Scraps had finally reached the point where he no longer wanted his people to see him.
He hurt too much. His fur was almost all gone. He didn't want to eat. Something deep in his bones was niggling at him. All he could be sure of was that it was time for him to go. To be out of the house.
Scraps waited until Victor finally had to leave. His master hadn't left his side in a very long time, and when he did so now he did it with sad eyes and lots of gentle petting. As soon as the door closed softly behind Victor, Scraps began to work to heave himself to his feet. After a very long, painful time, he made his way out of the kitchen, where Victor had made him a little bed near the biggest stove, and through his dog door out into the garden.
It had been a long time since he'd smelled fresh air. It was nice. This was the right thing to do. Pain radiated from his paw pads to his legs and up into his chest with every step he took. But past his dog house and through the gap in the fence he went, and from there up the alley to the square. Scraps wasn't sure where he was going, precisely. He'd know when he arrived. Soon enough he was panting. He was suddenly desperate to rest. By the time Scraps had hobbled to the corner of the cannery where Father spent all day, his paws couldn't carry him any further.
Near the familiar door he stopped to take a break. He sat hunched by the wall, leaning on it for support. A soft whine escaped him. His neck itched but he was too weak to lift a back leg to scratch. He'd already scratched most of his fur off, anyway. The rest had fallen out, all over the little bed Victor had made up for him, on the carpets, on the marble floors. Every once in a while a person would walk by, either passing him on their way across the square or stepping past him into the shop. Sometimes the people spared him a glance, which Scraps returned. Every once in a while, if he recognized a smell, he'd thump his tail in greeting. No one stopped to pet him. Victor was the only one who liked to pet him. Scraps whined again.
Despite everything, despite how far he'd come, Scraps wanted to see Victor one last time. Every instinct he had said to find somewhere dark to hide. To stay there. But he kept thinking of the hazy outline of Victor's blurry face, the timbre of his voice, the way he always smelled like ink and dirt and boy-sweat. He had to go home. Victor would be sad if he didn't. So Scraps, filled with new resolve, got to his feet. Panting, he looked this way and that, unable to focus. He couldn't catch a proper smell. Still, he began to walk across the square, weaving a little as he went.
Eventually, a dull fear cut through the pain and exhaustion. Scraps no longer knew where home was.
Tongue lolling, wanting so badly to lie down but fearing it would hurt too much, he slouched by the cool stone of the statue in the center of the square and tried to think as best he could. Big. Home was big. With steps out front. Slowly, aware that he was drooling on the cobbles, Scraps moved his head from side to side and tried to catch a familiar smell.
With difficulty, Scraps stood, steadied himself, and began to walk toward home. Or it looked like home, anyway. Big stairs, big house, next to the cobblestones. Different smell, but perhaps his senses were deceiving him. Scraps knew he wasn't well, after all. Around the back of the house he went, headed for the fenced-in garden. In his current state he didn't think he could manage the big stairs. Besides, Scraps wasn't allowed in the front rooms of the house. His little doghouse in the garden would do. The familiar bed and the familiar smell and the cozy seclusion would be just the place.
Just the place to lie down for a little while. Sleep. All Scraps wanted was to sleep.
Panting and drooling again, feet aching and vision just as fuzzy as his mind, Scraps let his muscle memory lead him to the gap in the fence he always used, the one he'd used earlier. Victor had broken off a bit of loose plank to make a little dog-door for him so that he could get in and out of the garden. Not that Scraps made a habit of wandering about without Victor. Scraps was a good dog. When he got to where he thought the gap was, though, he only met hard fence. Again he bumped, yelping when the impact caused him pain.
Desperate, Scraps leaned as hard as he could against the fence. He didn't know what else to do. Where was his missing plank? The wrongness of the smell of the garden was getting to him. He was so mixed-up. With a whine and a grunt Scraps sat heavily. He leaned against the fence, now noticing that this one was made of iron instead of wood. Scraps closed his eyes and whined again, knowing that he needed some help. He hadn't the strength to bark.
