Hobs n' Dogs

Sam moved slowly over the worn carpet of his living room, pausing where a spider jumped across the peeling wallpaper in search of food. He was an old man, welcoming life into his ramshackle home; he’d long since lost the conception that he was separate from the teeming plants that pressed against his house, or the animals living among them. All doors and windows were open, as usual, and he stepped over the vines that edged their way into his living room and walked into the garden. Ignoring the bright spiders crawling on their webs, he pushed between the plants and entered the deepest part—the place where he felt most at home.

Hobs n' Dogs. An image of a fantasy garden.

Reaching for his old wooden chair, he sat in front of a strange red toadstool that he’d first noticed growing there two days ago. The more he watched it, the stranger it seemed. The red cap was two foot across, but its stem was the strangest thing. The more he looked at it, the more he noticed tiny dog faces staring back at him. And the cap itself appeared to be watching him too.

He must have fallen asleep, but he woke suddenly when something licked his hand. Opening his eyes, he blinked several times trying to focus on the animal in front of him. It looked like a dog, but its body was very round, and it stood on long twig-like legs.

“What are you?” 

The dog licked him again, more vigorously, and he rubbed its neck. 

“You’re not like any dog I’ve ever seen.” 

Then Sam noticed more eyes watching him from underneath the toadstool. A long, dog-like creature crawled out. It seemed to be six heads joined together into a long body, and it moved on the same strange stick-like legs. This was definitely not normal, but curious, he welcomed them as more creatures hesitantly moved out of the thick undergrowth. 

“I told you,” a female voice came from behind a green-faced bird-like creature to his right. 

“You did!” A male voice came from a patch of dandelions. 

“Told you what?” Sam asked, scratching his head as he tried to see where the voices were coming from, and suspecting that he might be losing his mind as one of his neighbours had unkindly suggested.

“That the Long Dogs of Compassion would like you.” 

A small woman, about four inches high, appeared from behind the green-faced creature, and walked under the longest of the long dog-like creatures, stroking its belly as she passed.

“The Long Dogs of Compassion,” Sam repeated as he watched the tiny woman approach.

It was an unusual name, but it felt right. More of the creatures pressed against him rubbing against his legs.

“That’s right. They’re a little soft in the head.” She reached up and rubbed one on the neck; it tried to lick her. “But good-natured, mostly.”

“Why compassion?” he asked.

“They were born with compassion for life,” she said.

A tiny man emerged from the long grass, and more of the creatures followed. Some looked like a cross between birds, dogs, and strange plants.

“And you said he’d welcome us,” the man said to the tiny woman.

“I do.” Sam thought about offering a cup of tea, but he didn’t think he had any cups small enough. “What are you?”

“We’re hobs,” the small woman said. “I’m Mollie, and that’s my lover Ged.”

The tiny man flashed a smile.

They were direct. Sam liked that. “I’m Sam.”

“We know,” Mollie said. “We’ve watched you. We need somewhere.”

“Need somewhere?” Sam echoed. 

“For the Long Dogs,” Mollie said.

“There are not many places like this left.” Ged said.

“It’s true.” 

Sam knew that his home was like an oasis in the ordered world where others lived, and he felt a momentary sadness at the state of the world, but he was soon distracted by more movement around his garden. Many of the creatures moved through the undergrowth.

The first dog to have greeted him, a green leaf-like fellow with a round body and very long legs pushed against him again. He gave the little fellow a pat. The green dog was wagging a long fern-like tail and pawing him with his twig-like leg.

“I’ll call you Fern.” 

The little fellow looked at the grapes he’d just picked. He offered one, and the dog took it away to eat.

“Vegetarians. That makes it easier; there’s plenty for you to eat in the garden.”

Sam was distracted by a sound from the house. He remembered that he’d left the front door unlocked. 


He grimaced. It was his stepson, Jack. Jack’s wife, Selina, was already complaining about the dirt. If Selina had her way, he was sure she’d tarmac half the front garden for parking space, and Jack would trim the rest till it matched his neighbours’ gardens. When Sam turned back, the hobs and dogs were gone. He pushed his way back through the undergrowth. He’d thought about pruning the garden, but sometimes it was useful for keeping certain neighbours out. 

Jack and Selina stood in his living room.

“We’re worried about you, Sam,” Selina said as she wiped a chair.

“Don’t worry about me.”

“Sam, you should consider selling up and moving to somewhere smaller where you can be taken care of,” Jack said. “You’re too old to live alone; you’re no longer able to cope.”

