A Dog’s Tale
Pumpkin the Dog lived in a house next to a koi pond where she took care of her mom and dad. It was a big job, because they had a big house, and mom and dad, while they seemed nice enough, were humans—these are a breed of dog who make funny sounds for communication and walk on their hind legs and wear more clothes than anybody should have to. These humans . . . well, they seem to be good at getting food and opening doors, but Pumpkin—that was the name that her mom and dad gave her, because she was orange, they said, even though she couldn’t tell colors too well, but she hoped that “Pumpkin” was just human talk for “Fierce Super-Destroyer,” which she knew was her real name—oh, but where was she? Oh, yeah: Pumpkin was in charge of patrolling and defending the house and fending off squirrels and playing with the birds, all the important stuff mom and dad were really hopeless at.
Over on the other side of her koi pond there was another house with another dog, named “Britty”—which seemed to be human for Runs-Like-the-Wind-and-Finds-Stuff—who also had a mom and dad to look after. They were nice enough, and they had neat eyes, both of them, and they seemed slightly more aware of things than the orange dog’s dad and mom, at least sometimes, and she was almost sure that she saw them with tails once or twice. But she never saw those tails wag . . . pity.
Britty was kind of shy. Now, she was really good at scaring the bejeebers out of the squirrels, which Pumpkin thought was way cool, and she even kept all the birds in line . . . maybe even the fish in the koi pond, which impressed her short-haired, orange neighbor. But still, Pumpkin noticed that her neighbor dog was very nervous, especially at first.
You see, while Ms. Super-Destroyer knew the squirrels were dreaded enemies, she really tried hard to play with the chipmunks, birds, rabbits, and others in her domain, Runs-Like-the-Wind was different. When they first met, oh-so-long ago, Pumpkin went running over, ready to play. Her mom and dad played all the time. Britty’s mom and dad played all the time. But Britty would get nervous, tell the orange bundle of crazy from the other side of the pond to back off.
It was Britty’s domain over there, so Pumpkin respected that. She learned to be more quiet, more cautious, around her swift, nervous neighbor, and eventually the Fierce dog was allowed back to the other side of the pond by the mistress of that domain, and even petted by that mistress’ dad . . . and sometimes her mom. Every night, the two dogs spent time by the fence, sniffing each other, sniffing the world, getting to know each other, while Britty’s mom—whom Pumpkin’s dad called “Dear One”—and Pumpkin’s dad—referred to as “heart” by Britty’s mom, yipped and yapped and barked at each other. And, after many, many seasons, Runs-Like-the-Wind-and-Finds-Stuff finally wandered over to be welcomed by Fierce Super-Destroyer.
There were these two worlds that Pumpkin knew: the world of her side of the pond, and Britty’s world on the other. She was pretty sure there might be someplace else: a someplace that her dad and Britty’s dad and mom called “Work” . . . but, also, another someplace else, where all the neighbors on the far side of the pond went pretty often, and she thought maybe her mom and dad went sometimes. But it was clear that this place, with its two domains, was the most important, because this was where the two guards spent the most time protecting (and, after all, the most important place would be guarded by the fiercest, brightest, and most articulate, right?).
This was life, and, while it seemed cute that the two-legged members of their packs wandered off and seemed to get distracted by other things, for Runs-Like-the-Wind-and-Finds-Stuff and Fierce Super-Destroyer knew life couldn’t possibly be better than in their world around the koi pond.
Then came that terrible day.
Something had been wrong already. Pumpkin’s dad had gotten a telephone call—telephones were another thing canine R&D really had to crack for the good of society—and, after the call, he had gotten very quiet, and hugged Pumpkin’s mom as the two of them made all sorts of quite sounds. Something was clearly wrong. The orange dog tried to get her people playing, to cheer them up, but they weren’t responding to her call. This was most peculiar and worrying.
She finally got them to open a door, and she went out into the yard, hoping Britty would have a bit of good advice. Envigorated by the crisp autumn air, she ran around the cherry tree in her own yard a couple of times to quiet herself before visiting her reserved neighbor. Often, Pumpkin found her neighbor dog sitting quietly under the cherry tree that was mate to this one on the other side of the pond. But not this time. Pumpkin sniffed all around that tree. Things here were not as they should be, either.
The orange dog continued her investigations. The smell of Runs-Like-the-Wind was all over the place, along with the scents of other dogs that had come before . . . at least two of them—Pumpkin knew that the scent of resident dogs, members of the pack, never truly left a place. Fierce Super-Destroyer’s yard always had just a bit of the smell of BossDog, whom her mom and dad called Jessie—humans really have trouble with words. But there was something to the odor that seemed . . . not right.
She looked up, excited and happy, when the car that belonged to Britty’s pack pulled up by their house. Super-Destroyer kept herself from bounding across the yard, knowing her neighbor would not approve. But only her neighbor’s dad and mom got out of the car. That’s right: Runs-Like-the-Wind didn’t like the car so much (which Pumpkin thought was ridiculous, since everybody knew that cares were so much fun).
