching the earth and all those foolish enough to walk upon it. For all of that I decided to walk back to the town. It was still hot but I had plenty of water and the descent would surely be easier than the ascent. Looking down from the palace walls I could see the walled garden. I had spotted a cheap sign to the place on my way up and had passed by thinking it to be one of those tourist sideshows that often attach themselves to major attractions. Now, seen from above, it looked interesting, extensive, cool. Interesting also were the remains of the Urartian township immediately below me, a ruinous contrast to the palace's crisp air of renovation and imaginative renewal. I decided to shun the road that I had taken to get here and return across country. I felt strong, fit, glad to be alive. Wandering around Turkey enlivened me. I was looking for adventure.

As I picked my way through the low stone walls that defined the neglected settlement, I mused that the Urartians must surely have been a healthy lot. No need for them to jog in the mornings. Their houses, storerooms and communal halls had been built on gradients that would challenge a modern builder. I supposed that they had chosen this spot for the same reason that motivated the architects of the palace; it commanded a fine view of the great plain to the North, yet in the South the sharp walled valley was easily sealed with just a few guard emplacements.

Leaving the ruins behind me I soon found another reason for their location: water, the liquid of life. The hillside here was lush with long grass and occasionally awash with spring water. Though I disliked the idea of placing my feet where I could not see them - who knows what might be there - they were regularly cooled by a surprise immersion and I enjoyed the refreshing dampness.

The garden kept its tantalising distance; I looked at it often and began to give it a rather unimaginative, but wholly fitting, mental label - the secret garden. It was much greater in extent than I had previously thought. I could now see the track that led to it from the roadway together with a footpath that branched off to the left, leading down the hillside and back in the direction of the town. Good, this provided me with an alternative way back to the hotel - I hated using the same route for both going and returning.

I descended into a stony streambed that led down towards the garden. The going was not easy but progress was fairly rapid and I had soon reached the track; I headed up it and to the right. Soon I passed the footpath that led to the town, and then came alongside the walls of the secret garden itself. The walls were surprisingly high - easily two metres and quite impossible to scale. They were well-built, employing the same smooth grey stone that formed the remains of the Urartian town now well above me; perhaps this was their origin. The trees from within overhung the wall, and the garden promised to be as luxuriant as it had appeared from the palace.

Walking quickly now I soon reached the gateway. It was set nicely into the wall with brick piers on either side blending into a flattened arch. Unfortunately the effect was ruined by the doors, rusting dented and distorted things upon which the word "welcome" was sloppily painted in various languages. The entrance fee was also announced - a small sum, though numerically large in the local currency. I looked around for someone to pay, but there was no one in sight. Beside the gateway was a motorcycle and sidecar, but there was no one near it and it may well have been abandoned there.

Thinking that the owner might be working somewhere within and that I could pay when we met I walked through the rusty doors and into the secret garden. It was shady and green, just as I had anticipated. Water could be heard trickling along stone beds in front of me and the sun speckled everything with its leaf-filtered light. I walked forward and slightly to the right, there was a path here and I followed it passing various minor constructions all of them concerned with directing and storing the water that made this charming place possible. The trees were mainly locusts and poplars, but they were cleverly interspersed with other species. The day was windless, even the leaves of the poplars barely moved. I stopped to peer through the trees into an open grassy area that lay ahead. It was there that I first saw the dog.

Surprisingly I saw it before it saw me. It was a very large beast, wolf-like, but light brown in colour and possessing an enormous head. It loped over the grassy area then suddenly stopped and turned as if sensing that it was being watched. I swung my bag before me, an insubstantial shield but my only means of defence, and started to back away - backing up towards the entrance. I had no desire to anger this creature in any way. As I retreated it turned and headed back up the grassy slope and into the trees. I continued my retreat and walked out of the garden entirely.

Standing outside the entrance my fear of the dog was quickly replaced by anger. I wanted to see this garden, the desire had grown steadily as I made my descent from the palace. Now, having tasted its delights, I was keener than ever to explore its green interior. I began to shout in the hope of attracting the attention of the owner - surely the man wanted people to come in, he advertised access to the place both at the roadside and again here on the rusty doors. There was no reply; my shouts were quickly absorbed by the silence of the garden almost as if they were an unwelcome intrusion. I decided to enter the place again, maybe the dog was just passing through, maybe my mind had exaggerated its menace.

I took a similar route, trying to recapture the magic of the place, but finding that fearful thoughts of the dog now infused my whole consciousness. Then, suddenly, I saw it again! It was standing in roughly the same place. This time it was facing me, and this time it had seen me first. It did not move. It simply watched me, staring in a malignant yet curious way. Again I retreated, walking backwards, keeping my eyes on the dog just as its eyes followed my every move. As I reached the entrance it turned, this time loping down the slope and away into the dense knot of trees below.

On my first expedition into the garden I had reasoned that the dog might just be passing through, now I was sure that it guarded the place in some way. I was certainly not going to risk a third confrontation. I was alone and unprotected. I was dressed for walking, my bare legs and bare arms seemed particularly vulnerable as I thought of the dog's huge head and jaws. I decided that the only course open to me was discretion, I began to return along the track beside the wall in order to pick up the path into town. I soon spotted the path and felt a surge of relief. But my relief was transient. I walked a little further then saw, on a bank sandwiched between the track and the path, something that brought me to an immediate halt. It was the dog!

