Five short stories filled with wonder and hope—and a little dose of magic.
FROM THE BONES OF AN OLD DOG: A boy searches for a bit of magic after his dog unexpectedly dies.
RURAL ROUTE: While walking down a dusty country road as a child, Jenna finds a secret letter delivered to her from out of the past.
It is the beginning of a miraculous correspondence that will shape the rest of Jenna’s future.
IN THE REEDS: Charlie is an industrious boy searching for whatever jobs he can find to help support his widowed mother and him. While fishing for their supper, he makes a discovery that will dramatically alter their lives.
BRINDLE: On a remote farm a mysterious little girl has a unique secret to her survival.
THE CALLING: A country veterinarian discovers she has an unusual and miraculous gift.
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From the Bones of an Old Dog
In the Reeds
About the Author
Also by Robin Brande
MIRACLES & MAGIC
By Robin Brande
Published by Ryer Publishing
Copyright 2020 by Robin Brande
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Created with Vellum
Tom Rubey knew it was probably a lie.
He wasn’t stupid and he was a fair judge of character, so whenever Nathan Weaver said something Tom automatically only half listened.
Nathan knew about Tom’s dog. The whole school did. How a truck ran over Rip and never even stopped to check. A rusted-out red truck, Billy Jane Culver said, left tail light busted, but she didn’t see the driver, the truck was gone before she could look.
She ran out onto the street to see if poor Rip was still alive.
He lifted his golden head, whimpered, then his head dropped heavy back to the ground and Rip was dead.
Only seven. He still had at least seven more years left, as far as Tom knew. Rip’s dad Sargent lived till he was fourteen.
That was old for a big dog, the vet said at the time. Sargent had slowed down and his teeth were rotting and his back legs couldn’t walk a straight line anymore, but he was still a good birder and he could give a shaky, palsy point. Labrador Retrievers aren’t normally good pointers, but Sargent learned the skill on his own. Tom and his dad had good hunting with him almost all the way to the end.
Rip was already in the understudy position, bringing up the rear. He came out of Sargent’s fourth stud litter, thirteen pups that time, and Tom got to pick out which one he wanted. Rip was the only one who looked Tom right in the eyes.
By the time Sargent died, Rip was in his prime. He could go all day, running up hillsides, chasing down doves across a mile of field, swimming across lakes to bring back ducks, you name it. Tom’s dad said he might be an even better hunter than Sargent.
But Rip was mostly Tom’s dog. He slept at the foot of Tom’s bed every night, even though over time both Tom and Rip got bigger and there wasn’t really room for them both. At some point during the night Tom would stretch out his legs in his sleep and Rip would jump down onto his dog bed on the floor, but both of them still started out every night together just like they did when Rip was a puppy.
And now after just seven years together, it was over.
After the red truck drove off, Billy Jane screamed out for people to help. They got Rip’s body off to the side of Dutch’s Frosty Stop Drive-In. One of the cooks brought out an armful of dish towels so they could cover him.
A crowd of kids gathered. But it was Billy Jane who took it upon herself to come running all the way to Tom’s house to tell him Rip was dead and she saw it.
Rip’s blood was still on her pale blue dress.
“I’m sorry, Tom,” she said, bawling. She could barely get out the words. Finally she told him the whole story. Everything she saw.
“I don’t think he suffered,” Billy Jane said, but Tom could see in her eyes she wasn’t being honest.
He didn’t want to cry in front of her, he had always liked her, but something like this, it was hard to stay strong.
He cleared his throat instead, tried to seem like he was fine. But he had to swipe his hand across his cheeks several times.
“Thank you—” Clear his throat. “—thank you for telling me.”
“Are you going to get his body?”
Tom nodded. He couldn’t look Billy Jane in the eyes right then. He knew he’d start bawling too. They were both in the eighth grade. He was too old.
His dad was at work and his mom was visiting her sister, so Tom had to find the supplies himself. He got a few green plastic lawn bags and a wheelbarrow. He just needed to get Rip home.
All the way back to Dutch’s Frosty Stop, Billy Jane kept asking him if he was all right. Tom nodded every time, but he kept his head down so she wouldn’t see.
He needed to cry so badly it felt like a tidal wave inside his throat.
He didn’t want to look at Rip’s body. He wished none of this was real.
There were still a bunch of kids hanging around Dutch’s. Tom could see a kind of cruel eagerness on a few of their faces, Nathan Weaver’s included, wondering if he was going to break down like a girl.
Tom tried to be like his dad. Very matter-of-fact about life and death. He was a carpenter and he’d been around a lot of job sites over the years, and men died of this and that and they just had to deal with it. Heart attack, accident on the site, truck accident on the way there. Things happened, life wasn’t perfect. Tom’s dad wasn’t emotional about it, he understood that was the way things went.
If he was there with him now, Tom knew his father would be kind to old Rip and wouldn’t be rough loading him into their car, but he also wouldn’t act like it was the greatest tragedy in the world. Dogs died. When they woke up one morning and found old Sargent had died during the night, Tom’s dad shook his head sadly and went out and dug a hole. He didn’t cry about it, he just got on.
Tom cried, but he was much younger then. And his mother wept about it for days.
As Tom stood now next to Rip’s outstretched body beneath all the towels, Billy Jane started crying again. She and a few of the other kids helped Tom cover Rip with the green plastic bags and then lift him onto the wheelbarrow.
Blood had soaked into the ground beneath where he’d been laying. A lump globbed in Tom’s throat. He had to look away.
“Want help?” Randy Hudson asked him. He was one of Tom’s best friends.
