ANGELINA'S LOST DOG

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Children Stories  |  House: Booksie Classic
A short story for busy dads to read to their young daughters. Angelina's dog is missing. The girl is distraught and, giving up the search for the day, she goes home. The dog meanwhile has followed a scent trail to its end. What has he found? Will help come in time? And are things really what they seem? This story is about love, friendship, loyalty and persistence, and has clues to reward the observant, intelligent child. Suggested as being suitable for 7-9 year olds.

Submitted: February 08, 2015

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Submitted: February 08, 2015

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It was the best day so far in the summer holidays: not a cloud in the sky, a light breeze, and the temperature firmly in the high twenties.  The first week of the break had been ruined by frequent rain and overcast skies.  Angelina, ten years old, and her best friend, Emily, had decided to go on a long walk in the countryside, taking Oscar, Angelina’s Golden Labrador, along with them.  Well, that had been the plan.  In truth, it was more like Oscar taking Angelina for a run, with the smaller Emily struggling to keep up.  Even after three miles of country lanes, Oscar still strained at the leash, forcing Angelina to lean back and try to slow him down.  But it was still good to be out in the sun!
 ‘Need a break, Emily?’ Angelina asked, secretly hoping for a positive reply.
 ‘Can we … please?’ asked her exhausted, self-propelled friend.
 ‘Sure!  Let’s pop into the meadow and have an early lunch.’
 They soon clambered over a style, found a clear spot just off the public foot-path, and sat down on the freshly-cut grass.  Both girls reached for a drink in their knap-sacks.  Oscar gave a pleading look to Angelina.  The older girl grabbed a larger bottle of water from the sack and then helped Oscar take a couple of long slurps.  She loved her dog – much more than she could ever bear to say.
 The girls quickly got stuck into a chat, punctuated by bites of sandwiches, and disturbed only by yet another text coming in to Emily’s phone.  The younger girl grabbed at her mobile.
‘That’s six so far on our walk, Emily!  I dare you not to read it.  I dare you to wait until we’ve finished our chat!’
‘What kind of a dare is that?’
‘A new game my mother has been teaching me.  It’s called “Concentration” – or something like that.’
‘How do you play it?’
‘Well,’ said the girl older by one year and thirty-seven days, ‘you just turn the thing off and leave it like that until you’ve finished your “Concentration”.’
Her playmate looked unconvinced, worried about leaving a text unread for just a few minutes.
Angelina took her phone out of her bag and switched it off.  ‘See!  No distractions!’
Emily reluctantly followed suit but they then chatted away merrily on girl stuff and impending holidays.
‘Where did you say you’re off to?’
‘Turkey,’ said Emily.  ‘We’re going sailing along the coast, living the life of pirates – so my Dad says.’
‘Do you have to sail the boat yourself?’
‘No.  There’s a crew.  But because I’ll be a pirate, I get to tell them what to do.  They have to keep me happy.’
‘And if they don’t?’
‘I don’t know.  Maybe I will make them walk the plank.  That’s what pirates do.  But Dad says I have to be nice to them, and say please and thank you – when I’m telling them what to do!’
‘And do you get to go swimming?’
‘Oh yes!  At least twice a day, the boat anchors in a bay and the crew put a plank out over the side … for us to jump off!’
‘Best not to forget to say thank you, otherwise they might sail off when you’re in the water!’
Emily hadn’t thought of that.  She decided to be extra nice to the crew.
Oscar sat beside them and alternated between looking intently at the distant woods and rolling over on his back to have his tummy tickled by two girls whose chat grew louder, faster and more animated.  After twenty minutes or so, he felt just a little bit ignored and wandered off into the meadow, trailing his lead through the long grass, sniffing at the ground.
****
Twenty minutes later, lunch was finished.
‘Ready for the next leg?’ asked the older girl.
Emily gave a weak nod.
‘I’ll get Oscar to give you a tow whenever we go uphill!’
That brought out a smile from Emily.
‘So what did you think of “Concentration”?’
‘It’s a bit like a game Mum makes me play whenever Gran comes to visit.  But she calls it “Conservation”.’