I was not sure whether the brute had seen me. It was sniffing the ground and occasionally scratching at it. I scrambled up a gradient to my left from where I was able to look down onto the bank and its surroundings, here I could better decide what to do. It was immediately clear that I could not go on without confronting the dog, I also believed that if I returned to the secret garden the dog would somehow be there. My only option seemed to be up, up towards the Urartian remains and the palace from whence I had come. This was something I certainly didn't relish, it would be a cowardly retreat and an exhausting walk with no rewards.

As I watched the dog completed whatever business it was about. It seemed to look at me for a split second, then loped away down into the valley. It stopped at the stream for a drink before ascending the slope on the other side at an incredible pace, there it vanished amongst a group of outbuildings surrounding a solitary house. I assumed that this house belonged to the owner of the garden, it was placed near the road and near to the sign that I had seen advertising the place on my ascent. Besides, it was the only place around.

Relieved that the dog had departed I reflected that I could now enter the garden. But I did not. I was spooked by the three interactions with the dog and knew that I would not enjoy the visit, haunted by the thought that the creature might reappear at any instant. I regained the track and soon turned off onto the footpath that led into the town. I glanced at the wall as I turned the corner. However had the beast surmounted it? Surely it could not jump that high? I continued walking at a lively pace, glancing regularly and nervously at the house now some five hundred metres away on the opposite side of the valley. Here the valley was steep sided, I could no longer see the stream that flowed through it, the stream from which the dog had refreshed itself. Thankfully there was no sign of the creature and I began to relax a little. I wondered whether I had over-reacted, after all the dog had not actually behaved at all aggressively towards me; the fact that it looked frightening owed more to its size and the circumstances in which we had met rather than any of its actions.

The garden was now coming to an end. As I walked towards the northernmost corner I noticed that the height of the wall was dropping away. At the very corner it was not much more than a metre and half high. From the path I could not see over it, but the temptation to go closer and have one last look into the place was overwhelming. I stepped off the track and took a few steps towards the wall.

Whether I reached it or not I cannot recall. What I will remember forever is the chilling howl that arose from the direction of the house across the valley. Whirling around I saw bounding towards me not one dog, but two. One of them was the dog from the garden, the other was a large German shepherd - a big dog in its own right, but not as big as the other. They charged down the side of the valley at an alarming pace, their feet kicking up puffs of dust as they brushed over the ground. Soon both dogs had vanished from sight as they descended rapidly to the valley floor in their haste to get to their prey - me! Out of sight but not out of sound, I could hear the howling and barking growing rather than receding in strength. This was decidedly the worst few seconds of my life, those seconds really did seem to last for minutes.

What could I do? Running made no sense, nor did attempting to climb the wall. There were no trees around and no rescuers in sight; I had seen no one since I left the palace. Once again I swung my bag before me for protection, I then picked up a fair-sized rock and waited, breathing deeply. I did not have to wait for long. The first dog, the large one that I had seen in the garden itself, came over the lip of the valley like some furious creature from hell. Its mouth was open exposing its long, pointed teeth and it bounded straight at me clearly determined to inflict serious damage. I shouted something obscene and threw my rock directly at the creature. It veered off to the left in order to avoid a direct hit, then circled around for another attack. This gave me just enough time to grab another rock, fortunately there were plenty around. The beast came at me again, I threw my rock causing it to veer away again; this time I could see the saliva dripping from those large teeth, see its nose creased back in a snarl, see the fury in its eye.

Though terrified, I was surprised at my ability to reason and even had time to congratulate myself for not panicking. It is said that many people who die in dangerous circumstances do so because they give up. I was not going to give up. This detachment allowed me to keep an eye on the other dog, I knew that I could not repel a double attack. It too had now risen from the valley but, to my relief, tended to hang back, barking and snarling. For all of its aggressive display it seemed to be leaving the attack to the larger animal. I guessed that this German shepherd was the mate of my attacker.

Knowing that the sequence of charging, defensive rock throwing, and evasive veering could not go on, I decided to take the lead. In the short period that the dog was using to skid around ready for another assault, I managed to pick up two stones - one for each hand. As the creature once more raged towards me I stepped forward to meet it, first throwing one stone then, quickly transferring the other from my left hand to my right, throwing the second. My advance and the two stone volley enraged my attacker even more, it howled and returned to the fray. This dangerous order of events went on for some time: the dog racing towards me then veering off each time I threw a rock, my slight advances, my inevitable retreats. But I knew that I could not keep it up, I would tire before the dog did. Adrenaline was pumping through my body now, it was giving me a keenness of perception and the strength and stamina to repeatedly gather and throw the rocks. But it would fade well before the dog tired - moreover it had its mate as back up. At the same time the creature was becoming bolder, shortening the distance of its runs, swerving its big body with greater determination to get back into the attack.


56,000 words

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