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Rated: E · Short Story · Young Adult · #1576427
A young girl encounters a big stray dog.
The Dog Around the Corner

I stole the dog around the corner when I was eight years old.  My mother used to tell me we won him, but that’s not entirely true because Zeus (nee Barker) eventually stole my heart and became my very best friend – ever.  And, I his.

You see, it took me a little while to become best friends with the big black beast.  That is what he was to me when I first encountered him.  He was my scary nuisance to getting to my piano lessons down the road at Miss Jordan’s house.  It wasn’t a very long walk, maybe ten minutes if I skipped or walked really fast.  Mom wouldn’t let me take my red bike because Dad usually picked me up on his way home from work.  I was so happy to see that blue car pull up in front of Miss Jordan’s house on lesson day.  I’d get in the car and Dad would give me a big hug and always ask, “How is my Liberace, today?”

I didn’t know what a Liberace was at the time, but I usually responded with something like, “I learned Three Blind Mice.”  And then we would sing it all the when home.

On the day that summer was over, it was all gray and misty outside, and mom made me wear the yellow slicker and rain boots to piano class.  When I looked in the hall mirror after Mom tied the yellow rain hat on me, I looked like a plastic banana.  I hiked on my backpack and picked up a big red apple for Miss Jordan then skipped through puddles until I rounded the corner where the weeping willow lived. 

The tree dwarfed the modest ranch style home with faded brown paint that was scabbed away in places, and the really “old people” lived here.  Mom said they were the Johnson’s.  I guess they were nice people, but I really didn’t see them much at all. The front yard was nearly grassless from the shade of the tree.  The majestic willow tree was dense with branches and whips of leaves that hung like curtains to the ground and hid the thick trunk.  There was a splash of potted yellow mums on the front step.

I heard the pounding sound of thunder before I actually saw the black beast running full out toward me from under the willow tree.  Then the mad barking echoed in my ears and I smelled my own fear.  Stunned and unable to move, my brain screamed:  DANGER DANGER - RUN FOR YOUR LIFE - MOMMY!

His head was the size of a volleyball.  Just as it leaped into the air to jump the privet hedges, I lobbed the apple over his head.  As he took off from his leap, he caught sight of the apple and rotated himself around and ran after the apple that was rolling back toward the mysterious confines of the willow tree.

I bolted and ran like the wind the three houses to Miss Jordan’s.  Huffing and puffing, I opened the front door without knocking, but not before looking behind me – fully expecting the dog to be nipping at my heels.  “Miss Jordan,” I cried.

She came running from the kitchen wide-eyed with bewilderment.  “What happened?  Are you hurt?”  She cupped my face in her hands and said sternly, “Hayley, tell me what’s going on!”

I spilled my guts about the big black beast and how it was ready to attack me.  I blubbered and hiccupped as I retold the whole traumatic event.

“But Hayley, that can’t be real,” Miss Jordan said.  I could hardly believe my ears, but I adamantly insisted it was all true.

“What I mean is, Mrs. Johnson passed away a few days ago, and her husband is in a nursing home,” replied Miss Jordan.  “And, their dog went to live with the Johnson’s son.”

“Well, maybe he came back.”  I felt sure I was right.

Miss Jordan took my hand and led me into the kitchen where she removed my backpack and rain hat.  She told me to sit at the table and poured me a glass of orange juice, which I drank down in three gulps.

“Do you want me to call your mother?”  She said.

I shook my head.  I felt calmer and safe now.

We finally practiced at the piano and I forgot about the beast temporarily.  I learned Mary Had A little Lamb that day and that’s what Dad and I sang on the way home.  I never mentioned the dog story to my parents that night at dinner.  Instead, I told them that Mrs. Johnson had dropped-dead.  Miss Jordan had explained what “passed-away” meant.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, I watched Homeward Bound and Beethoven.  I wanted to learn more about dogs.  We only had magic hat rabbits and some canaries.  Mom worked as a party planner and performed magic at children’s parties; the birds were for theme events.  The rabbits were just soft, fluffy, and pooping pets.  Although, sometimes Jasper growled, so mom didn’t use him for the hat tricks anymore because he was just an ornery old geezer.