Dimly he caught approaching footsteps from the other side of the fence. Light steps that came along with a swish and rustle. Different from Victor's steps. A different smell, too. Scraps turned his head and blinked up at the human approaching him.
He recognized that it was a girl. Even Scraps could tell the different kinds of people apart. Yes, this was definitely a human like Mother. But she was younger. Her voice was higher-pitched and her step was lighter. He couldn't place her smell at all. Sniffing, he considered. She smelled like old flowers and the trunk where Victor kept his sweaters. Beneath that was the sweetish smell of girl-sweat, different from a boy's. Scraps didn't think he'd ever seen her before.
The girl, with some difficulty, threw the latch and pulled open the gate a bit farther down the fence. Swiftly she walked over to him, making little noises in her throat which didn't sound like words. Just sympathy. Scraps wagged his tail, limply, to show that he was a good dog. The girl leaned down and said something. Slowly, carefully, the girl reached out a hand. He didn't understand her words, but her tone was nice. Something about her gave Scraps a good, safe feeling. With as much strength as he could muster he pressed his nose into her hand and let her pet his head. If only he could tell her somehow that he wanted to go home. Suddenly he was too tired and pained to sit up any longer. The last thing Scraps felt was the girl's arms catch him as he started to wobble.
Things got a little hazy after that. His vision was all blurry and he couldn't seem to stop drooling. The girl, muscles straining and panting herself, managed to carry him into the big house. Back through the gate she went, past a mostly dead and empty garden, and through a heavy door. He jostled with every quick step she took. He jostled even more when she pulled open the door. Unable to help himself, he whined. The girl murmured to him soothingly, but it didn't really help. Aching, Scraps was quiet and still as the girl carried him as gently as she was able through a big, dusty kitchen, and then through a pair of swinging doors into a cavernous room. It was shadowy and gloomy, a bit smaller than home and not as clean and bright. It was musty.
Shaking a bit with exertion, the girl managed to set Scraps down on the hard, cold floor. Scraps yelped when he landed, having been set down a bit too heavily. Pain shot up through his legs again, and didn't want to stop. The girl murmured again, petting his head, and then stepped away. Stay, please, she said, and then something else. As good a dog as ever, and too tired to move much besides, Scraps obeyed. With tiny, quick steps the girl disappeared through a doorway, leaving him quite alone. Scraps sighed and lay down, enjoying the cool of the floor against his belly. He was so tired. Looking about as best as he was able, Scraps saw the girl had set him down beside a big fireplace with a little fire burning in it. Scraps watched the flames and listened to the crackling. He blinked heavily.
Suddenly the girl was there again. She was leaning close, so he
could see her quite clearly. When she smiled and spoke, Scraps
caught"poor dog" and "sick" and
"good boy." Scraps sighed, the movement paining
him. He'd heard the first two phrases a lot lately. The girl had
brought a big basket, like the sort Scraps had liked to play in when
he was a littler dog. Inside was a neatly folded blanket. The girl
set it down by the fireplace and patted it.
Here, dog, said the girl, her voice gentle. She helped Scraps to his feet and into the basket, where he more collapsed than lay down. He curled up as much as he was able as the girl sat on the floor beside him.
Scraps began to pant. Everywhere hurt. The girl was petting him. Around his face was all right, but then she started to gently stroke his sides. That hurt. A low growl came from his throat, and the girl quickly pulled her hand away. Immediately Scraps felt bad. He wasn't a bad dog. He hadn't meant to growl. He hadn't been able to help it. In contrition, he tried to find her fingers to lick by way of apology.
She must have understood his meaning, for the girl let him lick her fingers. She even laughed a little. Comforted, Scraps eased himself back down, and soon enough felt the girl's hand stroking his head again. The warmth of the fire was nice. The blanket was soft and comfortable and smelled of girl. As Scraps blinked his heavy eyelids, the girl's hand went to the little medallion on his collar.