But . . . wait. Were this mom and dad also crying? And why wasn’t their dog doing her job, taking care of them? The two humans moved quickly across the yard and into their house, the woman dropping something on the porch as she crossed it. Pumpkin bounded across the yard, but the door slammed shut before she could get to them, and there was the aroma of cherries, something she had noticed before whenever her neighbor’s dad and mom suddenly disappeared and went . . . well, somewhere.
That was when she noticed the collar on the floor of the porch: Britty’s collar. The fierce dog sniffed—the garment was wet with human tears, and had clearly been handled by her neighbor’s humans. Immediately, she knew what this meant, and whimpered softly for her dead friend.
Even in her sadness, she could smell Runs-Like-the-Wind-and-Finds-Stuff all over this yard and house—even through the strawberry fragrance—and Pumpkin knew that wouldn’t go away, not ever. She was afraid the humans weren’t smart enough to realize that, however. She had to follow them, to explain to them, maybe to . . . what did the humans bark about? . . . comfort them.
But there was that foolish door: the only thing humans were good for, and none of them were handy.
Then she remembered the stone . . . the one that Britty’s green-eyed mom had placed in Pumpkin’s yard one day when the orange dog was sure she saw a red tail. She had seen her mom and dad touch it and disappear, returning later to the same place. Maybe . . . just maybe . . .
She bounded across the two yards, around the koi pond, and rubbed against the stone.
She bopped it with her snout and sniffed it.
About to give up, she put her forepaws on the top of the stone, almost like a human would—how could they stand like this?
And there was a bright light.
And Fierce Super-Destroyer found herself in a very different place, one that didn’t smell like home at all. All of the two-legged types there seemed to have tails, and several came to pet her. She had to admit that these folks were verrrrrry good at petting. Some of them read the tag on her collar, and began ooo-ing and ahh-ing over “Pumpkin.”
“Blast it! Do I have to have that name here, too?”
The dog decided that, even with tails, the two-legged types don’t know any better.
Other than the indignity of the name stuff, she could rather get to enjoy this. But she was on a mission. Even here, she could sniff out the scent of Runs-Like-the-Wind-and-Finds-Stuff’s pack. Fierce Super-Destroyer slipped out from the crowd that had surrounded her so pleasantly and followed the fragrance of pack and cherries to a huge stone building, where many were coming and going carrying things she knew the humans called “books.” She followed the trail into the building, and was getting stares, but it wasn’t until she slipped past a few desks, wondering how she would get past the door ahead of her, that some of the two-legs with tails tried to stop her. Pumpkin dodged and wove, and got really annoyed with the dive-bombing cats—whose idea was it to give cats wings?—and couldn’t imagine anybody stopping her now.
Then the most charming two-legged woman with the brightest yellow tail and horns appeared in the orange dog’s path. The Fierce dog found herself whimpering softly as the strawberry blonde scratched behind her ears while the heart-shaped tip of the yellow tail expertly stroked her orange one. Besides the soft sounds she made, all the dog could do was stare into the yellow-tails incredibly violet eyes. But everything changed when the woman, who had been just growling and barking and yipping up until then, suddenly said, “. . . wish we could understand each other.”
Fierce Super-Destroyer was just beginning to learn that all sorts of things, such as wishes, quickly escalate around yellow-tails, and this tail was the brightest yellow that anyone had seen in ages. “I think I do understand you,” she replied, “even though your kind usually seem to have such trouble communicating.”
The strawberry blond smiled, causing the dog to melt a bit more: “What are you doing here, cutie?”
“Oh, don’t call me ‘cutie,’ because then others might not know that I am fierce. In fact, my name is Fierce Super-Destroyer.”
“Well, your tag says ‘Pumpkin.’”
“Yes . . . ummm . . . where I come from, that is the two-legs’ word for ‘Fierce Super-Destroyer.’”
“I think it’s the same here.” Another smile, and the dog wondered if the two-leg noticed how deeply she was blushing. “My name is Miriam, sweetie. But where do you come from, and why are you here?”
“I come from the land where the koi pond and the two cherry trees are, and where I protect one side of the pond, while the other had been protected by Runs-Like-the-Wind-and-Finds-Stuff. But something has happened to her, and I need to find her mom and dad. Her mom’s scent led me here.” The dog wagged her nose at the Head Librarian’s office, even though her eyes never left the violet pair in front of her.
Those eyes now opened wide. “Ohhh! Now I know why someone said they saw Tera and Keith so upset! Something happened to Britty!”
“Don’t call her ‘Britty’!” the dog thought, but there was no time for that: “Her scent goes all over the place, and is mixed with so many wonderful smells, but I don’t have time to enjoy them all, and it seems strongest there.” Again she pointed at the office.
“Well, that is Queen Tera’s office,” Miriam replied, “she is the Monarch of our Realm, but also the Head Librarian here. Some people think that’s strange, but . . .”
“. . . but , obviously these books are the most important thing here. That’s why the most important one in the pack would guard them.”
“I can see why Tera likes you.”