“Nah,” Tom said as he picked up the two wooden handles of the wheelbarrow and found the balance point on the front wheel. “Thanks.” He gave Randy a nod and pushed away from Dutch’s Frosty Stop.
Billy Jane came with him.
She didn’t talk much on the walk back. She kept watch on the plastic bags, and made sure to cover up Rip again any time they shifted.
But Tom kept catching glimpses of his dog. The yellow coat, his big goofy feet. A corner of one of his soft ears. This dog had been alive this morning. Tom knelt in front of him before school and scratched behind those ears the way he always did, and told Rip he’d see him later.
The dog hung out his tongue and wagged his thick yellow tail. And when Tom came home in the afternoons, Rip would be standing at the door waiting, tongue out, tail wagging.
Not today, though.
Tom pushed through the screen door, let it slam behind him, and expected to find Rip right there.
He knew the dog had his own life during the days. Dog friends to visit. Even a few businesses where they kept treats for Rip and some of the other regulars who stopped by.
People visiting from out of town sometimes reported them to the dog catcher. Dangerous dogs roaming the streets! Mr. Culver would nod very seriously, take down the report, then rip it up as soon as the stranger walked out.
Tom knew because Billy Jane was the dog catcher’s daughter. She loved animals almost as much as Tom.
But something had gone wrong this time. Rip might have been on his way home to be there before Tom was back from school when the red truck with the busted tail light creamed him and kept on going.
Tom couldn’t help it now. He sniffed back his runny nose and lifted his shoulder to try to wipe more tears off of his cheeks.
Billy Jane looked at him sideways and patted him on the back.
“It’s terrible,” she said softly. “I’m so sorry.”
Tom let out a brief sound of grief and then stifled it and kept on pushing the wheelbarrow.
He had never appreciated Rip enough. A dog like that. Always looking for the fun. At Tom’s side whenever it was time to go somewhere together, even if it was just up the block to visit Randy or one of the other kids. Rip trotted along with Tom as if any outing was an adventure. Then he’d lie on someone’s porch while Tom played catch or threw around a football, and the minute Tom called him again he’d come running.
They fished together on Stilt’s Pond in the little canoe Tom’s dad helped him make. Rip would sit in the bow staring straight ahead, and whenever Tom caught a fish he held out to Rip so the dog could give it a lick.
The dog was up for anything, always eager, always playful.
Never again. Tom still couldn’t believe it.
Finally they reached his house. He rolled the wheelbarrow out back and set the metal legs down on the ground. He was sweating hard now, even though for May it wasn’t that hot yet. Summer would be here soon, and in Macon, Missouri that meant humidity so thick the dogs and people alike could barely stand it.
Most of the kids went to the town pool every day, but dogs weren’t allowed. Tom took Rip out to the pond and let him dip in there, always with an eye out for snapping turtles and the poisonous water moccasins that hung around the water. On chore days when he didn’t have that much time, the two of them just ran through the sprinklers.
But a day like today, sunny and not too hot, it would have been fun just to throw the ball to Rip in the back yard, then sit around in the shade and split a popsicle.
“Tom?” Billy Jane asked in a quiet voice. “What are you going to do now?”
Tom looked down at the lump covered in green plastic bags.
“Guess I’ll dig a grave,” he said.
Billy Jane nodded. She laid her hand on Tom’s arm. “Want some company?”
“No.” He looked up at her, met her tearful eyes. “Thanks.”
Billy Jane made a sound like a small sob, then turned around and left.
Tom moved the wheelbarrow under the porch where Rip could have some shade.
Then he went off to the shed to get a shovel.
Out between the two maple trees in the back yard there was a wooden marker Tom’s dad had made for Sargent. His dad was a good carver, but Tom wanted to make Rip’s marker himself.
Tom helped his dad dig Sargent’s grave, although he was younger then and didn’t have much muscle. He remembered how hard it was, though, and how much longer it took than he ever expected.
He knew it would take him several hours to dig the hole all by himself, but he wanted to get started before his dad came home and offered to help. If Tom’s hands were blistered by then, he might accept the help. But for now he wanted to do this for Rip on his own.
Now that no one could see him, he let the tears freely flow. They mingled with his sweat and dripped off his nose down into the turned-up soil.
It was hitting him now, the finality of it all. How one stupid careless truck driver could take away Rip’s life. How quickly everything could change. How uncertain everything was.
Tom shoveled the dirt near to Sargent’s grave, but far enough away that he wouldn’t disturb the bones. Father and son lying close to each other, maybe still hunting if dogs had souls. Tom would never suggest that to his father, but he thought it nonetheless. What kind of world was it if a dog was just here for a few years and then died, and that was all he ever did? Why even bother creating dogs? There had to be more, especially with the kind of eagerness Rip brought to life. Of course dogs had souls.
Tom hoped Rip could see him now.
After an hour of constant digging, Tom heard his mother calling to him from the house.
He watched her come out, see the wheelbarrow, and then keep hurrying to Tom.
She took him into her arms. Tom laid his head against her chest. She was crying. She must have already heard. Word could always spread so fast.
“Oh, sweetheart,” she said. “I’m so, so sorry. He was—” She choked on a sob. “—such a good dog!”
By now Tom had already cried out all his tears. “I know,” was all he said. Then he pulled away to keep on digging.
“I’ll bring you some lemonade,” his mother said.
Tom nodded, but then thought better of it. “Can I have a popsicle instead?”
She brought him a cherry-flavored one, and he sat at the edge of the hole and took a break. When he was halfway through it he broke it in half and dropped it and the stick into the grave.
It felt right. As right as it could, considering how wrong this all was.
The day felt warmer now and he didn’t want Rip to start to smell.
Tom got back to work and dug harder.
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