Authors: Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Action & Adventure - General, #Juvenile Fiction, #Children: Grades 4-6, #Dogs, #Animals - Dogs, #Children's Audio - 9-12, #Children's audiobooks, #Social Issues - General, #Audio: Juvenile, #Kindness
those dogs got hold of it and broke its neck. I reckon Mrs. Donaldson buried it back in her private cemetery with the rest of the Donaldson. Don't know how many of 'em were cats.
Fred Niles heard that it was the man who'd got in a fistfight with Judd down in Bens Run who went up there and turned those dogs loose while Judd was at work, but I don't know that anyone could prove it.
David Howard's imagination gets going, though, it just never stops. After he got on the bus and heard the story about Mrs. Donaldson's cat and Dara Lynn's arm and the man from Bens Run, he says, "If those dogs snatched up a cat, they could snatch up a baby."
"What baby?" I say.
David shrugs. "Any baby! I'm just saying they could. What if someone put a baby out in a carriage and when they came back it was gone? If we hear of any baby missing, I'll bet Judd's dogs took it."
By the time that bus rolls into the driveway at school, we have cats missing, babies missing, girls with their arms torn clear off their bodies, and a whole pack of men from Bens Run all out lookin' for Judd Travers.
I'm still thinking about Judd's dogs, though. Wonder if once they start running in a pack like that and get a taste of blood, you can really change 'em. I'd like to put that in my report if I could, so when I get home from school I call John Collins.
I have to wait for him to come to the phone, his assistant tells me, 'cause he's working on a dog with a snake bite. But when he answers, I ask him about pack dogs, and can even a dog as mean as that be changed? How would a vet go about doing that?
"It's harder," says the vet, "but I've seen it done. What
you have to do, once you separate the dogs, is work with them one at a time. Sometimes when a dog is really mean and hiding out somewhere, you start by leaving food where he can reach it. He may not take it right away, but by and by he'll get hungry. Once he starts accepting your food, he'll listen for the sound of your voice and get to know you. And after he learns to trust you, he'll let you pet him. Just takes time. You have to be patient."
I thank John Collins and put it all in my report.
Since the whole class is still talking about Judd at school the next day, Miss Talbot asks us the difference between truth and gossip.
Truth, she says, is what you see with your own eyes and hear with your own ears. Gossip you get secondhand. Gossip may or may not be true, because it's coming to you from another person. It could even be half true, with parts left out now and then, and little extras tacked on to give it flavor.
I think about that a while, and then I figure there's another difference: truth's more important, but gossip's more interesting.
David Howard and me both get good grades on our reports because we actually talked to a forest ranger and a veterinarian.
When the bell rings for recess, though, Miss Talbot says, "Marty, I wonder if I could see you for a few minutes?" What can you say but yes, so after everyone else goes
out to play kickball, I got to sit over at the reference table where Miss Talbot's waiting for me.
After I sit down I see that she has my report in front of her, and there are big red circles all over it. She don't look mad, though.
"Marty," she says, "you and I come from the same kind of families, where the talk is slow and quiet and as soft and beautiful as a summer day. But it's not the way most people talk. If you spell the way you speak, people might have trouble reading what you write."
Then she shows me all the words she's circled in red-all the places where "don't" should be "doesn't," and "nothin"' should be "nothing" and "ain't" should be "aren't" or "isn't" and I don't know what all.
"It's okay to talk like that at home," she says. "That's personal talk; family talk. When I go back to my grandma's down in Mississippi, and we're all sitting around relaxed and happy, my tongue just slips into that easy way
li of talking, and everyone there knows exactly what I
She smiles at me and I smile back.
"The problem," Miss Talbot says, "is that when you talk one way at home and another way at school, you've just got to be more careful, that's all. If you want to go to college and become a veterinarian, then you have to learn to speak and write and spell correctly."
Any other time a teacher told me to stay behind at recess, I would be thinking I was in big trouble. But when I leave the room and go out to get in that kickball game, I feel like Miss Talbot really wants to see me make something of myself.
