Happy Mayday! I have a special announcement: the unveiling of the first half of my first short story!
Titles don’t say all, so don’t jump to any conclusions…
The Forgotten Charger
As his little sister ran ahead, Christian Darling shifted the duffel bag in his hands and trudged up the steep slope. Above them, the little white cottage lay nestled among a grove of fragrant pines. His parents hurried after Lauren, each with a load of luggage.
“Hurry up, Christian!” Lauren bounced from one foot to the other, impatiently waiting at the top. Although the yellow paint on the door was peeling slightly and a bit faded, the white-washed cottage was charming… according to Christian’s mother. Christian cared less. He would have traded woodsy hills for a beach in the States, and hiking and sight-seeing for chilling indoors with a soda, video games, and some of the guys from the eighth grade back in Annapolis.
But no, his parents had to take their vacation across the ocean in the middle of rural Scotland. His dad was a rich obstetrician, who spent his free time writing books and always chose an exotic summer vacation for relaxation. And this year, he picked Scotland.
Lauren darted back and forth, exploring all the rooms in a flash. “Mom,” she whined, “There’s only one bathroom. Do I really have to share it with Christian?” Without waiting for an answer, she chattered on. “There’s no TV. I won’t be able to watch my shows at four. And my room is so small! It’s about the size of my closet at home. Mom, why didn’t we go to Cancun?”
Annoyed by his spoiled little sister, Christian pulled out his phone and stuck in his earbuds to mute the sound of her complaints. He’d only listened to a couple songs, lying on a bed in the room he claimed, when his phone went dead. “What? No! Gotta find my charger.” He rummaged through his backpack, then his suitcase. Then he remembered seeing it last on his dresser at home. No charger meant no phone for the whole summer. No music. No communication. No life.
Devastated, he snuck out the back door and labored up the incline. At the top where it met the forest, he looked back and stopped, admiring the view. Directly below him was the quaint white cottage, and here and there other cabins dotted the hills. In the valley the village of Pitlochry seemed like miniature dollhouses clumped together. Still above him was the forested hill ready to be explored. Might as well try it, thought Christian ruefully. Don’t have my phone anyway. And staying indoors with Lauren is not an option.
Strangely enough, the quiet of the woods seemed soothing. A squirrel chattered, sounding a bit like Lauren. A woodpecker answered another. A chipmunk scurried away. Christian automatically felt his restlessness melt away. He sensed the kind of calm that settled on him when he helped with the dogs at his volunteer job in the local animal shelter at home. He loved dogs terribly, but Lauren had always had one kitten or another, and of course his demanding little sister would throw a fit if Christian mentioned dogs.
He stuck his hands in his pockets and flicked the brown hair out of his eyes. They won’t miss me up here, he mused. I can go back any time I want. He made up his mind to go exploring and stay all day.
When he returned late that evening, it was because his stomach brought him. “It’s too bad they don’t have a Subway around here,” he commented. “I could go for a foot-long meatball sub on Italian herbs n’ cheeses bread any day.”
“We know you could,” laughed Mom. “But you’ll have to get by with some of my spaghetti tonight.”
The next morning dragged by. Lauren made life miserable indoors by monopolizing the couch watching stupid kid shows on Mom’s phone and hogging all of Dad’s freshly baked cookies. Christian once again took refuge in the woods, berating himself for forgetting his charger.
This time he discovered a small creek. He stood on its edge and listened to it tinkling over the pebbles. By the bank he made a small fort of sticks that he could crawl under. He found a few large rocks and used them as stepping stones.
Later, he took a walk in a different direction across the creek. All of a sudden, he stepped out of the brush into a clearing. There he saw a cabin, apparently inhabited, and a couple sheds. Around the corner ambled an old man with snow-white hair, dressed in a pair of overalls and carrying a bucket of feed. His sharp blue eyes caught Christian in his tracks and sparked angrily.
“What’re you doing here?” he barked. He had a British accent. “I don’t want trespassers, much less nosy tourists! Go back where you came from!”
“I was just exploring,” said Christian. “I didn’t know you lived here.” Just then a dog woofed from inside one of the sheds.
