Exercise – A Boy and His Dog

img_0822My Jack Russell, Beanie, is styling with his winter wear.

Recently I was goofing off on the internet and found a writing prompt that stoked my imaginative fires. The directions called for a story outline, but Lucas started telling me his story and insisted I write the whole thing.

The original prompt is here:


A kid with some talent for handicrafts buys a board, paints it red, and by attaching four wheels from an old office chair to the bottom, builds a skateboard out of it. He skates out of his village and over a country road into the woods. Under his arm, he has his family puppy so the little guy can go for a walk without the labor of actually having to walk… It’s a rough ride, and the skateboard gets caught in some roots and crashes hard. The puppy is hurt badly. The kid quickly wattles a makeshift basket out of some branches and carries his puppy back to the village vet.

Through the Woods – Part 1

I was plastered to the display window, my breath fogging up the glass. There it was. The coolest skateboard ever made. It had the specially modified wheels, the fiberglass, the super-shocks, and the deluxe paint job with the gory, blood-dripping skull right on the top. I had been eyeing this masterpiece for the last couple of weeks. I was dead broke and the neighbors had all run out of stuff for me to fix.

I planned feverishly. I would have to swing by the dump, then check behind the lone office building, then find the red paint that Gerald (not Dad, never Dad) had used to hide the patch job on the door. Maybe I could borrow a few of his tools and stuff.

Giblet pulled against his leash, bored, snapping me out of my lust-induced fog.

“Getting antsy, boy? Come on, time to go.”

He trotted beside me, tongue hanging out, his short legs moving so fast they blurred. He looked happy with his fat little puppy belly jiggling, his nose occasionally twitching, and his eyes half shut with contentment.

We walked the four blocks back to our crappy apartment building. It was the only one in our rural village, its ugly three stories partially hidden behind a screen of scraggly pines and a crumbling brick wall.

When we turned down Pear Street, I kept a lookout for Tony. The last time I saw him, he pitched an empty can right at Giblet’s head. I’d hate to have to fight him. I got my ass handed to me the last time. Two inches and twenty pounds makes a bigger difference than I thought.

I turned into the Paradise Valley apartment entrance and saw a group sitting on one of the cracked stoops. Giblet wagged his tail so hard he almost turned himself sideways.

“That dog looks more ratchet every time I see him,” Jake called out. His face stretched into a cheeky grin.

Giblet started yapping his “hi, hi, hi!” bark and tugged me towards our best friend in the building.

Jake tossed some cards at a pile in the center of the circle of boys, nodded sharply at his second-in-command, murmured something, and headed our way. His boys broke up the game and took lookout positions.

We bro-hugged and Jake crouched down to ruffle Gib’s fur.

“You going in?” Jake’s face was tight.

“Gotta scrounge.” Talking to Gib was easy. People, even Jake, not so much. My voice was caught in that place of conflict between squeaky doors and bass rumbles.

“The man’s home.” Jake looked away, fidgeted with the knife he kept in his pocket.

“Yeah.” I ducked my head. I hated going in that dank garbage hole even when he wasn’t in it.

“You want some backup?”

“Nah. It’s early enough. He’s still sleeping off last night.”

Jake’s face relaxed and his knife hand emerged, empty. “Good. Here, I found this. Want it?”

He reached down and grabbed a brown bundle from behind him. He unwrapped a dog-eared Handyman magazine.

My hands reached out before I knew what I was doing. I caught myself, squinted up at Jake, and asked, “For what?”

He knew the rules. No gifts.

Jake’s lips twisted. “There’s a leaky faucet in 3B. Or you could find me another one of those skin mags.”

I nodded, grabbed the Handyman, and stuffed it under my shirt. “Thanks, jefe.”

“S’alright, Luc. Sure you don’t need backup?”

I cut him a look that said not this badass.

Jake’s quiet chuckle followed me as I walked away.

I led Giblet to the back of the building. He sniffed the corner and squatted, marking his territory. I felt my face flowing into a smile and a giggle bubbled through me. He looked so funny with his butt dragging the ground.

I tied Giblet up by the dumpster and squirreled up the fire escape. I put my ear against the window, closed my eyes, and held my breath. Gerald was snoring. The real kind of snore, not the fake growly ones he tried to fool me with. My breath escaped in a relieved sigh.

I slipped back down to Giblet, who was alternately licking his paws and his balls. I thought about how he liked to lick my face and scrunched my nose.

“Definitely going to brush your teeth later, buddy.”

He gazed up at me, tongue lolling in a goofy puppy grin. I undid the knot tied around the slat of the dumpster fence. I looked around, saw no one, and picked Gib up for a quick squeeze and an ear scratch. Some of the neighbor kids made fun of him because he was a mutt, but he was mine. I took care of my own.

