Authors: Philippa Dowding
Myles had more to worry about.
The monster was out there, calling his name. But a golden dog was out there, too. How did it get there? There were no farmhouses around. It was funny, but thinking about the dog helped Myles take his mind off the monster.
Bea put her book away, turned off her little book light, and closed her eyes. Their mother found a radio station and turned it down low. Although he didn't want it to, the whispery sound of country music lulled Myles. The
of the wipers made his eyes heavy.
He put his head against the window, determined not to sleep â¦ and woke with a start.
He'd had a dream about the dog. It was running along beside the car, trying to tell him something. He sat up straight and wiped a little drool off his cheek.
“Try to go back to sleep,” his mother whispered. Myles sat up and looked at the clock on the dash. One forty-five.
In the morning.
He'd slept for almost an hour.
“Mom, can you turn up the heat? It's freezing in here.” Cold rain pounded on the windshield. His mother turned the heat up high. Bea's head lolled gently against the window. He peeked over at Norman, who was snoring under his Spiderman sleeping bag. Norman's teddy bear stared at Myles with black plastic eyes.
The road stretched out ahead. Rain darted into the headlights.
Nothing. There is nothing out there. Just a dog.
And then â¦
â¦ a man in a long coat loomed out of the darkness at the side of the road. He looked right at Myles.
“MOM! STOP! MOM!” His mother screeched on the brakes and pulled over to the side of the road.
“What! What is it now, Myles? Is it the dog again?” she asked, looking out the back window.
“There's a man over there.” Myles pointed. His finger shook. There WAS a man standing at the side of the road, no denying it this time. He was bathed in an eerie glow from the red lights of the car.
“You see him, right?” Myles asked, suddenly worried.
“Yes, I see him,” his mother said. She peered out the back window a moment longer then moved to open the door.
“Mom! No!” Myles tried to stop her.
Don't go outside! The monster is out there!
“Whuss going on?” Bea asked, mumbly from sleep.
“There's a man over there!” Myles pointed.
Bea rubbed her eyes and adjusted her glasses. “Is this another of your fantasies, Myles?”
“NO! He's right there!” Myles said loudly.
Please see him, Bea!
His mom went to open the door again, and Myles leaned over and grabbed her arm.
“Mom! Don't go out there! Please!”
“Myles, what's gotten in to you? A lost dog that no one but you saw is one thing, a person lost out here in the rain and the dark is another.” His mother opened the door and stepped onto the road. The cold air and rain blew into the car like a cloud.
Myles looked at Bea and shook his head.
“Don't go out there!” he pleaded, but Bea just laughed.
“Gee, little brother, it's just a guy. Come on, if you're so worried, you can help protect us.” Bea opened her door and stepped out into the darkness.
Myles took a peek at Norman, who was fast asleep. He had no choice but to follow his mother and sister outside. He opened his door and cautiously walked to the back of the car. He DID NOT look toward the fields all around them; instead he kept his eyes down. Rain spluttered onto their uncovered heads while Victor roared and chugged behind them.
There's nothing out there! Just look at your feet!
The man stood, half-hidden in darkness beside the black fields. He wore a long, dark coat and a bright red scarf. The rain fell onto his peaked hat.
“Hello, sir?” Myles's mother called. Bea and Myles stood beside her. It was raining harder and a little windy now, so Myles wasn't sure if the man heard them.
But he did. Very slowly the man turned and smiled at them. He was elderly, with a white moustache.
He started to walk toward them. It was weird, but Myles thought he looked almost like he was â¦ floating. He wondered if the man was a ballet dancer when he was younger. He was the most graceful old person he'd ever seen.
“Sir, are you okay?” Myles's mother called into the dark, but the man didn't answer them.
“Sir! Do you need help? Are you lost?” Myles's mother took her phone out of her pocket and held it up. “I have a phone! Do you need me to call for help?” But again he didn't answer.
