At first when Lucinda said the Alexanders weren’t coming back, Bailey would just shake his head and scratch his ear as though a worrisome flea had grabbed his full attention. He didn’t want to hear what Lucinda was saying. He wanted Reid to be knocking on the Robinsons’ door come to fetch him home. Reid was his boy.
Still the days passed, naps piled on top of naps, and when he got hungry there was no one but Mrs. Robinson to feed him and when he needed to go find a bush, no one but Mr. Robinson to let him out into the fenced-in yard.
Inside with the Robinsons was nice enough. When Mr. Robinson came home from work, he always asked Bailey how he was in a jolly, booming voice, and Mrs. Robinson scratched Bailey behind the ears when she fed him. Still neither of them scratched Bailey’s neck under his collar the way Reid did. They didn’t hide doggie treats in their pockets for Bailey to nose out. They didn’t throw the red plastic thing for Bailey to chase down. And even if they had done the same things, it still wouldn’t have been the same. Bailey missed Reid.
One day he was trying to explain this to Lucinda when she lifted her nose high and said, “I like the Robinsons. I’m just as glad the Alexanders aren’t coming back.”
Bailey lifted his paw to scratch his ear, but then stopped, his paw in midair. For some reason he couldn’t pretend he hadn’t heard Lucinda this time. “Why aren’t they coming back?” he asked.
With a small sigh, Lucinda peered down at Bailey from her window seat as if deciding whether there was any use in her trying to explain it all to him, a mere dog. Lucinda was a cat, and as she often told Bailey, cats were just naturally smarter than dogs. Bailey thought black cats like Lucinda must be smartest of all because he knew Lucinda was smart. Lots smarter than he was.
She knew everything. She knew when it was going to rain. When their supper was going to be late. When the mailman was at the door. When it was Reid’s birthday which meant Bailey might get to sneak some cake and there would be lots of boys to pet him while Lucinda watched with narrowed eyes from the highest bookshelf.
So Bailey was always careful to listen to what she had to say and to tiptoe past her when she was asleep and to never, no matter how hungry he was, even sniff at the bit of food she left in the corner of her feeding dish. But now he didn’t want her to be right. A funny, growly feeling inside him told him she couldn’t be right.
He swallowed twice and asked again, “Why aren’t they coming back?” He voice came out squeaky.
“Dogs!” Lucinda raised her eyes to the ceiling. “They never understand anything.” With that she circled around a couple of times before settling on the soft cushion with her tail curled around her.
Bailey laid down too, his head on his paws. Still the feeling inside him didn’t go away. Bailey knew his place in the family. He was just a clumsy white dog with a few gray speckles who never got anything right. He didn’t even look right or so Reid’s mother used to say. His ears were too little for his head, and in between trims, his fur stuck out in a million directions. Mrs. Alexander was always taking him to get it clipped off. And his tail was too long so that when it wagged, it had a way of knocking something over or banging against the wall.
Reid didn’t care about Bailey’s tail or ears. Reid loved him anyway. He was always telling him he was perfect or near enough. Bailey knew Reid was perfect and he knew Reid wouldn’t have just gone away forever and left him behind no matter what Lucinda said.
All at once Bailey jumped up and held onto the window seat edge with his front paws until Lucinda opened one of her eyes.
“They’ve just gone for a trip,” Bailey said. “They did that before and then they came back and we went home.”
“Don’t talk about that horrible week.” Lucinda raised her head and shivered. “Those nasty cages with no sunshine for days. At least they found somewhere nice for us this time.”
“Then you think they’ll be back.”
“You don’t listen.” Lucinda rolled her eyes and put her paw over her ear. “They gave us away. Don’t you remember all the boxes? They were moving, and they didn’t have boxes for us because we’re still here and they’re gone.”
“Reid would have told me if he was going to leave me.” Bailey lost his grip on the window ledge and fell to the floor with a click of his toenails.
Lucinda sighed. “They probably promised Reid they’d come back for us. He’s not much different than you. He’ll believe anything.”
The skin tightened around Bailey’s eyes. It was one thing to say bad things about him, quite another to talk about his boy. He was ready to let out a big woof right in Lucinda’s ear when she jumped off the window seat up onto the back of the recliner where even his loudest woof wouldn’t bother her much.
Still he had to do something, so he woofed anyway. Lucinda barely flinched. “Barking at me isn’t going to change anything. You’re just going to have get used to the Robinsons. It’s not so bad here.” She stretched out along the top of the recliner. “Not bad at all.”
Bailey sat back on his haunches and stared up at the cat. A new louder woof gathered just behind his tongue, but it stuck there and wouldn’t come the rest of the way out. It didn’t matter anyway. Even if he could woof loud enough to knock the chair over and send Lucinda sprawling, that wouldn’t make Reid be there.
After a long time he went to the door and plopped down on the rug Mrs. Robinson left there for him to wipe his paws when he came in from the backyard. He shut his eyes, but he didn’t go to sleep. Instead he thought about the last time he’d been with Reid.
There had been something different about his boys. His eyes had been all wet and he’d kept hugging Bailey and whispering into his fur things Bailey couldn’t quite hear. Funny how Bailey had forgotten that until now.
Bailey had licked Reid’s face and danced aroudn him on stiff legs. That always made Reid laugh, and it had that day too. But it wasn’t exactly his regular laugh. Still, he had through Bailey the red toy.
When Bailey ran the thing down and had it trapped on the ground, Reidd said, “I you want the old thing, you keep it. You don’t have to do any silly old tricks.”
Now Bailey got up and fetched the red thing. His teeth marks were all over it. When he lay back down on the rug with his head on the thing, it hummed under his ear.
It had sometimes hummed like that when he captured it out in the yard only to look at Reid and know he wanted something more. Bailey would hold the think even tighter to keep it from making an escape until Reid yanked on it. Then Reid would send it flying through the air again. As bailey chase after it, he could hear his boy shouting something, but could never quite figure out what it was Reid said. Bailey knew he didn’t do the trick right. Lucinda told him that. She said dogs never do anything right.
The hum got louder in his ears until it was vibrating through him everything. For some reason it made the bottom of his feet feel real itchy and his nose wanted to twitch.
Bailey raised his head to look around Maybe Reid was calling him, but he couldn’t hear Reid. But he did hear something. He dind’t know exactly where it was coming from, but it was steady in hear ears like the sound of a distant siren.
He got up and walked around the house to see if the hum was louder in one room or antoher, but it stayed the same. He considered waking Lucinda to see if she heard the hum too, but he didn’t. Not only because she might scratch his nose if he woke her, but because this humming sound was his. He didn’t want her to spoil it by saying he must have a flea in his ear.
At the big front window, Bailey pressed his nose to the glass and perked up his ears to better hear the hum. All at once, it was almost as if he could see Reid out in the yard calling him. Bailey couldn’t keep from jumping against the window and licking the glass. Reid was out there. He had to be.
Mrs. Robinson yelled, “Bailey!” She grabbed his collar and jerked him back from the window. “You find more ways to mess things up. Now I’m going to have to wash the window.”
Bailey’s eyes drooped, and his tail hid between his legs.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.” Mrs. Robinson shook her head at him.
Bailey slunk back to his rug. Lucinda glared at him from the chair back, then jumped down to go rub Mrs. Robinson’s legs.
Bailey didn’t want to upset Mrs. Robinson, but he couldn’t remember her rules when Reid was calling him. And Reid was calling. He’d heard him. That’s what made the hum inside his head.
Across the room, Lucinda was glaring at him for making Mrs. Robinson cross. She settled on the window seat for yet another nap. But cross as she tried to act, Bailey knew she loved Reid too. Maybe she’d go with him to find Reid. That would be nice. Bailey laid his head down on his paws. The hum was softer now that he wasn’t concentrating on hearing it, but it was still humming.
Bailey closed his eyes and went to sleep. In his dreams, he and Lucinda crossed grassy yards and parks until they found Reid. Reid laughed when he saw them, and Bailey jumped up and licked Reid’s face. Reid laughed and laughed.
Bailey wanted to hear Reid laugh again. He wanted to lick his boy’s face again. If only he could figure out which way to go first.
Lucinda stopped washing her face when Bailey asked her if she wanted to go with him. “Go beyond the fence?” She stared at him, her green eyes wide and dark. “Have you lost what little mind you have?”
Bailey held his head high. “I’m going to find Reid.”
Lucinda’s lip stretched in a little smile. Then she began licking her paw again for another swipe across her face. “You can’t even find your bones if they scoot under a chair.”
“I can find Reid.”
“You don’t say. I didn’t know you were a bloodhound.” Lucinda sounded bored.
Bailey held his head to the side and thought about that. “Maybe I am,” he said after a moment. “Mrs. Alexander used to say I must be a mix of a dozen dogs. One of them could have been a bloodhound.”
“It could have been, but it wasn’t.” Lucinda swatted at him. “You’d best get this nonsense out of your head and learn to like it here.”
“I am going to find Reid. And that’s that.” When Lucinda gave him that look, he told her about the hum inside his head. “That’s Reid calling me.”
“Don’t be silly. It’s just a bug that’s crawled in your ear.”
Bailey almost lifted his foot to scratch his ear, but instead he pressed his foot hard against the floor and sat up as tall as he could. “So you won’t go with me?”
“I’m not going anywhere.” Lucinda moved to the edge of the window seat to stare down directly into Bailey’s eyes. “And neither are you. Heaven only knows, you’re a worrisome sort even for a dog, but I can’t be letting you go off who knows where. You have no idea what’s out there.”
“You don’t either.” Bailey met her eyes and didn’t back down.
“But I do. I knew this cat once who told me all about it. Poor old Sanders.”
“What did he tell you?” Bailey was curious in spite of himself.
“Lots of things.” Lucinda’s green eyes narrowed on Bailey. “He said cars mashed poor animals like you and there were men who put dogs in cages. Worst of all, he said there are all sorts of cats and dogs out there who care nothing about the rules of civilization. If tough old Sanders had a hard time out beyond the fence, a dog like you wouldn’t last an hour.”
Bailey pulled his tongue all the way into his mouth and shut his jaws together tightly. He thought about the monster cars and strange dogs beyond the fence and a tremble ran through him. But the hum was still there, steady, unchanged by Lucinda’s fearsome words. So he said, “I’m going.”
“What will you do if it storms? It will, you know. You won’t have any place to get in out of the rain, nowhere to hide from the thunder.”
The tremble got stronger inside him. He did hate the way thunder banged against his ears. Just the thought of it was enough to make him look around for something to hide under.
“Just as I thought.” Lucinda sat back. “You’re not going anywhere.”
Bailey’s ears drooped, and his tail dragged on the floor as he crept off to the bedroom where the cat couldn’t see him. He got down on his belly and crawled under the bed, stirring up bits of dust that tickled his nose.
As Bailey cowered there in the dusky darkness, all the awful things Lucinda had told him might happen came alive in his imagination.
He wished he could believe none of it was true, that Lucinda was just trying to scare him into not going, but he had been out beyond the fence with Reid. He’d seen things.
There was the time two dogs were fighting the park, all gnashing teeth and growls. Reid had held Bailey’s collar as if to keep him from joining the fight, but Bailey had wanted no part of it. He’d been relieved when someone had doused the dogs with water. That had made them forget their fight soon enough.
Those kind of dogs were out there beyond the fence. Dogs ready to fight any other dog. Even Bailey whether Baily wanted to fight of not. Bailey shivered and thought about how fast he could run. That wasn’t very fast because he had a way of stumbling over his own feet. The faster he tried to go the more his feet got tangled up.
Then there’d been the time he was chasing the red toy, and a car making a terrible screeching, honking noise had bumped against him. It hadn’t hurt all that bad, but Bailey’s eyes had run for days. It was not safe beyond the fence. Lucinda was right about that.
Worst of all was that last warning? What would he eat? Bailey was a dog with a fine appetite. People put food in his dish. First Reid and sometimes Reid’s mother and now Mrs. Robinson. Somebody filled his dish every day. But if he left the Robinsons, he couldn’t even have a dish until he found Reid. That might take days. Just thinking about it made his stomach rumble.
Bailey trembled just as if a real storm was shaking the windows of the house, but the hum didn’t get lost in his trembles. Instead it got louder until it was almost as if Reid were just on the other side of the bed’s dust ruffle, trying to coax Bailey out of hiding.
Bailey jerked up and banged his head on the bedsprings, but he barely noticed as he crawled out from under the bed. Reid wasn’t there, but he was somewhere. Bailey could find him if he only had the courage.
Courage. He’d never needed courage before. He didn’t know whether he had any of not. He wanted to. At least a little bitg. But would a little bit be enough?
He padded back into the living room and sat down in front of Lucinda’s window seat. He was ready to stay there as long as it took for her to open her eyes.
Slowly one of her eyelids went up. “What now?” she asked.
“I’m going.” He turned without waiting to hear what she might say and went to the door to wait for Mr. Robinson to let him out.
Lucinda raised her head and whispered one last bit of advice. “You’d best wait until after supper. It might be a very long time before your next meal.”
“Even if it is, I’m going.” Bailey pulled up to his highest height. But he did decide to wait until after eating time. When Mrs. Robinson filled his dish, he ate every chunk of good and nosed around on the floor to make sure he hadn’t missed even the smallest crumb.
Then Bailey went out in the yard. He would find a way through or over or under the fence. He would. That night!
The fence wasn’t so easy to conquer. Bailey couldn’t jump it. His legs weren’t long enough or springy enough. He pushed his head against it, but all that did was pinch his nose between the wire links. With a yowl, he plopped down in the shade with his paw over his face.
After a while, he started walking around the fence again looking for a weak spot. In the far corner a little hole showed up under the bottom of the fence. He began pawing at it to make it bigger, but Mr. Robinson ran out, grabbed his collar and gave him a shake.
“Stop that, Bailey. No digging in the yard.”
Bailey backed away from the hole that was too little to fit his head through, much less the rest of him. Even if he could sneak around and dig when the Robinsons weren’t paying attention, it would take a lot of digging, and his toenails where already sore. There had to be a better way. Bailey went back to the middle of the yard.
He didn’t have much time. Mr. Robinson was headed toward the back door. Maybe the gate wasn’t fastened tight. Bailey took off and banged into the gate. It gave just enough for him to squeeze his head through, but then the gate bounced back and caught his neck.
All he could do was make a strangled whiny sound until Mr. Robinson came to rescue him.
“What’s the matter with you today, Bailey?” Mr. Robinson pushed open the gate to let Bailey get his head free. “You got someplace you want to go?”
Bailey hopped around Mr. Robinson and then jumped up on the gate. He wagged his tail as fast as he could. Maybe Mr. Robinson understood what he wanted to do.
But then the man laughed. “You silly old dog. You don’t really want out there. Nothing but trouble out there for a dog like you.” He took hold of Bailey’s collar and led him toward the back door.
Bailey had to go back inside. Lucinda looked up from her nap with her I-told-you-so look. He didn’t wait for her to say it out loud. He said, “I’m going. Tomorrow.”
She raised up and stretched, grabbing her claws on the back of the recliner. “Don’t bother waking me to say goodbye.”
The next day was Saturday. That meant Mr. Robinson didn’t go out to his car and drive away in the morning. It meant sausage for breakfast and even one for Bailey. I meant Mr. Robinson might take him for a walk.
They did that on the street. Outside the fence. But Mr. Robinson always hooked the leash on Bailey’s collar before he opened the door.
The leash was a terrible thing that jerked at Bailey’s neck and made it hard to breathe if he wanted to run. It grabbed and held tightest whenever he needed to jump at a bird or sniff out an odor somewhere off the sidewalk.
Even when he ignored the birds and smells, the leash still attacked and tied up his feet. Then Bailey had to stand still while his people freed his legs and called him a clumsy old dog. That hadn’t been so bad when Reid did it because he would laugh and hug him too. But Mr. Robinson never hugged him. Worse, he always blamed Bailey instead of the nasty leash for getting tangled up.
So Bailey barely managed a half-hearted thump of his tail when Mr. Robinson got out the leash and talked in the booming voice he saved for Bailey. “Time for a walk, old boy. You’re getting fat.”
What was wrong with being fat anyway? Bailey gave him a look and wanted to lie back down on his rug instead of letting the man hook the leash to his collar. But Bailey was an obedient dog. If Mr. Robinson wanted to walk, then he’d have to walk.
Lucinda raised her head as he passed her chair. “You can’t get away. Stop thinking about it.”
“You could help me.”
“I told you. I like it here. Sunshine and food. That’s all I need.”
“But don’t you miss Reid scratching under your chin and rubbing all the way down your back, even your tail?”
For a second, Lucinda looked as if she might admit that she did miss Reid. For a second. Then she turned her head away from Bailey. “I can scratch my own chin and rub my back on the table leg.” With that, she put her head down and closed her eyes.
At the door, Mr. Robinson jiggled the leash as though it were a doggy treat. “Come on, Bailey. Day’s a wasting.”
Bailey couldn’t keep from shuddering when the leash grabbed on to his collar. That made his ear itch and he sat down to scratch it. The leash came alive and jerked him up.
Before they even got out the door, the leash wrapped around his front left paw. When Bailey tried to high step away from it, the thing grabbed his other front paw. Out on the porch, Mr. Robinson fussed as he took control of the leash.
The leash didn’t care. Instead it reached and grabbed Mr. Robinson’s feet to pull loose his shoestrings. The man sat on the porch steps to tie them back. Bailey hadn’t figured out shoestrings, exactly. Big people were always worrying if they came loose and little people like Reid didn’t care if they stayed loose all day. Even so, Bailey was used to waiting while shoelaces got wrapped up in bows. Even the leash waited quiet as anything at times like that.
In fact the leash was extra quiet right now. The loop end that Mr. Robinson usually held onto to try to make it behave was loose on the steps. Mr. Robinson didn’t seem to notice as he wrapped the ends of his laces just so.