"What'd you do, Marty, break a window?" Fred Niles calls out.
"Naw. She just wanted to talk about my report," I say. The problem at our house now is that Dad's so quiet. I hardly ever seen him this quiet for so long. Looks to me like he can't put his mind to anything because he's troubled by
something else. He sits down to watch TV and after a while you see his eyes are looking out the window, not at the screen.
"Sure wish this mess with Judd was cleared up," he says that Sunday out on the porch. It's getting cold now. You sit out too long, you'll need a coat. Couple weeks more and we won't be sitting out on the swing at all. "You were right, Marty," Dad goes on. "Maybe if we'd invited Judd to dinner before this thing got out of hand, we could have talked it out and come to some agreement. Yesterday he saw me pause at his mailbox, and he called, "You just put that mail in there, Ray, and move along. Got no interest in talking to you."
"Somebody put his mailbox back up?"
"I expect Judd did. Nobody else was going to do it." Knowing my dad, I figure he'll think of some way to patch things up with Judd Travers. Never saw a problem yet he couldn't lick. Only thing is, his job is a whole lot tougher now that Judd's mad. And my worry is that whatever they decide, if they do agree to something, they might make Shiloh part of the deal.
Seeing Dad worry reminds me of the way I felt when I was working for Judd, worrying that even after I'd put in my twenty hours, he still might not let me have the dog.
It was blackmail, pure and simple-me telling Judd that if I didn't get Shiloh I'd report the doe. I'd never in this world have done that if it weren't for Shiloh, and me wanting to save him.
It's the same with Dad. He'd let a neighbor hunt on his land before he'd work up a quarrel. But when it comes to protecting his children, Dad did and said things that weren't like him at all. Now all of us just seem to be sitting around waiting for what'll happen next.
"Dad," I say. "No matter what happens, you won't make me give back Shiloh, will you?"
Dad grunts and shakes his head, but I sure would have felt better if he'd come right out and said no.
Couple nights later at the supper table, Becky looks around and asks, "Why are we so quiet?"
"I'm not quiet!" says Dara Lynn, ready for some action. "You can talk to me, Becky."
"Want to hear my ABC song?" Becky asks.
"Becky, don't talk with your mouth full," says Ma. "Here. I want you to eat a little spinach with your meat." Becky stares down at her spinach. "It looks like poop," she says.
"Becky!" scolds Ma.
Dara Lynn giggles so Becky says it again.
I guess Ma figures she's got to rescue the dinner conversation before it gets any worse, so she says to Dad, "I heard from Hettie today."
"What now?" says Dad, trying to liven up a little, too. Smiles. "They put Grandma in solitary confinement or something?" "She escaped?" asks Dara Lynn.
"Dara Lynn, your grandma's not in prison," Ma says. "Well, what'd she do?" I ask.
"Stealing again," says Ma. "Money?" I ask.
Ma looks at Dad. "Teeth. False teeth."
Suddenly we just can't help ourselves. We all burst out laughing. The thought of Grandma Preston rolling her wheelchair from room to room and swiping people's false teeth is just too much to hold in.
"How'd they know she was doing it?" asks Dad.
"The nurse tried to talk to her but Grandma Preston wouldn't open her mouth. They finally got an orderly to help pry her lips open, and she had two pairs of teeth in there, her own and her neighbor's."
Dad is laughing so hard he's got tears in his eyes. I think part of me is feeling bad because we know Grandma Preston didn't mean to be this way at all and it sounds like we're making fun of her. But the other part of me says that sometimes things can happen that are sad and funny both. You can feel sad that her mind is gone, and still laugh at the stuff that's funny.
The laughter helps. I notice that when Dad's drying the dishes for Ma later, she's singing, and I know by the way Dad watches her that he likes to hear her sing.
,And I'm feeling right angry at Judd Travers just then. Thinking how if it wasn't for him, we'd be like this every night: Happy.
It still ain't-isn't-too cold to romp around outside with Shiloh, so I take him for a run. Every so often I just got to test his legs. I go down the front steps and stand there beside my dog.
