Short Story: Of Conversations and Consequences; or, How Buster and Rachel Reached an Accommodation

I know, I know; nothing for five months, and then two posts in one afternoon?! Preposterous!  Well, it wasn’t planned that way.  In the course of cleaning up some pages today, I discovered that one story was supposed to be posted months ago, but somehow never made it to the blog.  Can’t let that stand; and so, rounding out my Buster and Marley trilogy of short stories, I give you Of Conversations and Consequences; or, How Buster and Rachel Reached an Accommodation. (You can read the previous entries here and here, and see Buster’s first appearance, sans Marley, here.)

 

“…And, bazinga! Cookies, caught!” Marley said as she scooped up the package of Oreos from the floor.  Buster, the golden retriever, leaped down from the kitchen chair that was situated against the counter, and sniffed the package, inhaling chocolate goodness.  “Buster,” Marley said as she plopped her three-year-old body on the floor, “we have this down to an art.  We make a great team.”  She handed the dog a cookie, and he wolfed it down.

“What,” he said between bites, “do you mean, we?  I’m the one doing all the—“

“Ah-HA!” Dog and toddler froze at the same time.  “Caught you!”  Marley’s mother, Rachel, strode into the room and grabbed the pack of cookies.  “Did you two really think you were going to get away with this again?”

“Be cool,” Marley whispered to the dog, “she only knows about the cookies, I think—“

“I knew this dog could talk!” Rachel announced.

“Busted,” the dog said, and gave the doggie version of a shrug.

***

Rachel sat in the kitchen chair, elbows on knees, looking down at the dog. Buster, for his part, managed to look sheepish.  Marley, much to her indignation, was two rooms away in the living room, behind a baby gate.  Rachel could hear her harrumphing loudly every few seconds.

“Alright, talk,” she said to Buster. “It’s no use acting like you don’t know how.  I’ve caught you doing it more than once.”

“And I was counting on you fainting every time,” Buster muttered.

“Hey! That was just once.  Give me some credit!”

“Twice,” Buster corrected.

“Hey—alright, fine, twice. I can’t believe I’m arguing with a dog.”  She shook her head.  “Well, go on!”

“What would you like me to say?”

She sputtered a bit. “W-well,” she said, “explain!  Explain you!  Where did you come from, how did you learn to talk, why are you different?!”

“And why,” Buster said, raising his head, “would you assume I’m different?”

“Because you are! I never heard another dog talk before.”

He gave her an even stare. “Did you ever try listening before?”

She stared back, and laughed. “This is crazy. I must be crazy.  Dogs don’t talk!”  She paused.  “Except you, obviously.”

“Well,” Buster observed, “maybe you humans just aren’t good conversationalists. “

“Oh, really?”

“Really. Or maybe we know what kind of reaction we’ll get.  You know, my last owner tried to take me to the pound when he heard me.  And it was completely unfair; all I did was try to help him out.  Poor guy couldn’t handle it.”

She sighed. “I know how he felt.”

Buster made his doggy shrug again. “Can’t be helped, I suppose.  So what are you going to do?  You know, we could just carry on as we have.  It’s a good deal—you get a dog, I get a home, Marley gets a companion—“

“And that’s another thing!” she interrupted. “You talked to Marley, but not to me?  How can a three-year-old possibly be better conversation than an adult?  Or for that matter, how can a three-year-old keep a secret like this?!”

“I can hear you!” Marley yelled, her little voice full of indignation.  Rachel ignored her.

“Well,” Buster retorted, “maybe I’m not the only one getting misjudged around here. That little girl is a smart cookie.  And we all know how good cookies are,” he reflected.

Rachel sat for a long moment, staring at him; then she threw her hands up. “Okay, this is silly. You’re a talking dog.  You’re some kind of scientific wonder or something.  I should turn you over to some government lab or something.  They’d probably even pay me for it!”  She jumped up and moved to the kitchen table, where a laptop computer sat.

Buster stood up, alarmed. “Uh…wait, you don’t really wanna…well, haven’t you ever seen E.T.?!  You know what the government does with things it doesn’t understand, right?  Hold on a minute!”

“Can’t hear you, I’m Googling!” she announced from behind the screen.

Buster gave her another look, then ran into the dining room. Marley lay sprawled melodramatically on the floor on the other side of the baby gate at the far end of the room.  “Marley!  Get up!”