He moved toward them along the dark, wet pavement. The rain spattered onto his raincoat and his rich leather shoes. Myles noticed the man didn't look soaking wet, not as wet as he should. Maybe he hadn't been out there very long?
Myles moved closer to his mother. Bea moved closer to Myles and took his hand. He squeezed her hand back.
This was creepy. The man walked closer, close enough for them to see his face. He grinned, and Myles drew back. The man's eyes looked strange, glowing red from the lights of the car.
Then the man spoke in a funny, faraway voice. “Thank you for stopping! I'm afraid I've lost my dog. Have you seen him?”
Myles felt his heart slow down a little. Maybe he was just a nice old man looking for his dog?
Out for a walk in the middle of nowhere, in the pouring rain, at two o'clock in the morning?
The man smiled again. It was an odd smile, like it didn't get an outing very often. Now that he was closer, Myles thought the man looked weird. Out of place. His coat, his shoes, even his hat all seemed wrong somehow. His mother answered.
“A dog? Why, yes! Yes! We did see a dog. Well, I didn't, but my son saw a dog, about an hour ago.” She sounded relieved. “Right, Myles?”
“Y-yes â¦ it was golden,” Myles answered. “A big golden dog.” He wanted to add,
he was glowing, and he pricked up his ears and wagged his tail at me
, but he didn't. For some reason that seemed like it was private, just for him.
“Yes, that's him! Was he okay?” the strange man called back. There was definitely something wrong with his voice. He sounded too far away, like he was talking to them through a door.
Maybe it's the wind?
Myles shrugged. “He seemed okay, I didn't see him for long,” he called out.
The old man nodded and turned away. “I'm sure I'll find him, then! Sorry to have troubled you,” he said.
“I'd love to help you look for him, but I'm afraid my children and I are in a hurry,” his mother called out into the rain.
“Oh, no need. I'll keep looking for him myself. If you saw him, I'm sure I'll find him any minute now.” The old man turned to head back down the highway.
Myles's mother hesitated. The rain suddenly fell a little harder. The cold April wind whipped into their faces.
“Sir! It's two o'clock in the morning, and pouring rain! Are you sure you don't want me to drop you off back at home? You can look for your dog tomorrow?” She was shouting into the darkness now. The man had almost disappeared down the highway.
Myles could tell his mother didn't really want to pick up a stranger. She didn't really want to make room in the back seat between him and Norman for this old man. But there was something about him that seemed lost.
Very, very lost.
The man stopped and turned back to look at them. He didn't smile this time.
“Oh no, I'm afraid I have to find my dog tonight. He's very precious, you see. His name is Courage. He is always there when I need him, I can't lose him now. I don't want to trouble you, madam. You and your children look like you've driven a long way. You just get back into your automobile and head along. If you want, you could tell them at the next gas depot that you saw Pete Fournette out looking for his lost dog. They'll know what to do.”
Gas depot? Does that mean gas station?
Myles's mother nodded. “Okay, if you're sure you don't want a ride? Okay, we'll do that. We'll stop at the next gas depot â¦ station â¦ and tell them Pete Fournette is looking for his dog. Courage. Take care. Be careful!” Myles's mother shouted that last sentence at the old man's retreating back.
He raised his leather-gloved hand in a backward wave. Then he disappeared over the ditch into the dark field.
“Mom, that was weird,” Myles whispered. Bea was still holding his hand. He didn't even mind.
His mother nodded as they got back into the car. At the sound of the door, Norman mumbled, “Whazzz happnin'?” but he didn't wake up. He drifted back to sleep, clutching his teddy bear and his truck.
Myles did NOT want Norman to wake up. Not now. He couldn't handle loud singing about the letter C! C! C! at the moment. Or any seat-kicking. Plus, if Norman woke up, he'd most likely have to pee, and who knew how long that would take? Myles just wanted to get out of there.
“Yeah, weird is definitely the word for what that was. We'll stop at the next gas station and tell them.” Myles's mother pulled Victor back onto the empty highway.
Click. Click. Click. Click.