‘Oh yes … that’s another name for it.’  Angelina wasn’t really sure if it was.
The girls packed away their rubbish and stood up.
‘Where is he?’
Angelina looked all around the meadow.  ‘I can’t see him.  Where was he last?’
‘Over there!’ said her young friend, pointing at the gap between a distant duck-pond and the village church, in the direction of the wooded hill-top beyond.  ‘Do you think he has run off into the woods ahead of us?’
‘I don’t know.’  Angelina cupped her hands over her mouth, to form a megaphone so as to give her shouts added oomph.  ‘Oscar!’  She paused - then shouted even louder: ‘Oscar!’
But there was no sign of him.
‘We’d better run after him before he gets away from us!’
The two girls picked up their knap-sacks and ran after the unseen dog.  Soon they were at the other end of the meadow and clambering over another style.  They hoped that Oscar might be amusing himself in the duck-pond but it was empty.
‘What now?’
‘The woods!  That’s where he’ll be!’ said Angelina, taking her still-tired playmate’s hand to help her up the steep hill leading through the upper village.
The woods had been their destination anyway.  They often went there, captivated by the views of the Kentish North Weald countryside, by the way in which beams of light pierced through the tree-tops to illuminate magical glades, by the many different types of birds – few of which ever seemed to visit the girls’ gardens, and by the rabbit warren.  Each time they went there, it seemed to get a little smaller but now they were faced by the prospect of scouring it, the wood seemed much bigger.  It wasn’t like a forestry plantation, of which there were some nearby, with all the trees in neat lines and with the gaps between them kept clear of brush-wood.  This wood had been crafted by nature and was, as Emily had once said, ‘all in a jumble’.
 Angelina thought about the problem.  ‘I think we should put about thirty metres between us and then start off in that direction.’  She pointed, confidently.  ‘What do you think?’
 Emily was happy to take direction from someone both older and three centimetres taller.  ‘Okay.’
 They started searching, walking to and fro, taking turns to call Oscar’s name.  But after two hours, they had run out of wood, nearly run out of hope, and hadn’t found the dog.
****
Oscar had raced through the woods and came to a river, where the trail ended, carried away by the fast-running water.  He would have to get across, he figured.  Now, some dogs liked nothing better than to splash around and play in streams but he sensed, somehow, that he really didn’t have much time - or any time - to waste.  He looked around, nervously, and barked again, at his unseen pursuer, before dipping his two front paws into the water.  He was surprised at how cold it was.  And on a summer’s day as hot as this!  He waded in, deeper and deeper, until he ran out of leg-length and felt his paws lose contact with the river-bed’s pebbles.  He doggy-paddled – slow, undoubtedly, but the only stroke he knew, because he was a dog – and struck out for the opposite bank.  The current swept him downstream and the ten yards width soon became a protracted hundred yard endurance swim.  But he didn’t give up!  He got to the far bank and clambered out, drying himself quickly with a vigorous shake of his powerful body.  The trail should be somewhere up-stream, he thought.  Oscar ran along the bank to where the trail should be and sniffed around diligently.  There were some stepping-stones nearby.  Found the scent!  He barked and was soon off again.  Still no sign of his pursuer!
****
The girls came out into the open on the far side of the hill.  Looking northwards, down the slope, they saw an expanse of golden wheat fields, stretching for mile upon mile, to the sea, far, far away.  They could only just make it out – a darker band of blue bordering the light blue sky.
 ‘Is he in that lot?’ asked Emily.
 ‘Oh, I hope not.  If he is, we’ll never see him.’
 ‘He’ll be well and truly cammyflaged!  But let’s watch the fields for a while,’ said Emily, sitting down and taking a quick drink.
 The two girls watched the fields carefully but the light breeze kept the wheat swaying gently, meaning that they would never be able to see any disturbance caused by the golden-furred dog.  They quickly realised that their observation would be hopeless.
 ‘What next?’
 Angelina looked at her watch.  It was already half past two.  ‘I think we should head down to that hamlet, she said, pointing into the distance.  Oscar likes people, so if he’s gone anywhere, it will probably be down there.’
