Its been awhile since my last blog. The situation at the home front has been a bit hectic. While I think up some new topics here is another story you might enjoy.
A GOOD DOG
He looked up at the bulletin board on the wall outside the gym hoping upon hope that his name would be on the list for the sixth grade basketball team. It wasn’t. He looked again but knew it wouldn’t be there. Now, he’s a decent player, better than some that did make the cut except for one thing. He’s fat. That’s what the other kids call him anyway but he’s not really. He’s heavy but solid much like a football middle linebacker. Sure he was disappointed but he’s been disappointed before and he handles it well. He has a few good friends, not the kind that make sport teams, but ones that he can talk to and to him that’s important. That’s what he tells himself anyway but he was still disappointed.
His name is Fred Nedelhauser but everyone calls him Needles… or fatso, depending on who’s calling his name at the time. The fact that he’s always in a good mood belies the feelings underneath the smile but he has no reservations about his weight and finds it puzzling that it bothers others a whole lot more than it does him. Among his peers his popularity is what it is but at home it is dismal. He’s not one of those abused kids that you hear about nor is he neglected and in fact he lives quite comfortably. He has all the creature comforts for a boy his age and then some. A big screen TV in his room with the latest gaming systems, desktop PC as well as a state of the art laptop, and a sound system to die for. His clothes are the latest fashion; well, what his parents considers fashion. His house, clothes, and everything else are clean. It’s just that to his parents he’s invisible. He reappears only when they need to parade a child in front of their social circle even then their embarrassed by his weight and make silly excuses. When he’s called for he performs as expected then is quickly sent away like a genie to a bottle. Both his parents are very active in community and church functions with little time for him and truth be known, he finds this situation to his liking.
Needles stared at the bulletin board for some time not in disbelief but because he felt a presence behind him and as he turned from the board he saw Jimmy standing there shaking his head slowly with arms crossed.
. “Why do you torture yourself? You know there’re not going to let you play in their reindeer games.” He said this with the usual I told you so look on his face which Needles hates. But Jimmy’s his friend and kind of looks after him.
Jimmy Flynn is his best friend and in many ways he is just like him…no, not fat but unpopular. Well unpopular with certain cliques. Jimmy is small and a very fast runner. He probably could outrun anyone in school in a footrace. He’s also funny especially when he comments on some of the latest fads or gossip of the in-crowd. His worst trait is his temper. When he gets mad he lets it all hang out not caring who he’s directing his anger at. Some of the older bigger kids make fun of his size and he cuts them down with some pretty good come backs. One time as he and Needles were walking through the lunchroom Dennis Vag, one of the local bullies, yelled out, “Hey its Shorty McShorts,” to which he got a resounding laugh from some of the other kids. Jimmy’s face turned red. Oh-oh, Needles seen that look before. Well, Jimmy strolls over to the table where Dennis is sitting and says loud enough for the whole cafeteria to hear, “You know, I may be short today but I may grow tomorrow however, you are stupid today and will still be stupid tomorrow.” The whole lunchroom responded with a loud “Whoooooooa.” Did I mention that Jimmy is fast? Dennis stood up and tried to grab Jimmy but he took off through the cafeteria doors and out to the play area before Dennis could leave the table. Needles dreads to see the day when someone catches him though.
Saturdays were get out of the house early days before his mom and dad would start nit picking about what he eats, how he dresses, who his friends are, school work, youth group, and so on and so on or maybe drag him to stores to pick out the latest church fashion clothes that he would be paraded around in at the next church function. He met Jimmy in front of Turani’s grocery store; a local corner store where he ate his favorite breakfast; a Scooter Pie with chocolate milk finished off with a Tastykake individual pie, usually blueberry. Jimmy would roll his eyes and try to convince him to eat better then buy his usual five cent pickle with a sixteen ounce Royal Crown Cola. They headed off to Cooperville woods where they could get crab apples and swipe strawberries from Petri’s farm. They traveled along the railroad tracks which were abandoned a long time ago and picked wild purple grapes that grew on the tangled vines that choked the bushes and trees. The tracks were used by most of the kids as their main highway to get from place to place. After gorging themselves on the strawberries Jimmy suggested they should walk the path to the Cooperville firehouse where they could get water or pry a soda or two from the firemen but as they were walking they heard voices. Around the bend of the path they were walking they ran into three boys. Their worst nightmare; Bobby Brennan, Pat McGraff, and the one and only Dennis Vag. Needle’ heart froze. He looked at Jimmy and saw the terror in his face. No lunchroom crowd to hide in, no quick getaways to a public sanctuary, they were alone and knew it.
