Runaway retriever, p.3
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       Runaway Retriever, p.3

           Tui T. Sutherland
 
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  “He’s pretty smart,” Troy said admiringly, pushing his glasses up his nose. People sometimes say Troy and I look like brothers, but I think that’s only because they always see us together. His hair is kind of reddish, while mine is brown, and his eyes are blue, but mine are green. Plus I’m nearly six inches taller than he is. He keeps saying his “growth spurt” is sure to start in junior high. We’ve been friends since we were born, because our birthdays are only a couple days apart, and our moms were put in the same room at the hospital.

  Except, of course, his mom is still around, and mine isn’t. But that’s OK. His mom is nice but kind of overprotective. Seriously, she texts him, like, once an hour to find out where he is.

  “Merlin is supersmart,” I agreed. “He’s got supernatural powers or something.” I told them about him escaping from Katie’s yard. Then I told them about the baby gate and how he ended up on my bed anyway.

  Troy got really excited. “We should figure out how he does it,” he said. “It’s like a mystery! We should solve it!” Troy loves detective stories. He’s read all the Hardy Boys books and he’s started reading some grown-up ones, too, but his mom has to approve them all first. He wants to solve crimes when he’s older, like the guys on cop shows. (He’s not allowed to watch most of those either, but he sees them sometimes at Danny’s house. The rules there are a little less strict than everywhere else because there are so many people to keep track of.)

  “It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Camellia’s probably spent the whole day coming up with some new way to imprison him. Tonight he’ll be sleeping alone. Sorry, buddy.” I ruffled Merlin’s fur and he made a funny snorting sound like, We’ll see about that!

  Sure enough, after dinner Camellia announced that she thought we should put Merlin in the bathroom overnight. She said we’d put his bed and some water in there and then close the door, and it would be totally fine.

  I argued with her a bit, but finally I gave in. Because I knew something she didn’t.

  I knew that the night before … I had left my bedroom door closed.

  The next morning, there he was, snoring away on the pillow beside me. I grinned and scratched his head. He opened his eyes and licked my nose again.

  “You’re a very bad dog,” I said to him. His tail thumped on the bed.

  “WHAT?” I heard Camellia shriek from down the hall. She came tearing into my room. “How did he do that?” she demanded, pointing at Merlin. He sat up alertly. “How did he get out? Parker, did you — ”

  “I didn’t!” I said. “I swear!”

  Luckily Camellia believes me more than Katie believes Sarah. We have a rule about honesty in our house. She threw up her hands. “That is just crazy. You are crazy, dog.”

  Thump thump, went Merlin’s tail.

  “I’m leaving for college in two days,” Camellia said. “If you haven’t figured this out by then, I won’t be here to help you.”

  I had forgotten that she was leaving so soon. I didn’t like to think about it.

  “Let’s try it again and see if we can figure out what he’s doing,” I said.

  Dad was already at work, so it was just the two of us. I got dressed and then we took Merlin down the hall and into the bathroom. He sat down on his bed on top of the bath mat and tilted his head at us like, I don’t get this game. Camellia and I backed out of the bathroom and shut the door. We pretended like we were walking away, stomping our feet on the floorboards. Then we sat down a little ways away from the bathroom and watched the door.

  First we heard the jingle jingle of the tags on Merlin’s collar. Then we heard him snuffling along the bottom of the door. His claws went scrabble scrabble on the tiles like he was thinking about digging his way out. He made this sad little whining sound that made me want to jump up and let him out, but Camellia put one hand on my arm and motioned for me to wait.

  Then we heard a thud. I guessed that Merlin had got up on his back paws with his front paws on the door. There were scratching noises and a few more little whimpers. He walked away from the door and then back again. Another thud. Scrabble scrabble scrabble … and suddenly the knob turned and the door opened.

  Merlin came bounding out. When he saw us he looked surprised and a little bit guilty, but then he galloped over and started licking our faces. His tail was swishing back and forth, and he barked happily a couple of times. I could tell he thought he’d won whatever game we were playing. He was so pleased with himself, it was impossible not to laugh at him.