This was Bailey’s chance. The leash needed somebody or something holding on to that loop to be powerful. Once a long time ago, Bailey dragged the leash across the park before he let Reid catch him. The leash had run along beside him not doing a thing. Just bouncing on the ground.
Bailey hesitated. He was already feeling a little hungry in spite of gulping down that sausage. And it didn’t seem right to run off without saying goodbye to Lucinda whether she wanted him to or not.
“That should hold them.” Mr. Robinson jerked on the laces. In a second, he’d be reaching for the leash to make it come to life.
The street was in front of them. No fence to stop him. The hum got louder in Bailey’s ears. GO!
The first step away from Mr. Robinson was hard. The next one wasn’t much easier, but by the time he reached the edge of the yard, he was running. Nothing was choking him, and his feet felt fine.
Mr. Robinson yelled at him. “Stop, Bailey.”
The word bounced after Bailey and almost jerked him to a stop. But he kept going. He had to find Reid.
The front door opened and Mrs. Robinson was wringing her hands. “Oh my! What if he gets run over?” She sounded so worried Bailey felt bad.
“I’d better catch him,” Mr. Robinson said.
Bailey didn’t hear any more. The blood was pumping in his ears and he was getting out of breath. He hadn’t had a good run since Reid left. Mr. Robinson didn’t throw the red toy and when he walked Bailey, the leash choked him if he tried to run.
But he wouldn’t stop now. Even if they got in the car and came after him. Even if the leash did turn on him. So far it just clattered along the sidewalk beside him, not causing the first problem. But that might not last.
Mr. Robinson called, all happy like he had a handful of doggie treats. Bailey could almost smell those treats, but he didn’t stop running. Reid would have doggy treats for him. And even if he didn’t, what was a doggie treat to his boy’s hug?
Bailey shut out the man’s voice and concentrated on the hum in his ears. He could hear it. And it sounded like Reid’s whistle.
He crossed one street, then another, without any screeching around him. He raced through strange backyards and past a fence where a dog lunged against the wire to get at Bailey. He ran under some bushes to get away, and the leash jerked him off his feet. But when he backed up, the leash came along peacefully again.
Bailey didn’t know where he was going, but he kept going. When he absolutely couldn’t run another yard, he slowed to a walk. A man yelled at him, but it wasn’t Mr. Robinson.
He turned around a corner and knew the houses. He stopped to get his bearings and saw the Robinsons’ car coming toward him. He couldn’t run faster than a car. They would catch him and he’d never find Reid. The hum burned in his ears.
“Hiss. Over here.” The sound came from under the bush beside him.
When Bailey hesitated, the voice got louder. “Hurry up, you dumb lummox of a dog. They’re going to catch you for sure.”
Bailey scooted under the bush.
“Stand still. You’re shaking the bush.”
“Lucinda.” Bailey stared at the cat. “What are you doing out here?”
“I must have had a mental lapse.” A low growl nothing at all like a purr rumbled through Lucinda. “But I’m here. So yank that crazy leash under the bush before somebody spots it.”
“You’re going with me?” Bailey couldn’t believe it.
“Since I’m out here hiding under a bush with you, that’s obvious, don’t you think?” Lucinda climbed up in the bush without rustling a leaf. “Now be quiet, for heaven’s sake. And take care of that leash.”
To Bailey’s relief, the leash didn’t put up a fight when he jerked it under the bush. Then he hunkered down and tried to be small and not move a muscle, but he was so happy that Lucinda was going with him that his tail began to flop back and forth.
The bush shook and Lucinda hissed. “Stop wagging.”
Cats didn’t understand about dog’s tails. Lucinda had complete control of her tail, but Bailey’s tail did what it wanted. When it wanted to wag, it wagged. He could tell it to stop all he wanted, but it would keep slapping back and forth. Finally he put a paw on the end of his tail and mashed down hard.
He was still holding it down when Lucinda climbed down. “The car’s past. They didn’t see us. Time to decide what next.”
“That’s easy.” Bailey was in such good humor he didn’t even think about supper. “We find Reid.”
Lucinda’s sigh shook the bush. “You can’t even get out of the neighborhood. How do you expect to find Reid in another state?”
“How far is it to that other state? Will we be there by supper?”
Lucinda looked heavenward. “Whatever did I do to deserve this? I could be asleep in the sunshine right now.”
“I’m sorry about your nap.”
She looked down at him. “What’s done is done. Unless we go back inside and figure out a way to get back in the Robinsons’ good graces.”
“I’m not going inside. I’m finding Reid.”
“How? That bug in your ear.” Lucinda spoke through clenched teeth.
“It’s not a real bug.” He was going to say more but Lucinda’s snort stopped him short.
“Whatever it is, it led you in a circle right back to the Robinsons’ house. And we both know Reid is not there.”
Bailey peeked out of the bush. Lucinda was right. He had gone in a circle. He tried hard to think of something to say that would make Lucinda stop making those weird growly noises that meant she wanted to swat something. That something might just be his nose.
He couldn’t think of anything but the truth. “I forgot to listen to the hum. Mr. Robinson was yelling and there were cars and a dog barked right in my ear.” Bailey swiped his ear with a paw. “And the leash grabbed my neck.”He scratched his neck.
“Are you listening now?”
Bailey put down his paw and closed his eyes. The hum was steady inside him again. He scooted around under to bush to look every direction until the hum felt warmer in his ears. He was just about to say that way when Lucinda let out a yowl.
“This is ridiculous. Forget that bug in your ear and let’s go wait on the doorstep for the Robinsons to come back.” Lucinda softened her voice to a near purr. “Mrs. Robinson will probably give you a double dip of food.”
The thought of food made Bailey’s mouth water. He shook it away. He wouldn’t think about food. He had to think about his boy.
“Reid’s that way.” Bailey pointed with his nose away from the Robinsons’ house.
Lucinda didn’t say anything for so long that Bailey decided she’d gone to sleep on the branch above him. Cats could sleep anywhere.
He was thinking about shaking the bush to wake her when she made a funny hiss. Not mad. Kind of tired sounding. “If you’re determined to go even though it is dumb and you don’t have any chance of ever finding Reid and there won’t be any food and you’ll end up wandering around forever and starving or reduced to eating carcasses on the road.” Lucinda shivered and set the bush to shaking.
“I’m going.” Bailey tried to block out the part about no food. Carcasses on the road might not be too awful. Might not.
Again there was a long, worrisome silence. Lucinda had to be thinking about her window seat and sunshine. Then all at once she leaped out of the bush and landed on all four feet right in front of his nose. He couldn’t keep from jumping a little.
“As much as I hate the thought of going with you, I can’t let you go off half cocked with nothing more than a bug in your ear for help. Heaven help me but I’m going to have to go too.”
Bailey hopped up and down, setting the bush to shuddering. He had his tongue out to give her a happy dog lick, but she swiped at his nose with her paw. She didn’t pull in her claws.
“Don’t you dare. I don’t do dog slobber. Never forget that!” She made the funny little hissing sigh again. “I’m only going with you so that when you get lost, I can lead you back to the Robinsons.”
“I won’t get lost. Dogs don’t, you know.”
Lucinda acted as if she didn’t hear him. “I’ll purr and rub Mrs. Robinson’s legs, and you can do that stupid dance of yours with your tongue hanging out that people seem to like. Heaven only knows why.”
“We won’t get lost.” Bailey panted happily, but he was careful not to let his tongue drip on Lucinda. “Thank you for coming with me.”
“Dogs!” Lucinda had a growl in her voice. “Never met one who wasn’t more trouble than he was worth. Well, come on. Let’s get this foolishness over with.”
Bailey started out from under the bush and jumped when the leash rattled. He gave the nasty thing a leery look. “What about the leash? I don’t want it to go with us.”
Lucinda sighed heavily as if she’d just heard the weather forecast with no sunshine expected for a month. “Lean down and let me take a look.”
She examined the nasty leash with her paw and nosed his collar. With a mutter of disgust, she chewed on the slimmest part of the leash. But with a shudder, she backed off. “Tastes like dog.” She retched like she was going to dislodge a hairball, but Lucinda wasn’t one to admit defeat. “You chew it,” she ordered.
Bailey gingerly took the leash in his mouth expecting it to attack any second. It didn’t and he bit down on it. When it didn’t bite back, he bit harder and jerked it around. The thing grabbed his neck and banged his head against a branch. Bailey barely kept from yelping. Then they both put their paws on the leash and Lucinda told Bailey to jerk back, but the leash just slithered free and laughed at them.
“We’ll just have to let it go along.” Lucinda licked her paws and smoothed down the hairs on her ears.
“But it’ll grab my feet and get me all in a tangle.”
“Won’t be anything new about that. You stay in a tangle.” Lucinda turned away to peer out of the bush. “The coast is clear. The Robinsons have gone in the house to wait for us to show up on the doorstep which is what we should do if we had any sense.”
She kept muttering as she crept out from under the bush. As he scooted out behind her, Bailey didn’t try to hear what she said. It was better if he didn’t know. He could find Reid without her help. Of course, he could, but he had no idea what was between here and wherever Reid was. Lucinda would know what to do if something weird happened. Cats knew about things like that because they were smart. And Lucinda was the smartest of all.
Bailey bounced along, hardly even noticing the leash clattering along with him. Even it seemed to know it had to behave with Lucinda with them. He stopped to check for monster cars, then jogged across the street and into an open lot. Lucinda kept up with him without saying anything but now and again she made a growly sound that was definitely not a purr.
After they walked a long time, he asked, “Have we gone miles yet?”
“Dogs!” Lucinda hissed. “Always asking stupid questions.”
“But have we?” It would be nice if they could find Reid before the stars came out.
“I didn’t come with you to answer your stupid questions.”
Lucinda was staring straight ahead, her head high, her tail stiff and straight as she walked. For just one worrisome minute, Bailey wasn’t sure she knew how far miles were. He took a wrong step and forgot about the leash. It tripped him and he almost stumbled right on top of Lucinda.
She slanted her eyes at him. “You’ll never make it miles if you keep letting that leash trip you.”
Bailey kicked the leash to the side and felt better. Of course, Lucinda knew how far miles were. She was just a cat of few words. She’d tell him once they got closer to Reid.
Then, as they walked past the park, he decided she wouldn’t have to tell him. He’d know himself because that would be how far they’d walked. Miles. To another state. To where Reid was waiting for him.
When the sun slipped out of sight behind the buildings in front of them, Lucinda began to talk about soft cushions and beds. She never actually said they needed to go back to the Robinsons, but she did stop every few blocks to lick her paws and stare off into the distance as though she could see something Bailey couldn’t.
Bailey’s paws were sore too. That made him glad to plop down beside Lucinda while she worked on her feet.
Bailey looked around. Nothing looked right. People were there all right. Rushing everywhere like the sidewalk was too hot to stand still for more than a second. Now and again, a person smiled toward him, but more of them yelled as if they were afraid he might give them fleas or something.
Bailey didn’t care. He was used to people yelling at him, but Lucinda expected people to be respectful. The nasty voices made her fur spike up along her back and her tail kept getting stiffer as it shot up into the air.
Then a fat man came out of the store and spotted them behind a garbage can. He not only yelled, he picked up a rock and threw it at them. The rock bounced on the sidewalk and almost hit Lucinda. She sprang up with a yowl and snarled at the man. Bailey jumped in front of her as another rock whistled past. They raced around a corner away from the man and his rocks and stopped to catch their breath between two parked cars.
“He must have thought we were strays.” Bailey hoped that would make Lucinda feel less insulted.
“We are strays.” Lucinda’s voice was shrill. “It’s not safe to be a stray in the city. Even the dumbest dog should know that.”
Bailey didn’t say anything. He didn’t feel like a stray. He knew who he belonged to. Reid. Bailey peered under the dark, silent car next to him. There were a lot of cars clustered around a building where light spilled out of big windows. Inside, people were moving around. The door swung open and the noise practically hurt Bailey’s ears. It was that loud. But more entrancing was the smell of food.
A boy came through the door. If only that were Reid. But it wasn’t. The boy got into a car not far from Bailey and the car woke up and inched out of the parking lot and out to the street. Bailey didn’t know why he felt so disappointed, but he did.
After the car lights disappeared, he looked at Lucinda. “What are we going to do now?”
“Why ask me? I’m not the one with a bug in my ear.”
Cocking his ears, Bailey stood up and moved his head to the left and then to the right. His tail stuck out like a flag behind him as he sniffed the air. The hum was still in his ears. He’d come the right way, but he couldn’t tell how much farther it was to Reid.
“We haven’t gotten there yet,” Bailey said.
“Tell me something I don’t already know.” Lucinda’s mood wasn’t improving. But she didn’t say they should go back to the Robinsons. Instead she leaped up on the car beside them to look around.
“What do you see?
“A stupid dog and a crazy cat.” She slid down the hood to the bumper and jumped softly to the ground. “My feet hurt. I’m not going another step tonight.”
“Is it safe here?”
She didn’t bother answering as she limped to a huge metal bin. Bailey jumped up on the side of bin. Lovely smells came from inside it. Food smells. But he couldn’t reach the opening, no matter how he stretched.
“Get away from there before somebody starts throwing rocks again,” Lucinda ordered.
“But there’s food in there.”
“None you can get to.” Lucinda slid out of sight behind the bin. “You’ll just have to be hungry till morning.”
Morning seemed a long time away as Bailey followed the cat into the shadowy darkness behind the bin. Lucinda had already found a piece of foam to curl up on. Bailey lay down beside her and did his best not to think of bones and doggie treats and the wonderful whirr of Mrs. Robinson’s can opener. He wondered what would be different in the morning that would get them food. But there was no use worrying about that.
He needed to think good things. He had to be closer to Reid tonight than last night. He might not be miles closer, but he was closer. He wasn’t alone. Lucinda was with him and could be she knew something she wasn’t telling him about morning and food. Lucinda liked having secrets.
No, things weren’t all bad. Just before he went to sleep, his tail flapped back and forth.
In the morning, Bailey’s stomach growling woke him up, but he lay still. Lucinda’s eyes were shut. She might not be ready to wake up. Bailey’s left ear began to itch and little pins were sticking in his feet. Worse, he needed to find a bush. He was going to have to move and chance Lucinda’s temper.
A loud clang brought Bailey to his feet. Lucinda’s eyes flew open wide and she backed up against the fence and hissed. “See what it is.”
Bailey peeked around the corner of the trash bin. Nothing there. No people. No anything. A clang above his head made him jump again. Bailey looked up to see the skinniest dog ever, balancing on the edge of the bin opening. Bones looked like they were trying to break free of his skin.
The stranger pulled his head out of the trash bin to look down at Bailey. “And who might you be?” The words were muffled by the piece of bread in the dog’s mouth.
“Bailey.” Bailey thought about barking really loud to see if that might make the other dog drop the bread, but that would be rude. Better to just stand there and let the saliva dribble out of the corners of his mouth. “How do you do that?”
The bread disappeared in the dog’s mouth. “What’s that, me lad?” he asked when his mouth was free once more.
“Stay there on the edge without falling in. I couldn’t even make it up to the opening last night.”
“Practice it takes, me lad. Many years of practice and a good bit more need of food than you’re showing.” The dog looked down at Bailey with dark eyes that laughed. Bailey didn’t mind. It was a nice kind of laughing.
Bailey’s tail tapped against the bin. “Maybe so, but I’m still hungry. Could you show me how to get something to eat from the bin too?” Bailey tried to sound respectful. ”When you’re finished yourself, of course.”
The old dog laughed. “I fear this is a trick you could never learn, Bailey me lad. Not even with much practice.” The dog glanced back into the bin. “But it appears there’s a bounty of scraps this day. So I’d be honored to share vittles with the likes of you.”
The dog’s head disappeared back in the bin and then tossed out a few bits of bread with some meat still stuck to it.
“Be that enough, me lad?” The dog peered down at Bailey through his legs and tottered so that Bailey was sure the old fellow would fall in the bin or off it at any minute.
Bailey look at the bread. “Is there any milk in there?”
“Milk?” the dog said. “You are a particular beggar, for a truth. But let me give it a look see. If it’s on top I might be able to grab it.”
He slung out a few more scraps and then, with a yelp of discovery, jumped down to the ground to place a milk carton at Bailey’s feet. “There you go, lad. Enough milk for a bit of a sup, I should think.”
“Thank you.” Bailey wagged his tail. “Do you have a name?”
“Skelley, at your service, I’m sure.” The dog dropped down in a kind of bow that made Bailey forget how bony and old the dog looked.
“Skelley. So glad to meet you and thank you so much for the food. I haven’t eaten since yesterday morning.”
Skelley laughed and picked up one of the crusts. He rolled it around in his mouth before swallowing as though to get every bit of enjoyment from it. “No doubt the longest your stomach’s ever been deprived from the looks of you. Aren’t you going to drink that milk you wanted?”
Bailey looked at the milk and then blurted out. “What about cats? Do you like them?”
“Cats? Interesting questions so early in the morning. Especially for one who seemed so anxious to eat.”
“But I need to know what you think about cats?”
“Ah, cats.” The old dog sat back on his haunches. “Are we talking Siamese? Alley tomcats? Brindled cats? I knew a gray cat once, a jolly cat he was. Then, of course, there was Josephine who rode on me back in the circus ring.”
Bailey wasn’t sure what a circus ring was. He decided to ask exactly what he needed to know. “You’ve never chased them up trees or anything like that?”
“Aye, some perhaps when I was a mere snip of a pup. But the years have taught me cats always get to the tree first and then sit smugly up in the branches while you run circles down below looking the foolish one of the two.” Skelley’s forehead wrinkled in a frown. “Surely you don’t want to be off chasing cats before you have your bit of food.”
“Oh no. I don’t chase cats at all. It’s just I have this friend. Lucinda.” Bailey tried to think of the best words to tell Skelley about Lucinda.
Lucinda didn’t wait for him to say anything else. She came out from behind the bin. “You don’t need to third degree our new friend after he was kind enough to get us food.” Lucinda was practically purring as she looked at Skelley. “I thank you for the milk, sir.”