They brought this topic up each time they visited.

“I love my garden.”

“That’s the problem,” Jack said. 

“What do you mean?”

“Bob Bleacher’s called the council. He’s complained that your garden’s harbouring vermin.”

Sam’s heart sank. His neighbour believed it was his duty to police the local area.

“You know what he’s like. He made such a fuss that an inspector’s coming here today. We’ve come to help you tidy the garden before he arrives.” Jack looked at the overgrown trees. “It really needs cutting back.”

Sam had come close to agreeing with him in the past, just to shut him up, but the thought of his stepson cutting down his garden was too much, especially now he’d met the Long Dogs.

“Sam, in a way, this place represents your mind,” Selina said. “It’s chaotic. You need order in your life.” She stared at the earth on the floor. “We can help you.”

“My garden’s a nature reserve,” he said. 

Jack picked up his bag and stepped through the french windows into the garden. “Selina’s right about this representing an unhealthy aspect of your mind. She’s studied psychology, you know?”

“Better a garden than a desert for a mind.”

“You know we only want the best for you,” Selina said.

Sam wasn’t sure that their best was his. They sought order in every part of their lives; he loved the richness of life that pushed and jostled around him.

Jack tried to force back a branch of one of the wild fig trees, but it was strong and snapped back in his face.

“That one needs cutting first,” he said.

Selina smiled at her husband and then wandered back inside. 

Sam stood alone, wondering what to do. He stood next to the secret passage to the red toadstool. He was determined not to let them destroy that, and he was worried about the little dogs. Would they be considered vermin? He slipped into the undergrowth, and the sounds of Jack pruning the fig tree disappeared. He was back in nature. Smaller red mushrooms grew around the large one. The eyes on the red cap opened and watched him as he sat on his chair. One of the dogs emerged from the foliage. Its head was a dog’s head with brown fur and adorable eyes, but its body was round with the plumage of a bird, and its legs were like sticks. It ran up to him excitedly and rubbed itself against his legs. He stroked its head, happy for a moment.

Ged and Mollie stepped out from behind the red toadstool, followed by a very long dog with many heads, each connected to another, and all of them looking at him. This extremely long dog nuzzled against him as it wrapped itself around his legs.

“Why do you let them interfere?” Mollie asked.

“They’re the only family I have. What can I do?”

“Assert yourself.” When Sam was silent she continued. “I don’t think you understand your importance.”

“I’m just an old man,” Sam said.

“You’ve provided a sanctuary for life—for the Long Dogs of Compassion,” Mollie said.

a dog in a fantasy forest lying next to a giant red toadstool

Sam looked at the round dog with the plumage of a bird and wondered how it could be considered long. 

“Even the short ones are Long Dogs,” Ged said.

Sam raised his eyebrows. And at the same moment, he had the uncanny feeling that the hob could read his mind. “But the round one is short, and the green leaf-like dog is almost not a dog at all.” When he looked at it, he thought it was almost owl-like.

“Sam,” Ged said, “your eyes can’t see what it real. Your world is a world of illusions. But if you spend time with the Long Dogs, they’ll begin to teach you. They’re connectors.”

Sam frowned as he tried to understand.

“They connect to each other.” Mollie giggled.

“And they connect anyone close to them to nature,” Ged said.

Sam dearly wished so, but the clipping of the shears brought him back to reality.

“There’s more than one reality,” Ged said.

Now Sam was sure the hobs could read his mind.

Mollie laughed. “In some ways, you’re open to us, Sam.” She stared at him with her bright emerald eyes.

He stroked the very long dog that had entwined itself around both of his legs and was now attempting to do it again as the final heads tried to reach him. He patted them, wondering how any of this was possible—how he could be sitting in his back garden in front of a giant red toadstool talking to a pair of hobs and petting the strangest dogs he’d ever seen. But he was. And it was more fun than talking to Jack and Selina.

The vegetation behind him rustled, and as the Long Dogs scuttled into the undergrowth, Sam decided to retake control of his life, but he hesitated when he saw a man standing behind his stepson.

“Here you are,” Jack said. “This is the man from the council.”

Sam looked up. The man appeared quite friendly. Sam just hoped he wouldn’t find the dogs; he had no idea what he’d make of them. 

“I won’t take long. I just need to check the undergrowth. It’s quite thick, isn’t it?”

“I’m helping him trim the garden today,” Jack said. “Perhaps you could begin your inspection on the other side. That will give me a chance to make a pathway through this jungle for you.”