For the first time in four days, Myles's mother locked all the car doors and he didn't even have to ask.
MYSTERY ON THE WALL
tried to relax, but he couldn't. The rain, the darkness, the dog, the man â¦
â¦ the monster out there â¦
His eyes flickered to the car window and the dark, misty fields beyond.
What was the old man doing out in the middle of nowhere, at two o'clock in the morning, looking for his dog?
It must be a really special dog. And what if the old man saw
out there? Myles shuddered. As spooky and weird as the old man was, he couldn't wish the red-eyed monster on him.
Bea was fast sleep. Norman, too. Myles knew he was never going to sleep, possibly ever again. He shifted around in his seat. He stared at the ceiling.
Then he blurted out, “Mom â¦ do you think that old man will find his dog?”
“I don't know, Myles. You saw the dog â¦ I don't see why not.” She answered in a distant voice, which meant she wasn't really listening.
“Well,” Myles went on, “how do you think the old man got onto the road? He wasn't wet and he had no car.â¦” He trailed off.
But his mother wasn't in the mood for talking. “Not now, Myles, please,” she begged. She shushed him and put the radio on low. Myles closed his eyes.
I sure hope that dog is okay. And the old man. I hope they find each other.
It was getting crowded with things to worry about outside the car.
, the rain pattered against the glass, the radio crackled and hissed â¦ then Myles woke with a jolt. When did he fall asleep? His mom was pulling Victor-the-Volvo into an all-night gas station and diner. The car slowed down, and the tires rumbled on the soft gravel. It was bright, too bright. The neon lights above the gas pumps were glaring and weird after all the darkness of the road and the empty fields.
A sign beside the gas pump said, “Welcome to Fleshington.”
Fleshington? What kind of creepy name is that for a town? Whose flesh?
Myles rubbed his eyes and looked over at the car clock: 2:31 a.m. He was only asleep for fifteen minutes. Would this stupid night never end? He was beginning to think that Nobleville didn't really exist and they were on some endless drive in a scary movie. The kind where no one ever gets anywhere, and it's always nighttime. And raining.
â¦ with a monster outside â¦ stop it!
His mom parked in front of the tiny restaurant next to the gas station and turned off the engine. Victor rattled and sighed to silence. The sudden quiet hurt Myles's head.
“Mom, are you sure that was smart? Turning off Victor? What if he doesn't start again?” Myles asked. Bea stretched and yawned.
“We're in a gas station, Myles. They fix cars here. If Victor won't start after we eat, then we wait a few hours until the sun comes up and the mechanic comes to work. No problem.” She sounded tired.
“I need a cup of coffee. The car needs some gas. Since you're both awake, we might as well eat something, too.” Myles's mother and sister opened their doors and stepped outside. Cold, clean air hit him inside the car like a slap. He took a deep breath. He'd almost gotten used to the stink of chocolate milk, peanut butter, and eau-de-Norman.
Myles didn't want to move. He really didn't. But he could see that he had no choice. He took a deep breath, opened his door, and joined his mother and sister. He tried not to look across the road into the dark fields. He didn't need any red eyes or voices in his head, thank you.
But nothing happened. The rain fell lightly. The bright light from the restaurant sign hurt his eyes. His mom undid Norman's seatbelt and slung him over her shoulder like a tired sack of potatoes. Norman didn't even wake up.
Norman's truck smashed onto the gravel at their feet. Myles stared at it for moment then picked it up and tossed it into the back seat with Norman's bear.
A pickup truck pulled into the station as their mother locked the car.
“SQUAWK! Cluck, cluck, cluck.” There were dozens of chickens in the back of the truck, huddled against the cold and rain. A man got out of the truck and walked into the diner ahead of them.
The wet chickens squawked.
Glad I'm not a chicken!
Bea, Myles, his mother, and his sack-of-potatoes-brother entered the diner. It was old and well used. A slow fan whirled around the ceiling. Every table or counter was either chipped or sticky with coffee cake crumbs.
Classy it was not.
