As soon as we get off the elevator, I know something is wrong. Our apartment has no mat in front. The muddy boots and fake flowers are gone. The doorway looks empty. Abandoned. Like nobody lives here.
Who took our stuff? Intruders? Strangers?
Fetch Man opens the door, and I race inside. Nose to the floor, I sniff for clues. But all I smell are Food Lady, Fetch Man, and Hattie—my own family.
I rush into the Eating Place. Apparently, Food Lady is not aware that things are missing. She gives me a quick pat, then sighs, like she has a big job to do. She’s completely focused on a pile of boxes.
My tail goes nuts. I stick my snout in the closest box and begin rooting around. But it smells boring like old teacups, not new and exciting like a package.
“FEN-way,” Food Lady scolds. That’s Human for “You’re in trouble!”
My ears droop, and I back away. I was only doing my job. Packages must be inspected. What if they’re hiding something dangerous? Or delicious?
Fetch Man smiles and kisses Food Lady’s cheek. He speaks quickly and gestures a lot. Like he’s the happiest human in the world. What’s he so excited about? Isn’t he worried that our stuff’s been stolen? Good thing my humans have a Jack Russell Terrier on patrol. We’re obviously in terrible danger. There’s so much to do!
I keep sniffing around, but I do not find one single clue. And no tasty crumbs or yummy drips, either. Food Lady wraps noisy paper around the dishes and tucks them into a big box. She grabs crinkly bags of chips and pretzels and cookies. Cans and jars, too. Pretty soon, the cabinets are cleared out. Hey, wait a minute! What are we supposed to eat?
I must warn my short human. I race to her room, barking the whole way. “Bad news, Hattie! We’re going to starve!”
But when I get there, she’s surrounded by boxes, too. And she looks miserable. Probably because she couldn’t come to the Dog Park. Hattie loves playing ball and chase as much as I do.
Even though I have terrible news, she forgets how sad she is when she sees me. “Fenn-waay,” she sings in her sweet voice. That means “Here’s a treat.”
“Hooray! Hooray!” I bark, blasting through the door. That’s My Hattie, always thinking of me. I scamper over a box and hurl myself at her legs. “I can hardly wait!”
“Awww,” she says with a giggle, reaching into her pocket. The treat sails into my mouth. Chomp!
Wowee, that hits the spot.
Hattie pats my head and gazes into my eyes, her face back to being sad. Like that was the very last treat.
“That’s what I was saying, Hattie. We’ve been wiped out,” I bark. “Probably by squirrels!”
Her shoulders sink with the horrible realization.
I nuzzle her ankle. “Don’t worry. Your protector is here.”
She must be feeling worse than I thought because her dark eyes go right to the way-up-high shelf. She climbs onto the bed and reaches for the fuzzy toy that used to be a bear but is now only the upper half. With one arm.
Uh-oh! That means something scary is happening. Like a dark night with rain and boom-kabooms.
Hattie pulls the used-to-be bear off the high shelf. She clutches it to her chest. She is scared.
Good thing I’m here to cheer her up! As she’s stepping down, I snatch the used-to-be bear from her arms. I zip around the bed and fly over a box.
Hattie’s on my tail, laughing. “Hey!” she says, reaching out her arms.
I’m just out of her grasp. I’m hopping through a pile of shoes when I stumble over something hard. Ouch
! My bedtime hairbrush. What’s it doing on the floor?
Sensing opportunity, Hattie lunges. “Drop it!” she shouts in a voice that sounds anything but angry.
She’s fast, but I’m faster. I spring onto the bed. I bury my nose in the rumpled blankets. They smell like mint and vanilla, just like she does.
Hattie flops down beside me, smiling. She takes the used-to-be bear and grabs me tight. “Best buddies,” she coos. She kisses my brown paw, then my white paw. She showers my neck with kisses. Our favorite snuggle game!
I slobber her cheek as she giggles. She’s the best short human ever.
Food Lady appears in the doorway. One hand’s on her hip. The other’s pointing at the boxes. “Hattie,” she scolds.
Hattie’s smile disappears. As she bolts up, I hop off her chest. She smells worried. I know how she feels.
