Authors: Ellen Miles
For Sarah and Tobey
“Better ride fast!” Sammy pointed to the sky. “It’s going to start raining any second.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll make it.” Charles Peterson waved at his best friend as he pushed off on his bike. Charles and Sammy usually biked to and from school together. But on this gloomy spring Thursday afternoon, Sammy’s mom was picking him up to take him to a dentist appointment — so Charles had to ride home alone.
Charles glanced up as he rode past the playground. At recess that day, it had been sunny and warm. Now the sun had disappeared and the sky had turned gray. A strong wind began to blow, tossing the leaves in the trees. And right above him,
Charles saw dark clouds gathering together into a billowy black mountain that loomed overhead.
It was not a long ride home. Charles thought he could make it before the rain began, if he rode hard. He stood up on the pedals and began to rock his bike to and fro, using his arms as well as his legs to push harder, faster. The wind pushed back and made dark little whirlpools of road dust that sprayed grit into Charles’s face.
. A fat, heavy raindrop smacked his helmet.
Splat. Splat. Splat
. Three more splashed his arms and face. Charles was already panting, but he ramped up his speed even more. Once, his dad had told him that if you went fast enough, you could dodge the raindrops and stay dry, even when it was pouring. Ha. Who could ever go
fast? Now Charles remembered the little smile on Dad’s face when he’d said it, and realized it was just a joke.
The splats came faster and harder, and the road turned from gray to spotted to black as
the rain poured down. Charles smelled that special rain-on-dusty-road smell rising from the pavement. He wiped away the drips running off his helmet’s visor so he could see through the downpour. His sneakers were already squishing and cold rain trickled down the back of his neck.
What would Mysterioso do in this situation? Charles thought of the performer he’d seen at his school’s Spring Fling fair. Round-bellied and short, with a shiny bald head, Mysterioso looked like an ordinary guy, maybe somebody’s dad. But he was an amazing magician. Mysterioso could read minds, pull coins from your ear, and turn a red scarf into a yellow one, right in front of your eyes.
Charles had been thinking about that show a lot. Mysterioso had cracked jokes as he did his tricks, and the audience loved him. People were still talking about Mysterioso two weeks after the fair. Charles had already decided that he
wanted to be a magician, too. He’d found a book on magic tricks at the library so he could learn to do what Mysterioso did.
Could Mysterioso make the rain stop pouring down? Charles looked up at the sky. “Abra-ca-doodle!” he shouted, remembering the magician’s special word.
The rain did not stop. Charles had not really expected it to. Probably you also needed to wave a wand or sprinkle some magic powder or something.
Charles gave up and slowed down his pedaling. What was the point? He was so wet that he couldn’t get any wetter. He was cold, too. He thought about how warm it would be at home, and how Mom would meet him at the door with a big fluffy towel so he could dry off. He would get out of these wet clothes as quickly as he could and change into his warm, dry sweatpants and his favorite Batman shirt. Maybe, if he was lucky,
Mom would make him a cup of cocoa and bring it to him on the couch, where he could cozy up with a blanket over him and Buddy at his feet.
Buddy was the Petersons’ puppy. Charles loved him. He loved the way Buddy was always so happy to see him, wagging his tail so hard his whole body shook. He loved the way Buddy was always excited to find out what was next: Food? A car trip? Maybe some fun with a ball? Whatever it was, Buddy was up for it. And Charles loved the way Buddy slept next to him, curled up small with his chin propped on Charles’s knee.
The Petersons had taken care of lots of puppies. They were a foster family, which meant they took in puppies who needed homes. Some puppies stayed a few days, others stayed a couple of weeks. But every single puppy went to the forever family that was just right for him or her. Buddy started out as a foster puppy. Then it turned out that Charles and his mom and
dad, his older sister, Lizzie, and his younger brother, the Bean, were the perfect forever family for Buddy. So the little brown puppy with a heart-shaped white patch on his chest had come to stay.
Thinking about Buddy almost made Charles feel a little warmer, even though it did not make the rain stop. Charles sighed. He was only a few blocks from home, but it might as well have been miles.