 ‘My mum’s expecting me to be home at three thirty … and to come straight back from the wood,’
 ‘Mine too.  We should call and tell them what’s happened … and of our change of plans.’
 They both made their calls.
 ‘Mum says I can come with you and she’ll pick us up in the hamlet at four.  Would that be okay for you, Angelina?’
 Angelina ran the plan past her mother.  ‘Yes please!’
 They finished their calls and then Angelina started to cry.  Right up to now, Oscar had, in her mind, only wandered off.  Now - calls made, plans changed, a mother put out to collect them - Oscar was very firmly lost. 
Emily moved over to comfort her friend, putting a gangly arm around her shoulders.  ‘We’ll find him, Angelina.  We’ll find him!  Come on.  Let’s get going.’ And she pulled up her older, taller, demoralised friend.
****
The two girls walked along the lane and arrived on the outskirts of the hamlet.  They had seen it before but had never bothered to walk down from the woods to explore it.  A little too far, they had always thought. 
The hamlet was quite small and the houses were concentrated along the main street.  It was just big enough to have a primary school but too small to support more than two shops.
‘What do you want to do, Angelina?’
There didn’t seem to be anyone out and about. 
‘Knock on doors and ask if anyone has seen him, I guess.  Stay with me.’
So that’s what they did, the two girls, visiting every house, asking after a lost dog.
****
Oscar caught sight of some distant movement, right on the edge of some scrub-land: rabbits, he thought.  For just a second he contemplated running over to them.  He would do this whenever he could but without knowing why the ‘game’ attracted him.  They would always give him the slip and even if, one day, one didn’t, he had no real idea what he would then do.  Play with them?  What games would a rabbit be able to do?  Munch on some grass?  How dull!  Oscar got back to the task in hand and sniffed around a bit, picking up the weakening scent.  He barked again, to his unseen pursuer – the person who until recently had been at the end of the lead that Oscar now had to pull along behind him.  Leads: such an encumbrance when you are trying to do something important!
****
Emily’s mother was right on time, parking her estate-car by the school.  The two girls were waiting for her, wandered over and got into the back seats.  Emily leant forward to give her mum a quick kiss.
‘Any luck?’
‘No,’ said her daughter.  ‘No sign of him.’
‘I’m so sorry … but don’t worry, Angelina.  I’m sure he will turn up.’  She paused.  ‘Would you girls care for an ice-cream?’
Oooh, ice-cream, thought Emily.
‘No, thank you, Mrs Jones.  I’m not hungry,’ said Angelina.
Emily hid her disappointment.  ‘Then not for me either, Mum.’
‘No?’ queried her surprised mother.
Emily leant forward again and whispered:  ‘Solidity, Mum.  Solidity!’
Mrs Jones smiled, mentally noted the need for some gentle tuition about solidarity – for later, not now – and started to turn around the car.  ‘Then perhaps we should get you two home!’
****
Ten minutes passed and they were driving through the lower village, by the meadow. 
‘Mum, could you keep the speed down, please.  This is close to where he went missing.’
The car slowed down to a sedate twenty miles per hour and both girls anxiously scanned the roads and the cul-de-sacs.  There was one moment of excitement … but the dog turned out to be both too small and the wrong breed!  That was it: Angelina gave up hope and had a full-on cry, consoled slightly and with difficulty by a mother busy driving, and better by her caring friend, who was proving to be a real star.  Another ten minutes passed and the dog-less Angelina was home.
****
Oscar quickly followed the scent, which led across a long stretch of closely-cropped grass.  This was a strange bit of land: here and there, strange black and white trees – all exactly the same height and flying a little flag – grew out of the ground.  There were lots of people walking about, in small groups.  Some of them seemed to have wheels attached to their bottoms!  A small white ball landed near to him, which caused him a bit of a start.  He immediately thought that he should pick it up in his mouth and take it back to the nearest people - because humans always seemed to like that kind of help - but somehow he felt that he shouldn’t and that he had a more urgent task to do. 