At school, I asked my best friend, Amy, about dogs.  She loved dogs, but her dog was already old when she was born and had died some years ago, but she had happy memories, such as, being a mutt named Roscoe who used to lick food from her face.

Thursday came and I had my piano lesson.  As I stuffed my music sheets into my backpack, I thought about the beast.  “Mom, what should I do if I see a big dog?” I quizzed.

“Well, that depends,” she said as she smoothed back my ponytail and retied the ribbon that matched my new pink sneakers.  “Why?  Are you afraid of big dogs?”  Mom always answers questions with more questions.

I shrugged.  I wasn’t sure, so I grabbed two apples just in case.  On this day, as I cautiously rounded the corner, I held my breath.  My eyes searched the front yard beyond the privet hedges for the beast.  I walked sideways and then backwards as I passed the house keeping an eye out for rustling in the willow, or thunderous hoofs beating the ground, and I listened for barking.  Nothing.  Nothing at all, but I rolled an apple through a small space in the privet hedges just in case. I skipped the rest of the way to Miss Jordan’s and had a fun lesson.  I learned Row Row Row Your Boat.

On Sunday, Mom cooked up a big meal because my aunt, uncle and cousin Chrissy came to visit.  To my surprise, Chrissy brought a little white dog with her.  She called it a Westie and her name was Princess.  Chrissy was so proud of Princess and that she had received it for her tenth birthday.  I was a little envious; I only had magic hat rabbits that really did not perform any magic, and some canaries that chirped in cages.  They were pleasant enough, but not very exciting. 

Princess looked so cute with her rhinestone studded collar and pink leash.  She had a dog that wore jewelry.  That was so cool.  Princess delighted us with some tricks she had learned.  She could roll over on command, do a back flip, and sit up and beg.  Uncle Ed laughed and said, “Any dog will sit up and beg if they know they’ll get a treat,” and of course, Chrissy always gave her dog a treat.

While the adults visited, mom said it was alright to take Princess for a walk to the corner and back.  We loaded our pockets with treats for Princess, and fastened the fancy pink leash to her ornate collar and walked down Lexington Lane.  However, Princess was not a very good walker.  She weaved in around our legs, sometimes causing us to trip to avoid stepping on her.  She wondered off the sidewalk onto the curb and probably would have gone out further into the street if her leash allowed.  With a slight tug, Chrissy would get Princess back on the sidewalk. 

Before we knew it we were almost around the corner and then I heard the thundering sound of hoofs racing to the privet hedge.  I stopped cold.  It was Chrissy who saw the black beast first and then turned to look at me as if to ask “What now?”

Princess started barking and jumping.  “It’s coming,” screamed Chrissy and dropped the little dog’s leash.  The black beast cleared the privet hedge and landed with a thud on all fours.  By this time Princess was in the middle of the street yapping and running in circles.  The black beast looked back and forth from Princess to us, as if deciding who he was going to devour first.

I watched speechless trying to decide what to do next.  The black beast was panting but sort of smiling, I thought.  He came toward us and Chrissy went all crazy screaming some more, clinging to me like a drowning victim.  I shook her off and dug into my pockets for the dog treats and threw them on the ground.  The beast gobbled them up in a second and looked up at me as if searching for more.  Then he turned his attention to Princess who was still in the street and now growling at the beast.

“Hayley, do something before he eats, Princess,” sobbed Chrissy.

The beast stepped off the curb and slowly walked toward growling Princess.  He circled the little white dog and then totally surprised me by picking up the loop to the pink leash and guided the dog back to where I stood just as a car turned the corner.  Had Princess still been in the street she could have been hit.  The beast let go of the leash and sat.  “Chrissy, give me your dog treats.”