"Ready ... wealts" I sing out, and Shiloh looks up at me. "Get set ..." Shiloh's body starts to quiver. "Go!" I yell, top of my lungs.
We go racing down our driveway like a pack of wolves is on our heels. Guess maybe I'm testing my legs as much as Shiloh's, 'cause all the while I'm running, I'm counting by fives real slow, trying to get down as far as Doc Murphy's by the time I reach two hundred. Never done it yet. Two hundred thirty-five is closest I've come, but I figure if I keep
practicing, I'll do it one of these days. Hate to say so, but I'll bet Dara Lynn could do it now. She can outrun me, but it's probably 'cause her legs are so skinny.
Road's near empty this hour of evening-everybody home eating supper-so it's a good time to practice our run. Shiloh's ahead of me, and he seems to know right where we're headed. I got sweat dripping from my eyeballs, almost, but Shiloh's going like a wind-up toy. Just won't stop. By the time we get to Doc Murphy's place, though, his sides are heaving.
We sit down on a log to rest. It's an old telephone pole, I think, that Doc rolled out there near the road to keep cars from cutting across the corner of his lot. I'm sitting there sweating something fierce, and Shiloh's on the ground, 'bout six feet away, his tongue hanging out, little drops of saliva dripping off the end. I got to be sure he's got plenty of water in his bowl when we get back, I'm thinking.
Shiloh looks at me like, "Is it time to go home yet?" and I say, "In a minute, Shiloh." Want to get rid of the ache in my side first. I wipe one arm across my forehead, and I'm just about to get up, when ...
Pow! Something hits the log so hard it jolts, and I don't know whether it's the log moving under me or the noise, but I tumble backward onto the ground. Shiloh hops over the log and scrunches down beside me. I know even before I can think it that somebody took a shot at us.
My heart's already pounding hard from the run, and now it's like to explode. Don't know whether to stay where we are or try to crawl up to Doc's house. Didn't see any lights on at his place, so he's probably not even home. I'm
afraid if I try to move, Shiloh will make himself a target for whoever's out there.
And then I hear the sound of an engine starting up. I know, as I lie there, leaves in my face, that it's Judd Travers's pickup turning around on the road and heading back over the bridge.
It's only when the truck is gone that I sit up. I crawl back over the log again, looking for the place the bullet hit, and I find it-a small hole as round and clean as a gun barrel.
I let out my breath and pull Shiloh onto my lap. I can feel my knees shaking. Judd must have been coming over the bridge when he saw me and Shiloh racing down the road. He probably pulled over, got out, and followed us with his rifle.
There are three main thoughts going through my head, all trying to get my attention at the same time: first, this is the closest Judd ever came to trying to hurt Shiloh or me; second, I don't know whether he was trying to kill one of us, but his aim was way off the mark, so maybe he was only trying to scare me-either that or he's drunk; and third, I'm not tellin' my dad.
I can't. Tonight for the first time in a long while I heard my dad laugh, and telling him this wouldn't help nothing. Dad's going to patch things up with Judd; I know he will. In the meantime, though, I'm going to stick near our house. Keep myself and Shiloh off the main road altogether, especially at night. Don't want to give Judd any excuse whatsoever to try again.
I got to go to Doc Murphy's on Saturday, though, to help him lay some slab side timbers along his garden out back.
There's something in me seems to be growing bigger and bigger and I feel I just can't hold it in no longer. It's not Judd taking a shot at me, neither.
So when Doc and I take a break-he's got this jug of fresh cider on his back steps-I take a sip from my glass and say, "I done something I shouldn't have done, but if I had it to do over, I don't know that I'd do any different."
Doc glances over at me, then takes a good long drink. "Well, we've all got a story or two like that, I guess."
"Not like mine," I say, and the more I talk the more I'm feeling this has to come out. If I don't tell it, it'll rip a hole in my chest.
I swallow. Swallow again. "You know how ... after the German shepherd tore into Shiloh and we're taking care of him till he gets better? Well, I went up to Judd Travers the