He carried on, ignoring the shouts of some of the walkers, and followed the trail, through rougher ground, which the sheep, the rabbits or, maybe, the humans hadn’t tended nearly as well.It was all a bit rough, really. 
Then Oscar came to the edge of a cliff, giving him his first look at the sea.  It didn’t look half as interesting as the land so he got straight back to his search.  The scent trail turned to the right; it was very close to the cliff-edge so he was worried.  The cliffs here weren’t made of rock; they were made of a rust-red soil that wasn’t at all solid.  In places, it had the consistency of an old digestive biscuit; he quite liked those.  Oscar wasn’t the world’s biggest dog but he weighed as much as a small child.  Every now and then, the cliff-edge would crumble under his weight, giving him a fright and causing him to scramble quickly back to firmer ground.  But he still kept going, sniffing the ground and barking.  Then, after another two hundred dog-paces or so, the scent trail ended abruptly.  The dog looked down the steep cliff, at the beach below and saw a flash of pink in the rock-pools below.  He barked again and thought about what to do next.  Where is my owner?  Where?
Oscar scrambled down the cliff, with considerable difficulty.  It wasn’t a sheer drop but the gradient was very steep.  The beach at the bottom wasn’t at all nice either.  It was low tide and the unpleasant smell of seaweed filled the air, and the many rock-pools, their sides greased with the smelly sea-weed, made for difficult scrambling.  He had lost sight of what he was after so moved up onto one of the higher rocks and looked around until he saw again a flash of the incongruous pink.
 The girl looked about six years old and she had a bad graze on her fore-head.  She lay in a bit of a jumble and her left leg didn’t look at all right.  He didn’t really understand ‘broken’ things, although he had broken more than his fair share of stuff in his life.  He was better at recognising the sounds of things breaking, though, and had learned how they would usually be followed by a cry from someone of ‘Oscar!  Get out of it!’  And then he knew that he should lie low for a while until he was no longer in trouble; an hour usually used to do the trick.  Would people, if they ever came here, think that he had broken her?
Oscar looked at her face.  She didn’t look happy.  Girls that age with a dog around usually looked very happy.  Was there something wrong with her?  He licked her face and then waited for some reaction.  Any second, he thought, she should scrunch up her face and scream out his name in made-up anger: nothing!  What was wrong with her?  Fifty metres away, he could hear the sounds of waves rushing in.  He licked the girl’s face again: still no response.  He sat with her and thought.  All he could do was to bark.  So bark he did: alternating between barking at her, to try and wake her up, and then barking at the cliff-edge high above.  And all the time he wondered why humans with their much longer legs were slower than dogs.  Where was his owner?  Where?  And the crashing waves just seemed to be getting louder!
****
Angelina’s father returned home a little after seven o’clock – much later than usual.  Work had been ‘manic’ for the past few days and he was tired.  He kissed his wife and went to the fridge for a reviving cola.  He sat down at the kitchen table and poured his drink into a glass placed for him by his wife.  ‘Any sign?’
‘No, none,’ said his wife.  ‘Angelina’s been out all afternoon looking for him.’
 ‘By herself?’
 ‘No, she knows your rules.  Emily helped out; she’s been very good to her.’
 ‘Good.  How much ground did they cover?’
 ‘The woods atop the hill - you know how big they are - and then on down to the hamlet beyond.’
 ‘That’s quite a walk for her.  How is she coping?  Still upset?’
 ‘Terribly: I can’t remember the last time I saw her so unhappy.  She was in floods of tears when she came home.’
‘Is she asleep?’
‘She’s only just gone to bed.  Would you pop in and comfort her?’
 ‘Sure.  I’ll do that now.’  He got up.  ‘You’ve told her that Oscar’s probably fine?’
 ‘Check!’
 ‘And that he’ll no doubt find his own way back, like dogs always seem to do?’
 ‘Check!’
 ‘And that when he does come home he’ll just barge past us and go straight to his bowl of water, bark for someone to bring him some food, and then give every impression that he’s oblivious to the trouble that he’s caused?’
 ‘Check, check and check!  I’ve done all that … but she doesn’t believe me.  In her little mind, there’s no happy ending … just everything bad.’