“Well well, look what the rats drug out of the bush; Needles-in-a-fat stack and…could it be…yes big mouth Shorty McShorts.” Dennis said this with a weird look on his face. He was holding a hatchet in one hand and a quiver of arrows in the other. Bobby and Pat were also carrying hatchets and two fiberglass bows laid on the pine needles nearby. Several small trees had been chopped down and they were busy on another when Needles and Jimmy stumbled upon them.
Jimmy tried to run but it was too late. Bobby had quietly slipped behind them and Jimmy ran right into his waiting arms. He threw Jimmy to the ground while Dennis confronted Needles. “Can you get your fat butt up a tree?” Dennis asked as he pointed to a clump to small saplings to his right. “Bring shrimpo over here, “he commanded Bobby who dragged him by his leg to one of the trees. “Start climbing,” he yelled at Jimmy. Jimmy grabbed the first branch then slowly advanced branch by branch until Dennis told him to stop and Bobby and Pat began laying their hatchets to the narrow trunk when finally they heard the young sapling crack. They quickly stepped back to watch it fall to the ground. Jimmy was holding on to the tree for dear life as it gradually leaned over far enough to let Jimmy’s weight finish the job. Jimmy rode it down with eyes as wide as saucers until a loud thud ended the descent and pitched Jimmy hard to the ground. All three thugs were laughing hysterically. Jimmy got on his feet and began to plead with them to let them go. Dennis hit him hard in the face with his fist which caused Jimmy to fall back on the ground where he stayed.
Dennis turned to Needles and trying to catch his breath while still laughing. He grabbed Needles by the front of his shirt and spitting all over him screamed, “Your turn, fatso.” As Needles approached the nearest tree he glanced upward wondering if it could hold his weight when he heard a loud rustling in the bush in front of him. Suddenly a large black and white dog bounded out and ran straight towards Dennis. Growling like a maddened wolf it sank its large teeth into Dennis’s right arm causing him to drop his hatchet. When Bobby and Pat saw this they ran like the wind until they were quickly out of sight. Needles was looking for Jimmy who ran through the woods faster than all of the others. Slowly holding his breath, Needles turned to the dog. He saw the terror in Dennis’s face. It released his arm. Dennis fell to his knees whimpering and sobbing. The dog turned from Dennis and directed his attention to Needles. It looked at him and dropped to its belly resting its head on its forelegs panting steadily. Dennis saw his chance and took off running in the opposite dirction. Needles was frozen to the spot not daring to move afraid to insight the dog. It got up and walked to Needles wagging its tail stopping directly in front of him and fondly licked his hand. Needles had no clue what to make of this. Was the dog toying with him in an attempt to play cat and mouse or was this show of affection genuine? Remembering his doggie etiquette, he gently placed his other hand under the muzzle and began to rub it causing he dog to wag its tail in a fever pitch. After glancing under the dog to find out how to address it he finally said in a shaky haltering voice, “Good boy.” This caused the dog to relax and lay at Needle’s feet. Needles was exhausted and collapsed at the dog’s side where they both lay for some time.