Bailey nudged the carton over to her. Skelley’s eyes looked bigger than ever in his bony face as he watched Lucinda tip over the carton to lap up its contents.
Then he lifted his lips in a dog smile. “I had the feeling this would be a banner day. The sky was promising sunshine. The cars were few and far between. The bin was stuffed so full the lid stood open. Now here the two of you are with a story to tell or I miss my bet.” Skelley picked up another bit of food. “But eat up, Bailey lad. The story can wait.”
He didn’t have to tell Bailey twice.
Bailey gobbled down the scraps before his tail wagged twice, then sat back to wait for Skelley and Lucinda to finish. He tried not to think about how his stomach was still growling.
“Ye appear to be a dog of no small appetite.” Skelley nosed another crust of bread toward Bailey.
Lucinda finished last and started licking her paws. Skelley peered over his shoulder. “Begging your pardon, Miss Lucinda, but we best move along now. The ringmasters of this place will be showing up soon and for a truth, they don’t look kindly on me balancing skills. They are as apt to call the dog police as not.”
Lucinda sighed. “If I must go unwashed, I must go unwashed.”
“We can find a spot on down the street,” Bailey promised. “In the sun.”
Lucinda groaned and stretched her back legs out behind her. Then she gave a delicate shake. “Well, which way?”
Before Bailey could listen for the hum in his ear, Skelley spoke up. “I’d count it an honor if the two of ye came home with me for a bit of a rest. Miss Lucinda can finish her morning grooming in peace while us dogs have a chat, Bailey me lad.”
“Is there more food there?”
“Don’t be rude, Bailey,” Lucinda hissed.
“Worry not, Miss Lucinda. The boy is new to the streets. And it just so happens that I do have a bone I’ve been saving for a rainy day.” Skelley looked up at the sky where the sun was just topping the buildings. No clouds in sight. “Or a celebration.”
“What kind of celebration?” Bailey asked.
“We’ll be thinking of something. Come along.”
They cut through alleys and behind buildings and crossed huge expanses of black asphalt. The monster cars were out in force, but Skelley avoided them with ease.
“It’s safer to travel at night when there aren’t so many of the four-wheeled beasts on the prowl. A mere dog’s no match for the likes of them.”
The cars were bad enough but then Skelley led them right up to some mustard yellow beasts like nothing Bailey had ever seen. Their wheels were as big as Mr. Robinson’s car and they had fearsome looking appendages poking out in odd places. Bailey stopped in his tracks. Lucinda stopped to eye them too. “Don’t be worrying, me friends,” Skelley said. “Tis only the machines they use for making roads or knocking down buildings. Most of the time, they sit quiet enough.”
“Even that one?” Bailey pointed toward a monster with long worm wheels and a huge shovel all across the front of it.
“That be a bulldozer. Makes a fearful noise at times and can knock trees clear out of the ground, but it moves powerful slow. Even an old dog like me can outrun it with nary a problem.”
Bailey kept his eye on the monster as they passed so close the chill of its metal skin made shivers walk along his back. The leash suddenly jumped up and clanged against the bulldozer wheels. Bailey jumped sideways and bumped Lucinda.
“Can’t you control that thing?” she muttered.
Bailey growled at the leash that was dragging along meekly again.
“Dragging that along does appear to be a bit awkward, me lad,” Skelley said. “I hated to say anything before, but I can’t help wondering why ye have it with you.”
“I didn’t want to, but it was the only way I can get beyond the fence.”
The old dog’s forehead wrinkled up. “Aye, we have to take the chances we get, I suppose.”
Skelley ducked under a yellow and black strip of plastic and headed down between two old houses that looked like they might just fall down any second.
Finally he looked around at them and said, “This is it.”
The old dog shoved up a loose board with his nose to show a hole into the house. “Mind watch your step as ye head on in. The floor has a weak spot here and there.”
The very end of Lucinda’s tail twitched back and forth as she stared at the dark opening. At last she tucked her head into the hole and disappeared.
Bailey followed her, digging with his paws to scoot through behind the cat. The leash jerked back and did its best to stop him. Bailey pushed harder with his back paws and the leash turned loose to meekly slither the hole. Skelley popped in behind Bailey and let the board fall back into place.
“Come along.” The old dog headed across the room. “It’s nothing fancy but it be safer than the street. And a bit of sunshine does sometimes sneak into the place.”
At that, Lucinda perked up and began daintily picking her way through the bottles and cans and old newspapers. Bailey scrambled after her. Dust bunnies jumped out at him, but he paid them no mind. Bailey sniffed, but he couldn’t pick up even the slightest whiff of Skelley’s people no matter which way he turned his nose.
“Here we are. Home sweet home.” Skelley did a little head bow.
A few empty cans and a red stick with a black knob on the end were scattered on a rug in front of a window so dirty the sun barely forced its way inside.
Skelley brushed off the window with his tail. “Would you care for the window seat, Miss Lucinda?”
Lucinda hopped up on the windowsill and began washing her face. It had to be wasted effort with all the cobwebs and dirt around them, but she was being polite. In between licks, she sent Bailey a warning look to mind his manners too.
So when the old dog pulled his prize bone from under a pile of rags in the corner, Bailey thumped his tail on the floor and even though the bone was so dry he thought it might just be a rock masquerading as a bone, he chewed on the end of it. Nothing at all like the bone Mrs. Robinson had given him a couple of days ago.
After what Bailey hoped was a properly polite chewing time, he scooted the bone back to Skelley. “Thank you. That was very good, but you better save some for your next celebration.”
“Or rainy day, eh, lad?” Skelley tucked the bone out of sight under the edge of the rug. Then he turned twice and sat down with his paw gently on the painted stick. “Now, let’s be hearing your story. How come two pampered pets like the two of ye are on the streets with no human watching out for you?”
“I’m going to find my boy,” Bailey said. “He moved away. Miles away. To another state.”
“And forgot to take you along, did he? A pure shame that was.”
“He was coming back for us. I’m sure of it, but I decided not to wait that long. So we’re going to him.” Bailey hesitated, then asked, “You wouldn’t happen to know how far it is to another state?”
“That would be according to which state it is ye want, lad. There be fifty of them, ye know.”
“Fifty?” Bailey couldn’t keep the surprise out of his voice. He peeked over at Lucinda who had stopped licking her paws to stare at Skelley. When she noticed Bailey looking at her, she went back to washing her face as if fifty states was no surprise to her.
“Aye for a truth,” Skelley said. “I’ve been in twenty-two of them meself, but me old master used to promise we’d see them all sooner or later.” The old dog’s face drooped. “But then he died, he did.”
Bailey put a paw over Skelley’s. “I’m sorry.”
“Well, he was old like I be now, but I did wish him more life.” Skelley ran his nose along the painted stick. “This ‘tis all I have left of him. I’ve kept it with me ever since the circus left me behind. Without me master I just couldn’t get me heart into me old tricks, and in a circus tent, every man and beast has to earn his way to keep the ringmaster from giving him the boot.”
“My boy went to the circus once and tried to teach me the tricks he saw a dog do there. You remember, Lucinda?”
“Please. I’d rather not think about that disaster.” Lucinda shuddered.
“Our boy, Reid, talked her into it,” Bailey said.
“What was the trick?” Skelley’s ears perked up a little.
“Lucinda stood on my back while I went in a circle. That was what was supposed to happen anyway. We made one circle but then I maybe went too fast and Lucinda fell kersplat.”
“I did no such thing.” Lucinda lifted her nose toward the ceiling and huffed. “I landed on my feet, I’ll have you know.”
Bailey lowered his voice. “She went up on in a tree and stayed there till dark.”
“Not everybody’s meant for the big top, for a truth,” Skelley said. “But that sounds something like the very trick I used to do for me master. I’d balance on Asaph. That was our pony and Josephine the cat would balance on my back. Old Asaph would trot in a circle, and we’d hop through a hoop and land on his back again.”
“Wow. That sounds like some trick.” Bailey looked at the old dog with new admiration.
“Aye, it was grand. The crowds would practically lift the tent top with their cheers.” Skelley looked at the wall as if he was still hearing those cheers. Then he shook his head a bit. “But it was your story I was hoping to hear. How is it ye plan to find this boy of yours?”
“He has a bug in his ear,” Lucinda said. “If you can believe such a thing.”
“Not a real bug.” Bailey swiped at his ear with his paw. “But there’s something there. A kind of hum that tells me which way to go to find Reid.”
“I knew a pigeon that could do that. They’d take him far from home and turn him loose and every time he flew straight back,” Skelley said.
“Bailey’s not a pigeon and he’s never been over a mile from home.” Lucinda swatted at a cobweb drifting down toward her. “We will never find Reid. We should have stayed put and let Reid find us.”
“Could be that ‘twould have been the sensible thing to do, Miss Lucinda. But I’m betting the lad here will find your boy.”
Lucinda snarled and went back to grooming her legs. Skelley looked at Bailey. “Which way would this bug or whatever be sending you now?”
Bailey stood up and cocked his ears, but the hum was drowned out by a terrible rumbling noise. He started trembling, but it wasn’t just him. The whole house was shaking.
“Tis only the bulldozer.” Skelley yelled in Bailey’s ear. “It seems the whole street is condemned but we’re safe enough in here.”
“Condemned? What does that mean?” Bailey asked.
“Not for certain, but no people ever come around to bother me here.”
Bailey could barely hear him. The roar was getting louder by the second.
Lucinda pushed her nose against the window and peered through the dusty pane. She shrieked and leaped down as the window shattered and sprayed glass down around them. A trickle of blood appeared on Skelley’s head. Then the big metal dozer blade bit through the wall.
“Run,” Skelley shouted when the dozer pulled its blade back. “Before it comes back.”
The old dog slipped out the hole first and held the plank up for Lucinda. Bailey followed her out, but the nasty leash jerked at his neck and held him back. Bailey grabbed it and yanked until his teeth hurt. It gave up and trailed Bailey out just as the dozer blade banged into the house again.
They were racing to safety when Skelley yelled, “Me master’s baton.”
Bailey grabbed at the old dog’s tail to keep him from turning back, but he missed. Skelley ran back toward the house while pieces of roof raining down on them. He disappeared through the hole into the house.
“Stop him!” Lucinda yelled at Bailey.
Bailey looked from the cat to the hole Skelley had slid through.
On the other side of the house, the bulldozer monster rumbled deeper, and the house shuddered and groaned. Bailey dodged a shingle flying down from the roof. He stuck his nose close to the hole and barked, but if Skelley barked back he couldn’t hear him over the bulldozer’s growl.
Lucinda slid up beside him. “Do something!”
Bailey pushed his head into the hole, but he couldn’t wiggle through. “I can’t get through the hole. Not without Skelley holding up the plank for me.”
“Dogs!” Lucinda shook her head. Suddenly she perked up her ears. “Listen. That thing sounds like it’s backing away. I’ll go find that crazy dog.”
“You can’t go back in there, Lucinda. The bulldozer might come back.”
“If it does, you better stop it.” Lucinda glared at him, then ducked through the hole.
Stop the bulldozer! How could he stop that monster?
“Lucinda,” he called, but she was gone. He whipped his tail around in a circle and tried to think. He had to do something. And fast. The bulldozer’s growl was getting louder again.
Bailey raced around the corner of the house and froze in his tracks. The yellow monster was inching closer, its enormous metal front a hungry mouth. Bailey looked behind him. If only he could see Skelley and Lucinda crawling out of the house, but they weren’t anywhere in sight.
And the bulldozer kept coming. He couldn’t let it bite into the house while Lucinda and Skelley were inside. He couldn’t.
Barking as loud as he could, Bailey ran at the terrible bulldozer mouth and attacked. His teeth wouldn’t grab on the slick blade. He slid to the ground and landed on his side.
He couldn’t let it beat him. He scrambled up and charged again, barking louder than he thought possible. Nothing had ever been afraid of him or his bark, but he was sometimes scared of other dogs barking at him. Like the huge, black dog the day before.
Bailey tried to sound every bit as fierce. He crouched down close to the ground in hopes that would make his bark deeper, more ferocious.
He was about to retreat when all of the sudden the monster stopped moving and simply sat there and stared at him with an angry rumble. With trembling legs, Bailey stayed where he was.
“Hey, I didn’t tell you to stop!” Whoever was yelling sounded as mad as the monster.
Bailey peeked out the corner of his eyes at a man waving his arms at the bulldozer.
Someone, maybe even the monster, yelled back at the man on the ground. “A dog’s in the way.”
“A dog! You stopped for a dog!”
That made Bailey growl.
“I ain’t mashing no dog,” the bulldozer said and stopped rumbling.
With the monster silent, Bailey’s barks bounced off the metal mouth and pounded into his ears. But he was afraid to stop because between barks, he could hear the house creaking and groaning.
Where were Lucinda and Skelley? They should be out by now and he really wished he could stop barking.
The man and the monster kept shouting. Then the man grabbed a plank and swung it at Bailey. He barely dodged in time, but he didn’t turn tail and run. Even if he wanted to. Instead, he rolled over on his back and stuck his feet up in the air. That had to make the man know Bailey wasn’t going to bite him.
But the man kicked Bailey in the side anyway. Hard. “Get out of here, you dumb dog.”
Bailey could keep from yelping.
“Aw, don’t hurt him, boss,” the bulldozer said. “He’s sort of cute. And look there. He’s got a collar on with a leash. Somebody must be in the house.”
The boss stared from Bailey to the house. “Guess we’d better check it out.”
Just then Lucinda appeared in the gaping hole that had been a window a few minutes ago. She meowed her best.
“Look, a kitty cat.” A man climbed down the side of the monster.
He must have been doing the talking instead of the monster. Maybe all it could do was growl. But it was quiet now.
“I hate cats,” the man who kicked Bailey muttered. Bailey bounced up on his feet, ready to attack again. He wasn’t about to let the man kick Lucinda.
But the cat disappeared back into the house before the men got to her. The man who’d been on top of the monster stepped up on a rock and peeked through the window. “Hey, boss. There’s an old dog in there with his foot caught under a beam.”
“We can’t just knock a house down on top of him.”
The boss looked in the window too. “I don’t know why not. From the looks of him, it would be a mercy killing.”
Bailey growled and scooted closer to them. He didn’t know what a mercy killing was, but it didn’t sound good. Not good at all.
“Aw, come on, boss.” The man who’d been up on top the bulldozer monster stepped closer to the boss. “These guys must be friends. Let me go get the poor old dog.”
“You’re crazy, Joe. This old house is going to fall down any minute.”
“We got to do something. I can’t knock down the house with the dog trapped in there. It wouldn’t be right.”
The boss muttered something under his breath. “Okay. I guess we’ll have to call the dogcatcher. Let him shoot the old dog.”
Bailey didn’t like the sound of that. He pushed past them and tried to leap up on the window where Lucinda had been sitting. His feet slipped on the broken glass and he fell back with a thud.
Joe grabbed at the leash as Bailey tried a second time, but he missed. This time Bailey’s toenails found some wood and he scrambled through the window. The leash slithered in behind him.
Inside the house, the dust was so thick Bailey couldn’t see. Then Lucinda was meowing. He picked his way through the debris toward the sound.
“What took you so long?” Lucinda demanded.
“Never ye mind, Miss Lucinda. He’s here now and that’s what counts.”
Bailey stared at Skelley’s foot trapped under the big board. It looked stuck good. “Are you all right?”
“Does he look all right?” Lucinda snarled.
Skelley spoke up. “I’m in a fix, lad. That’s for certain. But if ye could put your nose under that plank there and lift it a wee bit, I think I might be able to free meself.”
Bailey pushed his nose as far under the plank as he good. Dust got in his nose but he didn’t sneeze. He lifted until his neck hurt.
“You did it, lad.” The old dog pulled his paw free and gave it a lick. “We’d best be making our escape now. Me thinks I heard some mention of the dogcatcher. We don’t want to be anywhere near here if he shows up.” He gabbed his painted stick and pointed his nose toward the window.
Lucinda was already up there. “Will you two quit yapping and come on?”
Bailey jumped up into the window after Lucinda disappeared outside. The bulldozer monster was still there, glaring at him but at least it wasn’t rumbling. Bailey looked back at Skelley. “Can you make it?”
“Can I make it?” Skelley said around the stick in his mouth. “I used to jump on old Asaph when he was trotting. One bum foot won’t be slowing me down.”
Bailey leaped off the window directly in front of the bulldozer. Then Skelley was up in the window and a cheer went up from the men standing around. Skelley paused in the window to give a bow.
“Whatever is he doing?” Lucinda muttered.
“I don’t know.” Bailey was glad when Skelley jumped down to the ground to scramble after them on three legs.
Lucinda kept her pace dignified, but Bailey couldn’t keep from running as they passed the bulldozer. The worm wheels were higher than his head as they crawled past toward the house.
Bailey was glad he didn’t have to stop it again when all at once the leash jerked him off his feet. His collar tightened around his neck until he couldn’t so much as yelp to let Lucinda and Skelley know the leash had grabbed him. They kept walking.
The nasty leash was teaming up with the bulldozer monster pulling him toward those worm wheels. Bailey dug his paws into the dirt and tried to hold his ground, but the leash yanked him closer to the monster.
The bulldozer monster slowed when it rammed against the house, but the leash wouldn’t turn loose of Bailey or the monster. Bailey jerked and twisted but it held tight.
“You’re going to have to pull harder, Bailey.” Lucinda’s voice was right in his ear.
He was glad she had come back for him, but he could only gasp while brown spots floated in front of his eyes.
“Come on, lad. One more good jerk.” Skelley was there too. “Miss Lucinda and I will give ye a bit of help. Ready? Heave Ho!”
Skelley grabbed Bailey’s tail in his teeth and Lucinda hissed at him to pull harder. Bailey tried, but it wasn’t any use. The leash had him and the leash never gave up. He was doomed. The leash was going to feed him to the monster.