 ‘Then I’d better go in and see her,’ said the father.
Even before he entered her room he could hear her crying.  He opened the door.  She was already in bed, sobbing her heart out into a pillow.  She didn’t look up at him.
 He sat down on her bedside.  ‘A bad day, Mum tells me.’
Angelina looked up and turned over.  ‘Oh, Dad, I spent hours searching!’
‘Care to tell me about it?’
‘I … we … searched the woods, which took ages.  They’re so big and jumbled up.Nothing!  So we went beyond the woods, down the hill and then on to the hamlet. 
 ‘No luck there?’
‘Dad, it was horrible!  Horrible!  Why are people so unkind?  Why didn’t they straight away understand how much he means to me?  And offer to help?’
‘What did they say?’
‘Lots of them didn’t even bother to answer their doors.  I knew that there were people at home.  I could see them through their windows or hear their televisions.  There was some stupid tennis match on!’
‘Well, it is the Men’s Final today.  I think a lot of people would have been engrossed in that.’
‘But this is an emergency!  And those who did come to the door, they weren’t much better!  They didn’t ask me about the dog: what it looked like, what its name was, where I had last seen it!  They just didn’t care.  And one just closed the door on me as soon as I asked for help and then went back into the lounge telling his wife that I was “just some pesky kid, looking for a pesky dog”.  Oscar’s not “pesky”!’ 
‘Were those in the main street more helpful?’
‘A little … but not much.  I asked two shop-keepers if I could put a notice up in their windows but they all wanted money: five pounds for a week’s advertising!  No discount for being a sad little ten-year old!  All they wanted was to empty my piggy-bank!’
 ‘That’s not very nice of them, is it?’
‘No.  But I’m going back tomorrow with some flyers Mum is making up and with my pocket-money!’
More tears.
‘I’ll pay for the advertising … Angelina, I’m sure that he’ll pitch up soon … of his own accord.  Dogs do that, you know.’
‘But what if he doesn’t?  What if he’s got lost and can’t find his way back?’
‘Well, I ….’
‘What if he’s been stolen?’  She paused while her two streams of salty tears built up to full flow.  ‘What if he’s been hurt?’
Her father couldn’t answer that one.
Angelina threw her head back into the pillow and cried some more.  ‘I’m going to search for him again tomorrow … and the day after … and the day after that.  I’m going to spend every day of my holidays looking for him.  I won’t give up!’
‘I’ve never seen you so determined, Angelina.’
‘Well he wouldn’t give up, would he?’ She turned.  ‘Would he?’
Her father struggled to suppress some tears of his own; he knew exactly what she meant.  He composed himself.  ‘Do you have anyone to help you tomorrow?’
‘No.  Mum has to look after Baby … and Emily is going off on her holiday to Turkey.’
‘What about Kate?  What’s she doing?’
‘She says she’s going off to spend the day on the beach at Broadstairs with that dippy boyfriend of hers.  So it’ll just be me.’
‘You know that I don’t like you wandering off all alone?’
‘But there’s no-one else to help me!’
More tears.
‘It’s late,’ he said.  ‘Time you should be asleep.  You must be very tired.’
She settled down in her bed and he drew up the blanket to keep her just a little bit warmer than the summer evening demanded.  He kissed her on the fore-head, said ‘Goodnight’ and went back to the kitchen.
‘I can’t recall ever having seen her so determined!’ the father said to his wife.
 ‘Me neither.  Rather touching, isn’t it?’
 ‘Very … but a little worrying too.  I’m not keen on the thought of her wasting her holidays on a wild-goose chase.  And even less keen at the thought of her out wandering around the countryside by herself!  I’m not so sure I’ll allow it.’
 ‘But surely you can understand how she’s feeling right now?’
Yes, he felt.  I can understand.  He sipped on his now warm cola and thought for a few minutes.