Marley turned her head without sitting up, and arched an eyebrow at him. “Oh, well, if it isn’t my old friend Buster.  Buster the betrayer!  Talking to my mom without me!”  She turned her head away.

“Marley, don’t be silly. I didn’t have a choice, I’m just as much the victim here as you are!”  She ignored him.  “Alright, look, I’m sorry, but we have a problem!  Your mom wants to send me off to some lab somewhere!  You have to help me!”

“Oh, sure!” she declared.  “Just run off to some nice lab without me, where you can eat all the cookies by yourself!  Never mind me, your best friend, sitting here alone with no dog and no cookies!  I see how it is!”

Marley!” he said.  “It’s not a good thing!  If I go, I’ll never see you again, and there won’t be any cookies, either!  You have to help me!”

Finally, that got her attention. She rolled over again, sat up, and gave him a considering look.  “No cookies?” she said at last.

“No cookies,” he said, putting as much solemnity as possible into his voice.

“That’s not fair! We have to stop her!”  She climbed to her feet.  “But how?”

“I…um…hmm. I don’t know…oh, why does opportunity never knock when you need it?”  He was interrupted by a two-note ringing.

“Sometimes it rings the doorbell?” Marley said, and the dog barked a laugh.

“I’m coming!” Rachel called out from the kitchen. She passed by the dining room on her way to the front door, and the duo heard it click open.  “Hi, can I help you?”

Buster listened a moment to the conversation that followed. “Sounds like a door-to-door salesman.”

“Is that a thing?” Marley said.

“It used to be. Apparently in this fictional universe it still is,” Buster remarked.

“What?”

“Nothing.   Something something fourth wall.  He sounds pushy.”  It was true; the salesman seemed to be building up a head of steam, and Rachel seemed to be having difficulty getting rid of him.

“Is he selling brushes? That’s a cliché,” Marley declared.

“Yes it is. Hey, we can use this!  Step back.”  Marley moved out of the way, and Buster jumped the gate in a single, neat leap.  “Okay, first I need you to get me out the back door.  Can you do that?”

Marley nodded, and ran to the door. “If mom knew I could do this, she’d be mad,’ she announced; then, nimbly, she twisted the lock switch on the door, grabbed the knob, and pulled the door open.  “Okay, what now?”

“Just don’t let me get locked out. And when the salesman stops talking, you make a distraction in here.”

“How?”

“I don’t know…break something!”

She put her hands on her hips. “Buster…I like the way you think.”

“Not surprising. You like plans that might involve getting injured.  Remember jumping out of the swing and onto me?  Anyway.  Be ready!”  He darted out the door.

***

“Oh, no, I really don’t need—“ Rachel was trying to say, but the salesman wasn’t giving her an opportunity.

“That’s the problem with these situations,” he interrupted, “you never know when the need will arise. It’s better to be prepared than to be caught off guard, isn’t that right?”  She had that weary look that told him she was almost ready; he prepared to close the deal. “So how about—“

“Hey!” a voice yelled from the direction of the street. “You kids get away from that car!  I mean it!”  The salesman spun around, searching for the voice, but saw only a golden retriever in the yard, facing toward his car.  Looking over his shoulder, Rachel’s eyes widened.

“That’s right!” the voice shouted again. “Oh, you think you were smart, hiding on the street side.  But you get caught letting the air out of those tires, and you’ll be sorry!  You better run!”

Alarmed, the salesman turned back to Rachel. “Ah, excuse me just a minute.  I need to check on that…I’ll be right back.”

At that moment, there was a crash from the living room, and the sound of glass breaking. Rachel’s head whipped around.  “Marley!” She turned back.  “Maybe another time.  I need to go check on my daughter.  That sounded…not good.”  Abruptly she slammed the door; the salesman heard the lock click into place.  Without any time to think about it further, the salesman turned and ran for his car.  In his haste, he didn’t notice that the dog had gone.

***

“I can’t believe you two set this up,” Rachel muttered, still pacing in the living room. The broken vase had been cleared away; now Buster and Marley sat on the floor in front of her in equally contrite poses.  Rachel stopped pacing abruptly and looked down at them.  “Couldn’t you have made a plan that didn’t involve breaking things?”

“We didn’t have much to work with,” Buster replied. “Or much time.”

“We saved you, Mom!” Marley announced.

Rachel broke into a grin, and scooped the child up into a hug. “Yes, you did, baby.  You saved me from wasting a lot of money on something pretty dumb.  Thank you.”  Then she eyed Buster.  “And you,” she said.  “I guess I owe you some thanks, too.”