“Well, I also let her give me treats and scratch me behind the ears,” Super-Destroyer volunteered. “But she isn’t there now, is she?”
“No, she went off . . . ummmm . . . kind of upset.” Truth be told, the glare from her oh-so-green eyes had knocked five shelves’ worth of books off
“Runs-Like-the-Wind died.” Both dog and two-leg-with-a-tail were silent for a bit, then the orange-tail nuzzled her new yellow-tailed friend: “Runs-Like-the-Wind died, but there is something really important that I don’t think her mom understands yet, ‘cuz she is just a two-legs. She needs me to tell her.”
Miriam looked over her shoulder, out the window, toward the palace: “I just don’t know if this is a good time . . .”
Just then a breeze from that direction brought something to the fierce dog’s attention, and she was out of the yellow-tail’s grasp in a shot. “I’m sorry. But this is really important!” It was the scent again.
Miriam tried her best to slow her four-legged visitor down, but found herself splayed out on the tile floor of reading room as the dog eluded half a dozen other staff members on her way out the door and up the road toward the royal palace. “Well, I had best warn the guards to be gentle with her. She’s not a syreen.” The reference librarian was barely up on her knees before she had bampfed out, leaving the loveliest scent of lemons behind.
As she ran up the road to the palace, Pumpkin—all right, maybe that was one of her names—noticed a change in the scent of her quarry. It was still Runs-Like-the-Wind’s mom, but somehow not, and yet it was definitely her, and it was no longer coming from the palace, but down a path to the left, into the woods, behind a cottage. As the helpful yellow-tailed two-legs was warning and preparing the palace guards, their anticipated guest was nearly a quarter-mile off in another direction.
But what the guest found behind the cottage gave her pause.
There was Runs-Like-the-Wind’s mom . . . sort of . . . except her tail was black and her hair red. She was holding a whip, being very rough with three two-legs who were kneeling at her feet—one seemed to be male—and whimpering. The more they moaned, the more the two-leg with the whip growled, pushed them away, humiliated them . . .
. . . though she let one of her subjects sniff her butt, which was something most humans didn’t seem to allow nearly as often as the orange dog thought they should.
The thing was, the more the redhead let out her aggression, the less happy she seemed to be. Fierce Super-Destroyer knew that this was wrong, and was even more sure that this redhead was also sad about the dog they both knew: Runs-Like-the-Wind’s scent was part of this two-leg with the whip, too. The dog knew what needed doing, and ran up to the redhead, shoving the male submissive out of the way and rubbing her orange fur on the shiny black knee-high boots of the dominant.
The two-leg growled and barked, almost kicking the dog as she pushed her away with a boot, then cracking the whip less than an inch from Fierce Super-Destroyer’s nose.
“She doesn’t get it,” the four-leg thought as she stood her ground, then moved closer. The whip continued snapping, always an inch in front of her nose, as she continued to close in. Finally, she was rubbing against those boots again, and then continuing to push against this angry two-leg until she fell backward onto a bench. The orange-hair set her chin on the red-hairs lap: “I know you are sad, and I know why, but being angry doesn’t seem to be helping you. You need to trust me and listen.”
While the green eyes were softening, the look behind them was rather blank.
“Gosh, I wish you were as smart as Miriam. I guess I’ll just keep nuzzling.” And so she did. In time, there was some tentative scratching on the top of her head by long, black-lacquered nails. Then there was some sort of a flash, and a bit of smoke, and the smell of strawberries, and the other scents changed. This was her friend’s mom.
“Pumpkin, you silly girl, what are you doing here?”
Oh, for those so-green eyes, she even went along with being called “Pumpkin.” “You need to understand,” she replied. “I know you’re sad about . . . well, you call her ‘Britty.’ I know she is dead, and I am sad, too. But Britty’s scent is still in the yard, just like Rudy’s. That yard was her yard, and she will always be there. And you and her dad, she will always look out for you both. In the meantime, I will help her whenever I can.”
Runs-Like-the-Wind’s mom still didn’t seem to get it, so the fierce dog kept nuzzling her lap, softly, and she kept petting.
Maybe she got it.
Soon, her neighbor dog’s dad came by. He had a nice tail, too, and, in time, both of them were petting the dog from the far said of the koi pond.
And, after a bit longer, Fierce Super-Destroyer remembered that her own mom and dad seemed to need cheering up. As the three of them found their way home, Pumpkin was pleased to find it was about the same time as when they left, and she took care of the two-legs on her side of the pond. My, but she couldn’t remember the last time she’d gotten petted so much in one day.
The days got better.
From then on, Fierce Super-Destroyer looked out for the two-legs on both sides of the koi pond; they were so sweet and, except for the door thing, they seemed so helpless. She was still more careful, more respectful on Runs-Like-the-Wind-and-Finds-Stuff’s side, because it was clear that she never really left there.
And, from time to time, she got to see Runs-Like-the-Wind’s dad and mom show their tails. She wished hers would learn that trick.
And once . . . just once . . . Fierce Super-Destroyer was sure she saw one of those tails wag.
And she smiled.