Then just when Bailey thought his neck was going to break, something popped. Bailey fell back from the bulldozer as the monster wheel chewed up the leash.
Bailey scrambled to his feet and scooted away from the bulldozer. Lucinda streaked ahead of him. Skelley grabbed his painted stick and was two steps behind. A loud cracking sound stopped them. They looked back to see the old house fall with a booming whoosh.
Skelley laid his baton down and stared at what was left of the house. “‘Twas as fine a place as I’ve had for many a moon, but for a truth, it’s gone now. And lucky we are that we aren’t gone with it.” He looked at Bailey and Lucinda. “I have the two of ye to thank for that.”
Bailey turned his head to the left, then the right. No matter which way he moved, it hurt. Besides that, his insides were shaking because the bulldozer monster was still growling. Way too loud. He eased back a few steps.
Lucinda must have agreed that the monster was too near. “I think you both need to quit yapping so we can get out of here.”
“Right ye are, Miss Lucinda,” Skelley agreed. “Two narrow escapes in one morning is more than enough. We might be a bit shaky to outwit the dogcatcher as well. I’ll see you safe out of the neighborhood, then start hunting a new place to live.” He gave the pile of rubble that had been his house a sad look.
“Why don’t you come with us?” Bailey said.
Skelley’s eyes lit up. “Ye mean share your adventure? It’s been many a day since I’ve been on a real adventure. And for a truth, just thinking about yours was making my feet get a little itchy.”
“Adventure,” Lucinda muttered. “I’ll take a nap in the sun over adventure any day.”
Bailey barely heard her. Even the monster bulldozer’s growl behind him didn’t sound so loud anymore. He was hearing the hum inside him again.
“This way,” he said.
He headed off down the street, all of the sudden feeling so free that his feet barely skimmed the walk and his tail swooshed back and forth.
“What’s the matter with you?” Lucinda hissed as she dodged his tail.
“I feel good. Really good.” He paused a second to figure out why. “Because I don’t have to drag that nasty leash along with me now.”
“But you lost your collar too. Makes us look homeless for sure.”
Skelley spoke up. “Don’t ye be worrying, Miss Lucinda. The lad and will see to it that no harm comes to you.”
“Humph.” Lucinda snorted. “The lad does well to keep from tripping over his own feet.”
“Aye, there could be truth to that,” the old dog admitted. “But he did stop the bulldozer before it knocked the house down on us.”
Bailey’s feet felt even lighter until he was almost floating at the old dog’s praise.
Lucinda brought him back to earth. “Then the bulldozer stopped him.”
Bailey pointed the direction with his nose and Skelley let them through alleys and twisting short cuts that kept them away from the streets choked with roaring and honking cars.
Even with their roar, the cars weren’t so scary to Bailey now. After all, he’d faced down with a bulldozer monster. When one zoomed up close to them, he stood his ground and barked to warn it away.
“They aren’t so big.” Bailey looked around at Lucinda and Skelley when it honked and then went on past. “Not like that bulldozer.”
“True enough,lad.” Skelley bumped Bailey’s side with his head to push him back from the road. “That bulldozer was a mighty masher, but these others have plenty of mashing power of their own. Besides, they’re speedier than the bulldozer. It’s best we don’t tangle with either one.”
Lucinda growled and swiped her paw at Bailey’s nose. “Dogs! Stop one bulldozer and you think you’re invincible.”
She walked away, her tail high in the air. Bailey and Skelley followed her. They walked and walked until their feet were sore. Here and there they knocked over a trashcan to find a bite or two of food.
At last they came to a park with a big pond of water and nice big boulders around it. Lucinda stretched out on top of the rocks in the sun and went right to sleep while Bailey and Skelley settled down in the shade below her.
Skelley said if they kept going the way Bailey pointed, they would run into some big highways with rivers of cars.
“Best to wait for the dark of night to try crossing them. While they never really stop, the car rivers slow some at night. Makes crossing a bit safer.”
“Are we safe here?” The high pitched scream of one of those cars with flashing lights sounded nearby.
Skelley looked around. “A dog on his own is never entirely safe, but it appears nobody much is around to take notice of us. So we should be fine for a spell.”
Bailey rested his head on his paw. His neck still hurt, but he guessed it was good he had a neck to hurt after the tussle with the bulldozer.
To keep from thinking about his neck or how far they still needed to go, Bailey looked at the old dog and asked, “Have you been on your own a long time, Skelley?”
“It seems so. Not sure how long. Lost count of the months some time back.”
“I’m sorry.” Bailey thought about Reid and how good it would be to see him again.
“For a truth, I miss me master.” Skelley sighed. “But I have me memories of him and I’ve made my way.” The old dog laid his paw gently on the painted stick.
“Did that belong to him?” Bailey sniffed the end of the stick. “Is it a circus stick?”
“Ye could call it that, I suppose. Me master used it when we were out in the ring doing our tricks. He’d tap it on the hoops I was to jump through or point it toward me when I’d done a trick so the folks would clap.”
“Did they clap a lot?”
The old dog’s eyes got a dreamy, faraway look. “That they did, Bailey lad. That they did. Folks are different when they come to the circus. Ready to laugh and have fun. For a truth the circus is a fine place when the show is going on.”
“Were there clowns and lions?” Bailey tried to remember the things Reid had talked about when he came home from the circus.
“That and more. Clowns that made the little tykes laugh and lions that made them gasp. The Martino family flew through the air on trapezes and leaped from one to another. Our elephant, Anne Marie was her name. She could balance on one foot and stand on her head. Aye, it was grand, it was.”
“I’d like that. To be in a circus.”
Lucinda raised her head up to look down at him. “What trick would you do? You remember when Reid tried to get us to do that awful trick after he’d been to the circus.” Lucinda shuddered. “You couldn’t even make two circles with me on your back without falling on your face.”
“Miss Lucinda has a point. A dog has to know some tricks to be in a circus. All the animals do. Even the lions and tigers jumped through hoops and sat on stools. Snarling to be sure, but they did it. Very exciting it was too.”
“I’m not too good at tricks.” Bailey thought about the plastic toy that he could fetch and brightened. “But I can make people laugh. I could be a clown dog.”
“That I can believe.” Lucinda snorted and lay her head back down on the rock. “But if you’re going to join a circus, tell me now so I can head back to the Robinsons’ house.”
“Do you want to go back, Lucinda?” Bailey sat up and waited for her to open her eyes. “If you do, maybe you should go now. Because we’re not going to get there before night again. I think it’s still a long way to wherever Reid is.”
Lucinda opened her left eye. “I said I’d go with you to find Reid. But I’m not joining up with any circus where I have to ride on your back and act like an idiot.”
“Skelley and I were just talking about the circus. I wasn’t going to join one.” Bailey tilted his head a little and added. “Unless Reid did. Do you think he might have joined a circus?”
“Dogs.” Lucinda groaned and turned her back to Bailey. “I don’t know why I put up with them.”
“She’ll feel better after she’s rested a wee bit,” Skelley whispered. “As will we all.”
Bailey settled down and tried to sleep, but either the bulldozer monster was rumbling toward him or he was tumbling through hoops with cheers echoing in his ears. Finally he put his paw over his head and blocked out everything but the hum. The hum and Reid. At last he dozed off.
When Skelley nudged him awake, it was near dark. They nosed around the park and found a sack with some crusts of bread and a hot dog.
By the time they got to the big road, it was very late. Cars zoomed first one direction, then the other. Their lights made flashing trails in the dark.
Bailey felt a little shaky inside. “There’s still a lot of them.”
“Aye, that there is.” Skelley’s head turned back and forth watching the cars. “For a truth, we’ll have to pick our times and be mighty careful, but if we want to get to another state we have to go across this road.”
“What’s over there on the other side?” Bailey peered across the road. He couldn’t see any lights past the cars.
“Can’t say for sure. Never actually been across this road before, but looks to be country, pure and simple. Nothing that looks like a town,” Skelley said. “What about you, Miss Lucinda? You know about the far lands?”
Lucinda stepped up beside them. “I like towns with nice houses and windows full of sunshine. Not country.”
“Country,” Bailey said. “I met a dog once who was from the country. He was forever talking about how great it was to run in the fields chasing rabbits. He wasn’t happy his people moved to the city.”
“I suppose country suits some well enough,” Skelley said. “But there be no trashcans and but few houses. I’ve even heard tell of strange animals that don’t take kindly to them who cross their paths.”
“I can’t believe our people would live in that kind of place.” Lucinda looked at Bailey. “Are you sure your bug is pointing you in the right direction?”
All of the sudden, Bailey wavered. The land on the other side of the road was dark. He’d never seen dark like that. It was easy to imagine those strange animals lurking behind trees waiting to jump out at them with gnashing teeth. Something maybe worse than the lions and tigers Skelley knew in the circus.
Bailey’s feet were sore and his neck hurt. He wanted a full bowl of crunchy dog food instead of bits of bread and nearly empty cans to lick. Over there in the dark country, there might not even be that to eat. His stomach growled and he sat down to think things through.
Skelley sat down beside him. “Never a mistake to mull things over a bit. Me master used to say it wasn’t any good rushing into things. That has to be especially true with that thing is crossing a river of cars.”
Lucinda made a noise of agreement as her tail twitched back and forth like the pendulum of a clock. Bailey figured she was thinking about the sun in the windows back at their old house.
He sort of wished he was curled up on his bed there too as the cars swooshed past, their wind ruffling his ears. A great huge truck, bigger even than the bulldozer monster, lumbered over the hill. The ground shook under Bailey as it barreled past. He could never stop one of those.
But even worse than the cars and trucks was the dark in the far country. Just thinking about what might be in that dark sent a shiver through Bailey.
He stood up and gave a shake like he’d just had a bath. All of the sudden, the hum that he hadn’t been able to hear while he thought about the dark began sounding in his ears louder than ever. His feet tingled and his heart bounced around inside his chest the way it did when Reid called him. He couldn’t stop now. Even if he had to go into the dark far lands by himself.
Bailey ignored the dark on the far side of the roads. Instead he watched the river of cars. There were two stretches of blacktop. On the side nearest them, the cars always came over a hill and down toward them. On the other side, the cars’ lights seemed to appear from out of nowhere as they raced each other up the hill without slowing a bit.
They never changed directions. Never. Best of all, what looked like a narrow park with grass and bushes was smack in the middle of the two roads. They could hide out there for a while to gather courage to chase across the other road into the darkness beyond.
Bailey stood up. “If we watch the top of that hill over there and wait until it’s very dark with no lights coming, we can make it to the middle.” Bailey pointed with his nose toward the hill.
“That we can, lad. Easy as jumping through hoops.” Skelley flashed a grin, then picked up his baton to trot toward the road.
Lucinda stayed where she was, staring at the road and beyond.
“Are you too afraid to try it, Lucinda?” Bailey asked.
“I’m not afraid of anything.” Lucinda snarled at him. “I’m thinking.”
“It’s good when you think.” Bailey lowered his back haunches to the ground. “Let me know when you’re through.”
“Dogs!” Lucinda turned to glare at him. Her eyes glowed green in the lights of a car flying down the hill toward where they sat. After the car passed, she stood up, her tail straight up in the air. Then as if to convince herself to move toward the road, she said, “I suppose there will be sunshine in the morning wherever I am.”
“Indeed, Miss Lucinda,” Skelley called to her over his shoulder. “They say there’s worlds of sunshine in the country. For a truth, I’ve been many a place, but I’ve never been anywhere that didn’t have its fair share of the sun’s light.”
When Bailey said go, they raced across the first road to the middle. There they sat a while gathering courage to challenge the second road. Cars whooshed by on both sides of them and it was easy to imagine being stuck there on that narrow strip of grass forever.
Bailey stared toward where the lights always showed first on the road they still needed to cross. He could barely count to five from the time he saw the lights until they zoomed past. Would they be able to run fast enough?
“Well, are we going or not?” Lucinda demanded.
“Going.” Bailey stood up. No lights coming. “Now.” He ran as fast as he could across the hard blacktop. Skelley passed him before he got to the other side.
Suddenly lights shone out and then a huge truck barreled down the road toward them. It blasted its horn when it caught them in its lights. The two dogs leaped into the ditch even though they were well off the road.
Lucinda stood her ground at the edge of the road and yowled at the truck. The sound was lost in the rush of its many wheels and the clatter of its trailer. She glared after it until the red lights on its back disappeared down the road.
“Forget about him, Lucinda.” Bailey jumped out of the ditch with Skelley behind him. “He didn’t get us. We made it across.”
“Across.” Lucinda looked back at the road. “Yes, we’re across.” She sounded very tired. “I guess we’ll have to go on now.”
Without another word, she marched straight toward the thickest dark under the trees.
Bailey looked back at the road too. Back that way were lights and houses and people. Not Reid, but other people who might feed them. While on this side of the road, there was nothing but dark. What if the hum in his ear was wrong?
He felt anything but sure as he followed Lucinda into the woods with his tail dragging the ground. All of the sudden, the road seemed easy compared to the spooky darkness under the trees. Even the big yellow bulldozer he’d fought that morning didn’t seem so bad now when he thought about it. At least he could see it and know where it was. Anything could be hiding in the dark woods.
Skelley didn’t seem any more eager to enter the woods than Bailey. The baton rattled around in the old dog’s mouth, and his bones gave a tremble under the hide stretched tight over them.
“Just a bit of a chill,” he said when he noted Bailey looking at him. “Me master used to say somebody had walked across his grave when he had a shake like this.”
Talking about graves didn’t make Bailey feel a bit better. He laughed to hide his nervousness but it sounded shaky even to his ears.
With eyes shining golden in the reflection of a passing car’s lights, Lucinda glared at them from the edge of the woods. “Don’t be scaredy dogs!” she said. “Nothing here but trees and bushes and a mouse or two.”
“How do you know?” Bailey caught up with her.
“Cats can see better than dogs. Cats do everything better than dogs.”
With that, she turned and her black body blended in with the dark and practically disappeared.
“We better be after her, lad,” Skelley said. “We’d never forgive ourselves if any harm came to Miss Lucinda while we were back here dragging our feet.”
From the dark shadows ahead of them, they heard an exasperated meow. Bailey and Skelley scurried after her.
Once Bailey was away from the road, the dark stopped being so black. He didn’t have any trouble picking his way through the trees. He hurried up in front of Lucinda to lead the way. After all, it was his hum that was telling which way to go. Even so, it was nice having Lucinda and Skelley close behind him.
Bailey stopped in his tracks and Lucinda and Skelley caught up with him.
“What’s that?” Skelley lifted his head and cocked up one of his ears.
“An owl,” Lucinda said.
“Are they very big?” Bailey couldn’t imagine what sort of animal might go with that noise. “They sound like they could be very big.”
“Big enough.” Lucinda peered up toward the tree tops.
Bailey heard the owl again. The sound made him shiver. “What do they eat?”
“Mice.” Lucinda kept walking. “Maybe even cats if they could catch one which they couldn’t. Never a dog as big as you so stop walking on my tail.” Lucinda jumped to the side to keep Bailey from stumbling over her. “What would eat a dog?”
“My master used to warm me that lions and tigers would.” Skelley spoke up. “Boa constrictors too.”
“Boa constrictors?” Bailey’s voice came out in a squeak. He had no idea what boa constrictors were, but they sounded scary.
“Snakes big as tree trunks.” Skelley lowered his voice as though one of the snakes might be listening from up in the trees. “They swallow whatever they eat without chewing and squeeze it to death inside them. Awful things, they are.”
A bush rattled and Bailey almost jumped out of his skin. He looked around. “Are they here in the dark?”
“Oh no, they live in zoos,” Skelley said. “Nothing out here but owls and such. Right, Miss Lucinda?”
The cat muttered under her breath. Skelley, not knowing Lucinda as well as Bailey did, took that as encouragement to keep talking.
“Owls and mice and raccoon and skunks,” he said. “I crossed paths with a skunk once. Looked a bit like a black and white cat, but begging your pardon, Miss Lucinda, it had a horrible odor. Worse than anything ye can imagine and he turned tail and squirted his nasty stink all over me. Me master dunked me in tomato juice before he’d let me back in his tent. A nasty business, it was.”
Bailey stared around him. The moon had come up to make shadows that shifted and swayed under the trees. Horrible things could be hiding out there in the night.
Owls that hooted. Skunks that stunk. Raccoon. Bailey was afraid to ask what raccoon did, but whatever they did, he wanted to wait until the sun came up to face them.
“I think we better rest here until morning. It might be better to cross rivers of cars at night, but we need light here in the woods.”
Lucinda was more than ready to stop. She jumped up on a fallen tree trunk and curled into a ball in a spot of moonlight. Skelley and Bailey scratched out a hole beside the log and snuggled down together.
Bailey had no more than closed his eyes when howls brought him to his feet. “What’s that? Dogs?”
“No dog that I’ve ever heard.” Skelley was on his feet beside him.
The hair on Bailey’s spine inched up as the yips and yowls went on.
Even Lucinda was on her feet, her tail straight up. “Coyotes.”
She sounded really scared for the first time since they left the Robinsons’ house.
That scared Bailey more than the howling. “What are coyotes?”
“Something like dogs.” Lucinda stretched her head up to listen. “Only wild and smart. My mother warned me about coyotes. Told me to get right up in a tree or the top of the barn if I ever saw one.”
All at once, as if on cue, the howling completely stopped, and the night around them went silent. It was almost as if everything in the woods was holding its breath to listen the same as Lucinda was listening.
“Don’t worry, Miss Lucinda.” Skelley edged over to stand in front of her. “We won’t let the varmints get close to you.”
“That’s gallant of you, but I think it will be safer for all of us if I do what my mother said and climb a tree.”
She was on the bottom limbs of the nearest tree before all the words were out of her mouth. As she climbed higher, there was a crash of wings. A bird that seemed almost as big as the bulldozer monster had that morning, swooped down out of the tree. It fixed its great shining saucer eyes on Bailey and dived straight at him.