Needles, feeling rested and assured that the thugs weren’t coming back, got up and dusted himself off. He glanced down at the dog and said, “Thanks. Thanks a lot. I don’t know where you came from or why you did what you did but I’m glad you did.” He was worried about Jimmy. In all the excitement he hadn’t noticed which direction he took off in. Oh well, he’d go home and try to call him later. He began to walk towards the path that took him home when he felt his pant leg being tugged. He looked down and saw the dog pulling him. “What you want boy? I’ve got to go home.” The dog started barking frantically and running in the opposite direction only to come back and start over again. He did it several times until Needles finally figured that it wanted him to follow. It was leading in the direction of Petri’s farm. They walked along a path that Needles always avoided because it edged the farm itself and lead to a part of the woods he’d never been before. The dog would run ahead only to return to check that Needles was still following and would playfully speed around him in tight circles barking and wagging and enjoying the company.
It was starting to get dark and Needles contemplated whether to go on or not because they were entering a part of the woods that he was unfamiliar with. He realized that he was not needed by his parents and they wouldn’t notice he was gone anyway so he continued on. They had been walking for about an hour when Needles spotted a small dilapidated cabin ahead. He’s sure he never saw it before. The windows were covered with a dark paper which he learned later was dirt. Alongside the cabin was a barn like structure that was connected by a short breezeway. They were about twenty feet from the front door when it slowly opened. They were greeted by a tall thin older man with long grey hair and wearing a dark t-shirt and jeans covered by a leather bib apron.
“Hey Dog, where ya bin?” he shouted happily obviously glad to see him. The dog jumped up on its hind legs licking the man’s hands while its tail wagged overtime; he was glad to see him too.
“Well I see you found a friend ta bring ya home. Always getting lost eh fella?”
The man smiled at me and offered his hand. “The name’s Ed. Thanks for bringing my dog home. Always running off and bringing strays home. Why don’t ya come in a rest a bit, have something to drink. I was just preparing supper.” Needles took his hand a shook it for a short while, withdrawing it in a suspicious manner. When they entered the cabin Needles noticed a strange smell which was vaguely familiar but he couldn’t quite place it. The furniture was simple. He could tell that it was made by hand; very rustic. To his right he noticed the kitchen with a large table surrounded by several chairs. He also noticed the door which leads to the breezeway and the loud humming noise coming from the building on the other side. He sat in one of the chairs at the table and the dog followed and lay at his feet.
Ed walked to an old fashioned refrigerator and opening the door removing a large ceramic jug. “Let me get you some of my homemade apple cider. You’ll love it.” He took a glass from the cupboard and placed it in front of Needles and poured. The liquid was dark and frothy. Needles took a small sip. He agreed. It was delicious and drank the rest in one long pull.
“What’s that noise coming from the garage?” he asked in a matter of fact way. “Oh, that’s not a garage. I stock my own meat. It’s a cold box.” Needles thought that odd but let it go. “What’s to eat?” Ed walked over to the stove and looked into a large pot. “Hope you like stew. It’s an old recipe and after you taste it you’ll agree that it is the best you ever tasted. Hey, why don’t you come over to the couch and rest a bit while I get supper together?” He led Needles to the couch and returned to the stove. The dog followed him over and lay on the floor next to him. “What’s the dog’s name?” he asked while petting its head. Ed looked at the dog with a wry smile and said, “ Piper, like the Piped Piper of Hamlin.” Needles thought that an odd name and anyway he thought it was the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Oh well, doesn’t matter. Needles laid back on the couch. Suddenly he felt very sleepy. He thought he would close his eyes a bit and rest before eating.
He woke up and noticed it was freezing. He wanted to get up and close a door or something. He felt a little disoriented and his head hurt. When he attempted to get up he found he couldn’t. His arms and legs and head were strapped to a stainless steel table. He started to panic but as hard as he tried he couldn’t budge. All he could see was the stainless steel ceiling of the room he was in. He smelled the odor that he noticed when he first entered Ed’s cabin and in horror recognized it; it was the smell of blood. He then heard a click which turned on a loud machine. The sound was familiar. It was like the sound of the band saw that was in the wood shop class at school. His heart froze and he screamed but nothing came out.
“Good boy Piper.” Ed said to the dog while sharpening a long butcher’s knife on a steel. “This is a big one. Extra portions for you this time.”