I wait for Food Lady to start yelling in a bossy voice. But instead, the words I hear are Hattie’s. She sounds anxious. She picks up the long jump rope that she brings to the place where short humans with backpacks go. She shows Food Lady a card. I catch a whiff of hardened frosting from the time a pack of short humans invaded and I warned Hattie that her treats were on fire.
As Hattie goes on, Food Lady’s angry face gets softer and softer. Until it’s turned to sad. “Oh, bay-bee,” she says in a soothing tone. She sits next to us on the bed.
Hattie leans into her arm. Food Lady strokes Hattie’s bushy hair.
I nuzzle in under Food Lady’s hand. “I could use a few strokes, too, you know,” I whimper. “Right behind this ear.”
Food Lady rocks us gently the way she did when Hattie’s knee was hurt. She gives us both a pat and gets up. “Okay?” she asks.
Hattie nods and sniffles a few times. “Okay,” she says. But I know she’s still worried. Hattie’s sad and scared and packing things. It reminds me of something. But what? If only I could think of it.
When Food Lady’s gone, Hattie tosses the jump rope into a box. Then clothes—whoosh
. And shoes—clunk
. She picks up the used-to-be bear and squeezes it tight.
And then I remember what this reminds me of! It was right before Hattie disappeared for two whole nights. And something terrible must’ve happened to her. Because when she finally came back, her clothes smelled horrible. Like burnt marshmallows and squirrels.
Oh no! Could it be happening again? I knew something was wrong!
Hattie is leaving! Hattie is leaving!
I spring up and run in circles. She can’t go, at least not without her loyal dog. Hey! If I stick by her side, she’ll have to take me with her. Wowee, it’s the Best Idea Ever!
As Hattie turns from box to box, I’m on her like fur. When she closes the last one, she heads for the door. I beat her to it.
She leaps over me, and I chase her to the Eating Place. Food Lady’s standing at the counter, licking her fingers. She looks up and holds out a white bag that smells like doughnuts. “Breck-fest,” she calls.
“Yippee!” I bark, racing to Food Lady’s feet. Hattie squeals, then grabs the bag and crinkles it open.
I leap on her legs and lick my chops.
Hattie bites into a squishy doughnut. A lovely glob of goo drips right into my mouth. Mmmmm. Vanilla. I swallow quickly. “More, please,” I bark, jumping on her legs again.
Hattie giggles. But when Food Lady crosses her arms, she stops.
Right then, a rattling sounds at the front door. Intruders? I charge into the Lounging Place as the door swings open. I’m ready to pounce.
It’s Fetch Man! He was gone? I spring up and paw his knees. “I missed you so much,” I bark. “Is it playtime?”
But he’s all business. And he’s not alone.
A group of Large Strangers follows him in. One after another, they come through the door, reeking of coffee and sweat. A suspicious combination! And Fetch Man is not making one move to stop them.
“Hey! Who are you? Why are you here?” I bark, lunging toward them but stopping a safe distance from the first stranger. He is a lot bigger than Fetch Man.
“Shhhh,” Fetch Man says. He grabs me by the collar and pulls me to the far side of the room.
“Watch out!” I bark. “These guys are probably dangerous!”
As if to prove my point, the very large strangers begin lifting the boxes. One of them takes the Flashing Screen right off the wall.
“Can’t you see they’re stealing our stuff?” I bark, wiggling and kicking. “Let me go! I must be free to do my job!”
But my warnings aren’t doing one bit of good. Fetch Man and Food Lady just stand there, watching these Evil Humans loot everything.
“Let me at ’em! Seriously, I can take these guys!” I pull. I twist. I’m desperate to get loose. I’m about to choke myself when Fetch Man deposits me into the Eating Place. “Can’t you see what’s happening?” I bark. “If you ever needed a dog to protect you, it’s now!”
Unfazed, Fetch Man snaps The Gate across the doorway. I’m trapped! “What are you doing?” I bark. “Are you nuts?” I jump my highest, but I’m no match for The Gate.
I can’t keep this up for long. My legs are getting tired and my bark is wearing out. Danger is happening right here in our home and all I can do is watch.
And worst of all, I got separated from Hattie when I was supposed to be sticking by her side. There goes the plan!Chapter Two
It’s going to be a lot of hard work, but I will not rest until I’m reunited with Hattie. I spin around and around. I stretch and leap up again and again. I race back and forth from one end of the Eat-ing Place to the other, stopping only once to lick a tasty drip on the floor.