“Well,” he said, “about that…you could let me stay here.  I would accept that form of gratitude with no questions asked.”

She set Marley down, and sat down on the sofa. “No, I…I don’t think so.  You’re a talking dog!  How weird is that?”

“Only as weird as you want it to be. I don’t talk to just anyone, you know. “

“But—“

“After all,” he interrupted, “we’ve done just fine so far, haven’t we?”

She gave it a moment’s thought. “I suppose we have.”

“Please, Mom?” Marley said from the floor.

She glanced from one to the other, then back. “Alright! Alright!  I can resist one set of puppy-dog eyes, but not two.  Buster, you can stay.”  Marley clapped, and the dog dipped his head in acknowledgment.  “But!  No getting anyone in trouble.  If people found out about this, I wouldn’t be able to stop something bad from happening.  Got it?”

“Absolutely,” the dog declared. “I know where the boundaries are.”

“Then it’s agreed. “ She stood up to leave the room.  “Well, I need to make dinner.  Try to behave.”

As soon as Rachel’s back was turned, Marley dug into her pocket. “We should celebrate!”  She pulled out two Oreos, confiscated from the pack earlier.  She stuck one in her mouth, and held the other out to Buster…only to have it snatched away.

“And just because you think I don’t see it,” Rachel announced, “doesn’t mean I don’t know about all those cookies you keep stealing! Chocolate is bad for dogs.  Have this instead.”  She dropped a dog biscuit on the floor.  Buster gave her an indignant look, sighed, and flopped down to gnaw on the biscuit.

“I think I liked it better before she knew,” he grumbled.

“Can’t win ‘em all,” Marley said, and took another bite of her cookie.

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Just Trying to Get Away: Classic Doctor Who Rewatch, Season Fifteen

With the war criminal from the future now just a memory, the Doctor and Leela are free to explore the universe! First, though, we make another stop on Earth, in Horror of Fang Rock. Let’s get started!

fang rock 1

The Doctor at Fang Rock

 

It’s 1902, and the location is the small island of Fang Rock off the southern coast of England. While the year is not actually stated, there are some context clues that narrow it down to that year.  The Doctor was aiming for Brighton, but—as usual—missed the mark.

Fang rock 2

A Rutan.  Scared yet?

 

The enemy here are the Rutans, the ancestral enemies of the Sontarans. This is their only appearance onscreen, although they are mentioned many times.  They are an entirely different brand of alien, more like amorphous jellyfish than the humanoid Sontarans (who don’t appear here; in fact, the two adversaries have never appeared together); they have the power to impersonate others, though the Rutan in the lighthouse mentions that this technique is new.  It crash-lands on earth in the course of a “strategic withdrawal”, and is stranded, but quickly summons its people, forcing the Doctor to use the lighthouse—with a little tinkering—to destroy the invasion craft.  Morbid, but noteworthy:  This is the final classic serial in which everyone but the Doctor and his companion(s) die.  It will happen again many years later in NuWho’s The Parting of the Ways, in which only the Doctor, Jack Harkness, and Rose Tyler survive.  Some things are just too dark for this show.

fang rock 3

Just made for a murder mystery!

 

I do remember watching this serial before, and I remember liking it. It follows the base-under-siege format, but with such a small cast, it feels more like a “bottle episode”, or maybe a locked-room mystery.

Invisible Enemy 1

So, uh…THAT’S what a virus looks like?

 

After a couple of sad stories on Earth, the Doctor and Leela flee to space; but they don’t get far, as The Invisible Enemy takes place on and near Saturn’s moon, Titan.  It’s the year 5000, as stated by the Doctor, but this is curious; he also calls it the “Year of the Great Breakout”, when humanity escaped the solar system for the larger galaxy.  We’ve seen before that the 51st century is a significant time for humans; however, many serials have indicated that the first galactic expansion happened much earlier, probably in about the year 2100.  Like the Mandragora Helix and the Wyrrn before it, the enemy here is spaceborn; this time it’s a virus called the Swarm; its nucleus, which controls the rest of the Swarm, invades the Doctor’s brain.  It infects humans, Time Lords, and even machines, but curiously, Leela is immune.  Later, after being expelled from the Doctor’s brain, it is enlarged to the macroscopic scale, and looks like an insect or reptile.  The idea of the Doctor losing control of  his mind is reminiscent of Series Seven’s Nightmare in Silver, in which the invading entity is a Cybercontroller.