Chrissy shoved them into my hand and I laid them down on the ground and at the same time picked up Princess’s leash and handed her off to Chrissy.  Before that act was done the treats were gone and so was the beast.

Chrissy was already running back to my house with Princess in her arms.  I shouted for her to wait, but she kept on going.  I looked up and down the lane in search of the beast, and peered over the privet hedge, and then toward the weeping willow tree.  The black beast had disappeared.

I hurried back home to find Chrissy blubbering out her story and sounding like a basket case.  She kept sobbing that a big dog almost ate Princess.  All eyes turned toward me for confirmation of this unbelievable story.  I explained it rationally and differently than Chrissy did and emphasized that the dog did indeed jump over the hedges, but did nothing more than startle us and saved Princess from being hit by a car.

Chrissy finally calmed down long enough to admit she was mostly scared for little Princess, who by this time was asleep on a chair near a sunny window.  Her jewelry glistened while the little white dog snored.

Later, after our company had left, Dad asked more questions about the beast.  I finally confessed what I had experienced, but that after today I had a different insight about the dog.  Dad was convinced we should find out more.  I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant by that, but it had been a long day and I still had to feed the magic hat rabbits and party canaries.  I also wished to have a dog.

On Monday, Mom was not so sure I should walk to piano classes and was determined to drive me.  Just as I was ready to leave, the phone rang and Mom got involved in event planner business, so I waved to her and grabbed a ripe apple from the green bowl.  I walked down the street and shined up the apple by rubbing it on my blue jeans.  I liked to give Miss Jordan an apple whenever I could.  She always smiled and said thank you, but the last time I looked she had three lined up on her kitchen counter.

I rounded the corner with expectation.  I scanned up and down the lane for the black beast, peeked over the privet hedge for him, then searched longingly toward the mysterious willow tree and its tangle of branches that blocked any view into its inter-sanctum.  All was quiet, and I felt slightly disappointed.  With a sigh, I rolled the apple through an opening in the hedges…and that is when the bad thing happened.

I whirled around at the sound of screeching tires, a soft thud, and then the sound of whimpering.

Miss Jordan had heard me screaming bloody murder was at my side in a flash, and already dialed up my mom.  Soon enough she was driving her car around the corner and we helped poor black beast into the back seat and drove to our vet.

“The good news,” the vet said, “his front paw was cut up, but it is not broken.  I got him cleaned up and bandaged.  He is fine and with a little rest will be good as new.”

That is all I had to hear.  I was thrilled.  Mom kept talking to the vet doctor and the rest was blah blah blah to me.  “Mom, can we take him home now?”  I was anxious to take care of Zeus, yes, I gave him a name.  He was mine now.  I found him. 

Mom frowned at me and tried to explain that he had tags on and he belonged to someone else.  She was going to call the owner and let them know his dog was injured.  Mom made the call from the vet hospital and a very short time later a man came and said he was the owner of the black dog that was hurt in an accident.  I sat crying in the waiting room with dogs and cats waiting to see the doctor.  Mom and the strange man continued talking for awhile and both of them kept looking over at me.  Finally, the nurse brought out Zeus, he limped a little bit, but when he saw me he forcefully hobbled toward me and nuzzled his big head into my lap.  I kissed his big fat head.

It turns out the man was the son of the old couple who had lived in the house around the corner.  He owned the dog now, but did not have the means to take care of him properly so he was trying to sell the dog to a good home because he was always wandering away and returning to his old home.  He said he was mine now, and that I was getting him for a steal.

I looked over at Mom who nodded in agreement.  I think Zeus knew what was going on because he started licking my face and slobbering all over me.

Zeus has been with me for a long time.  His face is mostly white now, and he has a bit of arthritis, but he has been my best friend, ever.  He waits for me everyday looking for me out the window from my house when I get off the bus from high school, sleeps by my bed all night and even will catch a ball now and then.  Best of all, he sits at the piano and listens to me practice my Liberace tunes.

And that is how I stole the dog from around the corner.

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