At last, there’s only one thing left to do. I whine in my most pitiful voice. “Hey, everybody! Remember me? I’m all alone and I’m trapped.”
Finally, my efforts pay off. Hattie rushes over, her backpack strapped to her back. Her face is weary and happy at the same time. “Ready?” she asks.
“I’m so ready! I’m so ready!” I bark, my tail going wild. Hattie removes The Gate, and I sprint into the Lounging Place.
I’m too late! The Evil Humans are gone. And so is the rest of our stuff. But the good news is I’m back with Hattie. If she’s leaving, I’m leaving, too.
My chest heaves with excitement as Hattie clips the leash to my collar. Fetch Man and Food Lady head for the door, lugging suitcases. I pull Hattie after them, down the hall and into the elevator. Where we go all . . . the way . . . down to the bottom. Ding!
When we get to the car, Hattie opens the door. I shoot inside before anybody can stop me. I lick Hattie’s cheek. It’s wet and salty. “It’s all right. I’m here to pro-tect you,” I bark. “Nothing can go wrong now.”
We zoom along for a Long, Long Time. I climb higher on Hattie’s chest and poke my head out the window. We’re on a road that’s slower and bumpier. With trees that are leafier, smells that are flowerier, and air that is breezier.
We pull into a grassy park and stop. As the car goes quiet, Fetch Man smiles and squeezes Food Lady’s hand.
My paws are all over the window. “Somebody let me out!”
Hattie grabs my leash, and we burst out of the car. I bury my nose in the cool, refreshing grass. It smells of wild animals. Like squirrels, chipmunks, mysterious birds . . . and not one single pigeon.
I raise my head, my ears perked and listening. But I don’t hear any traffic rumbling or honking or snort-ing. Or music drifting from cars or stores. All I hear are birds chirping and squirrels chattering. A motor buzzes in the distance. Short humans squeal somewhere down the street. What is this place?
Fetch Man and Food Lady hurry up a walkway that leads to a house. They’re acting awfully excited, like it’s the most wonderful house they’ve ever seen.
Hattie yanks me out of the grass mid-pee, and we follow along up the front steps. She must be eager to check out the house, too.
Oh boy! Whatever’s inside must be really amazing. Like a pile of bones! Or a slab of meat!
Fetch Man opens the door and we all race in, full of anticipation. Hooray! Hooray! I can hardly wait!
I run a few circles around Hattie’s legs as she unclips the leash. “Hurry, Hattie!” I bark. I have to find out what’s so special.
I search around, but all I see is a big empty space. And it smells totally boring, like stale air and fresh paint and new carpeting. It must get better, right?
I start out trotting with my nose to the ground. Pretty soon, I’m sprinting down the hall on a Per-fect Running Surface that I wish would go on forever. But then I make a sharp turn and cruise into a bright and gleaming place where the floor feels different. Smoother. And slipperier.
Suddenly, the floor gives way. My paws lose their grip and—whoa!—I’m skidding and skidding, my legs scrambling out of control. And then—smack! I’m crum-pled up against a tall and shiny box that’s humming. Ouch! What happened?
Hattie appears. “Fenway!” she cries, her voice sound-ing worried. She stoops next to me. She rubs my head and coos softly in my ear.
Food Lady rushes in and crouches next to us. She lifts my paws one by one, inspecting them like she’s looking for fleas.
I glance down and growl at the Wicked Floor. Talk about a sneak attack. I never saw it coming.
My defeat is so embarrassing. I can’t even look at Hattie or Food Lady. Instead, I gaze around the room. It reminds me of our Eating Place at home. Only much, much bigger. And emptier. And worst of all, it does not smell anything like an Eating Place should. It smells really bad. Like soap.
Which can only mean one thing—no food.
Food Lady gives me a quick rub, then abruptly goes to the counter. She starts opening drawers. She must be searching for nothing. Because that’s what she’s find-ing, and she’s acting rather happy about it.
Hattie continues stroking my back and kissing my neck. At least my short human understands how seri-ous the problem is. She wraps her arms around me and rests her head on my back.