Scraps? she asked, and Scraps licked at her fingers again. The girl scratched his ears, which was lovely. She bent toward him, so close that Scraps could smell that she'd recently eaten some chops. He closed his eyes. With every breath he whined without meaning to. His ribs hurt more than his feet did now. The girl said something else. Dimly, Scraps thought he understood the word "home," but he was much too exhausted to do anything about it. He breathed as carefully as he could, letting the girl pet his ears.
Suddenly he jerked awake, disoriented. Scraps hadn't realized he'd fallen asleep. The quick movement pained him, and he growl-whined. What had disturbed him? Through his blurry vision he could just make out another human shape standing beside his basket. When it spoke he realized it was a woman with a deep voice. When she spoke to the girl she used a word that was similar to Victor, which Scraps found a bit strange. Then the girl spoke again, one soft hand on his mostly bald head. Most of it was just a murmur of human noise to Scraps, but he caught the girl using the word "mother." Then that Victor word again...Victoria? Was that it? And somewhere in there he heard "the Van Dort's dog."
Scraps tried to wag his tail, to say that yes, he was Victor Van Dort's dog and he wanted to go home, but it hurt too much. This other mother had come a bit closer and was looking at him with her lip curled. He knew that look. It was the look he got from Mother when he tried to sit on people furniture. Eventually Scraps had to put his head down again to rest. All he wanted was to see Victor one more time. As nice as this girl was, he wanted Victor to pet him.
He sighed and twitched and listened. More human murmuring. The girl's hand steady and gentle. The fire keeping him less warm than before. The room went dark until the sound of a door opening roused him. Scraps looked up, too weak now to wag his tail. He thought he'd caught a whiff of Mayhew, his other best friend. Someone coughed, and heavy footsteps approached his basket. Scraps couldn't quite muster the energy to look up.
Goodbye, Scraps, said the girl, petting his muzzle one more time. Then, both to Scraps' surprise and comfort, the girl pressed her forehead to his. Both the gesture and the tone she used made Scraps want to lick her face, but he was too weak. He settled for licking his own nose, hoping she'd understand. The girl stepped away. Strong arms lifted him up and he knew immediately he'd been right. Scraps quickly recognized Mayhew's smell, one of smoke and anchovies. Mayhew would take him to Victor. And everything would be all right.
Snuggled against Mayhew, Scraps closed his eyes and sighed a long, deep sigh. And then suddenly nothing hurt anymore.
Scraps sprang awake with more ease and energy than he had in a very long time. For the first time in what felt like ages he leapt to his feet with no pain at all. He turned a few circles in celebration, then sat and scratched himself under the chin with his hind foot. Panting happily (breathing was so easy now!), Scraps looked about to see where Mayhew had put him down. Hopefully he was somewhere close to Victor. Victor's room, perhaps? Or the little bed in the kitchen?
But no. Scraps stopped. He sat. And he thought. He was in the square again. Next to the statue. Now that he could see clearly, it was easy to recognize. Though it looked a bit different than usual. Was it even the same square? No longer very happy, Scraps reeled in his tongue and snuffled to himself, shifting on the cobblestones. Something was very wrong. Scraps heard a crunching noise behind him, and looked up to see a horse made of bones looking back at him. A deep something in his own bones was worrying him again, just as it had back in the kitchen when he knew he had to walk far away and hide. Scraps just didn't quite know what it was yet.
For a long time Scraps sat by the statue and watched the things go by. That was how Scraps was thinking of them. They looked like humans, but they had no smell. And they were mostly made of bones, like the horse. Some of them were all bones. This was confusing. He felt healthy and free, as if he could run all the way around the village a hundred times and never get tired. That was a good thing. And yet, something was wrong. There were no smells. Without his nose, Scraps didn't know what to do.
"Ooh, a puppy!"
Scraps turned in the direction of the voice to find two of the human-things beside him. They were little, like children but not. One wore a suit like the one Victor had worn once upon a time. The other had long hair and clutched a toy.
"Poor puppy, did you hit by a wagon?" asked the child-thing wearing the suit. Atop its head was the sort of little hat Victor used to have, before Scraps ate it.