Sam was relieved when the man took his stepson’s advice.

Jack and Selina squeezed through the vegetation. His stepson’s mouth dropped open when he saw the giant toadstool. “What’s that?”

“A toadstool.”

“It’s probably toxic,” Selina said. “Don’t touch it!”

“There are more of them,” Jack said, peering under the large red cap. “They need to be destroyed.” 

“You’re not touching them,” Sam said.

“Something’s moving,” Selina said as she bent down and looked into the undergrowth. “Ooh!” She moved quickly away from the toadstools. “Vermin!”

“Shh! Selina,” Jack said, glancing in the direction of the inspector.

“They’re not vermin,” Sam said.

Jack frowned. “Rats. Sam, this is serious. They need to be exterminated. He stared at the Long Dogs, who were mostly hiding in the undergrowth. 

Sam thought about what the hobs had told him about not seeing the world as it was, and he wondered what his stepson saw.

“My house and my garden, and everything in it, is under my protection,” he said. He felt one of the dogs pushing against his legs.

“What are you doing?” Jack asked.

“Nothing,” Sam said, standing up straight. This particular Long Dog was hidden from view by the long grass. 

“Why are you always so difficult?” Selina said. Then she stopped speaking and stared into the undergrowth. “Jack?” She pointed. “There’s something there, too!”

The round and green dog hopped out from under the red toadstool, and Selina shrieked.

Jack shouted and aimed a kick at the dog, which was about the size and shape of a small and soft balloon. It hopped out of the way, and he kicked the red toadstool which exploded in a cloud of spores. Sam immediately felt light-headed, but Jack and Selina were covered in the spores. They coughed and staggered forwards.

“This could be poisonous,” Selina said hoarsely.

“He shouldn’t have kicked it,” Sam said. More of the dogs crept from the undergrowth. “They’re unusual,” Sam said. “But not dangerous.” One of the long, many-headed dogs rushed towards her wagging its tail followed by a green leaf dog. Selina fell into a patch of nettles. 

Then he noticed that the eyes had opened on the smaller red toadstools. Sam was worried that things were getting out of control. A round green dog on twig-like legs moved towards her, she screamed and scrambled to her feet and stumbled into Jack.

“Stop!” Sam shouted, now angry at what they were doing to his garden. More of the little creatures rushed towards Sam as if seeking protection

“Pick up a piece of the toadstool, but don’t breathe in the dust,” Ged said. Neither Jack nor Selina seemed to notice the hob but were instead staring at the Long Dogs rushing through the undergrowth.

He was having reservations about the tiny creatures, but he did as the hob suggested. He held his breath and picked up a fragment of the original red cap.

“You should come with us,” Jack said. “It’s neither the safe nor responsible thing to leave you alone here.” He reached for Sam’s arm.

“Crumble the cap and blow it towards them,” Ged said.

“Why?” Sam asked.

“It’ll make them go. Remember to hold your breath.”

Sam was still unsure, but when Jack pulled him his fist closed on the cap.

“Let go of that stuff.” Jack tried to knock the broken cap from his hand, but Sam stumbled, sending a fresh cloud of spores into Jack’s face.

“Stop that!” Selina’s voice rose, and she rushed towards them, straight into the cloud of spores. She immediately began coughing.

The inspector pushed through the vegetation and walked straight into the cloud. He gasped as he inhaled a mouthful of the spores. Their faces looked strange to Sam, and he stepped back, watching them stagger and then fall very slowly to the ground. He didn’t feel himself and sat heavily on his wooden chair and watched the garden moving around him. He sensed pressure from the luxuriant plants as they rushed excitedly from the earth. Perhaps the toadstool dust had done something to him, too; whatever it was, he felt relaxed. The colours of the garden had altered, and he seemed to see strands of energy disappearing into the undergrowth.

Sam woke up feeling much better. But then he saw the pale bodies of Selina, Jack, and the inspector lying on the remains of the red toadstool. Although they irritated him, he didn’t wish them any harm. He shook them, and his stomach sank—their bodies were cold.

“They’re not dead,” Mollie said. “They’ve tasted the red toadstool.”

Sam noticed the looks of terror in Jack and Selina’s eyes. 

“They’ll be dead soon of course.”

“What?” The hob just stared at him. He wasn’t sure whether she was joking, but her face was serious. “Can you help them?”

“Ged told me you were as soft as the Long Dogs,” Mollie said.