Fetch Man comes striding in like he owns the place. Hey! How are the humans moving around so easily? Does the Wicked Floor only terrorize dogs? Fetch Man sidles up next to Food Lady and wraps his arms around her waist. She tells him something, and he steps away, looking concerned.
He turns to me, his face full of surprise. Like he just realized the pathetic heap in the corner is actually a dog. He comes over and gives me a pat. “Okay, fella?”
He swoops Hattie into his arms and lifts her up into the air. She explodes into a fit of giggles.
How can they have fun at a time like this?Well, I know one thing—I’m not about to sit around waiting for the Wicked Floor to strike again. But how to get away? I need an idea, but it’s hard to think when my tail is sagging and my ears are drooping. I gaze back at my humans, who are clearly busy with other things. Fetch Man is hugging Hattie like crazy, and Food Lady is at the stove turning the knobs, even though there’s no food to cook.
With no brilliant ideas and no help on the horizon, I try moving and barely manage to stand up. I clench my claws and take one step. Whoa! My legs slip out from under me again.
I get back up, panting like a coward. I tense my whole body and try again . . . then—ooof! I’m splat back down on that glossy, sinister surface.
It is pure evil.
I can’t just lie here. I must find a way to escape. I try again and again, slipping and scrambling the whole long way. But finally, I make it through the doorway and onto the safety of the carpet. Whew!
Back in the hall, it’s all I can do to catch my breath. Thank goodness that’s over. But right then, Fetch Man glances over and evidently decides it’s playtime.
He gives Hattie a long look. He squats down and slaps his leg. “Fenn-waay,” he calls, his eyes staring at me, wide and bright. What’s wrong with him? Does he think I’ve already forgotten about the Wicked Floor?
There must be somewhere I can hide. I turn tail and race around the corner. I discover steps that go up so high, I can’t see where they end. But they probably end somewhere, and anywhere is better than the Eating Place with that Wicked Floor. In a flash, I’m all the way at the top.
And somebody is right behind me. It’s Hattie! I know that devilish sound of her footsteps. She wants to play chase, our favorite game! “Ha, you can’t catch me, Hat-tie,” I bark. I turn and take off back down the steps as fast as I can. Hattie loves chase so much, sometimes I let her win. But this is not one of those times.
Whew! I’m panting hard when I get to the bottom. But when I steal a look up over my shoulder...where is Hattie?
I must go search for her. I scamper back up, step af-ter step after step. My tongue hanging out, my sides heaving, at last I make it all the way to the top. “Hattie! Hattie!” I bark. I sure could use some water.
But first things first. I need to find Hattie! Nose to the carpet, I follow her minty-vanilla trail down an-other hallway. This one has doors. One room, another, and another . . . and they’re all enormous. And empty.
Except the last room is not empty—Hattie’s in-side! She’s at the window. Is she looking for something outside?
“Hooray! Hooray!” I bark, rushing in. “I found you!”
“Fenn-waay!” She turns and bends down. She scoops me into her arms. “Best buddies,” she sings, snuggling my fur.
I lick her chin.
We twirl around the huge empty room. Hattie stretches out an arm, like she wants me to see how wonderful it is.
Um, okay. It doesn’t smell interesting at all. And there’s absolutely nothing in it. Not even one single toy.
Hattie hugs me tighter, swaying and dancing. Why is she so happy?
Just then ding-dong sounds float up from down stairs.
A doorbell! I squirt out of Hattie’s arms. We run through the hall and down the stairs. “Someone’s here! Someone’s here!” I bark.
Fetch Man and Food Lady are already at the front door. And a Loud Truck is outside!
Despite my very vocal warnings, Fetch Man lets some Large Strangers stroll right in. They’re carrying big boxes. And they reek of coffee and sweat, just like—hey! It’s those same Evil Humans who stole our stuff!
Fetch Man welcomes them in like they belong here. Food Lady bosses them around the empty rooms.
“Go away! There’s nothing here to steal,” I snarl. “You already took it!”
But instead of appreciating my hard work, Fetch Man smells annoyed. He pulls me farther from the door. As usual, he doesn’t get it. “Hattie,” he scolds.
What? Does he actually think she’s the one at fault here?
“Fenn-waay,” Hattie sings in a playful voice, like nothing dangerous is happening. She snatches me up into her arms.
“Let me handle this,” I bark, thrashing, desperate to get free. “I’m a professional.