Invisible Enemy 2

More personality than a dozen Rose Tylers!

 

The Doctor obtains a new companion here: the robotic dog, K9! More correctly, this is K9 Mark I.  He is the creation of Professor Marius, but is given to the Doctor when Marius can’t take him back to Earth due to weight restrictions.  K9 was always one of my favorite companions, and still is; I’m not sure what that says about me.  His personality is condensed irony, and I think it’s hilarious to watch him verbally spar with the Doctor (“I am without emotional circuits!”  Which is a lie, as smugness is most definitely an emotion).

Invisible Enemy 3

Inside the Doctor’s brain.  No, really.

 

The original console room returns, having had some minor upgrades; it’s handwaved in the story by the Doctor, who says it was being redecorated, but in the real world the switch was due to the warping of the wooden wall panels of the secondary control room while in storage. Ironically, the Doctor refers to the original set as the secondary control room.  We also see that the TARDIS, by way of its dimensional stabilizer, has the ability to shrink people, much like the device in Into the Dalek.  We’ve seen hints of this possibility as far back as Season Two’s Planet of Giants, but we’ve never before seen that it can be done deliberately, or independently of the TARDIS itself.  As well, this scenario gives us a view of the inside of the Doctor’s brain, which is pretty interesting.  Not so interesting are his phagocytes, the defensive cells that roam his brain; it’s a cool idea, but suffers from the limits of the practical effects of the day.

Image of the Fendahl 1

The book that gave me nightmares at ten years old.

 

Image of the Fendahl is the only contemporary story of the season, set in 1977 Fetchborough, England.  The date isn’t given onscreen, but it was given in a trailer for the serial, released at the end of the preceding story, and nothing contradicts it.  I vaguely remember reading the novelization as a child, and being scared by it, but I couldn’t remember anything from the broadcast version.

Image of the Fendahl 2

Thea Ransome, becoming the Fendahl core.

 

K9 is seen to need repairs already, but it’s not clear why, as he was fine at the end of the previous story. I take this as a possible indication of one or more offscreen adventures in the interim; it’s one of the last times that the Fourth Doctor can possibly have those, as we will soon enter a period where the successive serials are clearly linked.  In the real world, K9 was portrayed this way because the serial was written prior to the decision to retain him as a character; therefore a reason was needed to keep him offscreen.  Notable guest star in this serial:  Thea Ransome, who becomes the core of the Fendahl gestalt, is played by Wanda Ventham, the mother of actor Benedict Cumberbatch.

Image of the Fendahl 3

A Fendahleen

 

The Fendahl is an ancient being with godlike powers; it is a group entity or gestalt, composed of a core being and thirteen Fendahleen, lizardlike creatures that protect the core. In the course of destroying it, the Doctor weakens it by destroying one of the Fendahleen, thus preventing the full creature from manifesting.  It originated on the then-fifth planet of the solar system, which was destroyed by the Time Lords, thus creating the asteroid belt.  This occurred prior to their non-interference policy, which will be further explored later in the season.

The Sun Makers 1

Are we SURE this is Pluto?

 

In The Sun Makers, once again the Doctor tries to leave the Solar System; and once again he doesn’t get far.  This time, he lands on Pluto, but in the far future.  No date is established, but contemporary promotional material for the story placed it “millions of years” in the future.  It’s not your father’s Pluto; this is a world of Earthlike atmosphere and light, due to the six artificial suns  surrounding the world, hence the title of the serial.

The Sun Makers 2

The Collector

 

The plot here is a rare political allegory, dealing with unfair taxation. The Company in control of the planet are flagrantly oppressing the humans who live there, imposing exorbitant taxes at will and seemingly at random.  As it turns out, the Company is run by Usurians (a play on the word “usury”, for unjust taxation), a fungal species.  It won’t be the last time humanity is secretly oppressed; later it will be the Daleks and the Jagrafess, in Series One’s The Long Game/Bad Wolf/The Parting of the Ways.

The Sun Makers 3.PNG

Wrong target, Doctor!

 

Some noteworthy items: Gallifrey and the Time Lords are known to humanity and the Company at this point in history; in fact, the Collector claims to have knowledge of the Doctor’s past, although this is doubtful.  The Doctor is taken down at one point by Balarium gas; he seems to have forgotten that he has a respiratory bypass system which should have kept him safe.  Finally, there’s a hilarious scene where the Doctor hypnotizes a guard to sleep, but accidentally hypnotizes Leela as well.