  “I’ve never seen anything like that,” Camellia said, fending him off and standing up. “I think we’re going to have to put him in his crate if we want him to stay put.”

  “He really hates his crate, though,” I said. “Watch, I’ll show you.” I led Merlin downstairs into the living room. As soon as I walked toward his crate he crouched down low to the ground and then slowly started to sneak away. I’d noticed he always went in a big circle around the furniture to stay away from it.

  “He should like it,” Camellia said, catching his collar. He leaned against her, wagging his tail. “I wonder why he doesn’t.” She picked up one of the dog books from the coffee table and flipped through it. After a minute, she took out her phone and went into the kitchen. I could hear her calling Katie.

  “It’s all right, Merlin,” I said, sitting down on the carpet next to him. “It’s not so bad in there. Here, look.” I crawled over to his crate and put my head inside. “See? It doesn’t scare me.”

  Merlin stopped panting and cocked his head. He looked kind of confused.

  “Nothing to worry about,” I said. “You’re being a big ’fraidy-cat.” I climbed all the way into the crate and sat there with my legs crossed. It was a pretty big crate, actually. And we’d put a blanket over the metal tray at the bottom so it wasn’t too uncomfortable.

  Of course, right when I was sitting inside a dog crate had to be the moment when Kristal Perkins walked into the room. She took one look at me and started cracking up.

  “Oh — uh — hi, Kristal,” I said. I could tell my face was turning bright red. “How did you get in?” Merlin trotted over to her, wagging his tail.

  “Your sister let me in,” she said. “Why are you inside the crate and the dog’s out here? Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around?” She laughed again, showing her braces. Usually she smiles with her mouth closed so people won’t see them, but I like it when she laughs without thinking about it. Except, of course, when she’s laughing at me.

  “I’m trying to show Merlin it’s not scary in there,” I explained, crawling out of the crate. “He won’t even go near it.”

  She knelt down and buried her hands in Merlin’s fur, rubbing his back. He licked her face and she laughed again. “Are you a silly dog?” she said to him. “Are you afraid of your own crate? Come on over here, silly.” She inched toward the crate and Merlin followed her. But when she got about a foot away from it, he stopped and lay down again, covering his nose with his paws.

  “I think I get it,” Camellia said, coming back into the room. She tucked her cell phone into her jeans and put the dog book back on the table. “Katie says they put him in his crate whenever he was being bad. He probably associates it with punishment.” She shook her head with a sigh. “That’s exactly why the book says not to do that. Sometimes I think Katie didn’t even read any of these books.”

  “Awww,” Kristal said, scratching Merlin’s head. “You’re not being punished, poor dog, don’t worry.”

  “Let’s try leaving the door open and putting some treats inside,” Camellia suggested. “Maybe he’ll smell them and go in looking for them, and that’ll make him feel better about the crate.”

  I got some of the treats that were shaped like tiny steaks and scattered them around the inside of the crate. But Merlin stayed on the other end of the room, wagging his tail, and then he followed us into the kitchen.

  “We’ll just leave it like that,” Camellia suggested, “and see if he finds them later.”
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  “Are you taking him to the park again?” Kristal asked. She sat down on one of the stools at the kitchen island. “Skye told me she saw you guys yesterday, and I was wondering if you’d let me film Merlin.”

  “Sure!” I said, impressed. “You have a video camera?” Merlin got up and trotted out of the room. I hoped he was going to search his crate for treats.

  “Dad let me borrow his for my art camp projects,” she said. “Yesterday was the last day, but I thought making a Merlin movie would still be fun.”

  “Yeah, that’d be cool,” I said.

  “Merlin!” Camellia shouted. “Where did you get that?!”

  Merlin poked his head around the door. Dangling from his mouth was a pair of girl’s underwear.

  I don’t know who was more embarrassed, me or Camellia or Kristal. Certainly not Merlin — his tail was going a hundred miles an hour.