”But she holds me tighter and breezes to the back of the house. As she opens a sliding door, I can hardly believe my eyes.Chapter Three
Hattie lets out a little shriek, like she’s surprised, too. Right behind the house is an open space with grass and a giant tree near the back. Clusters of bushes and a fence run along all the sides. My tail goes berserk. It can only be one thing—a Dog Park!
But it’s kind of plain. Where is the big water dish to splash in? Or the benches to jump on?
And it’s quiet. Too quiet. I turn my snout into the breeze, but all I catch are whiffs of leaves and grass and blooming flowers. Where are the romping dogs? Are we the first to arrive?
I look back at the door. Where is Fetch Man? Who’s going to throw the ball for me and Hattie to chase?
This place is curious, all right. But one thing’s for sure—it must be explored!
I wiggle out of Hattie’s arms and drop onto the porch. She chases me down the steps. Yippee! It’s time to play!
I tear around the Dog Park, zigging and zagging. If Hattie wants to catch me, she’s going to have to outrace the master!
But as I make a sharp turn, Hattie’s not behind me. She’s in the middle of the Dog Park, somersaulting through the grass. Is this a new game? I hustle over and slobber her face with licks.
She flops onto her back, laughing. I sink down next to her and nuzzle her chin. “Come on, Hattie! It’s play-time,” I bark.
She closes her eyes and hums. She must be too com-fortable to get up.
It’s obvious she’s going to need some convincing. And I know just how to do it!
Nose in the grass, I trot off in search of a stick. I haven’t gotten far when I start to realize something. I haven’t sniffed any messages from other dogs. How strange!
I stop to leave one or two, so new dogs will know I’m here and ready to play. Right as I’m watering a strategic spot, I get sidetracked by a horrible rodent-y smell. A squirrel!
I look over and spot his fat, nasty body up ahead. He’s sitting proudly in the Dog Park, his tail flounced up like he deserves to be here.
My own tail shoots up. I race over to show him who’s boss.
But he’s not acting the least bit intimidated. He just sits there in the grass, glaring at me. Does he think I’m not serious?
I bare my teeth. I’m ready to pounce! I’m about to grab his squirrel-y fur when suddenly, he pivots and rockets toward the back fence. I’m hot on his tail. “A Dog Park is for dogs!” I bark after him.
He scurries partway up the trunk of the giant tree, then pauses to flick his bushy tail at me. “Chipper, chat-ter, squawk!” he screeches, daring me to nab him.
I spring up, furiously pawing the tree, but he’s just out of reach. “You coward!” I bark. I run in circles around the giant tree, every hackle on my back raised in alarm.
The squirrel turns and creeps down the trunk, tan-talizingly close. “Chipper, chatter, squawk!” he screeches again.
I leap and leap, scraping the bark with my claws. “It’s called a DOG Park for a reason!” I growl.
But instead of scampering away, he inches closer. His beady eyes are challenging me.
Does he not know who he’s dealing with? I jump higher and higher, my jaws ready to snap!
Finally, he gets the message. He scrambles way up the trunk.
I watch until he disappears in the rustling and sway-ing branches. I’m about to bark “Good riddance!” when I spot his flouncy tail shooting through . . . a window?
I leap back, straining for a better view. There, up in the giant tree, nestled in the leafy leaves, is a little house about as tall as Hattie. A squirrel’s nest that looks like a little house? Whoa! The squirrels around here are even more evil than the ones at home.
At least that nasty squirrel’s up in the tree where he belongs. “Wait till next time, you pest!” I bark with one last snarl.
Wow, that was a lot of hard work!
I turn to get Hattie, but she’s already headed over. Whoopee! I know that look in her eyes—she’s ready to play!
I snatch the nearest stick and gallop straight toward her. But at the last second, she darts out of the way. Ha! The chase is on!
I’m speeding along near the side fence when I hear a sound that stops me in my tracks. Clink! Jingle! Jingle!
Hooray! Hooray! More dogs are coming! I peer through the slats.
I can hardly believe what I see. Two dogs—in an-other Dog Park. Two Dog Parks, side by side? They must notice me, too, because the Golden Retriever stops chasing her tail and lopes over. The other dog does, too.