Then he heard a rumble of thunder.
“Yikes,” said Charles. He looked up at the sky. The tower of dark clouds had doubled in size. Now it looked like the giant’s castle in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” high above the earth.
Getting caught in the rain was one thing. Getting caught in a thunderstorm was another. Charles stood up on the pedals again and began to pump hard.
A car honked at him. Charles ignored it. He was biking way over on the side of the road, exactly where he should be. He concentrated on riding as fast as he could.
The car honked again. “Charles!” someone yelled.
Charles turned his head and saw his family’s silver van rolling slowly along behind him. The passenger-side window was down and Mom was leaning over to call to him.
“Mom!” Charles was so glad to see her. He put on the brakes and got off his bike.
Mom pulled the van over and jumped out. “Oh, honey,” she said. “You’re soaked. Come on, let’s get your bike in the back. I was on my way to take Lizzie to Aunt Amanda’s place and I realized you must be riding home in this pouring rain.”
Some days after school, Lizzie helped out at their aunt Amanda’s doggy day-care center.
Bowser’s Backyard could be a busy place sometimes. People who worked all day and didn’t want to leave their dogs alone brought them there, and sometimes Aunt Amanda had thirty dogs to care for. Her place was just like preschool for dogs, with nap time, snack time, and plenty of playtime. Because of the rain, Charles knew the dogs would be having indoor fun this afternoon in the big bright playroom filled with balls and other toys.
After they’d wrestled Charles’s bike into the back of the van, Mom helped Charles get his wet T-shirt off and pull on the dry sweatshirt she’d brought for him. He kicked off his sneakers and put his feet under Buddy’s ratty old car blanket. The smell of dog made him feel instantly better, and Mom cranked the heat as they took off to pick up Lizzie from school.
“You’re late,” Lizzie said as she climbed into the backseat. “Wow, what happened to you?” She
stared at Charles. “You look like a drowned rat.” Lizzie, who had waited inside the school’s front doors, was dry as a bone.
“It’s raining, for your information,” Charles said. A roll of thunder grumbled overhead. “And there’s a thunderstorm coming, too.”
“I hope Buddy’s not scared, at home all alone,” Lizzie said.
“He’s not alone,” said Mom. “Dad and the Bean are there with him. Anyway, we’re lucky. Buddy doesn’t seem to be afraid of thunder.” She pulled up in front of Aunt Amanda’s. “I’ll pick you up a little earlier than usual, at five-thirty,” she told Lizzie. “Don’t forget, you have to pack your things tonight.”
Charles and Lizzie had a four-day weekend coming up. Charles didn’t have any special plans, but Lizzie’s class — in fact, the whole fourth grade — was going on a special trip to Boston. Lizzie had been talking about it for weeks.
Lizzie got out of the van and ran for the entrance of the doggy day care, yanking the door open just as a loud clap of thunder boomed overhead.
A streak of gray bolted past her, heading straight for the parking lot.
“Hey!” yelled Charles. “Is that a dog?”
Charles threw open the door of the van and leapt out, forgetting all about the rain, the thunderstorm, and his bare feet. “Oof!” He tackled the running dog, banging his knees and elbows on the pavement. “Hold on there,” he said. “I’ve got you now.” He hugged the dog close, noticing the way he shook and shivered with fear. “It’s okay, big guy,” he murmured into one of the dog’s floppy ears.
The dog really
a big guy. He probably weighed more than Charles did. Charles had to lie on top of him, using all his weight to hold him still. There was another loud clap of thunder, and the dog tried to jump up.
Yeow! Get me out of here
The dog squirmed desperately in Charles’s arms. He was strong as well as big. But Charles hung on tightly and he did not get away.
“Moose!” Aunt Amanda stood at the door of her business. Her face was as white as chalk. “Oh, Moose. You nearly scared me to death.” She rushed out to where Charles and the dog lay tangled in a heap on the ground. “Poor Moose,” she said as she grabbed the dog’s collar.
Poor Moose? Charles looked down at his wet jeans, now with holes torn in both knees. He rubbed his sore elbows. What about poor Charles?