It might have been the weird greenish light. It might have been the fact that it was two thirty in the morning. Or it might have been because he was
outside, but Myles thought the place looked unfriendly.
The man from the chicken truck sat at the counter. The waitress went over and took his order. Myles's mom plopped Norman into a corner booth like a ragdoll. Norman still didn't wake up. Myles had a pang of jealousy. He suddenly wished HE was four years old, too â then maybe none of this stupid horrible car trip would matter. He could sleep through the whole thing like Norman.
His mom slid in next to Norman and took off her coat. Bea pushed in beside Myles. Everyone looked tired and grumpy. Except Norman, of course, he just looked like an angel.
Myles was suddenly worried at how they must look. His mom was bleary and mussed up. Norman was covered in smeared peanut butter. Bea was pale and her eyes looked huge and bug-like under her glasses. Myles didn't even want to know what he looked like. A beast of some sort, with red eyes.
No wonder the Chicken Truck Man and the waitress kept glancing over at them. Myles and his family were hideous.
The waitress walked over to their booth. She was wearing brightly coloured clothes. She was
bright. She made Myles nervous.
“Hi! What can I get you folks?” she said too loudly, then popped her chewing gum.
Weird. Who chews gum at two thirty in the morning?
Myles's mom looked up and smiled weakly. “Yes, sorry, we must look dreadful. We've been driving all night off the ferry. We've actually been on the road for four days, and we're trying to make it to our new house before morning.” She smiled again, trying to be polite.
“Oh, you folks must be tired! You need some coffee, right away!” The waitress popped her gum and twirled around. She was too happy, too full of energy, to be real. Myles laid his head on the table. Odd how he couldn't sleep in the car, but he felt like he could sleep in the diner just fine. The waitress came back and poured their mother a cup of coffee.
“Now, what can I getcha?” she smiled.
“A grilled cheese sandwich and fries for me, please.” His mother yawned. Myles ordered the same thing. So did Bea.
No one spoke. When the food came, Myles, his sister, and mother ate in total silence, staring straight ahead. Norman slept on. The rain grew louder. It poured onto the pavement outside the diner as the little fan turned slowly above their heads. Outside, the wet chickens squawked in the back of their truck.
As Myles ate, he couldn't shake the feeling that everything outside the car was connected. There was something terrible following them, he knew it. There was a lost dog and a wander-ing old man with nowhere to be out there, too. And now miserable chickens.
What was real? What wasn't? Myles was too tired to know the difference.
The only thing he DID know is that he wanted to BE somewhere. But where? He didn't want to be in Nobleville â that wasn't home. He really just wanted to go back to his
home. His old home. But that was impossible.
home now? What was it going to be like if they finally got there?
He suddenly wasn't very hungry. He pushed his plate away.
“Mom, I'm going to the bathroom,” he said. He climbed over Bea and slid out of the booth. He needed some space, somewhere away from his family for a few minutes. He wandered along a dark, cramped hallway to the bathroom. He didn't really have to go. Instead, he looked at himself in the cracked little bathroom mirror.
He looked bad. His hair was plastered to his face. His skin was green â¦ was it the light? He stuck his tongue out â¦ and even his tongue looked weird.
What's wrong with me? I look like a monster, all I need are red eyes!
STOP IT! You have to get a grip on yourself. Go and finish your food.
On his way back to the booth, Myles stopped. And stared. An old picture hung on the wall. Myles got closer and peered.
He rubbed his eyes.
He stood in front of the picture and stared harder. It was old. It was so old that you almost couldn't see the black-and-white image because it was so faded. Myles put his face right up to the picture. The frame was greasy with age, but if you looked hard enough you could see the photograph: an old man with a moustache and a scarf sat in an old-fashioned car. Beside him sat a beautiful dog. Underneath were the words, “Pete Fournette and his dog, Courage.”
!” Myles whispered.
He let his eyes drift further down the photograph. At the very bottom was a faint pencilled date: April 1908.
Over one hundred years ago