Underworld 1

At the edge of the cosmos

 

Finally we see the larger universe in Underworld; and we don’t do it halfway, as the TARDIS arrives at the absolute edge of the universe—or as the Doctor puts it, “the boundary between what is and what isn’t”.  We don’t know the date; however, events are referenced which took place in Gallifrey’s history 100,000 years earlier.

Underworld 2

In hindsight, they do kind of resemble the little yellow guys.

 

In the far past, the Time Lords worked with a race called Minyans (no, not the little yellow guys from Despicable Me).  They gave the Minyans Time Lord technology, including the ability to regenerate; in return, the Minyans violently ejected the Time Lords from their world, went to war with each other, and destroyed their planet.  They regard the Time Lords as gods, but consider their gods to have failed or betrayed them.  This event is the prime cause for the Time Lords’ non-interference policy.  The story, set millennia later, takes place on a pair of Minyan ships: The R1C, which has been traveling all this time, and the P7E, for which it has been searching.

Underworld 3

The Doctor, Leela, and the Minyans

 

The Minyans can regenerate, and can even do so endlessly; it differs from Time Lord regeneration in that their appearances and personalities do not change, and in that they require mechanical assistance. However, this helps justify later notions that the twelve-regeneration limit is artificial, and can be countered by the granting of a new cycle of regenerations.  The Minyans cannot breed, however, and therefore they require the race banks aboard the P7E to save their species.  To gain them, they must overcome the Oracle, the P7E’s megalomaniacal computer, and liberate the slaves who are the descendants of the original crew (and never mind that the crew should not have been able to produce descendants—there’s no logic here).  The story is based on the legend of Jason and the Argonauts, which the Doctor makes explicit at the end.

The Invasion of time 1

The Chancellor and the President

 

The Doctor returns to Gallifrey in The Invasion of Time.  Here he claims the presidency—which he won in The Deadly Assassin—only to immediately leave Gallifrey defenseless and invaded by mysterious aliens, known as the Vardans.  Several dates are noted, but they are in Gallifreyan notation and can’t be matched to real-world dates; however, this doesn’t appear to be long after The Deadly Assassin, as the position of president is still vacant.  In the interim, Borusa has ascended from Cardinal to Lord Chancellor, ruling in the absence of a president; he has also regenerated, though his appearance is similar to his previous body.  The Doctor treats him—and Leela as well—rather roughly at this time; it’s the only time I’ve ever felt sorry for him.

The Invasion of time 2

The De-Mat Gun

 

The Doctor’s betrayal, of course, is a ruse, designed to open the Vardans to attack. He defeats them by locking their world in a time loop, possibly presaging the hiding of Gallifrey at the end of the Time War.  However, the victory is short-lived, as the Vardans’ allies are revealed: The Sontarans.  To defeat them, the Doctor and his allies must first survive; then, they must obtain the Great Key of Rassilon and use it to construct a powerful and forbidden weapon: the De-Mat Gun, which removes its target—and itself—from time permanently.

The Invasion of time 3

The Fun Side of the TARDIS

 

Notable in this serial: This serial is briefly seen in the Doctor’s timeline in The Name of the Doctor, where Clara Oswald’s echo is seen to be present.  The Time Lady Rodan is the first female Gallifreyan seen since Susan (though she is a bit at odds with Time Lord philosophy).  We get our first glimpse of Gallifrey outside the Citadel, though we won’t see that structure from outside for many years.  We get to see many interior areas of the TARDIS, which have a brickwork appearance (including the infamous pool, which is definitely NOT in the library at this point!)  With the effects of the De-Mat Gun, the Doctor is left not remembering anything of this adventure, though it seems likely he was told of it after the fact.

Leela and K9

Goodbye, Leela and K9

 

Finally, Leela and K9 both opt to leave—or rather, to stay behind on Gallifrey. Leela has fallen in love with the guard commander Andred, and is given special permission to live on Gallifrey with him.  K9 chooses to stay to watch over her.  It’s an emotional goodbye for the Doctor; but it is mitigated by the appearance at the end of K9 Mark II, who possesses all the memory and personality of his precursor.

Next time: The Key to Time!  See you there.

All episodes can be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.

Horror of Fang Rock (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

The Invisible Enemy

Image of the Fendahl

The Sun Makers

Underworld (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4)

The Invasion of Time

Short Story: Of Parks and Plots

This short story is a sequel to “New Tricks” and “Of Cookies and Comprehension“.  Enjoy!

golden retriever

“AND WHAT,” the dog said, “exactly, is the purpose of this…thing you’re doing?”