“Great catch, Charles,” Aunt Amanda called over her shoulder as she tugged Moose, tail between his legs, back toward the building. “I hate to think what might have happened if he’d made it out to the road.”
Charles and Mom followed Aunt Amanda inside. “Poor dog. Was it the thunder that scared him?” Mom asked.
Aunt Amanda knelt on the floor and rubbed Moose down with a towel. She nodded. “This puppy is the biggest scaredy-cat I’ve ever seen.”
“Puppy?” Charles asked. He’d never seen a puppy this big. His huge chunky head and giant chunky paws reminded Charles of Scooby-Doo’s.
Aunt Amanda nodded. “He’s not even a year old. He’ll get even bigger than this when he fills out a little more.” She let go of the puppy for a second and he shook himself off, shimmying his whole body from ears to tail.
Charles went over to pet Moose, hoping to help the scared puppy calm down. Moose pulled away at first, but Charles moved slowly, scratching Moose’s ears until the big pup relaxed and leaned against him. Moose was a beautiful dog. His short, shiny coat was silvery gray, with black
spots all over. He had a white bib on his chest and a white stripe up the middle of his face. Two of his big, chunky paws and the tip of his skinny tail were white, too. Moose was so tall that his head was on the same level as Charles’s. His big brown eyes looked right back into Charles’s, and Charles practically had to reach up to scratch his ears. It wasn’t like petting Buddy, who came up to Charles’s knees. “You’re not a scaredy-cat,” Charles said to Moose. “You’re a scaredy-dog.”
Lizzie and Mom laughed, but Aunt Amanda was still frowning. “It’s not funny,” she said. “Not really. I feel terrible for him. He’s afraid of thunderstorms, he’s afraid of mailboxes, he’s afraid of little kids and wrapping paper. Oh, and the vacuum cleaner and the blender and anything that moves too fast or too suddenly. Moose is one petrified pup. He’s afraid of his own shadow.”
“Are all Great Danes like that?” asked Lizzie.
Charles was not surprised that Lizzie knew what breed the puppy was. She knew everything about dogs, and every night she studied the “Dog Breeds of the World” poster that hung on her bedroom wall.
But Aunt Amanda shook her head. “It’s not a common behavior problem for the breed, as far as I know. It may be because Moose spent his first six months chained up behind someone’s house. He wasn’t exposed to much except the side of a garage, so everything is new and different to him.” She sighed. “I really hate to have to tell the Brewers about this.”
“The Brewers?” asked Mom.
“His owners. Al and Karine, and their little girl, Caroline. When his first owners decided they didn’t want a dog after all, the Brewers adopted Moose and gave him a good home, and they all adore him. But this fear problem is getting to them. They can’t take him anywhere, and they
don’t like to leave him home alone, either. He doesn’t like to go to the dog park because he’s afraid of other dogs — just the small ones, that is. And he totally freaks out whenever they take him to the vet. It’s hard to control a big dog who’s scared to death.”
“Maybe he’ll grow out of it,” Lizzie said. She came over to stroke the puppy. Moose put his ears back and scooted closer to Charles.
“That’s what the Brewers were hoping,” said Aunt Amanda. “But so far it’s only gotten worse. That’s why they started bringing him to me. They thought that coming here might help him get used to being around other dogs, and they were hoping I could spend some time training him to be less fearful.”
“How would you do that?” Charles asked. He knew how to teach a dog to sit or shake hands, but he couldn’t imagine how you could teach a puppy not to be afraid of things.
“There are some ways, but it wouldn’t be easy,” Aunt Amanda said. “Helping a dog overcome his fears can take a lot of time. I’m worried that Moose’s owners have already run out of patience with his problem.”
It turned out that Aunt Amanda was right. Later that night, after dinner, she appeared at the Petersons’. “Is the Bean in bed?” she asked when Charles answered the door. Charles nodded. “Good,” she said. “Maybe you’d better put Buddy in your room for a while, too.” Then Charles saw Moose trying to hide behind Aunt Amanda, his big head down, his floppy ears back, and his tail tucked between his trembling legs.