It was a sunny yet chilly October day in the small seaside town of Hogan’s Gap, California, and Halloween was still three weeks away. Green, black, orange and purple autumn decor lined the windows and walls of the rows of old false-fronted stores and colorful Victorian houses.
In one large, old mansion near the summit of Main Street, Gwen Barry was feeling lazy and content. She had just finished her homework, and now waited for her parents to get back from a baby shower. To pass the time, she started reading one of her many favorite Gothic-horror mysteries written by John Bellairs. So absorbed was she in this literary masterpiece that she did not hear the patio door open nor the pitter-patter of small footsteps approaching.
“Gwen, do cows climb trees?”
The tall, skinny girl of thirteen looked up reluctantly. She had a slightly upturned nose and blonde hair, cut pixie-style short, which looked almost white in the afternoon sunlight shining through the living room windows. The pint-sized questioner regarded Gwen with a pair of wide hazel eyes. She had a freckled, turned-up button of a nose and light-brown, curly hair badly in need of a trim. She was dressed in faded denim overalls and a striped sweater.
Mystified, Gwen looked at her little sister, Paulie. “Huh?”
“Do… cows… climb… trees?” the six-year-old stubbornly repeated with annoying loudness.
Gwen studied the fidgeting munchkin for a moment. “Okay, first off, no they can’t,” she stated firmly, “not unless the tree in question is really tilted and they’re just standing on the trunk, and that’s walking, not climbing. If the tree is smaller than the cows then they’re trampling it. Also, why are you asking me this question? Did you really see a cow climbing a tree?”
“Yes,” replied Paulie brightly.
Gwen raised her eyebrows a tad. “And where did you see this particular cow?” Her little sister wasn't one for telling tall tales, even though she believed in fairies, magical worlds, the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus. She wasn’t the only one that believed in that ridiculous stuff, a lot of people around here believed it and not just little kids. Gwen, on the other hand, considered herself a sensible realist and saw it as her sworn duty to provide Paulie with explanations based on science and reason instead of magic and folklore.
Hmm, probably just saw a stray goat, Gwen brusquely thought. Not at all surprising since five houses down from them, the people there raised spotted boer goats for milk and show. Occasionally, the goats would get out of their fenced enclosure, and would wreak havoc on the surrounding gardens and landscaping.
Being the naive little kindergartner that she was, Pauline probably thought a spotted goat was a miniature cow. Either that or she needed to get her eyes examined.
“In a dream,” answered Pauline. She swept her small arms wide. “They were big—big horns and big feet… and they were colored like chocolate chip cookies.”
“Hmm,” Gwen looked nonchalantly up at the ceiling and shrugged. “And these cow cookies chased you up a tree?”
Paulie rapidly shook her head causing her wispy locks to fly around. “Not cookies,” she insisted, “they were cows.” She frowned. “They kept licking me so I climbed a tree, but they climbed up and kept licking my feet, and Melivina and Garred didn’t help me one bit!” Melvina and Garred were Paulie’s imaginary pixie friends, and they sounded just as annoying.
Gwen frowned and wrinkled her nose thoughtfully. “I think you need some new friends,” she turned back to her book and flipped a page. “Ones that would keep you from becoming a human salt lick.”
Paulie nodded glumly. Lately, Melvina and Garred were becoming quite useless. They just sat around talking and holding hands rather than help her with stuff. If there was an actual place like the one on that Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends show, she’d exchanged her so-called “friends” for brand new ones. Maybe even get a big purple monster like Eduardo. She thought Eduardo was cute despite being so scared of almost everything.
“We need a dog,” Pauline muttered, looking imploringly at her. “Something big that will keep the burglars and boogers away.”
“I think you mean bogies," Gwen grumbled, wishing for the conversation to just end so she could get back to her reading.
The issue of the dog had come several times before at dinner, and the answer was always the same.
"Why can’t we have a dog?” Paulie wanted to know.
“Please Mummy? Pretty please with peaches and cherries on top?”
“Ahhh, but Mom!”
“Sweetie, we have been over this before,” Mom told her firmly. “If we get a dog, you would have to take care of it. I am convinced that you are not mature enough to be responsible for a pet. I remember your pet turtle that starved to death and a certain bowl of goldfish that were found floating belly up one morning.”
“We have a cat,” Paulie insisted.
Dad shook his head. “Freeloading slacker is more like it.” He taught Science at the nearby high school, and entertained the family endlessly with stories of terrible slacker students. “Best get a pet rock, a pet like that doesn't require any maintenance, plus if you ever get tired of it, you can always use it as a paperweight or doorstop.”