“Swinging,” the little girl answered.  “It’s fun.”

The dog’s head bobbed back and forth in time with the bright yellow kiddie swing.  “I don’t think that you and I have the same definition of fun.”

“That’s silly,” the girl said.  “What’s not to like?  First you go this way—“ as she swung forward “—and then you go THIS way!”  She let out a giggle, and shifted in her seat.

“Marley!”  the girl’s mother shouted from her bench.  She started to get up, then settled back down.  “You stay still!  You’ll fall out!”

“She’s so protective,” Marley confided to the dog.  “It’s cute.  I let her get by with it because I like her so much.”

“I don’t think we have the same definition of cute, either.  She thinks she’s cute when she calls me the wrong name.”  The dog shook his head and huffed in embarrassment.

“What’s wrong with ‘Goldie’? Your fur is gold.”

“That’s because I’m a golden retriever,” the dog said, annoyed.  “I didn’t pick it.  And my name is Buster, not Goldie.  I didn’t pick that either,” he added as an afterthought.  “But I like it.”

“So why don’t you just tell her?” Marley said.

Buster gave it a nanosecond of thought.  “Marley, I know you’re only two, but you’re old enough to understand that grownups think dogs can’t talk.  Every time your mother hears me, she ends up on the floor with a bump on her head.  YOU tell her.”

“I tried.  A bunch of times!  She doesn’t understand me.  It’s like daycare.”  She dropped her legs straight, making the swing slow down, and gave Buster an intense look.  “Every day she picks me up from daycare, and she asks me what I learned, and I tell her.  But when I say “Cack… cackl… uh… cack’lus—“

“Calculus?” the dog supplied.

“Right!  Cack’lus.”  She nodded.  “If I tell her that, she just laughs like a moron.  Like she doesn’t take me seriously at all!”  She grew thoughtful.  “But if I sing the Farmer in the Dell, she understands that!  Maybe,” she added, “I should sing to her about cack’lus.”

“That would be fun to watch.”

She frowned at him, her nose wrinkling.  “Yeah, we have different ideas about fun.  Anyway, if she can’t understand something as simple as cack’lus, how will I ever tell her about your name?  That’s IMPORTANT stuff, you know.”

The dog dipped his head in a doggy bow.  “Your logic is unassailable, my friend.”

Abruptly, Marley grabbed the chains of the swing in both hands, making it glide more or less to a halt.  “Well, look at that.  SHE’S nose deep in a book.  Guess I’ll get myself down.”  Expertly, she undid the safety belt and worked her feet out of the holes in the plastic swing, then stood up.

Buster looked up in consternation.  “Ah, Marley, I don’t think you should—“

“—CATCH!”  She leaped from the swing, sending it bucking, and landed on the dog, sending them both sprawling in a heap.  Several other children in the vicinity looked around in alarm.

“Now THAT,” she said, picking herself up and dusting herself off, “was FUN!”  Buster bared his teeth in irritation, and let out a sigh.

Marley checked to see that her mother hadn’t noticed, then made her way to the sandbox on the other side of the swingset.  Buster followed, but sat down primly at the edge of the sandbox.  She paused and looked back at him.  “Aren’t you coming in?”

“I’ll pass,” he said.  “I’m not big on sand.  It gets down in my fur and won’t come out.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, “more for me.”  Sitting down, she grabbed a handful of sand.

“More for…what?”  Marley studied the sand for a moment, then abruptly licked it.  “Oh.”

“Blech,” she said, spitting it out.  “This is a bad vintage.  I liked the 2015 better.  I’ll have to have a word with the maintenance guys.  Except THEY probably won’t understand me either.”

“I saw a cat using that as a litter box a while ago,” Buster observed.  “I suppose it’s a little late now, but I thought you should know anyway.”

“Well, that explains it!  Silly cat.”  She stood up again.  “But I’m still hungry.  Hey…mom has some treats in her purse!  Maybe we can get those.”  She scratched her chin thoughtfully, looking for all the world like a pint-sized supervillain.  “Now, how to get them…”

“You know, you COULD just ask her for them.  I’m sure she’d give them to you.”

She arched an eyebrow at him.  “Don’t be silly!  OF course we need a plan.  Work with me here!”

“You’re the boss.”  He gave her a doggy shrug.