"Or did you accidentally eat some poison?" asked the one with the long hair.
Scraps barked once, short and shrill. To show that he was just fine, and didn't know what they meant. The little skeletons looked at one another.
"Oh, you're not fine, though," said the long-haired one sadly. This was a girl, Scraps was rather sure. He nosed at her outstretched hand as she went on, "Poor dog. You're one of us now."
"I've always wanted a puppy!" said the skeleton in the outfit like Victor's. A boy, then? He sounded so happy that it made Scraps happy, too, and his tail began to wag. It seemed to Scraps they were humans, like Victor and Mother and the girl who had helped him and all of the people in the village. Yet there was still something off, something Scraps couldn't quite figure out. One of us, the girl had said...
Suddenly Scraps realized that he could understand this little girl. Not just the bits and pieces of familiar words, not merely tones. He really understood her, without her having barked or made any dog sounds at all. This was unsettling, nearly more unsettling than the lack of smell. Could they understand him, too?
As a test, Scraps barked and yipped a message: What do you
mean, one of you? Why am I not fine? I feel good! The girl
reached down and scratched behind his ears. To his dismay, Scraps
realized he couldn't feel the scratching. Slowly his tail stopped
The girl replied, "I'm sorry, doggy, but you're dead. You died, and now you're with us in the Land of the Dead. Don't be scared, though. It's actually not too bad, once you get used to it." And she scratched his ears again.
Dead? Scraps sat and let the girl continue to scratch his head. The boy, after saying he'd be right back, ran off to one of the doorways along the square. Scraps watched him and thumped his tail against the cobblestones. Dead. He didn't know what that meant. Whatever "dead" was, at least he wasn't ill and in such pain any longer. Heartened, Scraps beat his tail even harder. Victor must be about somewhere. This place looked so similar to home...
"Here, dog!" cried the boy, running back over. The boy was waving some kind of big bone over his head. It looked a bit like an arm. Scraps leapt to his feet, nearly knocking over the girl. He gave her a swift lick of the face by way of apology before turning back to the boy. A bone! Scraps kept his eyes trained on it.
"Look, doggy! Fetch!" the boy said, and threw the bone. Scraps yipped, overjoyed. He loved this game! And he'd not played in so long. Before the bone had even landed he was off like a shot after it. It came to rest on the other side of the square, near the door of a shop. Scraps was on it the second it hit the ground. With eager jaws he snapped it up, enjoying the fact that the bone looked like it was moving. Quickly as he could he dragged it back to the skeleton children and dropped it at their feet. Scraps barked, letting them know it was time to throw again.
"Good boy!" the little skeletons said in unison. Before they could pick up the bone and throw it, though, a new voice broke in.
"Hey, now, what are you two doing with that?" asked an angry man's voice. Scraps and the children turned to see a bigger skeleton coming at them. The bone started pulling itself along the ground as the skeleton neared. They watched as the skeleton picked up the bone and waved it about. "I'm selling these, you know! Some folks need them. Aw, now look, it has all teeth marks on..."
"Sorry," said the girl.
"We just wanted to play fetch with the dog," added the boy. Scraps yipped and then sat like a good boy, watching the bone all the while. The skeleton man seemed to take in Scraps for the first time.
"A dog!" exclaimed the skeleton, all trace of anger gone. Immediately he dropped to his knee-bones and held out a skeletal hand to rub Scraps' head. "I haven't seen a dog in...a dog's age! Who's a good boy? Are you a good boy?" And he handed the bone back to Scraps, who barked his thanks and gave it a little chew.
Word of a dog in the square spread quickly. Two ladies in dresses and big hats stopped to coo over him. Scraps accepted their petting happily, and agreed that yes, he was indeed a nice little dog and a sweet little dog. An older-looking gentleman with a pipe and mustache said what a fine pup Scraps was. A large woman all in white with a big hat fussed over the sorry state of his fur, gave him a hearty pat, and then offered him a grey-green shapeless treat. Scraps ate it without tasting. Then came a tall skinny man who looked a bit like Victor. This man carried a tray with another man's head upon it.