  Camellia dove at him, and he immediately took off. We listened to him run up the stairs with my sister chasing him. I could hear her shouting and feet thumping as they galloped around upstairs. Then we heard him coming back down the stairs, and Kristal and I jumped up to help.

  We chased him around the living room and through my dad’s study and into the kitchen and around the island and back up the stairs. You’d think three of us would have had more luck catching one dog, but Kristal was laughing so hard she wasn’t really much help. And Merlin was really good at dodging when we jumped at him.

  By the time we finally cornered him in Camellia’s room, I was pretty near convinced that he really did have magical disappearing powers.

  Camellia’s room was usually superneat and tidy, but today there were open suitcases on the floor and piles of clothes laid out on the bed. I held Merlin while Camellia wrestled her underwear away from him.

  “I never thought I’d agree with Katie,” she said, “but seriously, gross, dog.” She dropped it in her laundry hamper. He made a lunge for one of the piles of clothes, and I had to practically wrap myself around him to hold him back.

  “I’ll take him to the park while you pack,” I suggested.

  “Great idea,” Camellia said, pointing to the door. “Out you go, all of you. And don’t come back until all this stuff is in suitcases!”

  I dragged Merlin down the stairs, and Kristal followed us. Of course, then she had to watch the mad chaos of me trying to get his leash on him. This was definitely the highest number of embarrassing things that had ever happened to me in front of her. All thanks to Merlin. I knew dogs could be difficult, but embarrassing? Why didn’t anyone warn me about that?

  We spent the rest of the day at the park with Danny and Eric. Kristal filmed Merlin bounding around the dog run and chasing the tennis ball. She got some great shots of him setting off the water fountain and trying to jump in it. She even videotaped him jumping up to lick the camera lens.

  Around dinnertime, Camellia called my cell phone to say it was safe to come home. She still wasn’t very pleased with Merlin, though. And nothing I could say would change her mind about putting him in his crate for the night.

  “We’ll put something in there that smells like you,” she said. “That’ll make him like it better.” She had gotten this idea from one of the books, of course. So I had to go get an old T-shirt and stick it in the crate with the blanket and the treats. Merlin sat up on the couch and watched me do this. He looked pretty suspicious. His long, dangly ears scooted forward on his head and he even stopped smiling for a few seconds.

  As soon as I stood up and stepped toward him, Merlin leaped off the couch and went tearing off down the hall.

  “Camellia!” I shouted. “Dad! Help me catch him!”

  Dad came out of his study, blinking in surprise, and Merlin galloped right into him. Dad tried to reach for his collar, but Merlin scrambled around like lightning and disappeared up the stairs.

  “I hope your door is closed,” I said to Camellia as she came running out of the kitchen.

  “It definitely is!” she said. We chased Merlin up the stairs, but when we got up there, we couldn’t find him. He wasn’t in the bathroom. He wasn’t in Dad’s bedroom. He wasn’t on my bed. Camellia’s door was still closed, but we opened it to double-check. Half her stuff was packed away in suitcases and boxes. It made me sad to look at it. But there was no Merlin in there.

  “He is a magician!” I said.

  “He’s a big dog,” Dad said. “He didn’t just disappear. Let’s look again.”

  We checked all the rooms again more carefully. Finally I spotted a long golden tail sticking out from under my bed. I lay down on the carpet and looked. Merlin’s big brown eyes met mine and his tail went thump thump. He looked so happy to see me, I felt bad telling on him. But if I didn’t, my sister and my dad would keep looking for him all night.

  “Come on, boy,” I said, holding out my hand. “It’s just for the night. Don’t worry.”

  With a small, sad noise, Merlin wriggled forward on his belly a little, but he didn’t come all the way out from under the bed. I reached for his collar and tugged on it, but he wouldn’t come. Camellia and Dad both tried calling him, too. In the end I had to go downstairs and get some treats. Those got him out from under the bed in a hurry.

  I held out another treat and led him down the stairs. Chomping happily on the first treat, he followed me. He poked my hand with his shiny black nose. He didn’t even notice where we were going until we were standing in the living room.