Bailey cowered against the ground as the bird’s talons skimmed his back. Then as suddenly as it had appeared, the owl flapped away to a quieter perch in another tree.
Barking, Bailey ran after the bird. That started the coyotes up again. Bailey jumped around in a circle trying to figure out which direction to chase after the noisy coyotes, but their barks and yips seemed to be coming from every direction.
“For mercy’s sake, Bailey,” Lucinda hissed from the tree over his head. “It was only an owl, and I told you owls don’t eat dogs. It was trying to scare you away.”
“And those coyotes?” Bailey stopped hopping in circles.
“They mostly don’t bother dogs like you either. I told you nothing normal eats dogs.” Lucinda emphasized the word normal. “Now go to sleep.”
“Miss Lucinda is right, Bailey me lad,” Skelley said. “We need our sleep for the journey tomorrow.” The old dog promptly curled up in the hole he’d dug out next to the tree trunk.
Bailey stayed on his feet, studying the shifting shadows long after the coyotes fell silent once more. He had the feeling eyes were watching him even though he couldn’t see anything. Great saucer eyes. If only he could climb up in the tree with Lucinda.
He wanted to bark again. That was what he always did when he didn’t know what else to do, but Lucinda would yowl at him if he woke her up. So instead of barking, he growled real low to let anything that might be out there in the dark know that he wasn’t a dog to be messed with. Hadn’t he stopped a monster bulldozer? Hadn’t he crossed the river of car without getting mashed? He could fight off a few coyotes and an owl. He could.
He kept his growl rumbling down in his chest for a long time until his feet began to hurt. At last, still watching on every side, he eased over to where Skelley, his nose on his baton, was sound asleep.
Bailey eased down close beside the bony dog, but he kept his eyes open until they burned. He spotted mice creeping from the cover of one leaf or bush to another. A gray ball of an animal with a skinny tail trundled by. Another creature who looked like it was wearing a mask and who had rings on its tail scurried past. All the woods creatures seemed too busy to give Bailey more than a passing glance.
After a long time, when the owl didn’t come back and the coyotes stayed silent, Bailey closed his eyes. He shut out the night noises around him and concentrated on the hum inside him until he could almost feel Reid hugging him.
If he had to, he would walk through a million trees with eyes everywhere to find Reid. If he had to.
The country went on and on. During the day, they walked until their feet hurt, then napped in the sun. At night, they stopped wherever Lucinda found a tree with good limbs for sleeping because the coyotes made her nervous.
Bailey was used to the coyotes’ howling now and to the owls that hooted and screeched. Once he quit jumping at shadows and got used to the woods being a noisy place, he slept almost as good out in the open as he had on his rug back at the Robinsons’ house.
When a noise did wake him, he blinked open his eyes, sniffed the air and tried to sort out what made the noise. They had been in the woods a couple of nights when Bailey decided silence was the noise to worry about the most. As long as the frogs and bugs kept singing, everything was the way it was supposed to be. When they fell silent, that’s when Bailey got up, a growl deep in his throat, just in case something was out there in the dark.
The daytime held dangers too, both in the woods and in the wide open fields where what Lucinda called cows ate grass. Lucinda made them walk wide circles around the big clumsy looking animals.
One day when they forgot to listen to Lucinda and walked too close to the cows, one of them lowered its head and ran at them faster than Bailey thought possible. He skittered out of the way, but Skelley wasn’t quick enough. The cow gave the old dog a good toss.
Bailey barked at the cow who shook its head at him and went back to eating grass.
When Skelley caught his breath, he stood up and shook his skin back in place over his bones. “I’ll take an elephant any day. Ye can reason with an elephant.”
“I told you to stay away from them,” Lucinda said.
“It appears you were right about that, Miss Lucinda.” Skelley looked around. “Do ye see where my baton might have landed?”
“I’ll find it.” Lucinda was off before the dogs could stop her.
Bailey and Skelley inched along behind her, ready to charge to Lucinda’s rescue, but the cows paid no attention to the cat. She found the stick and dropped it at Skelley’s feet.
“I do thank ye, Miss Lucinda. I wouldn’t be wanting to go on without me master’s baton.” He ran his nose up and down the stick to make sure it hadn’t been damaged by the cow.
“I don’t know why any of us are going on.” Lucinda sounded cross. “We’ve gone miles and miles and what have we found? Cows and coyotes. Dirt and thorns.” She licked one of her sore feet.
She stopped and stared off across the field. Somehow Bailey knew she was thinking about cushions in windows.
He wanted to tell her they were close, but he didn’t know whether that was true or not. The hum in his ear was steady, always in his head except when thunder boomed above them and crowded out everything but the need to find a place to hide until the storm blew past.
Bailey wanted Reid to be close. Each hill they came to, he hoped Reid’s new house would be just on the other side. But then there would be another hill. He looked across the field to where the trees met the sky. “Do you think we’re in another state yet?”
“I wouldn’t be doubting it,” Skelley said. “The states, they just run one right into another, and I never knew how me master could tell when we were in a new one, but he always knew.”
“Then we’re probably almost there.” Bailey tried to sound as sure as he could.
But Lucinda knew him too well. “You don’t know where we are. We’re probably going in circles.”
“He’s not doing that.” Skelley took up for Bailey. “We’ve been heading toward the sunrise every day. Never the sunset. We’re keeping a straight line, for a truth.”
Bailey shook the hair out of his eyes and looked Skelley gratefully. The old dog’s bones were sticking out on his sides, but he never complained even when they had to go all day with nothing but grasshoppers to eat.
Bailey looked at his own sides and was surprised to see his ribs beginning to show up even under his shaggy coat. Reid’s mother always took him to get his hair clipped down to the hide when it started getting long.
Even Lucinda looked different. Slimmer. And not nearly so sleek as when she spent most of her day washing and smoothing down her black fur between naps.
“I’m sorry, Lucinda,” Bailey said. “I didn’t think it would take so long to find Reid.” He looked over at the old dog. “And you too, Skelley. If it weren’t for me you’d be in the city where you could find lots of food in trashcans.”
“Be I worrying about trashcans, lad? Nay, the three of us are having a grand adventure.”
“Some adventure.” Lucinda snorted and stood up. “Whatever it is, we best be getting on with it. Which way does your bug say go now?”
So Bailey led the way past the cows, under a fence and across the way to another tree covered hill. He could hear the hum just fine, but for the first time he wasn’t sure it was going to lead him to Reid. Bailey was tired and hungry. Especially hungry.
Skelley started telling a story to try to keep their spirits up.
“You know once when I was in the circus, they lost an elephant. Can ye imagine that? Losing an elephant. Of course, it was dark when Anne Marie went missing. Night isn’t the best time for searching for elephants, being as how they are gray and all. Be that as it may, we poked around in folks’ backyards and such for hours. Then, come morning, there she was waiting by her truck. Claimed to have been there the whole time, but we figured she wasn’t telling everything about her escapade.”
Bailey liked Skelley’s circus stories, but this time he couldn’t keep his mind from wandering off to think about how many more hills, how many more nights of coyotes howling, how many more days trying to nose out something to eat until they would find Reid.
Bailey shut his eyes for a minute so could think about Reid. And there his boy was, laughing and throwing the plastic toy. Bailey shut his eyes tighter to see Reid better.
“Watch out,” Skelley warned.
Bailey opened his eyes, but not quick enough to keep from banging into a tree. He bounced back on his haunches.
“Be ye all right, lad?” Skelley looked at him with worried eyes.
“What happened?” Bailey’s head was spinning.
“You ran into a tree.” Lucinda jumped up on a branch above him. She had no sympathy for his head at all.
Bailey looked up and saw two black cats on limbs that wavered and shook. He tried to stand up, but that made everything shimmer and shake even more. He sank back on his haunches and shook his head until his ears flapped.
Skelley leaned over to sniff Bailey. Bailey saw two noses and four black eyes. It was too much. He lay down and put his paw over his eyes.
“I think the lad has hurt himself.” Skelley touched Bailey’s back with his nose.
“He’s knocked himself silly,” Lucinda said. “And what are we supposed to do now? Out here heaven only knows where.”
“Could be the lad merely needs a minute or so to come to his senses.”
“He does’t have a lot of sense to come to.” Lucinda let out a sigh. “I guess I don’t either or I wouldn’t be out here with him in the middle of nowhere.”
“Now, now, Miss Lucinda. Ye did what any true friend would do. The lad needed you along. He needs the both of us.”
“And I need a saucer of milk. And you need a truckload of food.”
“I’ve always been on the lean side.” Skelley sat down beside Bailey. “That’s how I got me name, you know. Skeleton, it is, but me master shortened it to Skelley. I always favored that name best.”
“Being bony doesn’t mean you don’t get hungry,” Lucinda said.
Bailey wished she wouldn’t talk about being hungry. It was making his stomach rumble and he was having enough trouble trying to keep his head from floating clear away. Even with his eyes tight shut, the ground was rocking under him. Not only that, but Lucinda and Skelley sounded faraway even though he knew they were right beside him.
Skelley was still trying to reassure Lucinda. “Don’t be worrying, Miss Lucinda. I mind the time I fell off old Asaph one night. Knocked me out cold for a bit, and then it was some time before I could think straight again. We’ll just rest here a spell until the lad comes around.”
They quit talking and Bailey thought he should open his eyes and tell them he was okay. He was okay. His head wasn’t spinning now and felt attached to his body again. When he peeked out past his paw, the trees were no longer dividing into twos. Everything looked the way it was supposed to look. But he didn’t sit up.
He kept his paw over his eyes and tried not to think about why he didn’t want to open his eyes. Instead he thought about food, but that made his stomach growl. He thought about how the thorn in his foot hurt even when he wasn’t walking on it. He wanted to lick his foot again to see if he could get rid of the thorn, but he didn’t. Then his ear started to itch, but he didn’t sit up to scratch it.
Finally he thought about Lucinda in the tree over his head. She was why he didn’t want to open his eyes. The hum wasn’t sounding in his ear anymore. It was gone. He couldn’t hear it at all no matter how hard he listened.
How could he tell Lucinda that?
Bailey lay still. He couldn’t tell Lucinda the bang on his head had made him lose the hum they were following to Reid. He couldn’t.
He didn’t want to move, but the itch in his ear went past bearing. He eased his paw off his eyes and lifted his head.
“Are ye all right, lad?” The loose skin over Skelley’s eyes was wrinkled with concern.
“I think so.” Bailey sat up and scratched his ear. Maybe if he dug at his ear hard enough, the hum would come back.
Lucinda jumped down from the tree in front of Bailey and swatted him with her paw. “Stop that. You’re going to tear your ear off and unfortunately, we need your ears intact right now to tell us which way to go.”
Bailey stopped scratching with his paw up in the air. The itch was gone. Now his ear was ringing from too much scratching, but try as he might, he couldn’t hear the hum.
Bailey kept his head turned away from Lucinda as he put his paw down and stood up. “I’m sorry, Lucinda. I just shut my eyes so I could think about Reid and how he looked.”
“You better keep your eyes open or you might never see him for real again.” Lucinda muttered something about dogs that Bailey didn’t quite hear because of the ringing in his ears.
“Now, Miss Lucinda. It might happen to anybody. The lad’s merely missing his boy.” Skelley put his paw on his painted stick.
“We’re all missing lots of things, but that’s no excuse for running into trees.” Lucinda twitched her tail back and forth the way she did when she was irritated.
“I won’t run into any more trees,” Bailey promised.
“I should think not.” The cat sat down and began rapidly washing her face. When she was finished, she stood up and looked at Bailey. “So which way does your bug say go now?”
Bailey swallowed hard. He knew he should tell them the bug was gone, but instead he looked at the shadows of the trees. What was it Skelley had said about how they always headed toward the sunrise? If he could do that for a while, maybe, just maybe, the hum would come back.
“This way.” Bailey took off along a trace of a path through the trees.
It was easy enough to keep his direction for a while. He just made sure the shadows stretched out behind him. But then clouds piled up on the horizon and soon spilled all across the sky to cover up the sun. Even when the sun did slip out for a peek, the shadows pooled right under Bailey’s feet and didn’t point out a direction.
He blundered on, trying to keep up a steady pace even though he wanted to stop and look around every other step. Out of the trees, it wasn’t quite so hard. Bailey set his sights on some distant landmark and made a fairly straight line toward it. But then they were back in the trees and the clouds rolled in blacker and thicker. There wasn’t the least bit of a shadow anywhere.
Bailey kept moving tree to tree, but in spite of the way he kept his ears perked up as though he heard something, Skelley began giving him odd looks. Especially after they passed the same tree twice. Or was it really the same tree? Trees all looked a lot alike.
Lucinda must not have noticed. She had her eyes half closed following along behind them. She did that sometimes, almost as if she could nap while she walked. Still, she would open her eyes all the way eventually and see that he had no idea which way to go. He’d never been able to hide anything from Lucinda for very long.
Just then thunder rumbled in the distance. Bailey’s head came up, and his tail almost flopped back and forth. He never heard the hum when it was thundering. So if Lucinda opened up her eyes and noticed a tree she’d already seen, he’d have an excuse. He could say it was because of the thunder.
He stopped and sat down, his tail brushing back and forth on the ground in spite of his best efforts to keep it still.
Lucinda looked at him. “You do hear the storm come?”
“I heard it a long time ago,” Bailey said.
Lucinda’s eyes narrowed on him. “Then why aren’t you trembling?”
“I am. Inside.” Bailey wrapped his tail up around his body and put his paw on the end of it. He did his best to look afraid even though for some some reason the thunder was just bouncing off his ears without bothering him at all.
“That knock on your head must have done more to you than we thought.” Lucinda glanced over at Skelley who was studying the sky between the tree branches.
“The lad could have a sore head for sure.” Skelley looked at Lucinda and Bailey, then back at the sky. “But I think we best hunt some cover. These clouds put me in mind of a storm once that near blew away the whole circus. Folks were already in the bleachers and the clowns were peddling their balloons and such, but all the while me master kept going out of the tent and muttering up at the sky. He tried to get the ringmaster to call off the show, but he wouldn’t. Then the wind picked up the tent and carried it clear away. People scattered pretty quick then.”
Overhead the trees bent over in the wind and the thunder let loose a great clap that didn’t bounce off Bailey’s ears this time. His tail jerked away from his paw and hid between his legs.
The first raindrops banged against the leaves above them and worked down through the limbs to bounce off the ground. Not raindrops at all, but bits of ice. Skelley held his head over Lucinda to shield her.
“We’d best be getting out of these trees,” Skelley said.
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than the wind grabbed one of the trees and knocked it part way out of the ground. It leaned toward them, catching on the branches of the other trees overhead and then falling again when those branches started giving way.
Lucinda yowled and took off as another tree crashed down. The hail changed to raindrops that hit almost as hard as the ice had. Skelley and Bailey chased after Lucinda.
Reid used to tell him that the thunder was only noise and couldn’t hurt him, but these trees falling could hurt him for sure. For the first time since he’d run away from Mr. Robinson, Bailey wished he was back there under the bed where it would be warm and dark. It would be better to be under Reid’s bed but with the hum gone, Bailey didn’t know if he’d ever be safe under Reid’s bed again.
At last they ran out of the trees and found a tired old barn leaning downhill toward a rushing stream of water. Without so much as a sniff to see what might have gone in before them, Bailey shoved aside a couple of the barn’s planks and led the way inside.
The storm didn’t seem so loud inside. Bailey shook the rain of his fur and felt better. While the roof didn’t hold out all the rain, there were dry spots between the leaks.
“A fine barn it is.” Skelley dug a hole in a pile of moldy smelling hay. “For a truth, we’ll be safe and dry in here till the blow is over.” He picked up his stick and place it close enough to touch with his nose, then curled up in the hay.
“Safe,” Lucinda muttered. “We’re wet and cold. There’s not so much as a mouse to be seen and I smell coyotes.”
She climbed up a pole to perch on a brace up in the barn. Every few minutes she growled as she licked the rain off her fur.
Bailey pulled his tongue all the way into his mouth to sniff the air in the barn. Coyotes had been there, but not for a while. He told Lucinda that and then added, “And I do smell mice.”
“Then you catch them,” she said crossly. “Cats can’t hunt when they’re wet.”
With that she climbed higher in the barn. Bailey sniffed around in the hay, but he couldn’t concentrate on the smells. He wasn’t any good at catching mice anyway. He couldn’t creep up on them the way Lucinda could even when the thunder wasn’t making his legs all trembly.
Bailey looked up at Lucinda, but she was hunched in a ball with her eyes closed. Maybe sleeping would make her feel better and then she could catch some mice.
Bailey scratched out a hole in the hay close to Skelley. The old dog was already asleep with his nose on the painted stick. Bailey lay down with his head on his paws. He wished he had the plastic toy with him. That might help him hear the hum again.
Beside him Skelley gave a shiver. Bailey stood up and brushed some of the hay over on the old dog.
Skelley opened one eye. “Thank ye, lad.” Then he went back to sleep.
But Bailey couldn’t sleep. So instead he tried to work the cockleburs out of his fur. Still, he was sort of glad he had the cockleburs to pull and bite on. And when he finished with them, he could worry with the thorn in his foot. That might keep him from thinking about how hungry he was or how the hum wasn’t humming in his ears.
Maybe the hum hadn’t really left him. Maybe it was just the noise of the rain and the roar of the stream racing by outside that was keeping him from hearing it. The thunder was fading away, but the rain beat down harder than ever.
Even if the hum didn’t come back, he could just keep walking toward the sunrise. He wouldn’t have to tell Lucinda. Sooner or later they would have gone enough miles and Reid would be there waiting for them.
With that thought, Bailey quit worrying the thorn in his foot and put his head back down on his paws. Water was seeping in around the edges of the barn to join with the rain leaking through the roof. But it was dry where he and Skelley were and very quiet other than the pounding rain.