‘I’ll check on her again,’ said the father.  He popped along the hall to her room and opened the door carefully, so as not to disturb her.  Angelina had stopped crying and looked asleep.  She, like most people, would usually scrunch up into a ball and sleep on one side or the other.  But this evening, she lay on her back, her face conveying her evident pain and distress, and jarring a distant memory in her father’s mind.  He thought for a while, then left.
He went back in to the kitchen.  ‘You know what she said to me?  She said that she’s going to spend every day of the holidays looking for him, because “he wouldn’t give up!”.’
‘Tired?’ asked his wife.
‘Yes, very.  It’s been busy at work.’  He thought in silence again and then dialled a number on his phone.  ‘Derek?  It’s John.’ 
Derek was his boss.
‘Look, I’m sorry to do this, but I need a few days off work.’
‘Hmmm,’ said the boss.  ‘I’m not so sure it’s a good idea this week.  Can’t you hold off until your planned holidays at the end of the month?’
John thought for a few seconds, weighing up what was most important right now: work or his youngest daughter?  ‘No, Derek.  I’m afraid I have a family emergency to deal with.’
‘I’m very sorry to hear that, John.  Anything we can help you with?  What is it?’
‘My daughter’s dog is lost,’ John said, knowing that that wouldn’t register in his boss’s mind as much of an emergency.
‘Hang on, John.  That’s a little sad for her but dogs often go missing for a day or two.  They soon show up when they’re hungry.  Sure you need time off to search for it?’
John didn’t hesitate.  ‘Yes, I’m absolutely sure that I must.You see, the dog plays a very special part in our family.  Let me explain.  Four years ago, we were on a family caravan holiday in Devon.’  He paused for a moment.  ‘One of the girls on the site, who was only six years old, went off for a long walk by herself one afternoon - after having a huge row with her older sister, and without telling her parents.  She didn’t come back.’  He paused again.  ‘Her parents were terribly worried about her and organised with the other campers and even the Coast Guard.  Well, you can imagine!’
‘Yes, I can.’
‘My brilliant wife suggested that our dog might be able to pick up the girl’s  trail.  It soon did, and shot off after her, with flabby me and others trailing behind in inadequate pursuit.  Every now and again I’d catch sight of that dog in need of obedience training, running away off into the distance.  And every now and again it would stop and bark, seemingly to make sure I was still following.  And after a while I caught up with him, at the foot of a cliff, watching over the unconscious girl and barking like crazy to guide me to her.’ 
‘Who was the girl, John?’
‘’Angelina!’  He stopped to compose himself.  ‘And that’s why this is a family emergency, and why I need some days off.  You could send me anything urgent by email and I’ll deal with it in the evenings.’
The boss had a daughter too.  ‘John, I understand … and you must take as much time off as you need!  Good luck with the search.’
‘Thanks.  I’ll keep you posted.’  He ended his call.
 ‘You’re a good father, John,’ said the wife.
‘Kind of you … but I’m not all goodness and light.  I sometimes duck the big problems - passing them off to others.’
‘Derek will forgive you.’
‘I didn’t mean him.’
‘Then who do you mean?’
‘Well, I’ll be leaving the most difficult of tomorrow’s jobs to you: telling Kate that she won’t be going to Broadstairs tomorrow with “Mr Dippy” and that, instead, she’ll be joining the search party!  You see: flawed, I am!’
‘Rotter!’ said the wife, knowing that there would be another rash of tears, older tears, tomorrow.
‘Sorry … but this really is a family emergency … and it’s for all of the family to help out!’
****
Later the next day, a father, his two daughters and a co-opted ‘Mr Dippy’ found a hungry and very thirsty dog in the woods.  It had been caught by a snare, wrapped around its neck, and couldn’t break loose, no matter how hard it had tried.  They rushed it to the vet, where it had its cuts treated, before being taken home.  It rushed through the door and drank like crazy at his bowl, splashing water all over a newly-cleaned floor.  It then barked loudly, demanding its supper and – if it wouldn’t be too much trouble - a digestive biscuit or two.  His meal was served by a young girl, aged ten. who was very, very happy to do its bidding, because she loved that dog – much more than she could ever bear to say.
 


© Copyright 2019 Nicholas Culpepper. All rights reserved.

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