“I don’t give a rip of what you were doing!” snapped the man. “I won’t tolerate any meddlesome kids around here, much less Americans. Go back where you came from!”
Christian backed away, then dashed into the woods. When he thought it was safe, he crept back and hid in a thicket to watch. The man, muttering to himself, opened the shed door and reached inside for some bowls as several beautiful German Shepherds bounded out and jumped around excitedly, yipping for attention. They didn’t touch the bucket of feed the man held, but eagerly leapt up against him, licking his face. As the man dished out food into the bowls, a glossy all-black Shepherd took his master’s arm gently in his jaws and shook it playfully. Feed flew everywhere! To Christian’s surprise, the old man threw his head back and laughed. “It’s a wonder you do it every day,” he told them, his once icy blue eyes lighting with fondness.
Christian tiptoed back to the creek. The dogs’ supper reminded him of the time of day. His stomach growled. He meandered back home, his mind wandering the opposite direction to those beautiful German Shepherds. He’d give anything for one of those creatures.
The house was strangely empty with Mom and Lauren gone on a trip in town. Christian almost blurted out what he had found to Dad, who was reading in the den. But he stopped himself, thinking with satisfaction what a cool secret that’d be. He thought nothing of the man’s outburst towards him, only remembering the dogs.
When the girls returned, they brought some mouth-watering home cooked supper from one of family-owned restaurants in Pitlochry. Lauren (little blabbermouth) prattled endlessly about everything they did, window-shopping and ice cream, and watching the lively Monday evening parade on its route up and down Main street. Christian just ate the good supper and wished it was the next day so he could investigate the old reclusive man and his dogs.
But that was not to be. Mom and Lauren dragged him down to town and crushed his hopes of another day in the woods. More window-shopping and ice cream were in order, but no parade (thankfully it was only a Monday night parade, to Christian’s relief). However, lunch at the café made up for some of it.
The next morning, real early, Christian snuck some scones in his knapsack and spent the whole morning in the woods, pretending he was everything from a pioneer fighting off Indians to Robin Hood romping in Sherwood Forest.
In some way of a miracle, he snuck back to snitch a ham sandwich from the kitchen for lunch and get back out there. This time, he relaxed lazily on the mossy creek bank, basking in the quiet afternoon sun that filtered through the trees.
Then he got a hankering to see those dogs. He had a special interest in the handsome black Shepherd. He looked like one of those valiant dogs that had been around for ages and had saved lives. What a beaut.
It was not to be. As soon as he neared the cabin, he heard the dogs frolicking in the dooryard. Abruptly he tripped and started blundering through the thicket. One of the big German Shepherds rose quickly from his sunning spot and growled, low in his throat. The fur on his neck bristled upright. At his cue, several others stopped and listened alertly.
Christian held his breath. But the dogs had heard enough. The beautiful black one barked sharply; once, then twice. The old man looked out the window, then saw that the dogs weren’t barking at each other in their play. He barged out of the cabin and glared into the trees.
“Who’s there?” he shouted. He wore the same overalls and his snow white hair was rumpled. His arms were muscular, Christian noticed. “Show yourself!”
Doing as he was told, Christian warily stepped out of the thicket, his cheeks burning.
“You!” bellowed the man. “Messing with my dogs, aren’t you?”
“N-no, sir,” stammered Christian. “Not even close.”
Christian was more humiliated to be caught then scared of what the man might do. “Yes, sir.”
“I thought I told you to stay off! No nosy tourists sneaking around, taking pictures. Upsets the dogs! I’ll have you leave immediately! Now! Or perhaps they should tell you,” he added, motioning at the dogs. The black one glowered at Christian through narrowed eyes.
As he was once again blundering his way back through the woods as fast as he could, the man called after him, “And don’t come back!”
Did he threaten me? wondered Christian. Maybe I should tell somebody. Maybe the police. He probably could have told his dog to jump me. All I wanted to do was look around! Well, that’s it. If I go back, he might sic a dog on me and then there’d be big trouble. I can’t go back. I’ll just have to tough out the summer without dogs for once.
The next days dragged by so slowly that he almost ventured back. But thinking of the mean look in the black dog’s eyes stopped him. Of course, the dog wasn’t malicious towards the boy in front of him, Christian realized, just the trespasser in front of him. If his master didn’t like someone, the dog didn’t, either.