"Ooh la la, such an adorable chien!" said the head when the skinny man held the tray down to Scraps' level. Scraps gave the head a lick on the nose, which made the head laugh so hard it nearly tipped over.
More people gathered, seeming to come from everywhere at once. Some were skeletons, some looked like the people back home, if a little sunken and strange. Most important to Scraps was that everyone seemed to love him. Everyone wanted to pet him. Everybody here, it seemed, loved him just as much as Victor had.
Victor. Scraps stopped in mid-trick, much to the groaning disappointment of the crowd. He whined, Victor's face in his mind.
"His master must still be alive," someone in the crowd said. This time, the general noise was one of sympathy. Bit by bit the people dispersed again, most of them offering Scraps one last gentle pet or two and a few kind words. Even the little skeletons eventually went on their way.
Scraps was all by himself again, sitting by the statue. He was an orphaned dog. Victor was still alive. Whatever that meant. At any rate, it was clear Victor wasn't here with him right now. Waiting for him seemed like the best idea. Surely Victor would be along. He always had been before. He'd never left Scraps alone, not once, not if he could help it. Scraps turned around three times, then curled himself on the ground, head on his paws.
"Are you waiting for someone, little dog?" asked a woman's voice. Scraps thumped his tail and lifted his head.
"I could tell by the way you look," she said, by way of explanation. "I know a little bit about waiting," she added as she sat down beside him. "Anyway, I heard there was a dog, and here you are! It's been so long since I've seen a dog, you can't imagine. Aren't you a cutie!"
Scraps liked this woman immediately. She was partly bones, but she looked like a whole person, more or less. He edged himself a little closer so that she could run her hand down his back.
"My name is Emily," she told him. Scraps tossed his head so that his collar would bounce and catch her attention. Sure enough, Emily reached and turned the medallion in her hand. She giggled and stroked his ears. "Nice to meet you, Scraps."
Scraps barked, hoping his meaning was clear: Likewise. Emily laughed again. Scraps let his tongue loll out of his mouth in his best imitation of a smile. Scraps wasn't used to hearing people laugh. He liked the sound. Carefully, hoping he wouldn't be scolded for ruining her dress, Scraps climbed onto Emily's lap and yipped.
"I bet you weren't allowed to do this at home!" she said, ruffling what fur was left on his muzzle. No, Scraps agreed. It was nice to do it now. He needed a little comfort from a nice person, as his favorite person wasn't available. Scraps curled up on Emily's lap. She seemed to sense the change in his attitude.
"Poor little thing," she soothed, petting him gently. "You must miss your owner. Would you like to tell me about him?" Scraps looked up at her and whined a little, unsure. She just gave him an encouraging smile. Overcome with a wonderful sort of feeling, Scraps stood on his hind legs and put his forepaws on Emily's shoulders. Just as he used to do with Victor when he had something very important to communicate.
In yips and in thoughts and in little barks and in tail wags, Scraps told Emily all about Victor Van Dort. How they'd been best friends for all of Scraps' life. How they'd gone for walks in the woods, how Victor had trained him with little fish, how Scraps always slept at the foot of Victor's bed. He explained how the square looked and where his favorite alleys were, and all the times he and Victor had played behind the cannery. He tried to paint the best picture he could of his kind master, the very best human he'd ever known. All the very best of his own life, and all the very best of Victor, and how wonderful the pair of them had been together.
"Oh, Scraps," said Emily when Scraps had finished and sat down again. "He sounds wonderful. What a lucky little dog you were. Victor, you said his name was?"
Scraps barked in assent, glad to know she agreed with him about Victor. Even gladder to have such a nice new friend. Emily stood, and Scraps followed, curious and eager to be up and about.
"Would you like to go for a walk?" she asked. "I'll show you my favorite places here. Perhaps we can even find you a bone or two. It will be fun!"
Fun sounded fun to Scraps. He yipped and turned about in a circle, and then he and Emily set off together across the square.