For a minute before Bailey closed his eyes, he wondered if it wasn’t too quiet. No birds. No owls. No raccoons. Nothing moving anywhere. Everything was probably just holed up sleeping through the storm the way they were.
Lucinda hissing jerked Bailey awake. Eyes were all around him and Skelley. Suspicious, glinting eyes. Hungry eyes.
Coyotes. He shot a look up at Lucinda crouched on the rafter, her tail rigid and her fur spiked up.
Bailey stared back at the coyotes. They were like certain dogs he’d seen but leaner with a wild scent about that that made a growl want to rumble in his throat. Bailey mashed his mouth together to keep the growl inside.
There were five of them, shifting first one way and then the other around Bailey and Skelley. They made no noise, at least none Bailey could hear over the rain beating against the barn and the roar of the stream outside. Water was running through the barn now. The only dry place was the hay pile where Bailey and Skelley were.
Bailey slowly got to his feet. Skelley was already up, looking even more worried than when the monster bulldozer had pushed down his house.
“The look in their eyes puts me in mind of a tiger I knew once,” Skelley whispered. “Always hungry, he was.”
Bailey swallowed down the growl that kept wanting to climb up his throat. He flicked his tail back and forth and thought hard of something friendly to say.
“We just came in to get out of the rain. We’ll be leaving soon.” He summoned up the nicest voice he could.
The coyotes stared back at him. Two of them curled up their lips in a snarl.
“I’m not sure they speak our language, lad,” Skelley said.
“I guess we should try looking friendly then.”
“Me thinks in their eyes we look more like a meal.”
“That can’t be true.” Bailey glanced over at Skelley. “Lucinda says nothing normal eats dogs.”
“Are you so sure they’re normal?” Skelley picked up his baton and clutched it tight between his teeth. He talked around it. “Me thinks we’d best be making a break for it, lad.”
“Listen to him, you lummox,” Lucinda hissed above Bailey.
Bailey was listening, but he was also looking at the coyotes. Their legs were thin and long. Nothing at all like Bailey’s. They didn’t look like the kind of animals who would trip over their own feet the way he did.
He inched backward. Skelley matched his steps. Bailey hesitated when he stepped into the edge of the swirling water, but there was nowhere else to go. So he kept backing up even though the water got deeper with each step and grabbed at his paws.
Bailey dared a look behind him. Water was pouring in through the barn boards, pushing some of them aside. The barn shuddered and groaned and more boards lifted up to let a new rush of water inside.
Bailey stopped moving and tried to dig his toenails into the soft ground. He was afraid if he lifted up even one paw, the water would sweep him right into the coyotes’ mouths. The coyotes had followed them to the edge of the water, watching and waiting.
“What now?” Skelley asked.
Bailey wasn’t sure whether it was the baton in the old dog’s mouth that made his words sound so shaky or whether it was the coyotes edging ever closer to them
“I don’t know,” Bailey said. “Do you know some kind of circus trick that might make the coyotes run away or decide we are friends?”
“For a truth, I know all sorts of circus tricks, but none that would entertain a coyote, I fear.” The baton rattled in the old dog’s mouth, and he clenched his teeth tighter on it. “Old Asaph’s not here for us to leap up on and ride away. Besides, even if standing on me head would help, I might just drown what with the water getting deeper around us. Sorry, lad.”
Bailey looked up at Lucinda.
“Don’t look at me.” Lucinda spat out the words. “Even cats can’t make coyotes disappear.”
The coyotes raised their noses toward Lucinda and sniffed. They started yipping and yammering between themselves.
“I don’t like the sound of that.” Bailey shook his head until his ears flapped. The water was getting deeper under his belly and pushing him toward the coyotes. He needed to think of something. Fast. He gave Skelley a sideways look. “Maybe you could leap over top of them, Skelley, and get away.”
“Maybe I could, lad, but where would that leave you and Miss Lucinda?”
“They can’t get Lucinda up in the barn.”
Bailey ran his tongue out around his mouth. “And if you fly over top of them, they could be so surprised they won’t notice me slipping past them.” Bailey didn’t believe that would happen, but they had to try something.
“It’s been many a moon since I made such a leap. It might be that I will just land smack in the middle of them.”
Bailey looked at the coyotes again with their narrow eyes and snarling mouths. “If you do, I’ll jump in there with you and we’ll fight them off.” Somehow Bailey managed not to let his voice shake. “They aren’t so tough and we have to try something. The water is getting deeper.”
The water was brushing his belly now.
Lucinda crept across a pole until she was directly over their heads. “You can do it, Skelley. Listen to the music in your head and remember how you did leaps for your master.”
Skelley looked up at Lucinda. Then he tightened his mouth around the painted stick, shut his eyes, and stepped back a few steps. His head swayed back and forth as if he really were hearing music. Then he splashed through the water and bounded up into the air.
The old dog sprang so high that for one heart-stopping moment, Bailey thought he was going to make it clear over the coyotes. But all of the sudden, Skelley stalled. He frantically scrambled at the air with his long, bony legs, but it didn’t help. He plummeted down on top of the biggest coyote.
With a silence more terrible than any amount of yips and yowls, the other four coyotes piled on top of Skelley. Bailey let go of the ground with his toenails and the he was swept into the middle of the melee. Up above him, Lucinda was making a terrible snarling noise unlike anything he’d ever heard come out of her mouth. She leaped down onto the back of one of the coyotes and dug in her claws. The coyote yowled and tried to knock off the cat.
Bailey wasn’t exactly sure what happened next. He kept trying to see Lucinda and Skelley, but with the coyotes biting and pulling on him, he couldn’t. Teeth snapped. Mouths growled. And a surge of water pushed him off his feet. He’d be a goner if he couldn’t get up on his feet.
All at once, the barn creaked and groaned just the way the house back in the city had done when the bulldozer pushed on it. Bailey scrambled up to his feet and looked around for the yellow monster, but there was nothing but brown water.
“It’s coming down.” Lucinda leaped away from the coyotes to land on a broad plank.
She floated past Bailey as more boards raining down around them. With an awful shudder, what was left of the barn shifted and started drifting on the water.
The coyotes forgot all about Bailey as they howled and took off for dry ground. They disappeared through a hole in the side of the barn.
Bailey looked around frantically for Skelley, but all he could see was muddy water. No old dog. Bailey dodged a plank as he fought against the current back to where Skelley had disappeared into the coyotes.
“Where is he?” Lucinda leaped from board to board back toward Bailey.
“I can’t see him, but he’s got to be here. He’s got to.” Bailey stuck his head under the water, but he couldn’t see the old dog. He popped back out of the water and yelled, “Skelley.”
Bailey had almost given up hope when Skelley’s head popped up out of the water in front of him. The old dog’s ear was bleeding, but his eyes were full of fire as if the fight with the coyotes had been the best adventure yet. The painted stick floated up beside him.
Skelley caught it with his chin and pulled it back toward him. “My leap fell a bit short, Bailey me lad, but those old boys weren’t so tough.”
Bailey felt like he’d just been given a whole bag of dog food. He barked and jumped straight up, splashing water everywhere.
“Stop that!” Lucinda ordered. “You’re going to drown me.” The cat jumped away from Bailey to a different board. “The water’s getting deeper.”
Lucinda was right. The water swept Bailey off his feet. He paddled to stay beside Skelley but the water kept pushing him away.
“Grab a board, lad. Best try to ride out this flood. Swimming will take too much out of you in this current.” Skelley clambered up on a board and balanced there easy as can be.
Bailey tried to do the same, but the board tipped and dumped him back into the water.
“Try to sit light in the middle, lad.” Skelley nudged the board back toward him. “You have to shift when the board shifts.
This time Bailey made it up on the board, but when he shifted, he ended up dumped in the water again.
“Shift the other way, lad. The other way. For a truth, you’d have a hard time riding a pony.”
Bailey tried to get on the plank again. He fell off again. He was so tired it all seemed like a dream. The flood. The barn breaking up and floating around him. The planks in the water. Skelley floating away from him. He couldn’t see Lucinda. His legs felt like wood. He couldn’t get up on the plank. He’d just have to go wherever the water took him.
His head went under. It was quieter under the water. Easier. But he needed air. He pushed up above the surface and Lucinda was right in front of him. Her green eyes were fierce.
“You crazy dog! Get on that board before you drown.”
Bailey pushed up out of the water and got his front legs up over the plank. He didn’t try to stand up. Just hung on with his stomach on the board and his paws trailing along in the water. He didn’t dare fall off. Not with Lucinda glaring at him.
“Way to go, lad.” Skelley shook his painted stick at Bailey. “There be more than one way to ride a pony, I’m thinking.”
Bailey clung to the board, panting. It wasn’t so bad floating along like that. He could move his paws a bit and guide himself through the water a bit. He’d never had to ride out a flood before, but they were all still together even if Skelley did look a little worse for his fight with the coyotes. The old dog’s ear would have a new scar for sure.
He caught his breath and paddled a little closer to Lucinda. “What are we going to do now?”
“Don’t ask me!” Lucinda snapped. She was wet all over. “This is your adventure. You’re the one with the bug in your ear.”
Bailey was almost glad when what was left of the barn floating along with them banged into a tree and began crashing down around them. Dodging falling planks was easier than telling Lucinda the hum in his ear was gone.
“Hang on, lad,” Skelley called over the crash of the water. “We’ll drift away from the mess of it in a minute.”
Bailey clung to his board and stared over at Skelley balancing on his narrow plank. He was leaning this way and that guiding it through the debris. Lucinda floated along behind the old dog on her own plank. Her back was arched and her tail pointed straight up to get as far away from the water as she could.
A pole rammed into Bailey’s board and knocked him into the water. He dog-paddled like mad to catch up with the plank, but it rushed away from him. Behind him more of the barn crashed down around Skelley and Lucinda. Skelley shifted away from the falling timbers, but a board slapped Lucinda off her perch.
“Lucinda!” Bailey pushed against the water trying to get to her. She wasn’t swimming. Her limp body bounced up and down in the water. Bailey paddled harder but the water pushed him the other way.
“I’ll get her, lad.” Skelley jumped from plank to plank as though the boards were stepping stones. At last he floated on a board right beside Lucinda. The old dog hesitated as his mouth tightened on the painted stick.
For a heartbeat, Bailey wasn’t sure Skelley would be able to choose Lucinda over the baton. At last he placed the stick on the plank and clamped his paw on top of it. Then he plucked Lucinda out of the water with his teeth. All was well for a moment, but when he lifted the cat up, her weight threw him a little off balance. The board shot out from under him.
Skelley’s painted stick flew up in the air and splashed down into the water. Skelley watched it float away from him with large, sad eyes, but he kept his hold on the scruff of Lucinda’s neck.
“I’ll get it,” Bailey shouted.
With no sign of hearing him, Skelley turned and swam toward the creek bank.
Bailey swam back and forth, waiting for the stick to float past him. Bits of wood were everywhere, but none of them was the right bit of wood. It must have slipped past without him seeing it in murky water.
He hated to give up, but if he didn’t make for the bank, he might just float forever. Like Skelley’s stick.
The water had carried him far past the spot where Skelley had gone ashore with Lucinda. Bailey had to rest on the dry ground for a while before his legs could carry him again. He hurried back along the stream to find his friends.
When at last he spotted them, he gave a little bark of joy to see Lucinda sitting up. She didn’t look too good though with her head drooping down. Skelley’s head drooped even lower and he was shaking so that the old dog’s bones had to be clattering.
Bailey caught his breath. “I couldn’t find it, Skelley. I’m sorry.”
“That be all right, lad.” Skelley didn’t look up at Bailey. “I knew it was gone, for a truth, the minute the water gobbled it up.”
“What’s gone?” Lucinda raised her head up to look at Skelley.
“I dropped me master’s baton in the water.” Skelley’s voice was so low Bailey could barely make out his words.
“Where?” Lucinda’s ear perked up and she looked more like her old self in spite of the way her fur was sticking out in odd angles.
“Out there.” Skelley stared at the water and then dropped his nose back toward the ground. “For a truth, it’s gone forever.”
“I tried to find it.” Bailey’s ears drooped down. “I really did.”
“He did, Miss Lucinda. But some things can’t be found.”
Lucinda looked at the water again and then back at the old dog. “I’m sorry about your baton, Skelley.”
“Don’t fret yourself about it, Miss Lucinda. Twas silly me packing it here and there all this time anyway, but it somehow kept me master with me.”
“He’ll still be with you,” Lucinda said softly.
“Aye, I suppose,” the old dog said without much conviction.
Lucinda moved over right in front of Skelley’s nose. “I thank you, Skelley, for pulling me out of the water. You’re a remarkable dog like none I’ve every known before or ever expect to know in the future.” She touched his face with her paw.
“And ye be a fine feline, Miss Lucinda. Me old stick was just that. An old stick.”
Skelley tried to sound as though he meant it, but his eyes were so sad that Bailey wanted to dive back into the rushing water to hunt for the stick again.
Lucinda noticed Bailey looking at the water. “Let’s get away from here. I hate water. Please tell me we’re on the right side of this river.”
“The right side?” Bailey cocked his head to look at Lucinda.
“The one your bug says is right.”
“Oh, the right side. Yes, the right side.” Bailey stood up, shook some more water out of his coat and started away from the stream. He had no idea which way to go for even though it had stopped raining at last the sun was hiding behind thick clouds.
In fact, it looked near night. They needed a safe place to rest. Somewhere they didn’t have to worry about coyotes surrounding them. Someplace where he could get the water out of his ears so that maybe the hum would come back.
Bailey stopped on a little rise. Ahead was a line of trees where there would be some bushes for him and Skelley to hide and trees for Lucinda to climb. Maybe they could find some acorns or berries or bugs to eat.
He thought of rabbits, and his mouth started watering. He pushed the thought away. Even when his legs weren’t feeling so rubbery from swimming in the water, he couldn’t catch a rabbit without Skelley’s help. But Skelley trailed along behind them without seeming to care about catching rabbits or where the sun might be. In fact, he got so far behind that Lucinda and Bailey slowed way down to let him catch up. Finally Skelley stopped trying to keep up and lay down on the ground.
“Me thinks the coyotes must have got hold me leg. It’s paining me some. The two of ye go on, and after I rest a bit, I’ll come along.”
“It’s not much farther. Just over to those trees. We can find a better place to rest there.” Bailey pointed with his nose.
Skelley didn’t even raise his head to look. “Aye. I’ll be along in a little while.”
“What about the adventure?” Bailey said. “You can’t give up on that now.”
“Aye and it is a fine adventure, lad. I’m not quitting it. I’ll be along as soon as me leg rests up a bit.”
Lucinda let out a yowl and swatted Bailey. “Stop your nonsense about adventure. This isn’t an adventure. It’s a disaster, but it’s a disaster we’re all in together. And if you’re going to stay here, the two of us will stay right here with you.” Lucinda sat down beside Skelley and started licking the muddy water out of her coat.
“Ye can’t stay here, Miss Lucinda. The coyotes might find us and the trees are much too far away.”
Lucinda looked up from licking her paw. “We fought the coyotes once. If they find us, we’ll just do it again.” She began washing herself again.
A bit of the old glint flashed in Skelley’s eyes. “I guess you’ve got me, Miss Lucinda. Ye know I can’t let you stay here in the open because for a truth, we may have fought the coyotes but we weren’t winning.”
“We got away, didn’t we?” Lucinda said.
“By the skin of our teeth with a bushel load of luck.” Skelley clambered to his feet. “Could be, if we take it slow, I might make it to the trees after all.”
They moved so slowly now that Bailey had time to hunt for grasshoppers and to nose over rocks and grab a few crickets. He took some to Skelley, but the old dog shook his head.
“Ye eat them, lad. Me appetite seems to have left me.”
It was full dark when they reached the trees, and once they’d settled Skelley into a leafy bed, Lucinda went hunting. She disappeared almost immediately into the night. How many other things were stalking unseen in the darkness?
Bailey shivered and went over to lay next to Skelley who was shivering even worse. Bailey’s shivering slowed and stopped, but the old dog’s shaking seemed to come from deep inside him with nothing to do with the cool air.
“I’m sorry about your master’s baton,” Bailey said.
“‘Tis a sadness for a truth, lad.” Skelley sighed. “It’s taken the music with it.”
“Aye, the music. Ye know I could always hear that music and fine music it was. Circus music. No matter what else happened, no matter whether there was food or not, I heard the music and was ready for the show to go on.”
Skelley raised his head to stare out into the night as if listening for a new burst of music. For a moment he even stopped shaking. But then he dropped his head back down on his paws and his old bones began quaking again.
“I miss the music.”
“It’ll come back, Skelley. You’re tired. In the morning, the music will be back.”
“I hope so, lad.” Skelley didn’t sound as if he thought it possible. “I don’t think I can go on with the adventure without the music.”
Bailey shifted uneasily as though he’d just felt a rock under him. Talking about Skelley’s music reminded him that he still couldn’t hear the hum. The water was out of his ears. The storm was long gone but no hum was vibrating inside his head.
“Skelley,” he said after a moment. “Do you know which way the sun comes up?”
“Aye, lad. it’s in the east, but I need some sign of it shining to point the way.” He looked up at the sky. “Me master could do it, night or day. He knew the stars that pointed the way, but I never could make out which ones he said mattered the most.”
Bailey stared up through the trees to the sky. He saw stars, but none that helped him know which way to go.
The night was suddenly so silent that Bailey wanted to jump up and bark just so there would be some noise somewhere. But he made himself lay still. If Lucinda heard him barking, she’d run back to see what was wrong. Then what would he tell her?
He thought maybe Skelley was asleep, but then the old dog said, “Ye’ve lost what Miss Lucinda calls your bug, haven’t ye, lad?”
Bailey perked up his ears and started to pretend. But what good would that do? He dropped his nose down on Skelley’s bony back. “I’m afraid so. It wasn’t a bug. It was a hum right in the middle of my head. Now it’s gone.”