Monday next Lauren was determined to take Christian to the evening parade. To his horror, as they watched the musicians prance down the streets in colorful costume, Lauren darted up beside them and joined in. A member of the parade tugged her braid and chuckled, and she was part of the band. One by one, people in the crowd (including Mom) joined in, and soon all of Main street was filled with singing, laughing people.
Christian moaned disgustedly and sat on the curb. He’d made most of the week without spying on the German Shepherds for entertainment, but he hadn’t gotten much time outside. Perhaps he’d go hiking on one of the trails around the village where he hadn’t been.
The next day proved cloudy and cool. Christian set out after breakfast, ignoring Lauren’s demands to go with him. The weather felt refreshing and cool for a hike. He’d been walking for an hour or more, off and on, and reached the crest of a hill where the bushes were low and the sky was vast. Here it was tranquil and quiet, so he stretched out for a rest.
Christian opened his eyes from his nap and started at the broiling storm-clouds above him. No longer were the birds gaily chirping and the breeze whispering to him like when he had fallen asleep. He bounced up and looked around.
What was that? He was sure he had heard something in the woods. Some sort of animal. It sounded as if it were coming closer, stepping slowly through the thicket. He caught a glimpse of brown fur through the trees.
A bear? At this thought, Christian took off running. Off the trail, into the woods, thrashing through the bushes. He just had to get away from that thing, whatever it was. It sounded big. He was terrified of bears. Long, tearing claws, snapping jaws, mean little eyes, a huge, strong body rolling from side to side with every deft step. They could run fast, too. And climb trees.
Christian completely forgot all about the German Shepherds. His breath was coming in pathetic gasps. I have to keep running, he told himself. What if it saw me and started after me? It could catch up twice as fast! He whirled around to see if the bear was loping down the path after him, but—where was the path? All he saw were strange woods, thick with underbrush. The painfully slow speed at which he fought through the bushes horrified him. He had to go faster than this! Where am I even going?
He had a new problem. The churning, sooty gray clouds overhead threatened to burst open, already misting a chilly rain. Christian was in a strange place, with a possible bear at his trail, and a storm brewing.
All at once it seemed as if a giant butcher knife slit the sky open, and the rain fell in sheets. Christian huddled against a tree, suddenly soaked. Let’s hope the bear doesn’t like the rain and takes cover, too. This thought sounded feasible, and he decided to make some more headway in case the storm passed quickly and the bear came out of hiding to look for him.
He could hardly see in the blinding rain, but he realized he was in a clearing. A fresh gust of wind drove a wall of cold rain against him and slapped his stiff, wet shirt on his skin. Half a sec! he thought. That’s the old man’s cabin! And there, that’s the shed where he keeps the dogs!
Christian stumbled up to the door and knocked hard. No response. He rapped again. Then the door burst open and he nearly fell into the old man.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded. The strap on his overalls hung down, and he looked disheveled. Christian could hardly hear him above the thunder. Then the old man, as if realizing for the first time that there was a storm crashing outside, frowned. “Alright, get in,” he mumbled. He grabbed Christian’s arm with a calloused hand and jerked him inside.
The cabin was dim. By the light of a low fire that warded off the chilly fog, Christian made out a neat living room decorated sparsely. The old man reached over and turned on a lamp on the kitchen table that cast a comfortable glow. Christian introduced himself.
“I’m Gresham Percy. Call me whatever you like. There’s some towels on the sink in the other room if you want to dry off.” Gresham turned and silently stirred a pot of savory soup.
Christian opened the door on the opposite wall and found a small bedroom that boasted only a low bed, a handmade bureau and chest, and a door leading to the bathroom. When he returned to the living room, Christian noticed for the first time a dog dozing on some blankets before the fire. She opened one eye and looked at him lazily. Then she yawned and stretched to her feet.
Taking the cue from her master that the visitor wasn’t a trespasser, she padded over to Christian and sniffed him. He stood still, letting her frisk him thoroughly. Satisfied, she eased back onto her bed and closed her eyes.