“We need…” She glanced around.  “We need…a distraction!  That’s it!”  She patted Buster on the head.  “How do you feel about biting someone?”

“What?!”

“Not too hard!  Just, you know, enough to make them cry.  It would be perfect!”

“Marley, if I did that, they would send me back to the pound.  Is that what you want?”  He drew himself up.  “And besides, I am a lover, not a biter.”

“Fine,” she grumbled.  “Well, maybe…okay, I got it!  Go over to my mom, and get the edge of her shirt, and start pulling on it.  She’ll wonder what you want, and then she’ll get up and follow you, and I’ll snatch the treats.  Then you let go, and run around the back way, and meet me over by that tree—“ she pointed “—and we’ll see what we have.  Does that sound good?”

He pondered for a moment.  “Just one question.”

“What?”

“What’s in it for me?”

She put her hands on her hips and gave him an impatient look.  “She keeps dog treats too.”

“Sold!”  Buster jumped up and trotted off to the bench.  Marley watched as he grabbed the tail of her mother’s shirt and started tugging.  He was very good—he made sure not to rip the material, and he never growled.  She tried to push him away, and when that didn’t work, at last she stood up.  She gave Marley a look—frowned, glanced at the empty swing, then back at the toddler—and then gave in and followed the dog in the other direction.

Marley leapt to her feet and scampered over to the bench, where her mother’s purse sat open.  She pawed through the top and pulled out two plastic pouches—one of gummy fruit snacks, one of bacon dog treats.  “Jackpot!”  Clutching the pouches, she ran back past the sandbox to the shade of the big oak tree, and sat down, hiding the pouches between her legs.

“Dumb dog!” Marley’s mom made her way back to the bench, brushing dust from her clothes, as Buster came running back to Marley.  “Honestly, that dog is so weird sometimes.  I don’t know what he’s thinking.”  She gave Marley a glance, then sat down and picked up her book.

“Mission accomplished!” Marley said as Buster lay down on the grass beside her.  With two-year-old skill, she tore the packets open and tossed a bacon strip to the dog, then turned her attention to the fruit snacks.  “Kinda makes up for those cookies we never got.  Don’t you think so?”

The dog swallowed the treat.  “Something about ‘ill-gotten gains’ comes to mind,” he said, and looked longingly at the bag.  “But right now, I’m okay with that.”

“Yeah,” she said between bites.  “They do taste pretty good.  But you know, this was a lot of work.  Maybe next time we should just ask.”

The dog gave her a look, then shook his head and snorted.  “I have a funny feeling I’ve heard something like that before.”

“See?! I knew you’d understand!”

Short Story: Of Cookies and Comprehension

I’ve written a number of stories for specific people before, including my children and some friends.  It’s not often, though, that someone has asked to be the target inspiration for one of my stories; and so, when presented with a request recently, I had to give it a shot.  The child in this story is based on a friend’s child, who just so happens to love cookies, and coincidentally happens to believe she knows everything (don’t they all?).  She was a prime model for the main character here; and yet that wasn’t the full puzzle.  After some thought, I decided that one of my favorite short story creations–Buster, the talking dog from my earlier story, “New Tricks“–had another story to tell.  This story, “Of Cookies and Comprehension”, is the result, and I hope you’ll have as much fun reading it as I did writing it.

All stories posted in this capacity may also be found under the “Stories” heading in the menu. Thanks for reading!

retrievers

She broke her concentration long enough to go to the front door.  She may have only been one year old, but she could multitask.

The door wasn’t quite latched, so she worked her fingers around the edge and hauled it open.  The screen door was firmly closed, but the glass was up, and she looked through the bare screen at the golden retriever sitting on the stoop.  It was he that had made the scratching that attracted her.  “Hi,” she said.

“Hi,” the dog said.  “I was walking by, and I smelled bacon…would you care to part with any?  I’m quite hungry…”

“No,” she said.  The oddity of a talking dog didn’t register with her; she was, after all, only one.

“Oh, well then, I suppose I’ll be on my way.  Good day—“

“You can’t have any,” she said, “because we ate it all already.  My mom only made enough for the two of us.”  She paused.  “It was very good.”

“Splendid,” the dog said, “It’s a crime when bacon is no good.  Say, I suppose—“

“But you can have a cookie,” she interrupted.

“Cookies are my next favorite food,” the dog said, smooth as butter, “after bacon of course.”

“You have to help me get the cookies, though,” the girl said.  “My mom is in the shower.”