He waited for Skelley to tell him the hum would come back, that he just needed a bit of rest. Bailey wanted the old dog to say that, but he didn’t.
Instead the old dog said, “Miss Lucinda’s going to be a mite upset when you tell her, but tell her you must, lad. And soon.”
Bailey practiced how he might tell Lucinda about the hum while he waited for her to come back from hunting. Maybe he could simply say the bug crawled out of his ear. That could happen, couldn’t it? He would scrunch down on his belly and tell her how sorry he was for getting her out here in the middle of nowhere. He’d beg her to pounce on him, bite his ears, scratch his nose or do whatever she wanted to if it made her feel better. He deserved it leading her out here where she had to hunt mice and climb trees to get away from coyotes.
He aimed to just blurt it out the minute she came back, but when she stepped out of the night in front of him, he lost his courage. Instead, he shut his eyes and pretended to be asleep. Too asleep to even notice when she put a mouse down right in front of his nose.
The next morning, the mouse was still there. Bailey tried to give it to Skelley, but the old dog shook his head and told Bailey to eat it. So he gobbled it down. It wasn’t much but it was something. Would he ever see a full food dish again?
Maybe he would be like Skelley and spend all his time raiding garbage cans and saving bones that didn’t have even one good chew left on them. How would he look with bones sticking out in angles like Skelley’s?
Bones were already in plain sight on his sides in spite of the way his hair had gotten bushy with nobody to trim it off. He was a funny mud color too and didn’t look much like the dog that had run away from Mr. Robinson.
He didn’t feel much like that dog either. That dog didn’t think of much other than food dishes and fetching for Reid. This dog he was now had to worry about getting Lucinda and Skelley lost or worse and whether he’d ever see Reid again.
Lucinda hopped down out of the tree. “Time to be on our way.”
Thick fog hid everything except the trunks of the trees nearest them. No hint of the sun pushed through it. He couldn’t go without seeing which way the sun was shining.
“Maybe we should let Skelley rest a while longer. So his leg can get better.” The sun would surely show up in a little while.
“For a truth, Miss Lucinda, I’m not sure if I can walk on it,” Skelley said. “And I’m a wee bit too tired to hop along on me other three legs.”
“We’ll go slow,” Lucinda said.
“No, no, Miss Lucinda. I’ll not be slowing the two of you down. Twill be better for ye to leave me here and go on your way.”
“We can’t leave you here alone,” Bailey protested.
“And we won’t.” There was no doubt in Lucinda’s voice.
“But you can’t stay,” Skelley started.
Lucinda interrupted him. “Let me finish. I’ll stay here with you while Bailey goes on to find Reid. Then he can bring him back with him. People know about fixing hurt legs and such.”
Skelley settled his sad eyes on Bailey. He was waiting for him to tell Lucinda about the hum, but Bailey just pulled his tongue up in his mouth and didn’t say anything.
Lucinda went on. “We’ve gone miles and miles. Too many to count. We have to be in another state. Close to Reid. Your bug says so, doesn’t it, Bailey?”
Bailey stared out toward the fog as though he were hearing something in the gray mist. He should tell Lucinda about losing the hum. He should. But the words wouldn’t come out of his throat.
Instead he kept his eyes on the farthest tree he could see in the fog. “It can’t be far.”
Lucinda sighed. “Heaven knows, you’ve been saying that every day since we left, but maybe this time you’ll be right.”
When Bailey didn’t move, she nudged him with her paw. “Well, what are you waiting for? Go get Reid. Now.”
“I’ll find him.” Bailey tried to sound like he meant it as he skipped his eyes over Lucinda and Skelley and headed out into the fog. He had no idea which way to go. One way was as good as another until he got out of sight of Lucinda.
“It was a grand adventure, Bailey me lad,” Skelley called after him. “A grand adventure.”
The old dog’s words echoed in Bailey’s ears long after the fog closed off any sight of him and Lucinda. Bailey had never felt so alone. He couldn’t hear his hum. He couldn’t hear any kind of bug. No bird either. The fog kept closing in on him.
When he spotted a smooth round rock that reminded him of his plastic toy, he stopped to rest his chin on it. Maybe that would help the hum come back. It didn’t. After a while, he got up and walked some more.
The fog was beginning to lift when he saw that same smooth round rock. He tried to tell himself it was another rock. Just one that looked like the first one, but then he spotted his paw prints in the soft dirt around the rock.
He was going in circles. He might keep going in circles all day and all night. Forever. With Lucinda back there somewhere in the fog waiting for him to bring Reid back. He couldn’t do that.
With his nose to the ground, Bailey tracked his way back through the fog to Lucinda and Skelley.
When Bailey bushed back through the brush to where they were waiting, Skelley looked up. “I knew ye’d find the courage to do what you must.”
Lucinda was asleep after her night of hunting. Bailey sat down beside her to wait until she opened her eyes.
Skelley limped over to poke his nose against Bailey’s side. “Best go on and wake her, lad.”
“She gets mad if I wake her up.”
“It’ll be okay. She’ll understand.”
Bailey gave Skelley a look. He really didn’t know Lucinda very well. She wasn’t going to understand at all. Not at all. But it had to be done. Might as well get it over with.
“Lucinda,” he whispered. Then he tried a little louder. “Lucinda, wake up. I have to tell you something.”
Lucinda opened one eye, saw Bailey and opened her other eye. “Where’s Reid?”
“I didn’t find Reid.” Bailey hesitated and Skelley poked him with his nose again. “I don’t think I can find Reid.”
Lucinda raised her head and glared at him. “Go on.”
“I don’t hear the hum anymore.” Bailey pushed his words out in a rush. “I’m lost. We’re all lost and I can’t do anything about it.” He winced waiting for her to start yowling and swat him.
Instead, she sat very still and sounded way too calm. “And when did the bug crawl out of your ear?”
“When I ran into the tree. It was just gone. Sudden like.”
Lucinda sat up. “I knew something was wrong, but I thought it was the storm.” She was still calm as though she were discussing nothing more important than which tree she might nap in. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Bailey’s ears drooped and he stared at the ground. “I thought you’d be mad.”
“Dogs,” Lucinda muttered. She began pacing back and forth, her tail twitching sharply one way and then the other way.
“I’m sorry. Really sorry. You were right. We should have stayed at the Robinsons.”
“Of course. That is what we should have done. What I should have done.” Lucinda paused a moment in her pacing to glare at him.
“We could go back,” Bailey said.
“Go back? All those miles? Are you nuts?” Lucinda shook her head and didn’t wait for him to say anything. “But of course, you’re nuts. We all are. But we can’t go back. Poor Skelley here can barely limp. Of all the dog-brained ideas.”
Bailey felt better with Lucinda yelling at him. That’s how it was supposed to be, but Skelley took up for him.
“Now don’t be so hard on the lad, Miss Lucinda. He simply wanted to find his boy. His heart was in the right place.”
Lucinda stopped pacing and put her nose right up in Bailey’s face. Her eyes glittered greener than Bailey had ever seen them. He wanted to back away from her, but he made himself sit still.
“His heart, yes,” she said softly. “I’ve wondered plenty of times if he has a brain, but I never doubted he had a heart.”
“I just wanted to find Reid.” Bailey wanted to lick her face, but he knew better. “I didn’t know all this was going to happen.”
“How could you? No one could have. Not even a cat. Certainly not a dog. But it has happened. We are out here untold miles from the Robinsons. Probably in another state and we have a friend who needs help.” Lucinda kept glaring at Bailey. “You couldn’t know that. But you do know something.”
“What?” Bailey asked. Lucinda’s eyes were getting even greener. And fiercer.
“You know where Reid is.”
“But,” Bailey started.
Lucinda swatted him with her paw. “Don’t say you don’t. You do. You know in your heart, and that knowing was what put the bug in your ear. If you listen, really listen with your heart, you’ll hear it again.”
Lucinda flipped away from Bailey and found a shaft of sunlight pushing through the fog. Without so much as a glance back at Bailey, she began to wash her face.
Bailey stayed stuck in his spot. He didn’t know what to do.
Skelley spoke up. “Ye know, lad, me thinks Miss Lucinda could be right.”
“Lucinda’s always right.” Bailey raised up to look over at her. Lucinda paused in licking her paw and stared straight at him. Then she went back to work on her face.
“Aye, she’s a smart cat for sure and right as rain on this. For a truth, the tree might have knocked the bug, the hum, whatever it was out of your ears, but it’s still there in your heart. It would take more than a bump into a tree to knock it out of there.”
“But I can’t hear it anymore.”
“Are ye sure you’re listening hard enough, lad? With all your heart and soul?”
Skelley hobbled away to find another spot of sun spreading out on the ground. Bailey was left sitting in the fog alone. The fog wasn’t just outside him but inside too.
Bailey stared at Lucinda washing in the sun and Skelley curled tight in his bit of sunshine but shivering as always. They thought he could do it. They really did. So he would have to try. Again. Bailey blew out a breath that stirred the fog in front of his nose and headed back out into the trees.
The sun beat back the fog until only fingers of it remained. Bailey spotted birds flying from tree to tree. They were singing and why not? They weren’t lost. A squirrel set up a chattering fuss when Bailey passed under his tree. Off somewhere Bailey couldn’t see, crows cawed.
He was listening so hard, he could even hear bugs crawling and hopping through the ground leaves. He could hear everything but what he most wanted to hear. The hum.
He tried to imagine he heard it. That didn’t help. So he listened even harder and he thought maybe he was hearing the trees stretching their limbs up toward the sun and the worms crawling under the ground. But he didn’t hear the hum.
On he walked. At least he could see the sun now and could keep his shadow in the right place to keep from walking in circles. He did not want to end up in front of Lucinda again. Not yet anyhow. Not until he found Reid.
But how could he find Reid without the hum? He was listening as hard as he could and there was no hum.
“Don’t listen with your ears, you big lummox.” The words were so loud in his head that Bailey looked around, sure Lucinda must have followed him. But she was nowhere to be seen.
He wished she was there even if she swatted his nose again. He was so lonely out there by himself. He sat down and shut his eyes. How could anybody listen with his heart? He shut his eyes. He heard birds and bugs and the whisper of the wind but then those sounds faded away as he started thinking about Reid.
He remembered how Reid called him to go play. He sounded different than when he called him to eat. Bailey’s tail swept back and forth on the ground. Inside his head, Reid was laughing when Bailey captured the plastic thing. He jerked it away from Bailey and then he stopped playing to rub Lucinda from her ears to her tail. Lucinda purred.
His thoughts were so good he forgot about being hungry and alone and lost. His tail kept beating against the ground until Bailey was almost sure that when he opened his eyes Reid would be right there with him.
All at once something chirped a little in his ear. Faintly. Bailey made his tail stop thumping. He listened with every inch of him even to the tips of his fur. Then slowly he opened his eyes. Trees still shot up toward the sky around him, but the chirp had turned to a hum. A wonderful hum in his ears. Or maybe it had always been his heart humming.
Bailey started barking like crazy and kicked up swirls of leaves. The bug was back. He could find Reid.
He went faster then. He didn’t worry about being hungry. Reid would give him food. He didn’t worry about how much farther it was because the hum kept getting louder. Finally, when he came out of the trees, crossed an open field and climbed a hill, the hum was exploding inside him. He stared down at a road with houses all along it.
He couldn’t keep his tail from flopping back and forth as he trotted toward the houses. It didn’t even bother him too much when the first people who saw him yelled and threw rocks at him. They were boys like Reid, but they weren’t Reid.
He hurried past them, past all the houses, and across the road. He barely noticed the monster cars honking at him. Nothing mattered but the hum.
But there were a lot of houses, and by the time he found the right one, all its windows were dark. It was a nice house with a wide railing around the porch where Lucinda could nap in the sun. A round rug was in front of the door that must be there for Bailey. Best of all, Bailey smelled Reid everywhere he sniffed.
Bailey started to bark and jump on the door, but Reid’s father always got mad if he barked in the middle of the night. So Bailey climbed up on the porch and curled up on the rug. He dropped his head down on his paws and let out a long sigh. Home at last.
The next morning, the big yellow monster bus roared down the street and woke Bailey. That meant Reid would be shooting out the door and down the walk. The bus would stop, open its door and swallow Reid up. It would be hours before it brought Reid back.
Bailing jumped up and shook to get ready. He had to keep Reid from being swallowed by the bus. Instead he had to get him to follow Bailey back to Skelley and Lucinda.
Bailey’s throat got tight. The bus might be as hard to face down as the bulldozer. The monster bus was always blowing its horn if Reid was a second late coming out of the house. Bailey wouldn’t have but a couple of minutes before Reid disappeared into the bus.
If only Lucinda was there to tell him what to do. She’d know. Lucinda always knew.
But she wasn’t there and the bus was getting closer. Bailey stared at the front door of the house, ready to charge in front of Reid when he came outside. Just the thought of seeing Reid again made Bailey’s tail do circles in spite of the bus coming.
His tail lost its wag when the bus passed by the house without so much as slowing down. It didn’t even honk. Bailey stared at the door behind him. Was he at the wrong house, after all? Bailey took a big sniff, and his tail started wagging again. Reid was there. He hadn’t come out the door, but he was there, somewhere inside.
Bailey couldn’t wait a second longer. He banged his paws up against the door and barked for all he was worth. The door stayed closed. He ran around to the back of the house. That was how he had to go into the house. Through the back. He found the back door and jumped against it.
He couldn’t quit barking. His ears were ringing. Bailey didn’t know the door was opening until Reid’s mother was there, staring at him.
The sight of Mrs. Alexander made Bailey bark even louder. He whipped his tail back and forth and hopped around the porch.
Reid’s mother didn’t look happy. She looked mad. She stepped out the door and smacked Bailey right in the face with a towel. “Get away from here, you mangy mutt.” She snapped the towel at him again. “Go on. Get!”
Bailey looked behind him to see what she was chasing away. Nothing was there. She couldn’t be intending to hit him with the towel. She couldn’t be telling Bailey to get. He must have been making so much noise he hadn’t heard her right.
“I hear a dog, Mama.”
At the sound of Reid’s voice, Bailey got so excited his barks were high, yipping sounds. Then Reid was right there in the door. Bailey tried to push past Mrs. Alexander to lick him. Mrs. Alexander swatted him across the eyes and started closing the door.
“It’s just an old stray. I don’t know why he’s carrying on so.” Mrs. Alexander looked back at Bailey. “Get away, dog. Go on now.”
“He sounds like Bailey.” Reid was at the door with his books and lunchbox.
“All dogs sound the same. Even strays.”
“I don’t think so. Bailey sounds different. Sort of like this.”
Bailey barked louder and jumped even higher. Why couldn’t they see it was him?
Mrs. Alexander came out the door and swung her towel at Bailey again, but this time Bailey dodged. Reid followed her outside.
“This is not Bailey,” she said. “Look at him. He’s shaggy and a funny brown color and his ribs are showing.”
Bailey stopped barking and fastened his eyes on Reid. Reid would know him. Reid had to know him.
But Reid’s eyes were getting all watery as his mother went on. “You know that Bailey and Lucinda are with the Robinsons. Remember, we decided they had to stay there until we can get a fence built here to keep Bailey in.”
Bailey’s tail sagged down to the ground when he heard Reid sigh. His boy said, “I know, but I wish this could be Bailey. Can’t we feed him something anyway? He looks hungry.”
“I don’t think we should feed a stray. Goodness knows what sort of fleas and such that dog might have. Now come along. You’ll be late for school.” Reid’s mother reached to open the door.
Bailey heard keys rattling in her hand. They were going to get in the car and drive away. He had to do something. In desperation, he made a dive to catch Reid’s leg to stop him.
Mrs. Alexander shrieked and jerked Reid into the house. “That dog tried to bite you. I’m calling the dogcatcher.”
“But Mama, you said I’d be late for school.”
“You’ll just have to be late. We can’t leave a vicious dog like that on the loose.”
Vicious? She couldn’t be talking about him. Bailey wanted to bounce around some more, try one more time to get Reid to see it was really him, but the mouse Lucinda had brought him the morning before was nothing but a faint memory. He felt too tired to make his tail twitch. His head drooped almost the the ground.
When Mrs. Alexander disappeared into the house, Reid slipped back outside. “Poor old dog,” he said. “I know you weren’t trying to bite me. You just wanted me to stay out here with you.”
Bailey found enough energy to flap his tail once or twice.
“You look so hungry.” Reid pulled a sandwich out of his lunch bag. “Here. You can have this.”
Bailey gobbled it down in two bites. He’d almost forgotten how good people food tasted.
Reid laughed. “You eat like Bailey too.” Then Reid’s smile faded away. “I wish you were Bailey. I miss him.”
Bailey wagged his tail extra fast and tried to lick Reid’s face. It did no good. Reid still didn’t know him.
“You’re a nice old dog.” Reid stood up to go back in the house. “But we can’t keep you. Dad is going to build that fence so we can get Bailey and Lucinda again. Lucinda’s a cat and she doesn’t need fences but we couldn’t get her and not get Bailey too. That wouldn’t be fair.”
Bailey listened. If only he knew what to do. But he’d already barked until his throat hurt and done his silly stiff-legged jumping dance and gotten close enough for Reid to smell him. But Reid still didn’t know him.
Before he shut the door, Reid said, “You better run away. Mama is talking to the dogcatcher. She doesn’t like dogs much. Not even Bailey.”
Bailey wanted to tell Reid he wasn’t afraid of dogcatchers. He wanted to tell him that he’d faced down monster bulldozers and coyotes and almost drowned and gone mile and miles without food to find Reid, but he couldn’t say any of that so Reid would understand. All he could do was look at Reid and whine and wish Lucinda was there to tell him what to try next. She would surely know some way to make Reid see that he was Bailey.
Reid’s mother came back to the door with a piece of rope. “The dogcatcher says I should tie the animal to a post somewhere.”
“Aw, Mama, you can’t just tie him up for the dogcatcher to get,” Reid said. “He’s a nice old dog.”