I set Gib down and we crept into the building, heading toward the back stairs to avoid the manager. One of his favorite past-times was lurking in the halls, ready to pounce on the unwary. He had the rent shake-down nailed. I didn’t feel like dealing with his crap today. He could brave the wrath of Gerald if he wanted money that bad.

Up the stairs we went. I picked up Giblet since his legs were still too short to get up the stairs with any kind of grace. His little body was stiff, his tension mirroring my own. He whined a little, but not loud enough to matter.

The stair rail was greasy with the oil of hundreds of hands, left after years of neglect. I don’t think it had been cleaned, or even wiped, since Clinton was president. The stairwell was full of mixed odors. My nose caught a divine, buttery gold aroma. Jana, the resident good time girl, was making grilled cheese sandwiches. I loved that smell. It cancelled out some of the pee and smoke. Sometimes Jana would leave a sandwich out for me and Gib. I hoped she had made enough money last night to make her generous.

I stepped off of the landing and onto the poop-brown material that masqueraded as carpet on the floor of the dim hall. I heard the Carmichael baby wailing and cringed. I squeezed my eyes shut and sent out a plea to the universe.

“Don’t wake up, don’t wake up, don’t wake up!”

When his mama cooed, his strident cries changed to unhappy hiccups. My body, poised for flight, relaxed.

I walked up to the door that was the angry color of danger, of screaming matches, of whimpers in the night. I put my ear beside the rough surface of the patch. Still nothing but snoring. I tested the knob, ready to run. Gerald had been in a horrible mood since he was laughed out of his last job interview.

The door was unlocked. I eased it open a couple of inches. I didn’t hear any beer cans toppling, which was Gerald’s favorite way to rig the door so he’d know when I came home. So far, so good. Giblet sat at my feet, panting and trembling.

My nose was assaulted by the smell of rotten food and unwashed butt. We snuck in, Giblet padding quietly behind me. We waded through dirty clothes, discarded wrappers, old pizza boxes, empty cans, and roaches. Gib put his nose down and sniffed furiously. He made little chomping noises.

I carefully lifted Giblet and put him in the milk crate that served as his bed. As good as Gib was, he was way too awkward to let him trail after me. The last thing I needed was him tripping over his ears and knocking into something.

I scavenged around, careful to keep the noise level down. It looked like Gerald had finished off the last of the peanut butter. The fridge was bare. A sad, fuzzy grape-raisin, a few old stains, and a nearly empty bottle of ketchup were all that was left. I rifled through the trash on the counter and the sink, hopeful that Gerald had stashed something and forgotten.

No luck. It looked like I had to add dumpster diving at the Shop ’N’ Save to my to-do list.

I settled for borrowing a few tools and some odds and ends. I wrapped them in an old sheet I liberated from the lost-and-found in the basement laundry. I figured that would be enough to keep everything from knocking together. I slipped the bundle into a backpack I had found in a trashcan. I grabbed Gib’s bowls and stuffed them in the bag, too. I didn’t know how long we would be gone. Lastly, I grabbed Gerald’s old threadbare duffel and dropped in some plastic containers I had found behind the hardware store.

I set all my loot outside the door, careful not to bang into anything. As I headed back to get Gib, my eyes were drawn to a wondrous sight. Gerald’s wallet. I couldn’t believe my luck. It was sitting on a battered end-table, half covered with a scribbled note.

I snatched the wallet and opened it. There was a mix of fives and ones. I glanced at the note, curious.

“Kid – take a cupel dollers. Git food.”

I was shocked by the message. For Gerald, it was downright friendly. He’d never been able to spell, the result of having been kicked in the head by mule when he was a kid. Although he recovered, everyone who knew him said his personality took a turn for the worse. Sometimes I wished the mule had missed, sometimes I wished it had hit him a little harder.

Today, I wished it missed. Maybe then the old man wouldn’t get so mad and could keep a job. Maybe he wouldn’t drink so much. Maybe there would be more than twenty dollars to get us through the week.

With that bitter thought, I took most of the money, leaving enough for Gerald to get another bottle of cheap liquor. He was easier to handle when he was drunk. He knew my code, knew I wouldn’t spend it on anything for myself.

I lifted Gib out of the crate. He licked my face and squirmed, happy just to be with me. I pushed my face into the shaggy ruff at his neck.

Shifting Gib to my hip, I checked the peephole and saw the manager, a scruffy, pimpled man that the tenants called Ratface. He was prowling the hall, checking door handles. I reached over and locked the door. A few seconds later, it rattled. I waited, one beat, two beats, three beats, and checked again. Ratface’s head bobbed as he took the stairs down.

Gerald snorted and I jumped two feet into the air. My heartbeat thundered in my ears. I slipped out through the door, locking it behind me. I heaved the bags over my shoulder and ran, full speed, down the stairs and out into the evening.

Stay tuned for Part 2!