The silence was deafening. The only sounds heard were the quiet pops of the fire and the swishing of the spoon in the soup. Christian tried to make some conversation. “I got lost and then the storm came,” he said. “I’m pretty sure I heard a bear on the top of the hill and that scared me farther into the woods where I didn’t know my way around.”
He jumped when Gresham burst out laughing. “Bear!” he scoffed. “There hasn’t been any bears in the Pitlochry hills since my grandfather was a young man.”
Christian felt his face grow hot, and not from the fire. “But I heard something walking through a thicket nearby, and I just thought it was a bear.”
Gresham roared. “You Americans think you know everything,” he chortled. “It wasn’t nothing but a couple of roe deer, coming through on their daily stroll. A bear! What an idea!” He turned back to the soup, still chuckling.
Christian’s head grew dizzy. What humiliation! All this time he’d been running from a ferocious bear when all it had been was some innocent deer. And of course Gresham Percy had been the one to tell it to him. He felt more than ever like a stupid city kid.
He shyly sat by the glowing coals in the hearth a distance away from the dog. After the black dog had nearly scared his shirt off the other day, he was wary around these German Shepherds. But the dog paid no attention, so he scooted closer to the heat. His clothes gradually dried stiff on him.
“Here,” said Gresham as he poked a bowl of steaming soup in front of Christian. “You might as well eat while you’re around. From the looks of it outside you won’t go home till morning.”
Christian choked, but Gresham paid no notice. The dog lumbered up and stuck her head in Gresham’s lap as he scratched her ears.
“Why are you keeping her inside?” asked Christian.
Gresham glanced at him. “She’s due to have a litter any day,” he answered.
The soup was good, and Christian soon emptied the bowl. “You’ll be wanting another, I’ll warrant,” said Gresham, and he got up to refill it. The dog started after him. “Stay there, Fiona.”
As Christian kept eating, Gresham seemed to melt slightly in the presence of Fiona. Encouraged, Christian asked, “How long have you had her?”
Gresham smiled quietly, more to himself than to Christian. “Since she was a little bit of a thing, seven years ago. She saved my life on occasion, too.”
Christian leaned forward. “How?”
“Well, I guess it started when she was about three or four, still a pup. Fiona was my favorite of the dogs, and I liked to take her to town when I picked up groceries every few weeks. Around that time some of the shingles on the roof were wearing and I had a couple of leaks, you know. So I got fed up with them and one morning, before I let the dogs out of the barn where they stay, I got out the ladder and climbed up to fix the roof. Well, I’m not as strong as I used to be, having some medical problems and such, and I must have lost my balance and fallen. I was unconscious, and later I found a hole under the barn wall where Fiona, the brave little thing, crawled under and found me like that. She ran down the trail to town and alerted some people. They followed her back, called the medics and—well, you can guess the rest.”
“Wow, she did all that?”
“Sure thing. All the other dogs were clamoring for breakfast and she knew something was amiss if food wasn’t there. She was small and young enough to squeeze through the crack. It’s still there, too, in case it ever happens again. She’s saved me in many a jam.”
“You always hear about that stuff but it doesn’t seem real. I’m amazed.”
“We call it ‘gob smacked,’ kid.” His eyes twinkled, but he smothered the smile and gruffly got up to wash the supper dishes. “There’s some blankets on the shelf you can set up for a bed.”
“Maybe I should go home,” Christian suggested. “I don’t wanna bother you.”
“If you don’t want to bother me,” Gresham said, irritated, “Then don’t say such crazy things. The storm’s still out there, and the path is dark and slippery. You’d catch chills if you ever made it safely back.” He muttered under his breath, “These Americans; they think they know everything.”
Christian shut his mouth tightly. Neither of them said a word while he set his bed up by the fire, but he noticed that Gresham seemed unsteady as he cleaned up the kitchen. Abruptly he stumbled into the kitchen table and leaned there, catching his breath.
“Are—are you okay?” ventured Christian.
“Mind your own business!” barked Gresham. The air seemed tense. All the ice that Fiona had melted seemed to freeze back up again. Christian noticed beads of sweat lining Gresham’s face as he strode to the bedroom, apparently to get ready for bed. He’s not okay.
All at once Christian heard a loud thump from the other room. He rushed in and saw Gresham lying on the floor, clutching his chest.