“I am what I am.”

“Just like the dogs,” she said. “Ask them. They’ll help you.” Her bright green eyes seemed to sparkle as she dashed back into the undergrowth.

“How can I ask them?”

“Just ask.” The words hadn’t been spoken aloud, but the hob’s voice echoed in his mind.

“My dogs.” He waited. “Long Dogs of Compassion.” 

There was a rustling in the undergrowth and the longest long dog rushed towards him followed by Fern. 

“Help me,” he said.

They stared up at him. Then Fern jumped up and licked his hand. 

“I mean help me with them.” He pointed at the bodies in the undergrowth.

“Focus your thoughts,” Mollie said.

So that’s what he did. Silently he spoke to the two dogs, forming a picture of Jack, Selina, and the inspector in his mind. “Help them!”

The two dogs turned towards the bodies and sniffed them. 

“Please help them!”

The dogs bit the bodies. 

“Not that!” 

Sam tried to push them away, but the dogs kept biting. Strangely, there was no blood.

The inspector sat up, rubbed his head, and absent-mindedly petted one of the dogs. Sam wasn’t sure what he saw, but he didn’t think it was the same thing he did. He noticed Ged grinning from behind the cornflowers he’d planted last year. 

“I feel light-headed. What happened?”

“You all decided to take a rest,” Sam said. He couldn’t think of anything else to say.

“I feel the most relaxed I’ve felt in years.” The man studied the dog that pushed up against him. “This is an unusual breed.”

“It is,” Sam said. “It’s called a Long Dog.”

The man laughed. “That’s a strange name. It’s not particularly long.”

Sam stared at the dog, which was made up of five heads in a row, each one playing with the next, and he realised they were definitely not seeing the same thing. 

The man stood. “Well, there’s no vermin here. Don’t worry about your neighbour—his complaints are well known at the council.” He scratched his head and looked down at the dog. “I’ve been thinking of adopting a dog. If this one has any puppies you don’t want, you’ll let me know?

“Of course,” Sam said, feeling delighted. The man found his own way out.

Then Jack twitched, and several seconds later he sat up. He shouted when he saw the round green dog biting his leg and staggered to his feet. Selina opened her eyes and screamed. When the long long dog nipped her with each of its multiple heads, she scrambled to her feet.

“Where’s the inspector?” Jack asked.

“He couldn’t find any vermin and left.”

Selina blinked as she stared at the dogs. Sam wondered what she saw. Both she and her husband backed away.

“This place is weird!” she said.

“Don’t expect us to help you with your garden again,” Jack said. “We’ve done all we can.” 

“You’re welcome to visit,” Sam said, “but not to manage my life or garden.”

They walked quickly from the garden. 

Sam had never imagined it would be so easy to end their help, but he knew he couldn’t have done it without the Long Dogs. He heard the front door slam shut, and the car accelerate down the drive. He smiled as Fern pushed against his leg, and he felt more content than he had in a long time. 

Mollie and Ged appeared from the long grass. 

“What will happen to the Long Dogs?” Sam asked.

“They love their new home,” Ged said.

Sam was pleased to welcome them.

“They were created to connect,” Mollie said. “They’ve already begun their work.”

“The inspector?”

She grinned. 

“And you?” Sam asked.

“Hobs have work, too.”

Sam felt a little sad at the thought of not seeing them again. At least he had the dogs.

“You’re as sentimental as the soft dog,” Mollie said as six of the Long Dogs gathered around Sam. “Our paths are yet to be decided. Who can be sure they won’t cross again?”

Ged nodded. He had a bright glint in his eyes, and a grin for Mollie. He pecked her on her cheek. “Our task is done.”

And before Sam could speak, the hobs had disappeared into the long grass.

Hobs n' Dogs was first published by Illustrated Worlds Magazine (Volume #3—Fall 2023) .

It's also been translated and published in Galician by Nova Fantasia.

Galician is the language of Galicia, the north-western region of Spain. A green and largely rural area, which fits the story's theme quite well.

It feels almost surreal to read the story in a language I don’t know, but feel like I know, because I know the story so well, and can read some Spanish, and a little Portuguese. Galician is related to both, but closer to Portuguese.

The magazine translated Hobs n' Dogs as Trasnos e Cans (Goblins and Dogs in English). I was curious how they'd translate hobs, which is very regional (the north of England and the midlands) in English.

It's free for everyone to read at Nova Fantasia (if you read Galician or Portuguese).


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