"I don’t want a pet rock,” Paulie pouted. “I want a dog!”
“Why not get one of those small dogs—a Peke or a Chihuahua?” Gwen suggested.
“I don’t want a sissy wimp dog!” Paulie whined, folding her arms. “I want a burly dog!”
Then Mom stepped in with her straightforward lawyer talk, and listed a catalog of reasons of why they shouldn't have a dog—the time-consuming project for caring for such a pet, the veterinary expenses, boarding, top-quality food and toys that would take a huge bite out of the finances. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, a large dog’s well being would cost about $780. Then there was the constantly chewing on things; the odor, not to mention the huge, brown, smelly “presents” such a pet would leave behind. Hogan’s Gap happened to have very strict laws against dog piles littering the pristine landscape, by the way.
Paulie played her ace, the anguished rebuttals, and the orphan puppy look with eyes welling and sniffles starting.
Eventually Mom would sigh, having run out of anti-puppy excuses and decide to play her final card, “How about some strawberry ice cream?”
At the very mention of her favorite dessert, Paulie’s eyes would light up, and the Puppy Campaign would be momentarily forgotten… until the week later.
“Gwen,” A pair of perfect brown eyes pleaded up at her.
“Hmm,” Gwen replied wearily, turning away.
“About the dog.”
With a shrug, her sister said, “Well, that’s up to Mom and Dad… If they ever do come home.” Wonder why they go to these things in the first place? It’s not even our relatives! Must be some kind of New Age Hippy thing.
“But Mom and Dad always say ‘No!’”
Gwen was about to say, “Well tough, that’s how life is!” when she suddenly head a commotion from outside—shoes slapping and loud screams. Looking out the window facing the street she spotted five kids running by on the sidewalk. Four she recognized from her first period French class, Irene Dawson, Jeffery Maher and his much skinnier twin sister Ethel, Thomas Lutz, the fifth kid she didn’t know too well, just that her name was Midori Sayuko and she recently moved here from L. A.
Frowning, Gwen wondered what their hurry was. They all looked like frightened deer being chased by something large, scary and fierce. She wondered if that something was Bret Fowler, the meanest and most sadistic kid in all of Laurie Brant Middle School.
“Gweeeennn,” a small hand tugged hard at her cashmere sleeve. “Gwen-dol-yn?”
Reluctantly, Gwen turned back from the window. “Yes, Paulie?” She hated it when people used her full name, especially her little sister.
“Are we ever going to get a dog?” Paulie wanted to know.
Her sister snorted, Yeah, like when hell freezes over. But instead she said in the sweetest tone she could muster without gagging. “Maybe if you wish really hard enough then maybe, just maybe, the Great Pumpkin Fairy will rise out of her pumpkin patch and fly through the air in her magical pumpkin canoe and grant your wish.”
“Reeeally?” Paulie was in round-eyed wonder.
Gwen nodded and grinned before continuing. “Yes, but first…” she tapped Paulie gently on her cute button nose, “you have to be really, really quiet and not bother Big Sis while she’s reading.”
“Oo-kay,” Paulie promised before scurrying out into the backyard.
Gwen heaved a big sigh of relief. Thank Science she doesn't remember that Charlie Brown special. Littlel twerp reminds me of Linus in her unwavering belief in those fairy tale type role models.
She had just barely halfway read through the first paragraph, when Paulie came thundering in.
“Gweney! Gweney! I found a doggie!” she hollered.
“Nuh-huh!” Gwen shut her book and gave Paulie a pained look.
“Uh-huh!” Paulie declared.
“Well, where is it then?” said Gwen, getting irritably to her feet.
Paulie promptly pointed at the opened patio door. “Riiight over theeere!”
Gwen stared. Her eyes got as wide as boulder marbles. Icy goose bumps prickled her skin from head to foot
Standing in the doorway was a shaggy dog the size of a small donkey. It had very sharp and pearly-white teeth. There was something strange about its greenish eyes, a suggestion of insanity and dark despair.
Gwen couldn't move; she was riveted to the spot. Frantic messages in her brain told her to turn away, to grab Paulie and run, but her feet wouldn't respond. Instead, her gaze was riveted on the beast as it padded slowly into the room. Although it rained heavily that morning, the thick shaggy coat was bone-dry and its wide paws left no wet or muddy prints to mar the wooden floor.
With excruciating slowness, it padded over to Gwen and stared up at her with pupiless glowing eyes. It curled its black lips back, revealing two rows of long, gleaming teeth like a set bear trap.
“See!” Paulie exclaimed. “See him smile, Gwen? That means he likes you!”
“Oh crap,” croaked Gwen.
(C) by mmpratt99 2015