  Then he suddenly planted his feet, staring at the crate. He started to back away, but my dad and Camellia were ready for him. Dad grabbed his collar. I tried to give Merlin the treat, but he wasn’t interested anymore. He just wanted to get away. He was wriggling and scrabbling in place. My dad tried to pull him over to the crate, but Merlin was flailing around too much. Camellia ran over and brought the crate to Dad. With a heave, Dad wrestled him inside and closed the door.

  “WOOF!” Merlin protested, clawing at the door. “WOOF! WOOF!”

  “I’m sorry, buddy,” I said, kneeling and poking the treat through the bars. He gobbled it up, giving me this look, like he was thinking You’re not going to bribe me into liking this. Then he started sniffing around the bottom of the crate, digging up the blanket. He found another of the treats and ate that, too.

  “Quick, while he’s distracted,” Camellia said, turning off the light. We all snuck upstairs and got ready for bed in a hurry. I listened hard while I was brushing my teeth, but all I could hear from downstairs was snuffling and sometimes crunching when he found another treat.

  Everything seemed quiet when I got into bed. The house was dark and still. Dad was in his room reading and Camellia was in her room, making lists of last-minute things she needed. I was tired from running around the park. I started to fall asleep right away.

  Then I heard a mournful whimper from downstairs. Merlin went “arooo arooo aroooo” a few times and then stopped. I heard the scrabbling of claws on metal. Then I heard RATTLE CLANK RATTLE CLANK RATTLE CLANK!

  “Merlin!” Camellia said from the top of the stairs. “Shush! No!”

  He was quiet again, and she went back into her room.

  A long pause. I closed my eyes.

  RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE.

  “Just ignore him,” my dad called. “He’ll calm down eventually.”

  Pause.

  RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE CLANK CLANK.

  More whimpering. More scratching noises.

  RATTLE RATTLE. RATTLE RATTLE. CLANK. RATTLE RATTLE.

  “Aroooooo. Aaaarrrrrooo.”

  Pause. Long pause. I began to drift off.

  RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE CLANK CLANK CLANK RATTLE RATTLE CLANK RATTLE RATTLE CLANK CLANK CLANK …

  BANG!

  I leaped out of bed. Dad and Camellia were already running down the hall from different directions. We nearly crashed into each other at the top of the stairs. Merlin was sitting proudly at the bottom, wagging his tail and grinning.

  Camellia gasped.
How did he do that?”

  “Let’s go see,” my dad said, rubbing his forehead.

  We all went down to the living room. Merlin came and pressed himself up against me like, Don’t worry, I sorted it out. We’ll never be separated again! I knew I wasn’t supposed to pet him, but he was wagging his tail so hard, I couldn’t resist scratching behind his ears just a little bit.

  The tray at the bottom of the crate had been pushed out and was lying halfway across the room from it. The crate itself was on its side — the bang we heard must have been when it fell over. The blanket and my shirt were scrunched up at one end. And the door was lying open.

  Camellia was flabbergasted. “That — that is — I can’t — how —”

  “I have an idea,” Dad said. “Why don’t we see if he’ll sleep on the floor beside Parker? That way we all might get some peace and quiet.”

  Merlin and I looked at Camellia hopefully. She put her hands on her hips. “I’m not sure that’s sending the right message,” she said, giving Merlin a stern look. “But I guess nothing else is working….”

  “I’ll be very bossy,” I promised. “I’ll alpha-dog him right off the bed, I swear.”

  She sighed. “OK, let’s try it.”

  I dragged Merlin’s bed into my room. He was so excited to see this. He kept jumping and leaping and pouncing on it and trying to play with me. “No,” I said firmly. “Bedtime.” Wagging his tail, he came over and bumped my elbow with his nose. I settled his bed on the floor next to mine. “Bed,” I said, pointing to it.

  He jumped up onto my bed, turned around a few times, and curled up right in the center of the sheets. His tail swished back and forth. His fur puffed out around his legs like a fluffy jacket. He smiled at me like he was saying OK, sure, you sleep down there, and I’ll sleep up here.

 
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