“He tried to bite you, remember?” Reid’s mother frowned. “And it’s the dogcatcher’s job to take care of strays and locate their owners or find them new homes.”
“What if they don’t find his home?”
“I don’t know, but whatever it is, the old thing will be better off. Just look at him.” Mrs. Alexander pointed toward Bailey.
Bailey flapped his tail back and forth but without much energy. He wanted to look like a dog she could like even if he couldn’t look like the old Bailey she knew. But his eyes caught on the rope in her hands and he remembered the awful leash that had tried to yank him under the monster bulldozer.
Bailey’s neck began to burn, his ears drooped, and his tail didn’t have a wag left in it. Worse than all that was how a little growl gathered low in his throat as he looked at the rope.
He tried to keep the growl inside where Mrs. Alexander couldn’t hear it, but the rope swung in front of his eyes. It taunted him. His growl got louder. Mrs. Alexander stepped back.
Bailey knew it was wrong to growl. He knew they’d never know he was Bailey if he growled, but the growl wouldn’t stop. It just keep rumbling out of him.
He’d come miles and miles. He hadn’t had a good meal for forever. He’d crossed wide rivers of roads, dodged monster cars, and braved the unknown in the woods. And now Mrs. Alexander wanted to tie him up for the dogcatcher. That woke up the growl inside him.
What would Lucinda tell him to do? Stop growling for sure. She’d probably swat his nose for good measure.
Reid watched him from the door. His eyes were sad. Maybe because Bailey was growling. So Bailey swallowed his growl and wished he could think of what else to do. He couldn’t think of anything. Nothing at all. Except that he better not hang around and wait for the dogcatcher to get there. He wasn’t exactly sure what a dogcatcher did besides catch dogs, but no dog he ever knew wanted to be the dogcatcher’s friend.
Skelley and Lucinda were counting on him. Bailey looked at Reid and stopped panting long enough to pull in as much of Reid’s scent as he could before he turned away. There was nothing to do but go back and ask Lucinda what to do next.
Bailey slinked away from the house, his tail dragging in the dirt behind him. He looked back once. Reid was standing outside watching him. Bailey wanted to go back and try one more time. He even stopped and started to turn around, but it wouldn’t do any good.
The growl started up again in his throat and this time Bailey let it grow until he happened to pass an unsuspecting cat out on its morning prowl. Bailey let out a big woof that sent the cat flashing for the nearest tree. That made Bailey feel just a wee bit better, but he didn’t think he would tell Lucinda.
Not that scaring the cat solved anything. He was hungry and tired even though Reid’s sandwich had been tasty. He still had a long way to go and with no help for Skelley when he got there.
He knocked over three trashcans and finally found a package of meat scraps. He didn’t eat even one scrap, but instead carried it in his mouth as he headed back out to the woods to give it to Skelley and Lucinda.
It was a long walk back.
The sun was going down when at long last Bailey pushed through the bushes back to where Lucinda kept guard in a tree over where Skelley was sleeping. The cat looked down at Bailey from her perch and then beyond him to where no Reid was following.
Bailey placed the scraps he’d found on the ground. “I brought some food.”
Skelley woke and raised his head to look at the meat. “That was good of ye, lad.” The old dog’s head wobbled a bit before he dropped it back down on his paws. “I’m sure I’ll feel like a bite of two later.”
Lucinda pounced down out of the tree and landed inches from Bailey’s nose. “You didn’t find him.”
“I did find him.” Bailey scooted back a couple of steps. “It’s not far from here. A town. Lots of trashcans.” Bailey nudged the scraps toward Lucinda.
The cat didn’t even give it a sniff. “Then where is he? You were supposed to bring him back with you.”
“I tried.” Bailey felt like a ball losing its air. His tail and ears were dragging the ground, but even worse, his heart had lost hope.
“You tried?” Lucinda looked ready to spring at something.
“They didn’t know me. Reid fed me his sandwich and rubbed my head but didn’t know who I was.”
Lucinda stared at him for a few seconds and Skelley raised up his head again to listen. Finally Lucinda asked, “Did you do your silly hopping dance?”
“I tried everything. I hopped and bounced and jumped and barked. I even licked Reid’s face, but it didn’t help. Reid said I sounded like Bailey, that I ate like him. But I didn’t look like him. Too skinny and not even the same color as his Bailey.”
Lucinda twisted her head this way and then that as if to get a better look at Bailey. Her eyes were glittering strangely in the dimming light as night was creeping closer. Skelley was staring at him too. For a few seconds, Bailey was fearful they were were going to decide he really wasn’t Bailey too.
Skelley spoke up first. “For a truth, lad, ye don’t look the way ye did when I first laid eyes on you behind that trash bin. We’ve had a lot of adventures between then and now.”
“Bother the adventures,” Lucinda hissed. “You may look different, but you’re still Bailey. Are you sure you were at the right house?”
“It was Reid. I’d know him anywhere. But he thinks we’re still at the old house with the Robinsons. Guess nobody told him we ran away.”
“Surely they told them. That’s been days ago. Weeks ago. A lifetime ago.” Lucinda’s tail shot up straight into the air.
“But we know where Reid is now.” Bailey perked up a little. His tail swished back and forth in the dry leaves behind him. Lucinda would think of something. She was the smartest cat ever. “I came back so you could tell me what to do next.”
But Lucinda didn’t say anything. She didn’t even start licking her paw to wash her face the way she always did when she was thinking. She just kept staring at him while some of the light faded out of her eyes.
Bailey’s tail stopped dead, and his heart sank even lower than it already was. All the way back through the woods and across the fields, Bailey had been sure Lucinda would know what to do next. But now he saw his own lost feeling reflected back to him from her eyes. They’d come miles and miles. He’d found Reid. That should have been enough.
When he couldn’t stand her silence a second longer, he said, “You could go. They’d know you. Your fur’s always short and black.”
“There are probably hundreds of cats in that town. Half of them black like me.” Lucinda sounded very, very tired.
“I’d know you from any of those other cats,” Bailey said.
“Of course you would.” Lucinda’s voice rose. She sounded cross the way she used to sound when he did something to accidentally wake her when she was napping in the sun. “But people don’t look with their noses like you. They’d think I was a stray. I would be a stray.”
“That’s what they thought I was. Mrs. Alexander even called the dogcatcher, but I took off before he got there. But they don’t call the dogcatcher for cats, do that?”
“For a truth, lad, sometimes they do.” Skelley spoke up. “I knew a cat once. Never bothered a soul. Lived off what he caught. Jock did love to hear my circus stories, but one day the dogcatcher caught him in a net and carted him off.”
That wasn’t a story Bailey wanted to hear. “We’ve got to do something.” He looked at Lucinda.
The cat was no longer looking at him. She seemed to be seeing something far away. All of the sudden, she let out a terrible yowl. Bailey thought she might be remembering saucers of food and windows full of sunshine.
“Reid’s got a porch with a railing. That will be a great place for you to lie in the sun.” Bailey wanted her to feel better.
Lucinda let out an even louder yowl. She had never yowled like that before. Never. He wanted to put his paws over his ears. He didn’t want to hear what her yowls were telling him, but he couldn’t block it out.
It was hopeless. They would never have a family again. They would be strays forever, raiding trashcans for food and dodging the dogcatcher. Worse, when Lucinda got all her yowls out, she was going to hate him. It was his fault they’d left the Robinsons where she had food and sunny windows. Bailey raised his nose and added his howls to her yowls.
Bailey didn’t know Skelley was beside him until he felt teeth clamping down on his ear. He was so surprised he swallowed his howl and stared at the old dog. He was even more surprised when Skelley let go of his ear to bump Lucinda with his nose. That stopped Lucinda’s yowls as she turned to glare at Skelley.
All that effort seemed to take all the old dog’s energy and he had to sit down to catch his breath. Then he said, “Forgive me, Miss Lucinda, but I did have to get your attention.”
“You might have asked. Nicely.” Lucinda stood stiff-legged with her tail straight up in the air. The very end of it twitched back and forth. Bailey backed up a couple of steps just in case she decided to swat his nose, but Skelley didn’t give an inch.
“It could be that I was mistaken, but it seemed to me that all this caterwauling the two of you were doing was keeping ye from thinking straight.” Skelley stared at Lucinda.
“I’d rather not think right now.” Lucinda sounded fierce.
“Now, Miss Lucinda,” Skelley started.
Lucinda didn’t let him finish. “What’s there to think about except having to live out here with the coyotes and never having anyone set out a saucer of milk for me ever again.”
Bailey wished Lucinda hadn’t mentioned food. It made him want to start howling again.
“For a truth, I’m surprised at the both of you.” Skelley lifted his head to stare at them. “After all the three of us have come through, ye let one minor discouragement get you down.”
The tip of Lucinda’s tail twitched back and forth faster and faster. Bailey summoned his courage and spoke up before she jumped on Skelley with her claws bared.
“But what can we do?” Bailey said. “Reid didn’t know me. He patted my head and didn’t know me.”
“Folks have their shortcomings, for a truth. Even me own master had a few. Ye just have to come up with a way to get your boy to open his eyes a tad wider.”
“How?” Bailey asked.
“Do a trick only ye would know to do. Something he taught you. In the circus, we each had our own special trick that nobody else did. Signature tricks me master called them. Me, I walked on me front paws, easy as pie. Always made the children laugh.”
“But I don’t know any tricks.” Bailey thought about the red plastic toy he used to chase, but it was back at the Robinsons’ house.
The tip of Lucinda’s tail stopped twitching angrily. Now her whole tail swayed back and forth. “You could be right, Skelley,” she said after a minute. “All may not be totally lost.”
“I knew ye would see the possibilities, Miss Lucinda.” Skelley sounded pleased but tired. “Me thinks I’d best lie down a while. I’m feeling a wee bit strange.”
The old dog collapsed on the ground with a huff of breath. He kept his head up for another moment to stare at Bailey. “Ye do know a trick, lad. Ye told me about it yourself. How your young master taught you the circus trick where Miss Lucinda rode on your back.”
“That’s it.” Lucinda sounded like somebody had just given her a can of tuna. “It was such a complete disaster Reid would have to remember it.”
At the sound of hope in Lucinda’s voice, Bailey’s tail started swishing through the leaves again. For a few seconds, he thought about how she’d stayed up on the top bookshelf for hours after they tried the trick, but decided against mentioning that. Instead, he started to thank Skelley for getting them to thinking right again. But Skelley’s eyes were closed and his ribs were shuddering with every breath.
Bailey crept over beside him, but Skelley still didn’t open his eyes. “But you have to go with us. We can’t leave you here.”
Skelley eased open his eyes. “Ye won’t have to, lad. I’ll be leaving you first.”
“What do you mean?” Bailey asked.
Lucinda moved closer too. “We need you, Skelley. To be our ringmaster to make sure we do the trick right.”
“For a truth, I’d like that. Even without me master’s baton.” Skelley raised his head a bit to look at her. “But this adventure is over for me. I’m ready to start a new one.”
“You can’t go on an adventure without us,” Bailey said.
“The two of ye aren’t ready for this adventure, Bailey me lad.” Skelley raised his head up and his ears perked up. “Do ye hear the music?”
Bailey and Lucinda looked at each other. There was no music.
Skelley wobbled his head back and forth as though keeping time with some tune and got a dreamy look in his eyes. “Tis our coming on song. I’ll be having to go. I see my master waving me on.”
The old dog laid his head on his paws and closed his eyes. He looked to be asleep, but his bones weren’t trembling the way they usually did when he slept. His chest was too still.
Bailey gently nudged Skelley with his nose, but the old dog took no notice. Lucinda swiped at Bailey to make him back away. Then she leaned down and washed the old dog’s face with her tongue. Bailey raised his nose to the sky and howled once, long and sad. Then he rested his nose lightly on Skelley’s back.
For just a second, he thought he heard circus music. Bailey shut his eyes and there was Skelley. He looked young as he ran out to jump through the hoops his master held while a host of children laughed and clapped.
They kept vigil over Skelley’s body all night long. They couldn’t let the coyotes have him. So, at first light, Bailey dug a hole in the soft ground. Then with care he scooted Skelley into the hole. Lucinda helped him push the dirt in on top of the old dog. Then she found a yellow flower and laid it on top the dirt. Bailey found a stick to put there too. It wasn’t Skelley’s painted stick, but it was the best he could do.
Then they sat there for a long moment before Lucinda said, “I’ll miss the old dog. Skelley wasn’t like most.”
Bailey stared at the grave. He didn’t feel like talking. He did feel like howling, but Skelley wouldn’t want him to howl. So instead he thought about the first time he saw him half in and half out of that big trash thing. He remembered Skelley’s circus stories and the way the old dog was always ready for whatever adventure came his way next.
Was Bailey ready for whatever happened next? He looked over at Lucinda who had started washing her paws. But then she stopped and just sat there with her eyes shut. He tried to wait until she said something else, but he couldn’t. He had to know.
“Do you think we can do it?” he asked.
She opened her eyes and looked at him, but she didn’t look mad. “We have to try. For Skelley.”
So they started off, leaving Skelley behind, but somehow taking him with them too. He seemed to be running along beside them with more energy than he’d ever had and whispering in Bailey’s ear that he could do it. By the time they left the woods behind and began across the open fields toward the town, he was beginning to think maybe they could.
When they were halfway across the first field, they stopped for a drink at a little creek. He stared at the water to see if he could see Skelley’s reflection.
“Why are you staring at the water?” Lucinda asked.
“I thought maybe I could see Skelley.”
“We buried him.”
“I know, but it’s like he’s still with us.”
“Don’t be silly,” Lucinda said.
“You don’t feel him with us?” Bailey raised his head and looked around.
“Of course not.” But Lucinda wouldn’t meet his eyes and her tail gave an extra twitch. So he knew she did even if she wouldn’t admit it.
It was almost suppertime when they got to the town. They stopped behind some bushes so that Lucinda could do a complete head to tail wash before they went on to Reid’s house. Bailey rested his head on his paws and watched her.
When she had finished washing to the very tip of her tail, he asked, “What if doing the trick doesn’t work? What if Reid still doesn’t know me?”
“It will work,” Lucinda said, but she still didn’t look at him. “Come on.”
Bailey stood up. “Do you know how circus music sounds?”
“I think it has to be happy music.”
“Skelley did look really happy when he heard it.” Bailey remembered how the dog said his master was calling him.
“He did.” Lucinda looked up at the sky a moment. “He would say it’s music that makes a circus dog step high and do his best tricks.”
“I’ll try to do my best,” Bailey said.
Lucinda looked over at him and sighed. “Well, just try not to trip over your own feet like you did the last time we tried this balancing act. That’s all I ask.”
Lucinda liked the house. When she jumped up on the porch railing and walked its length twitching her tail back and forth, Bailey worried she might just curl up in the late afternoon sunshine and forget all about the trick.
But then she hopped down beside him. “Well, bark or something and let’s get this likely disaster over with.”
Bailey banged his paws against the door and barked until he heard Reid telling his mother that the dog who sounded like Bailey must be back.
Then Bailey scrambled off the porch and let Lucinda climb up on his back. He tried to imagine circus music as he very carefully placed each foot just so and trotted in a circle. On his back, Lucinda swayed first one way and then another but she didn’t fall off.
The door slammed open, and Reid was on the porch with his mother and father. “Look, Daddy, it is that dog, and he’s got a black cat with him that looks just like Lucinda. And wow, they’re doing that trick I tried to teach them after we went to the circus last year.” He started jumping up and down.
Bailey looked over at Reid and all at once, his front feet banged into one another and he stumbled. Lucinda let out a screech as she tumbled off his back.
Reid laughed. “It is Bailey.” He came running out into the yard to sling his arms around Bailey.
On the porch, Reid’s father said, “I guess I better go call the Robinsons.”
“And I’d better find them something to eat,” Mrs. Alexander said. “Lucinda looks like she needs a can of tuna fish.”
Out in the yard, Bailey wriggled loose enough from Reid’s hug to lick his face. Lucinda picked herself up off the ground, shook her fur into place and muttered, “Thank goodness, that’s over.”
Reid grabbed for her but she nimbly stepped out of his reach and headed for the porch steps to follow Mrs. Alexander into the house. Bailey didn’t care. That meant he got twice as much petting.
It was good to finally be home, and as he licked Reid’s face again, he wondered it that was how Skelley felt. Somewhere inside his head, Bailey thought he heard music again and this time he had no doubt that it was circus music. Skelley’s circus music.
A week later, it was almost as if Bailey and Lucinda had never been away from the Alexanders. The house was different, but the sunshine, the naps, the dishes of food were blissfully the same.
Lucinda liked to curl up on the porch railing in the afternoon, and sometimes she purred in her sleep. Bailey had endured a bath and being clipped. Now he looked like the old Bailey except for the bones that still showed along his sides. But he was working on that every chance he got.
Reid even got him another plastic toy. One afternoon while Lucinda napped on the railing, Reid threw it for Bailey. As Bailey chased it down and stopped its roll, he realized exactly how the trick was supposed to be done. He was supposed to take the toy back to Reid. Bailey picked it up and started toward Reid, but then he stopped. He lay down and fastened his paws over it to wait for Reid to come pull it away from him.
“You silly old dog.” Reid laughed as he jerked on the toy. “Aren’t you ever going to learn how to do this trick the right way?”
Bailey let him have the toy. When he stood up, he saw Lucinda watching him. Slowly, she closed one eye, and Bailey’s heart swelled up a little bigger in chest, glad she knew he’d not done the trick right on purpose.
Lucinda stood up and stretched before she moved to a brighter spot of sunlight. Reid was still laughing as he got ready to toss the plastic toy again. Bailey wagged his tail and waited. From somewhere inside him where Skelley would always live, he heard the old dog say, “Ye did just the right thing, lad. For a truth, we have to keep our masters happy.”
The plastic toy came flying toward him again. Everything was just the way it was supposed to be.