“Certainly!  Ah, now, if you could just let me in…see, I haven’t any thumbs…”

“No,” the girl said.  “Mom says I’m not supposed to let strangers in the house.”

“Oh, really?” the dog said.  “My name is Buster.  What’s yours?”

“Marley,” she said.

“See?  There.  We’re not strangers anymore!”  That seemed like very sound logic to Marley, and so she obliged the dog by reaching up and flipping the tiny lock switch behind the door handle, and then opened the door.  Buster gave her a nod and a toothy, tongue-filled, doggy grin, and then nosed the door open far enough to slip inside.  He was small for a retriever, but tall enough to lick the little girl’s nose, which he did, and very appreciatively.  She frowned and wrinkled it, then smiled and toddled past the dog, toward the kitchen.

“This way,” Marley said, and the dog padded after her.  “The cookies are on the top shelf.”

“Doesn’t it bother you,” Buster said, “that you’re holding a conversation with a dog?”

“No.  Why?”  She tugged on a kitchen chair, inching it across the floor.

“Oh, no reason.”  Buster nosed the chair from behind, moving it a little faster, and together they edged it toward the cabinets. “Just that my last master thought it was odd.  He got rather worked up about it, actually.”

“But did he listen to you?”  Marley paused and looked at Buster before turning back to the chair.

“Ohh, that he did,” Buster said.  “It didn’t go so well.”

“My mom listens to me, kind of.”  Marley climbed up on the seat of the chair, then looked back.  “But I think she needs her ears checked.  She doesn’t seem to understand what I’m saying.”

“You don’t say,” Buster said.

“Right?  It’s like she only hears babbling.  It’s so annoying.  I have so many cool things to say!  After all, I know everything.  But she doesn’t get it at all.”  She looked down at him.  “One night, I even woke her up to give her my insights into string theory—she keeps the ink pens, you know, so I needed her to write them down—and she just kept shaking her head and saying “no pattycake, no pattycake.”  Sometimes I think her mind may be going soft.”

“So what did you do?”

“What COULD I do?  I played pattycake with her until she fell asleep again.  She seemed to like it.”

“Of course,” the dog said, and put his paws up on the seat to steady it.

“Thanks,” Marley said, and turned back to the cabinet.

“Don’t mention it,” he said.  “So, what is your mother’s name?  I’ll have to introduce myself, I suppose.”

“Mom,” she said.

“Oh…well…yes, but…well, does she have another name?”

She stopped reaching for the door, and gave him a look.  “Mama?”

“Oh, but she should have another…”

“You’re not making any sense,” she said, “why would she need another name?”

“Of course,” the dog said, “just how old did you say you are?”

“I didn’t,” she said, and turned back to the cabinet.  She had the door open in a flash.  “Bazinga!  Cookies, incoming!”  The package sat on the top shelf, one corner stretching tantalizingly over the edge.  “Just…gotta…reach…”

“MARLEY!”  The girl flinched, and so did the dog, who somehow managed to look guilty even while panting. The package of cookies tipped and fell to the countertop, then bounced to the floor.  Buster gave them a longing look, but didn’t move.  The woman in the doorway glared at both of them.  “Just WHAT do you think you’re doing?!”

“We’re busted,” Buster whispered.

“I know!” Marley whispered back.  “What do we do?”

“Don’t look at me,” he whispered, “I’m a dog.”

“I guess I’ll have to talk her out of getting us in trouble,” Marley whispered.  “I’ll give her my most logical and reasoned arguments.  She’ll never be able to resist my rhetorical skills.  Watch!”  She looked up at her mother, who was standing over her now, hands on hips, waiting.

“Well,” the woman said, “what do you have to say for yourself?”

Marley glanced back at Buster one last time for courage.  She turned back to her mother, and gathered her wits about her.  Then she raised a hand, and stretched out a finger, and opened her mouth; and in her best and most authoritative voice, she said…

“Cookie, mama?”

The woman laughed, and bent down to hug the girl.  “You know, if you weren’t so darned cute…”  Then she straightened up, and looked down at the dog, and frowned.  “But where did the dog come from?  And how did he get in?”

Buster dipped his head in a doggy shrug.  “What can I say?  I borrowed your daughter’s thumbs.  She’s very helpful, by the way.”

Marley watched as her mother’s eyes rolled back in her head, and she slipped to the floor in a dead faint.  “See?” she said.  “I TOLD you she doesn’t understand me!”