Their noses sniff wildly, examining me as best they can through the fence. The smaller one’s mostly white like me, only with black patches.
Being checked out by a couple of ladies is not so bad, but after a while the silence can be kind of...humiliating.
I drop the stick. “Looks like an awesome Dog Park over there,” I say. “Not sure if you know this, but there’s another one right here."
The white one opens her mouth like she wants to say something, but the Golden speaks first. “A Dog Park?” she says, as if she cannot believe the news.
“Yes, two right next to each other. Isn’t it funny? I don’t think anybody knows about this one, though. I probably discovered it.”
“Are you saying . . . ?” the Golden says. “I mean, do you actually think you discovered—”
“Give him a chance, Goldie,” the white one says in a gentle voice. She turns to me. “So, young fella, you’re not from around here, are you?”
“Well, actually no, but—Goldie?” I glance from one dog to the other. “Did you call her Goldie? What an amazing coincidence. My humans used to have a gold-fish with that name.”
“Excuse me?” The Golden gets all growly. “Are you comparing me to a fish?”
“No, never. I wouldn’t do that.” I slink back and turn to the second dog. She’s not nearly as big as Goldie, but she’s still a lot bigger than me.
“Of course you wouldn’t,” says the white dog. Even through the fence, I can smell how friendly she is. “Don’t mind her. By the way, I’m Patches.”
Patches. What a pretty name. And her voice sure is lovely.
Goldie shoots her a stern look.
“Why don’t you tell us about yourself, young guy?” Patches says.
“Okay. My name’s Fenway. I live in an apartment, way up high. Above the honking cars and snorting buses. Right next to the sidewalk that leads to the real Dog Park. Do you know it?”
Patches cocks her head, like she’s not sure she heard me right. “Um, no . . .”
“Well, it’s a really cool place. You’ll just have to trust me.”Goldie nudges her. “We’d better listen to this guy,” she says. “He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about.”
“Uh, so, anyway,” I say. “This awesome Dog Park won’t be a secret for long. Why don’t you ladies come try it out?”
Goldie and Patches exchange looks like they’re not sure.
“You really should,” I say. “Me and my short human came here to play. Why don’t you join in? It’s going to be amazing.”
Goldie drops down and scratches. “Are you sure about that?”
“Look, I don’t want to brag or anything. But Hattie’s the best short human ever. She loves to play with me. And even though we’re super best friends and we do everything together, you can play, too.”
“You do everything together, huh?” Goldie says. “Does that include climbing trees?”
“Climbing trees? Right. That’s a good one. What do you think we are, squirrels?”
Patches glances at the giant tree. “Um, I don’t know how to tell you this . . .”
“Tell me what?”
“Fenn-waay!” calls a singsongy voice way above our heads. Hattie’s voice. But how could it be? Why would her voice be up in the sky?
I crane my neck, but I don’t see her. I scout around the Dog Park. Where did she go? “Hattie?” I bark.
“Fenn-waay!” floats down again. From the giant tree?
I look way up into the leafy branches. There, in the little squirrel house . . . a face is peering out the win-dow . . . an arm is waving . . . It looks like Hattie. It sounds like Hattie. But Hattie doesn’t climb trees. How did she get up there?
“Fenn-waay! Fenn-waay!” she calls, like maybe I didn’t hear her the first bunch of times.
“Hattie!” I bark, running over. “What are you doing up there?”
She keeps on smiling and waving. Like she’s per-fectly happy up there in that squirrel house.
This is not right.“Come down! Come down!” I bark again and again. Hattie leans out the window, her arms resting on the ledge. Gazing down at me. Knowing I can’t climb up and join her.
I turn away with a shudder. It’s all so . . . squirrel-y.
“She loves to play with you, all right,” Goldie says. “Then what’s she doing up in that tree? Don’t tell me she expects you to follow her up there.”
“Hey, now,” Patches scolds. “It sounds like she’s really into the guy.”
“Humph,” Goldie mutters.
“You never know,” Patches says. “She could be back down here playing with him any second.
”But she isn’t. I sink into the grass. Why did we come here? Dog Parks are supposed to be for playing. Hattie is up in the giant tree, and the other dogs are not com-ing in. None of it makes sense.
I bury my face in my paws. When are we going home?
Copyright © 2016 by Victoria J Coe. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.